A study of sperm whale culture and language

Monday, 4 July, 2016

Clans of sperm whales have dialects that are specific to the families that make up the group, and these languages may differ to that used by other sperm whale clans. The culture of clans also varies from group to group. These are fascinating beings we share the planet with.

Scientists working throughout the world have identified 80 unique “codas,” the sperm whale equivalent of words, which they produce by emitting sounds called clicks. Each sperm whale clan has its own dialect, a unique repertoire of codas shared only with the other families who make up their clan. In the Pacific, there are five known dialect clans, and many of them co-exist in the same general regions without ever interacting. Atlantic whales have their own dialects too, and in the Caribbean there are two known clans.

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Are you a fish out of water? As it happens there are fish out of water

Tuesday, 28 June, 2016

I sometimes feel as if I’m a fish out of water, but that may not be any bad thing. Fish, as it happens, or some species at least, are not quite as averse to being out of water, if only for short periods of time, despite common perceptions to the contrary.

The UNSW researchers found that 33 different families of fish have at least one species that demonstrates some terrestrial activity and, in many cases, these behaviours are likely to have evolved independently in the different families.

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When it comes to ageing, it’s about physics not biology

Monday, 16 May, 2016

Now I wish I had paid more attention in my physics classes… is ageing a function of biology, or rather physics? It seems it might be the latter, as opposed to the former.

This tendency is codified in the second law of thermodynamics, which dictates that everything ages and decays: Buildings and roads crumble; ships and rails rust; mountains wash into the sea. Lifeless structures are helpless against the ravages of thermal motion. But life is different: Protein machines constantly heal and renew their cells. In this sense, life pits biology against physics in mortal combat. So why do living things die? Is aging the ultimate triumph of physics over biology? Or is aging part of biology itself?

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We are all made of trillions of tiny electrochemical machines

Thursday, 16 July, 2015

In short, another way to look at ourselves, courtesy of New Jersey based biological oceanographer Paul Falkowski:

We are used to thinking of ourselves as composed of billions of cells, but Falkowski points out that we also consist of trillions of electrochemical machines that somehow coordinate their intricate activities in ways that allow our bodies and minds to function with the required reliability and precision. As we contemplate the evolution and maintenance of this complexity, wonder grows to near incredulity.

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When plants multiply, seeds may fly…

Wednesday, 1 July, 2015

It seems to me there are certain plants you may want to avoid when they seek to proliferate… otherwise you may be hit by a stray high speed flying seed. The phenomenon makes for quite a show though.

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It looks like we might all have our hands full of bacteria

Tuesday, 16 June, 2015

Photo by Tasha Sturm

I hope you’re not eating right now, but as we all know, there is more bacteria lurking on computer keyboards, and smartphones, than there is the average toilet seat. Delightful.

However, there appears to be a fair few microbes on the hand of a child who has been playing outside for an hour or two, as Tasha Sturm, Californian lab technician, discovered recently. This photo is the result of a handprint her eight year son made on a petri dish, after being left to incubate for a few days.

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Did dinosaurs also partake of mind altering hallucinogens?

Thursday, 19 February, 2015

Might some dinosaurs have ingested hallucinogenic fungi? Might this have caused them to perceive their reality differently for a time? It seems that plenty of other animals, and humans, have at one point or another, so the notion seems quite plausible.

But scientifically speaking, Poinar and his colleagues aren’t jumping to any conclusions. “Whether dinosaurs would have gotten dizzy, nauseous, or were otherwise affected is difficult to say,” he told me. He did, however, note that the closest living relatives of dinosaurs are deeply affected by ergot ingestion. “Reptiles that ingest ergot can have severe vascular spasms leading to the necrosis of their extremities,” he said. “In chickens, ergot can atrophy and disfigure the comb, wattles, face, legs, toes, and eyelids.”

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Riding the pizza line in the pizza belt

Tuesday, 17 February, 2015

If New York City is the centre of the Pizza Belt, in that there is a greater than fifty percent chance of obtaining a good slice of pizza from a randomly chosen pizzeria, it should come as no surprise to hear that researchers recently discovered the city’s subway system contains the microscopic remnants of all manner of pizza ingredients:

The team also found that, on a microscopic level, the subway is littered with leftovers – evidence of what New Yorkers like to eat. Cucumber particles were the most commonly found food item, along with traces of kimchi, sauerkraut, and chickpeas. Bacteria associated with mozzarella cheese coated 151 stations. And other traces of pizza ingredients such as sausages and Italian cheese were everywhere.

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Gut instinct? It’s more like a second central nervous system actually

Wednesday, 5 November, 2014

If you’ve ever felt that your stomach is somehow trying to communicate with you, that may be exactly what is happening. It seems our digestive system is host to our enteric nervous system (ENS), and its function is not solely restricted to matters of digestion:

Embedded in the wall of the gut, the enteric nervous system (ENS) has long been known to control digestion. Now it seems it also plays an important role in our physical and mental well-being. It can work both independently of and in conjunction with the brain in your head and, although you are not conscious of your gut “thinking”, the ENS helps you sense environmental threats, and then influences your response. “A lot of the information that the gut sends to the brain affects well-being, and doesn’t even come to consciousness,” says Michael Gershon at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York.

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Many animal species have been lost, is this a mass extinction event?

Tuesday, 14 October, 2014

With animal populations in decline, some scientists are concerned the world is in the throes of a mass extinction event, something they say has resulted in the loss of some fifty percent of wildlife species in the last forty years.

Pixable meantime have compiled a list of animal species that have become extinct in the last one hundred years… needless to say it isn’t the shortest of lists either.

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