Friday, May 6, 2011

Creature Feature: Hatchetfish.

If one looks around, it is possible to attach almost any noun to the word 'fish' and it will be a legitimate species. Swordfish? Sure. Cow, squirrel, dog, cat, rat, bird, butterfly? Those are all real fish species. Hell, one can put any weapon on a fish and it will be legitimate. We can even pick a random thing like a hatchet and make it a...

...wait, what is that? GET IT OFF THE SCREEN.

Those are marine hatchetfishes (Sternoptychidae). The hatchet form is not as visible from the front as it is in a side-view, but, aesthetically, the thorax forms the 'blade' and the tail forms the 'handle.'  None of that matters once one sees that uncannily-human face staring at them with dead, black eyes and a mournful expression. The side-view is only slightly less disturbing.

As with many creepy fishes, marine hatchetfish live where the sun just barely shines. Their large eyes are oriented upward to help them see prey drifting down from the from the surface. Like many deepsea animals, they have evolved bioluminescence along the bottom of their bodies as a form of countershading.

If you are getting freaked out, do not be. These creepy, fascinating fish are small.  They grow only a few centimeters in length. Many bigger fish eat them. Everything in the abyss is pretty freaky, but at least the hatchetfish does not have teeth so proportionately huge that they curve over its head. It is far from the weirdest thing Tiamat has cooked up.


Also, the freshwater version  is a lot cuter:


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" Yeast.

Yeast is probably familiar to most of you. It is responsible for making bread rise. It ferments barley into beer. There is nothing bad about yeast...but how many people know what, exactly, yeast is?

What? That's what yeast looks like beneath a microscope.

The grainy packet added to make bread rise is actually a fungus (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) waiting to feed on the delicious sugars in bread dough. Bread is mostly long chains of sugar, meaning that anything that can handle glucose can usually handle bread. Yeasts like the abundance of sugar in the dough and convert said sugar into CO2 and alcohol. Yes, there was once booze in your bread.  

S. cerevisiae is also responsible for making beer. Yeasts want the sugars in barley, hops, and grape juice, so of course they will multiply and ferment that sugar until it's all alcohol. Some breweries have their own, unique strains of yeast, just so that you know at least one thing is different from one bottle of wine to the next.

If beer and bread are not enough of a reason to like yeast, dried yeast (the same kind) is used in vegan cheese substitutes. It is high in protein and emulates the flavor pretty well. Go figure; a fungus tastes like rotten milk.

This looks like an acid-tripped slice of fruitcake.

Of course, there are many kinds of yeasts, and not all of them are helpful. Cryptococcus neoformans and any yeast from the genus Candida are all known to cause yeast infections. Many yeasts dwell in the moist environment created by mucus membranes, only becoming infectious if the immune system is compromised. Candida infections are the most common, and rarely fatal. Cryptococcus is one of the defining infections for AIDS. Even if they are only present in those with weakened immune systems, yeast can still be a threat.

It's just so tasty that we usually don't care.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Creature Feature: Cynognathus.

When most people think ancient, they think dinosaurs. There is a strange mystique about the Mesozoic - an era without all the cute fuzzy things we know and love today? If you're lucky, you will know that dinosaurs shared their lives with mammals and mammal-like reptiles. Not that anybody points synapsids out beyond Dimetrodon.

Permian and early Mesozoic mammals are cool. Hell, Fred Flintstone could have had something that looked a LOT more like a dog than Dino:


Ain't it cute?

That furry embodiment of the Uncanny Valley is a Cynognathus - literally "dog jaw." It was found in most parts of the Southern hemisphere, including China and Antarctica. Google Imaging reveals several possible catlike coat variations, but the jaw - you know, the thing science actually has to work with - resembles a canid more than a felid, leading to a lot of names involving dogs and wolves.

Cynognathus lived alongside smaller dinosaurs in the Triassic Period. It was a synapisid - a mammal-like reptile with some traits of reptiles, but the jaws and earbones of mammals. Its limbs are a particularly good demonstration of this strange blend: The forelimbs are spread like a lizard's, but the hindlimbs have the more vertical orientation of a mammal's. Who wouldn't want one as a pet?

Oh, Korea...this time, thanks.

