Leaping Larvae! A new insect jumping technique has been discovered!

It’s a problem we’ve all faced – what do we do when we need to hurl ourselves through the air, but we’re too squidgy to pull off the latch-mediated spring actuation mechanism that all the cool bugs are using? Well, whether or not you wanted an answer to that question, you now have one, and in my opinion it’s pretty neat:

While there are other insect species that are capable of making prodigious leaps, they rely on something called a “latch-mediated spring actuation mechanism.” This means that they essentially have two parts of their body latch onto each other while the insect exerts force, building up a significant amount of energy. The insect then unlatches the two parts, releasing all of that energy at once, allowing it to spring off the ground.

“What makes the L. biguttatus so remarkable is that it makes these leaps without latching two parts of its body together,” Bertone says. “Instead, it uses claws on its legs to grip the ground while it builds up that potential energy — and once those claws release their hold on the ground, that potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, launching it skyward.”

The discovery of the behavior was somewhat serendipitous. Bertone had collected a variety of insect samples from a rotting tree near his lab in order to photograph them when he noticed that these beetle larvae appeared to be hopping.
[…]
“The way these larvae were jumping was impressive at first, but we didn’t immediately understand how unique it was,” Bertone says. “We then shared it with a number of beetle experts around the country, and none of them had seen the jumping behavior before. That’s when we realized we needed to take a closer look at just how the larvae was doing what it was doing.”

To determine how L. biguttatus was able to execute its acrobatics, the researchers filmed the jumps at speeds of up to 60,000 frames per second. This allowed them to capture all of the external movements associated with the jumps, and suggested that the legs were essentially creating a latching mechanism with the ground.

The researchers also conducted a muscle mass assessment to determine whether it was possible for the larvae to make their leaps using just their muscles, as opposed to using a latch mechanism to store energy. They found that the larvae lacked sufficient muscle to hurl themselves into the air as far or as fast as they had been filmed jumping. Ergo, latching onto the ground was the only way the larvae could pull off their aerial feats.

It’s not something I spend a lot of time looking for, but it always cheers me up to learn about a moment when a bunch of scientists said, “wait – that shouldn’t be possible!” and then went about figuring out why it is possible. I don’t generally think of beetle grubs as particularly acrobatic creatures, but apparently I misjudged them. When life gives you lemons, latch on to them with your little claws and fling yourself into the void.

An update from Shaun on the BBC transphobia saga

As you may recall, I did a short post this past November about bigotry, which included a video about the BBC’s transphobia. Shaun put out another video in early December following up on that, and we have now come to part three:

Unsurprisingly, the folks at the BBC seem to be hoping that if they just ignore the problem (that being people who don’t like big news companies spreading transphobic bullshit), it’ll just go away. Wouldn’t it just be terrible if instead of going away, the problem got bigger? On an unrelated note, there’s some interesting stuff in the description of this video. A sample letter, a “contact us” link – all that jazz! It’s amazing to think how far the internet has come!

What kind of world could we build?

One of the reasons why I write science fiction, is that it’s a way for me to think about what the world could look like, and how it could be different from what I’ve always known. It can be hard to imagine how such a society might work, but fortunately a lot of people over the years have put a lot of thought into societal structures and forms of governance that lack the incentives for injustice and inequality that currently exist. I don’t think I or any other person is capable of giving the “right” answer, but as a collective, we can build on each other’s ideas and strengths, and create things that are better than any one of us could achieve.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what society is all about? Anyway, here’s Thought Slime on that very topic:

If Chile is to be the grave of Neoliberalism, let this be played at its funeral!

Chile has been described as the birthplace of Neoliberalism. Specifically, it was the Pinochet regime that seized power from the democratically elected Salvadore Allende, with U.S. support, that then enacted a brutal regime of torture, murder, and privatization with the continued backing of the U.S. government, and advice from “the Chicago boys“, acolytes of Milton Friedman’s cult of The Invisible Hand of the Free Market that pioneered the ruthless profit-seeking and “marketization” of every aspect of life that has become typical of American capitalism in the decades since. I’ll pause here to once again link you to the free audiobook of Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”.

Recently, the left has been rising again in Chile, finally moving back towards the kind of society they had been trying to build before capitalists tried to crush that dream, and presidential candidate Gabriel Boric has been credited with saying, “If Chile was the birthplace of Neoliberalism, it will also be its grave!”

Now, Boric has released the funniest political ad I have ever seen, and while I was going to take today off, I had to share it with you.

