Tuesday Video Lunch: WHAT?!

For all the times we’ve mentioned it on the Podcast, it is amazing that we hadn’t posted the following video earlier. So often our conversation has drifted to the topic of a couple dozen Japanese giant hornets killing 30,000 honey bees in a single attack. It is this sort of insane destruction that makes the Japanese giant hornet the stuff of nightmares. They are terrifying monsters and that is why they are so awesome and so appropriate for this week’s Video Lunch.

But something we never mentioned was that the native Japanese honey bees have a bizarre defensive mechanism that helps them fight off the hornets. If the bees can capture an advance scout hornet, they will engulf it and vibrate to raise their body temperatures, killing the hornet by overheating it. A recent study has shown increased activity in a specific section of the bees’ brains when they are engaged in their defensive ball, perhaps acting as a timer so the bees know when to turn down the heat.

I particularly enjoy the Gone With The Wind style shots of the dead and dying bees writhing on the ground.

Tuesday Video Lunch: Drugs For Lunch

For this week’s Video Lunch, we are having a heaping helping of illicit drugs. Yummy! Before we get into the animals, lets have a look at what happens when people are dosed with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD):

Hmm. So don’t do drugs when you have important business to attend to (war, for example.) Got it. But what if you have something less important to do, like be on time for lunch? Well, research indicates that drugs slow down the internal mechanisms that make it possible to keep track of time. In our next video, scientists dosed rats with cocaine and marijuana to evaluate how their sense of time was affected:

So, you see, if you have an appointment, you should not do drugs since you won’t show up at the right time. Also, if you have pet rats, you shouldn’t drug them or they’ll be late for lunch.

Also, there is no reason they had to do that test on animals, I have a dozen friends who would volunteer for that experiment. Oh, but if the test subjects knew anything about what was going on, it would skew the results. Hmm…

Tabloid Thursday: Is the Easter Bunny Actually The Missing Link?

Tabloid Thursday!? We should call it Totally Legitimate Science Thursday! Weekly World News reported on Tuesday that new research indicates humans evolved from rabbits. They even have the sophisticated diagrams to prove it:

Actually, that third one kind of looks like a satyr. Could it be that the ancient Greeks had found proto-human rabbit-man fossils and created a mythological creature around what they didn’t understand? It wouldn’t have been the first time they made such a mistake.

"'Elephant'? Never heard of such a thing (since I live in Ancient Greece.) That, my good man, is clearly a cyclops skull. Also, why would I refer to my own time-period as 'Ancient'?"

But back to our present topic. It seems that there has been some very interesting research conducted by Sven Bjeen of the University of Amsterdam. (Don’t bother looking him up, his faculty page is suspiciously non-existent on the university’s website.) The “studies” show that proteins in hares are nearly identical to those in humans, suggesting a recent common ancestor. In fact, Dr. Peter VanderMan of Brussels University says that the work “indicates that man most likely evolved from an ancient rabbit rather than an ape or monkey.” He even speculated that the missing link probably wiggled its nose like modern bunnies. (Like Bjeen, VanderMan’s faculty page is nowhere to be found. No doubt these men are trying to keep a low profile to avoid hate mail from creationists and rabbitphobes.)

I eagerly await the discovery of the “missing link that moved by hoping and had a hairy pelt.” And luckily, I won’t have to wait long. Weekly World News says that scientists are “confident they will find the direct link by August of 2012.”

Terra Nova: The Hubble Telescope?


No seriously, what?

You may have read my some 5000 words on why Terra Nova should have been better, and dinosaurs are the reason that I can put this on Animal News, but this quote is just crazy enough that I have to comment on it.

Let’s do some fancy block quotes for this one.

Terra Nova is analogous to the Hubble Space Telescope. Within weeks of a much publicized and ballyhooed launch in 1990, the Hubble was found to have a serious flaw. Yet even with an improperly ground mirror the Hubble delivered extraordinary images. When the flaw was corrected the Hubble delivered images of transcendent beauty and value for many years. So too Terra Nova. Even in it’s flawed first season each episode was full of marvelous moments and beautiful images. With correction, and given the chance, Terra Nova can and will deliver seasons of transcendent images and story-telling. Failing to renew Terra Nova is shortsighted, as myopic as it would have been to scrap the Hubble. Terra Nova is the Hubble Telescope of television.”  – Stephen Lang

I dare you to make less sense Mr. Lang.  I have huge respect for you as an actor, and I quite enjoyed your show, but seriously?  The Hubble is the best comparison that you could come up with?

