Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pet placement

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, has been added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and rightly so, as it is the oldest pet cemetery in the world. It all began when New York City veterinarian Dr. Samuel Johnson (1st image) allowed the burial of a client's dog in his apple orchard in 1896. He then devoted 3 acres of his property to honor similar requests and within the decade, had been written up in the New York Times:
"They came by carriage, which had drawn black curtains. It was a wet, gusty April afternoon, and little eddies of vapor glistened now and again. Four men filed from the carriage and huddled toward its rear, collars up, coats buttoned tight against the swirling dampness. They shouldered a small, wreath-covered casket and slowly marched into the cemetery. Two women walked behind, carrying flowers and weeping silently. They were burying their dog. There was no officiating clergyman; no services at the grave. The whole ceremony lasted only about five minutes, and yet it was a remarkably fine funeral."
By 1914, 1,000 pets were interred in what was formally incorporated as Hartsdale Canine Cemetery (video here). Now more than a century after the interment of that 1st dog (2nd image, photo by Natalie Maynor), 75,000 other animals have been lovingly laid to rest: dogs, cats, horses, monkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, goldfish, snakes, iguanas, parakeets, a lion cub...and the cremated remains of 700 pet owners (until the practice was discontinued).
Other cemetery posts:

Saturday, September 29, 2012


I had not heard of Lusehøj until reading in the headlines that this Bronze Age burial mound in central Denmark has been found to contain cloth made from stinging nettle (1st image) that could only have been obtained through long-distance trade. “I expected the nettles to have grown in Danish soil on the island of Funen, but when I analysed the plant fibres' strontium isotope levels, I could see that this was not the case," explains researcher Karin Margarita Frei of the Danish National Research Foundation's Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen. Instead, she learned that c. 800 B.C. Bronze Age Danes were obtaining goods from as far away as present-day Austria. Frei and her colleagues spell out the method they developed to make the discovery in Scientific Reports. At the time, wild nettle was still being used for textiles in addition to cultivated flax. Coauthor Ulla Mannering suggests that an importer of bronze died while on a business trip to Austria 2,800 years ago. His body was burned and his bones were wrapped in the nettle cloth and placed in a bronze urn (2nd image) from central Europe before being transported back to Denmark. "The fibers we get from the European nettle are very, very fine and soft and shiny, and we often say this is a sort of prehistoric silk textile," describes Mannering.
Things that sting:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sprucing up the specimens

The American Museum of Natural History embarked nearly a year ago on the restoration and conservation of the dioramas in their highly-regarded Hall of North American Mammals (image above, slideshow here). The $2.5 million project will culminate on October 27th to coincide with the reopening of the AMNH's Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and the president and naturalist's 154th birthday. Improvements to the exhibits by artists, taxidermists, conservators, and designers include the following:
  • Restoring faded color by airbrushing colorfast dyes on their fur
  • Dusting and cleaning artificial leaves, grasses, and rocks
  • Installing energy-efficient and less-damaging lighting
  • Updating display text with the latest scientific information about each species
The AMHM originally opened in 1942 and the diuoramas remain classics. Says taxidermist George Dante, who is on the team, “These are among the most solid pieces of taxidermy anywhere. You’re looking at the best of the best. Even in the small specimens like the jackrabbit there is extreme attention to detail. The musculature is just fantastic. Every little bit is in there.”

Visit vicariously via the Cabinet:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tiger total

Apparently, poachers and their clients will never be convinced that tigers are worth more than the sum of their parts (as laid out above) until they are driven to extinction in this century, as were the Tasmanian tigers in the last. The wild tiger population worldwide has been reduced 97% in the past 100 years, from 100,000 to a mere 3,200 today. While there are up to 20,000 tigers in captivity - many of them in private hands - only about 1,000 of these (as of 2007, approximately 421 Amur, 295 Sumatran, 198 Bengal, 113 Malayan, 72 South China, and 14 Indochinese tigers) are listed for breeding in regional and international zoo studbooks (more statistics here). The largest threat to tiger survival is consumer demand for tiger parts, namely their skins, bones, teeth, and claws. Highly valued for their use in traditional medicine, more than 1000 tigers have been killed within the last 10 years to meet consumer demand in Asia.

