citrakayah: (Default)
Been a month since I last wrote anything. School has been difficult, to say the least. My brain feels like it is full of fog, and doing anything not school-related that takes actual thought and willpower is hard. I could be doing worse, no question about that, but I have a good deal of inertia keeping me in place. The more I'm inactive--anywhere--the harder it is to get the ball rolling again. I'm a creature of habit, after all. And currently the habit is "crawl into bed, blow up enemy ships, and do absolutely nothing."

Which I hate.

I did get a review paper on isopods done, which was interesting to do. Had to do a lot of reading, and learned a lot as well. Among other things, I learned that Bergmann's rule has a long and checkered history, that most people think giant woodlice are cool, and that deep-sea isopods are not nearly as terrifying as old nacho cheese Doritos.

Other students in ZOOL 215 are doing their projects on feral cat colony management, the role of venom and bacteria in Komodo dragons, and turtle evolution. The first and last did fairly well, the middle one did not do enough research. I say that because in the question-and-answer session I asked about a possible test for bacteria uptake that seemed sort of obvious, and she said that that would be a good idea and someone should do that test. When I got back to my dorm, five minutes on Wikipedia linked me to a paper that had that very setup.

Despite the season, it's been cold lately, and it rained heavily today. I was caught outside at the beginning of it; I let volunteer hours slip away from me and I'm having to do a whole bunch at once. And because I'm an idiot and I suck, I missed the bus, so tried to walk over to the Science Center to volunteer. Naturally I got completely lost, but ultimately I did manage to get there... so good for me, I guess. Even if volunteering at the Science Center isn't the most pleasant task, what with all the loud children, it's something.

Formally changed majors from architecture to zoology, and have an appointment on Monday to talk about the possibility of doing field/lab work for graduate studies. I'm skeptical of my chances, given my lack of training, but it can't hurt.

Read some good books lately. The Virals series, which I've always liked, had two books I hadn't read, and some guy named Charles de Lint wrote a trilogy called Wildings which was pretty interesting. Also found some pretty... interesting... music by a person named Vertigo Fox. I usually hate the genre he works in, but the lyrics and general feel are interesting enough to overlook it.

Oh, and apparently we have MRAs on the Werelist. Granted I wouldn't expect anything different from the person who believes that plants "evolved beyond the use of brains," but still, it's rather frustrating.
citrakayah: (Default)
Reposted from here.

With the plants detailed here (I’ve decided to call them ‘plant-etoids’ in what I hope will induce groans) I worked backwards. Such an exercise, while not speculative evolution in the purest sense, is nonetheless a useful tool, for it allows us to consider how things we would normally consider impossible seem to be, at the very least, possible. Even if I am correct in all my speculation, plant-etoids are still very, very unlikely to exist.

The first problem space plants would face is adapting to conditions. As T.Neo pointed out, such a plant would quite possibly go into stasis, at which point while it would, indeed, be a PLANT! IN! SPACE!, it would hardly be anything particularly significant. No, to have space plants—and, therefore, plant-etoids—the plants would have to be able to cope with near vacuum, cold, and radiation. Zerraspace suggested the use of a planet slowly losing its atmosphere.

We have a planet like that in our solar system—Mars. According to some scientists, Mars may at one point have had a magnetic field. When it lost its magnetic field, the solar wind from the Sun stripped away the Martian atmosphere. Such a process would be slow, allowing gradual evolution, and would also result in an increasing amount of radiation reaching the surface. Mars, of course, did not go this route. If life ever existed on the Red Planet, it is either underground, in the ice, or simply extinct.

Escaping from the planet, I feel, would be best provided by volcanic activity or a meteor strike. While volcanic activity might seem like something that would result in huge amounts of heat, given the lack of air there would be no real opportunity for convection, and a reduced opportunity for condution via the air. Instead, the soil and rock on top of the volcano would be conducting the heat.

Water collection initially appeared to be an insurmountable problem. However, I believe I developed a plausible solution. The bladderwort has orb-like structures that it uses to catch prey. I propose that a plant on a planet with a gradually thinning atmosphere would be forced to develop something along the lines of an analogous structure. Ice would be surrounded by plant matter, after which the plant would develop an air-tight coating and generate metabolic heat to melt the ice. The limited space available would force the water to remain in a liquid state. Roots could then be extended to absorb the water. Dessication could, of course, be solved by a waxy covering, but plants without them are apparently already capable of surviving vacuum for a day or so.

Nutrition could also be assured in such a way. If the plant could survive in very poor soil (on a Mars-like planet, I would say this is quite possibly a given), then by capturing the ‘dirty snowballs’ they could also absorb amino acids and various other elements necessary for survival. These comets could be caught by having the plant-etoid extend structures made of spongy plant matter. When a small comet impacted it, it would then surround it in air-tight plant matter and absorb water and nutrients. In otherwords, it would use a similar method as aerogel. This spongy plant matter could evolve by natural selection; if the plant-etoid’s ancestors grew around bits of ice to absorb them, then a comet embedded itself in the plant would probably be absorbed, too. Sunlight, in turn, could be absorbed by the spongy plant matter.

