View Full Version : Factoids worthy of a story or two

09-14-2004, 07:43 AM
A new thread dealing with little known facts that could use an article or story written about them.

09-14-2004, 07:47 AM

Parasitic Cowbirds Thrive With A Less Ruthless Strategy Than Cuckoos
Berkeley - America's brown-headed cowbird and the European cuckoo are the classic parasitic birds, laying their eggs in the nests of other bird species and leaving the chick-rearing to another parent.

This Eastern phoebe nest has a parasitic intruder. The larger, redder gape belongs to the older parasitic brown-headed cowbird chick, while the smaller, paler gapes are the phoebe's own young. (Mark Hauber/UC Berkeley)

But while a cuckoo hatchling thrives by muscling its host's eggs out of the nest and hogging all the food, a new study by biologists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Cambridge in England shows that cowbird chicks survive with a less ruthless strategy.

A cowbird chick instead joins its nestmates in a chirping chorus that brings in more food than one noisy cowbird chick could demand from its host parents. By eating more than its share, the researchers found, the cowbird chick actually grows faster when sharing the nest and food with two host chicks than it does when all alone in the nest.

"The cowbird alone is incapable of bringing in enough parental resources - basically food - to be able to grow optimally," said Mark E. Hauber, a Miller Research Fellow in UC Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. "When it has nestmates, the whole nest brings in more parental care, because there is more begging altogether, and so the parents attend the nest more. But the cowbird monopolizes the feeding attempts by the parents. In these experiments, instead of getting 33 percent of the feedings that a brood of two host chicks and one cowbird chick gets, the cowbird actually got over 50 percent of the feeding. So, it grew better than when it was living alone."

Science Daily (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/08/040809100411.htm) goes on to talk about the cowbird being a kinder, gentler version of the Cuckoo. A fascinating bird that could use some public relations in a story for the non-science world.

09-15-2004, 09:30 AM

The giant isopod is the largest known member of the isopod family. It is a carnivorous crustacean that spends its time scavenging the deep ocean floor. Food is extremely scarce at these great depths, so the isopod has adapted to eat what ever happens to fall to the ocean floor from above. It will also feed on some of the small invertebrates that live at these depths. Giant isopods are known to reach a size of over 16 inches in length and are one of the largest members of the crustacean family. These animals are very prehistoric in appearance. When threatened, the can roll themselves into a tight ball where they are protected by their strong, armor-plated shells. They have complex mouths that contain many components that work together to pierce, shred, and disembowel live or dead prey. Giant isopods are all over the world at depths of over 2000 feet.

www.seasky.org/monsters/sea7a1n.html (http://www.seasky.org/monsters/sea7a1n.html)

Can you imagine a story about these babies coming up to the top of the ocean in search of food?

09-24-2004, 05:42 AM
Close Encounters (http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/course/ent591k/close.html)

The night sky throbs with sound as the alien spaceship settles onto a landing pad near the summit of Devil's Tower. Blinking lights and musical tones forge a communication link between two civilizations, and then, in a brilliant glare of halogen light, mankind makes first contact with an alien lifeform. This memorable scene from the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is only science fiction, but it makes us wonder how living organisms begin to develop the complex interrelationships that characterize life on Earth.
Our planet is teeming with living organisms that survive only because they have a "close encounter" with some other species. This special type of association is called symbiosis. It occurs among many groups of plants and animals, but it is especially common in the insect world. The symbiosis may occur between two different species of insects, or it may include an insect and another lifeform such as a plant, a fungus, or a microorganism. Sometimes this "close encounter" is beneficial to both species (mutualism), and in other cases only one species benefits (commensalism). But either way, the symbiosis is a complex and intricate relationship that is shaped over many generations of natural selection and adaptation.

Symbiotic relationships may provide a number of different survival advantages. Some insects harbor intestinal microorganisms that assist in the digestion of food, while others rely on a symbiont for shelter, defense, or transportation from one place to another. Insect pollination of flowering plants is one of the most interesting examples of symbiosis. The plants have a variety of attractant stimuli and trap mechanisms to lure specific insect pollinators. In return, the insects collect floral "rewards" from the plants (nectar or pollen). These products are used for food or as raw materials in nest construction. Neither species could survive without the other.

09-24-2004, 11:04 AM
Thanks for posting these items. Gets the brain cells churning. :)

09-25-2004, 07:27 AM
From a standstill mules can jump obstacles taller then their backs.