So, while I was glad zookeepers were not forced to kill the 11-year-old, 400lb Siberian tiger that attacked the man who deliberately entered his enclosure at the Bronx Zoo last Friday, I was saddened to learn this morning that a tiger at India's Itanagar Zoo did not fare as well. The 6-year-old female was shot inside her enclosure at point blank range by poachers who hacked her to pieces and carried off her flesh. The guards who were at dinner, have been fired, but the killers have not been caught.
Tigers lurking in the Cabinet:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Einstein timeline

German-born genius Albert Einstein died at the age of 76 in 1955. Here is list of posthumous dates associated with the physicist's famous brain:

1955: An autopsy was performed at Princeton Hospital by Dr. Thomas Harvey (2nd image), who removed the 1230g brain for study, took it to the University of Pennsylvania, and spent the next 3 months sectioning, mounting, and staining hundreds of microscope slides. Harvey retained 2 sets for his own research and distributed the other 10 to pathologists of his choice. After learning of this, Einstein's family granted retroactive permission for the removal and study of the brain, provided the results were only published in scientific journals and were not sensationalized. (Read more about Dr. Harvey's career here.)

1978: Journalist Steven Levy interviewed Dr. Harvey, then living in Wichita, Kansas, and published an article in New Jersey Monthly entitled, "I Found Einstein's Brain."

1994: Japanese math professor Sugimoto Kenji of Kinki University tracks down the brain. In the documentary Relics: Einstein's Brain, he asks Harvey for a specimen of the brain, to which Harvey consents and slices off a portion of the brain-stem (watch clip here).

1998: Harvey delivered the remaining uncut portion of Einstein's brain to Princeton pathologist Dr. Elliot Krauss, who analyzed it and found parts of it to have a higher proportion of glial cells than the average male brain.

2000: Michael Paterniti publishes the memoir Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain about his cross-country journey in the late 1990s with Dr. Harvey to return the brain to Einstein's granddughhter (read excerpt here, review here).

2005: On the 50th anniversary of Einstein's death, Harvey (by then 92) gave interviews about the brain from his home in New Jersey.

2010: Dr.  Harvey’s estate donated his Einstein specimens to the National Museum of Health an d Medicine.

Yesterday: The National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago, which began digitizing Harvey's collection earlier this year, offered the images and data about the specimens as an iPhone app. Said the app's designer Steve Landers, "I'd like to think Einstein would have been excited."
For previous brain blogposts, start here:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fossil reversal

Located near Canada's Baffin Island, Bylot Island (1st image, aerial view) is home to a forest that flourished between 2.6 and 3 million years ago. By analyzing pollen samples from the mummified trees in the permafrost (2nd image, slideshow here), Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier of the University of Montreal has reconstructed which species will sprout up again within the next 100 years when conditions warm due to climate change. "The fossil forest found in Bylot Island probably looked like the ones actually found in the [present-day] south of Alaska, where tree-line boreal forest grows near some glacier margins. The main plant diversity also seems to be similar between these two environments." The reawakened forest will include oak, willow, pine, spruce, and hickory trees, and will shed light on how they managed to survive the dark arctic winters and other mysteries.
Convinced about climate change:


Top 10 Astonishing Things You Didn’t Know About Human Dissection

Monday, September 24, 2012


Paleofeces - preserved human poop - is a generous archaeological resource. There is a lot of it, and it contains well-preserved DNA, from which we can glean much about our ancient ancestors and what they ate. Evolutionary biologists Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University and Svante Paabo of the Max Planck institute were the first to recover DNA from animal poop (coprolites) in 1998, and then from the human poop recovered from Hinds Cave in what is now southwestern Texas (images above). The cave contained 2,000 of the "nonhardened fossils," deposited as long as 9,000 years ago. Of the 5 samples they initially examined and sequenced, they determined that the Native Americans had ingested, among other things, buckthorn, acorns, sunflower, cacti, legumes, yuccas, elm, mice, fish, cottontail rabbit, packrat, squirrel, sheep, and pronghom antelope. The varied diet caused them to rethink the idea that ancient hunter-gatherers subsisted on a poor diet heavily dependent on foraged berries - especially since such diverse foods had all been eaten in the 2 days or so before defecation. It was just the beginning for Poinar, who says,  "A bone now is completely boring to me. Because the bone gives the DNA of the organism itself, but the coprolite gives the DNA of the organism, what it ate, of any parasites he may have harbored. I mean it's a plethora of information." From the Hinds Cave poop, Poinar was able to extract 8,000-year-old DNA. He hopes to test 50,000-year-old Neanderthal feces from a Spanish cave near Gibraltar and 250,000-year-old Homo erectus feces from China.
Poopy posts:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

New and blue

Its chin and chest are blond, its limbs are blackish, its back and tail are reddish, and its backside is apparently much more vibrant than the photo above would lead you to believe. Here's how field scientist John A. Hart of the Lukuru Foundation describes the most unusual coloring of the lesula (Cercopithecus lomaniensis): “ males have a huge bare patch of skin in the buttocks, testicles and perianal area. It’s a brilliant blue, really pretty spectacular.” During their research in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Hart and his colleagues noticed the blue butt of one of the beasts which was kept as a pet by a schoolgirl. Though it resembled other monkeys, they thought it might be a distinct species - and genetic testing proved  them right. The identification of mammals new to science is rare and the lesula is only the 3rd monkey described on the African continent in 30 years (the sun-tailed monkey was discovered in Gabon in 1984 and the kipunji was discovered in Tanzania in 2003). With the discovery of the lesula comes the responsibility of conserving it in the wild.
Monkeying around in the Cabinet:

New and blue

Its chin and chest are blond, its limbs are blackish, its back and tail are reddish, and its backside is apparently much more vibrant than the photo above would lead you to believe. Here's how field scientist John A. Hart of the Lukuru Foundation describes the most unusual coloring of the lesula (Cercopithecus lomaniensis): “ males have a huge bare patch of skin in the buttocks, testicles and perianal area. It’s a brilliant blue, really pretty spectacular.” During their research in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Hart and his colleagues noticed the blue butt of one of the beasts which was kept as a pet by a schoolgirl. Though it resembled other monkeys, they thought it might be a distinct species - and genetic testing proved  them right. The identification of mammals new to science is rare and the lesula is only the 3rd monkey described on the African continent in 30 years (the sun-tailed monkey was discovered in Gabon in 1984 and the kipunji was discovered in Tanzania in 2003). With the discovery of the lesula comes the responsibility of conserving it in the wild.
Monkeying around in the Cabinet:

Saturday, September 22, 2012


The press has publicized the fact that a mammoth skeleton will go up for auction at a Histoire Naturelle sale on October 2nd (slideshow here), but Sotheby's Paris believes that the squelette of  "a woolly rhinoceros will no doubt be the star." The complete fossilized skeleton of a Late Pleistocene (-12,000yo) woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius, 2nd image) from Siberia is expected to fetch between 170,000 and 250,000 ($220,000-$324,000). It has had only minor restorations and comes complete with all its papers allowing it to be sold and exported. The mammoth is the largest land mammal of all time, and this specimen measures 340cm long and 350 cm high (133" x 138"). The complete skeleton of a Pleistocene (-10,000yo) woolly rhinoceros (1st image, detail) is also from Siberia and also has its walking papers. Measuring 450cm long by 160cm tall (177" x 63"), it is expected to reach bids of 70,000 to 100,000 ($90,000-$130,000). 
Dozens of other exquisite fossil specimens will be auctioned (list here), with winning bids from an estimated 2,000-3,000 ($2,600-$3,900) for 2 starfish to €55,000-80,000 ($71,000-$104,000) for a tortoise. The items have been deaccessioned by the Kashiwagi Museum of Nagao, Japan, which is closed for renovation until 2014. The private museum was opened by computer scientist Yasutada Kashiwagi in 1993 to showcase and share the fossils and minerals he had begun collecting in 1988.
Auctions mentioned:

