Something Fascinating, Sustainable, and Slightly Disturbing

One of the biggest challenges, and now trends, of sustainability is figuring out how to do something differently or with different materials. Rather than relying on one fuel source, we are exploring our way through all kinds of new possible sources of energy. Reclaimed wood is more popular than ever, and almost all grocery stores have re-useable bags available. Big cleaning and cosmetic companies are coming out with "green" and "all-natural" products. Now we have a quick easy way to feel better about our personal role in climate change and waste and all have to do is shell out a couple extra bucks to buy Simple Green instead of Clorox and carry it home in our re-useable bag.

My point is that climate change and being "green" has become something of a trend.This idea, that people are just slapping the word green on products without actual regard to their effectiveness or sustainability, is referred to as "greenwashing". For example, below is a picture of some edible shoe polish.

In some ways, I believe this is a good thing and regardless of the motivation, more people using energy efficient light bulbs and recycling can't be bad. However, I think we have to be careful that we aren't using a quick fix and just buying products that say "green" or "organic" on them because it dissuades our guilt or emboldens or personal smugness. I myself am often guilty of this and have the same attraction to "green" products as others, without honestly really knowing what they are defining as "green" and whether or not it actually is a better product. I think we have to be careful about how we view this issue and our lack of objectivity when it comes to this issue.

(this is a wind powered knitting machine)

(this is a mouse-trap light switch, to punish you for using electricity)

All of this brings me to something that I find very cool and something that raises a lot of possible arguments, issues, and innovations. In an ever growing population and world, developing cheap alternative building materials is incredibly important. For most of human history we just traipsed through forests with axes and chainsaws, chopping down trees and building up our houses and furniture with them. Now, people are finding incredible new ways to build things. The other day I read about a modern architecture, beautiful home, that was hand built by clay and straw. This new building material is strong, waterproof, a good alternative building material for undeveloped countries. Its only drawback is that is sort of creepy.
I am talking about bricks made from animal blood. In 2012 Jack Munro graduated as an architect at the University of Westminster in London. For his final term at school he tested and explored the possibilities of what he sees as one of the most wasted resources in underdeveloped countries. For those of you who are unfamiliar with small scale animal slaughter (don't worry, I am not particularly familiar with it either) the large majority of it involves slitting the animals throat and hanging it to drain the blood from its body. While some cultures do utilize the blood of the animal in various food products, a lot of it is just drained out on to the ground and isn't typically used for any greater purpose.
A single cow produces about eight gallons of blood, which is quite a lot. Munro used blood collected from four different cows originally, experimenting with sanitizing it (through the use of antibacterial agents),mixing it with sand, pouring it into a form, and baking it. After about only an hour of baking, the blood coagulates and becomes a sort of solid glue. While the bricks aren't incredibly strong (determined through compression tests) they are waterproof and pretty easy and cheap to produce.

There are a couple of really interesting facets to this that I want to discuss real quick. One of my favorite ideas out there is snout to tail eating, which is basically the idea of using and eating every single part of an animal you can. We take our food and where it comes from for granted, particularly meat. A lot of people don't think beyond the pre-butchered, pre-breaded, packaged chicken nuggets we buy at the grocery store. We should though. I am a firm and happy carnivore but we should all appreciate and be aware of what our food went through to get on our plate.
OK, sorry for the side rant. My point there is that finding another use for animal blood, is great, because why let something go to waste when we don't have to.
The other point I want to bring up is that, while a lot of discussion of alternative building materials is on a very large, manufacturing kind of scale, this is different. Munro describes how we sees this being most useful in arid and desert climates where slaughterhouses,cattle shed, and brick manufacturing facilities and can work together to produce these waterproof bricks. On small scale, or large scale, this is an example of how industries can work interdependently.

