Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Aquatic Episode....

Two weeks ago I asked people what animal they would like me to write about and while the response varied, there was a significant majority of fish lovers!  Something that defines every type of fish is their shape.  Each fish has adapted it's body over time to cater it specifically for it's environment.  Some would assume, that since all fish live in the water they all simply modify their body for streamlined swimming, not the case.  The ocean is just as varied as the surface in its different biomes.  Coral reefs are full of tight places, open ocean is miles and miles of vast open water, kelp beds are the forests of the sea.  These different environments have given variation to fish body shape.

Our first fish will be the box fish.  This brightly colored but admittedly awkwardly shaped fish lives in coral reefs.  Coral reefs are the one of the densest environments in the ocean.  This fish's body is ideal for tight swift turns to maneuver at optimal efficiency, and emits very little drag.  Mercedes Benz even modeled a car after the box fish shape, this concept car was exceptionally streamlined with a 65% lower drag coefficient than its' compact car competitors.

Next ocean fish with an extreme body shape is the tuna.  All tuna have an especially streamlined body shape, with a pointed head and a tapered tail. The large caudal fin is lunate (crescent shaped). Following each fin is a series of finlets, the number varying with the species. In all species, the scales are extremely small or lacking.  Everything about the tuna has been designed to cut down drag.  The torpedo shape cuts through the water, scales create drag so minimizing them or getting rid of them is ideal, and having a number of small finlets gives the tuna optimal control without needing large bulky fins.  The tuna has many more adaptations and may end op getting its own separate blog soon.

Next fish with the opposite body shape is the puffer fish.  Now this is a fish built for flexibility not for speed.  They tend to stay on the ocean floor because they are not fast swimmers.  Everyone knows their defense of puffing up many times their original body size by filling their stomach with water, but their deflated state is also very special.  They are very manoeuvrable and able to hover, swim backwards, and change direction much more quickly than most other types of fish.

The last requested aquatic creature is the Trigger fish, they live in tropic and subtropic oceans.  Trigger fish have an oval shaped, highly compressed body. The head is large, terminating in a small but strong- jawed mouth with teeth adapted for crushing shells. Their eyes are small and very high up on their head (to protect from spines).  They only have a single gill opening above the pectoral fins.  This fish actually has teeth due to its' very crunchy diet of slow-moving, bottom dwelling crustaceans and echinoderms, generally creatures with protective shells and spines.  Each jaw contains a row of four teeth on either side, while the upper jaw contains an additional set of six plate-like pharyngeal teeth.  Basically the trigger fish doesn't need speed because its' prey is extremely slow, instead its' body is built for protection and power.

That's it for now, if you have any other animals you want me to write about let me know,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Are Humans Good or Bad?

Most of the time I post about animals and science, but some pretty serious topics have been on my mind lately.  I have asked a few of my close friends if they think humans are born good, bad, or neutral?  It has been proven time and time again, a child's upbringing has a huge influence on their future and behavior.  The route of my question goes back to the time honored question of nature vs. nurture.  Can people overcome a bad upbringing to do good things?  Can good people throw away every opportunity to do great evil? 

Personally I believe people have the propensity to do both good and bad.  Good people choose to do bad things at time, and sometimes a bad person does something kind and altruistic.  At heart I'm a optimist, I think people have an ingrained desire to do good.  People often think they are doing the right thing but society has judged it as wrong.  Misunderstandigns are all about perspective.  I try very hard in my personal life to be self accountable, I don't hold myself to any standard but the one set by myself.  In that sense I don't believe it is my place to judge others as right or wrong.  (I would make a terrible judge or lawyer, my journey to be a biologist is looking better and better everyday.)  I'm really shocked at the daily amount of judging others do to each other, it seems everyone spends so much time trying to control one another that they have lost control over themselves.  If we all took it upon ourselves to look within and just do good things because it is the right thing to do, life would dramatically improve.  Today's world is littered with ridiculous lawsuits, cut-throat businesses,  people acting plain mean.  Life is hard, we can't always go around with fake smile plastered on our faces, but it is an active choice to wake-up everyday.  It is also a conscious choice to be a good person who does the right thing just because. 

What are your thoughts on human nature?  What kind of person do you consider yourself?
Animal posts will return soon, don't worry.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Owls: Silent but Deadly

Anyone who has been following my blog knows what an animal fact nut I am, and side note: if you ever go to any zoo or park with me I give an amazing tour.  But, back to owls, everyone knows owls as the silent predator.  They are mostly gliders to be able to fly without excessive flapping.  But the question is why would they want to be quiet hunters?  The general public believes it is so they can sneak up on their prey, but owls are very quick by the time they spot a mouse or rodent it is very likely to become their dinner.  They need to be quiet so they can hear their prey.  Mice and other rodents, live on the forest floor and blend in decently with the foliage.  It isn't easy to spot them, but they make lots of scratching noises while they dig for seeds and nuts.  Owls have another neat attribute that their ears are very lopsided, one is high the other is low.  You will often see owls cock their head at odd angles, this just enhances the juxtaposition of their ears to either hear a scratching mouse down below or listen for enemies up above.  Their silent flying allows them to zero in to scratchy mice down below. 

Owls also have amazing eyes, think of how big their eye to head ratio is.  Their eyes are tubular rather than round allowing more light to enter the eye to give maximum brightness.  This tubular shape makes the owl farsighted, they cannot see close up very well (giving more reason to need that specially adapted hearing).  The tubular shape doesn't allow the eyes to move, so their neck can flex 270 degrees in either direction and 90 degrees vertically to compensate. 

That's it for now, if you have an animal you want me to write about let me know!  Every animal has a story and reason why it looks and acts the way it does.
Lots of love,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Save the Frogs, Save the World

Today, I’d like to introduce the concept of a bio-indicator.  In the past, I have given out a number of examples of biomimicry, but how many of you know are aware of the idea of bio-indicators?  These are organisms that will be initially (and greatly) affected when the environment is stressed.  In the past, coal miners would take canaries into the mine with them, as the birds were very sensitive to leaking methane gas that could result in an explosion.  Today, we are all aware of (and with good reason somewhat worried about) our close connection to the environment.  Of the many animal bio-indicators, my favorite is the frog.

Frogs have a three-part life cycle consisting of an aquatic egg, an aquatic tadpole, and the semi-aquatic adult.  The key word for all of its life stages is “aquatic”, for changes to the environment often first show up in the water.  Altered salinity, nutrients, and the presence of toxic chemicals can affect the frog at any of its life stages.  Their eggs are separated from the water by only a thin membrane, and both tadpoles and adults have a specialized semi-permeable skin that readily lets in environmental contaminants.  The loss of frogs due to environmental change creates multiple problems for their ecosystem.  Leftover frog egg membranes act as a fertilizer for algae, which then acts as a water filter.  Adult frogs are hungry and effective pest control agents, unless you are fond of mosquitoes.  Frog eggs, tadpoles, and adults provide food for an ecosystem’s worth of other animals, particularly birds and snakes.  There are also direct connections between frogs and humans.  This week, the Nobel prizes were awarded, and in the past, ten percent of all the prizes ever given for physiology have been awarded to scientists studying frog skin.  The popular Fire Belly Toad produces bellykinin, a secretion medically useful in reducing high blood pressure.  White’s Tree Frog produces caerin, a secretion that is being investigated for its effectiveness in reducing HIV transmission.  Today worldwide, my favorite bio-indicator the frog, is rapidly disappearing.  The silence, where there was once a chorus of singing and croaking should be ringing in our ears like an alarm clock, that something is not well with the world in which we live.  

Save those frogs,