Thursday, August 30, 2012

Creature Feature: African Green Pigeon.

For those of you curious: No, I do not have a Facebook account. I do, however, have a Twitter account. While I was checking said Twitter account earlier today, a link to the plight of this not-so-little bird found its way into my feeds:

Yep. It's time for another pigeon. This is an African green pigeon (Treron calvus), who once again proves that we take pigeons for granted.  It can be found throughout all of Africa, pretty much. That said, this bird has to be one of the least-filmed animals on the savannah.

Despite its seeming lack of press, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that this is a very pretty pigeon.  Its body may be all green, but, like many green parrots, it has splashes of color elsewhere. The eyes are also quite striking. Whoever thinks pigeons cannot possibly be beautiful cannot think of pigeons beyond the "feathered rats" that are slowly taking over the world.

So, how did the green pigeon get into my Tweets? In some parts of Africa, the green pigeons are in peril. Specifically, the forests in the Congo region are slowly being stripped of their multicolor pigeons. Considering almost everything else is under threat in that particular area, nobody should be surprised. The pigeons, however, are trapped alive, skewered through the stomach, and plucked to roast alive. We are not surprised that people are eating pigeons; that, however, sounds like the sadistic fantasy of a commuter after receiving a coat of whitewash from a certain city bird.

There are, however, plenty of other areas with green pigeons. TH pigeons are almost all that's left, and they're being harvested like it's nobody's business.  It's just awful that Congo has suffered so many ecological losses that the pigeon might be the straw that breaks the camel's back.  A lot of people would say that large mammals like, say, bonobos and elephants are far more important, but this is an ecosystem. Every little piece of the puzzle matters.

Or, y'know? If you like bonobos and green pigeons, donate here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"They Actually Eat That:" Cat.

But it isn't like this. No, this was a lucky photo I snapped with my phone. Styx conveniently decided a frying pan was a good place to try and take a nap. We did not intend to make her into kitty bacon, she just so happened to be in the pan for it.

That said, there are places that eat cats as food. No, it is not just restricted to China. It looks like quite a lot of people enjoy cat meat, even in "civilized" places. Unlike dog, this is a taboo food that a lot of people eat. Let's look at a list, shall we?

THIS is what cat meat looks like. Or, well, it's not nearly as cute as Styx in a frying pan.

For starters, yes, cat is a common food in the more rural parts of China. You will not find it by going into restaurants in Beijing or any other major city. Supposedly, cats are illegal to sell as food, but the laws are not as strict in the countryside. Guangdong is particularly notorious for a dish called "dragon tiger phoenix," which contains snake, cat, and rooster meat, respectively. The dish is, as with most Chinese food, medicine.If the name Guangdong sounds familiar for another reason, it's because a billionaire was poisoned by the cat meat there. Ceiling Cat was watching him twitch in agony.

Eating cat is also not limited to China. Cat was legal in Japan until the 19th century. We like to think that Hello Kitty helped make it even more disliked after that point. Korea still eats cat as they do dog. All three of the major "WTF food" Asian countries are slowly moving away from eating cat as more furballs find their way into homes, however, so expect it to be restricted to rural areas by the end of the decade.

The other big area famous for cat meat is, supposedly, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Now, we aren't saying that this place serves cat in five-star restaurants - far from it. Street meat is commonly accused of being cat meat. There have been busts on Brazilian slaughterhouses selling cat and dog meat. We have reason to believe that the name "cat meat skewers" has some basis in fact, here. Nobody likes the concept, even in Brazil, so please don't jump to conclusions. Just sayin', if your barbeque tastes a little off...

Australian aborigines also hunt feral cats. Now, let's be fair in this instance; the domestic cat wrecked the Australian ecosystem. Remember, the rule of thumb with Oz is, "If it has a placenta, it's not from around here." Cats are no exception to that rule. In the case of Australia, turning cats into food is pest control. After all, what happened with rabbits was terrifying.

Basically, if there is a rural area, there is a high chance that someone, somewhere has tried to turn cat into cuisine. Europe has it. South America has it. The internet doesn't say that hicks in North America eat cat, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Creature Feature: Alligator Gar.

Ever notice how people are oddly limited when it comes to terrifying fish? We have piranhas, sharks, and barracudas that have a track record of being merciless killers.By comparison, killer snakes get a million movies,

So, tell me: How come someone hasn't made a flick about this mean fish, yet?


For those of you who did not just run away screaming, that ugly mug belongs to an Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula). Alligator Gars are native to much of the United States, but can also be found in Asian aquaria, leading to horror stories after floods run through SE Asia. As a freshwater fish, however, there are oceans separating the two populations.