Slaughterhouses, as awful as most of them are, aren't going anywhere anytime soon, so if the rivers of blood they produce can be used for something; why not?
Is there a possible concern that it could add fuel or power to the beef industry by giving them a new revenue stream? because that would be a valid concern.
Another big concern, possibly the biggest issue people have with it, is the gross factor. People think blood is gross. Beyond the religious and spiritual conflicts, people don't really want to have blood walls. Honestly, can you blame them?
Yes, yes I can blame them. I think we really need to start looking past the things that gross out and make us uncomfortable and start paying more attention to what is practical. What makes sense. The fact is if we all ate and farmed insects, there would be almost no world hunger, but people don't want to eat insects. People don't want to have to eat insects to help make things better. I could go on about insects as food and I will, in a different post at another time. My point is that we can't let our stupid instincts of being grossed out or uncomfortable to get in the way of things that could be good. In fact, I think that being uncomfortable is usually a good thing because it makes you think and question and that is always good. Do I think that bricks made of animal blood are the way of the future? no, absolutely not, but I think there are places and ways of implementation where it could be really good and maybe it could teach us a thing or two.

Wise Mister Owl

I have always loved the world of living things. In my youth, my face was oft plastered to things such as insect text books and fish films. All creatures from centipedes and snakes to beavers and salmon, have struck my fancy at one time or another. Well, all except birds. For no identifiable reason, I am just not that interested in birds, with their beady little soulless eyes and weird neck movement capabilities. Objectively, I find the high intelligence and eccentric mating behaviors of many birds, very interesting. Personally though I find birds off-putting and a little creepy, with a few exceptions.

The exceptions to my bird aversion are flightless marvels like the emu, the voluminous vocabulary of African grey parrots, and above all the wise and winged wonders that are owls. I have loved Winnie-the-Pooh for my entire life and because of this influence I have always found owls wise and trustworthy and I wish I could ask them for advice. (If you don't care about owl facts feel free to just scroll through all the pretty pictures and go straight to the awesome owl video)
They are elegant and graceful but at the same time, they are swift and dangerous predators. They have found themselves as symbolic figures in many cultures, as bringers of death and darkness, protectors and guardians, or the re-incarnated souls of those who died.

So I am going to share with you some fantastic owl facts, some of my favorite owl species, and an extremely, perfectly cute video of a baby owl. First though, like always, I am going to give you a break down of what an owl is exactly.

Owls belong to an order of birds called Strigoformes. There are 200 existing species of owls and most are solitary and nocturnal. All owls are predators feasting on creatures such as small mammals, insects, other birds, and fish. They are all characterized by wide faces and small beaks, but owls are divided into two categories: typical owls and barn owls. Below is a picture of the range of owls, and given their secretive secluded nature, the extent of their range is surprising.

The round, forward facing, and penetrating eyes of owls are one of their most recognizable and defining features. Most people don't know that they also have forward-facing ear holes as well. Around each eye they have a facial disc (that is really the term for it) and they adjust the feathers in these disks to focus sounds that find their way to their asymmetrically placed ear cavities.
This facial structure and eye placement allows for the great depth perception sense and accompanying night vision that owls use to be they precise hunters that they are.

While many bats use echolocation to guide themselves through the dim light of the night sky, owls use their incredible, incomparable eyes. The evolution of their large eyes, disproportional to their tiny skulls, has resulted in an tubular shape of their eyes. Similar shaped eyes are found in other nocturnal sight-seers like some deep sea fish. Even though their large eyes allow for them to see a vast spectrum of light, their ability for night vision comes from a unique neural mechanism that breaks down the spatial information of what they see. This would be like taking a picture and then your brain immediately telling you how far everything was from each other in that picture. Another way to look at this process in their brain is comparing it to taking a picture in the dark and then making it brighter and clearer in photoshop later.

Searching for prey they can rotate their heads up to 135 degrees in both directions using their fourteen neck vertebrae, double that of our own necks. They pick their prey from afar because they are unable to see anything within a few inches of its eyes but they are capable of incredible precision when they strike. Their plumage (feathers) is described as generally cryptic. One of my favorite animal related descriptive terms; cryptic coloration means that they blend and disguise rather than stand out and call attention to themselves with bright colors.

Their cryptic plumage is but one of the traits of owls that make then stealthy and efficient predators. One other being the serrated edges of the feathers on the leading side of owls wings, that muffle the sounds of their flight, allowing them a silent approach. Much of their silent flight is still not perfectly understood but in addition to their serrated edged feathers, they have a velvety structure on the surface of their flight feathers that absorbs the sound of their wings moving.

(serrated wing edge)

Once caught, they make quick work of their prey with their sharp beak and flesh ripping talons, killing it before swallowing it whole. In science class once in middle school, we had an assignment to investigate owl pellets. Owl pellets are the masses of indigestible bones and scales that they regurgitate to smooth their digestion.

