Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Link: Wolbachia Hijack Leaves and Offspring Sex

This is about a moth larva that has bacteria that keeps leaves green during the fall so it can eat them fresh:

This is more about the bacteria Wolbachia that causes this.  Super common bacteria and is involved in other freaky stuff like turning males into females so that they get passed  on into the next generation (since they won't get into sperm, only eggs).  Awesome!  

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Link: How Do Genitalia Become Engorged?

Really good explanation.

What's the Evolutionary Purpose of the Hymen?

One of the things that I want my life story to represent, now that I've left the ministry, is that it is okay to question.  Scratch that.  It's essential.  The ability to ask questions and seek answers is what has made our species great.

While there is much about religion that I respect and admire, one thing that breaks my heart is that so many are paralyzed in fear from asking important questions.  I've been there.  If you question, you're a heretic.  If you question, you're listening to the devil.  If you question, you have sin in your life.  Science is different.  There's nothing too taboo to ask.  Nothing is sacred.  You can even ask about interesting sex related questions.  I think that's wonderful.

So, on to the task that has pitiful little evidence one way or the other.  I'll just list out some thoughts that I informally gleaned from the web (O, I should say that this is not intended to be super scientific since I'm no expert.  I more want to be heuristic and get your mind thinking about what questions you might have on your own!)

General Reasons to Many Mammals

Humans aren't alone.  Here's an incomplete listing of mammals with hymens: llamas, guinea pigs, bush babies, manatees, moles, toothed whales, chimpanzees, elephants, rats, ruffed lemurs, seals, et al.

Humans are born with a completely enclosed vagina.  After birth, at varying time lengths of time, it opens up.  Interesting article by a pediatrician on the subject of dealing with daughters that don't open : .  Apparently this affects 1-10% of girls and can be a serious health concern (possibly death if left untreated)

Might it stop a casual first encounter and cause females to wait until they have better development and/or judgement to pick the best mate possible?  Maybe.

Might it slightly reduce (at least for a time) contaminants coming in or too much fluid going out?  Could be.  Could this be involved with fostering the right kind of yeast and bacteria to out compete the 'bad' guys?   A idyllic tropical oasis for the right kind of bacteria?  Maybe.

Could pain be important to women's sexuality?  Is it bonding to go through the pain of defloration?  Like my earlier vid post showed, cats, as an example, need vaginal trauma to ovulate.  Hmm, well, if it's so important why does the pain lessen with frequency of copulation?  If this is true, it seems to put a lot of evolutionary emphasis on the first time.  Is that justifiable?

Specific to Humans

Could it have been selected for in humans as 'proof' of virginity?  Possibly.  Might this have been important to human males to verify with slight certainty that they weren't about to be cuckolded?  There's a chance, but the whole thing can be so variable I feel like that's thin ice to argue on.

One of the reasons that there is so little certainty in this respect is that there is such a wide variety of hymens.  Some women never have them.  Others have to deal with a completely enclosed vagina and, of course, everything in between.  It's a complicated matter, but it's great to have the freedom to ask questions.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pig Whipworm Treatment

Can worms make you well?  Recent findings may point to 'yes'.

Our bodies have evolved for millions of years to be in ecological equilibrium to our surroundings, but also to be an ecological equilibrium.  Each of our bodies are an ecosystem of bacteria and, to a lesser extent now than any other point in our history, an ecology of nematodes.

We've always had worms.

Now we don't and it just might be hurting us.

The idea is that our immune system is created to be in balance with the worm's influence on us.  Naturally our body wants to fight the foreign nematode invaders, but the worms don't like that and they've actually evolved to suppress our immune response to their presence.  That means that with out them our immune system is keyed up and over reactive to things that it'd in it's ancestral setting would have ignored.  Enter allergies and a host of gastrointestinal problems--Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.


Drink some worms!

Well, their eggs anyway.  And not human worms (so they can't last in our gut and soon die).

Pig Whipworms to save the day!!!

I love how evolution helped us figure out a solution to an every day problem!!

Read an article on this:

Are Humans Evolved for Polygamy or Monogamy?

Are humans naturally monogamous or polygamous?Well, what's science have to say about it?