Friday, September 21, 2012


Advanced technologies have brought an ancient beastie to life, so to speak. Jakob Vinther, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, used microtomography and 3D printing (both developed in the 1980s) to give shape to a little-understood mollusk (that lived about 390 million years ago), then turned to an animator to give it movement (images here, video and available from National Geographic). The sea creature was called a multiplacophoran (Protobalanus spinicoronatus) and was only 1" long, oval-shaped, covered with stiff plates, and ringed with spines. The prototype for the project (in progress above) was discovered in Ohio by private collector George Kampouris, who donated it to the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History. Ages ago, it crawled over the ocean surface on a single, suction-like foot, but had splayed out and decayed prior to fossilization. Its armor had fragmented and the plates were actually arranged in a single long row rather than 2 parallel rows. With the recreation, says Vinther, “We can now demonstrate that multiplacophorans are distant relatives of the modern chitons, which did not evolve until later in Earth history. We can also show that they evolved a number of characteristics seen in some modern chitons convergently.” Ironically, the innovative techniques used to reanimate the multiplacophoran were discovered 20 years earlier than the fossil itself (read more here and in Palaeontology).
Recent fossil posts:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Inadvertent self-portrait

Sundara belongs to a herd of Asian elephants that live at England's Chester Zoo, a group that includes her younger brother, her Mom, and her grandmother. Like the others, she sleeps for about 4 hours a night - 2 hours on each side. The zoo explains, "All of our paddocks are covered in a thick layer of sand which gives our herd a nice, soft surface to sleep on. The elephants prefer to sleep on a slight slope, so every couple of days the sand is turned over and banked up into piles for them to lean against." One morning last week, Sundara's keepers found this crisp impression where the 8-year-old had lain.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Moving pictures

In Antiquity, French archaeologist and filmmaker Marc Azéma and collaborator Florent Rivère suggest that the origins of cinema lie in antiquity. After studying cave art for more than 20 years, Azéma uses examples from the Chauvet and other caverns to show that Paleolithic artists broke down animal movements in their portrayals to represent a graphic narrative. He found 53 ‬figures in‭ ‬12‭ ‬French caves that repeated 2 or more images to represent trot or gallop,‭ ‬head tossing, and tail shaking.‭ Far more than just making the aurochs appear lively in the light of a flickering fire, the early humans offset parts of the beasts with specific intention and precision to show their natural motion (see video here). “Lascaux is the cave with the greatest number of cases of split-action movement by superimposition of successive images. Some 20 animals, principally horses, have the head, legs or tail multiplied,” says Azéma. In addition, he and Rivère conclude that the ancient artists manipulated images by spinning them on etched bone disks - previously misidentified as buttons - held taut with sinew, a far distant precursor to the 19th c. thaumatrope (see photos here). Wow.
Cave-dwellers in the Cabinet:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Classic pool deck

