Hello, you beautiful minds. Let’s take some brain candy, shall we? So put down your game controls for a brief yet splendid moment, and stuff your brain with tasty tidbits of information.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Paleoastrology: Columbi, July 23 - August 22

Today’s post commences a monthly paleoastrological horoscope. This horoscope is similar to the generic one except that it is much older, and therefore, more mystical. We shall explore the earth’s alignment to the stars and its influence on our lives through ancient Pleistocene animal constellations. It is all very scientific, I assure you. My cat I have reincarnated through each successive sign and am therefore quite qualified to speak on the matter.
Forget Leo, this is the zodiacal month of Columbi, the trumpeting Columbian mammoth in the sky. The stars do not lie, what you see below is clearly a giant Columbian mammoth.
People born under the sign of Columbi are leaders, and excel in strictly structured surroundings, as found in academia and the military. They are intelligent, charismatic, and outgoing, but become very dangerous when provoked. Columbi are late-bloomers, and are most vulnerable when young. As adults, however, they are nearly invincible. The most apt protectors of all the star signs, Columbi are formidable opponents. They are also well-traveled, but their migratory nature makes it hard for them to put down roots. Columbi get along well with most other star signs, but remain wary of Smilodon and Dirus, the dire wolf. Famous Columbi include: Amelia Earhart, Alexandre Dumas, Benito Mussolini, Emily Bronte, Henry Ford, Rasputin, Arnold Schwarzennegger, Peter O’Toole, Yassar Arafat, Annie Oakley, Fidel Castro, Alfred Hitchcock, Davey Crockett, T.E. Lawrence, and Napoleon.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dolphins: Degenerates of the Deep

Dolphins. The word conjures up pictures of happy sea creatures frolicking through the waves, surrounded by unicorns and rainbows. Sadly, these images are lies. In reality, dolphins are closer to being the rapist-killers of the ocean. Those smiles reflect a Ted Bundy-like cunning for mayhem. Researchers have reported that dolphins kill porpoises seemingly for shits and giggles. They don’t eat porpoises, nor do they compete with them for food. Maybe they’re racist. In addition to killing, bands of young, male dolphins have been seen to forcibly mate with females. That’s right. They’re rapists too.
Leaping dolphinsTed Bundy mug shot

So why do people continue to love dolphins? Because they have cute smiles. And they can jump out of the water. Well, the smile of a dolphin is a lie, my friends. They only seem to smile because they have limited facial movement, not because they’re happy to see you.

Now that my dolphin-hate speech is over, let’s discuss these wily cetaceans in a more serious way. Those cute, captive bottlenose dolphins at sea parks hate their lives. In the wild, dolphins can swim up to 128km a day and live can live for 20-50 years. In captivity, they swim in pools and live an average of 5 years after capture. The dolphins at Sea World do not love you. Let’s stop idolizing them and see them for what they really are; wild predators.    

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

North vs. South – A Comparison of Poles

Penguins look delicious, so why don’t polar bears eat them? Do bears not like feathers? Do penguins stink? I’ll tell you why. It’s because penguins and polar bears live on opposite sides of the world. Penguins are in the Antarctic (the bottom bits), while polar bears are in the Arctic (in the “up” direction). If polar bears ever got loose in the South Pole, they would massacre those little tuxedoed birds before dying from severe temperature/seasonal changes. The relocation might not be a good idea. Let’s take a look at the other differences between the poles so that we never get them mixed up again.

Antarctic (South Pole)
Arctic (North Pole)
-has no tundra/trees
-surrounded by tundra/trees
-a continent
-a frozen ocean surrounded by continents
-bedrock is 100ft. above sea level
-bedrock is 1400ft below sea level
-no land mammals
-land mammals welcome
-annual mean temp is -58°F
-annual mean temp is a balmy 0°F
-no ancient human population
-Inuit, etc.
-Mulder rescues Scully from space ship here
-No visits from Mulder or Scully
-polar bears
Adelie-iceedge hgUrsus maritinus

So those, in a nutshell, are the differences between the earth’s poles. May we never confuse the two again. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Guess What Country! Round 1

Let’s begin a little game, shall we? I’ll give you hints; you guess what country I’m describing. Try not to peak at a map and/or the rest of the internet! Put your choice in the comment section.

1.)   In ancient times, it was ruled by three Persian dynasties
2.)   It is one of the last Sultanates in the world
3.)  Its coast is formed by the Arabian Sea
4.)  It isn't Finland

Musandam fjord Muscatbeach

Friday, July 15, 2011

Antlers vs. Horns vs. Pronghorns

Does this ever happen to you? You’re at a zoo or a wildlife park and overhear a conversation between a dad and his offspring. He is telling the child to look at the deer’s horns, or the antelope’s antlers, and it makes you ANGRY AS HELL! But you don’t say anything, because correcting a father in front of his kid would be rude, and socially taboo, no matter how disgustingly wrong his information is. This happens to me with startling frequency. Seriously, the things people don’t know about animals astounds me. So, let me explain the difference between horns and antlers in the hopes that NO ONE WILL GET THEM MIXED UP AGAIN!