Reproduction would be asexual and happen via budding, I would expect, though I suppose that if the plant-etoid’s existed in large concentrations sexual reproduction would also be a possibility—as they would be if the sperm and eggs were suitably protected from the elements. Certainly the plant-etoid’s would have a slow metabolism, so I would expect zygotes to last a rather long time.

The plant-etoid would not need inhale or exhale carbon dioxide or oxygen. Instead, it would operate by consuming all the oxygen produced for cellular respiration, and consuming all the carbon dioxide it produced for photosynthesis. Since the plant-etoid would have to have very, very slow metabolism, gradually it could accumulate more and more carbon dioxide (or oxygen), allowing gradual growth and reproduction.

The ideal shape, I think, for the plant-etoid would be a sphere. Such a shape would allow large amounts of area to be exposed to sunlight without risking decreased exposure if the plant-etoid turns sideways after getting hit hard enough. The aforementiond spongy tissue would cover the outside of the plant and be photosynthetic. It would also be only the outer layer that was alive; as the plant-etoid grew larger and larger, it would accumulate heartwood, or something similar, in the center, like a tree. Even after a plant-etoid died, it would still float on, potentially food for other organisms. Over a long period of time, the plant-etoid’s could act like clearers, as small micrometeorites would get stuck in their spongy tissue, but not digested.
citrakayah: (Default)
I am now going to talk about prosthetics, dolphins, marine biology, philosophy, ethics, animal behavior, architecture, biotechnology, and movies all in the same post. And it will even be connected and flow well. *flexes fingers*

Dolphin Tale was probably one of the best movies I've seen all year. Heck, all my life. Truly touching, and I felt more emotional involvement towards the dolphin than I do towards, well, most other things besides my friends and systematic slaughter. When a movie can make that happen in an hour and a half or so, you know you've got a good movie. The dolphin and the two children were the best actors of all, and Winter played herself in the film- she does exist, and Clearwater exists too, though I don't know if there were two small children (might have been, it didn't require too much suspension of belief to get the male kid in the plot). I might someday be lucky enough to meet Winter; I can probably convince my parents to take spring or fall break to go down and visit.

But it wasn't only the plot that fascinated. The technology behind the artificial tail did too. The polymer created was simply brilliant, and the man who invented that (it was a real invention) deserves fame and glory, something which I'm sure he has among material scientists. But what interested me more was the engineering part- that is to say, the method by which joints and such were put together. The joints, I imagine, were a fairly simple affair, at least the basic idea. And prosthetics don't always require a great deal of engineering skill- a wooden leg is technically a prosthetic. But creating joints that will move smoothly through water and stand up to heavy use can't be that simple.

In the film, a legend is retold- don't know if it actually was one or not- about people who crossed a rainbow bridge but had their children turn into dolphins when they fell off- in otherwords, dolphins are human. I don't know about human, but they certainly are people. One of their number was taught to act, they have learned how to communicate with humans, they have names that they call themselves by1... quite incredible, really. Fact is, dolphins are quite similar to humans, the most similar of all animals. You see, humans are unique in their contradictions- you can't really come up with an adjective to describe us. Sure, we're 'warlike and aggressive' but we also have many members who are peaceful and outright pacifistic. We aren't, as Star Trek would have us think, a 'fundamentally curious race' because many people are content to be live with a highly limited knowledge of the world. At best, you can give overall tendencies to human behavior.

Dolphins are the same way. A lot of people think of dolphins in one of two ways: happy playful hippies (without the buses and tie-dye t-shirts) or malevolent calf-killing serial-rapist sex maniacs (personally, I think that 'sex maniac' under some circumstances belongs in the 'happy playful hippy' category, but whatever). But neither view is true; they both are, and as a result, both aren't. While dolphins may kill for fun in some cases, they also have close family ties. While they may commit rape2, sex for them appears to be a way of reinforcing social bonds3. While they may sometimes be hostile4, they also are capable of acts of alturism5. They are just like us- and that means that they are beings capable of moral thought, because one of the things that, in my book, is a sign of sapience is alturism, and by that I mean willing to sacrifice time and energy for things that may well not bring an immediate reward. Dolphins have that.

I don't pretend to know is in a dolphin's mind. What I think of, and venerate so highly, as alturism, may be nothing more than some sort of play, in which case it is no more alturism than a shark instinctively biting at something and freeing someone from entanglement. But I can guess, and I think that dolphins perform alturistic acts because they see it as simply the right thing to do, as do people. Because of this distinct possibility, I should it think it best to err on the side of caution and assume the best (though I can understand those who plan for the worst).