My first reaction upon looking up how terrifying the Alligator Gar could be: "MOSASAURS LIVE!" This thing is called an alligator gar for a reason. That snout and those teeth look like they belong on a crocodilian. Despite this, the alligator gar is actually a primitive fish, meaning that nature just really likes giving things pointy sharp teeth. As if we didn't know that already.

These fish are also huge. They get 8-10 feet long - over 2 meters for you metric people. That's a lotta fish, to quote the horrible Godzilla movie. This length, and the meat that comes with it, has led to restrictions on its fishing, but there are still a few restaurants with it if you know where to look.

Did we mention that  'gator gars' can last up to two hours above the surface of the water? How about their potential to seriously injure anyone who catches them by weight alone? Even their scales were sharp and hard enough to be used as arrowheads. The oldest of these fish just happens to be somewhere in the 50's-70's, so this terror will be around for quite a while.

Although usually illegal to keep as pets, it is possible to get a massive terror-gar for your pond. Yes, you need a pond to hold these guys. The "alligator gars" found in most pet stores will usually be a smaller species. Please do your research thoroughly; it may save you money and limbs.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bio-Art: Moyashimon.

Ever wonder what it would be like to see the whole microscopic world with the naked eye? If you said "TERRIFYING," you're totally right. Several animated programs have featured some sort of "germ vision," and once you have it, you realize everything has germs.  No exceptions!

Enter Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture. The protagonist of the series, Tadayasu Sawaki, has been blessed/cursed with the ability to see microbes since birth. He and one of his friends from the countryside get into an agricultural university in Tokyo, only to find that one of the professors there knows about Sawaki's ability. After running a few tests, his talent proves legit. Bacteria- and fungus-related hijinks ensue.

Of course, this is Japan. It would be no fun to see microbes that, if expanded, would look like hey just came off an alien spaceship. They instead proceeded to make the microbes as adorable as humanly possible. Seriously, just look at this OP. This has got to be the most KAWAIIDESU show of microbes ever!
Then there are the little "Microbe Theatre" bits at the end. These introduce you to one of the main microbes in the episode - literally, they say their names and everything. For example, the spot on yeast microbes shows all the great things yeast does- from miso soup paste to alcohol. They don't mention bread, but that's there, too.

Is Moyashimon good as a series? I'm not 100% sure after only seeing two episodes. What I will say is that, if you're curious about the wonderful world of microbiology and want to see what athlete's foot would look like if it went Hello Kitty, please give it a watch.  These guys do a pretty good job, and now you, too, can have adorable yeast on your cell phone.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Creature Feature: Apatosaurus.

So I have this theory about the Brontosaurus...

...yeah, it's really Apatosaurus. Allow me to explain.

Apatosaurus was a giant sauropod from the Jurassic Period.  It was over 23 meters (75 feet) long from head to tail. It was a titanic herbivore that, aside from being gargantuan, could use its tail as a whip - either as a weapon or to warn others of danger. Its forelimbs also had strange thumb spikes that may have been used to make nasty marks in predators. Most of them have been found in the Morrison Formation, located in the Southwestern United States.

For those of you with no background in scientific nomenclature, Apatosaurus is a generic name. There are actually several species of Apatosaurus. Since we can't use the typical breeding litmus test to determine species, placing extinct things in the right genera can get tricky.  We have to go by things like size, bone count, and dentition. Given how a skeleton can change over time, this causes some major classification issues.

Old, OLD Apatosaurus assemblage.

Putting dinosaur skeletons together is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You have a bunch of pieces before you and they all have to fit together to make one final image. You don't know what it'll look like in the end, but it'll be something.

Now, imagine that you don't have just one jigsaw puzzle on the table. No, instead there are several jigsaw puzzles that have all been mixed together. If you're lucky, some of the pieces have remained stuck together from the last person who assembled them. With no picture to guide you, it is your duty to put the pieces together into something plausible. Kinda makes you feel sorry for paleontologists,  doesn't it?

Brontosaurus excelsius was first classed as Apatosaurus excelsius in 1903. Since then, paleontologists have dismissed Brontosaurus entirely. If Dinosaurs Alive! was correct, the first Brontosaurus specimen was a chimera with Camarasaurus as well. Talk about a mistaken identity.

Now that we actually have the dinosaur named properly, Apatosaurus has become rather popular in film and video games. Littlefoot from the Land Before Time was an Apatosaurus. The first image I posted was from Primeval, whose Wikia makes note of the confusion with Brontosaurus. Basically, if it doesn't have the lumpy head of a Brachiosaurus, the creators probably had Apatosaurus in mind.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Belated Bio-Art: Dinosaurs Alive!