Since there's more than one kind of polygamy, I'll split it up into multiple male partners per female (polyandry) and multiple female partners per male (polygyny).

First, a little background:  Gorillas mate in harems.  One male per 3-6 females.  Chimps on the other hand have more of a free love mating scheme.

Polyandrous Scale

Are there signs that our ancestors had many male partners?  Yes, but not we're paltry compared to some.  Here's how we can tell: let's say you're a female that has many men to choose from but you only sleep with a few.  In that case male displays become quite pronounced (think peacock tail).  On the other hand, what if a species not only has many males for the female to choose from, but she ends up sleep with many of them.  The competition between males is no longer how can I impress the girl, but how can I get my sperm to the egg more effectively or faster than the other males.

I've heard some discussion that the shape of the male glans is actually a scoop to remove other male's semen while thrusting.  So, that's one way, but a more common one among many species is a simple numbers game--overwhelm the competition with an army of sperm.  How would that change the morphology of an organism?

It would give it huge testicles.

In short, if there are many males sleeping with one female the one with the largest testicles has the best chance of winning.

So, how do human testicles compare to other species?

Gorilla: 1 ounce testicles at .02% of body weight with 50 million sperm per ejaculate.
Chimpanzee: 4 ounces testicles at .3% of body weight at 600 million sperm per ejaculate.

Human: 1.5 ounces testicles at .04-.08% body weight with 250 million sperm per ejaculate.

Summary: we're semi-promiscuous.  Our females fidelity is some where in between gorillas and chimps (but more toward the gorillas side).

There's more to the equation, though!

(Another interesting solution to this problem is to made a vaginal plug out of your semen:

Polygynous Scale

Ever wonder why men are taller than women?  Why men can bench more than women?  Why they compete separately during the Olympics?

There's an evolutionary reason for that!

Here's the idea:  when there's a group of males competing for a limited number of females the strongest will have an edge.  The bigger you are, the more intimidating you are, the stronger you are, the better you can fight the more females you can win.

This is exemplified by the gorilla.  We've already said they have small testicles, so that isn't how the males have reproductive success.  What is it?  They get so big and muscular that they can kick all the other male's asses.  Gorilla males have a very, very, very well guarded harem of females.

They don't need big nuts when they've got big guns.

So, the more sexually dimorphic (skewed male/female size ratio) the more polygynous the species.  How do humans stack up?

Gorillas: males are up to 400lbs. Females are around 200 lbs. Males are 100% heavier.
Chimpanzees: males are 170-185. Females are 135-145 lbs.
Humans: males are 190.  Females, 160.  Males are 26% heavier.

Summary: we're more polygynous than chimps, but less than gorillas.

Much more could be said here, but that's something to chew on.  (Aside--high IQ has been correlated with increase monogamy in humans)

It seems conceivable that since human females put so much effort into displaying to males (makeup, cosmetic surgery, clothing, etc.) that males are often the choosers in our species.  Why be choosy? Only because you have something to lose from picking a genetically inferior female - time, effort, resources.  If there was nothing to lose then you'd have no standards.  Being choosy just may indicate that we are a particularly monogamous and caring kind of male species...On the other hand, maybe human females aren't trying to win a male so much as they are trying to keep one.

(Later addition below)
If it's such a "man's world", as some say it is, then why is polygamy out lawed in most countries?  At first blush that doesn't make any sense!  If men rule the world then you'd totally expect polygamy to be in vogue!   Is it that women prevent it to avoid exploitation?   Well, unlikely.  Think about it.  Polygamy is in the best interest of women evolutionarily.  From an evolutionary perspective what do when want out of a man?  Resources to care for a child and superior genes.  In a stratified society (which can lead into polygamy) woman can get both more resources and better genes from being with a highly successful money-bags.  Also, in a polygynous society all the women get a mate (in theory) since even the lower quality ones will be taken since a low quality woman is better than no woman.  Men on the other hand (on average) end up worse off.  One reason being what I just mentioned--in a polygynous society not all of the men get a woman.  In fact, it's interesting to note that monogamy may very well be one of the first steps towards democracy.  The average man started to collectively say that they were no longer going to let a few successful men take all the women from them.  So, contrary to some popular opinions monogamy wasn't a defense of women's rights, but of instead of men's.  I find that fascinating.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Links: "The World's Most Terrifying Penises"

Here's a little more fuel for misandry (like we need anymore).  Prepare to feel wildly intrigued and profoundly traumatized all at the same time.  Appreciate the expediency and harsh pragmatism that evolution can sometimes have (thank God for the soft pragmatic side, too!).