First off, the first season was strangely devoid of “marvelous moments and beautiful images.”  Most of the first season was pretty people climbing around on rocks, or standing in dirt parking lots explaining why we were either going to or not going to be seeing them for the next hour. While this can work for some shows… (although, in the shows that I watch, I rarely like it, and can’t think of an example) for you guys, what it meant was that we didn’t get to see any dinosaurs.  Because if there is one thing I can say for sure, not one of the “marvelous moments or beautiful images” had a crappy CGI dino in it.  The closest thing to a “brachiosaur sighting from the jeep” was in the pilot, where we saw “brachiosaur stand in over the fence”, which, and I don’t know why this is, seemed similar to me.

Also, one flaw?  What one flaw?  Was the flaw that you weren’t the star?  Or that the family in the show showed no growth or character development?  Or that we killed the one person who consistently acted competently in the best interest of the colony and premise of the show? Or was the flaw turning the whole thing into an Oedipal drama, when the tension could have been between man and nature?  Or was the flaw that the villains showed no consistent motivation other than “we’re evil because we were told to be evil”?  Or was the flaw that no one thought out how the season would progress, other than the “strange markings” “maybe other portals” and finally “ship’s bow mystery”?

(On the ship’s bow, it’s the Mary Celleste right?  It’s gotta be, because it is the most famous wooden ship  disappearance, we haven’t explained where the portal was in the future other than “generic America”, and it also gives the show a common history with out reality.  Gotta be, right?)

Look, I agree with your point, which is, given another shot at it, you guys could do great work, and I even outlined what I would do to do so in that other article.  I hope you do get another shot, and I really hope that it goes well for you, but if you do get another shot, please, please, please, don’t say that one part was broken, and grinding a new mirror will fix it, because it won’t, and it can’t.  It all hangs together.

Oh, in case you were wondering, Terra Nova was cancelled last week.

Birds Finally Get In On The Gif Game

Oh Yeah.

Harris's Sparrow Migration Pattern, or the dripping of Canada

In a link too cool not to post, ebirds.org has posted a bunch of migratory gifs for the US.  I just like how cool they look.  You should check them out.  Additionally, you should read the little stories that accompany them, which show the research that went into making these gifs, and what was revealed when they were made.  Very cool.  Thanks to io9 for the heads up.

Finally, Someone Makes An Argument For Creationism That Just Makes Sense

Man, I wish someone would just finally explain how the Bible is right, and On The Origin of Species is wrong.

Thanks to CollegeHumor, Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, I can finally understand it.

Oh, and if you get a chance, check out Nick Offerman’s Woodshop.  He’ll make you a canoe.  Both Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman are on Children’s Hospital, as well, which is amazing.


By the way, can Kirk Cameron now shut up about it?  I’d really appreciate it.

Also by the way, evolution is real.

Blinding Speed!

In our most recent podcast I boldly asserted that there was an insect so fast that it goes (temporarily) blind. Turns out that I wasn’t lying. The insect in question is the tiger beetle.

Just look at those muscular legs.

These silly little critters apparently run in a series of fits and starts because they actually move so quickly that their eyes do not collect enough light to create an image of what is around them. They sprint, they go blind, they stop, look around, repeat.

Scientific representation of the phenomenon in question.

All of this at an amazing 4.1 miles per hour. Fine, don’t be amazed. That doesn’t seem very fast. It’s only 171 body lengths per second. WHAT!? Usain Bolt manages just over 6 body lengths per second when he is at top speed. If he were covering 171 of his own body lengths every second, he’d break the sound barrier! (That is not hyperbole, people; Bolt would be running at a stupid fast 748 miles per hour.) People think ants are awesome because they can lift 8 times their body weight, but the tiger beetle is the scale equivalent of an insane rocket car.

For more information about these silly little speed demons and for the sources for the above image and statistics, check out Goodheart’s Extreme Science Blog.

Do your part: Categorize A Whale’s iTunes Library!

After my highly critical io9 post, I thought I would post something that they posted that was pretty cool.

Want to be a whale scientist?  How about an unpaid intern to a computer that a whale scientist that has uploaded some music to a library?  If so, this story is for you!

Check it out!

Another Day, Another Evolution Article that Misses the Point Entirely

As I am want to do, I was browsing io9, when I came across this article.

First off, super cool research.  If you are the kind of person who doesn’t click through links, here is the general statement.