The trip to Ohio completely exhausted me. I got my first roller coaster headache; the nephews, put together, were a real hassle; the drives there and back were long and tiring. I was tired for DAYS on end.

Y'know what made it worth it? DINOSAURS.  Kings Island had a whole sub-park full of them! Here, have some! (Warning: Pic-heavy.)

 This fellow was right inside the gate to Kings Island. It's either a Dilophosaurus or a Monoloph - either way, cool!

Carnotaurus- my favorite giant theropod. Look at the horns, not the useless arms.

 Ah, Stegosaurus - one of the few dinosaurs in Jurassic Park that was actually from the Jurassic.

Anhinguera, one of the freakier pterosaurs out there. They had another, smaller one suspended later on the park.

I have a theory about the Brontosaurus. Unfortunately, these are proper Apato's, so it doesn't really count.

Finally, the exhibit ended with a T-rex VS Triceratops showdown. OK, technically not - the sign rightfully pointed out that adult preds usually don't go after healthy adult herbivores. After seeing "Rex VS Triceratops" on the map, it still felt a little bit like a cheat.

Now, should you make a trip to Ohio just to see a park full of robot dinosaurs? I'm going to be honest and say that this one's entirely your call. Is it cool to see that many robot dinosaurs in one place? Sure. Have I seen better? Yes (the Kokoro ones at the Sue exhibit were awesome). If you're going to Kings Island anyways, by all means shell out the extra 5 bucks to see Dinosaurs Alive!. I'm just not 100% sure if it's worth going far out of your way to see. Peace, and more pics tomorrow!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fun Video at the Shedd + Delay Notice.

This was awesome when I saw it. My favorite group of snake people took a trip to one of my favorite places in Chicago! Seriously, majorly cool that the Shedd got pimped. I love that place -not as much as the Field Museum, but still. Brian, you get to go such cool place. No matter how much work snake breeding is, things like behind-the-scenes trips to the Shedd must make it worthwhile.

You're probably wondering why a snake person wanted to go see a place more known for fish and dolphins than for reptiles. To be perfectly fair, snakes and fish tend to be lumped together in the "exotic" moshpit. They're both "tank pets" of sorts. Some, like the anaconda, spend a lot of time in the water. Even if herps aren't necessarily water-bound, it makes sense to find some at an aquarium.

By the way, the "invasive species" issue they touched upon really is awful. The Great Lakes have, so far, been invaded by a multitude of species, including Asian carp and zebra mussels. The invasion just so happens to be going down in the world's largest reservoir of fresh water. Have fun thinking about what that might mean for the supply of drinkable water.

Also, a different piece of news: I will be on a little bit of a vacation with my brother's side of the family from Sunday to Wednesday. During this time, entries may happen later than usual or not at all. At least one will probably happen during the trip.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Creature Feature: Opossum.

Well, this is unusual. I actually have the motivation to write an entry on a Thursday night. Unfortunately, I just so happened to encounter two of today's animal as barely-recognizable pieces of roadkill. It's a shame; opossums are really quite interesting creatures that many readers can find in their own backyards.

Opossums are the only North American marsupials. They are omnivores and scavengers (that explains the roadkill!), so they are pretty well-adapted to human presence. They've been around since the Cretaceous; chalk 'em up as another mammal likely to survive in a man-made wasteland. If you live in North or South America, there's a good chance you can find an opossum near you. There is even one so cool that it'll get its own entry later, so we're going to focus on the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) for now.

Opossums look like giant rats at first glance. Despite all similarities, however, opossums are not even remotely related to rats. No, these things have some of the most diverse teeth of any mammals, and they will very kindly show you that they are not rats as soon as you piss them off. Those teeth say a lot.

THIS is car trouble!

There are a number of interesting things about opossum reproduction. They have a split penis and a split vagina- the latter of which led to the family name "Didelphidae." There is a placenta inside of a female opossum, but it is largely non-functional. They have a lot of young; not many of them survive. Since these are marsupials we're talking about, some of them don't even survive to make it to mom's pouch. The surviving babies learn to hitch a ride on on mommy possum's back. Kinda cute!

Opossums are known for an extremely authentic method of playing dead ("playing 'possum"). When a predator approaches, the opossum goes completely limp. As if the lack of movement, even when handled, was not enough to deter most predators, the opossum also starts foaming at the mouth, closes its eyes, and emits a nasty smell from special glands near its rear. Just about the only way to know whether a possum is really dead or not is to see its blood.

On a strange note, the name "opossum" does not come from Latin at all; the similarity to the verb "possum" is purely coincidental. Instead, it comes from a Native American word meaning "white beast." Considering how strange such a common creature is, there is really no better name. What would you call it?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"They Actually Eat That:" Nutria.

