Cuttlefish!

Ah… XKCD has done it again!
(and of course my formatting screws it up–click image for the full comic!)

A cuttlefish learns, so amazing quickly,
And oh so incredibly much—
We’ve figured out chemistry, quantum mechanics,
Biology, Physics, and such;
We could, if we chose to, go traipsing through wormholes
To galaxies light-years away;
But frankly, there’s something more baffling to study,
And that’s why we’ve chosen to stay.

These rather unusual featherless bipeds,
So noisy, so smelly, so strange—
It seems they can learn, or at least they respond
To contingencies which we arrange.
They learn rather slowly, it must be admitted;
It could be their brains are quite small.
And given their habits, the evidence tells us
Some probably don’t learn at all.

They somehow invented some horrible weapons
Which all thinking beings should fear
They constantly threaten complete devastation—
I’m rather surprised they’re still here!
They keep dumping poison in lakes or in rivers
Where others get water to drink—
Although this is senseless, and foolish, and stupid,
I still believe some of them think.

They’ve hit upon something that multiplies thinking,
A process they like to call “science”,
Where each person builds on the other ones’ progress
Like standing on shoulders of giants.
Some say these “humans” are smarter than cuttlefish;
I won’t be taking that bet!
But maybe—just maybe—with science to help them,
These humans… they might make it yet.

Stop The Presses!

Randall tells me, as does “The Loom” over on science blogs, that there is a wonderful article about me in the New York Times! Ok, it’s not about me. It is, however, about some other cuttlefish–some at the Woods Hole lab, some in Australia, but all wonderful cuttlefish, the most remarkable quick-change artists in the world! The Times site also has video of some of the experiments that Dr. Hanlon has been performing with these adorable creatures.

The New York Times, I rather think,
Could hardly be a waste of ink;
It’s good to see a thoughtful story,
Showing us in all our glory!
A walking (swimming) work of art,
The skin we wear is really smart!
Chameleons can only wish
To emulate the cuttlefish;
A master of the craft indeed,
With changing hues at lightning speed,
Resulting in a really slick
Near-magic disappearing trick!
Now Dr. Hanlon can surmise
A simple trick to our disguise:
Instead of thousands, only three
Designs account for what you see,
To help us disappear from view;
The doctor says here’s what we do:
We keep our color uniform,
When solid backgrounds are the norm;
If busy patterns come, we will
Turn mottled—that will fill the bill;
Our outlines disappear from sight
With our disruptive dark and light.
Discovering this rule of threes
Is one of many mysteries;
But many more are still unknown
To those who lack a cuttlebone.


This picture shows the three basic skin patterns: from left, Uniform, Mottled, and Disruptive. 

Picture credit: Roger Hanlon… I grabbed it from The Loom.

It was Cephalopodmas…

It was Cephalopodmas, and all through the blogs
Not a writer was stirring—all sleeping like logs.
Each blogosphere-dweller, from Orac to PZ
Was all bundled up and just taking it easy.
Their prone, sleeping forms, that might well have been granite
Slept through the most wonderful tale on the planet!
For all ‘cross the globe, from the oceans and seas,
All the cephalopods, just as nice as you please,
Took a break from their lurking in kelps and in corals
To visit the houses of people with morals.
(Ironic, you think? If they hadn’t been sleeping,
The bloggers would be so much happier peeping,
And witnessing all of this marvelous night.
Well, now that I write of it… next year, they might.)