There are three basic forms of life that we know today (keeping in mind that nobody agrees with each other ever on how to classify things, and whether life is in this or in that is an incredibly difficult question to even begin to answer.)

Bacteria, which is a small group of 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 organisms.  That is a five, followed by 30 zeros.  We don’t talk so much about bacteria on the podcast, because, as single celled organisms, they are a bit outside our purview   However, since they live inside of us, make us sick, and digest our food for us, animal life and bacterial life are intertwined.  As Wikipedia says, inside of you and on your skin, there are 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells in your body.  Have fun sleeping after finding that out!

Archaea, which is the young upstart domain of life.  Actually, that isn’t true.  It was classified as bacteria for a while, but these cells seem to have a different history of evolution than bacteria.  They do not share all the same traits, and live in a different way than bacteria do.

Eukaryota, which is us.  And anything else that has membranes inside membranes in cells.  This is all animals.  We’re the big things that we see, but we only equal the Bacteria and Archaea in biomass. This is where Animal News: The Podcast usually deals.

However, these three “Domains” as they are called don’t seem to result from one another.  Sure, membranes are shared by all of them.  They all attempt to reproduce and out produce others.  They are all alive, for a lack of a more precise term.  They are all different though, and this seems to point to a weird conclusion.  That if we really want to find out what the first life on Earth was, there must be a common ancestor to all of these.  This is called LUCA (or Last Universal Common Ancestor) in the article.

The article says that researchers have theorized that the LUCA may have been an amorphous, huge blob, of independent cells that passed proteins from one cell to another, to the benefit of the colony.  This blob could have been planet sized, and would have been a gigantic communal organism.  Since this gigantic communal organism would have had the potential to evolve within itself, it would be a good candidate for LUCA, and the three domains would result from it.  It would have eventually been out-competed by it’s evolutionary offspring, dividing into the three domains we know today, and life on Earth would result in the diversity that we have today.

I like the theory.  I really do.  It’s interesting, it does the razor thing well, and it makes a case for a simple thing being the cause of enormous complexity, based on shared traits of the complexity.  Fascinating, probably completely impossible to prove, and it gives a good account of things.  However, shit gets wonky for me when one starts stating things like this.

All life on Earth is related, which means we all must share a single common evolutionary ancestor. And now it appears that this ancestor might have been a single, planet-spanning organism that lived in a time that predates the development of survival of the fittest.

That is bullshit.  First off, the assumption that this organism predates the development of survival of the fittest is an insane claim to make.  Each cell, as stated in the theory, would make proteins, and if they were successful proteins, they would spread far and wide.  That is essentially survival of the fittest, right there.  It’s not like the cells were electing to make some successful and some not.  If a protein that wasn’t successful was created, vast swaths of life would die there, and the protein would not be made any more, because it wouldn’t have been passed to the next group.  This is competition. This is survival of the fittest, within it’s own species.

Second, and this is what you’re tiptoeing around with the LUCA, is that we don’t know if it had actual competitors.  Perhaps it just out competed the other life that was around it, drove them to extinction, and other various forms of life were beaten by LUCA.  This theory doesn’t require that there is no other life around, just that LUCA’s descendants survived, and other life’s descendants didn’t.  This too is survival of the fittest.

Third, I don’t think that this was a “single” organism.  In fact, it sounds a lot like a “single” organism in the way that human beings are a “single” organism.  I don’t mean to imply that this things parts had sentience, or consciousness, but it seems a lot like it was competing with other things to destroy them, much the same way human beings do.  Out produce and out last, spread yourselves far and wide, have lots of babies, and murder the shit out of anything that gets in your way, including other groups of your own species.

Look, I don’t think I am smarter than the writer.  I don’t think I understand the science better than anyone else.  When I read the paper that was posted, I get confused, and I look up everything that I get confused about, but the statements made in this article are somewhat baseless, and moreover, are impossible to prove or disprove.

Evolution is one of the most powerful forces on Earth.  It’s simple, easy to understand, and directly shows the power of the world.  As we talked about in the last podcast, the case for it was made simply a hundred and fifty years ago, and everything that we find out strengthens the argument for it.  That strength is clear and easy, and we don’t need to inflate it.


PODCAST: Chuck Darwin, English Type Man, and His Boat, The Beagle

Chuck Darwin wrote a book.  We’ll tell you about the book, about evolution, about what we think and how we feel, and you will listen… if you know what is good for you.

Thanks for listening… or else!