The smallest owl weighs around 1oz and is only about 5 in. its name is the elf owl (how fantastically appropriate). Another tiny little bugger, about same length but slightly heavier is the Long-whiskered owlet (who ever is coming up with this names is a genius). The Tamaulipas Pygmy Owl is also wonderfully tiny.




The Great Grey Owl finds its place as the largest owl in length, growing up to 33 in. long. The heaviest and largest winged belong to to the eagle owls: the Eurasian Eagle-Owl and Blakiston's Fish owl. The wingspan of these animals can be up to 6.5 ft, and with that their place in mythology and culture is easy to understand.




Now, my favorite owl of all time. The burrowing owl. It is tiny with long legs and powerful digging talons. They nest and roost in burrows and are unique by often being active in the day time but they do still hunt in darkness. I fell in love with these owls the first time I saw them pop out of the ground on some Animal Planet show. There are several kinds of burrowing animals and some debate over where they and their subspecies belong taxonomically. This is one of those animals where I have to show you a lot of pictures, because they are all amazing.

Finally, a real quick mention to the owl with the coolest face; the masked owl. Particularly, the Australian masked owl:

The last thing I want to share with you belongs in one of my favorite categories of all time; unlikely animal friendships. One of the more well known animal friendships is that of the six month old greyhound (named torque) and a baby owl (named Shrek). Upon a little investigation though I found many pictures of owl and dog partners and I would like to share these with you now.

OK! We have now reached well over 1000 words of owls in this post, so I will leave you now with this amazing video.


Word of the Week and Something Personal

Those of you who check this blog or those of you who are new to it, you may have noticed that there haven't been any new posts for quite sometime. Well, that is going to change with this word of the week.
I know people who are afraid of spiders or heights but I don't think I have ever known some one with a true phobia. I have always been fascinated and entertained by phobias because they are prime examples of the psychological extremes that our brains are capable of going to. The way human society and culture works allows for our minds to be extremely influenced by external forces. For whatever reasons, our brains can develop crippling fears of things like bright colors (chromophobia), Lepidopterophobia (butterflies), loose hairs (Richophobia), and my favorite, the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth (Arachibutyrophobia).
While I find silverfish creepy, and am quite afraid of the idea of being trapped underground, I have never been able to really relate to the idea of a phobia. In general, I believe that with the right outlook and maybe some therapy there is no fear or worry you can't get past. However, I do acknowledge that the degree of irrationality involved in these fears makes them very challenging to deal with.
This brings me to the word of the week Kakorrhaphiophobia, which means the abnormal fear of failure or defeat. For me, this is where it gets personal because I feel this kind of fear very often. For most of the projects, homework assignments, and films that I have attempted, I get to a point where I am stuck. I become terrified of finishing something and it not being good enough. When something is totally done and finished than it is out there for scrutiny but when its not done I still always have the chance to make it better. There have been times where I have multiple assignments at 80-90% completion but I never finish them and don't hand them in for weeks.
I think that everyone, undeniably, has some sort of irrational behavior or fear and this one is mine. I am afraid of my work not being good enough and of disappointing those who believe in me and have helped me. At the end of the day though, I believe its better to try and fail than not at all and so that is what I am going to continue to do.

This blog for me has been an important outlet for sharing the things that I find special and exciting and the way that I choose to look at those things. I have spent the last couple weeks lining up some great things to write about and I hope that you continue to read and be excited about the things I choose to share with you. Some of the things that you can look forward to finding here are jellyfish, gas masks, Leadbelly, a 3-D printer that prints in chocolate, and frozen blood sculptures.

Whore Frost.

No, not really whore frost, I am not sure what slutty, prostituting frost would actually look like, but I do know what hoar frost looks like. Hoar frost is one of five types of frost. Who knew right?
Frost is defined as the solid deposition of water vapor from humid air. Basically, frost will form when the temperature of a solid surface is below the freezing point of water. Depending on the time it takes to freeze and the amount of water vapor available, the crystal size will vary.
This is one of those subjects that makes me so grateful for the internet. I have never thought much about frost, other than it looking cool, or a sign telling me not to go outside when I find it on my windows in Maine. I never knew that frost had types or that frost is actually not white, it is translucent but the crystals in the frost scatter light in many directions, making it appear white.

