Dec 18 at 9:09pm by Aileen
For those of us who tend to be fascinated by charts, graphs, figures, maps and gnarly scenes of death and destruction, there’s a new county-by-county “Death Map” produced by researchers at the University of South Carolina at Columbia we can now peruse for the gnarly truth about who dies where the most.
Using statistics going all the way back to 1970, Susan Cutter and Kevin Borden of USC created the map to enable emergency management planners to examine various natural hazard risks to populations all over the country. These are deaths by floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, extreme temperatures and other natural (but violent) causes.
The full publication from the International Journal of Health Geographics is available as a pdf at Spatial patterns of natural hazards mortality in the United States. But here’s a sneak preview… what’s your county’s ‘death-by-natural-hazard’ risk look like?
Jun 17 at 3:03pm by Aileen
Science Daily reported over the weekend that Keio University research has demonstrated that pigeons show superior self-recognition abilities to three year old humans.
Professor Shigeru Watanabe and graduate student Kohji Toda managed to train pigeons to recognize themselves in real-time using mirrors and videotape, then found that their pigeons can recognize themselves in video images with a 5 to 7 second delay. Human 3-year olds typically have trouble recognizing themselves with just a 2 second delay.
Thus pigeons now join chimpanzees, gorillas, dolphins and elephants in having the ability to recognize themselves, which means that particularly large brains aren’t necessary to the ability. It seems that we are learning that the other forms of life we share our planet with are quite a bit smarter than we’ve traditionally given them credit for!
Jun 6 at 3:03pm by Aileen
Here are some more strange (and very disturbing) facts about the human body, from Vicki over at the One Big Health Nut blog…
• Nearly 50% of the bacteria in your body (and humans harbor 3 times more bacterial cells than human cells) live on the surface of your tongue, which (by the way) is the strongest muscle in your body. Probably a good reason why Mommy-Kisses work better than Mommy-Licks on boo-boos.
• The incidence of immune system diseases has increased more than 200% in the last five years. Yikes! Is that environmental?
• By the time a person is 35 years old, s/he begins losing about 7,000 brain cells a day which are never replaced. Whoa. I’d say something profound about that, but I forgot what the subject was…
• A moderate sunburn damages blood vessels in the skin so seriously that it takes between four and fifteen months for them to heal. The reason I keep SPF 50 on hand all summer.
• Right-handed people live an average of nine years longer than left-handed people. Need I remind readers that correlation does NOT equal causation?
Go on over to One Big Health Nut and read the rest for yourself!
May 14 at 6:06pm by Aileen
More ‘Weird Science News’ today. Seems that the burgeoning raven population in the UK – where ravens were once very rare and are still a protected species – has recently taken to forming large gangs and killing farm livestock in Scotland, Wales and some parts of England.
Now, ravens are the smartest of birds. According to scientific researchers, they’re right up there with dogs and primates on the intelligence scale, and like some parrots can even learn to speak human languages. Just ask Edgar Allen Poe! And while ravens are carrion-eaters mostly, they are known to be birds of prey that will attack rabbits and other small critters. Their beaks are sharp and sickle-shaped, their talons are muscular. They get to be about two feet long, and are extraordinary aerial acrobats. They are also the primary bad guys in Daphne du Mourier’s classic horror novel The Birds, as made into the film classic of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock. There have been some B-movie reprises too, though they shall remain nameless (so as not to reveal my personal addiction to B-grade horror movies).
We get raven gangs here in the southern Appalachians. During one memorable grandchild birthday party they descended to steal as many of a scattered bag of lemon drops as they possibly could, then became furious when those hard candies stuck their beaks together with a mass of yellow goo. We laughed and laughed, they didn’t think it was the least bit funny. Probably a good thing they didn’t decide to attack, now that I know they’re killers!
Check out the story from Britain’s Daily Mail about these killer raven gangs. Seems farmers are losing their newborn lambs as fast as they’re born, and now the ravens have started going after calves and even full-grown sheep!
While I suspect recent UK policies to immediately cremate dead livestock (imposed due to fears of Mad Cow and such) has led to some hungry ravens doing whatever they have to do to survive without ready carrion, I hope they don’t decide to decimate raven populations again. These really are spectacular birds.
May 12 at 6:06pm by Aileen
…after all these years
That great practical joke that life’s designer [be it blind nature or purposeful god] played is still with us to confound orderly notions of biological evolution. The genome of Australia’s duck-billed platypus has been sequenced by an international group of scientists led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The venomous, egg-laying, duck-billed, web-footed, beaver-tailed mammal is one of the earliest offshoots of the mammalian lineage from when it split off from primitive ancestors some 166 million years ago. The genome confirms the chimeric status of this odd animal which displays traits of reptiles, birds and mammals.