 Antlers: Guess what? Deer have antlers (except for musk deer, they have tusk/fang things). In most species, only the male have antlers, which they shed after the fall rut (female caribou have small antlers). Unlike horns, antlers are branched, and each new set gets bigger as the animal ages. Want to know something else? Moose are technically deer.

Elch1. antlers cashmirianus

Horns: Animals in the bovidae (think cattle, sheep, and antelope) have horns, as do giraffe and rhinos. Horns are made up of keratin and cover a core of bone (rhino horns are the exception as they do not have a bone core). As a general rule, horns do not branch, and they are more common in males (although females also have them in certain species). Unlike antlers, horns are not shed, so if they break, that sucks. Only in some species do horns continuously grow with age.
Bighorn (PSF) Male Lesser Kudu 

Pronghorns: This is where it gets complicated. Pronghorns are only found on…you guessed it, pronghorns. These North American mammals are not technically antelope, as they are commonly labeled. They are the last surviving members of the family, Antilocaprida. Pronghorn “horns” are made of keratin sheathes that grow over a bone core, much as they do in true antelope. The horns of a pronghorn, however, are pronged (duh) and are shed annually. Both male and female have them, although the horns of the males’ are more pronounced.
Gabelbock fws 1b

So, now that we know the differences between horns and antlers and pronghorns, we will never get them confused EVER AGAIN! Right? Good. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

South Sudan

As you may have heard, the world got a new country on July 9th, 2011. Let’s give a big welcome to South Sudan! After years of conflict with old Sudan, South Sudan has become an independent state.  Below is some information to file away in the recesses of your brain, just in case you enter into a conversation about South Sudan.
SouthSudanStatesSouth Sudan in Africa (claimed) (-mini map -rivers)

Full Name: The Republic of South Sudan
Birthday: July 9, 2011
Motto: “Justice, Liberty, Prosperity”
Capital: Juba
Official Language: English
Government: Federal Presidential Democratic Republic
President: Salva Kiir Mayardit
Cool Things: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, Boma National Park, african wild dog (Endangered)
Sad Things: High infant mortality, highest maternal mortality, history of conflict
Neutral Things: 6 million population, a state called Unity
Crop Circles: No

Wild Dog Kruger National Park South Africa

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Viking's Horse

Picture a Viking riding a horse and what comes to mind? A burly guy in armor on a large, noble steed? Odin riding Sleipnir across the sky? Well, you’re wrong, and you should feel badly about it. You see, the Hollywood image of a Viking’s horse looks something like this:
Or even this:
Aa shirehorse

But the first horse is a Friesian, a breed from the Netherlands. Their ancestors carried knights around, not Vikings. Someone needs to tell this to Hollywood. They put Friesians in any film they can. Why? Because they’re cool looking. Need a horse to play Pegasus in Clash of the Titans? Friesian. Need an Andalusian (a Spanish breed) for The Mask of Zorro? Friesian. Need a Bucephalus for Alexander the Great? Friesian. You get my point. As for the second horse. That’s a Shire, an English draft breed.

So what did a Viking’s horse look like? Well, let’s consider what they used horses for. In most other cultures, horses were used in war. But the Vikings preferred to jump into their longships, sail right up to an enemy beach, and raid the nearest Monastery, all while on foot. They might have had a hard time doing that if the shallow ships were full of horses too. This isn’t to say that Vikings never used horses in battle, but battle was not their primary use. More commonly, Vikings used horses for travel and draft work. Geography also plays a role in shaping these horses. Freezing land with poor grazing tends to breed small, tough, hairy horses…or ponies. And that’s what happened. The mighty Vikings produced cute, fuzzy little ponies. Let’s take a look at two modern breeds of Viking origin:

The Icelandic Pony (or Icelandic Horse, if you’re in Iceland), is a cute little baby precious that has a fifth gait, called the tölt (most horses have four gaits; walk, trot, canter, gallop). They come in a variety of colors and are the only breed of “horse” allowed in Iceland. 
Icelandic Horse4Icelandic horses, Tiree - geograph.org.uk - 279733Mývatn25

And here is the Fjord Pony, a hardy dun-coated creature from Norway. One of the most easily identifiable characteristics of this breed is its standing (mohawk) mane. 
Fjording, mother and daughter Horse hjerl hede 2004 ubt

So now we know. Never again shall we fall for the lies of popular culture…when they are both Viking and horse related. Don’t even get me started on the Greeks or Romans. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Those Little Brown Birds

You see them everywhere: at the park, on the sidewalk, near restaurants, Europe. They’re those little brown birds. The ones you see everywhere. The ones that stay just out of reach as they watch you eat a sandwich, waiting for you to drop a crumb or two. Then, once you do, they drop to the ground and fight over it. Ever wonder what they are? Well, I’ll tell you anyway.

