Mockumentaries, Part 2: “Alien Planet” and “The Future is Wild”

Alien Planet

So who's your favourite? Dumbfuck Turtle...

The Future is Wild
...or Dick-faced Fish?

WARNING: HEAVY SWEARING WITH A CHANCE OF VULGARITY

Here’s the second part of the Mockumentaries series, and man, fuck these two. Fuck them to the hellish depths of the abyss. Their concept is dumb and their execution is worse. I don’t know if Alien Planet (2005) had some pretense of being taken seriously and having a scientific foundation (I think it had, given all the retarded interviews with people like Michio Kaku, the living parody of a scientist, and Stephen Hawking, who is clearly a biologist); what I know is that if you want to make up a fictional planet and all the organisms living on it, what comes out can’t be realistic in any way. Biological evolution always defies our imagination, it doesn’t matter how plausible or fantastic your fictional creatures look and behave, we have the capacity to foresee certain patterns of adapatation to certain environments, but said capacity is, as for now, quite limited. The entire show is even more sterile since not only they’re making up the organisms, they’re making up their whole fucking world. It’s not more science-based than Avatar, it’s just much less good-looking and exciting. In fact, the little “it’s a real documentary!” gimmick gets boring pretty fast, and the CGI looks like shit. It looked like shit in 2005, it looks like shit today. Oh, and since you are going to make up a bunch of aliens, one would think you would put some effort into making them look interesting, but nooooo, their design is absolute crap too. So, in the end, we’ve got zero science education and zero entertainment. Congratulation, Alien Planet, you’re a real winner.

The Future is Wild (2002), on the other hand, is a series about the possible future evolution of animal life on Earth after the hypothtical extinction of Homo sapiens, and it is inspired by the works of that weirdo that is Dougal Dixon. To their credit, at least they have a little more solid premises than Alien Planet: we can predict some of the future geological and climate changes, and we know modern terrestrial animals from which the creatures of this series would “evolve”. This, however, doesn’t make The Future is Wild (or the works of Dougal Dixon, for that matter) any more educative or exciting. Trying to predict the evolution of large animals, even very loosely, can’t be taken too seriously, and these people don’t even seem to apply themselves to the task: their idea of evolution is quite childish. They basically take an ecological niche, and a taxon that nowadays doesn’t fill that niche, and mix them toghether. “Wouldn’t it be cool if fish could fly in the forests and giant squids could walk the earth?”- it seems something that a kid would say, and instead it was said by a grown man, maybe even one of the scientists who helped in creating this silliness. Chances are that most taxa (at least the invertebrates) will retain more or less the same niches, although with new forms, and the taxa that will conquer new niches will do it in such a surprising way that it’s impossible to guess it. In addition, as it has always happened, entire biological groups will disappear, while new groups will appear; the series, instead, mainly focus on new “super” future versions of modern animals, disregarding the inevitable appearence of new taxa and reinforcing the wrong idea that evolution is kind of a “chain”, in which a species slowly morphs into a single other species which in turn slowly morphs into a single other species etc… Evolution is not a chain, it’s a tree, a cladogram, in which different biological groups share common ancestors. This could have been one of the few real things this silly series could have explained to the general public, but they decided to reinforce the common misconception of the”great chain of evolution” instead. Bravo. At least not all of the creatures are as ugly and silly looking as the ones from Alien Planet: the bizarre and even morbidly creepy look of some of the animals is basically the only thing that makes Dixon’s books vaguely interesting, after all. The beasts in the series, however, are not all as inspired as the beasts from the book, and many of them are just horribly designed. The effects are not as crappy as in Alien Planet, but they’re still pretty crappy too.

So, in conclusion, these two pieces of fuck are basically just a horrendous waste of time which pretend to be science-based while they’re simply science-fiction, and they’re not even as fun as most science-fiction movies are. Peace out.

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Saturday’s Featured Organism: Psittacula krameri

Psittacula krameri

I can't post this under the "Face to face" imprint because I'm a fuckwit and couldn't take any photo of the parakeets I saw, so here's a "Friday's Featured Organism" article and a stock photo from Google Images. Enjoy.

I’m back home, but this organism is still relevant to my short but sweet roman trip. Wait, what? A parrot like Psittacula krameri in an italian city like Rome? Fuck yes. Ring-necked Parakeets escaped or freed from captivity (they’re popular pets, after all) have been relatively common in many big european cities with warm climate for years now. I had seen them in Barcelona some years ago, so I read about them and discovered that they were in Rome too. However, I had started to think that the roman population was starting to die out, since I frequently visit Rome and I had never seen them. Until the other day, when I discovered a huge colony in a beautiful garden near the Appian way. There were dozens and dozens of beautiful emerald-green parrots flying around, many of them carrying twigs to help building the many enormous colonial nests on the pines nearby. The birds, and the fact that the park was so green and full of palm trees gave the impression of being somewhere in the garden of a powerful and ancient asian king.

While it’s an alien species (and alien species in general are one of the biggest danger to global ecosystems) I don’t think that the Ring-necked Parakeet causes any trouble to local biodiversity, especially since, at least here in Europe, it’s confined to big cities, as far as I know. So I, for one, welcome our new parakeet overlords.

