Saturday, 28 August 2010

Brains, Berries, Camouflage and taking out the Biochemical Rubbish

"Wild" strawberries

Hi. Welcome to Weirbeautiful. First link-of-the-day today is this brief news article reporting recent research that claims eating berries including strawberries and acai berries, wards off brain diseases, such as dementia. There seem to be endless health claims made about various foods, but in this case, at least, a biochemical mechanism has been proposed (supposedly the berries help the brain clear biochemical detritus that would otherwise accumulate and cause problems) -

Second link is to this impressive gallery of camouflaged animals, from shale grasshoppers, to pigmy seahorses, from The Sun newspaper-

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Thought for the day/Quote of the Week- Steve Jones on snail sex

"In the Middle Ages, they believed that snails, because of their shells, don't have sex. So the snail was an image of purity and, here, [in "Annunciation" by Francesco Del Cossa] the Immaculate Conception. We know now that they were completely wrong- snails have sex in the most gothic and complicated ways you can imagine" - Prof. J. Steve Jones- University College London, quoted in "Intelligent Life" magazine (vol 3, issue 4,p138) Summer 2010.

(above- two snails that won't be having sex anytime soon- image by V. Neblik).

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Zombies, Ants, Syphilis and Zombie-Ants

(image= "A Zombie at twilight in a field of cane-sugar in Haiti"- by Jean-Loel Lafargue- this image has a "copy left" licence- for details, clcik [here]

Hi, Welcome to Weirdbeautiful.

Today I am responding to a request from a regular "Weirdbeautiful" reader, Dolev, who has asked me to post about the Zombie ants story, which has been all over the internet in the last few days. The story is about the fungus Ophiocordyceps, which "turns ants into zombies and makes them stagger to their death", according to The Guardian news paper; the ants in question being carpenter ants of the species Camponotus leonardi.

This is "Weird Science"'s take on the same story (thanks for this link, Dolev)-

Parasites and diseases that manipulate their hosts'/victims' behaviour are rare but not unheard of: the best known example, is probably neurosyphilis (a possible complication of untreated syphilis), which can cause increased libido in its victims- there is an obvious evolutionary basis for this, since this increase in sex-drive can cause the dying syphilitic person to infect others, helping the causative organism (the spirochaetal bacterium- Treponema pallidum)to spread. There's a really interesting account of neurosyphilis in an elderly woman in Oliver Sacks 's brilliant book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat".

While we are on the subject of Zombies and book recommendations, one of the best books I have read in a very long time is

"The Serpent and the Rainbow" by Wade Davis; as the book's cover explains, it is the tale of "A Harvard scientist's astonishing journey into the secret societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis and Magic". The book is partly about the anthropology of the Haitian voodoun religion/tradition and partly about the chemistry and the pharmacological effects of the various plants used in voodoo ceremonies. Dr Davis's Haitian trip started with a plan to investigate anesthetic drugs from plants and animals used in Haiti/Haitian folklore and ended up with him witnessing various aspects of "Zombi creation"- for want of a better description: a fascinating book.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Remipede...

Hi. Welcome to Weirdbeautiful.

Today, I just want to post a couple of links to articles on "the remipede". I think I've said before that, as a zoologist, I never know whether to be ashamed of my ignorance each time I learn of a new speices, or astounded at the world and the evolutionary process that genereated all these creatures. Weird animal of the day is the "Remipede": a cave-dwelling relative of the crab, lobster and woodlouse. In the case of this bizarre creature, it was at least fairly recently discovered- in fact the "Speleonectes" species discussed in this article has only been known to mankind for around a year, as the article explains-

Coincidentally, this odd little beings also feature in this month's National Geographic magazine, in the feature on diving in the Bahamas' "Blue Holes", where they are described as "living fossil[s] nearly unchanged for 300 million years". Interestingly, these weird troglodytic predators have venomous fangs, which they use to kill their prey (mostly other crustaceans, such as shrimps).

More information on the remipede can be found here-

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Moon is Shrinking?

Hi Welcome to Weirdbeautiful,

Link of the day today is to this bizarre story that the moon may be shrinking (due to internal cooling): the evidence for this comprises images of unusual fault lines on the lunar surface that were captured by a probe. The lines- called "lobate scarps"- have been found in the moon's highlands, as this article explains-

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Link of the day- Red Clover and Images of Outerspace

Hi. Welcome (back) to Weirdbeautiful.

