Nature Blog Network

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tangled Bank #89

Martin has the 89th edition of the Tangled Bank up at Aardvarcheology. A great edition and a yummy photo! Head over there and read away.

October 10 I am hosting the Tangled Bank, so send your submissions to my email: kaz_remove_146_at_psu_dot_edu.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Mysterious Cephalopod of the Sea

I found this gem while cleaning out my bookmarks folder (click on photo to enter site). I can't remember where I got it from, most likely either Cephalopodcast or Deep Sea News.

This is a nice informative site about the giant squid, from the education company Scholastic, that teaches students about how science is done by 4 methods:

1) Research - assembling many "tiny clues" and gathering hard evidence (i.e. capture squid on film)
2) Compare - understand processes of the giant squid by understanding closely related, but easier to access species of squid
3) Observe - clues can be attained from studying the anatomy of the squid, even those in preservation.
4) Examine - how does studying giant squid today help us understand fossil squid?

An excellent site that can be easily used to as a lesson in how science is done while capturing students interests in something in fascinating as the deep sea and the giant squid!

'Monster' Lobster Caught by UK Fishermen and the Evolution of Their Tastiness

A giant pink spiny lobster has been found off the Cornish coast.

The 59.5cm (23in) long crustacean, nicknamed Poseidon, is five times larger than normal spiny lobsters and needs two people to pick him up safely.

Fishermen caught the lobster about 200 miles (321km) from Newlyn, along with two smaller spiny lobsters that were later sold at a fish market.

The Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay is trying to establish if the "monster" is a record-breaking size.

The largest pink spiny lobster reported to have been found in the UK measured 70cm.

David Waines, of the Blue Reef Aquarium where the lobster is now housed, said: "Everyone here believes this is the largest specimen we've ever seen. He's a real monster.

"British records for this particular species are rare and we're still trying to establish whether Poseidon is a record-breaker."

The pink spiny lobster is closely related to the common crawfish[sic] but is usually found off the west coast of Africa and in the Mediterranean.
Now I wonder how closely related crays* are to lobsters. Fossil evidence suggests lobsters are derived from crays. For instance,
"The diversity and distribution of North American Triassic terrestrial burrowing and aquatic freshwater crayfish[sic] fossils demonstrates that their evolution began earlier and may reciprocate our views of the lobster-crayfish[sic] relationship. Crayfish[sic] fossils and the burrows attributed to their activity in the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation date to about 225 million years in age during the presence of the Pangean supercontinent.[...]The diversity, paleogeographic distribution, and ecological specialization of the Triassic crayfish[sic] implies that the group evolved possibly as early as or earlier than the Permian (286 million years ago). The crayfish[sic] body and trace fossil evidence may suggest that lobsters, thought to have evolved early in the Triassic (245 million years ago), evolved from aquatic freshwater crayfish[sic] that inhabited coastal streams, rivers, and lakes. The majority of lobster body fossils occur in the Jurassic and Cretaceous with only a hand full from the Triassic (e.g., Glaessner, 1969)"-Hasiotis 1993
So lobsters are derived from crays. This is probably not news to people who eat both. The nutritional facts speak to their shared common ancestry.

Nutritional analysis for crays from the Louisiana Crawfish[sic] Promotion & Research Board
Nutritional data for Crustacean, lobster, northern, raw.

It would appear that over the course of evolution, lobster meat gained 7 calories and 2g protein. The increase of sodium in lobsters of 203mg is striking and reflects their marine lifestyle. But how do we know lobsters are derived from crays and not merely intelligently designed? Clearly, anyone should be able to detect the sublime tastiness of the cray and lobster. It would almost appear that an intelligent designer specially created these delectable decapods for our own blissful satisfaction. Can tastiness really evolve? Crays are already very tasty crustaceans, so perhaps lobsters already carry the tasty gene and subsequent modifications on this gene or genes over evolutionary time increased their tastiness due to random genetic drift (expressed especially in the tail region). What amino acid contribute to their tastiness? Their protein quality index is identical to lobster, at over 100% for 9 essential amino acids: Tryptophan, Threonine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Methionine + Cysteine, Phenylalanine + Tyrosine, and Valine. Their amino acid content is summarized below.

Amino acid content form

Nothing really jumps out. Lobsters more protein and each amino acid content is higher than in cray by roughly the same proportion. Perhaps its in the mineral content? I already mentioned that lobsters have more sodium being a marine species. The iron to calcium ratio for lobster 0.25, while it is 2 for crays. Magnesium and phosphorus are equivalent. The only mineral crays have in more abundance is Iron.

It is perplexing, the similarities in their dietary components. Where does this tastiness come from? If crays and lobsters are sister taxa and their pre-harvest habitat results in similar nutritional data, then we are left with their post-harvet habitat to understand the evolution of their tastiness. Lobster tends to be sautéed in copious amounts of garlic, salted butter, and lemon pepper. Crays tend to be thrown into a potpourri of other quite tasty ingredients called a "jambalaya". The butter component adds a level of richness not observed in crays. Crays tend to be associated with tangy and spicy environments.

Based upon these observations, I hypothesize that tastiness is post-harvest environmentally driven. My analysis of nutritional content data support the fossil and morphological data and conclude with certainty that lobsters are derived from crays.
*In order to stabilize nomenclature and reduce parapolyphyletic entropy in the universe, I will not refer to "crawfish" or "crayfish". There is overwhelming evidence that crays, members of the phylum Arthropoda, are not derived from or closely related to fish (phylum Chordata) in way, morphologically or genetically.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Smithsonian Magazine and Nouvian's The Deep

Benthocodon jelly. Photo MBARI 2002

Hat tip to my brother. Smithsonian Magazine is featuring Claire Nouvian's The Deep and rightfully so they give it fantastic praise. This book came out in April and I immediately bought it from Amazon (where it is at the unbelievable price of $27!!). Several of the photos in the book are from expeditions I've participated in. The photography is stunning and every photo identifies each species and provides some amount of information. It is well-researched and will fascinate anyone age 2 to 92.