So I am going to give you a quick lesson in frost, starting with the hoar. Its a cold clear night and any remaining heat from the ground gets quickly lost into the surrounding air, leaving objects colder than the air around them and creating what is referred to as hoar frost or radiation frost.

Hoar comes from the Old English adjective for signs of old age like in the way that hoar frost can make a bush like an old person with white hair. Hoar frost is the kind of frost you see in freezers, that stacked, white, crystal like frost that builds up in the back of freezers and industrial cold storage facilities

Hoar frost deposited on objects above the surface like tree branches is called air hoar. Surface hoar refers to the fern like ice crystals deposited directly on to frozen surfaces like snow or ice.  Crevasse hoar are crystals that form in glacial crevasses. Depth hoar is cup shaped frost with faceted crystals that forms beneath the surface in dry snow.

(surface hoar)

Advection frost is best understood by calling it wind frost. When a cold harsh wind blows over brittle frozen branches of trees, or other tall surfaces like telephone poles, it forms tiny icy spikes. Think of when you have seen frost on flowers or plants. It looks like little fluffy icy spikes around the edges or rim of leaves and petals.

Window frost is probably the most easily recognizable and the biggest nuisance to people. When glass is exposed to cold air on the outside why moderately moist air sits on the inside, whats called fern frost, ice flowers or window frost is formed. Some glass is frost resent but weak insulating windows like single pane windows will frost over very easily. Window frost can lead to amazing photos because the surface of the glass is reflected in the shape of the crystals, showing any scratches or imperfections.

White frost forms right from water vapor in the air. This type of frost forms in the odd weather combination of a relative humidity above 90% and a temperature below 18 F. It grows against the direction of the wind because the wind pushing against it has a higher humidity than the leeward air. It resembles hoar frost with big interlocking, needle-shaped crystals, but the way it develops against the wind is unique to this frost.

Finally we have rime. Heavily saturated air and high winds are the conditions that allow for the fast forming ice deposition called rime. Apparently rime is not technically frost because it involves supercooled water drops, frost is formed from water vapor condensing slowly and directly. An example of rime is the icy formations on the rigging of a ship traveling through.

Now I want to talk about my favorite frosty snowy thing ever. They are called frost flowers, and they are super rare as the conditions for them must be just right. A frost flower forms when thin layers of ice are extruded from long stemmed plants in fall and the early days of winter. There are a couple different kinds of the formations but really I believe its better not to even know. Something like frost flowers are just beautiful and majestic enough that I would rather not know the science and particulars of its formation but keep it as something mystical and magical.

So there is your ice overview. My goal for you, as the reader of this blog, is not only to delight and entertain you, but hopefully to also supply you with the kind of facts and information that allow you to sound and feel smarter. So now when your waking in whatever icy wintery landscape you may find yourself, you can point out the different types of frost and everyone will be amazed and impressed at your frosty knowledge.


Flibbertigibbet and the Word of the Week

No! not gibberish. Not gibberish at all! This weeks word comes to me in a time of great stress and doings of things. Some of you may have noticed the lack of posts for the last month. I have been with family, holiday-ing, and now I find myself back at college to finish the remaining few credits needed for me to complete my degree. So with homework that requires long readings and written responses, my frequency of blog posting may lessen significantly. However don't worry, because this blog will not go away and I will continue to post many wonderful, sexy science facts and animal news, and strange art and weird words. Starting with one of the most comical and ridiculous sounding words...
This word comes to us from the Middle English period of time. Middle English describes the dialect from roughly the 12th to late 15th century. This was a fun period of time for dialect where words were made up left and right, all the time, so that we could have as much fun taking the SATs in the future as possible.
This a slang term, usually referring to young women. It generally means a flighty or whimsical person. I would happily and readily describe myself as a flibbertigibbet as I can be quite flighty and I like to think of myself as rather whimsical.
On the flip side it can also be used to describe a fiend, devil, or spirit.
My favorite part of the existence of this word is where did it come from? with so many words we can break down and highlight the Greek or Latin origins of words but that is not the case with flibbertigibbet. There are guesses that it came about in reference to "fly by the gibbet" a gibbet being a platform or cage used to execute criminals and display their remains to the public. Or it refers to hoisting the gibbet sail, which is a large sail used with the direction of the wind to maximize the wind power. Neither of these make much sense to me because how to get from a large sail to a flighty whimsical young woman/fiend devil?
either way, a great word. Use it more.

