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)
The cake is a lie, but evolution is not. Happy birthday Charles!
Fuck, I managed to miss Darwin Day: yesterday, 12 february 2012, was the 203rd anniversary of the birth of the man who unlocked the secret of life itself and thus basically invented modern biology and discovered our real place in the universe: Charles Robert Darwin. Zoologist, botanist, geologist, he wrote many milestones of natural history, the most important of course being On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, published in 1859 after more than 20 years since Darwin had developed the idea of natural selection and gradual biological changes for the first time, during his fateful journey around the world on the Beagle. 20 years of rewritings, experiments and fear – fear of the power of his own idea, of how it could affect the scientific and religious views. Thank you, Charles.
Just a couple cool videos I’ve discovered thanks to Science Memebase. In both cases, the protagonists are hymenopterans, the group of insects that includes wasps, bees and ants. Although there are many species of solitary hymenopterans (at least in the case of bees and wasps), these critters are of course mainly known for their complex and sometimes abnormally huge societies. And these videos really seem to highlight the importance of cooperation between the individuals of these colonies.
The first video shows an incredible behaviour of fire ants that create a nearly-impossible-to-sink raft – with their bodies. I knew they could make long bridges, but I had never realized how waterproof the structures they created could be. This incredible level of coordination shows how the use of the term “superorganism” to describe these colonies is not only correct, but also mandatory.
The second video shows a classic battle between two old rivals – with a musical twist. The main characters are the european honeybees Apis mellifera and the deadly Japanese Hornets Vespa mandarinia japonica, an Apoidea and a Vespoidea respectively (both part of the Aculeata). The author o the video added an epic music track for added spectacularity, and the results are awesome. Should epic soundtracks be implemented in nature documentaries? I don’t think it’s such a bad idea: life is epic, give it a proper musical score.
The Japanese Hornets prey the eggs and larvae of the bees, after finding their colonies thanks to scouts sent to explore the territory. One of the coolest facts of this eternal war is the way the bees can counter the presence of a scout: they swarm on it and start vibrating their bodies until the temperature gets so high that the hornet is cooked alive. Fuck yeah.
That video from the excellent series The Shape of Life shows the penis fencing behaviour of a species of marine flatworm. The loser is stabbed and fertilizer by the winner’s penis (they are hermaphroditic, but they fight because being the “mother” means spending a lot of energy and resources in producing the offspring). Although this is a particoularly spectacularly bizarre ritual, is not the only case of hypodermic insemination – the mating behaviour in which the male pierces the female’s skin with its penis and injects sperm directly into her body cavity. Rotifers of the genus Brachionus and many other invertebrates do it. The most famous and studied are the bedbugs, Cimex lectularius. Here’s a video interpretation of their mating practice. Although I’m not sure I’m ready for a human reinterpretation of the flatworm penis fencing.