This raises the moral quandry of captivity, something which many are opposed in all cases. I am personally not, on the grounds that I have no problems with placing someone in a hospital for treatment or an assisted-living center if incapable of surviving or thriving in the outside world. For some dolphins in captivity, this is the case; disabilities in the wild typically result in the death of an animal and we have the ability to prevent that. Out of few options, it is the best.

The same logic does not hold, however, with dolphins in general. Captive dolphins aren't easily released in all cases, though. If a human was captive-bred and didn't have the education of skills required to make a living, and for whatever reason they couldn't be taught, then many people would find keeping them in an environment where they are restricted but remain alive the most moral option. In fact, human society already does this with people with developmental disabilities. Captive-bred dolphins could be thought of as having a developmental disability if there's no way to teach them to survive in the wild.

Fortunately, there is a potential way out of this. Given that dolphins have displayed, at the very least, 'signatures' as well as the ability to learn some American sign language, it is likely that we could establish a common language based, quite possibly, on a system of sound glyphs (specifically, CymaGlyphs)6. I suggest that the best way for first linguistical contact with dolphins would be to try and figure out how they associate different glyphs with different objects and concepts, if they do at all, and if not develop a system of glyphs that they don't use for the purpose of expressing highly complex ideas. Artificial glyph generators could be affixed to the hulls of boats and used to project glyphs, and receivers could be used to 'hear' what the dolphins are saying back (if they say back anything).

Once a common language was found, it could be encouraged to spread by culture (which dolphins already have), and then working out what to do with captive dolphins could be made relatively simple. This approach, of course, would require a significant amount of work. Until then, no healthy dolphins should be captured from the wild unless there is literally no other choice except to let them die (for example, if a nuclear bomb was dropped on an area of ocean and the dolphins couldn't be relocated).

I anticipate many potential positive effects of communications between dolphins and humans. Dolphins dive deep on a regular basis, and can be presumed to know much about the topography and ecology of the deeper areas of the ocean, and they could also assist with conservation of coral reefs. They provide a completely different perspective on matters of philosophy. Larger whales, if communications with them were also established, could haul cargo. Dolphinat of dolphins tends to be very very open, and while we cannot create an open ocean, zoological parks and aquariums have the capacity to create sufficiantly large enclosures for dolphins- or, rather, if they don't, they have no business keeping dolphins. In short, I expect high standards, and any exhibit I design for a zoo will fulfill them. Perhaps I'll eventually create a description of a good dolphin enclosure.

1. V. M. Janik, L. S. Sayigh, and R. S. Wells. "Signature whistle shape conveys identity information to bottlenose dolphins." PNAS vol. 103 no. 21 (2006): 8203-8297. PNAS. Web. 19 October 2011.
2. Scott, Erin M., Janet Mann, and Janet J. Watson-Capps. "Aggression in bottlenose dolphins: evidence for sexual coercion, male-male competition, and female tolerance through analysis of tooth-rake marks and behaviour." Behavior 142 (2004): 21-44. Web Archive. Web. 19 October 2011.
3. Frustatingly, at the present time I am unable to find a citation, though I remember hearing it via a documentary that was not the stereotypical 'dolphins are fluffy' kind. So take with a grain of salt.
4. Johnson, George. "Is Flipper a Senseless Killer?." ON SCIENCE. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 October 2011. <>.
5. "NZ dolphin rescues beached whales." BBC News. N.p., 12/3/2008. Web. 4 Oct 2011. <>
6. while I question some of the beliefs of the people operating the site, it is logical to conclude that dolphins could create a glyph language out of sound

Tags: movies, biology, biomechanics, prosthetics, ethics, dolphins,interspecies

Wolf Spider

Oct. 9th, 2011 10:30 am
citrakayah: (Awesome arrows (Ravenari))
I’m walking through leaf brush at night, not caring if I make noise because it startles the crickets into jumping. The sound they make as they spring is loud, loud enough so that it sounds as if something much heavier is jumping. I think frogs, but I can’t find any, and there couldn’t be so many frogs.

My eyes are, of course, nearsighted, but they are sensative enough to relatively little light to pick up a shape at my foot. I crouch. It is a spider, at least two inches long. The shape and relatively nomadic behavior suggest wolf spider, but most wolf spiders I see are dwarfs compared to this giant. In tropical places, I have seen tarantulas. This spider is nearly as big as one. I don’t know much about spider growth patterns, but I know that they aren’t apex predators, and that they reach sexual maturity at a very small size. Either this is a different species- definitely a possibility, but I think I know all the spiders of my state- or this is a very, very old spider.

I try to get it to crawl on my foot. When this doesn’t work, I try to pick it up with two sticks. This, of course, fails. I let the arachnid go. I have other things to do.

Disclaimer: After reading the Animal Dialogues, I thought I'd try writing something in the same general style. This is the result.


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