Fish with a hook for a penis:

Chimp penis spikes:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Link: Caucasians=Neanderthal Hybrid, Asian=Erectus Hybrid, Africans=Pure Breed?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Link: "Evolution gave flawed eye better vision"

Lead statement: "IT LOOKS wrong, but the strange, "backwards" structure of the vertebrate retina actually improves vision."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

City Lights Affect Species Evolution

The presence of city lights will affect a host of organism's evolution.  For millions of years nocturnal species have been adapting to see better, hide better, use the moon and stars as navigational points and now all that is changing.  Instead of the dim glow of the moon city and suburb dwelling species are blasted with the brightness of the mid-day's sun throughout the night.  How will they change?

I started to think about this as I frequently run at night (about to do ten miles after I finish this).  The sights are familiar to us all: swarms of insects pounding their little heads on the street lights bulbs--like a moth to a flame as the proverb goes.

It isn't just the insects that will be affect.  It is also their predators and migratory animals.  It's a common occurrence for me to see toads perched below street lights waiting for a morsel and I can easily see how a evolution could easily select for toads that like the street light's glow (perhaps their eyes will change, perhaps their behavior).  I see the same to be true with bats.  Any smart bat will quickly realize that under a street light is the place to be for a quick and easy meal.  There is one large bridge that I run underneath that this is especially true and based on sightings and chirps I hear I would imagine there to be several hundred bats within the area (modern day 'caves').

Due to light polution migratory birds are forced to travel 'blind' to the stars.  Many experiments have been in planetariums to show that birds do indeed orient themselves to various constellations.  If you turn the constellations in the planetarium, so do the birds turn the direction they fly and scratch in their cage.  With light pollution backscattering off the moisture, clouds and pollution of a city, how will migratory species deal in these visual orientation dead zones?  An increased ability to navigate by magnetic orientation?

What about circadian rhythms?  Another relatively frequent occurrence while I run is to hear birds chirping in trees near very brightly lit parking lots.  Surely this didn't happen before man.  Their brain is confused.  Is it day time or night time?  How will 24 hour light affect sleep patterns in animals?  Why stop there!  How will/does it affect us, humans, now!!!?

It might be helpful to think of the street light as today's watering hole.  Prey congregate there (not for water, due to an orientation short circuit, or possibly in the future to find a mate) and predators lurk in the dark waiting to pounce.

Questions that might be answered by experimentation: In a new housing development, would insects 'learn' to avoid bright lights at night to avoid getting eaten?  How have predators adapted to use this new 'watering hole'?  Are insects using lights as a meeting ground to mate?  Are circadian rhythms affected by street lights?  Are organism's eyes changing to deal with the new exposure (iris constriction) and/or spectrum used?  How are birds adapting to being 'blind' to the stars?

We all want to know what the future holds.  Go to any taro/palm reading/horoscope/end time prophecy section at the book store and it's abundantly clear.  What does the future hold for these night dwelling species?  How will they be affected by 24 hour lighting?  Just like the famous peppered moth near London that became darker due to predatory selective pressure to blend in with the soot from coal being burned, so will these species need to adjust their game plan to cope with a new pressure.

Link: Pharyngeal Jaw--Awesome Adaptation

What do you do when you don't have hands to help you control your food while you eat?  Behold:


Link: Hagfish Slime--Awesome Adaptation

Worth watching, but they disabled embedding:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Link: Awesome Adaptation--Mammoth Anti-Freeze Blood

Be a Puncturer

Be a puncturer.

All it takes is one.

Break the silence.  Drop the pretense.  No more lip service.  No more charades.  Stand up for what's important.  Stand out for what is precious.  You have no idea how much your actions  might give others the strength, excuse, validation, power to stand up, too.