Word of the Week!

I am a big fan of the old-time... over-sized bicycles, antique radios, triangular weights being lifted by guys with curly mustaches, also monocles and barbershop poles. Words and phrases are no exception to this preference of mine. I like saying things like gadzukes, bully, bee's knees, dapper, and flibberty-gibbit. so I am going to share with you one of my favorite phrases.


Recently I attended some of an event in New York City called SantaCon. This involves the dressing  up in Christmas theme of young people in the New York area to travel around the city and drink a lot, all day. I have recently learned that SantaCon happens in 276 locations in 37 countries.

It started at 2pm and ended around 9pm. Although some people drink earlier than 2 and past 9, I was really not that committed and only put in about 8 hours myself, which sounds like a lot but most of the people I was with probably went about 14 or more.
The important thing here is that this is not the drunken debauchery exploits of events like St. Patricks day, or spring break parties. It was really a thoroughly festive good time. I usually take great care to avoid any mass crowds of drunken young adults but this was different.

(look at the gingerbread man!)

The Christmas spirit was rich in the air and it was friendly and celebratory. The nights after excessive day drinking often end for people, with vomiting or crying, or perhaps going home with some one you regret. Although I am sure much of that went on, it was not what I experienced around me. SantaCon 2012 was full of giving and laughter, people dressed up like Jesus and gingerbread men or just covered in tinsel and Christmas lights. It was a truly entertaining, enjoyable, and just the right amount of excessive, experience.

This brings me to my phrase. This was a day full of vim and vigor! We all have a general idea of what it means to be vigorous but the actually definition (in this context) of vigor is active bodily or mental strength or force. Vim is not as widely used as word anymore but I love it. Vim is similar to vigor but I think its a little more jovial, and its definition is robust energy and enthusiasm.

Vim, on Webster, also has the best synonyms I have ever seen associated with a single word.
Some of the synonyms listed for vim are beans, bounce, dash, esprit, get-up-and-go, ginger, gusto, hardihood, moxie, oomph, punch, pep, vinegar, zing, and zip. I love all of those words and I just want to put em all in a bundle and roll around in them. Because of the santas and the cheer and the good times atmosphere of this day, all I could think of was vim and vigor. It was probably one of my favorite days I have experienced all year and whoever you are I encourage you to experience it next year! Here are some more pictures from the day that I took and it was truly a good time. (sorry for the blur on some of the photos, it was rather chaotic)

Old timey pics:

SEM (Not S&M)

At this point in these future science times we have all seen those super close-up grey photos of some type of bacteria or insect part etc. Everything in these photos have tons of texture and detail and look almost unreal but they are probably a more accurate representation than most photos because of their insane detail. That is because they aren't really photos, they are images taken through the use of a scanning electron microscope. I am going to give a general explanation of how this works and share some of my favorite of these images. (if the explanation is too boring or you just don't care, feel free to skip to the end and just look at pictures)

A basic electron microscope is used to look at really super tiny things. The microscopes we all used in high school use light and lenses of various magnifications to give us a closer look at something. I remember always being a little disappointed when using those because they never quite got me close enough. I always hoped to be able to see the tiny structures that made up whatever I was looking at and see that world of brightly colored little molecule balls that I saw in textbooks and science shows. Obviously that is not what that world really looks like and a light microscope is never going to get me closer to that. An electron microscope looks at things by focusing beams of electrons instead of light.

Now I am not about to try to explain to you how electrons are focused because frankly I barely understand it. The only way I can try to explain the way this works is through comparison of something I do understand, which is echolocation. Echolocation is used by some bats and other animals to find food and navigate in the dark. They make a noise and then through their incredible hearing they make a picture based on the way the sound bounces of of objects around them. The electron microscope uses beams of electrons to "read" an object by interacting with the electrons of the object. The electrons in the beam interact with the surface of the sample and produce signals that contain information about the surface of the specimen. That is where the comparison to echolocation comes in. A normal optical microscope can reach useful magnifications below 2000x and an electron microscope can achieve magnifications of around 10,000,000x. So, big difference.

