Science tidbits June 18, 2012

Science tidbits for this, the 18th of June, 2012

You got your dolphin on my octopus! You got your octopus on my dolphin!


1) Raw milk is not “safe” 2) Blogs are a great way for students to write about science for a broad audience.

– In the last seminar class I taught, I wanted to include a blog writing assignment, where students would write up a post on their seminar topic for popular consumption. I still would like to try it, perhaps for an honors class. Beyond that, this is an outstanding topic for discussion of personal risk and how public health decisions are made. While a single person may have very low risk from drinking raw milk, the probability that a single person or multiple people in a population will be affected becomes extremely likely. Blessed are the cheesemakers.


“Wildlife rangers were forced to shoot dead the [lion] cubs’ mother after it was spotted in Nairobi’s Karen suburb” – I stayed for a week in Karen with family while my wife was gathering data for her dissertation, and photographed lions enjoying the remains of an antelope in the nature reserve with Nairobi’s skyline in the distance. Turns out, this isn’t an isolated experience. Lions sometimes find their way into Karen and get stuck in the compounds (think of a cul-de-sac, with tall fences around each home with a locked gate, and at the entry to the cul-de-sac is another locked gate, sometimes manned by a guard), which means that nobody can come or go until the lion leaves.


Poor itty bitty spider got the fungal rot, down came the rain, washed the spores about. Cordyceps is a genus of sac fungi that parasitize arthropods. While parasites tend to give people the willies, as do spiders, Cordyceps is a fascinating group that challenges what students think about when they hear “fungus.”


Via Jerry Coyne,  a good read about gill slits, and how they fit into vertebrate development. This can also help you answer questions from students about what a gill slit is and how it fits into the evidence for evolution from a common ancestor.


Bonobos (the nice chimps) have now been sequenced! 1.3% diff from us, 0.4% diff from Pan troglodytes. I wouldn’t introduce the sexual habits of Bonobos to elementary or middle school students… and I would be hesitant to discuss it with high school students unless I knew that my administration had my back. For undergraduates, most can handle a discussion of the variety of sexual habits of animals, and it can lead to a better understanding that what they think is natural is not always reflected in reality.


Gender roles in nature, with cartoons for those that need pictures. This is another good topic for advanced high school students and undergraduates, when discussing reproductive strategies, sexual selection and evolution. Try showing pictures of male and female birds and discussing how the bright colors of males are important for multiple reasons, including attracting a mate and perhaps even displaying the health of the bird (no parasites, good nutrition, etc). Then show them a picture of male and female seahorses and ask them which they think is which (males tend to be dull and females brightly colored). As you describe how the seahorses rear their young, see if you can start a discussion on how the individuals competing for the attention of a mate are the ones investing resources in their appearance, and that this is not always the male.


Evolution as chemical warfare. Mouse eats seed. Plants that poison seeds selected for. Now for mice to evolve immunity. If you are looking for a way to introduce the Red Queen Hypothesis, this is perfect.

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