But how can a creature that’s mainly pelagic
Accomplish all this? Is it hoax? Is it magic?
Of course, I could never achieve it alone
I had oceans of help—why, in every time zone
There were octopi, cuttlefish, nautilus too
And squid by the thousands who knew what do do.
From the deepest of depths, from the shallowest shoals,
From around the equator and close to the poles,
From every far corner of all seven seas
Came crawlers and swimmers, as quick as you please,
From cuttlefish cubby or octopus den,
To each lend a hand, or perhaps eight or ten.
The skies and the seas were both darker than soot;
No safe place for tentacle, feeler, or foot—
Was it safe for the journey? I had to think twice,
But a wise old molluscan proposed this advice:
“You know, you should hitch up some firefly squid”
So, not being stupid, that’s just what I did—
(In the darkest of depths, when I could not find any,
I used the much larger Taningia danae).
With a glow that left headlights in sad obsolescence
We lit our own way with our bioluminescence.
(And once (but just once) when we plain lost our bearings
We got back on track with the help of some herrings.
On Cephalopodmas, good nature prevails—
Even giant squid know they can trust the sperm whales—
And whether you’re predator, whether you’re prey,
You can take the day off. Hey, it’s only one day.)
And with luminous squidlings providing the light,
The Onycotuthidae took us to flight!
(It’s a myth that a reindeer can fly, as you know
But true that some squid can, as others can glow!)
So we flew, over trees, over hills, over mountains,
(Keeping moist by, sometimes, flying low over fountains)
We flew over deserts, with sagebrush and cactus;
Some day we’ll invade, so it’s really good practice.
And each place we flew, and the others we crawled,
We left little gifts, that surprised and enthralled
All the good boys and girls, and their parents and pets
(Why should some folks miss out on what other folks gets?)
An octopus, crawling up pipes from the sewers,
Might leave a small gift, say, a bottle of Dewars.
For those who do not have a liking for whiskey,
Perhaps lingerie (although nothing too risky);
If the oysters cooperate, maybe some pearls
For the fancy tongue-piercings of good boys and girls.
If we think we’ve been spotted, then quick as a wink,
We are gone—what remains is a black cloud of ink,
(But when it’s so dark you can’t see where you’re going
Then ink is no good—so a cloud that is glowing–
A trick taught by Heteroteuthis dispar)
So it shows where you were, when you no longer are,
And predators, peepers, or unwilling hosts
See nothing—or see what might well have been ghosts.
They know they’ve seen something, but what? They won’t swear.
By that time, of course, we are long gone from there.
You can see from the picture that, once, we were caught
By some kittehs, who said “U R not who we thot.”
But we gave the poor kittehs a soft little pat,
‘Cos we knew we were safe—who’d believe a dumb cat?
Then back to the oceans, for seafood and beer,
Saying Merry Cephalopodmas, and Happy New Year!

Tip to either Pharyngula or Pharyngula.

Much more here

CuttleContest!

Of all the creatures in the world
Deserving to be knit (and purled)
I think it’s clear, we all would wish
A cute and cuttly cuddlefish.

A comment-writer, “Impolite”
Has, very clearly, got it right
So now, the screen of my computer
Shows a pic that can’t be cuter

It’s beautiful, this much is clear,
So huggable, so very dear,
So soft and cuddly, cute and charming
Lots of arms, and yet disarming

A knitted brain cannot compete,
Nor teratoma, bearing feet—
The cutest creature of them all,
And made of yarn—so have a ball!

But still, the cuddlefish I see
Does not have eight arms—only three
(No tentacles at all, I think,
Nor any way to shoot its ink)

And not that it should trouble you—
It’s pupils should go “W”.
Small details, sure, but that’s the fun
So here’s the deal. Another one.

The ravellers who visit here
(Or any else—let’s make it clear):
I’m offering some sort of prize
(Just what it is, I can’t surmise)

But fame and glory, sure enough
For one who has the cuttle stuff
Just send your pics, your best and worst,
I’ll see to it you all get versed.

(And so the rest don’t feel so jilted,
I’ll take them drawn, or stitched, or quilted)
There is no subject more befitting,
So ready, steady, go! Get knitting!

Please, Australia!

Deep-Sea News reports that my cousins the Giant Australian Cuttlefish may be in serious trouble. It seems they had the lack of foresight to evolve in an area where featherless bipeds would eventually discover uranium, copper, and gold. As of this writing, the link to the original Australian source is down, so you will have to settle for the condensed version on DSN.

Australia is evidence: memories don’t last–
They ought to have learned from mistakes in the past;
The hull of a ship carries passengers, too
(Ask any whose job is to clean off that goo–
Green algae, and seaweeds, and mussels and such
Which can kill off the locals–it doesn’t take much).
This plan should be dropped like a really bad habit,
If Aussies have learned from the tale of the rabbit;
There’s a reason, you see, for the rabbit-proof fence:
Once you bring bunnies hither, you can’t send them hence.
They devastate flora, and quickly outbreed
Their marsupial neighbors–a problem indeed.
Or look to the waters at Port Philip Bay
Where another invasive is living today;
The Northern Pacific Sea Star is its name
At that bay, there’s a full hundred million to blame
For destroying the natives, both mollusks and corals–
When species collide, we get more than mere quarrels.
From foxes and cats, who are powerful killers,
To carp and salvinia, waterway-fillers,
From cane toads to mynas, to red fire ants,
Once here it’s too late, so you can’t miss your chance.
These cuttlefish giants are beautiful creatures
(Just look at the picture! What beautiful features!)
I hope that Port Bonython learns from the past
And decides that they want their Australia to last;
Ecosystems are fragile–we know they can break;
I’m begging you–please don’t repeat your mistake.

(Now, go to this page, download Michael McRae’s delightful illustrations, and use them when reading my verse to children.)