To produce a viable image on an SEM the specimen has to have a conductive surface. So they are often coated in conductive materials like gold, platinum, graphite, etc. Since an SEM produces images through scanning parts of a specimen it is often used to look at things like insect anatomy or snow crystals or pollen grains.
Hopefully I haven't bored or confused you too much, either way, now its time to look at pictures.
I am very excited to share these pictures with you. All of them were acquired using electron microscopes. The color in some of these is added after the image is taken, pretty much just for the aesthetic value.

Salt and Pepper (looks like marshmallows and rocks right?)

Pollen grains (achoo!)

Human Iris

One of my favorites, this is a red blood cell coming out of a torn capillary

Guitar String


To end with a little comedy, here is the larva of a Bluebottle fly....

Now the next time you see an image like this you can be all fancy and say I know what that it and how they took that.

style="font-size: 10px;">

Animal of the Day!

After awaking from a post-thanksgiving food coma my curious bones start to itch and tickle me again as I began a-wondering, what are turkeys about? I know that they are big land birds with weird skin bits on their head, they make silly noises and are great in sandwiches. So I am going to answer a few turkey questions and share some funny bird videos just like any normal Monday.

I will start with some general turkey facts. Turkeys are native to North American. I think North America often gets a reputation for being rather boring on the animal and natural diversity front. People don't care so much about squirrels and deer and we don't have too many brightly colored tropical dancing birds and giant venomous lizards like some other countries. When you do a little digging you will find that North America like any continent has scores of interesting living things. North America has turkeys and almost exclusively at that. The domestic turkey is a descendent of the wild turkey and the only other living species of turkey is the Ocellated turkey which is found in the Yucatan Peninsula.

(pretty ocellated turkey)

Some of us ask "Did the chicken or the egg come first?" I will ask "did the chicken or the turkey come first?" By this I mean, where do the stand on the evolutionary chain of chicken like animals. Firstly, what many of us know from the beginning of Jurassic park is that birds come down the evolutionary tree to us from dinosaurs. If you look into the face of an Emu, or get up close to the claws of a vulture and this will make a lot of sense. Theropods are the group of dinosaurs that the infamous T-rex and velociraptor belong to. All birds basically evolved from theropods. Turkeys evolved eleven million years ago and they don't really have any close relatives. If anything, they are like the cousins of pheasants.

The first to domesticate wild turkeys and give us the tame farm ready turkey that we have today, were the Aztecs. Aztecs and Mayans thought highly of the turkey and the Aztecs believed the turkey to be a manifestation form of their trickster god. For the pilgrims of the first thanksgiving, turkey was old news. This is because the Spanish first brought turkeys to Europe in the late 1400's. One of those things they picked up during the conquering and destruction of native peoples in the Americas. Believe it or not, they were used to eating peacocks before the turkey came along. So by the time pilgrims were coming to America they were bringing domesticated turkeys with them.

There are about 46 million domesticated turkeys and around 7 million wild turkeys so as opposed to some of the other animals I have featured, these guys are doing pretty well on the conservation side. Wild turkeys are wonderful, I have been lucky enough to see some fairly large groups of them in different parts of the country. Turkeys can run up to 25 mph and fly up to 55 mph but only wild turkeys can fly while domesticated turkeys are too fat and have been selected against flying. There are few lesser examples of contrast between wild and domesticated than the ability to fly. Although I am a person who eats meat and greatly enjoys it, I believe domestication of animals is a natural part of evolution, something about wing clipping and selecting against flying, seems a little sad. I think wild turkeys and wild birds in general taste better than domesticated. Maybe its the freedom that makes them so delicious.

At my thanksgiving, the question was raised of turkey eggs. As in, why don't we eat them? We eat chicken eggs, quail eggs, and even ostrich eggs but I have never heard of the eating of turkey eggs. There are few reasons for this. Chickens can lay only around 300 eggs a year while turkeys only lay around 100. Chickens can lay eggs sooner in their life at about 20 weeks old and chickens are interested more in laying than brooding eggs. Turkeys are a little bit more "wild" even domesticated ones so they get protective and want to incubate and protect their offspring. Turkeys are much bigger than chickens and would take up a lot more space in a hatchery. All in all, turkeys would take more resources to harvest their eggs and would ultimately produce less.