Here's how the events unfolded: "The first hint that something stunning lay underground in southern Turkey came in 2002." Pieces of mosaic tile turned up when a farmer plowed his field, so he contacted the local museum in Alanya, Turkey. It wasn't until 2011 that a team led by art historian Michael Hoff of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, secured the funding necessary to reveal the extent of what was hidden beneath the soil:
A giant mosaic featuring intricate geometric patterns, which decorated the floor of a bath complex at the height of the Roman Empire (image above, slideshow here, video here). The mosaic once surrounded a 25' (7m) marble open-air swimming pool in what was then the city of Antiochia ad Cragum. Not only is it enormous - measuring 1,600 sq ft (149 sq m), it is beautifully preserved. The large square mosaic tiles feature geometric designs (starburst patterns, intertwined loops) on a white background.
Hoff and his students, who have uncovered 40% of the mosaic, will return in the 2013 season to complete their work. They plan to construct a wooden shelter over the entire excavation and allow the public to view what is the largest Roman mosaic ever found in the region.
Revisit Rome:

Monday, September 17, 2012


At the intersection of robo-animals, animal robots,  and crittercams lie insects electronically modified to suit our purposes:

Mosquitoes (1st image)
In June, Network World ran an article about the development, over the last several years, of micro air vehicles (MAVs) - insect-sized devices disguised as dragonflies or mosquitoes and operated remotely as spy drones. While the image above is a fabrication, and robotic insects capable of landing on a person's skin and using their needles to take a DNA sample or inject a tracking device are (apparently) things of science fiction, Snopes does not dispute the development of MAVs by the U.S. Government.

Cockroaches (2nd image)
North Carolina State University engineer Alper Bozkurt and colleagues are surgically implanting electrodes in the antennae and rear sensors of roaches, and attaching tiny backpacks that contain a wireless control system, a locator beacon, and a tiny microphone. The miniature equipment turns the bugs into "biobots" (biological robots) and allows the scientists to control them. By sending them into hard-to-access areas, steering them remotely, and monitoring the results, the scientists hope roaches will one day help locate earthquake survivors. Bozkurt explains why the bugs are superior to mechanical robots: "They come with a self-powered locomotion system. And they have biological autonomy to help them survive—they will run away when they sense danger, which makes them hard to trap or squash. That's really useful in uncertain, dynamic environments."

Honeybees (3rd image)
San Francisco State University entomologist John Hafernik and colleagues are gluing tiny radiofrequency identification tags onto about 500 infected honeybees. The bees have been attacked by parasitic maggots and consequently desert their hives at night, fly around outdoor lights, and then circle erratically on the ground before dying. The researchers have fitted the entry/exit of the hive with laser scanners to monitor their comings and goings. They hope the data will reveal whether the maggots are mind-controlling the honeybees and whether this has anything to do with the mass die-offs of bee populations, although Hafernik says, "We think it's a long shot that these parasites are the main cause of colony collapse disorder."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Testing a tsantsa

Something morbidly momentous happened in June, and I missed it: DNA analysis was used on a shrunken head (tsanta)!  The head in question was in the collection of the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.  Pictured above, the head is in excellent preservation, with hair and facial features intact.  With as many as 80% of shrunken heads believed to be forgeries, this one proved to be real human skin, salted and boiled.  The man who the skin belonged to had West African ancestry, but matched modern populations in Ecuador. According to researcher Gila Kahila Bar-Gal of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he was probably a member of a group that fought the Ecuadorian Jivaro-Shuar tribes known to make ritual shrunken heads out of their enemies. The date of his death was not pinpointed, but took place between 1600 and 1900 A.D. Once prepared, the head would have adorned the house or been worn on the person as a trophy, and would have been used in ceremonies. The authors of the study in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences - the 1st successful effort to identify the genetic make-up of a shrunken head - hope other museums will follow their lead and test similar items in their collections.
Related posts: 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Numbers and nuggets

Prompted by Neil Armstrong's death and Frank Culbertson's story (links below), in addition to receiving a meteorite from my sister for my birthday on Monday, I offer a space-themed post today:

30,000 years old
A large and ancient meteorite (1st image) is on display at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
 in Wiltshire, U.K. until September 22nd. The 90kg (200lb) space rock fell on a glacier some 30,000 years ago and was apparently preserved by the frozen conditions during the last ice age. Thousands of years later, the Neolithic people who built Stonehenge found and incorporated it into a burial mound, in which the local chalk content continued to preserve it. The heavy stone was unearthed in the 19th c. by British archaeologist Edward Duke, whose family had owned the land and lived in the residence, Lake House, 11 generations. Despite having his own private museum, Duke apparently placed it on the doorstep, where it remained when the house was owned by brewer Joseph Lovibond (Mayor of Salisbury in 1878-79 and 1890-91) and the Bailey family (who lived in it from 1928 to 1991). When the Baileys put the property on the market, they brought the meteorite to the Natural History Museum, where it was identified and stored. The stone's history - and prehistory - was pieced together when it was recently reexamined by Professor Colin Pillinger: "It was a real mystery that needed a lot of detective work. That's the great thing about science, that you start off with one thing and then end up with a different story altogether."

30,000 miles per hour
A tiny meteorite (2nd image) presumably remains in the private collection of German student Gerrit Blank, who was 14 when it flew down from space at an estimated 30,000mph, grazed him, and landed on the pavement: "At first I just saw a large ball of light, and then I suddenly felt a pain in my hand. Then a split second after that there was an enormous bang like a crash of thunder." The tiny stone, most of which would have burned up in the atmosphere,still left a smoking crater a foot wide.
American astronaut Frank Culbertson
as he flew over Manhattan
alone in the International Space Station
(more here)
of American Astronaut
Neil Armstrong (1930-2012),
the 1st man to walk on the moon
Related posts:

Friday, September 14, 2012


Turkish teenager Tugce Basar (1st image, with her mother), 15,and German schoolboy Marius Schneider (2nd image, with his family), 12, got rare operations this year. Each is diagnosed - along with 70,000 worldwide  - with Cystic Fibrosis. CF is a chronic incurable genetic lung condition that produces an excess of mucus which gradually fills the lungs, reducing and eventually stopping the ability to breathe normally.  If a patient's life is threatened, surgeons carry out a transplant.
Live double lung transplant surgery was performed in April 2012 at Hanover Medical University by renowned German transplant surgeon Axel Haverich. German boy Marius Schneider received a lung from each of his parents. By the time of the operation, he was surviving with the aid of a ventilator and a heart-lung machine. "It was immediately clear what we had to do in order to save our son," said his mother Anja. The 3-way 6-hour procedure was followed by 155 days in the hospital for Marius and 10 days for his parents. Said Dr. Gregor Warnecke, who was in charge of his care, ''The transplant was his last chance. The hospital would not have operated on his parents if it had not been an absolute necessity....But he is a real fighter. We had a team of 40 and he came through."

Live double lung transplant surgery was performed in March 2012 at AKH Hospital in Vienna
Turkish schoolgirl Tugce Basar received part of her father's rights lung and part of her mother's left lung to form one new, healthy lung. By the time of the operation, she had been hospitalized for nearly a year after both of her lungs stopped working properly. "I just want her to be happy and healthy. I want her to be able to things a normal 15-year-old can," said her father Tarcan. The 3-way 9-hour procedure was followed by 2 months in the hospital for Tugce, who comments, "I know I will beat this. I will survive the operation and my life will be so much better when it is done and I have recovered."
Marius and Tugce were lucky on 2 counts: both parents had compatible blood groups and lungs that were bigger than those of their children, which is a requirement for a successful transplant.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mayan mural