Photo from The Cephalopod Page… which I also cannot get to link. Bad day for linkage…

…and special thanks to Pod, of Podblack Blog

A Squidmas Carol

Now… I am not, technically, a fan of Squidmas; I have always preferred the more inclusive Cephalopodmas, myself. But some shiftless bum who goes by the name “shiftlessbum” asked nicely, on Pharyngula, if I could “pen a Squidmas carol”. So here is the first.

First thing–it is not a poem, it is a song; if you expect the meter to be precise, you will be disappointed. I assure you, though, that it is quite singable (and would work with either a guitar or a banjo accompaniment, or perhaps a jug band). I had listened to Roy Zimmerman’s Christmas album “Peacenick” earlier today (don’t wait–click the link, go listen to the samples and buy some of his music!), so there may be a bit of that influence there… but the song that really came to mind as a model was Alex Bevan’s “Have another laugh on Cleveland blues” (from the days when Dennis Kucinich was known as the young Mayor of Cleveland). So this is not a terribly traditional Squidmas song, but more of a rollicking fun bit of honkytonk. Oh… and in case you didn’t know, a “radula” is the rasp-like tongue-equivalent that most mollusks use to kinda sorta grind their food to pieces. Just… don’t tell Freud. Anyway, although it is tongue-like, you could not (or rather, a cephalopod could not–I rather doubt that you are a cephalopod) use it to sing “fa-la-la”.

Edit: Ok, not honkytonk. The tune has been brainworming me all day, and it is most decidedly a New Orleans Jazz arrangement… think Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The lineup with the tuba, not the string bass. And a bit slower than I had first envisioned it. But damn, it is good! If any jazz bands happen to read this blog, have your people call my people.

A Squidmas Carol

It was late December, down in the bathysphere,
And the holiday spirit was anywhere but here.
Half a mile down it’s as black as ink
No room to move, but there’s time to think
How I miss, how I miss that topside squidmas cheer!

You can’t “Fa-la-la” with a rad-u-la, my darling
You can’t “Fa-la-la” with a rad-u-la, my dear.
And that star so bright—
It made you flip your lid?
It’s the photophoric action of the firefly squid
It’s the way we know that squidmastime is here!

Every night down here is a silent, silent night
And I’m glad the doors and windows are closed real tight
There’s a noise on the roof, but I know the truth is
It’s the long, long arms of the architeuthis
No sled, no reindeer, no reason for delight…

You can’t “Fa-la-la” with a rad-u-la, my darling
You can’t “Fa-la-la” with a rad-u-la, my dear.
And that star so bright—
It made you flip your lid?
It’s the photophoric action of the firefly squid
It’s the way we know that squidmastime is here!

But then, out the window, a shape catches my eye
It’s jeweled squid—histioteuthis—swimming by
And I think to my self “well, ain’t this grand,
It’ll never ever ever be seen on land.”
And I know for a fact, I’m a lucky, lucky guy!

You can’t “Fa-la-la” with a rad-u-la, my darling
You can’t “Fa-la-la” with a rad-u-la, my dear.
And that star so bright—
It made you flip your lid?
It’s the photophoric action of the firefly squid
It’s the way we know that squidmastime is here!

As I gaze out through three inches of fused quartz glass
At the strange and beautiful creatures as they pass
I know, half a mile down in the deep blue sea
Is the only place in the world for me
And that fat old bearded elf can kiss my ass!

You can’t “Fa-la-la” with a rad-u-la, my darling
You can’t “Fa-la-la” with a rad-u-la, my dear.
And that star so bright—
It made you flip your lid?
It’s the photophoric action of the firefly squid
It’s the way we know that squidmastime is here!

You can keep your sled and your eight tiny reindeer
It’s squidmastime in my tiny bathysphere
You can envy me in your world above
‘Cos I’m spending squidmas in the place I love
Merry Squidmas, and a wonderful New Year!

You can’t “Fa-la-la” with a rad-u-la, my darling
You can’t “Fa-la-la” with a rad-u-la, my dear.
And that star so bright—
It made you flip your lid?
It’s the photophoric action of the firefly squid
It’s the way we know that squidmastime is here!

Cuttlefish in Genesis

So I was ego-surfing, and basking in all the wonderful cephalopoddity that comes with being a cuttlefish, when I happened upon a delightful little piece on cuttlefish, written by those helpful and friendly people at Answers in Genesis. Sure, the article was a few years old, but it was the first I had seen it, and it did say some nice things about cuttlefish. I mean, look—“The world’s oceans are filled with amazingly complex creatures, perhaps none more so than the cuttlefish.” I would be hard pressed to disagree.