First link-of-the-day today is this article on "The Garden Lady"'s blog on the Red Clover- I can't endorse any of the author's comments about the plant's medicinal benefits since I know nothing about the scientific research on this (or even if there have been any studies of its pharmacology), but it's an interesting article none-the-less-

Today's second link is this "dazzling" gallery of images of outerspace released by NASA and other agencies, such as the European Space Agency- they include images of Asteroids, the Sun, Cassiopea and the surface of Mars.

Third link-of-the-day is to this article in the International Herald Tribune about the activities of the oil-slick degrading bacterium Alcinovorax borkumensis (Alkinovorax- roughly translates as alkane- eater) in digesting the giant oil slick off the coast of Mexico-

I wrote on this blog back in May that this would be the most likely end result of the spill and that the clean-up process could be speeded up by introducing this bacterium to the water (it exists in very low concentrations in sea water naturally)- you can find the link to that here-
so now, at last, it seems to be happening.

Actually, I got the idea for that (no doubt scores of other microbiologists were thinking exactly the same thing, privately) by reading a great research paper by Susan Schneiker and colleagues some time ago. The paper- published in volume 24 (issue 8) of the journal "Nature Biotechnology"- described the sequencing of this amazing bacterium's genome and -essentially- went some way towards explaining some of its remarkable metabolic abilities. For what it is worth, there is a brief summary of the paper here-

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Quote of the Week- E. O. Wilson on Insects

Peacock Butterfly, Inachis Io,on Buddleia bush (Buddleja sp.), England.

Hi. Welcome (back) to Weirdbeautiful. Quote-of-the-day/week today is this cheering little gem from the American Scientist,
E. O. Wilson
(b. 1929)-

"If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos. "

You can find more information on Prof Wilson's work [here] and in this interview with him in Discover magazine by the Science Writer, Richard Conniff. (Richard Conniff is the author of the excellent book "Spineless Wonders", amongst other things).

Both photographs = Peacock Butterfly, Inachis Io,on Buddleia bush (Buddleja sp.), England, Victoria Neblik, 2010.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Floating Giraffes

Picture of the day-Giraffa camelopardalis,2010, taken atChester Zoo.

Hi. Welcome (back) to Weirdbeautiful. Today, I wanted to share this link- to a great blog post by Darren Naish. His post is all about a research paper he produced with Don Henderson called 'Predicting the buoyancy, equilibrium and potential swimming ability of giraffes by computational analysis'; the title says it all, really. Anyway, Darren Naish's post is a great read and certainly fits in the "weird" category of this blog. You can find the full paper in The Journal of Theoretical Biology.

Thanks to Dolev R. for the tip-off to this link.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Links of the day- Diving Tigers, Sponges and "The First Animal".

(Image- "Fish Tank, London Zoo"- by V. Neblik- image not for sale- for more images and prints that are on sale, see:

Hi. Welcome to Weirdbeautiful.

There are two links-of-the-day today, but first, I've put the "followers" box back on this page, so if you want to be able to find this blog again easily, please scroll down and click on the "follow" button- it's on the right near the bottom of the page. You can follow either publicly, with a picture and link back to your blog, or privately, in which case you'll be listed as an anonymous follower and there'll be no link back to you that anyone can find or follow.

First link-of-the-day today is this popular science book on sponges by former high school teacher, journalist and (present) diver, William Goodwin-

- worth the detour for the images alone, there's also a highly readable and informative text to go with them: how educational books should be....

Second of today's links is this great picture of a tiger, diving- tigers are unusual amongst the cat-family for their love of water; however, you'd never guess that from the expression on this tiger's face ....

Diving Tiger link with thanks to

Monday, 2 August 2010

Quote of the week- Henry David Thoreau- the artist and the artisan

"The Artist is he who detects and applies the law from observation of the works of Genius, whether of man or Nature. The Artisan is he who merely applies the rules which others have detected."
-Henry David Thoreau

I think (for what it is worth) that this quote could probably be adapted to science- "the difference between a scientific "artisan" and a scientific genius is that the artisan applies the rules and practical techniques that others have developped to new problems, the genius/true scientific innovator develops new principals or new techniques".

From my own experience, the obvious example of this was the discovery of electron microscopy and its first application to biological samples in 1942: a development that led to a flurry of publications in animal anatomy (or, more accurately, micro-anatomy) as different scientists were able to exploit the technique. There are a great many examples of this in science- pretty much all scientific "fashions" (with the possible exception of the space race in the 1950s and 60s)historically originated in this way- the fascination with genetics in the 1980s was partly fueled by a technical breakthrough by Prof Sir Edwin Southern in 1975; the popularity of hydrocarbon chemistry in the 1960s is another example.