A while back, this blog did an entry on a giant water rat called a "nutria." For those of you who missed that entry, here it is in a nutshell: Nutria are giant water rats native to South America that were introduced to the United States for the sake of the fur trade.They have since become invasive in the Southern United States, particularly the swampy areas such as the bayous of Louisiana. For the record, they also happen to be the basis of the Pokemon Raticate.

Hi. Remember me? :B

That said, Louisiana is proposing an innovative method for getting rid of the nutria: Turn them into cuisine., along with having great info on these giant rodents, also has a handy recipe page should you encounter one in its unnatural habitat.

There is a whole group of recipes devoted to turning giant rodents into food. For those of you wondering before you click, they include rodent rump roasts, nutria chili, Surprise, surprise, nutria gumbo is a thing. They even have a page of nutria meat processing for your convenience. These are all sponsored by the Lousiana Department of Wildlife and Fishieries, so you know they're good.

Unfortunately, nutria supposedly taste terrible. That's a real shame, seeing as rodents are whole foods for a lot of the natural world. They're probably loaded with protein, and the meat's gotta go somewhere in the end. Hey, if it's good enough for an anaconda, what have you got to lose?

I am also quite sure that there are a million other ways to market nutria meat. "Mystery meat" comes in a lot of forms, usually with horror stories attached. Nobody wants to know what's in hot dogs anyways. Pet food is always an option - giant rats must be a mega-meal for cats. Humans are the ultimate omnivore. Wrap it in a sausage skin and someone will eat it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Creature Feature: Argentine Ants.

No matter how advanced humans get or how much we spawn, insects will always outdo us. They spawn faster, evolve faster, and several species are remarkably social. Hell, now, they've even caught up in the invasive species department. We thought we had that market cornered.

First, a reminder: Ants are already secretly terrifying, and not just when they happen to be on your food. They are the only animals aside from humans (and maybe chimps) that wage war. They also have livestock in the form of aphids and agriculture in the form of fungi. These little insects are so much like us that it's uncanny. They're almost idealized as hard workers that are so driven to work that they are all but born into a caste. This is eusocial? Creepy.

The Argentine ant takes the creepiness up another few levels. It is a dark ant native to Brazil, Ecuador, and, of course, Argentina. Now, they can be found on every continent except Antarctica (y'know, the only continent with "ant" in its name). They probably spread via human transport, but "alien conspiracy" would not surprise us, either. They're ants, so they'll eat whatever's around.

If you thought Japanese beetles were bad, they have nothing on the invasive power of Argentine ants.  These ants have spread to every area willing to accommodate them. All it takes is ten workers and a single queen to churn out a whole colony. Since these are ants we're talking about, they are also perfectly capable of displacing current ant species, making the Argentine officially the One Ant to Rule Them All. People worry about culture becoming homogenized; these ants are already most of the way there.

You know what's even creepier? Every single Argentine ant colony outside of Argentina is genetically related. Scientists have taken ants from Europe and mixed them with Asian and North American colonies with no ill results. Go ahead, try this with humans (even triplets who had to separate for some reason). The result will not be this clean.

Also, if you happen to have a problem with these ants...too bad. Pesticides make the queen lay more eggs. There also tend to be many queens. Congratulations, Argentine ants: you have officially taken over the world. Way to beat Pinkie and the Brain to the punch.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bio-Art: Neozoic Era.

The media like to spit out exactly two versions of the future to us: one, a complete, mechanized, filthy dystopia; two, a less-dystopian world that looks like it was made by Apple by virtuee of how clean and perfect everything is. Both of these visions are usually highly mechanized, leaving out a third type of vision: the evolution of other species.

 Enter "Neozoic Era," a painting of a different future the media do not want us to see. It takes place in the not-too-distant future. Humans are still around, but oh how the rest of the world has changed. "Neozoic Era" was drawn by Alexis Rockman for Future Evolution, a book written by Professor Peter Ward at the University of Washington. He certainly has some interesting theories about what might happen to other species if things progress at their current rate.

According to Ward, all large mammals aside from humans will be dead. Lions, tigers, and bears, all gone. They aren't versatile and adapt comparatively poorly to human interference. Habitat loss, competition for food, and, of course, hunting will spell the doom of many, if not all, large animals around today. They are all risking an "aurochs" situation. Normally, I'd be in favor of this, but when habitat destruction is factored in, it gets really hard to reintroduce animals back into the wild. Lions and tigers would be pricey pets if they were still around at all.