The essay begins by reminding us of how strange cuttlefish may appear upon casual observation: “With green blood, three hearts, and able to change colour in a flash, it sounds like a ‘weird aliens’ movie creature.” All true, of course—but in case you were thinking that cuttlefish might prove a problem for creationist apologists, they are quick to point out how the adorable, intelligent cephalopods are here to serve mankind: “Actually, the cuttlefish is a seafood delicacy.

*sigh*

You might think that AIG would do their level best to ignore cuttlefish, but no! In this “weird alien”, they find evidence of Intelligent Design! (Oh, wait, this is AIG—I can actually call it “creationism” here.)

The cuttlefish also has eyes which are similar in construction to human eyes, but evolutionists do not believe it has any direct evolutionary relationship to humans (i.e. there is no possible ancestor to both cuttlefish and humans which could have had such an eye). So this similarity is explained away as ‘convergent evolution’: the eyes of the cuttlefish and other cephalopods ‘evolved independently’ to humans. In other words, it is simply an evolutionary coincidence.

However, the similarity in the design of both the cuttlefish and human eye is easily explained—they had the same Designer! The origins of the amazing features of the cuttlefish can be more easily explained if we accept it as just another miraculous example of the work of the Creator.

Pah! Enough prose—my point is….

Similarity shows that a common designer
With similar blueprints and parts
Constructed the human and cuttlefish forms—
I swear by all three of your hearts.

The God who created the heavens and earth
And killed dinosaurs off in The Flood
Used the same old ideas again and again
You can tell by your copper-green blood.

But the clearest, most obvious clue to His Touch
Is the similar form to our eye
(They are really quite different, in various ways,
But if you won’t tell, neither will I).

Color-blind cuttlefish never see red
But they can see polarized light;
This common designer gets different effects
Out of human and cuttlefish sight.

Anatomically, too, these are two different eyes
They have retinas frontward-to-back,
And cuttlefish reshape the whole of their eye
Because shapeable lenses they lack.

The shape of the pupil allows them to see
To the front and the rear all at once
So similar, clearly, to what we can do—
If you dare disagree, you’re a dunce!

When Answers in Genesis says it’s design
And not just a matter of fitness
I know they’re not fibbing—right there, number nine—
Thou shalt not bear false witness.

I only have one little, lingering doubt
Though I really, I promise, am trying—
If it’s perfectly clear they see common design
It’s even more clear that they’re lying.

Cute, cute, cute…

The cutest of all of the cephalopods
(And thus, of all creatures on Earth)
Is the cuttlefish, cuter by staggering odds
Than a puppy or kitten at birth.
Attempting to list all the cuttlefish charms
Is a noble, though hopeless, endeavor;
From their tails, to their eyes, to their marvelous arms–
And they’re oh-so-endearingly clever!
The shifting displays their chromatophores show
Are delightful to watch, don’t you think?
And like every good poet, wherever they go
They will never forget to bring ink.
The award for “the cutest” is one they will keep;
Let me say it direct, and not subtle–
Beauty, they say, is only skin-deep
But cuteness goes clear to the cuttle.

Posted as a comment on Pharyngula

Cephalopoetry #2

Also posted Oct 8 on Pharyngula

Architeuthis Double-Dactyl

Haughtily, naughtily
Deep-sea biologists
Claimed “We will never find
Fifty-foot squid!”

Nobody told, though, the
Cryptoteuthologist
Blissfully ignorant,
That’s what he did.

Nautilus Limerick

The nautilus swims back-to front
Which is quite an unusual stunt
But his shell–which is odd
For a cephalopod–
When he bumps into things, bears the brunt!

Cuttlefish Physiology Limerick

Look again, and you might doubt your eyes:
It’s the cuttlefish, cloaked in disguise!
As it changes, within
Its remarkable skin
Are chromatophores, changing in size.

Cephalopoetry #1

Posted on Pharyngula, Oct 8

A Cuttlefish Limerick or Three

The cuttlefish: Squid-like, you think?
Just a cephalopod in the drink?
Then you also should know it
Refers to a poet,
Or any who hide in their ink.

For writers who think that they’re odd
And ignored, by indifferent God,
Don’t allow yourself–perish
The thought, and just cherish
Your label of “Cephalopod”

For today, there will be no rebuttal–
We will celebrate, loud and unsubtle!
Just the same as each squid
And each octopus did,
We’ll shake all of our legs, and our cuttle!

A Cuttlefish Double-Dactyl

Inkily, thinkily,
Deepwater cuttlefish
Hide in their ink (to a
Poet, that’s odd)

Writing, you see, is not
Characteristically
Part of the life of a
Cephalopod.