Tuesday Tetrapod: Chinchilla lanigera

Posted by tigerhawkvok on June 15, 2010 20:28 in tuesday tetrapod

Today's Tuesday Tetrapod returns to the land of the fuzzy with Chinchilla lanigera, or the Chilean chinchilla.

C. lanigera

C. lanigera. Photo released into the public domain in the Wikimedia commons

Chinchillas belong to their own family, Chinchillidae, which include chinchillas and viscachas, rabbit-like rodents that also live in South America.

Chichilla coats are notable in a couple of ways. Their fur is so dense that you cannot wash them; when their fur gets wet it does not dry, encouraging fungal growth or fur rot. Instead, they naturally take dust baths, which dislodge particulates and absorb oils in their coat. In fact, their incredibly soft and dense coat makes them very sought after in the fur industry, meaning that both variants of the chinchilla are in fact critically endangered, estimated to be losing about 90% of its population every three generations (15 years) due largely to hunting. Chinchillas themselves can release some hair to facilitate in escape from a predator. Due to the density of their coats, chinchillas do not sweat.

Chinchillas are available as pets in the US, partially mitigating their rare status in the wild.

Scientia Pro Publica 32: Biology Overload

Posted by tigerhawkvok on June 07, 2010 03:01 in General , evolution , physics , biology , astronomy , news , anti-science , medicine , paleontology , sci-fi , public science , climate , scientia pro publica

Welcome to Scientia Pro Publica, 32th edition!

Scientia Pro Publica logo

Scientia Pro Publica logo (C) by Flickr user jmarcx via loryresearchgroup. (Hotlinked by my usual policy)

This round, it seems that the name of the game is biology. Submissions really ran the gamut in biology, including some delightfully from-left-field posts. Bryan Perkins having some fun with embryological development, and Amanda Morti shows us why we have actinomycete bacteria to thank for that fresh rain smell (and for throwing off Latinate intuition - anyone else read "actinomycete" and think muscley whale?). Speaking of whales, David "WhySharksMatter" Shiffman does a great bit of ResearchBlogging and reminds us why not all fish (fine, non-sarcopterygian gnathostome) stock are created equal - sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus) are closer in population dymanics to bowhead whales and other balaenids than cod.

That wasn't the only bit of ResearchBlogging this time around (Hey! ResearchBlogging! Stop hating my feeds!). Kelsey has a great post about the intraspecific male competition among red-eyed treefrogs. Sure, they amplex for dear life, but what about before that? Turns out that ... they shake their butt (Does that mean that the frog Sir Mix-a-Lot is a lady?). Madhu R-Blogs over at Reconciliation Ecology takes the opportunity to do a great smackdown on a pet peeve of mine — evolution is not a "ladder" or any such silliness. It is blind and targetless. It was a statement from a Stanfurd professor, though, so what can you expect (Go Bears!)? But before we get ranty, Luigi diverts our attention from critterland and the rivalries of my alma mater to teach us about why Kibale's Wild Coffee Project didn't get off the ground, concluding that scientists, once again, just can't do "messaging".

Illustration: Peter Trusler for Wildlife of Gondwana/NOVA (PBS). From Grrlscientist's post.

Thonoir continues to take us down our diversion away from Critterland, showcasing two sets of endangered non-metazoans, and my total ignorance of plant/photosynthizing phylogenies. We don't stray from Critterland for long, though, as John at Kind of Curious details a very interesting ponderous borer. Emily talks about sensationalism, mountain lions, and that Fox, even as they get extirpated from areas densely populated by a certain primate. Which, as Amanda points out, is no good thing, and there are difficulties restoring predators to ecosystems that they have been extirpated from (trust me, a one sentence synposis does not do that entry justice). The great Grrlscientist brings us some aborignal rock art possibly depicting Genyornis newtoni (Dromornithidae, incomplete phylogeny link (Anseriformes)). This is both the oldest paintings in Australia at 40,000 years (predating the earliest European cave paintings) and is of something that can be loosely imagined as an ostrich-sized duck, which simply can't be awesome.

Now, we don't end here. Oh no. That was just organismal biology and evolution. How about a dose of medicine? Michelle Dawson is better than Mary Poppins, because her post about circadian rythyms certainly doesn't need any sugar for you to take it down (and introduces you to an interesting side effect of autism-spectrum disorder). Scientific Chick writes about cell phones improving mental performance in Alzheimered mice. Meanwhile, Wendy at Bioloser gives us the physiological background of shock, and a shocking description of shock in a man nearly severed in half.

