Archive for December, 2007

Solstice is Over Man!

23 December 2007

So, I won’t waste my time wishing y’all a happy holiday. I converted to animism on I-5 just south of Lodi, beneath a wheeling gyre of White Pelicans. Mahayana blows
dude. Sorry.

Those pelicans then shall be our collective mascot this holy season, their holding pattern a gleaming metaphor for our soul. Which is to say, don’t be surprised if things are pretty quiet around here for the rest of the week.

In the mean time:

– Jennifer Rae Atkins pulled of the astonishing feat of drawing twenty-four mammals in twenty-four hours and in the process raised $800 for Defenders of Wildlife. With the help of several gallons of vanilla DP, she even managed to slam my “diabolical” curve-ball request out of the park. Go check out her awesome work!

– Entomologist, photographer and one-time Davisite, Alex Wild has launched an awesome ant-blog Myrmecos. Wild’s photography is truly amazing and has often made me want to chuck my camera off a cliff. Fortunately, since the camera doesn’t belong to me, there aren’t many cliffs in Davis. His blog may well drive me to lob my laptop into the Interstate though.

Mechanical insect art by Mike Libby! Crazy…

Tai’s tales of auspicious animal encounters reveals the patent grayness of my animistic sphere. But I saw an octopus! and cranes! and like, multiple scorpions some of which I held so cut me some slack.

– I was desperately hoping to take up the Schmitz et al. paper in the inaugural issue of Nature Geoscience and the broader issue of the Ordovician radiation and the growing impulse to invoke bolides as a causal agent for all dramatic biotic events… But, well we’re gonna have to wait for that.

So, here’s your homework – “What are the benefits and dangers of applying neoecology notions like disturbance ecology or island biogeography to evolutionary or extinction events in the fossil record?” Write a three to five page review of the issue including at least six primary references and one figure, due January 15th 2008.

okay, we’ll leave it at that, if I haven’t had cause or opportunity to apologize to you in person this year, I’m sorry.  There’s always next year!

An Ordinate Fondness

20 December 2007

When asked about what could be learned about the Creator by studying nature, Haldane is supposed to have quipped, “well, dudeski’s got a major hard-on for beetles.” Or something like that. At somewhere better than 350,000 described species (about 40% of all animal species known), and surely many, many more out there waiting to be described, the diversity of beetles is truly astonishing.

Beyond sheer numerical diversity the ecological diversity of the group is impressive. Carnivores, herbivores, fungivores, scavengers and a robust guild of poo-eaters are all counted among their ranks. There are bioluminescent beetles, giant aquatic fish-eating beetles, beetles with elaborate “horns” and beetles that engage in chemical warfare against lazy Victorian schoolboys.

Also, they are really into kinky sex.

How, precisely, beetles got to be so damn diverse has puzzled scientists for since, well, not before time, surely. Flowering plants, climate change and poo have all been fingered as driving forces in beetle radiation. In the latest issue of Science a star-studded crew of established and erstwhile coleopterists once again take up this age-old question in a report titled “A Comprehensive Phylogeny of Beetles Reveals the Evolutionary Origins of a Superradiation.” In an effort to address the mechanisms underlying beetle “superradation!” the researchers assembled a massive cladogram (pictured at the top of this article) which nicely shows how awesome the beetles are compared to a profoundly lame group like, say, the mammals.

Their conclusion? Well, basically, beetles are so diverse because they have radiated into a wide range of ecological niches since the Jurassic while having a high lineage survival (read: low extinction) rate.

Also, they’re into kinky sex. And eating poo.
Well, that ought to be the end of that debate!

postscript: i kid because i care.

Toby Hunt, Johannes Bergsten, Zuzana Levkanicova, Anna Papadopoulou, Oliver St. John, Ruth Wild, Peter M. Hammond, Dirk Ahrens, Michael Balke, Michael S. Caterino, Jesús Gómez-Zurita, Ignacio Ribera, Timothy G. Barraclough, Milada Bocakova, Ladislav Bocak, and Alfried P. Vogler (21 December 2007) Science 318 (5858), 1913.
[DOI:10.1126/science.1146954]

Maybe I should go into Proctology…

20 December 2007

given my apparent inordinate fondness for colons. Despite my (clearly fictitious) loathing of auto-metabloggery, I’m going to jump on the whole first sentence of each month meme-wagon ‘coz well…I suppose I like self analysis as much as the next typer. So here are the first lines (or so) from the first microecos post of each month in 2007:

J

...it’s a squirrel?

