Showing posts with label zoology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label zoology. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Birth of a beetle at Gamone

Twenty minutes ago, while seated in front of my computer screen and reading the news of momentous events throughout the planet Earth and beyond, I was surprised by the buzzing sound of an insect that hurtled diagonally across my screen and landed on a corner of my desk. Thinking it was an unwelcome blowfly, I was about to squash it with a blow of my fist. Fortunately, miraculously, an angel arrived instantly above my Macintosh and seized my murderous hand.

It wasn't a blowfly. (I'm referring to the insect, not the angel.) I was confronted by a tiny coccinellid (ladybird), which I immediately clasped gently between my fingertips and laid on the outside sill of the bathroom window.

It had probably emerged recently from its pupa in a warm corner of my bedroom, and my intervention amounted to inviting the tiny creature to visit the outside world of Gamone, where my rose bushes will soon be offering a good food supply of tasty aphids. For several years now, whenever I spot ladybirds, I've attempted to nudge them into their optimal setting for proliferation. The survivors (like the little fellow I've just encountered) probably don't realize it, but they should look upon me as a Good Beetle Samaritan. Meanwhile, I admire the simplicity of a Wikipedia rendition of ladybird anatomy.

Ah, if only the totality of the marvelous science of anatomy were to have been reduced to this kind of splendid lucidity, I would have mastered it instantaneously and completely, and I might have become a great doctor, a celebrated surgeon capable of grafting robotic synthetic shells onto the wings of injured beetles, a ladybird Nobel...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Marvel of nature

This morning, while accompanying Sophia up the hill for her matinal pee, I came upon this splendid empty chrysalis, which is so light that the breeze blew it onto the road.

It's amazing to think that a splendid butterfly or moth emerged recently from this exoskeleton, and has probably already got together with a mate of its species in order to start another life cycle.

Most human observers would be enraptured by a piece of handmade jewelry imitating this shell. (The term chrysalis comes from the Greek/Latin for "gold".) I find that the real chrysalis is infinitely more mysterious, beautiful and precious than any artifact.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Unbearable tragedy

Having got rid of that lousy pun in my title (a silly way of trying to attenuate my great distress), I hasten to point out that I've truly been projected into a terrible state of sadness by the sudden and unexpected death of the marvelous little bear Knut. His disappearance is totally unthinkable, but we must think just that.

Much will be said in the near and distant future about Knut and his friend Thomas Doerflein… both of whom have now left us. The love story of Knut and Thomas was utterly fabulous. I have rarely been the (remote) spectator of any relationship of a comparable depth and intensity between an allegedly wild beast and a human. But critics will seek to demolish (and rightly so, I feel) the very concept of zoos.

Try to access a serious video account of this amazing relationship, as distinct from the popular publicity stuff about Knut put out by the Berlin Zoo. I've seen such a video on French TV, but I don't know whether it's available on DVD. [Maybe informed readers might comment on this question.] Meanwhile, my message for Knut and Thomas:
We humble observers on the planet Terra cannot fail to sense today that your DNA is being intermingled for Eternity as stardust, and setting out on a fabulous journey through the Cosmos, far from Berlin and the Arctic, into realms where you will belong—at home together—forever.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Steve Irwin clone in Holland

A delightful detail in this story is the hero's name, Freek Vonk, which sounds great in English. Besides, this is the first time in my life that I've ever understood immediately a media heading written in Dutch (by four vowel substitutions): Steve Irwin is dood, lang leve Freek Vonk.

This Dutch guy—whose enthusiasm for reptiles and biting creatures is infectious—is in fact a serious biologist at the University of Leiden, and he hunts snakes to milk their venom, which he then uses in his research. You can find out all about him through his websites, here and here, which provided illustrations for the present blog post. Not surprisingly, Freek seems to spend a lot of time doing field work out in Australia.

His Irwin antics emerge in the following otherwise serious video:

Apparently, the proteins used by snakes to capture their prey are of great interest to researchers in genetics. A good introduction to this subject is provided here by the US scientist and writer Carl Zimmer.

POST SCRIPTUM: I'm happy to see that my Antipodes blog, as a consequence of the automatic Twitter announcement of the present post, is getting quite a few visits from the Netherlands. In watching Freek's video once again, with joy, I was suddenly reminded of a tone of voice that I had forgotten for half a century. In Sydney, when I was an adolescent (working as a computer programmer for IBM), there used to be a hardware store in George Street, not far from the town hall, called Knock & Kirby. They employed a wonderful English-born hawker who officiated in a sidewalk stand before his being transformed by his voice and talents into a TV celebrity. I forget his name, but I'll never forget his vocal marketing style. He sold vegetable-slicing gadgets in much the same way that Freek Vonk is now selling snakes. In fact, like yesterday's snake-oil charmers, exceptional individuals of this caliber succeed in using their voice to sell excitement and joy to us intrigued listeners. And what's wrong with that?

In the case of Freek Vonk, of course, there are three additional factors of a weighty nature. First, the guy is exceptionally bright and dynamic. You don't work at a doctorate at Leiden unless you know what you're talking about. Second, he's no ivory-tower academic, in that (like Steve Irwin) he knows how to communicate with us ordinary folk in the outside world, and expresses a desire to do so. And third, he seems to have mastered a spectacular real-time art of dancing out of the way of mortal bites from his friends. While touching wood, I wish him well. For Chrissake, man, don't go all the way by doing us an Irwin…

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dinosaur Quasimodo found in Spain

The taxon (biological category) of this recently-discovered dinosaur is Concavenator corcovatus, which means "the Cuenca predator with a hunchback". I prefer to refer to him by a nickname: Quasimodo. In the genus (first) term, the "venator" element means a hunter in Latin, while the "Conca" prefix is one of the various designations of the place where Quasimodo was discovered, known today as Cuenca, located midway between Madrid and Valencia. The species (second) term is a Latinized version of the Spanish word "corcovado" meaning hunchbacked.

Quasimodo lived at the beginning of the Cretaceous period, some 130 million years ago (10 million years after the end of the Jurassic period). Apart from his hump, whose raison-d'être remains a mystery, Quasimodo had bumps on his arms that probably housed some kind of feathers or bristles. So, he could well be another ancestor of birds.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Raped by a parrot

This amusing video shows Stephen Fry and the zoologist Mark Carwardine in an encounter with a fat flightless parrot called a kakapo, which is almost extinct.

Travel warning. Don't be foolish enough to try to smuggle a copy of this porn video into Australia. These images were shot in New Zealand, which (as everybody knows by now) is a depraved land as far as fornication with animals is concerned. We don't know if the parrot had attained the legal age limit for consensual sex. In any case, this sort of behavior in an outdoor setting, where innocent children could pass by, is quite indecent. Your electronic equipment is likely to be seized by Australian customs officers, and you could be sent to a convict colony on Norfolk Island while their investigations are under way.