The last fact I want to share with you is one of my favorite facts ever. My sister shared it with me years ago after reading a book on strange experiments. In this one particular study, some scientist types explored what got a male turkey aroused. A really valid and useful experiment right? They put out a female turkey (not alive) and step by step in the experiment, removed its limbs. till ultimately all that was needed to get a male turkey aroused is the head of a female turkey on a stick. Showing that, in the turkey world, all a male turkey needs is to look into the eyes of a female to get all hot and bothered.

So hopefully you have learned a little bit about turkeys and will have some fun new dinner conversation on your next thanksgiving.

PS (male adult turkeys are called Toms, young male turkeys are called Jakes and female turkeys are called hens)

Here is a video of a reporter being terrified and "trapped" in her car by a turkey.

Here is a turkey scaring some children

Turkeys gobbling in response noises

and finally, a silly turkey trying to attack its reflection (what a turkey)

href="" target="_blank" class="">

Balloonfest 86!

1986, the city of Cleveland sought to really put themselves on the map. They wanted to say "Hey world, take a look at Cleveland, we have stuff going on, we swear!"
So they took on the prestigious world record, of releasing the most balloons at once in to the air.
I am sure your thinking 'of course!' What a logical thing to do!
So on sept. 27 1986, around 1.5 million balloons were released from nets and floated up into the sky in what was, I can only imagine, quite a spectacle. From Terminal Tower and Cleveland's main public square, over a million balloons bounced into the air, carried by winds of Ohio.

What is most amazing about this event, was the insane lack of fore-thought. It seems as if everyone thought the balloons would just float into space and disappear. For it being 1986, a city in Ohio forgetting the laws of gravity, is a pretty big screw-up. So for days, even weeks after this event, wrinkly half-deflated balloons found their way back to the ground.

Airports were shut down and planes had to be rerouted. The city encountered a series of law suites from the chaos ensued by the hundreds of thousands of balloons that they could not escape from. The most serious being from a wife whose husband drowned in Lake Eyrie. The Coast Guard had searched for him but the balloons in the air and all over the lake inhibited their search so the wife sued, assuming that her husband would have been found and rescued if not for the balloons. She settled.

The city received an onslaught of criticism, literally, for years. Not only is it an absolutely ridiculously impractical stunt, but its basically the releasing of a ton of non-biodegradable trash into the air, water, and city you live in. The worst part about it (not the insane amount of trash) is that it was really poorly documented. I could only find like five good pictures. Can you imagine organizing over a million balloons to be released and no have plans for clean up and no plans to record it.

So thanks Cleveland for making this stupid mistake so that I could be entertained from learning about it.

Animal of the day

Few animals accomplish being both very cute and very dangerous. Some look cute but actually are very dangerous, like tigers and chimpanzees. Others look dangerous but are actually fairly cute like aye-ayes and bats. The way this particular animal looks, is both potentially extremely dangerous and extremely adorable. Some of you may not think that these are dangerous animals, given their rotund, plump, purple bodies. Well, if that's what you think, I'm about to change your mind.

Hippo comes from the Greek word for river horse, which is truly a great way to describe a hippo.  Hippos are wonderful for several reasons. First because their fat slippery mammals with giant teeth, tiny ears, and hooves.

Hippos belong to a mammalian order called Artiodactyla. This order refers to even-toed ungulates. Basically, ungulates are animals with hooves. An Artiodactyla is ungulate whose weight is evenly carried by its third and fourth toes. I am sure yourself, as well as I, really don't know too much about the number and distribution of the toes of hoofed animals. Referring to the knowledge machine known as the internet... I learned that this differs from horses, which are odd-toed ungulates. Other even toed ungulates are things like camels, giraffes, sheep, and pigs.

Hippos live partially on the land, partially in the water. Below elephants and rhinos, hippos take the position of the third largest land mammal and by far the heaviest existing artiodactyl (am I the only who keeps thinking pteridactyls?)

Even though you may be thinking its closest relations would be pigs or horses, or some sort of pig horse combo, you would be wrong. They are closest to marine mammals like whales and dolphins. If you look at a hippo and in your mind, turn it blue, make it bigger, and give it fins, you will see the undeniable resemblance.