Laura Helmuth, the reviewer, hit it right on:
"The drama of discovery shows no sign of ending. In some surveys, 50 percent to 90 percent of the animals hauled up from the deep are unknown. We'll have to keep expanding our conception of what it means to be an Earthling."
If it wasn't for the constant discovery and finding new species in the deep sea, I would just be another burnt out jaded graduate student. Books like Nouvian's are inspiring at minimum. I keep going back to these invertebrate-packed pages and always seem to find something new, even though I have thumbed through the whole book several times!


In French with English subtitles. Hat tip Buz on the CRUST-L listserve for this one.

Spineless Song of Week - Receptaculites

Receptaculites oweni, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Photo Credit B.S. Lieberman

This week's Spineless Song is a collaboration, once again, between myself and Christopher Taylor from the Catalogue of Organisms. The lyrics are entirely his and I do the strumming, howling and terrible overdubbed solos. This week we are extending our collaboration and making this a joint, cross-blog post. I provide the entertainment and pizzazz, Christopher provides the edutainment and, as typical of him, well researched and interesting articles.

*I recommend opening up this song in a new window (number 12 in the Spineless Song Sidebar!) for your listening pleasure while you head over to Catalogue and read about an interesting and problematic fossil taxon and decide for yourself: Is it a sponge, or is it a plant?

Sung to the tune of Particle Man by They Might Be Giants.

Receptaculites (lyrics by Christopher Taylor)

Receptaculites, Receptaculites,
Sitting around in Devonian times,
Is it a sponge, or is it a plant?
Nobody knows, Receptaculites

Its meroms are close, its body's globose,
A sessile lifestyle's the one that it chose,
But where on the tree are we gonna put those?
How can we say, Receptaculites

Archaeocyath, archaeocyath,
Not quite so much trouble by half,
It's probably a sponge, but may have an out
With Archaeata, Archaeocyath

Archaeocyath, Archaeocyath,
Placed in Archaeata with Receptaculites,
Convergence suspected, they're taken apart,
Not even close, Receptaculites

Cyclocrinites, Cyclocrinites
Looks a bit like Receptaculites,
They may form a class, Together they go,
But we still haven't a clue, Receptaculites

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cruise Cruise Baby

I just got this awesome video from my advisor today. It was uploaded a few days ago to youtube. Its hilarious and anyone who has gone on research cruises will be identify. From the video's page:

"How better to illustrate our monthly oceanographic cruises than a spoof on the classic Ice Ice Baby? From the Coastal Ocean Observing Center at the University of New Hampshire. Lyrics and video by Chris Manning."

I Didn't Win

But thanks for your support! It was amazing to get so many people voting for me. I'm not quite sure how I lost to be honest with you. I'm told by a close friend that By 10:45 pm on Sunday I was definitely ahead. I could keep track since I was busy with other matters. Interestingly, the contest closed at 9:10am on Monday and not midnight as ws said by the organizers of contest. Unfortunately, they are not able to go back to check the votes at midnight. It was a well-run contest all in all, but they should have kept to the intended deadline instead of whenever they felt like it.

I'm a little upset, not because I miss out on all the geeky science swag, but because I really don't like the winning submission (and yes, I can be a bit competitive, I do contain high levels of testosterone after all). Its misleading and while it may look fine on most blog templates it is certainly not universal. Now they will change the icon to take into account people's criticisms about it, including that it lacked many of the features that mine already had built into it. Ce'st le vie right? I won't be a sore loser about it.

The feature I like most behind the BPR3 project is the idea of aggregation, which is one I've been espousing on the comment threads of BPR3. Zachary has been thinking up ways to aggregate posts, both with using the icon and also for people who do not want to use the icon but contribute their reports on peer-reviewed research to the aggregation. The great part about aggregating posts will hopefully be a searchable database of reports. If everyone uses the DOI of an article, it will be easy to find all the bloggers reporting on that article. Some DOI's are hard to find, so an URL for the paper will have to suffice.

I'd reccommend heading over to BPR3 to put your 2 cents in. It is a service for bloggers by bloggers and only works on your input.

For those who dreamed of immortalizing their favorite invert in verse. You deserve to have a song for your critter. So to the 2 people that took me up, You'll get your song, keep tuned!

**Update: I just checked on the poll again to remind myself what the final numbers were and it appears that people are still voting for me! LOL Hell why not! Keep going to the polls and vote for me even though the contest is over. Show them who is best! I'm up twelve points as of now. Its personally gratifying anyhow**

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tuesday Toon

Ok this was super nerdy, but gives me a chance to direct you to Understanding Evolution: Your one-stop source for information on evolution. This cartoon was taken from the Hard Exoskeleton page.

Please Don't Leave Me

Sorry for the slack on the posts lately. My wife and I are battling colic with our 4 month old daughter each night, the time I usually work a little and do my posting. It is horrible, nerve wrecking, and mentally wearing. We thought it was getting better, but she relapsed and is now worse than ever (2 hours of constant screaming yesterday, 3 hours today). We are at our breaking point with her, we try everything we can think of and several things we would never have thought of. Nothing works, except letting her scream to point of hysteria which is very scary to listen to. It is wearing us down, I can't work well during the day without my ears ringing. My 2 year old even seems to be exhausted in the morning when he wakes up, yet he seems to sleep through it all. At least he doesn't act out because of it. He is such a great kid. My poor wife who works so hard with our 2 kids and does a great job is at her breaking point during the night with her.

I always notice subscribers leave me when I don't post a "real" post for a while. I've got oodles of great spineless fun to share still! A plethora of polychaetes, a multitude of molluscs, a jubilee of jellies, etc... Please be patient with me as we are going through this ordeal. I guess this is what we get for our first kid being so easy-going. We get the polar opposite for our second. Perhaps God does exist and this is his fucked up way of showing it? Seriously though, this is so not evolved. How stupid is it for a population to maintain colic babies. Saber-tooth tigers would have picked off those screaming babies and their parents long ago. How does something like this persist in the human population? Or is it something that is new and maintained by our modern health system. Surely colic babies would not have survived even say 200 years ago right?? The parents would have given their babies away to the convents or left them for the wolves or something. It is the most ridiculous bullshit of humankind.

If you have suggestions for things that HAVE ACTUALLY WORKED with your own colic children, please let us know in the comment thread. Not to be conceited but if you don't have direct experience with colic, your advice is moot to me right now. We don't have the time or patience and there is enough "advice" on the internet and through well-intentioned friends that we've covered the basics. I'm not sure we can take another night of this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


"I got a B in econ 101, but I got a A in keeping taxes low"

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Benthic Ecology Meeting 2008: Be There or Be Lame

Click on picture to enter their site. This fantastic artwork is by Kathy Johnston

The 2008 Benthic Ecology Meeting's website is up and running (click on picture above). This year it is at Providence, Rhode Island and follows right after the National Shellfisheries Association Meeting. Two great meeting, one great town (so I've been told, never been further northeast than Philadelphia). Your truly plans on being there and presenting, and of course blogging the event. This is a fantastic meeting, especially for grad students. The atmosphere is relaxed and those marine ecologists whose paper's you read and admire? They are great, accessible and know how to have fun. Its definitely a meeting worth going to. I went in 2005 in Williamsburg, Virgina. Had a blast and met some amazing people!

IF going and need a room or roomie, let me know. I am always looking to reduce the costs of housing and don't mind sharing floorspace.

Please Vote for Me!

Pisaster ochraceous says "Kevin Z has the support of Phylum Echinodermata!" (Photo from the Cabrillo Marine Aqaurium). I am running neck to neck with my contender in the BPR3 icon contest. The contest runs till this Monday, so please vote for me below (vote here if you are having any trouble)! In addition to fame and blogosphere-wide recognition, I can win some sweet science swag from SEED, Nature, PLoS and BioMed Central!

To make the pot sweeter, I will write an individually-crafted spineless song for every person who leaves a comment here saying they voted for me. Don't forget to mention what bad-ass backboneless brutha you want the song to be about!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Spineless Song of the Week: When Crabs Go Bad

Photo by Luke Miller. For more deviant decapods Click here.

Being a crab is pretty hard in this great blue sea. Someone always wants to eat you and if you can even find another crab thats your species, its such a chore to put on the right displays and signals to get a female to mate with you! Hardly worth the effort except for some strange masculine compulsion to screw everything in sight. But I just want to tell every crab out there thats its OK if you get down on yourself every now and then. You don't need to turn to drugs or alcohol to ease the pain of your existence. You always have a friend at the Church of Darwin and the Flying Spaghetti Monster's noodley appendage will always be source of reassurance in times of need.

So this song goes out to every Brachyuran, thats right - the true crabs, who has ever had it bad in the ghettos of the deep. To all the crabs who've lost a friend to crabivorous fish and cephalopods. Life is tough bros, but don't turn to drugs and lay light on the booze. You have a friend in Chuckie D and FSM. Click on #11 on the Spineless Songs sidebar. Peace out crust-dawgs.

*Like Craig and Peter, I do not condone the behavior depicted in these images. I am only bringing to light a serious issue facing crustaceans worldwide.*


When Crabs Go Bad

Life is hard down in deep seas
Making a living sure ain’t easy
But it’s a low-down shame and kinda sad when crabs go bad

It all started as a nauplius
My parents just spit me in that abyss
From a young age been without a dad
Makes you wonder why when crabs go bad

When crabs go bad, it’s a cryin sad shame
Pinching the bottle against that hard ole exoskeleton
When crabs go bad, I just feel so appalled
Theres got to be a better way that drugs or alcohol when crabs go bad

Dodging fish and octopods
Wears a shell thin and shakes the jaws
Theres nothing like predators to drive you mad
It may come as no surprise when crabs go bad

When crabs go bad, it’s a cryin sad shame
Pinching the bottle against that hard ole exoskeleton
When crabs go bad, I just feel so appalled
Theres got to be a better way that drugs or alcohol when crabs go bad

A bottle of Jim Bean to preserve my soul
Forget about my troubles at the seafloor below
I get real high then I get real sad
I think about when crabs go bad

When crabs go bad, it’s a cryin sad shame
Pinching the bottle against that hard ole exoskeleton
When crabs go bad, I just feel so appalled
Theres got to be a better way that drugs or alcohol when crabs go bad

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ant? Spider? You Decide!

During the course of my blogging here, I have become somewhat of a fan of spiders. My previous posts on spiders have focused on their unusual characteristics, such as doing the booty drop, showing off a little bling bling to catch the ladies eye, cutting off a leg to escape predators, and checking their web stats. I have developed an appreciation of spider diversity and behavior through reading papers that have caught my attention for this blog.

One of the reasons I absolutely adore the theory of evolution is that its predictive power can be so wonderful. The results of selection so wondrous in and of themselves. I am familiar with many aspects of symbiosis, having co-taught a class on the subject with my advisor (I covered mammalian herbivore digestion, termites, wood-eating bivalves, and bioluminescence) and working on the ecology of animals with chemoautotrophic bacterial endosymbionts for my dissertation research. I have seen alot of strange and unusual adaptations, but they just keep getting stranger and stranger the more I delve into the fantastic world of evolution and behavior. With this I now bring you the word of the week:

Its a fantastic word brought to my attention by a recent paper published in the Journal of Natural History by Nelson & Jackson. What does this word mean? The root words "myrm", "eco", and "morphic" refer to ant, home(Aydin suggests eco may derive from echo meaning repeating, which makes more sense than deriving from oiko meaning home) and form respectively. Hence this refers to species that are an "ant-repeating form".As Christopher from the Catalogue mentions in the comments below, the most plausible definition is from the roots myrmeco- (derived from myrmex, "ant") and morphic ("form"), meaning ant-form or ant-like.

Top photo by Sean Hoyland and bottom photo courtesy Sandilya Theuerkauf, Wynaad, 2006, both from Wikipedia Commons.