A Mayan mural that covers several walls has been discovered in Chajul, Guatemala - where the culture continued long after it had mysteriously collapsed in other regions of the country c. 900 A.D. It is being documented and examined by Jaroslaw Źrałka (image above) and Katarzyna Radnicka of Poland's Jagiellonian University. The paintings depict figures in procession, wearing a mix of traditional Mayan costumes (long capes, with one in a headdress) and Spanish dress (pants and European-style shoes). Some of the figures are playing musical instruments, while others hold masks and one seems to be carrying a human heart. The mural was created after the 16th c. Spanish conquest of Guatemala, and it is thought that the participants in the ritual are reenacting the invasion and subsequent conversion of the Maya to Christianity. The colors have faded since they were exposed 5 years ago, and the once-white background has yellowed.  "It'd be great if they weren't covering it with smoke, but at the same time, this is probably not the first time there has been smoke in this room. You can't go crazy in terms of, 'This needs to be hermetically sealed, and these people need to be out of here,'" explains Boston University archaeologist William Saturno, who authenticated the paintings for National Geographic. Why this remark? Because the mural was found beneath a layer of paint in the kitchen of the 300-year-old house that Lucas Asicona Ramírez and his family live in (read story and view slideshow here).
Kitchen Cabinet:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Too many hermit crabs

This beautiful video* of a rather creepy subject - hermit crabs in the millions - has been attracting attention since it was posted on Vimeo a week ago. Award-winning American photographer/videographer Steve Simonsen was alerted about the annual August migration in progress by a friend and was out the door in minutes. He lives on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and it was taking place there on Nanny Point. The reproduction cycle of the crabs involves flinging the matured eggs off their claws into the ocean, where they burst and the larval hatchlings float for the next 40-60 days. Are we then to understand that this massive blanket of clattering crabs consists only of fertile females?!?

*Have patience if it is slow to load. Believe me, it is worth the wait!
Only one hermit crab lurking in the Cabinet:
But a few related posts:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Yao's cause

Yao Ming, retired Chinese professional NBA basketball player who stands 7' 6" (2.29m) tall, is lending his celebrity to WildAid to promote the cause of elephant conservation. He is serving as a goodwill ambassador to help stop the poaching of elephants for their tusks and rhinoceros for their horns. Yao has spent the last several weeks in Africa (photos above and here), which has given him a personal perspective on the black market: "After witnessing how illegal ivory was obtained, I really was speechless. After seeing these animals up close and watching them interact in loving and protective family groups, it was heart-wrenching and deeply depressing to see them cruelly taken before their time." He is blogging about what he sees, and what he learns about the economic and other issues, and his nationality gives his words more weight. Acknowledging the use of rhino horn in traditional Asian medical practice, Yao points out: "The Chinese government banned the illegal rhino horn and elephant ivory trades way back in 1993, but as it turned out, the prohibition only served to stimulate a price spike for these products on the black market. The most effective thing you can do to counter this kind of situation is raise people’s awareness. Eliminate the demand for rhino horn and ivory right at the source. That’s what I want to do. It might take some time, sure, but I’m really hoping that gradually we can start to see an improvement." None too soon, as poaching increases dramatically and elephant populations decline - just as dramatically.
Previous posts about one of my favorite animals:

Monday, September 10, 2012


It doesn't look anything like its namesake until you see it hurtling along the treadmill (video here). The Cheetah, a 4-legged robot developed by Boston Dynamics and funded by the U.S.'s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), was just clocked at 45.5km per hour (28.2 7mph), topping its earlier record. While it's faster than the fastest man in the world, and the fastest legged robot on earth, it doesn't run nearly as fast as the animal - but that's not the goal. DARPA program manager Gill Pratt explains:
"Modeling the robot after a cheetah is evocative and inspiring, but our goal is not to copy nature. What DARPA is doing with its robotics programs is attempting to understand and engineer into robots certain core capabilities that living organisms have refined over millennia of evolution: efficient locomotion, manipulation of objects and adaptability to environments. Cheetahs happen to be beautiful examples of how natural engineering has created speed and agility across rough terrain. Our Cheetah bot borrows ideas from nature’s design to inform stride patterns, flexing and unflexing of parts like the back, placement of limbs and stability. What we gain through Cheetah and related research efforts are technological building blocks that create possibilities for a whole range of robots suited to future Department of Defense missions.”
Today is my 49th Birthday! Time flies, 
as mentioned in these previous posts: