Sunday, February 25, 2007

Arachnophobia be gone!

People who have known me for a long time (ie., my family) are probably aware that, for the majority of my life, I've been afraid of spiders. I'm happy to report that this is no longer the case; I'm now quite fond of the fascinating little bastards. As evidence of this mental frame shift, I offer the following picture I took of a spider that I found in my sink. I couldn't get a decent shot of it in the dim, metallic basin, so I picked it up by one of its legs and plopped it onto my arm which, I think, made for a better photo opportunity.

Vivo los invertebrados!

Happy Birthday to me!

Another birthday has come, and I'm only one short year away from a drastic reduction in my car insurance payments. Now that will be something to celebrate! For the moment, though, I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with taking a day off of work to make an extra visit to the Zoo.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

But can they work a barbeque?

I apologize for the lack of content lately (Wait, this blog has content? Since when?); work and classes have left me feeling tired and rather uninspired. While I rummage through my closet, trying to figure out where I stashed my muse, check out this juicy morsel (pun intended) from the primate news front:

In a revelation that destroys yet another cherished notion of human uniqueness, wild chimpanzees have been seen hunting bushbabies with spears. It is the first time an animal has been seen using a tool to hunt a vertebrate.

Many chimpanzees trim twigs to use for ant-dipping and termite-fishing. But a population of savannah chimps (Pan troglodytes verus) living in the Fongoli area of south-east Senegal have been seen making spears from strong sticks that they sharpen with their teeth. The average spear length is 63 centimetres (25 inches), says Jill Pruetz at Iowa State University in Ames, US, who observed the behaviour.

And the method of procuring food with these tools is not simply extractive, as it is when harvesting insects. It is far more aggressive. They use the spears to hunt one of the cutest primates in Africa: bushbabies (Galago senegalensis).

Bushbabies are nocturnal and curl up in hollows in trees during the day. If disturbed during their slumbers – if their nest cavity is broken open, for example – they rapidly scamper away. It appears that the chimps have learnt a grizzly method of slowing them down.

Chimps were observed thrusting their spears into hollow trunks and branches with enough force to injure anything inside the holes, Pruetz’s research team says. The chimps used a “power grip” and made multiple downward stabs – much the same way as a human might wield a dagger.

Ten different chimps in the population were observed to perform this behaviour in 22 bouts. In one case the researchers saw a chimp remove a dead bushbaby and eat it.

The Fongoli chimps inhabit a mosaic savannah – patches of grass and woodland – where there are no red colobus monkeys. The absence of these monkeys, which are the favoured prey of several other chimp populations, may explain the Fongoli chimps’ unique spear-hunting behaviour.

“Given the lack of opportunity, Fongoli chimps have come up with a way to get around the problem of how to get protein in their particular environment...using tools to hunt,” says Pruetz.

Oh, and that mention of bushbabies being one of the cutest primates in Africa is no joke:

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Zoo Videos!

Here are a couple of videos I took today while at the Wild Animal Park. YouTube drastically reduced the quality after I uploaded them, but they're still watchable. Enjoy!

March of the Elephants:

A Gorilla Game of Tag:

I'll put up some pictures later (ie., when I get around to it).

Friday, February 09, 2007

A public announcement

It's time to buff those shoes and put on your good slacks because Evolution Sunday is here (and no, it's not just for Unitarians!):
On 11 February 2007 hundreds of congregations from all portions of the country and a host of denominations will come together to discuss the compatibility of religion and science. For far too long, strident voices, in the name of Christianity, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science. More than 10,000 Christian clergy have already signed The Clergy Letter demonstrating that this is a false dichotomy. Now, on the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, many of these leaders will bring this message to their congregations through sermons and/or discussion groups. Together, participating religious leaders will be making the statement that religion and science are not adversaries. And, together, they will be elevating the quality of the national debate on this topic.
Alas, it appears that no churches in my area are participating. I guess I'll just have to hold my own service at the Church of the Eternal Springs.