This is a form of Batesian mimicry, which is between 2 different species that look very similar. The caveat is that one species is usually toxic, spiny or otherwise not very pleasant to eat, while the mimic is typically a fraud in the arena of danger. In the two photos above did you spot the real ant? If you count the legs its easy to tell. The individual in the top photo has 8 legs whereas the bottom photo is the Weaver Ant, Oecophylla smaragdina, the queen nonetheless. The mimic is Myrmarachne plataleoides (female shown in photo, males have gigantic mandibles, about 33% of their body length).

The spider genus Myrmarachne (Salticidae - the jumping spiders) is characterized by these fraudulent mimics with nearly 200 species of ant wannabes.
Ants are dangerous and unpalatable prey-size organisms and a variety of would-be predators of salticids, including other salticids and mantises, avoid making predatory attacks on, or coming close to, ants. Experimental studies have also shown that salticids and mantises that are averse to attacking ants are averse to attacking Myrmarachne"-Nelson & Jackson 2007

Top: Oecophylla smaragdina, Bottom: ant wannabe Myrmarachne plataleoides (female). Photos copyright Chih Fah Shin

As I've shown with other jumping spider posts (see links in first paragraph) they have quite complex mating behavior. Nelson & Jackson describe in detail the mating behavior of Myrmarachne assimilisand M. bakeri. Its quite the romance novel. Visualize a hot steamy jungle next to a white sand beach, a gentle breeze, seagulls laughing in the distance...

He's alone, walking through the brush and then he sees her. The morning dew glistening off her abdomen. Her four eyes catching the sunrise to the east. He arches his palp and twitches his abdomen, standing erect. She faces him, waves her palps in their air as he watches with anticipation. She turns away, he follows, she turns around, he waits. Her cephalothorax lowers, he dances in response, she lunges past him, yet is blocked by his desire. Eight eyes are staring. She tries to leave, but his approach beckons her. His legs erect, they brush up against her legs. She wants to run away, escape from these feelings, yet can't seem to pull away. The power of lust overcomes all her senses. She shifts her abdomen closer, he gently places his chelicerae upon her abdomen. Softly, calmly, he applies each palp once, then its over.
"When the male disengaged his applied palp, he moved over the female (her abdomen no longer raised or rotated), tapped and stroked and then, once positioned again beside the female, the male scraped his palp across her now flexed-up and rotated abdomen and resumed copulation. Before next palp application, while centered over the female, the male sometimes stepped backwards and forwards, stroking and tapping intermittently."-Nelson & Jackson 2007

Still Going Strong at the University Of Michigan!

I'm still linked to the frontpage of the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology for a post on Tahitian Tree Snails I did on July 3. Thats 77 days and still going strong! Head over to the Museum's website and say hi! You might even learn something. Like,

The UMMZ collections include about 15 million specimens total and is comprised of: mammals (ca. 142,000 specimens, representing 92% of all orders), birds (210,000 specimens, representing 100% of orders), amphibians & reptiles (414,000 specimens, representing 100% of all orders), fishes (3.3 million specimens, representing 98% of all orders), mollusks (4 million specimens representing 83% of all orders), mites (2 million specimens, representing 100% of all orders) and insects (5 million specimens, representing 100% of all orders).
Its a shame Penn State will crush you this Saturday in front of your own fans. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ARGH!! Tis Talk Like A Pirate Day Mateys!

"Why do we need an International Talk Like a Pirate Day?

Make no mistake. We do. But it's a little hard to articulate why, especially when you've made the mistake of referring to your wife as a scurvy bilge rat and tried to order her back into the galley.

Talking like a pirate is fun. It's really that simple."

So ye tinkle-footed landlubbers, put on yer best pirate garb and show this werld what we're made of. Argh!

Top Ten Pickup lines for use on International Talk Like a Pirate Day

10. Avast, me proud beauty! Wanna know why my Roger is so Jolly?

9. Have ya ever met a man with a real yardarm?

8. Come on up and see me urchins.

7. Yes, that is a hornpipe in my pocket and I am happy to see you.

6. I'd love to drop anchor in your lagoon.

5. Pardon me, but would ya mind if fired me cannon through your porthole?

4. How'd you like to scrape the barnacles off of me rudder?

3. Ya know, darlin’, I’m 97 percent chum free.

2. Well blow me down?

And the number one pickup line for use on International Talk Like a Pirate Day is …

1. Prepare to be boarded.

BPR3 Icon final 3!! Vote for mine!!

I've made the final three of the Bloggers for Peer-Reviewed Research Reporting (BPR3) icon contest!! You can vote for mine at the by clicking here. Here are the top 3 contenders:

So march to polls and vote for my icon design submission! What is at stake you ask?

In addition to the admiration and respect of the entire academic blogosphere, the winning entrant will earn

A scientist blogger's wet dream! Come on and support your local welfare blogger who never wins anything in life. Place a vote for me and make poor grad student's dreams come true. [insert puppy dog face here]

For more background on BPR3, the icon submission contest, all the other icon entries.

*Contest closes on Monday Sept. 24th. Get out the vote!*

**If you vote for me, please leave a comment here saying you did and tell me what invertebrate you would me to do an article on. If I win, I will write personalized articles on this blog for each commenter's favorite Invert (extinct or extant)!**

Slugs are for....

... everything meaningful in life.

Some cheesy entertainment while you are waiting for me to finish doing "real" work. This is parody from Amy Grant's Song Thats What Love Is For. Hat tip to Dorid.

The lyrics are here.

Tuesday Toon: The Riches of Science

Cartoon used with permission from Saint Gasoline

Hello faithful (or faithless) readers! I just want to drop a quick note that I've been busy preparing my part to a NSF final report for an expired grant. I'll get more spineless material for your squishy pleasures as soon as I can. For now enjoy this cartoon from one of my favorite cartoon bloggers, Saint Gasoline. Squid overlords are just lying in wait, watching...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fish Feet: Oekologie #9

Fish Feet has Oekologie #9 up and it is a fantastic selection of the last month's ecology postings! My article on spiders made it on the list. Inverts are heavily represented so go check it out.

Friday Ark #156 Invertebrates Represent!