Despite its cute look and interesting anatomy, few efforts have been made to get the Cynognathus out into the media. The only instance I know of is Ghost Hound - an anime series with a fair amount of prehistoric creatures that appear as 'ghosts.' Cynognathus was, unfortunately, outshone by a certain inugami (a creature that merits its own essay or two, as well as a cracked-out art piece). The idea that 'ghosts' of prehistoric animals remain has a ring of truth; many a monster could be explained if, somewhere out of the corners of our eyes, we caught a glimpse of our own evolutionary past. (Eva, interested in helping me with a cap for this one?)

My crack breeding project has come to life!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Creature Feature: Leopard Gecko.

Hey, speaking of bio-art, remember the ball pythons from way back when? There are other reptiles that are almost as pimped when it comes to paintjobs.

There are usually two beginner lizards one sees in pet shops: Bearded dragons and leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularis). Both are easy to take care of and come in a wide variety of colors. It is really up to the individual hobbyist which to get, but the wide variety of leo morphs makes them the more tempting option. Who wouldn't want a pure white lizard?

Blue-Eyes White - wait, no. 

Regular leopard geckos look like this:


I'm not sure whether to smile or be terrified at this one. 

Leopard geckos are native to Central Asia, ranging from Pakistan to India. They live in rocky, dry grasslands. They eat mostly insects, and, in captivity, may refuse dead prey. Like many desert animals, they can endure extreme temperatures. As with most reptiles, they enter a state of hibernation when temperatures get too cold.

Leo geckos are well-adapted for their harsh environment. Their tough skin prevents scrapes from the rocks and sand. Unlike most geckos, it has eyelids. By far the most valuable adaptation of the leo gecko is its tail, which is chubby with fat if the gecko is healthy.

Oh, and it can also detach and regrow said tail.

The leopard gecko is among the many lizards that can break off its tail if grabbed by a predator. It has special fracture points in its chubby tail that snap easily, leaving the predator with a wriggling blob of chubby lizard meat. They regrow the tail, but it is never quite the same.

It can look FREAKY.

Temperature is extremely important for leo gecko reproduction. If the eggs are kept at cool temperatures  (about 26–30 °C (79–86 °F)), more females will hatch from the clutch. Intermediate temperatures yield more males. This is called temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) and is fairly common among reptiles. It just sounds very strange to humans, who are born either male or female from the moment sperm meets egg.

TSD allows breeders to favor certain sexes among their clutches. This helps produce the wide variety of leo gecko morphs in captivity en masse, making them far cheaper than most ball python morphs. Albino? Of course. Purple? They have it. Weird eye color morphs? Check out the Eclipse below.

Katy Perry, try THIS in the next alien video.

Just about the only color these fun little lizards cannot come in is blue/green. As desert animals, they do not make the pigment naturally. That does not keep people from trying to breed for such a strange color, even if it fades out as the babies get older.

Wait a sec...wasn't there a Beanie Baby like that?


Sorry About the Hiatus.

The last few weeks have been craaaazy. Never let me take 5 classes again, guys. It drove me further off the deep end than I already was.

However, one of those classes was worth it. I did not know Bio-Art was a thing when I made the entry about a Museum of Living Art. Turns out that art intersecting with science is its own category of "Bio-Art." There is, to my knowledge, no museum just for that particular art form...which sucks. Some of it is really cool and not what one would expect at the mention of the word "Bio-Art."

Hunter Cole's "Human Dog Spine." She was the one teaching my whole course! Ain't it cool? :D

That said, this blog will be an extra hosting source for my Bio-Art pieces. Each piece will get its own entry, complete with a fully-detailed explanation (with links to previous entries if applicable). There will also be a few fictional entries made amazingly real utilizing real-life examples. The more complete this little encyclopedia of worldly magic becomes, the better. Yes, I will cover dragons; Animal Planet did (and I can pinpoint EXACTLY what is wrong with their logic, starting with dragons being sparklesnakes. There, I said it).


I will still try to do an awesome entry a day (starting today) in exactly 30 minutes. This means that they will be more concise, harder-hitting, sassier, and more awesome than ever! Some ghostwriters will be helping while I am in Rome, so don't worry about this blog for a month or so, 'kay?