More great pictures (http://www.mndonkeyandmule.com/page28.html)

How they can do it (http://www.imh.org/imh/bw/mule.html)

09-25-2004, 10:51 PM
This is a story waiting to happen (http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=scienceNews&storyID=6328003) :grin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A long-necked sea reptile that lived millions of years ago in what is now China may have used its stiff neck to sneak up on unsuspecting prey and suck them in, scientists said on Friday.

Dubbed Dinocephalosaurus orientalis or "terrible-headed lizard from the Orient," the monster had a neck 5.5 feet long, topped by a tiny head. At the other end was its big round body.

It may have been able to sidle up its small head to a fish or squid and devour the unwitting prey before the body hove into view, the researchers report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

"To a fish in murky water, Dinocephalosaurus' head would have initially looked like another animal its own size, but by the time the fish was able to see Dinocephalosaurus' body, it would already have been lunch," said Michael LaBarbera, a biologist at the University of Chicago.

The finding shows another unique approach to hunting.

"The unusual neck morphology of Dinocephalosaurus would have allowed it to suction feed, a feeding mode previously unknown for fossil aquatic reptiles," LaBarbera said.

"But suction feeding in Dinocephalosaurus was different from suction feeding in any other animal. Rather than expand the volume of its mouth to suck in prey, Dinocephalosaurus expanded the volume of its throat, in many ways a more effective approach."

Other creatures called protorosaurs -- reptiles that lived before and during the dinosaur era -- have been found, and their long necks have puzzled scientists.

Protorosauria were an order of diverse predatory reptiles that lived as far back as 280 million years ago.

"Dinocephalosaurus sheds new light on the evolution of protorosaurs and the functional morphology of these long-necked marine reptiles," said Chun Li of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, who led the study.

Li first found a 9-inch (23.5-cm) -long skull in 2002 in the Guanling Formation in China's Guizhou Province. Three fangs survived.

Then he found a nearly complete fossil skeleton with a 6-inch (15.5 cm) skull and 25 elongated vertebrae.

10-07-2004, 09:38 AM
Dog Daze (http://www.snopes.com/critters/wild/dogyears.htm)

Claim: Multiplying your dog's age by seven will produce its equivalent in human years.
Status: False.

When we human folk exchange information about each other, age is one of the most important pieces of data we pass along. Knowing someone's age immediately allows us to infer a great deal of information about that person with a reasonable degree of certainty: Age not only tells us whether someone is a child, an adult, or an elderly person, but it allows us to place people into much finer gradations of categories -- infant, toddler, child, adolescent, young adult, adult, middle-aged, elderly -- from which we can deduce a good deal about their physical, psychological, and social statuses. We know that a 4-year-old child should be walking, but that a 6-month-old baby is unlikely to be capable of the feat. We understand that a couple of 16-year-olds might well have a baby together, but that an 8-year-old boy is generally too young to father one and a 58-year-old woman is usually too old to conceive one. We're aware that most 9-year-olds haven't yet reached puberty, but that a 39-year-old might well have started experiencing many of the infirmities of advanced age (e.g., lessened eyesight, loss of hearing, weight gain, persistent aches and pains). We grasp that a 29-year-old is in what we would term "the prime of life," while an 89-year-old has well exceeded the average human lifespan. We can make pretty good guesses from a person's age about whether he's old enough to have finished his schooling, live away from his parents, be married, or hold an important professional position, or whether he's too old to still be working or raising children of his own. And even those of us who still have most of our lives ahead of us know all this.

When it comes to our pets, however, many of us are mystified how to relate their ages to ours. Sure, knowedgeable owners and breeders may be quite familiar with all the developmental stages of their chosen animals, but many of us casual pet owners can't do much more than distinguish between "puppy," "dog," and "old dog." At what age are kittens weaned from their mothers? What's the average lifespan of a dog? When is a cat old enough to reproduce, and when is a dog too old to bear a litter? Is an 8-year-old dog in the prime of life, or is he closer to middle age? Lacking a good deal of observational experience, many of us simply don't know.

Since knowledge and experience take time and effort to acquire, we've developed simple shortcuts to help us answer these questions, such as the well-known formula for "dog years": multiply your dog's age by seven, and you'll have his equivalent age in human terms. Although this formula might work roughly well for the middle years of a dog's life, it's too simplistic to accurately reflect a dog's developmental status closer to either end of its lifespan. Using this calculation, for example, an 18-month-old dog would be at a developmental stage similar to a 10-year-old child's, but while many 18-month-old dogs are fully grown and capable of reproducing, few 10-year-old children are. The "dog years" measurement tells us that a 15-year-old dog is supposed to be the equivalent of a 105-year-old person, but (factoring out accidents and other unnatural causes of death) a much larger proportion of dogs lives to age 15 than humans live to age 105.