The weekly Friday Ark is up and there is quite a representation from the inverts this week! In addition to the several different spineless friends from my Coconut post, we got 2 butterflies, 3 bees, 2 dragonflies, a funnel spider, a clymene moth (also called a crusader moth, worth seeing to find out why!), and a seepiolid squid.

Friday, September 14, 2007


My new cephalopod trinket from my vacation to Delaware.

I have kept this blog going since my first post on June 26 this year. Thats 81 days of blogalicious activity that you the reader have responded to enormously! As of this writing I have over 10,000 page views since I've kept stats (July 14, 62 days) for an average of 171.23 views/day. This post is my 113th post for an average of 1.4 posts/day.

The success of this blog has more to do with you guys! My technorati rating is already at 64. Thanks for promoting the material I come up with, commenting and just being involved. I am working on more ways to make my blog interactive and am open to any comments and suggestions you as the readers have for material or interactivity. I enjoy reading your reactions and hope you will comment more often in the next 113 posts and beyond.

I know I haven't done much hard science writing lately. I am teaching, writing papers, analyzing data, preparing for comprehensive exams and taking a class in molecular evolution in addition to spending time with my wife and 2 kids. So finding time for anything well thought out can be somewhat difficult.

But the feedback is wonderful and keeps me going! Comments in my blog or inbox like the one I just got today below are motivating:
"I just read about you on the pandas thumb. The first 2 things I see are PSU and a hangdogs quote. I am also a nittany lion and a hangdogs fan. Your blog makes me as proud as a dog with 2 dicks. Carry on, kevin"
Thanks to everyone for making this blog successful. Getting such great feedback from everyone has really motivated me to keep posting. Come down to the 2008 NC Science Blogging Conference (Jan. 18-20) and talk invert with me! I'll be offering a session with some of my fantastic marine biology blogging colleagues that is going to be blogtacular! More details on that next week!

So cheers, have one on behalf of all inverts everywhere and myself!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Spineless Song-Don't Fear the Microbe

Oenococcus oeni, a lactic-acid fermenting bacterium that plays a critical role in de-acidifying wine after alcoholic fermentation has been completed. Photo courtesy of Jeff Broadbent and Utah State University.

Its Microbe Week at Deep Sea News in case you haven't heard. Its a sad shame its gotta come to end in a day or two. There have been some amazing posts highlighting our little friends. Microbes are great to have around for the most part. They do lots of things for us that we don't give them credit for. One of my favorite microbes is Oenococcus oeni, which develops the flavor of wine after fermentation. Oh sweet post-processing bacteria! Microbes are probably the most important organism on the planet, but only garner only a thousandth of a percent of attention that certain charismatic megafauna (which we won't mention on this blog).

I'm going to close off Microbe Week here answering a challenge by Rick Macpherson who threw down the gauntlet in this Microbe Week post as DSN. This week's song is sung to Don't Fear the Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult. If you don't get the sound samples click here and get with the program.

Click on #10 in the Spineless Songs Sidebar to the right!

Don't Fear the Microbe

All microbes have come
Its microbe week at DSN
Biologists don’t fear the microbe
Nor do the coral, termite or cow (we can be like they are)
Come on bacteria (don't fear the microbe)
Baby take my pili (don't fear the microbe)
We’ll transfer DNA (don't fear the microbe)
Baby I'm your microbe

Conjugation is done
Its time to have a little fun
Oenococcus oeni
Making wine so tasty (Oenococcus oeni)
I drink it everyday (Oenococcus oeni)
I drink it everyday (Oenococcus oeni)
Another glass is on its way (we can be like they are)
Come on bacteria (don't fear the microbe)
Baby take my pili (don't fear the microbe)
We’ll transfer DNA (don't fear the microbe)
Baby I'm your microbe

Archaea are tolerant
Salt heat pressure seeps and vents
Breaking down toxic gases
making deep-sea oases
Come on bacteria (don't fear the microbe)
Baby take my pili (don't fear the microbe)
We’ll transfer DNA (don't fear the microbe)
Baby I'm your microbe

Holy Standards! The Kilogram's Losing Mass!

CNN .com reports that the official prototype of the kilogram is 'mysteriously' losing weight. Obviously a terrorist plot. For over 118 years this sensational standard, housed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sevres, France, has provided the definitive definition of mass for the world (minus the United States and select few others, a.k.a the Coalition of the Weighing). Physicists will be dismayed, chemists are contemplating career changes, biologists and geologist... really could care less since our error bars are so big anyways. So just how much weight has this universal standard mysteriously sloughed off? 50 micrograms! That 5 x 10^-10 10^-8 kilograms. Clearly an international catastrophe of catastrophic proportions.

"The mystery is that they were all made of the same material, and many were made at the same time and kept under the same conditions, and yet the masses among them are slowly drifting apart. We don't really have a good hypothesis for it."-Physicist Richard Davis at IBWM
Richard Davis, keeper of the kilo, bamboozled over the mysterious loss of weight of the sealed air-tight, well-guarded weight.

Thankfully, CNN reassures the public,
"But don't expect the slimmed-down kilo to have any effect, other than possibly envy, on wary waistline-watchers: 50 micrograms is roughly equivalent to the weight of a fingerprint."
I for one wasn't aware that fingerprints had mass. Now I am a bit self-conscious about my fingerprint...

The mysterious nature of this caper is striking.
"It is kept in a triple-locked safe at a chateau and rarely sees the light of day -- mostly for comparison with other cylinders shipped in periodically from around the world."
Could it be an inside job? Is it Al-Qaida? Hamas? The Michigan Militia? Congressional conservatives still angry that Freedom Fries didn't become universally accepted? Is Loki playing tricks again? Is Satan pulling his shenanigans? So many questions but so few answers.