As part of their analysis, researchers compared the platypus genome with human, mouse, dog, opossum and chicken genomes. Chicken genome was chosen because it represents a group of egg-laying animals that includes extinct reptiles that passed on much of their DNA to mammals over the course of evolution. When analyzed, the genetic sequences for venom production in the male platypus was found to have arisen from duplications in a group of genes evolved from ancestral reptilian genomes. They hypothesize that duplications in those very same genes led to the evolution of venom independently in modern reptiles.
The project involved sequencing about 2.2 billion base pairs and 18,500 genes. The Platypus has 52 chromosomes and an unusual 10 sex chromosomes. The platypus X chromosome also bears a striking similarity to the sex chromosome of birds.
Final conclusion? The duck-billed platypus is just as bizarre a mix-and-match critter genetically as it appeared to be when the first specimens were shown to the scientific community some 200 years ago. Skeptics then believed the animal was someone’s idea of a practical joke hoax. Turns out it really is a genetic practical joke, but it comes as-is in nature.
Apr 21 at 9:09pm by Aileen
Most school children have at one time or another encountered a photo of a twisted bristlecone pine tree in California purporting to have begun its life before Abraham left Ur [the 'Methuselah' tree at ~4767 years old]. Science Daily reported last week that a spruce tree has been discovered in the Dalarna province of Sweden that is twice that age!
Yes, this not very old-looking little tree has been dated by researchers at Umeå University’s physical geography department at ~9550 years old. Just as interesting is that this ancient tree is a genetically identical clone of a previous tree – from whose roots it sprouted all those many years ago – and which left a few scraps of old wood in the area for researchers to analyze and a laboratory in Miami, Florida to date via C-14.
Researchers combing the Swedish mountains from Lapland to Dalarna have discovered a cluster of about 20 spruces that are all more than 8,000 years old. Which has to qualify the grove as the most ancient stand of virgin timber on the planet.
Apr 9 at 11:11pm by Aileen
For something different and profound, consider the case of a baby girl named Lali born near New Delhi, India on March 11. She has a rare birth defect called diprosopus that gave her two faces on one head. ABC News reported that the resident medical officer of the Saifi Hospital where Lali was born has thus far been unsuccessful in his attempts to convince the parents to allow CT scans or MRI to determine whether there are duplicated internal organs or invisible, life threatening deformities that might be corrected by surgery.
Most babies with this condition are stillborn or die shortly after birth, but Lali so far has shown no breathing or digestion difficulties, both mouths are being fed. She was born normally and left the hospital with her mother 8 hours after birth.
This condition is not technically a case of cojoined twinning, where a single embryo duplicates and does not completely separate. Rather, it is due to malfunctioning in the developing embryo of a single protein called Sonic hedgehog homolog [SHH]. SHH protein governs the width of the face and features, and governs proper development of the brain and spinal cord via a signaling cascade.
Feb 15 at 6:06pm by Aileen
Part 5: Items 41-50
This is the final installment of our 50 Weird Science tidbits, odd factoids and strange-but-true trivia. There are of course more weird things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. But these 50 should get you through at least one championship round down at the pub. By the way, the word “dreamt” is the only word in the English language that ends in “mt.” That’s a freebie!
41. Plants Have Family Values Too
Researchers from Canada found that plants can have complex social interactions despite being… um, vegetative. Plants will grow more aggressively near unrelated plants than when they grow near relatives from the same maternal family.
42. The World’s Most Dangerous Animal
The not-so humble mosquito wins this award hands down. Mosquitoes transmitting countless diseases kill more animals – including humans – than any other animal (or plant) on Earth.
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Feb 13 at 6:06pm by Aileen
Part 3: Items 21-30
Getting us past the halfway point in this series of things odd and quite possibly unknown, I’m going to go with some odd and interesting plant and animal facts, including an in-development “designer” breed of cat that just might steal my heart away from Maine Coons…
21. Did Tom Sawyer know these were under the raft?
These 7-foot, 220-pound Mississippi paddlefish are among the world’s biggest freshwater animals. Kin to sturgeon, they’re popular sources of meat and roe for caviar.
22. Designer Way to Help Endangered Tigers
Meet the Toyger! Breeding programs began in the 1980s to develop a breed of house cat that strongly resembles the mightiest of big cats. In 1993 Toygers were first registered with the International Cat Association [TICA], and now boasts grand champions. Must. Have. One…
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Feb 12 at 7:07pm by Aileen
Part 2: Items 11 – 20
In this second installment of weird science facts, I’ll repeat that none of the items in this series are in a particular order of weirdness. Readers are encouraged to offer their favorites in the comments, so that in the end some sort of weird-o-meter ranking applies!
Now let’s get on with the show…
11. If Only We Could Plug Into It!
A cloud to ground bolt of lightning carries between 100 million and 1 billion volts. It can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit – 3-4 times hotter than the surface of the sun!
12. Patching That Ever-Growing Hole
There are lightning strikes somewhere on earth 100 times a second. And every time lightning strikes, it generates Ozone gas. This strengthens the Ozone Layer in the upper atmosphere – you know, the one with the big hole that heightens our need for sunscreen.
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