Ward theorizes that pets would still be around, but reduced to the point where they would be completely dependent on human survival. I want to say it would be like the prospect of mini-dinos in Jurassic Park - we would have very heavily-engineered pets with special nutritional requirements. The future would be filled with things as far removed from their wild counterparts as Chihuahuas are from wolves, if not farther. If we had tigers, they would be kitten tame.

This. All tigers. Plus, viral interwebs image is viral.

The animals that survive outside of human care will have to be amazingly adaptable.Three very recognizable animal groups meet that requirement: rodents, snakes, and cockroaches. I would personally add rabbits, pigeons, and raccoons to the list. If a dog is so dependent on humans that it literally cannot live outside of humanity, it's bound to get a mean shock to its system when it meets its first super-rabid raccoon.

That's another thing we have to worry about: Superbugs. The cleaner we get, the nastier germs get. They evolve faster than we do. If you need an idea of how crazy these bugs can get and how adaptable they are, there's apparently a microbe in pool water that feeds almost exclusively on human contact lenses. We already have antibiotic-resistant staph. We have no reason to expect that bacteria and other microbes will go away any time soon.

Movies like to present us with either a future so filthy that live cannot go on or a future so clean that man is cut off from the rest of nature. Neither of these visions are realistic. We can picture the majority of species we know going extinct, sure, but new ones would take their place. Life will find a way.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Creature Feature: Coconut Crab.

...Wait, what? What is that? I don't know what it is, but it defies my "what is this I don't even -" mode. That has to be the biggest crab I've ever seen...and it's on land.

The above image circulated in a chain e-mail released in 2007. It features a coconut crab, AKA  robber crab, palm thief, or Birgus latro ("robber" in the species name).  Since then, other images and messages concerning this giant crab have circulated as well...and most of it is absolutely true. The coconut crab is not a bonsai kitten; absolutely nothing was Photoshopped; it's all 100% real.

OK, so coconut crabs are not the biggest crabs around. I lied a little. The proper title of "biggest crab" goes to the spider crab, a creature dwelling in darkness with long, spindly legs.They will get their own entry. For now, the coconut crab stands as the largest land invertebrate in the modern era; it sports a 3-foot leg span, can get up to 16 inches from head to abdomen, and weighs up to nine pounds. Unless Mothra shows up, the coconut crab will be king for a looooong time.

And then Ganimes showed up.

Guess what? These terrors are related to the cute little hermit crabs we covered yesterday. Like hermit crabs, young coconut crabs spend some of their lives in snail shells. They never go back to the ocean except to lay eggs, and will drown if placed in water. Much the same can be said of land hermit crabs, although hermit crabs still need humidity to be happy.You will never see hermit crabs the same way again after looking at a coconut crab.

Luckily for us, these monster crabs are primarily herbivores. True to their name, they are fond of coconuts, which they climb trees for and can crack open with those claws.  Other fruits and nuts are on the menu as well. The distribution of coconut crabs is tied exactly with coconut trees. Hell, they even have a remarkably well-developed sense of smell for a crab - enough that it's an eerily close parallel with that of insects. They'll eat meat (small animals and carcasses) on occasion, but for the most part, they will stick to fruit and nuts.

Coconut crabs are indeed edible, by the way. They are considered a delicacy on their island homes. Who cares if it's big and terrifying? That's a lot of crab meat.  The locals consider it a delicacy and an aphrodisiac, however, so the crab meat might be a little hard to come by.

Y'know what, though? It doesn't matter that these crabs are delicious. They've been here longer than humans and will be around long after we are gone. I actually saw one artist who validly pointed out that snakes and rodents will be around long after the human race is dead; cockroaches are survival experts. Now we can add giant, killer crabs to the list.  Basically, if you happen to be warm-blooded, global climate change will screw you over. We're doomed, and the whole rest of the animal kingdom is laughing at us. The creep shall inherit the Earth.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Creature Feature: Hermit Crabs.

So I'm now back in a little area of Illinois I like to call "Suburban Hell." There are whole strip malls that have died just by being in this suburb. Most tragically, the local magic shop, and several other stores in its little strip, have decided to close shop. Even other suburbanites say my suburb sucks.

That said, here's a critter known for moving: the classic hermit crab.

The name "hermit crab" is a little bit misleading; they are more closely related to squat lobsters and porcelain crabs than 'standard' crabs. They are usually native to tropical regions or completely marine. There are several kinds of hermit crabs (over 1100 species), but they all have one thing in common: As they grow, they need to move into another animal's shell or shelter. 

Unlike most crustaceans, hermit crabs have squishy abdomens.  They are designed such that, as they grow older, they can fit into another animal's shell. When a nearby snail dies, hermit crabs line up to see who can fit in the shell. When that owner gets too big for it, the cycle starts again, and smaller crabs line up to take the abandoned shell. I would hate to see the real estate prices on those shells.