So what are we, the public whom relies on accurate standards supposed to do?
The kilogram's fluctuation shows how technological progress is leaving science's most basic measurements in its dust. The cylinder was high-tech for its day in 1889 when cast from a platinum and iridium alloy, measuring 1.54 inches in diameter and height. At a November meeting of scientists in Paris, an advisory panel on measurements will present possible steps toward basing the kilogram and other measures -- like Kelvin for temperature, and the mole for amount -- on more precise calculations. Ultimately, policy makers from around the world would have to agree to any change.
Once again we must call on our superhero. Super Policy-Maker! With the super ability to form censuses, will this hero save the day and preserve tradition or turn to the dark side and change the definition of something that is supposed to be standard. Stay tuned as The Other 95% covers this dramatic issue.
Many measurements have undergone makeovers over the years. The meter was once defined as roughly the distance between scratches on a bar, a far cry from today's high-tech standard involving the distance that light travels in a vacuum.

"We could obviously use a better definition," Davis said.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dr. Worm

LOL, "I'm not a real doctor but I am a real worm, I am an actual worm, I live like a worm." Am I a freaking nerd or what, or just easily entertained. Regardless, They Might Be Giants are absolutely brilliant.

Or for the more claymationally inclined.

All I want for Darwin Day is Real Science Books

The graduate students at Portland State University have created a "Petition by Scientists to reclassify non-science books from science categories" in honor of Darwin Day. The entire petition is reprinted below. As of this posting there were 314 signatories.

As scientists, we feel strongly that categorizing Intelligent Design (“ID”) as science is both inappropriate and misleading. Local bookstores and libraries unintentionally exacerbate this misleading categorization when they shelve ID books and legitimate science texts in the same section . Our goal is to convince the U.S. Library of Congress to re-classify ID books into sections other than the science section.

Science can be defined as the process of using empirical evidence to make predictions and test hypotheses in the effort to increase our understanding of the world around us. ID seeks to answer many of the same questions about life on Earth that science does. However, the two differ drastically in that ID invokes supernatural explanations to explain natural processes, while science explains natural processes using empirical data. As the study of ID does not involve the use of empirical evidence to make predictions and test hypotheses, it cannot be considered a science under any circumstances. In a recent case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Sch. Dist., 400 F. Supp. 2d 707, 765 (M.D. Pa. 2005), U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones, III, agreed stating “We have concluded that [ID] is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious antecedents.”

Despite this clear distinction between ID and science, some ID books are placed into the “Science” section of local bookstores and libraries. Our chief complaint comes in two forms. (1) Placement of ID books within a science section presupposes that ID is itself a science, and thus lends scientific credibility to a supernatural explanation of the world. (2) Placement of ID books within a science section also diminishes the amount of truly scientific books that can be displayed in any one science section, and thus limits the public’s access to scientific knowledge. Given that a recent study by the National Science Foundation (NSF) found that “70 percent of Americans do not understand the scientific process,” further confusion surrounding what is and is not science is particularly problematic. We want to be entirely clear that we fully support freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas. Under no circumstance should this statement be viewed as a surreptitious attempt to censor ID literature. As scientists we make no claim about the validity of ID as a philosophy, we simply state that ID is not science.

Some criticisms of this I have seen on one list-serve is that because creationists or ID-proponents purport their ideas as science that their books should remain in the science stands and bookstores and the Library of Congress should remain impartial. Another criticism is that segregating the books doesn't solve the problem of a broken educational system that has failed to teach students what science is and how science works. Additionally, including pseudoscientific books in the science stands may demonstrate what is improper science.

I personally feel these claims are bogus and sustain the view that the general public will weed out the good from the bad, that the answer is obvious. It is not obvious to many and people don't always have the necessary scientific and philosophical background to so out the good science theories from the blatantly false and nonprogressive ones. Just because someone proposes an idea to be scientific doesn't mean it is. I hope that I don't have to clarify that statement, even for the lay readers of my blog. Some might say it depends on how you define science. I believe it is a process that one can undertake to understand natural phenomena in a rigorous and systematic way. Something along those lines anyways. The definition, like any definition, can slightly modified or elaborated upon but never entirely changed into something contradictory. The other criticism about not fixing an educational system is entirely irrelevant to the idea of reclassifying books that hide religion beneath the cloak of science. It is an entirely different subject that is independent of this issue.

So I commend the initiative by the Portland State graduate students. I am a bit surprised that this hasn't been thought of before and applaud them for taking the initiative. I will add my signature of support and urge others to do likewise.

**Update: Reed Cartwright posted on this topic here. He brings up a good point that library handling system for books:
The main logic behind these systems is that they describe what a book is about not what they contain. So books cataloged under science are books about science, not books containing science.
He offers a suggestion that perhaps libraries could catalogue questionable science books in other categories.
It may be possible to convince librarians that a questionable book might belong under “religion and science” (BL239-265) instead of “science”. Other possible alternatives include “bible and science” (BS650-667), “creation” (BT695-749), or “photography” (TR45.H). But remember that categories describe what a book is about; they do not vouch for the quality of its contents.

Tangled Bank #88

Tangled Bank #88 is up at the Behavioral Ecology Blog. Lots of interesting articles in there to keep one from actually doing work! My anemones in support of evolution and anti-chiral snail sex posts are tangled within this edition.

Tuesday Toon

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A World Inside a Coconut

In November 2003, while an undergrad at University of California at Davis I was asked by my 2 of my Geology professors if I wanted to help them out on an expedition to hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise. They knew of my interest in vents because they were teaching a 1 credit seminar on Hydrothermal Vents that I was participating in. My undergraduate major in Evolution and Ecology though and was planning on double majoring in Geology. It never happened though, mostly because I didn't want to stay an extra semester and take the two classes I needed to finish the major (coincidentally the same classes I would have needed to get a minor too - Paleoclimatology and Mineralogy).

This expedition was headed by the Field Museum of Chicago as more or less a collecting expedition and other parties with funding came along to share the cruise time. We used the famous Alvin submersible and sailed aboard the R/V Atlantis. Our role as the "geology contingent" was to oversee the night operations which included mapping the seafloor and flying TowCam, the towed camera system the we basically keep from crashing too may times into the seafloor or a cliff or something. It takes a photo every 30 seconds and also has equiptment to measure the alitude off the seafloor, distance of something in front it, particle scatter in the water column, conductivity and temperature. Except for the photographs, all this information is relayed up the cable to the control room where someone has to constantly have their hand on the controls to adjust the feed of the cable, keeping the camera at about 3-5 meters off the bottom. Not an easy task, but needlessness to say the graduate student and undergrad (myself) never crashed while the 2 professors who have done this for years... lets just say the close-ups were awesome!

