general interest

Someday I'd Really Like to Meet a Woodcock

I'd like to meet a woodcock primarily because they are ridiculously proportioned animals that I'd enjoy drawing and painting, but also because they have a really cute bobbing walk and their mating call is called "peenting," which you cannot deny is an adorable name.

Here's a short clip of a woodcock dancing:

And here's one of peenting mixed into a snippet of Collective Soul's famous "Shine" song:

My Pet Crested Gecko Lex

I've had a pet crested gecko for a little over a year.  Her name is Lex (though I'm not 100% certain that she's a female yet, since juvenile crested geckos don't develop visible sexual organs until they are typically a little larger than she is - but since she presently lacks the visible sexual organs of a male, I'm going with female for now). 

She's really a fabulous pet for me - Lex requires very little effort in the way of care (no augmented temperature requirements, likes to live in a vivarium that dovetails nicely with my interests in keeping houseplants, primarily eats a reconstituted powder which minimizes the need to buy/keep insects) and is great fun to watch.  She has a surprising range of colors and is gorgeous in each of them.  And she will, with good care and some luck, live a long time - the average lifespan of captive crested geckos is estimated to be 10 to 20 years!


I learned about the existence of the word "octopodes" yesterday and had to go on a research spree.  Here is what I've gathered: octopuses, octopi, and octopodes are all acceptable pluralizations of octopus.

  • Octopuses is the English pluralization.
  • Octopi stems from a popular misconception that octopus was originally a Latin word - it's actually Greek - and used to be considered grammatically incorrect but has since been used enough to become a viable option.
  • Octopodes comes from the original ancient Greek pluralization.

I have also just learned that despite the accuracy of the above statements, my spell check firmly denies the existence of both octopi and octopodes (and, in fact, pluralizations).  Nevertheless, I'm going to be testing out octopodes as my preferred pluralization for a while.  It has a nice sound. 

Discouraging News on the Conservation Front

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Zoological Society of London (ZSL) just released a new report detailing a 49% decline "in the size of marine populations between 1970 and 2012."

This follows their 2014 report which states in part that over the past 40 years:

Populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by an average of 52%.  Freshwater species populations have suffered a 76% decline, an average loss almost double that of land and marine species."

Fungi Interconnectedness

This is a fascinating article about the "internet of fungi."  I first learned about this concept through the BBC's documentary How Plants Communicate and Think.  It's a bit startling to consider that the "fiction" part of the science fiction blockbuster Avatar didn't extend to the networked plants.  

Armadillos Birth Genetically Identical Quadruplets

From a Wikipedia research spiral:

Armadillos possess the unique reproductive trait of monozygotic polyembryony, meaning their offspring are genetically identical due to the division of a single fertilized egg into four matching embryos. This development of identical quadruplets has been utilized as a tool for genetic research. It is possible that the monozygotic polyembryony was an adaptation to accommodate for the female’s inability to carry more than one egg during this pre-implantation stage. Delaying the implantation further has no effect on the number of offspring produced.

Armadillos are also carriers of leprosy, as I learned in my Infectious Diseases course in undergrad.  And they have the now unfortunate fear response of jumping, which means they often kill themselves on car bumpers when the vehicle would have otherwise safely passed over the animal.  They are a fascinating creature.

Studies Confirm Nature Is Soothing

Research coming out of Stanford University's Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources is unsurprisingly showing that:

A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.

Oranges Are Hybridized Fruits

Many people think of oranges as a primary, pure, primitive fruit.  In fact, they're a hybrid of pomelos and mandarins!  From "The draft genome of sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)":

"The remarkably high degree of heterozygosity in the genome of cultivar Valencia sweet orange (C. sinensis cv. Valencia), as evidenced in our genomic and cytological analyses, hinted that sweet orange is an interspecific hybrid between pummelo and mandarin. On the basis of the collective evidence, we reconstructed the scenario regarding the ancient primary events of the origin of sweet orange: female pummelo crossed with male mandarin to create the initial interspecific hybrid that was further crossed again with male mandarin to produce sweet orange. This event might have happened at least 2,300 years ago, or much earlier, as sweet orange was recorded in Chinese literature as long ago as 314 BC (3, 38). Although additional genetic changes might have occurred afterward, it is still remarkable that this ancient hybrid genotype seems to be preserved in today's sweet orange, probably because of its strict nature of asexual reproduction (apomixis through nucellar embryo) and manmade selection and propagation by grafting. This scenario explains why most of today's sweet orange cultivars are genetically one biotype and highly heterozygous, with diversification occurring mostly through somatic mutations (7, 39, 40)."

Swiss Cheese Holes Caused By Hay Dust

Have you noticed fewer holes in your Swiss cheese over the years?  Apparently this cheese (also known as Emmental cheese overseas - something I accidentally discovered for myself on residency in Iceland) had a lot of holes because small particles of hay dust used to regularly drift their way into the milk in the normal course of farming.  Our increasingly industrialized processes sterilized the cheesemaking environment so much that the holes have been mysteriously disappearing.  Now that the cause has been discovered, though, cheesemakers can judiciously add hay dust back into the milk.

Aphids Are Born Pregnant (Unless They're Not Born At All...)

Did you know that most aphids are born pregnant?  I was thinking about this odd fact since my sempervivum collection (colloquially known as Hen and Chicks) had an aphid infestation due in part to the unusually wet late spring here in Kansas.  Luckily, neem oil has so far discouraged the little ladies from successfully hatching their next two generations.  Below is a close-up of one the several sempervivum species I'm keeping in a rail planter on my porch.

First Fully Warm-Blooded Fish Identified!

This is cool:

"The opah, or moonfish, is the first known fully warm-blooded fish, according to a study published in the journal Science.
Certain other fish, such as some sharks and tuna, have what’s known as 'regional endothermy,' or limited warm-bloodedness. It allows them to stay active in colder depths, as well as shallower waters. But the fully warm-blooded opah are unlike all other fish, at least so far as we know it."