As well, age is more than just a chronological measurement of years lived; it's also an expression of how our bodies have been affected by the passage of time. Different types of animals age at different rates, so we can't employ a simple, direct, proportional relationship to correlate the ages of species as disparate as dogs and humans, especially since variable factors such as genetics, nutrition, and environment play an important role in the aging process. The bottom line is that just as we wouldn't raise a litter of puppies or kittens the same way we'd raise a baby, neither should we care for our pets based on how old we think they'd be if they were people.

For those who would like a rough idea of how the ages of our canine and feline friends compare to ours (strictly for entertainment purposes), we present the following charts courtesy of ANTECH. (Smaller dog breeds tend to live longer on average than larger breeds, so no single chart can adequately represent all dogs.)

Dog Human
1 year 15 years
2 years 24 years
4 years 32 years
7 years 45 years
10 years 56 years
15 years 76 years
20 years 98 years

Cat Human
1 year 15 years
2 years 24 years
5 years 36 years
7 years 45 years
12 years 64 years
15 years 76 years
18 years 88 years
21 years 100 years

The URL for this page is http://www.snopes.com/critters/wild/dogyears.htm

10-15-2004, 06:41 AM
The legends of the West (http://historytogo.utah.gov/hmcamel.html) are fantastic, but they seldom top the strangeness of the cold, hard facts. Consider the case of the U.S. Camel Corps, which hit upon the best solution for Western transportation problems until the arrival of steam locomotives. Freight roads in the arid West crossed waterless stretches of up to ninety miles and often killed the best pack animal, the mule, by the drove. But such a journey was a walk in the park for the famed "ship of the desert," the camel, whose ancestors had evolved in North America.

Quartermaster George Crosman who later had to figure out how to supply Camp Floyd near Lake Utah proposed using camels for military transport in the 1830s. When freighting problems grew with the nation, the army imported dromedaries (single-humped Arabians) and lighter Bactrian (two-humped) camels.

In 1857, a former Navy lieutenant, Edward Beale, set out from Texas in command of the U.S. Camel Corps and seventy-five of the animals. Beale's experiment proved camels could pack a ton of goods?four times as much as a prime mule?cover forty miles a day and go ten days without water. They swam across the Colorado River and plowed through three feet of snow. Their drivers boasted that "camels would get fat where a jackass would starve to death." Despite Beale's success and then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis' hope that camel cavalry would frighten violent Apaches into submission, the Civil War put the Camel Corps out of business.

Western entrepreneurs took up the cause and used the beasts to supply remote mining camps. The California and Utah Camel Association bought army surplus camels and sold them in Nevada. San Francisco merchant Otto Esche imported camels from China to establish an express to Great Salt Lake City. He gave up in 1862, but the camels he left in Nevada created such a stir that the state Legislature there banned them from public roads in 1875. Utah desert rat Charles Kelly tracked one of the last surviving pack camels to Grantsville, where it would terrorize local horses but let local children ride it in the early 20th century. The camel, reportedly named "Jerry," even appeared in a Pioneer Day parade with a Mrs. William Carter on his back.

It wasn't that the camels couldn't adapt to the West; the West couldn't adapt to camels. They were not friendly animals, even to fellow camels, and they held grudges. Despite their bad temper and ability to spit the contents of their stomachs with the accuracy of a Kentucky marksman, it was camel stench that helped do them in.

Odor usually was not an issue for Western muleskinners, but the slightest whiff of camel stench played havoc with a mule train. Sometime in 1865, camels stampeded a pack train bound for Missoula and turned the whiskey-bound town's Fourth of July celebration into Montana mud. It was not long before camels were banished from northern mining camps.

Their vast advantage as pack animals notwithstanding, it was America's affection for horses that doomed Western camel caravans. Camels and their legends long survived among the boomtowns and ranches of Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Utah. A grizzled sideshow camel with a U.S. brand turned up in San Antonio in 1903. Arizona declared camels extinct in 1913, but hunters reported seeing them in the desert around Yuma into the 1950s. And what happened to Jerry? Grantsville folk say only that he wandered off and was not seen again.