Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ugly Bugs!

I sort of stumbled upon the Oklahoma Microscopy Society's Ugly Bug Contest Homepage.
What a discovery!
Check it out: The 2007 Winners

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Flora and Fauna Photography

These were taken during my recent trip to Key Biscayne, FL. 

Portuguese Man-O-War

Tricolored (Louisiana) Heron

Northern green anole 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Volcano Eruption in Galapagos National Park

La Cumbre volcano in the Galapagos Islands started spewing lava, gas and smoke on the Fernandina Island. The most recent volcanic activity on Fernandina Island occurred in May 2005. I was fortunate to attend a course that focused on the biology and evolution of the Galapagos last summer - I never stepped foot on Fernandina because my group explored the eastern portion of the archipelago.

It still breaks my heart that this eruption may have a detrimental effect on the wildlife endemic to the island. The following excerpt was taken from the Glob Gazette News Blog.
In a statement it said the eruption is not a threat to people living on nearby Isabela Island. But it added that lava flowing to the sea will likely affect marine and terrestrial iguanas, wolves and other fauna.

The iguanas we encountered on the islands were unlike any reptile I've ever seen. They also were oblivious to our presence - or mildly annoyed at worst.

This picture (left) features the Galapagos marine iguana. One of their interesting and diagnostic features was the little white cap that each wore atop their heads. Due to the high salt content in their diets, they have evolved a mechanism to maintain an internal osmotic equilibrium. They sneeze to expel excess salt from salt glands that are located above the eye. This in combination with the wind results in an accumulation of white salt on their head. When I was in the Galapagos, an ongoing pursuit among group members was to photograph a marine iguana mid- sneeze, as they expelled excess salt every few minutes. Sadly, no one was successful. I will say that there is nothing cuter than a sneezing iguana.

The majority of land iguanas we saw were on Santa Fe Island. They were visible because the island had low-growing vegetation that surrounded a sparsely distrubuted Opuntia cactus forest. 

The land iguanas were quite visible, startlingly large, and usually munching on yellow purslane flowers (Protulaca lutea).

I hope the population of critters who were affected by the recent eruption are able to quickly rebound. I don't know the impact's severity at this point, but I can't say enough about the importance of conserving the Galapagos Archipelago. It represents a thriving pristine wilderness as untamed territories elsewhere - everywhere - are increasingly being forced to share resources with fatal human co-inhabitants. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Wishing you a Joyous Estrus!

This here is informative. Thanks Tom Riddering from MN Atheists.

Quick! What do eggs, flowers, the East, maidens dancing around phallic symbols, the vernal equinox, fecund rabbits, chicks, flowers, Mardi Gras, estrus cycles, and Christianity all have in common? SEX!

Well, Christians actually call it Easter, named after Eastre, the Germanic fertility goddess, which comes from the same origin as the word "east." Why east? That's where the sun rises! The same spring sun that shines on those brightly colored chicken ova and brings new life to the earth -- flowers, chicks, bunnies, and the occasional god. Jesus wasn't the only god allegedly reborn around the vernal equinox. There was also Adonis, Osiris, Perseus, and Orpheus.

Spring is when we have the licentious festivals of Mardi Gras, Carnival, and the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia. It's when the Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus) is celebrated in Japan. Nothing subtle about those Buddhists and Shinto! It's when pre-Christian pagans all over the earth celebrated the return of life after the dark death of winter and propitiated their gods for a successful growing season by celebrating their fertility. The early Christian church couldn't eradicate this popular festival, so they hijacked it and assigned new theological meaning to it. But under all that sanctimonious piety, Easter is nothing but the spring fertility rites. Now that's something even atheists can celebrate!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

David Attenborough: Evolution from Sea to Land

Monday, April 6, 2009

How to Define an Open Mind

"Science promotes and thrives on open-mindedness because the advancement of our understanding about the reality in which we exist depends upon our willingness to accept new ideas."

Friday, April 3, 2009

Temperature-dependent Sex Determination in Humans!?

This is some wonderfully strange new research. Girls are more likely to be born at tropical latitudes than in temperate or subarctic climates. This study provides the first global look at human sex ratios and could shed light on how temperature and day length influence human reproduction. This article reminded me of temperature-dependent sex ratio of reptiles, and I'm not at all surprised that the length of day and temperature would induce a change in sex ratio.

Strangely, in reptiles there is polar variation in the effect temperature has on the outcome of the offspring among taxonomic groups. In crocodiles and alligators, for example, eggs incubated in temperatures below 30 °C produce female offspring and eggs incubated above 34 °C produces male offspring. In turtles, however, at cooler temperatures ranging between 22.5°C and 27 °C mostly male turtles are produced and at warmer temperatures, around 30°C, only female turtles arise. Many other animals adjust the sex of their offspring based on environmental cues such as temperature, but to confirm whether humans do to some extent is difficult to measure. There are multiple variables that have been confirmed to also affect the human sex ratio, such as stress imposed on the mother during pregnancy. How would one overcome this obstacle?

Reproductive endocrinologist Kristen Navara of the University of Georgia in Athens analyzed global sex ratios over 10 years, enough time to be sure that short-term social or economic crises weren't driving the results. Navara had previously found that Siberian hamsters raised with fewer hours of daylight produced more male offspring, and she wondered if the same might be true for humans. Navara gathered sex ratio data for every nation within a decade of uninterrupted statistics. She then analyzed the figures from 202 countries based on latitude, average temperature, day length, and socioeconomic status.

She found that humans living in areas with long, dark winters have more boys: 51.3% of babies born in temperate and subarctic regions are male, compared with 51.1% in the tropics. No one knows exactly when or how sex selection happens, but Navara says that some animals skew sex ratios as early as fertilization. "I suspect that all of this has something to do with melatonin," a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles and the production of female reproductive hormones, says Navara, noting that melatonin release varies in response to day length and season.

Navara, Kristen J. 2009. Humans at tropical latitudes produce more females. Biology letters.