Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Smarter Every Day films anemone nematocysts firing

The phylum cnidaria (jellyfish, anemones and corals) is a big interest of mine (after all I wrote an entire dissertation on a species of jellyfish) and one of the coolest features of this group of animals is their nematocysts (they're even named after them, cnidocyte = nematocyst). Nematocysts are specialised cells which fire needles loaded with venom into their prey or potential predators, and recently Destin from the youtube channel Smarter Every Day along with researchers from the James Cook University managed to film it with a high speed camera and microscope. Have a watch, its pretty awesome.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Alan Turing wasn't just a computer scientist

Alan Turing is perhaps best known for his work as a code breaker at Bletchley park and his work on the early computers (and of course his conviction for "indecency" and subsequent suicide), though on top of this he also had an interest in biology, and his work in this field has left a legacy that still exists to this day.

A statue of Turing doing what he was best known for, breaking codes. Photo Credit: Mark Steele

Friday, 4 July 2014

The ecological cost of whaling

Nearly everyone is familiar with how extensively whales have been hunted in years past (and even to some extent to this day) and how damaging this was to whale populations. But what effect did this have, if any, on the rest of the environment?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Urban predators

Where apex predators are concerned, the appearance and development of human settlements is usually bad news. Humans compete with predators for space and prey, and usually win. In a few cases however, they can actually thrive alongside one another.

A male sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus. Photo by myself, available here

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The complexity of bird colouring

If you're observant you may have noticed sometimes that some birds colouring can change, or appear much brighter sometimes than others. If you're not quite so observant, here are some examples.

Photo by Magnus HagdornPhoto by Peter

These pictures are of the same species of magpie; Pica pica, yet the one on the left has distinctly blue feathers and a greeny tail, where the one on the right has a slight tinge of green on the tail, but other than that looks fairly black and white. This effect can be far more distinct than seen here; in some situations the blue can be incredibly bright and vibrant and in others not even visible at all (keep an eye out for magpies and see for yourself!)

Monday, 26 May 2014

Upside-down goddesses and photosynthesis in animals

In Greek mythology there is a goddess called Cassiopeia (well two actually, according to Wikipedia at least), who was the wife of King Cepheus of Ethiopea. Cassiopeia boasted that she, and her daughter Andromeda, were more beautiful than the sea nymphs. This boast angered Posoiden who sent Cetus, a sea monster, to destroy the kingdom. In an attempt to save the kingdom Cassiopea and Cepheus attempted to sacrifice Andromeda to Cetus, but she was saved by Perseus.

This is the Cassiopeia A supernova, a remnant of an exploding star within the constellation Cassiopeia. Photo Credit: NASA

Posoiden thought Cassiopeia deserved more punishment for her boast, so chained her to a chair in the heavens, in a way by which she would spend half of her time upside-down. This is the story behind the chair-shaped Cassiopeia constellation, but is also important for the name of a very interesting jellyfish

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Ethics of Wildlife Photography - Part 2: dishonesty

The most famous example of wildlife dishonesty. Photo by José Luis Rodriguez

Following my previous post on the damage that wildlife photographers can cause, this one will focus on what happens after the photos have been taken. Photography can be very competitive; this isn't much of a problem with a lot of photography, as a good photo is a good photo regardless of how it was taken. With wildlife photography however, a large part of the contextual information that is not included in the photo is just as important as the aesthetics of the picture, and this can allow some degree of "cheating".