What will you stand out for?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Awesome Adaptation--Black Skimmer Beak

A native water bird of Florida (my home state)...and most of North and South America.  Enjoy and admire the beauty not forgetting to imagine in your mind the slow, incremental steps that would have had to have led up to this point--first longer, then thinner, then 'experimentation' in dipping while flying, then all out specialization.

Awesome Adaptation--Howler Hyoid Bone

While the official title is debatable the accolade of "World's Loudest Animal" just may go to the Howler Monkey of Central and South America--can be heard three miles away in dense jungle.  Imagine yelling to a friend from that far away--can't even do that across a parking lot!  Here's how and here's what will blow your ever-loving mind.  What an awesome adaptation!  Take your time admiring how the hyoid bone has been modified and engorged in the Howler.

Now compare to the Howler's:

Religion's Etymology--'To Bind'

Ever since I took Greek classes in seminary I have been fully aware of how awesome learning the roots of words can be.  Many on the outside don't realize the grueling, laborious, fastidious dedication that many Biblical translators have, nor do they realize that scores of people have made livelihoods off of being the experts needed to translate the various morphemes of the Bible they see in their local bookstore.  Each word of the New Testament has been historically tracked, traced and gone over with a fine tooth comb to see the various contexts it has been used in both in the scriptures as well as other ancient manuscripts.  I personally own a set of software valued at somewhere around or over 1000 dollars that contains copious grammars and dictionarys cross-referencing every location each word is used in the Bible and potentially every time it was used in the surviving manuscripts of that day (I can't bring myself to sell it even though I've sold copious amounts of my other theology book).  It's really quite fascinating (and not a little bit overwhelming).  You couldn't learn all there is to know in several life times.  

Why did I just say all that?  Legitimate question.  To break the ice of discussing a very interesting root word.


1150–1200; ME religioun (< OF religion) < L religiōn- (s. of religiō) conscientiousness, piety, equiv. to relig(āre) to tie, fasten (re- re- +ligāre to bind, tie; cf. ligament) + -iōn- -ioncf. rely


c.1200, "state of life bound by monastic vows," also "conduct indicating a belief in a divine power," from Anglo-Fr. religiun (11c.), from O.Fr. religion "religious community," from L. religionem (nom.religio) "respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods," in L.L. "monastic life" (5c.); according to Cicero, derived from relegare "go through again, read again," from re- "again" + legere "read" (seelecture). However, popular etymology among the later ancients (and many modern writers) connects it with religare "to bind fast" (see rely), via notion of "place an obligation on," or "bond between humans and gods." Another possible origin is religiens "careful," opposite of negligens. Meaning "particular system of faith" is recorded from c.1300.  Modern sense of "recognition of, obedience to, and worship of a higher, unseen power" is from 1530s. Religious is first recorded early 13c. Transferred sense of "scrupulous, exact" is recorded from 1590s.
(copied from

Religion, quite possibly, comes from a root word meaning 'to bind' (and interestingly enough, so does 'rely'!  How cools that?!)  

What irony!  

Religion 'binds' us together, heals us

Isn't it fascinating the way that can be taken more than one way!!!?  On one hand, you could say that religion is the thing that 'binds' society together.  It's the social glue that keeps us from coming undone into shear chaos and rules of the jungle anarchy.  It keeps us sane.  It's like the cast, sling or wrap that keeps an injury from becoming worse.  It very well may come from the same word that 'ligament' comes from--the means that keeps our bones and joints in place and working properly.  

Religion 'binds' us, trapping us

If there has ever been a flagrantly anti-intellectual movement it is religion.  What other system of thought has systematically denied and suppressed information and whole fields of study, e.g. evolution, embryonic stem cell research, heliocentrism, etc.  I don't need to list out the historical wars that it has perennially caused.  A paraphrase of something Stephen Weinberg said--good people do good things and bad people bad things, but it takes religion to make a good person do bad things.  Religion silences the questions, inventions, innovations, explorations and intrepid scientific spirit that has made our species so great and instead substitutes a pale, weak, impotent myth for the glorious reality of possibilities.  "Don't ask questions, just believe, just do as we say."

In the end, both are true.  
But what makes the difference?  
Why is it sometimes salubrious and others pernicious?