I want one.

Very exciting!

After the last of its kind died out about 12,000 years ago, a strange animal that stumped Charles Darwin is finally being added to the tree of life, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

Macrauchenia patachonica lived during the last ice age. It resembled a bulky camel without a hump, with a long neck like that of a llama and a short trunk for a nose.

Sounds freaking awesome. [Read more…]

Pride Fest!

I went out for a drink stroll before the crushing crowds completely take over the neighborhood. It was pretty fucking amazing.

The sound of NYPD helicopters—ever-present over any sizable gathering, especially in lower Manhattan—are being drowned out by the DJs. :D

Please enjoy some pics, plus this playlist which I have artfully entitled: Music heard and/or inspired by what I can hear out my window. [Read more…]

Happy Pride 2017.

It’s a beautiful day in NYC. Sunny skies all day, with a predicted high of 85F. If you’re celebrating Pride here today, I hope you find joy, connection and solidarity among friends, old and new.

Stay safe out there. Take care of each other. There are too many haters among us.

Multicellularity, male privilege and also I need $10 million.

I watched the vid of my colleagues here at FtB, Matt Herron of Fierce Roller and PZ Myers of Tentacly Overlord infamy, discussing some very cool science-y stuff about the evolution of multicellularity. One of the most interesting takeaways for me is that it had long been thought that evolving multicellularity would be an exceedingly rare and difficult jump to make. But it has been discovered, only in the last five to ten years, that this is actually relatively easy and common:

Matt (@3:51): I think there’s been sort of a natural assumption that it has to be difficult. And maybe it is difficult to evolve a complex multicellular organism, with lots and lots of cell types and tissues and maybe even organs, because that hasn’t happened very many times. But Rick Grossberg has a paper where he argues basically what we’ve found, which is that at least the initial steps towards a multicellular lifestyle really aren’t that difficult. It’s happened lots of times that we know of, at least a couple of dozen times, and probably more because in a lot of cases these things don’t leave any fossil record. It is surprising, compared to what people thought five or ten years ago, that multicellularity evolves so easily, but now we’ve seen it in several of these experiments. And in a lot of cases it happens within just a few hundred generations.

OMG cool, right?

Then they touch on the intersection of philosophy and biology, and specifically the question of what exactly constitutes an individual organism, as opposed to, say, a colony of creatures that appear to function as one. I don’t know about you, but this kind of stuff really gets my beanie spinning. I am reminded of my unfortunate encounter with a species known as Physalia physalis, a.k.a. the “floating terror,” a.k.a. the Atlantic Portuguese man o’ war, which I would henceforth (and forevermore) refer to as a “sea squirrel.” Despite its similarity in appearance to the common jellyfish—an individual multicellular organism that will also sting the everloving shit out of you if given a chance—it turns out that the Sea Squirrel™ is actually something very different:

[T]he Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, which, unlike jellyfish, is not actually a single multicellular organism, but a colonial organism made up of specialized individual animals called zooids or polyps. These polyps are attached to one another and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are unable to survive independently, and therefore have to work together and function like a so-called individual animal.

Mind: blown.

These weird little fuckers are carnivorous, wielding their wickedly venomous tentacles to paralyze prey (e.g. small fish), and to inflict upon barefoot beachwalkers excruciating pain even after they are long dead (the sea squirrels, not the beachwalkers).

Detached tentacles and dead specimens (including those that wash up on shore) can sting just as painfully as the live organism in the water and may remain potent for hours or even days after the death of the organism or the detachment of the tentacle.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention an interesting cephalopod angle here. Blanket octopuses are immune to sea squirrel venom, which is an amazing enough trick to evolve. But these cephalopods go waaaaaay beyond that: they rip the venomous tentacles right off of those critters (hopefully while mocking them mercilessly), and then they carry the tentacles around with them to wield as weapons for defensive (and possibly offensive) purposes. Now that is some serious next level shit, blanket octopuses! I mean, can you just picture that? Because I sure can!

Octopus Wielding Sea Squirrel™ Tentacles Against Douchefish.
©Iris Vander Pluym
8′ x 11′
(oil on canvas)
$10,000,000.00

But! I digress. As beanie-spinning as all of this clearly is (as evidenced by the foregoing blather), it has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this post.

[Read more…]

We suck. Help save the oceans.

(image via Avaaz)

It’s no secret that I have no love for homo sapiens (or for Sciuridae for that matter, but they are not the goddamn problem FOR ONCE). I do, however, harbor deep affection and compassion for our cousins that dwell in the Earth’s seas.

This is a picture of all my aquatic friends in Costa Rica.
I don’t have an underwater camera. But since I snorkeled extensively in these waters, I can assure you they are fucking amazing.

Unfortunately, when it comes to marine habitats all over this planet, humans suck giant walrus balls. Hard. In fact, it invites karmic justice of the highest order that President Cheetohead and his merry band of motherfrackers are busy ensuring Earth’s glaciers and polar ice caps completely melt, covering the entire surface of the globe in water. (BONUS: this would also solve the fucking squirrel problem once and for all. Lard knows future space alien cephalopod visitors shouldn’t have to deal with that shit.)

But at least occasionally, we humans attempt to mitigate some of the worst aspects of our lamentable existence. If only momentarily, we will put our violent domination proclivities on hold and shift to a collaborative worldview, as if our very lives depended on it. They actually do, of course. And this is one of those moments.

Go over to Freethought Resistance and sign the Avaaz petition to ban single-use plastics. It only takes a minute, and who knows? Perhaps your future space alien cephalopod overlords might just spare your life.

Not like we have an “in” with anyone around here.