So lets get the dangerous part of hippos but let me set a little scenery first. Hippos are found in Africa. Although they were once found throughout North Africa and Europe, that petered out about 30,000 years ago. Now they are found sporadically through parts of southern, central, and west Africa. Oddly enough, and in thanks to Pablo Escobar who introduced them, there are now wild hippos in Columbia. Unfortunately their precious hippo ivory is still valued and they are heavily poached which in addition to their loss of habitat means that their species status stands at vulnerable.

So we are in Africa, somewhere in the Congo perhaps, a couple male (bull) hippos preside territorially over groups of five to thirty females and young ones. The sun is setting fast and the hippos, previously cooling off from the days heat are starting to emerge from the water.  You try to steer your raft to the bank quickly, as to not get to close to the giant animals, who when seeing in reality, in front of you, gives you the sense for the first time of the true the size and bulk of them. You scan the river ahead of you with your flashlight, even with the light of dusk its gotten too dark to see the animals. A hippo's eyes gleam yellow reacting to your flashlight, it flicks its ears at you in the same manner a cat moves its ears back to signal: I know your there, and you better not come any closer.  Your raft drifts farther and as your panicked strokes grow more frantic and desperate, the hippos start to react to the noise you are making. Nearby, a bull male starts to draw himself back into the water watching carefully, while without signal or communication the females and young move cautiously away from the impending action. Before you realize whats happening the now dark shadowy shapes of male hippos descend upon your incoming raft and in a last-ditch effort to save yourself from the attention that the raft has brought, you jump into the water to swim for the bank of the river.
 Here is what happens, your bones are crushed with surprisingly swift action and extreme force of gaping jaws of a male hippo who needs only to open his mouth for the current and rush of water to bring you closer to his jaws. His jaws with 16 inch incisors and canines up to 20 in, and a bite pressure of 2000 lbs, twice that of a great white shark.

Or you manage to get far enough away to make it to the river bank and as you start to run, gasping and terrified, away from the monstrous mammals. You learn quickly that hippos can run almost 20 mph in short distances, you are likely overtaken and trampled.

 Or you jump into the water and in the struggle to create distance between yourself and the hippos you unwittingly cause a panic among them as they try to discern whether you are a threat and what you are doing near their family, In the struggle you are crushed and twisted by the weight and force of their bodies as they move through the water and you try to escape it.
Hippos kill more people in Africa each year than lions, hyenas, crocodiles, and elephants. In fact they regularly kill crocodiles. They are faster than you think, extremely aggressive, and fiercely protective of their territory and young.

Finally, a short story.  In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami aftermath a one year old hippo was found stranded in a coral reef on the mouth of a river in Kenya. After being rescued by nearby villagers via fishing nets this hippo baby, named Owen was taken to the Haller Park wildlife sanctuary. Owen then found Mzee, a 100 year old tortoise.

Being without his mother for the first time in his life Owen clung to Mzee, its round short-footed body seemingly reminding him of the hippo family he once had. The night he arrived in the sanctuary he fell asleep next to Mzee and overtime the two have become inseperable. Hippos live in social groups so it makes sense, especially for a young hippo, to cling to nearest individual it finds relatable.

Hippos may be social but tortoises, typically, are not. Still the two eat together, lounge together in the pond, and sleep side by side at night. Which if you remember, is even strangers because hippos typically sleep during the day. Not only as he adapted his sleeping schedule, Owen ignores the grasses that hippos typically spending their time grazing on and eats carrots and leaves right along with Mzee. Despite being a tortoise,
"Mzee follows Owen around, nudges him to go for walks, initiates play in the water, and even stretches his neck out so Owen can give him a lick."

You can read more about this story of Owen and Mzee at as Owen is now twice the Size of Mzee and growing. Apparently the two are still best friends. Hippo and tortoise.

The fact that there is not already a Disney movie featuring an orphan hippo baby and a wise old tortoise, is some sort of miracle. Hippos are commonly depicted as purple, when in reality they are reddish brown which comes from a red-colored natural sunscreen they secrete from their skin. They are also often depicted as goofy, cuddly, or silly animals and although we know that this isn't exactly true it does not mean they are can't be capable of great cuteness. Mostly in baby form and especially in the baby form of pygmy hippos.  So for the end of this post which is now too long, I will fill your brain with pictures of soft squishy, roly-poly, baby hippos.



Blog Software
Blog Software