Being that this was mainly a biology cruise was the real reason I was asked to go. I'm not really a geologist, just a biologist with a good deal of geological training. Being the least senior out of just about everybody on board I was affectionately referred to one French participant (whom I now work with on various projects) as the "ship's bitch". I was in charge of making a "best of" video for the expedition to show off to the Museum's patrons. Basically pulling out highlights and cool video from each dive. I also found my passion was sorting through rocks, sediment, snot, you name it and finding critters. I seemed to be very good at it as the Chief P.I. and other biologists seemed pretty please with my findings! Sorting is still something I take great pleasure in. I get all giggly when a box full of crap comes up from the seafloor, filled with various worms, gastropods, amphipods... its the "what new thing might I find if I keep looking?" that keeps my interests peaked. Other duties were as requested by whomever wanted help (like bleeding the giant tubeworm Riftia pachyptila). I reveled in it all!

Our nights were filled with work, but the daytime was spent waiting for Alvin to return from the bottom. We often peered overboard trying to spot marine life. Often floating debris from islands or continents far away would pass beside the ship with several colorful fish hidden underneath seeking its protection. One day a coconut floated by. I don't know whose brilliant idea it was, but one of the biologists netted it for fun I suppose. As it turned out this coconut was full of wonderful surprises!

All the images, except the picture of myself in Alvin, were taken by my friend and colleague, crustacean biologist T.A. Haney. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what any of these are, none of the specimens were in my possession since the end of that cruise. I presume they ended up deposited in the Field Museum along with everything else. The barnacle appears similar to species in the genus Poecilasma, but has lateral plates, which I haven't seen in Poecilasma. The clam has a massive siphon! But I think the polychaete steals the show. I can try to ID the family and maybe genus, using Fauchald's 1977 key to polychaetes tomorrow when I'm in the lab.

I just wanted to share these photos for a couple reasons. One is that they have fascinated me since I saw them. All of their coloring is reminiscent of a coconut. Its almost as if they intended to live inside of a coconut hull and have all independently evolved "cocomaflage". It is rather uncanny. I think the currents at 8-13 north run east to west. I'm not sure where the equatorial counter current was at that time and that year, but we were probably above it. Therefore this microcommunity had to have come from Mexico or Central America or an island offshore. We were about 400km from the coast, so it had to travel quite far and all the inhabitants seemed healthy and were responsive. What did they eat in there? Did the species interact? They all appeared to be adult forms.

Observations like this open so many questions for me about connectivity in the ocean. If I end up staying in research after I finish my degree, I will be putting proposals in to study floating microcommunities such as this one. Just think of trolling the open seas in transects and picking up anything you can spot and seeing what lives there. There can be higher and more rigorous scientific questions posed too, other than mere fascination with discovery and natural history. For instance, how do floating communities affect genetic structure of animal species? We can take an island biogeographic model and throw in information about the frequency of immigration events such as these into the mix and see if communities can be sustained or recolonized after local extinction. The role of floating debris, whether natural or man-made, is an underappreciated question in marine ecology, in part of the ephemeral nature of the debris. Anyone want to write a grant proposal? Or give me a job at a non-profit, or a post-doc, or... to investigate cool stuff like this? (big cheesy smile)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Required Weekend Blog Reading

Let me know what you think of these blog gems.

Science in an Age of Endarkenment at DC Goodscience.

If all we had to worry about was a few potty homeopaths and astrologers, it might be better to shrug, and get on with trying to find some truths about the world. But now the endarkenment extends to parliament, universities and schools, it is far too dangerous to ignore.

Going Through the Motions at A Snail's Eye View.
Some species are able to survive the dark and smelly journey through a fish's interior, emerging from the far end apparently none the worse for the experience. In the time taken for the mouthful of mollusc to pass along the digestive tract, the fish might have moved a considerable distance — almost certainly further than an adult mollusc would have made it on its own. When the fish poos, out pops the invertebrate in a completely different location.

Will Climate Change Shrink Man's Manhood Too? at Behavioral Ecology Blog.
I wonder how quickly politicians would take meaningful action to combat global climate change/pollution if their genitalia was shrinking??

Pollution Causes 40% of Human Deaths at Blogfish.
We who watch ecosystem health have been screaming for years that we have to notice when pollution is killing wild animals, because what we do to them, we do to ourselves.

The Crab that has Flies at Evolgen.
While the majority of Drosophila feed on rotting plant material, some have found an even more exotic host: crabs. Yes, just like you can have "crabs" living in your nether regions (well, hopefully not you, per se), crabs can have flies living on them.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Friday Ark #155 Going Strong!

The 155th Friday Ark is going strong at the modulator. The spineless representation is not as strong as it has been, but we got representatives from Slugs, Butterflies, an Octopus and an unidentified Hexapod!

Spineless Song of the Week - O Bacteria

Helicobacter pylori electron micrograph, showing multiple flagella on the cell surface. Photo from Wikipedia Commons, used with full permission from Yutaka Tsutsumi, Fujita Health University School of Medicine.

Technically speaking bacteria don't have vertebrae, making them hence in-vertebrate, but there are animals and even though animals have loads of them in every nook and cranny! Deep Sea News is hosting Microbe Week all next week (sept. 9-15). Its going to be awesome, just check out the special banner for the occasion below.

I've been contracted by the organizers of Microbe week to do a microbially-oriented song. Christina Kellogg found lyrics by Annette Parrott for O Bacteria, sung to the traditional American song O Susanna. The chords for O Susanna were pretty straight forward, so I went ahead with it. Your spineless song this week, in cooperation with Microbe Week at Deep Sea News, is in the sidebar for your listening entertainment. The lyrics can be found at Annette Parrott's Science Karaoke site (last song on the page), with lots of other great science song lyrics!

