Conservation Biologist Thor Hansen explains why feathers matter »
This week on Fresh Air, Terri Gross interviewed Thor Hanson, a conservation biologist and author of the newly published Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle. As part of his research, he plucked a dead wren to count its feathers. It had 1,500. A tiny wren, like the Australian white-winged fairy wren in the photo!
In the interview, which you can listen to on NPR, Hanson discusses the biological makeup of feathers, why he thinks birds evolved feathers, and how they adapted them to flight. The first feathered animals might’ve used them primarily for insulation, and now, every single individual flight feather is an airfoil, while being part of the airfoil that is the bird’s wing. Double-airfoil action for maximum flight!
Animals are amazing! So is science!
[white-winged fairy wren photo by David Cook Wildlife Photography, via Flickr]
A pigeon zine! Made by the lovely Small Science Collective. Meave and I are totally all about this! Goddamn I love pigeons.
They have a little discussion about pigeons on the site. Pigeons and Darwin. I actually read that passage about pigeons by Darwin that they are talking about. It’s hella boring. Sorry. I love Darwin though! Though I’m not sure I believe in the idea of species. Some people have suggested that we’d learn a lot more if we organize a map illustrating the dispersal of different traits in a type of animal rather than segregating them into different species. The traits would likely correspond with different environmental conditions and we’d see why or how the traits evolved. As the definition of species gets murkier and murkier, we might want to look for alternative systems of organization.
That’s enough book-learning for today!
Posted with permission from the Small Science Collective!
According to scientist, this is the first-ever hybrid shark, a cross between a common black-tip and an Australian black-tip. It was discovered in Australian waters and is believed to be the result of an adaption “to ensure its survival as sea temperatures change because of global warming.” Amazing!
I mean, sharks are older than dinosaurs, but they’re still around and they’re still evolving, now to cope with shitty human-caused climate change. Over 450 million years old and still kicking ass! If this doesn’t make sense, take it up with the reporters at Yahoo! News, because I am science-ignorant and just wanted to share some amazing animal news with you. Sharks rule, land vertebrates are adorably useless!
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]