Oct 05

Cool things at the Dallas World Aquarium

Wow. I don’t know if I told you about when Jody and I went to the Dallas Zoo a couple weeks ago, but Sunday we did one better and went to the Dallas World Aquarium. It was amazing, probably due to it being newer than the zoo and more expensive. They do a good job of moving you through the exhibits while conveying a sense of moving through the various ecological niches. Rainforest to river to ocean. The best parts were as follows:

  1. Giant river otters – Two playful river otters who look like long skinny dogs. They swam around their cage and would swim up to the glass to gawk at the humans. Up close you can see the massive jaws they use to crush the heads of fish. Very cat-like in the skull area. Flattened muscular tails they use like oars. Beautiful creatures.
  2. Antillean manatees – These are like the Florida manatee except they’re thinner and smaller. I pegged them incorrectly as dugongs (another member of Sirenia) because they just didn’t look like your normal manatee. Up close you can see them much better. One thing I was surprised about was the long hairs protruding from their fat grey bodies just like elephants, which is not surprising since they are closely related, I believe. In the manatee tank they had all sorts of other fish, catfish, and side-necked turtles. Some very huge arapaima also, which are air breathing fish that grow up to fourteen feet.
  3. Three-toed sloth – The sloth was so cute and amazing. From it’s mossy fur to its Mona Lisa smile, it is easily one of the most adorable animals you will see. I learned something interesting, sloths live in trees full-time, but they come to ground to defecate. How tidy!
  4. A few other animals I loved: the cuttlefish with their color-changing chromatophores, the sleepy jaguar, seadragons, and the smiling stingrays who flapped against the glass expecting food.

Whenever you’re in Dallas, be sure to check out the aquarium. It’s worth it. Here’s a link to the otter and manatee webcams. Updating live.

Sep 05

Amazing life

BBC: Tongue-eating bug found in fish:

A gross creature which gobbles up a fish’s tongue and then replaces it with its own body has been found in Britain for the first time.

The bug – which has the scientific name cymothoa exigua – was discovered inside the mouth of a red snapper bought from a London fishmonger.

The 3.5cm creature had grabbed onto the fish’s tongue and slowly ate away at it until only a stub was left.

It then latched onto the stub and became the fish’s “replacement tongue”.

Sep 05

Notes on male / female identity

In researching some ideas I had about rebelliousness (especially political) and father-absence I came across several provocative ideas related to the formation of male / female identity. In a review of THE CHURCH IMPOTENT: THE FEMINIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY by Leon J. Podles:

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Aug 05

Politics meets practical issues of consciousness

…and idealism meets materialism. Fetal pain unlikely before third trimester-study:

Legislation under consideration by the U.S. Congress and some U.S. states would require doctors to inform women seeking abortions after the 22nd week of gestation that their fetus feels pain and offer to anesthetize the fetus.

Supporters of the legislation say that when a fetus displays a withdrawal reflex or hormonal stress response, that is evidence of fetal pain. But the researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, questioned that view, saying the responses may be automatic and not signs of discomfort.

Drawing on findings from thousands of medical-journal articles on the subject of fetal pain and related topics, the report’s author, Susan Lee, wrote that “pain is a subjective sensory and emotional experience that requires the presence of consciousness.”

Consciousness is created by brain connections between the thalamus and the cerebral cortex, and those do not begin to develop before the 23rd week and possibly not before the 30th week of gestation. The human gestation period is 38 weeks from conception.

Aug 05

Absolutely amazing anemones

We are living among aliens and we barely know them. I would be very interested to read more about the evolutionary strategies of species at the group level. Anemone Armies Battle to a Standoff via robotwisdom.

Clashing colonies of sea anemones fight as organized armies with distinct castes of warriors, scouts, reproductives and other types, according to a new study.

The sea anemone Anthopleura elegantissima lives in large colonies of genetically identical clones on boulders around the tide line. Where two colonies meet they form a distinct boundary zone. Anemones that contact an animal from another colony will fight, hitting each other with special tentacles that leave patches of stinging cells stuck to their opponent.


When the tide is out, the polyps are contracted and quiet. As the tide covers the colonies, “scouts” move out into the border to look for empty space to occupy. Larger, well-armed “warriors” inflate their stinging arms and swing them around. Towards the center of the colony, poorly armed “reproductive” anemones stay out of the fray and conduct the clone’s business of breeding.

When anemones from opposing colonies come in contact, they usually fight. But after about 20 or 30 minutes of battle the clones settle down to a truce until the next high tide.

It’s not just polyps along the border between two clones that clash. Polyps three or four rows away from the front will reach over their comrades to engage in fights, Grosberg said.

Aug 05

This alien world

Crocodile blood may yield powerful new antibiotics:

Scientists in Australia’s tropical north are collecting blood from crocodiles in the hope of developing a powerful antibiotic for humans, after tests showed that the reptile’s immune system kills the HIV virus.

The crocodile’s immune system is much more powerful than that of humans, preventing life-threatening infections after savage territorial fights which often leave the animals with gaping wounds and missing limbs.

“They tear limbs off each other and despite the fact that they live in this environment with all these microbes, they heal up very rapidly and normally almost always without infection,” said U.S. scientist Mark Merchant, who has been taking crocodile blood samples in the Northern Territory.

Aug 05

Provocative results on male / female arousal

Via robotwisdom and article: What Makes People Gay? I’m curious in what other ways men, gay men, and women experience things differently:

Researchers at Northwestern University, outside Chicago, are doing this work as a follow-up to their studies of arousal using genital measurement tools. They found that while straight men were aroused by film clips of two women having sex, and gay men were aroused by clips of two men having sex, most of the men who identified themselves as bisexual showed gay arousal patterns. More surprising was just how different the story with women turned out to be. Most women, whether they identified as straight, lesbian, or bisexual, were significantly aroused by straight, gay, and lesbian sex. “I’m not suggesting that most women are bisexual,” says Michael Bailey, the psychology professor whose lab conducted the studies. “I’m suggesting that whatever a woman’s sexual arousal pattern is, it has little to do with her sexual orientation.” That’s fundamentally different from men. “In men, arousal is orientation. It’s as simple as that. That’s how gay men learn they are gay.”

Aug 05

Male / female differences and even autism

I’ve been reading a lot about this and have found some good information on some biological differences between men and women and a few things really stuck out to me…
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Aug 05

Society and Psychopathy

Interesting discussion on the subject of psychopathy and the mind. Psychopathy as the “flipside” of anxiety:

James Blair: This is difficult to disentangle. We know that other pathologies – I mean, anxiety disorder for example, is associated with massively overactive amygdala activity, and if you treat anxiety disorder successfully, you’ll see a reduction in that amygdala activity. And in many respects, psychopathy is the flipside of anxiety disorder, and so potentially we’re imagining that there may be treatments that will allow us to boost that amygdala response, and so help these individuals out. But as regards whether it’s a fundamental problem caused by a specific set of genetic information, or whether it was caused by a particular environmental trauma, at a specific age; that question at the moment we just have no answer for.

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Jun 05

U.S. Resumes Plutonium 238 Production

Good story via. The federal government is gearing up to build 330 pounds of plutonium, which will be used to power spy devices. Maybe sonar listening posts or underwater tracking devices in the ocean around Japan and China? Or tiny satellites? Who knows.

Federal and private experts unconnected to the project said the new plutonium would probably power devices for conducting espionage on land and under the sea. Even if no formal plans now exist to use the plutonium in space for military purposes, these experts said that the material could be used by the military to power compact spy satellites that would be hard for adversaries to track, evade or destroy.