Revelations: How My Readers Are Finding Me

I like Statcounter. Its a very useful, free counter that tells me lots of interesting things about the people that come to my site. One of these interesting things is that I can see what websites people come here from and what keywords people use to find my site on a search engine. As you all know I wrote a post on the promiscuity of a certain sea squirt titled Sea Squirt Chics Have No Inhibitions. Which also inspired my one hit wonder Sea Squirts Just Want to Have Fun. I have been getting some, not a whole lot, but more than a few hits a week to my website by people searching "squirting chics" or variants of those two words.

Click to enlarge

I find this highly revealing about my readers. I'm not quite sure what to make of my website being listed alongside "Ejaculating Women Videos", a "How to squirt loads" forum,, etc. I guess sex sells right? So am I just another purveyor of perverted invertebrate pornography?

God Hates Shrimp!

Thats right sinners, on your knees and repent! God Hates Shrimp!

9 These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:
11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.
12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.-Leviticus 11: 9-12
No more shall I engage in an orgy of wholesome shrimp pizza goodness. It was a temptation by SATAN himself! Holly-blew-ya!

* From the websites authors: "As you may have realized, this site is a parody. It is meant to poke fun at people like Fred Phelps, and at people who protest against gay people and gay marriage."

Come Here, Get Your Knitted Invertebrates!

Courtesy of my sister-in-law, I received a link to some beautifully knitted cephalopods (also contains some verts, a nudi, a sea star and a jelly).

Its a dumbo octopus for crying out loud!! How cool is that!? What are you waiting for go help an invertebrate-loving craftswoman! The pattern for the dumbo octopus alone is only $5.50, its a steal if you ask me. Don't knit? Buy it for your grandma and tell her to knit it for you for christmas. Or better yet! Knit it for me for christmas! In fact, I will send a Continental US reader a bottle of Pennsylvania's finest Riesling, from deep down in the Happy Valley (and just a few miles from my door) to the first person to knit me any one of the inverts from her collection. Consider this a contest!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My Science Scout Badges

As a member of the ORDER OF THE SCIENCE SCOUTS OF EXEMPLARY REPUTE AND ABOVE AVERAGE PHYSIQUE, I have earned many science badges throughout my short tenure as scientist. Here are my explanations for how I've earned one. Do you also have science badges? Show them off with pride and explain how you earned each of them!

Science Communication


1) "Talking Science" Badge: Its pretty much the only thing I talk about, as evidenced by blog (with the occasional liberal atheist rant), much to chagrin of my wife.
2) "I Got a TV Gig" Badge: Ok, its a stretch, but I had my 30 seconds of fame on the National Geographic series Naked Science episode "The Deep". I walked to our cabinets and pulled specimen jars of cool critters we collected from the Gulf of Mexico methane seeps to show the camera. I didn't actually say anything, but I'm there plainly visible for all to see!
3) "Blogging Science" Badge: self-explanatory.
4) "Destroyer of Quackery" Badge: evidenced by a recent post debunking ridiculous ID claims about anemones and humans (see also posts at Panda's Thumb, Sandwalk, The Bad Idea Blog, and ERV). All future quackery will be utterly annihilated as well.
5) "I’m a Freaking Rock Star Who Sings About Science" Badge: See Spineless Songs sidebar to your right.

Science in Practice


6) "Sexing Up Science" Badge: As an undergrad I worked in a lab crossing genotypes of the hermit crab loving hydroid Hydractinia symbiolongicarpus.
7) "Frozen Stuff to See What Happens" Badge LEVEL III: We use liquid nitrogen to freeze samples on a cruise sometimes. We tend to find interesting and innovative ways to use the leftover nitrogen when we are back in the lab... I'll leave it at that until I finish my degree and get a job.
8) "Experienced With Electrical Shock" Badge LEVEL III: Though not in a scientific setting, I have shocked myself while attempting to replace an electrical socket in my living room. Except I forgot to shut off the circuit breaker. I flew one way, the screwdriver flew the opposite way.
9) "Science has Forced Me to Seek Medical Attention" Badge: I spilled HCl on my arm when I worked at my first ever science job, a plant ecophysiology lab as an undergrad.
10) "Statistical Linear Regression" Badge: Ecology is just applied statistics after all.
11) "Set Fire to Stuff" Badge LEVEL I: Still do!
12) "Done Science Under the Influence" Badge: My advisor doesn't read this does he??
13) "Active Volcano Is My Research Locale" Badge: Not necessarily volcanoes per se, but hydrothermal vents are as close as it gets! Sometimes they even get covered by liquid hot magma... required viewing below (in french)

14) "Scientist Who is Actually a Pirate" Badge: As Jim can surely understand, many marine biologists chose their profession to fulfill life-long aspirations of sailing the seven seas and drinking profuse amounts of rum while yelling out drunken sea chanties from the top of our lungs. Arrrrr!

Science Knowledge


15) "I Can Be a Prick About Science" Badge: Don't be a moron and we won't have any problems...
16) "Inordinately Fond of Invertebrates" Badge: Should be self-explanatory. Let me know if you don't get it. My inordinate fondness of invertebrates started as a volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, while I was attending community college in Monterey, CA. As a volunteer you get free access to the aquarium any day of the week. I liked that. alot.
17) "I've Done Science With No Conceivable Application" Badge: Its my dissertation.
18) "I Know What a Tadpole Is" Badge: It looks like a sperm.
or alternative interpretation from snail. "I Know the Urochardate Life Cycle" Badge.
19) "Somewhat Confused as to Which Scientific Field I Belong To" Badge: Am I an ecologist, a taxonomist, a zoologist, a systematist? I know a bit of geology too...
20) "World's Foremost Expert on an Obscure Subject" Badge: I study hexacorallians (among other fauna) from hydrothermal vents. There are only 3 other people in the world who do that (actively), 2 of them are coauthors with me, the other is probably going to retire soon and was the mentor of 1 of my co-authors.

Extreme Nerdiness


21) "I've Named a Child or Pet for Science" Badge: My daughter's middle name is Linnea after both Linnaeus and the twinflower.