Kentucky Fried Chupacabra


I was right about the animal’s species. It was a raccoon, but the reason for hair loss was not the scabies mite. It is unknown what caused the hair loss.

There are people spinning hypotheses, and the one I like most is the one that there is some kind of disease causing organism being spread among the regional population of raccoons, perhaps even by some parasite intermediate like ticks. This hair loss pattern is limited to the eastern part of North America, and may be becoming more common in Kentucky.

Surveillance (the term for monitoring a population for diseases and disorders) of raccoons, probably through trap and release will be important to solving this problem. Unless it causes disease in humans, though, grant money will probably be non-existent.


Kentucky has its very own Chupacabra! From WLKY (out of Louisville, KY),

Chupacabra Found In Kentucky? – Video – WLKY Louisville.

“I just happened to walk out on the porch and saw something moving in the field and it just looked unusual,” said Mark Cothern.

That strange creature moved closer along Cothern’s farmhouse, causing him to look through binoculars. He even called his wife to look as well. But the more they looked, the more unusual it appeared.

“Well, it’s something strange, so I got my rifle to shoot it, get a closer look. And I’m glad I did, ’cause I don’t know what it is,” he said.

The news story goes on to mention that the Nelson County animal control officer was immediately on the right track in identifying this sad little critter as a raccoon with mange. Call Mulder and Scully… and tell them to cancel their flight.

Let’s take a look at the evidence, shall we? Continue reading



I’m working on a couple longish posts, but in the meantime, I’ll post something that I’m sure the entire science focused part of the blogosphere is putting up, but I think it is especially cogent here.

Science worship? Don't be stupid, you moron!For the full comic, go to Tree Lobsters. The same goes for evolution.

Science (and any scientific theory, for that matter) are tools that help us understand the world around us. You don’t worship science any more than you worship a hammer. Science helps us understand how humans fit into the world, now we interact with nature. It is the “poetry of reality.”

Coelacanth reading

Check out BoingBoing for a good read on coelacanths and an example of how not to teach about fish that are anything but “living fossils”.

I wonder if there are any funk musicians out there that like coelacanths. (I just had to stick in a link to my good friend George Hrab. You are a good friend if you are on facebook, right?)

Toxic Tuesday! Lion fish.

The first aid for a lion fish sting is to keep it under hot water (less than scalding). If you experience a severe reaction (trouble breathing) then go to the ER immediately! So if that is what you needed to know, you don’t need to skim the whole post for it.

This is the first post in a series of three on lion fish.

Since I got such a great response from the Copperhead post, I decided I needed to get some pictures of poisonous critters that make for good teaching examples. And so, I pulled up some photos from the last time I went to the Newport Aquarium, just south of Cincinnati Ohio. It was much better than the Creation “Museum” that I blogged about last year, but I knew that going in. I try to go at least once a year, and my trusty camera always goes with me.

Lion fish are some of the most beautiful fish in the sea, and have a nasty reputation for being extremely poisonous. Extremely is an overstatement, as I think about sea snakes as being extremely poisonous. Lion fish will give you a nasty sting, very painful, but not as bad as many people think.

This critter is particularly important to me as a toxicologist, but is is very serious threat to the reefs of the Atlantic. As a (beginning) scuba diver, the thought of losing so many beautiful reef ecosystems would be a terrible thing.

lion fish 1

Pterois volitans is native to the South Pacific, as are all other lion fish, where it is kept in check by natural predators and parasites and is sought after as a food item. All lion fish make for very popular aquarium fish (pics of other species can be found there as well as care directions), and they were probably accidentally released into the Atlantic from an aquarium. lion fish 7

Lion fish were first found in Florida in 1985, and the population was entrenched by 2000 to the point that sightings have become commonplace. They are most common in the Bahamas and Caribbean, but have been sighted Belize and Venezuela and north to New York and the Bermudas. How could these become so spread out so quickly?

lion fish 1

The Gulf Stream runs north along the east coast of the US and larva stage fish and egg packets get picked up and borne along by it. It may come as a surprise, but young tropical fish are commonly sighted off the coast of New York in the warmer months. Lion fish that end up near Long Island won’t make it through the winter, but any of their little brothers and sisters that managed to get off the Gulf Stream by, say North Carolina, will be able to make it, even if mom and dad live in the Bahamas. Think about that for a minute. From the point of spawning north, a single reproductive event can spread baby lion fish all along the coast. By the way, if you don’t read any of the other links, read the previous one. Actually, here it is again. Go for the pictures of the juvenile lion fish, stay for the engrossing description of how one minor discovery by a graduate student can become incredibly important to current research.

lion fish 2Lion fish are voracious predators

That gorgeous coloration tells predators to back off and at the end of some of those fins is a nasty venom delivery system. The tissue on their dorsal, pelvic and anal spines can all be pushed back, causing their venom gland to release a lovely cocktail of toxins into the unlucky recipient of the sting.

Interestingly, the poisons are protein based, and are are broken down by heat, which is why running hot water over a sting or putting a hot towel over the sting site makes for good first aid. Its sort of like frying an egg.

Lionfish anatomy from Essential Image Source Foundation

Lionfish anatomy from Essential Image Source Foundation

You really have to see these guys swimming to get an idea of how beautiful they are. They are simply one of the most gorgeous fish in the sea, but they don’t belong in the Atlantic at the cost of the already fragile reef system.

Comment policy

What Jen said.

I usually won’t moderate comments, except if those comments are:

  • Spam
  • Hateful, abusive, or threatening
  • Trolling or thread derailing
  • Evangelizing or godbotting
  • Mindbogglingly stupid

With the exception of spam and threats, I only ban repeat offenders.

