The Brain Scoop
Episode 16: Horns vs. Antlers

We get a lot of requests to fulfill common queries about the odd animal world - differentiating between horns and alters is one of them.  Certainly there is a lot more that can be said on this subject, but here’s your basic bite-sized rundown of similarities and differences.  Someday soon we’ll be discussing the freakshow exceptions to the rules: rhinoceroses, the American pronghorn, the common raccoon. 

Get down and educational with Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum and Comparative Skeletal Collection! I love some light science, don’t you?


Who’s the fanciest moth of them all? The Venezuelan poodle moth!   »

Move over PSY, there’s a new international superstar taking the internet by storm! Everyone, say hello to Venezuela’s own POODLE MOTH.
Go ahead, feast your eyes on this magnificent creature. I can’t get enough, I love this little guy! He’s so fancy. AND JUST LOOK AT THOSE TINY HANDS.

I’m not much of a science buff myself, and I’m not going to embarrass us by trying to fake it. Get yo’ science fill right here!

[Photo by Arthur Anker via Flickr]


Happy World Tapir Day! Print some biology postcards to celebrate!  »

Maggie Koerth-Baker over at Boing Boing shares two glorious reasons to pause and enjoy the wonders of biology today. First of all, who knew?

It’s World Tapir Day! This tapir is celebrating with a nice, long bath. You deserve it, tapir! It’s hard work, lookin’ like a pig, but being more closely related to a horse.

Even more exciting though, here’s some free art!

This is an axolotl, a type of salamander that is frequently used by scientists trying to study developmental biology. Axolotls have taught about physical regeneration, and how hormones force physical changes between young creatures and their adult forms.

The above awesome pink drawing is just one of 16  Japanese-style biology images that the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology has released under a Creative Commons license. That means you’re allowed to do whatever you want with them as long as you give the artist credit and don’t try and sell them because that would be lame and also don’t modify them because they asked you not to!

Anyway, I’m thinking about printing me up a batch of note-cards to mail to people in an effort to single-handedly ensure the continued operation of the postal service. Axolotl!


Homosexual animals are not gay, OK!  »

The biologists profiled in this week’s New York Times big Sunday Magazine article, "Can Animals Be Gay?" would like you, general public, to please stop associating the terms “gay” and “lesbian” with non-human animals. This is extrapolation that they, the disinterested scientists, do NOT do, and that we the general public should not do, as it muddles the very important distinction these scientists draw between non-human animals and human animals, and they do not want our anthropomorphism and judgmentalism and morality getting in the way of their scientific conclusions.

Fair enough, to an extent. I do not want horrible eugenicist bigots demanding that we isolate the so-called and still-debated “gay gene” and allowing for some kind of “gaythanasia” escape clause in their no-abortions-ever laws, and that is a possibility—touched on by one of the scientists interviewed—if we allow for the blurring of that line.

However, as a vegan, I believe that the more similarities we find between “natural” human behavior and “natural” animal behavior, the harder that will make for the general public to accept abuses such as animal testing (let alone eating animals—come on, son). Because we’re people, and, “As the biologist Marlene Zuk explains, we are hard-wired to read all animal behavior as ‘some version of the way people do things’ and animals as ‘blurred, imperfect copies of humans.’”

Now, as many “it thinks it’s people” jokes I may make, I do not believe that animals are “imperfect copies of humans” and find it, oh yes, offensive that others might. It’s cute when a non-human animal’s behavior reminds me of a human’s behavior, but that doesn’t mean that the dog is actually “trying to be” a person. It does have agency, however; it does have its own biological makeup, just as we have our own that allows us to feel and behave compassionately. So if you feel like maybe animals can be gay, like maybe that is an argument for the “naturalness” of homosexuality, maybe that should inform your behavior toward animals in other areas. If animals of all kinds share so many similar traits, how humane is it to make such clear distinctions between “us” and “them,” really?

[photo of rabbits by Jeff Koons for the NY Times]

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