Passer domesticus -British Columbia , Canada -male-8aFamily That Bathes Together  
Long Answer: The Passer Domesticus, or house sparrow, is a common species of Eurasian bird. They are probably the most common species of wild bird. Like many sparrows, they’re small, cute, and enjoy eating. These birds live in groups and are almost always found near human habitation. But how did a Eurasian bird become so common in North America? Blame the Victorians. Park commissioners first released house sparrows into Central Park in1864. Then, in 1877, the American Acclimatization Society (a group dedicated to bringing European flora and fauna to America – good idea, right?) built nest boxes throughout the city to help the sparrows breed. They also released European starlings in order to fill Central Park with all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare. Apparently both the starlings and sparrows found America to their liking, as they can now be found from coast to coast. So, next time you see one of these little brown birds, remember that they too are European colonizers in America.

Short Answer: They’re house sparrows. You’re welcome. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Popular Dinosaur Myths

We live in an age of abundant information and superabundant misinformation. When it comes to paleontology, public misinformation is rampant. As always, I blame the media. As much as I loved (was obsessed with) Jurassic Park, I admit that it increased public misconception of dinosaurs by roughly a bagillion percent.* Not that JP is solely responsible for this plethora of inaccuracies, it’s just the easiest target. So let’s tackle the myths, shall we?

1.)    Velociraptor: Nary a dino is as misunderstood as the Velociraptor, darling of the silver screen. Jurassic Park (both the film and the book) painted them as tall as a person, as fast as a cheetah, and as smart as an ape. Personally, I prefer this version, but it is wrong. Sad day. In reality, they were small, about 2.5ft tall and 6ft long, and not nearly as fast or as smart as popularly portrayed. Fiction needed embellishment, because cute little feathered animals are less threatening than the monsters in the film. That said, Jurassic Park unknowingly portrayed an older cousin of the Velociraptor, Utahraptor. Now these babies could mess a person up! Unfortunately, Utahraptor was discovered after filming had already started. Supposedly, when Robert Bakker, one of the paleontologists helping with the film, was told of the discovery, he said “You’ve found Spielberg’s raptor!” On a side note, the discoverers wanted to name the species "Utahraptor spielbergi" in exchange for funding, but no plan was agreed upon, and so they went with Utahraptor ostrommaysorum. On another note, both Velociraptor and Utahraptor lived during the Cretaceous period, not the Jurassic period. But Cretaceous Park doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Dromie scale

2.)    Brontosaurus: Can we let this creature rest in peace already? C’mon! Brontosaurus was “discovered” in 1879 by dino hunter Othniel Charles Marsh. It was later decided that the original Brontosaurus skeleton was actually a misidentified Apatosaurus. Since Apatosaurus was named earlier, in 1877, it won the contest of names. Brontosaurus has gone the way of Pluto. But, Robert Bakker, of aforementioned fame, still maintains that they are two separate dinosaurs.

3.)    Tail Dragging: Even today, popular depictions of dinosaurs show them dragging their tails along the ground. This harkens back to the Victorian idea that dinosaurs were lumbering, cold-blooded brutes. This idea was challenged during the mid-twentieth century by (drum roll please) Robert Bakker and John Ostrom. This period of renewed interest became known as the Dinosaur Renaissance, and it transformed the way we view dinosaurs. The warm-blooded, active dinosaurs that we know today used their tails as weapons and counterbalances. Tails were not dead weight; they were necessary for proper motion and balance. So, next time you see a children’s book that shows a “Brontosaurus” dragging its tail along the ground, know that it is full of lies and is poisoning the minds of future generations.

T. rex old posture Dinosaur stub

4.)    Dilophosaurus: Here is another victim of Hollywood. There is no fossil evidence to suggest the Dilophosaurus spat venom or had fanlike frills on the side of its head. It was bigger too (about 20ft long). On a positive note, it did live during the Jurassic period.

5.)    T-Rex Sight: Surprise! Tyrannosaurus Rex actually can see you if you stand still! Keep that in mind if you find yourself in the late Cretaceous. The “can’t see us if we don’t move” idea was completely made up by author Michael Crichton.

6.)    Pterosaurs and Plesiosaurs: This news may hit you hard, but Pterodactyls were not dinosaurs. Nether were Plesiosaurs. They both lived during the same time as dinosaurs, but technically, the term “dinosaur” only applies to land dwellers. So, if it swims or flies, a dinosaur it is not.

 I hope I didn’t ruin too many childhood memories, but if I did, I regret nothing. Until next time, kisses and huggles!

*May be a slight exaggeration.