So far, I have only had close to a thousand spam comments, which have all been caught by Askimet.

Does this mean that people expressing religious beliefs will find their comments unwelcome? Obviously not. But if you post a string of verses from your personal holy book without commentary, you will find your comment deleted. Express yourself, show that you can pass the Turing Test, and I’ll likely even respond. If asked for scientific evidence, don’t respond with a verse.

If I ask you to restate your comment, it is probably because you are on the edge of mindbogglingly stupid territory. If I respond with a link to, do yourself a favor and read what I have linked to. Show some intellectual curiosity.

Don’t forget your students

If you are teaching, then the last week of classes, right before finals, is one of your busiest. You are returning drafts, writing exams and rushing to fit in that last lecture. It is very easy to forget one very important thing.

Your students.

One of my students came to me on Monday and asked if I would read a draft of her term paper and see if I had any comments. The thing was, it wasn’t a paper for my class, but for an English composition class. She had chosen a biology/medical topic and wanted to make sure that her information was not only correct, but aldo for any suggestions that might be helpful. I told her to email it to me and I worked the time in to read it.

It was a persuasive piece on a topic that I am passionate about. But it was arguing a position that I disagreed with. How would you respond?

Remember that in many classes that teach rhetoric and persuasion, students are asked to pick a topic, outline their personal position, and then formulate an argument against it. I have no idea what my student’s position really is, but I also don’t know the particulars of the assignment.

I have to admit, that while I wasn’t swayed, her piece was very persuasive. It approached the topic from a pragmatic angle, which I like, and to some extent was accommodationist  towards one of the sides of the debate, which in this case, I don’t like. In the end, it was enjoyable to read and it felt especially good to be trusted enough by a student to be asked for help. A heartfelt “Thank you,” is one of the greatest rewards that a professor or teacher in any field can get.

I read through the paper, pointed out parts that were factually incorrect, places where her argument was weak, and offered suggestions on ways to improve her piece, but not change it to my view. I also pointed her towards a wikipedia page that would be useful, and told her to take a look at the sources cited by the wiki, but not to cite the wiki itself. Wikipedia is just like any piece of literature a step or two removed from the source, it may not be presented properly, it may be misunderstood, and it may not even be relevant.

Again, this is a couple of days before a final, and asking a student to examine a whole new area of research for an assignment that isn’t even part of my class would be kind of rude, so this showed her a new way to use a resource to gather information quickly.

If your school has a writing across the curriculum program, then you are helping out. If it doesn’t, guess what, you are now the writing across the curriculum program! If your writing center is good at helping with scientific or technical pieces, you can always refer a student to them that is in need of grammatical or structural help, but you can still help with fact checking.

One of the goals of small liberal arts schools is to provide “that one on one” teacher student relationship. For this to work, you need to be part of that pair.

Teach on.

New Dimetrodon fossil

Dimetrodons were one of my favorite dinosaurs when I was a kid, even if I didn’t know that they weren’t actually dinos. As a group, they are considered synapsids like us, making modern mammals like us their very distant descendants, by 280-265 million years.

These guys are likely to be in the news in the next several days due to a find in Texas the by Houston Museum of Natural Science of a nearly complete articulated skeleton of Dimetrodon giganhomogenes.

Dimetrodon_gigashomogenesCrikey, but he’s a pretty fellow! (artist’s conception, credit DiBgd)

Keep in mind that complete skeletons are themselves rare, but being able to observe articulation is especially neat, as we can actually see how the joints fit against each other.

You can see just how excited Dr. Bakker is at this discovery in this video. What a great addition to the collection at HMNS.

Rare, Nearly Complete Dimetrodon Found! [HMNS Paleontology] from HMNS on Vimeo.

Ideas for lessons?

Elementary school: Lots of kids will know what a Dimetrodon is immediately, but many won’t know that they weren’t dinosaurs. You can talk about why these aren’t quite dinosaurs. Synapsids have a hole in their skull just behind their eye socket that a jaw muscle goes through. You can ask your students if they knew that they had the same feature. Synapsids also have teeth with different shapes, while reptiles including dinosaurs typically have teeth that are fairly similar throughout. Again, your students have this feature, too, with incisors, molars and canine teeth. Finally, synapsids have legs that are perpendicular to their bodies, like crocodiles, while dinosaurs have legs that are in line with their bodies. We don’t share all of the features of Dimetrodon, but these details can further interest children in learning about science. There are other differences, but this should be enough to get you started on a very fun lesson.

You can pick up a plastic model of one of these anywhere plastic dinos are sold, so a visual aid won’t set you back too badly.

Another exercise would be to ask the students to draw what they think scientists look like. Dr. Bakker is an example of a working scientist that isn’t wearing a lab coat, doesn’t have white hair going in every direction, etc. Make sure that you include some other scientists, and don’t leave out women scientists!

High school: This makes for a good science in the news moment, and again, a plastic toy makes a good visual aid. This also fits into lessons on the history of the earth as an example of life in the Permian period, and if you are in an area of the country that encourages teaching evolution as part of the science standards, these are early ancestors to mammals, even though they are very reptile like.

College: I often start class with an organism of the day, and even though it takes a few minutes out of every lecture, it helps students understand that science is an ongoing process and that we are learning more about life every day.

Furthermore, this can be an examination of cladistics and common ancestry. Review the wikipedia page here, and you can take your class beyond your textbook to examine these topics. Pictures of Dimetrodon and human skulls would be useful in comparing cranial features.

Have fun, and teach on.