If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution!
If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution!
If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.
A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.
If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming

-Emma Goldman

The “Nuclear Family” is a myth that limits our capacity to understand ourselves

Humans are a social species. Our greatest achievements, for good and for ill, have all come from the collective effort of thousands of people, often spread out over multiple generations. Mainstream discourse in the United States holds that the “Nuclear Family” is the foundation of all of that, and more conservative people will often go farther to claim that that structure – a cis man, a cis woman, and their children – has been central to all “greatness” in human history.

As with many such assertions, this quickly falls apart as we look at what’s known about human societies around the globe, but there’s a persistent effort to erase, denigrate, or dismiss any alternative ways of structuring our communities, past and present. Abigail Thorn’s video about witchcraft, gender, and Marxism explores the ways in which modern gender roles began to be enforced in Europe, and the role the witch hunts played in creating the world we all live in today. Where she focused on economic theory, concepts of magic, and historical eras, Saint Andrew’s video Rethinking Family focuses on family structures, and the roles they have played in making us what we are, in limiting our understanding of ourselves, and in limiting our power to resist oppression.

U.S. culture is obsessed with “the individual”, while also discouraging more than the most token expressions of individual identity. We are told to think and act as individuals (outside the workplace) and to define ourselves by work plus whatever we can do in our spare time – usually some form of consumer activity. In my view, understanding who we are as individuals requires some understanding of what we are as Homo sapiens, and in forcing everyone to conform to a particular vision of “the family unit”, we have been lied to about what we are. Not only does this make it difficult to truly understand who we, but that lack of understanding also greatly impedes our ability to shape ourselves, and determine the course of our own lives.

The Nuclear Family is an artificial construct, and one that has never been real in the idealized form we were taught to strive for. It’s past time to re-learn who and what we are, and allow humans to be humans.

Friday Film Review: Vamps (2012)

Tegan and I were looking up Wally Shawn yesterday evening, and we discovered he’d been in a 2012 film we’d never heard of called Vamps. Out of curiosity we watched the preview and, well…

So as you may have seen, the movie is written and directed by Amy Heckerling of  Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame, and it is exactly the kind of movie the trailer would lead you to expect. It’s sort of the Galaxy Quest of vampire films, and not just because Sigourney Weaver brings her best for it. It’s got a very ’90s feel, and fully embraces the fact that it is a trashy vampire comedy with an absurdly star-studded cast. In addition to Weaver and Shawn, we’ve got Alicia Silverstone, Kristen Ritter (nice to know why Jessica Jones is so strong), Richard Lewis (Prince John to you), and a myriad of others who came together for what we feel was a labor of love for Heckerling.

I’m unaccustomed to writing film reviews, but the terms “high camp” and “solid B movie” both come to mind. The plot keeps you guessing, the characters are over the top and absurdist, and yet it packs a powerful emotional punch. They might have left out a vampire trope or two, but not many, and Wallace Shawn makes a surprisingly believable Van Helsing, and a convincing overprotective father.

It’s genuine, goofy, and of course a bit gory. Most violence happens off-screen, and what we do see is pretty cartoonish and surprisingly not bloody. I will, however, give one content warning. There is a notorious clip from the 1929 French surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, which remains one of the most convincing and disturbing practical effects in film history. If you want to avoid it, look away for a minute or so when you see a black and white film clip involving a straight razor.

We’re adding this to our list of movies to force our friends to watch.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Fatphobia in culture, and its effects: Some thoughts and a video you should watch

I was bullied for my weight growing up, though looking at pictures from back then I wasn’t particularly fat – just fatter than a lot of my classmates. The primary effect of that treatment was that I did my best to avoid exerting myself where other people could see me. I was lucky to find groups that DIDN’T do that shit for the most part, both in my youth circus and in the wilderness/naturalist program at my high school, but it never really went away. I don’t know that I would have worked out more had I been left alone about that issue – I certainly DID work out when I was in settings where I knew it wouldn’t come up – but overall when someone mocked me for my weight, doing something physical with my body was the last thing I wanted to do. Rowling’s descriptions of fat people doing things, as highlighted in the video below, are a good illustration of how I saw myself when other people forced me to think about my body.

I also don’t remember how I felt about the cruelty in JK Rowling’s writing. I enjoyed the books at the time, and I think the grotesque caricature named Dudley Dursley didn’t hit ME to hard because my reaction was “at least I’m not that bad”. A huge number of problems in our society seem to come down to the inability of some people to see their fellow humans as people, rather than scenery or props. Writing like Rowling’s encourages that perspective, and as many have now pointed out, it’s far from limited to the fat characters in her books.

Obviously there’s a lot more to societal treatment of fat people than just Rowling’s writing, and fortunately Ok2BeFat has a lot of content, not just about the societal aspects of fatness, but also the science. This is work that needs doing, and she does a good job with it, so support her on patreon if you can.