The larger constructs of medicine were not neglected, either. Bradley Kreit discusses the fact that we need to accept our intellectual limits, while Luke examines the crazy in large groups, looking at HIV denialism and Ryan looks at child mortality.

Bisected men and child mortality? Lets get a bit more lighthearted. Jessica Drake at Soilduck ponders what makes a scientist a scientist, and Romeo Vitelli tells us how subliminal messaging was an advertising gimmick (how many levels of fake-out is that?). Adam Park redeems some sci-fi stories with various predictions made therein that have come true today. Of course, Asimov gets a mention for the mention of pocket calculators in Foundation, but Asimov also nailed our reliance on them as time went on in The Feeling of Power (psh, arithmetic).

BP, the Gulf, and the utter dismaying farce of the spill have been in the news, and oil makes its showing in Scientia this time around. Scienceguy238 gives us a history leading up to the spill, and Grrlscientist looks at the ethics involved with oiled seabirds. Jeremy at The Voltage Gate writes about how the Saudi coast has recovered, 20 years later, from the 11-million-barrel (1.2 GL, or 1.2e6 m3) spill. A decade afterwards, 1 million cubic meters still persisted. Every spill is different, though, so hopefully ours won't be as bad.

You know you love it.

Finally, we round out with the physical sciences, which didn't get much love this time around. Lab Rat talks about bacteria and climate change, while Matt Wills talks about the more metaphorical breathing Earth, Charles Lyell, and mollusk damage in Greek columns. Finally, Sarah Kavassalis gives a great article on one of my favorite subjects: special relativity, astronomical distances, and the meaning of "now". After all, if a star (super)nova's in the distance, but you don't see (E&M) or feel (gravity) it, has it gone? She even does it without the inevitable jargoning I'd go into!

That does it for this round of Scientia Pro Publica! This was my first blog carnival, so I more than welcome suggestions. Hope you all enjoyed it!

If you want to learn more about this carnival, head over to the carnival's website. Be sure to check out the next round hosted by Andrew over at Southern Fried Science, on June 21st. And remember — this is a blog carnival! Submissions and hosts are wanted! If you're interested in hosting, check out the current schedule on the official schedule thread and drop Grrlscientist a line (or leave a note in the comments). If you find a cool article, submit it! Send a link via this submission form. Thanks again all!

Scientia Pro Publica coming here!

Posted by tigerhawkvok on June 02, 2010 20:40 in General , public science

This coming Monday, this blog will be the host of Scientia Pro Publica, a blog carnival following in the footsteps of Tangled Bank. To quote Grrlscientist,

[...]That blog carnival was Tangled Bank, the "parent" of Scientia, which this blog carnival seeks to emulate by (1) communicating about science, medicine, the environment and nature to the public and (2) encouraging those who write about these topics by providing them with an audience who provides feedback and criticism on their writing.

Scientia Pro Publica logo

Scientia Pro Publica logo (C) by Flickr user jmarcx via loryresearchgroup. Hotlinked by my usual policy of hotlinking (rather than self-serving) copyrighted images

This is going to be my first blog carnival, and I hope I am a good host. This should be fun!

Tuesday Tetrapod: Gypaetus barbatus

Posted by tigerhawkvok on June 02, 2010 15:18 in tuesday tetrapod

Today's Tuesday Tetrapod is the Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

G. barbatus

G. barbatus. Photo CC-BY-NC-ND by Flickr user A. Davey.

G. barbatus is a type of Old World vulture (Depending on the phylogeny, this makes them either a Falconiforme or Accipitriforme) with the unusual dietary preference of bone marrow. In part because of this, they lack the customary "bald head" of most vultures. They also have a different flight profile, with narrower wings and a wedge-shaped tail.

G. barbatus eats by reaching a carcass after it has been largely cleaned, then taking bones and dropping them from a height onto rock formations, smashing the bones into pieces small enough to ingest. They occasionally do this with turtles, possibly being the source of the apocryphal tale about the death of Greek playwright Aeschylus.

G. barbatus, profile

Image CC-NC-SA by Flickr user fveronesi1

Despite being threatened in its European range, G. barbatus is relatively stable over its very large range in Africa. There is also evidence for minor population decline, but it is not rapid or extreme enough to qualify for a threatened status. It is thus ranked by the IUCN as Least concern as of 2009.