Quick, find it an apartment!

Not all hermit crabs live in shells. Some of them inhabit burrows of sea worms.Others prefer coral, sponges, and bivalves to snails. They've been around since the Cretaceous- of course they've evolved to do better than single snail shells.  A few of them deliberately put sea anemones on their shells as a form of home security. Despite the names, hermit crabs can and should live in communities, making housing slightly easier to come by.

Most of you have probably seen land hermit crabs in pet stores. These are terrestrial hermit crabs of the genus Coenobita; I usually see some Ecuadoran hermit crabs around. As hermit crabs grow in popularity, more and more species of this genus are appearing for sale. They used to be thought of as a "throwaway" pet, but can live a surprisingly long time if their rather strict environment is maintained. Now that people are catching on, books and other items for hermit crab care are becoming readily available. They even make little painted shells for your hermit crab to move into.

For those of us who don't have the space or time to manage hermit crabs (they aren't that bad, really), Pokemon has four hermit crabs total. The Slowpoke family is  based off of hermit crabs, with Slowbro outright called "hermit crab" as its title. The other hermit crab family, Dwebble and Crustle, is newer. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

News Flash: A Real Jurassic Park?!

I would have posted this earlier had it not been fungus week. An Australian billionaire has decided to turn science fiction into science fact by making a real-life Jurassic Park. I wish I was kidding, but he's also apparently trying to build a working replica of the Titanic. You know, because the original worked so well and had no architectural flaws whatsoever. Here's the story on this nutter's latest plot:

"It could be the most incredible case of real life imitating Hollywood.
A controversial Australian billionaire is believed to be drawing up secret plans for a real life Jurassic Park.

Mining magnate Clive Palmer, who has already embarked on a project to rebuild the Titanic, is rumoured to be announced the plans at a Brisbane press conference tomorrow. 

Online reports claim the billionaire is already working with the team who created Dolly the sheep for the incredible plan.
It would be based at Palmer's recently purchased super resort in Coolum.

Mr Palmer has refused to comment on the plans, and is believed to be saving his big reveal for Friday's press conference.

However, the Sunshine Coast Daily claimed it had received a tipoff from the same source who provided the it details of towering hotels and a giant ferris wheel, similar to the London Eye, at the resort.

A spokesman confirmed Mr Palmer would hold a press conference in Brisbane on Friday.

He has already revealed plans to bring one Hollywood blockbuster to life, and announced earlier this year he would build a replica of the ill-fated cruise ship Titanic."

Read more:

Did this guy honestly learn nothing from the books? Or movies? Part of the point of Jurassic Park was that there was such a thing as going too far with science. The dino-park was an example of science gone wrong.  This is not a good idea.

Fun for the whole family!
On the plus side: If you do decide to make this, and it does work, would a pet Dimorphodon be too much to ask?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"They Actually Eat That:" Chocolate Mushrooms.

If you dip anything in chocolate, it instantly sounds more palatable. I've seen chocolate pasta, chocolate bacon, and now, chocolate mushrooms. No, I do not mean those cute little "Chocorooms" cookies; I mean honest-to-goodness mushrooms coated in chocolate.

Unfortunately, I can't find the ones I actually ate at GreenFest one year. They were super expensive, but definitely worth trying. They were made by CordyChi, a brand that uses mushrooms (specifically a Cordyceps-Reishi blend) for all sorts of things. Go figure, the 'shrooms in question were Cordyceps- the parasitic mushroom from China that's becoming more and more popular for helping with respiratory issues, among other things.Alas, the chocolate-covered mushroom caps seem to have vanished off of the face of the planet.

From the official site.

Instead, something new has surfaced. Several sites have started making their own mushroom chocolate. Rather than simply covering mushrooms in chocolate, these Cordyceps are mixed into the chocolate. Better still, sometimes it's raw, vegan chocolate. I'd give it a shot if it's anything like the chocolate Cordyceps caps I had. Hell, even if they were just a product of my imagination, this odd  chocolate has my curiosity piqued.

What? You want an explanation for why dried mushrooms are being made into chocolate? Pff. Everything gets put into chocolate at some point. It's just the mushrooms' turn. This is still not as weird as chocolate-covered ants, which probably started as an unfortunate accident in the kitchen. Bacon chocolate is weirder still; at least mushrooms and ants have some nutritional value to compensate for the sinfulness of chocolate.

