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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Cats

We’ve heard of the term “big cats,” but what does it mean exactly? Is it solely a size classification? If so, where do we draw the line? The lion is certainly big, but a clouded leopard is of a more moderate build, and an ocelot, while smaller, is still larger than the household tabby. If poundage alone is the factor, then Fat- Ass McFluff down the road could be considered wild game. Like many confusing terms, the classification between “big cat” and “small cat” is an informal one. So “big cat” isn’t truly an academic term. But we hear it often enough, so we should know what it means.

The main differences between the two groups are size (duh) and the ability to roar. Yep. “Big cats” are big and “small cats” are small (sort of). But only the “big cats” roar (with the exception of the snow leopard, silly baby). Roars are generated by an elongated larynx; the longer the larynx, the bigger the roar. Oddly enough, the snow leopard has a similar larynx but still cannot roar.

Some big ones: lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah
Some small ones: ocelot, margay, lynx

Panthera tigris tigrisOcelot

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Prions, How Do They Work?

Also, what the hell are they? To be honest, before researching this blog entry, my image of a prion consisted of a small ball with a happy face on it that gave you mad-cow (as it turns out, I wasn’t too far off).
Happy smiley face
According to American Heritage Dictionary, a prion is “a microscopic protein particle similar to a virus but lacking nucleic acid, possibly the infectious agent responsible for scrapie and other degenerative diseases of the nervous system.” Thanks, the internet! Now I know exactly what a prion is! I am so happy about that.

But what does a prion do? For this answer, I turn to a more serious-faced resource, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (remember the CDC? It’s been mentioned in movies). The CDC doesn’t like prions. They say all sorts of bad things about them. This is probably because prions cause horrible, debilitating diseases that end in agonizing death. Here’s what they have to say about the matter:

A prion is an abnormal, transmissible agent that is able to induce abnormal folding of normal cellular prion proteins in the brain, leading to brain damage and the characteristic signs and symptoms of the disease. Prion diseases are usually rapidly progressive and always fatal.

That sounds bad. It sounds bad because it is bad. Prions basically eat our brains. Here is the CDC’s list of diseases for which prions are thought to be responsible:

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)
Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD)
Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker Syndrome
Fatal Familial Insomnia
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
Transmissible mink encephalopathy
Feline spongiform encephalopathy
Ungulate spongiform encephalopathy

So, my original idea of a prion being a smiling ball that kills has been revised. A prion is an evil squiggly line that kills. Here is an artistic rendering using 3-D technology: 

BOVINE PRION PROTEIN 1dx0 asym r 500

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Fowl Reign of Terror

Forgive me for my hideous pun. Now, imagine a land of giant, flightless, predatory birds. Paradise, right? If you’re a bird. If you’re a mammal, you may be stalked, run down, and killed by a sharp beak to the skull. This is how life was like in North and South America 5-2 million years ago. The Phorusrhacids, commonly known as “terror birds,” were apex predators. Their ancestors evolved in South America and migrated north – the only giant predator to do so during the Great American Interchange (when North and South America were joined via what is now Panama). This jolly group of birds stood between 3-10 feet tall and could run an estimated 30mph. Isn’t that nice? I think so. Another fun factoid: the Kelenken, a member of the Phorusrhacidae, had the largest skull of any known bird. The beak was 18in long. So the next time you see an ostrich, just be glad it isn’t a terror bird. 

Paraphysornis skeleton 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Wild vs. Feral

By now you have probably realized that I am a stickler for correct terminology. Today’s subject will be dedicated to the difference between the terms “wild” and “feral.” We tend to use them interchangeably, with a certain preference for “wild” when describing things like mustangs (“wild” horses), dromedary camels (“wild” camels), and Courtney Love (“wild” child). None of these things are technically wild. Real wild things have never gone through domestication by humans. When something that has been domesticated is subsequently released or escapes from captivity, it and its descendants are feral. Feral animals (as in the case of pigeons and Courtney Love) are often considered pests. In some instances (as with mustangs), however, this labeling is unjustified as feral animals often take the ecological place left by their extinct or endangered wild counterparts. Let’s start with the dictionary definition of both words as shown on dictionary.com:

1.      living in a state of nature; not tamed or domesticated: a wild animal; wild geese.

2.      having reverted to the wild state, as from domestication: a pack of feral dogs roaming the woods.

Now it’s time for some fun examples!

Przewalski horse


Bactrian camel

Dromedary camel

African wild dog

Feral dog

Scottish wild cat

Feral cat

Mourning dove


Taylor from “Planet of the Apes”

Kurt Cobain