F

We’re still stalling on phugoid fliers, not to mention most beautiful bird #5.

M

To all in the Davis CA vicinity: Sunwise Co-op (my home) is having an Open-house/Naomh Pádraig memorial fest beginning mid-morning and (hopefully) extending past mid-night.

A

Forget about vertebrates: the salamanders that I could not find in Amador County were heavily outweighed by the arthropods that I did.

M

I wasn’t even aware that I actually knew any dirty limericks, but when I saw this PLoS One paper one popped from the depths of my subconscious like a roach emerging from beneath a rock:

J

Apologies for all of the accumulated leaf litter around here.

J

Perhaps some important linking source has expired?

A

A few days ago, in the post about vampire bat breath, I pondered: Oh those stable istopists what will they drop into the mass spec next??

S

Boneyard #5 is up at The Ethical Palaeontologist (oh, fine. I plugged that extra vowel in).

O

Something about the cover of Carl Zimmer’s new book looks a tad familiar…

N

Waiting in the lobby of the Austin Hilton, I glanced at my feet.

D

Web 2.0: boon or deathtrap for middling talent?

Well, I suppose we known the answer to that last question at least…

Come Again?

20 December 2007

Yes, apparently.

Er…How about Mink-tailed Muntjac with Marfan’s?

19 December 2007

Okay, I’m going on record in defense of our favorite AP word-smith, science writer Seth Borenstein.

In a nice blogpost on Indohyus, [the sexiest new raoellid on the block] Brian takes Borenstein to task for some awkward animalian analogizing:

writer Seth Borenstein can’t seem to figure out just what Indohyus is. His confusion is apparent from the first line of the article;

It sounds like a stretch, but a new study suggests that the missing evolutionary link between whales and land animals is an odd raccoon-sized animal that looks like a long-tailed deer without antlers. Or an overgrown long-legged rat.

Borenstein scrabbles1 to lump Indohyus in with some modern animals in a feeble attempt to get people to understand the fossil find, but I can’t help but wonder if such a comparison does more harm than good.

As I noted in a comment on Brian’s blog however, Borenstein cribbed his ungainly comparison from the lead author on the Indohyus paper Hans Thewissen, at least in part:

“The earliest whales didn’t look like whales at all,” Thewissen said. “It looked like a cross between a pig and a dog.” They lost their legs and ability to walk on land about 40 million years ago, he said.

And the Indohyus? “A tiny little deer maybe the size of a raccoon and no antlers,” Thewissen said. He said it most resembles the current African mousedeer, which has a rat-like nose and “when danger approaches, it jumps in the water and hides.”

Sure, maybe it’s a misleading oversimplification to cast the cetacean ancestry debate as a war between the “racoon-deer campus” and the “hippo campus2.” Sure, trying to shoehorn every strange animal into this or that familiar category or combo of categories is a dubious (though longstanding and universal) habit. But, as long as we’re not ‘calling whale evolution into question’ hey, I’m pretty happy.

Sometimes, words just fail. Good thing we have Carl Buell. Check out Buell’s awesome reconstruction on Laelaps.

1 – Note the awesome verbing of the word “scrabble”.
2 – sorry.

Did I really just make this up?

18 December 2007

Cult of the amauteur:

that’s right, I said it.

Writers’ strike and all…

Wave Bye-Bye to the Polymath…

17 December 2007

Well, calling Charles Willson Peale a polymath may be rather generous. Then again, if I had run a failed saddle shop, painted some bossy white dudes, and created the first American Natural History Museum, I think I’d probably feel pretty worthy of the title. Anyway, when was the last time you went to a glass harmonica concert or whatever? [well, knowing microecos readers, it was probably last weekend]

At any rate, before we tossed his geriatric remains from the bell jar, I figured it was worth giving the bloke a proper post. Exhumation of the Mastadon [sic] (1806) (pictured above) remains probably the best American painting to date, though some of Richard Estes’ stuff comes close. That is, of course, ol’ Pealey himself in the jacket and slacks. Much, much more Peale info here.

microecos is a rotting peaty wreck.