Chocolate is probably the Murphy's Law of food: Anything that can be put into chocolate will be put into chocolate. The issue, then, is whether it actually tastes good or not. Surprisingly, mushrooms work. Maybe ants and bacon aren't so far out, after all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fungus Among Us: Skirted Stinkhorn.

Since the power outage unfortunately cut our fungus week short, here's what I would have done if the power hadn't gone out. Yes, I know, we already did a stinkhorn, but this stinkhorn is a little more eerie.

More here.

Perhaps this would have been a little more appropriate for Halloween, but the skirted stinkhorn (Phallus indusiatus) is the quintessential "weird mushroom." It's identifiable as a mushroom, but looks like it was laced with cobwebs or the skirt of a ghost. Every tropical region in the world has this thing. It's that one mushroom that people photograph and demand to know what it is. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

P. indusiatus has a very distinctive 'skirt' of lacy indusium- the stuff beneath the cap on this mushroom. As in the basket stinkhorn, this mushroom uses its scent and presumably holes to help spread its spores around. Again, the spores are stored in a sticky fluid called gleba as opposed to being airborne. Is it just me, or do all stinkhorns sound like something out of alien movies?

Unlike the other stinkhorn we covered, yes, this baby is edible. It was a rarity in Qing dynasty cuisine for a long time. The notorious Empress Dowager Cixi had a particular fondness for skirted stinkhorn, and Henry Kissinger got a taste of it as well. It has been successfully cultivated in China since 1979. It is now sold commonly in Asian markets, so if you're curious, take a look there.

Along with actually being edible, P. indusiatus has a few compounds in it that may prove useful. One, hydrxylmethylfurfural, could prevent browning in commercial food. Extracts are antioxidants and antibiotics. There is almost nothing bad about this mushroom...except that it might be an alien spore. Quick, run!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bio-Art: Asymmetrical Butterflies.

Well, that was a stressful weekend. So let's ease our minds with a look at some nice, pretty butterflies...

...Wait a minute! This butterfly is not perfectly symmetrical! What's going on, here?

In 1999-2000, Portuguese artist Marta de Menezes began working with butterflies of the genera Heliconius and Bicyclus. After presumably mastering their breeding habits, she began manipulating the wing patterns of one wing only while they were still metamorphosing. The pieces were collectively called Nature? They now reside in the artist's home.

Her motivation?  To create a butterfly just as natural as it was man-made. Think about it: One wing was the only thing altered on these butterflies. The same cannot be said of, say, the GFP Bunny. The butterfly's unique metamorphose allowed it to be manipulated differently from every other animal. Neat, huh?

Each butterfly is also 100% unique. Since these patterns are made during the butterfly's life, it was certainly not inherited.  Every butterfly lovingly has its very own pattern on its wing. No two are exactly alike. We could totally market this, but we aren't allowed to do that.

Thing is, these wing patterns aren't permanent. Menezes did not breed the butterflies to be asymmetrical. She went in there in the chrysalis stage and made little designs with a hot wire. The traits thus applied will not be passed on to the offspring. Unlike most genetic art, this piece is impermanent. It's about as permanent as a tattoo, in other words.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fungus Among Us: Honey Fungus.

(Stupid thing didn't publish. I don't know why, but it didn't at first.) 

Welp, the power came on right after we went out to get a generator. Fancy that.  Looks like I get to continue with Fungus Among Us, which could be good for some of you and downright terrifying for others. Without further ado, let us look at today's terrifying...jaw-dropping...

Aww, aren't they cute? I mean, cute for mushrooms. They're called "honey mushrooms" due to the color, and Armillaria solidipes  otherwise. They are found throughout the northern hemisphere, particularly in the Pacific northwest. They loooove feeding on pine trees and have their own blight.

Let's be honest, here: These are not impressive-looking mushrooms. They're cute and yellow. Yes, they feed on wood like many a fungus.  On the plus side, they're safe for work.

Thing is, remember: Those mushrooms are only the fruiting bodies. It's impossible to judge the size of the whole fungus by the size of what are effectively its genitalia. While we humans tend to judge 'size' based on junk, this is an extremely poor way to gauge the size of an organism that has most of its body underground. Big mushrooms do not make a big fungal organism. In fact...

Somewhere in this forest is a HUGE mushoom.

...those tiny little mushrooms? They belong to the single largest, and possibly longest-lived, organism in the world. Forget the blue whale; if a mass of these things in Malheur National Forest,  Oregon are indeed one organism, it spans 2,000+ acres. We aren't even going to try and weigh that. Again, if it is indeed one organism, it is also 2,400 years old, making even tuataras and Galapagos tortoises whippersnappers by comparison. It only got that huge because there was very little competition for land and resources.