Wild Boars in Circeo

Chillin’ in Rome right now (also, I’m writing this post from my phone, so sorry if it’s not very articulate). Yesterday I visited the Natural Park of Mount Circeo, which is part of the MAB (Man And Biosphere), a programme aimed at biodiversity conservation and management all around the world. I visited the forest portion of the park, and it’s beautiful, with enormous trees and a tipically mediterranean vegetation. Parts of the forest are partially flooded with water, especially during autumm, creating vast natural pools. Also, for the first time ever, I had a face to face with a group of wild boars (Sus scrofa), four huge, fearsome looking individuals. At first I thought they were inside an enclosure like the other animals at the entrance of the park, then I realized there was no real fence between me and them: they just entered the garden of the building of the park rangers to find something to eat. When we stopped the car (we where about to leave the park after a brief excursion by foot) they stared at us for a few seconds and then quickly disappeared in the forest (so I have no photos of the encounter, sadly). Boars are fascinating animals, but in many areas they can be a real problem, ecologically and economically: they are present in vast numbers, and can badly damage endangered vegetation and crops. The forest of Circeo was full of the holes they dig in search of roots and bulbs, for example, and the hills near Bologna, my city, are even worse in some areas.

The Amazing Atheist goes Green, and Why the Fuck don’t I Post More?

TAA talks about gas prices, and in doing so speaks in support of green energy.

Anyway. I’ve deliberately decided not to feature an organism this friday, or the whole blog will soon become nothing more than a collection of Friday’s Featured Organisms. “Why don’t you post other things?” I hear you ask. Laziness could be an answer. Also, I’ve recently been involved in trying to finally start my goddamn stage; I’ll start helping soon, but apparently most of the projects will take place in summer. This solicited me to start studying for the exams I’ll have to take in the summer, so hopefully I won’t have many problems juggling the exams and the stage when the time comes. All this means less time and energy to write meaty articles. I’ll try to do better before the summer madness begins. Things I plan on doing:

1) Post more of my naturalistic photos (the “Face to face” updates)

2) Post more movie bio-reviews (the “Popcorn Biology” updates)

3) Post the second part of my mockumentary reviews (I didn’t forget!)

4) Win the penis joke wars against Jerry Coyne (this is going to be an herculean task)

See ya soon, fuckers.

Friday’s Featured Organism: Scutigera coleoptrata

Scutigera coleoptrata

What else can I say, other than “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”?

I’ve always found silly how many people find spiders particularly disgusting because “they have so many legs!”. If 8 is too much, what about the centpedes? Look at this fucker, for example. Sure, there are Chilopoda with more legs (and their cousins, the Diplopoda, have of course even more), but Scutigera coleoptrata sure wants to make use of its set to win the award for “Most freakishly disturbing lovecraftian arthropod on the planet”. Look at those fucking legs! They’re everywhere! And they’re so long, and there’s a lot of other appendages between them too (wow, that sounded dirty)! This animal is a very common house “pest” (although, since it preys on insects, one would think that’s also an help against other pests); as most Chilopoda, it has a poisonous “bite” (although, since Chilopoda inoculate venom through modified legs, it’s technically not a real bite), but i’s not dangerous for humans, and it’s also not nearly as aggressive as other centipedes, like the genus Scolopendra. A fast and nocturnal predator, S. coleoptera certainly is a fascinating animal. But boy, is it disturbing.

Face to Face: Xylocopa violacea

Xylocopa violacea

It’s big and scary looking, but it’s mostly harmless.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of my photos. This one was taken in the beautiful country of Croatia, and its protagonist is a carpenter bee, Xylocopa violacea (or a similar species), a big and beautiful Hymenoptera of the Apoidea. While the most widely known of the bee species, the honeybee, is eusocial, there are various species, including Xylocopa violacea, that are solitary. The carpenter bees can be easily seen in spring and summer in many european countries, in places where there are many flowers, and they’re often mistaken for the far more aggressive hornets (which are actually completely different, and part of the Vespoidea) by the common people, but, while they can sting, they won’t do it unless you try to do something stupid like catching them with your bare hands. Carpenter bees lay eggs in tunnels in wood; each egg is in a chambers separated by the others by a septum made of plant parts; each chambers also contains a littleball made of nectar and pollen, so the larva has something to eat after it hatches. When their development is complete, the insects will leave their chambers in the wood and start their lives as adults.

Friday’s Featured Organism: Vibrio fischeri

Vibrio fischeri

Glooooooowww

I love all living things (in a total non-hippy way), but it’s clear that I’ve my preferences, and prokaryotes don’t get as much coverage as Eukarya around here usually. So here’s a bacterium, and what’s cooler than a normal bacterium? A bacterium that glows in the dark. Yes, Vibrio fischeri is a gram-negative marine bacterium, widely studied for its bioluminescence. Not only it lights up, but it’s also capable of symbiosis with marine animals like fishes and squids, which use its bioluminescence to their own advantage, and have co-evolved with these bacteria so that it’s easier for the microorganisms to colonize specific organs in their bodies. As far as I know, it’s also used in ecotoxicology studies, probably in part because it should be easier to check the growth of a glowing bacterium than the growth of a non-shiny one.