Do not, however, try this at home. Outside of being crazy and massive, these mushrooms are dangerous to trees -  Douglas firs in particular. They can remain on a tree for up to 50 years and are very, very hard to remove entirely. Please to not be trying to make a Guinness Record out of this.

POWER OUTAGE: Expect Delays.

So I was about to do another freaky mushroom for you guys when the power ran out. This is unfortunately nothing unusual for my particular sh*thole of a suburb. Usually, the blackouts only last a little bit; there were a few flickers of electricity before the power died completely. 

I waited for the power to come back on. It didn't. 

It turns out over 300 people in our suburb alone do not have any form of power. This is not counting Posen, where one of my friends lives, which was totally black when we went to her house at 1 A.M. Massive blackout is massive. We won't have power until 4. P.M. (16:00) on Tuesday. That's two more full days without power, guys. 

I'm debating whether this is the worst blackout I've ever faced or not; there was one in the chilly dead of winter that was so bad I kept my reptiles and birds warm with my own body. It's definitely in the top ten, though, especially since I happened to be in one of the strips under blackout. There are some parts of town that do have power; mine just so happened to not be among them. 

The only reason I can even write this is thanks to Starbucks. Next time you're around one, please to be buying something from them in thanks. I may still get a few blog entries done, but expect delays. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Fungus Among Us: Athlete's Foot.

Today's entry has to be one of the least glamorous ever. Really, we've done the majestic bald eagle, cool big cats, and giant blue iguanas...but athlete's foot? This has to be a new low for the blog. That's coming from the woman who finds tapeworms kinda cute.

Actually, I find athlete's foot fascinating in the same way I find pigeons fascinating. Athlete's foot is one of those mundane things that we take for granted. I'm sure people still consider fungi gross, but isn't it at least somewhat impressive that one has evolved seemingly specifically to invade our bathing spaces?

Yes, athlete's foot is caused by a fungus. Also called tinea pedis, it's usually the work of Trichtophyton rubrum or T. mentagrophytes. It thrives in dark, moist areas and is spread in places where people go barefoot, such as gym lockers and For whatever reason, it prefers the crevice between toes 4 and 5 on most individuals. Who knew a fungus could be so picky?

Athlete's foot manifests itself as a rapid peeling of the skin on the bottom of one's foot. It's more of an annoyance than truly painful unless you obsessively peel away the skin. Most of the time, you know athlete's foot when you see it. It itches like crazy, but has a million easily-accessible cures to prevent you from clawing your feet red. If you haven't encountered it yet, you have never been in a gym.

Do NOT pick on athlete's foot. I know it's tempting.

Usually, athlete's foot is nothing to worry about. There are plenty of over-the-counter remedies and  If left untreated, however, it can lead to the exposure of raw skin and bleeding. Such cuts open the way for more severe bacterial infections. Athlete's foot can also spread to the crotch, by the way, but "athlete's groin" is so unceremonious that we have to call it "tinea cruris."

Never badmouth a fungus that can attack your crotch. You never know when it might be listening. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fungus Among Us/"They Actually Eat That:" Mycoprotein.

Lately, there are just so many reasons to go vegan: cows contribute to global warming; meat is expensive; oh gods, factory farms are horrific.  There are so many reasons to not eat meat that it makes one wonder what else there is. Well, this is a fungus week; you can probably guess that mushrooms are on the list.

Fungi have been used as meat subs since vegetarianism was a thing. Even outside of being marketed as a meat substitute, large mushrooms are sometimes used as a "meat" in sandwiches due to their texture. Mycoprotein, however, is even more blatanly a meat sub.  It is marketed as Quorn in the U.S. and Europe because, y'know, long Greek names just don't sell. 

Mycoprotein comes from the filamentous fungus Fusarium venenatum. It was first discovered in Buckinghamshire, Britain in 1967. The high-protein fungus was officially approved for human consumption in 1985. Since then, it has been in our grocery stores - not only as a meat sub, but also as a sub for fat in dairy and or actual grain in cereal. Yep, even the meat subs are using 'shrooms.

Wrong species, same basic idea, here.

Mycoprotein was originally developed to combat food shortages that would arise from a booming population. F. venenatum's fibers are roughly the same length and width as animal protein, however, and thus is a feasible meat substitute. Now it joins tofu and various nuts as being a "meat"  for people who don't like the idea of hurting animals.

Before you ask: Yes, some people do have allergies to mycoprotein. Fusarium species have been found to contaminate food to the point where it was touted as an herbicide in the past.  If you're sensitive to mold, be wary. For the record, I'm allergic to penicillin, and I've had no problems aside from it kinda tasting funny. If this is what we'll be stuck eating at the end of the world, you'll probably be able to handle it.