Archive for: August, 2006

>Carnival News

Aug 31 2006 Published by under Carnivals

>The Tangled Bank

Tangled Bank # 61 is up on Epigenetics News. I will be hosting the 71st edition here, at The Voltage Gate on January 17th.

Carnival of the Green #42
has been up for a few days now at The Disillusioned Kid (for some reason it's not linked to me on Technorati, so I didn't see it until today).

Circus of the Spineless #12
is great as usual, especially with this neat post about ancient giant invertebrates. I signed on to host the Circus for January as well since it won't be right smack in the middle of the semester.

Last but definitely not least, Mendel's Garden #5 will be up at evolgen in a few days. The deadline for entries is tomorrow. I will be hosting the Garden as well in the middle of September.

No responses yet

>Interviewing ID

Aug 31 2006 Published by under Evolution, Intelligent Design, Journalism, Links, Writing

>This morning after ecology lecture, I have an interview with one of our evolutionary biology professors. While I do occasionally pop in on my profs just to chat, this interview will be slightly more focused (^^).

The evo prof in question is co-hosting the forum "Science, Religion and Intelligent Design" along with a local minister two Tuesdays from now, which gives me an opportunity to record a podcast on ID and, in my second column, discuss why exactly it is not just a benign idea and definitely not science.

It's a good segue into much of the philosophy of science stuff I want to relate this semester including the Faustian/Promethean divide, reductionism and complexity theory.

One response so far

>Beyond the Stink: How a Binturong Communicates

Aug 30 2006 Published by under Animals, Binturong, Evolution, Links, Physiology

>When we think of communication, foremost on our mind is our own sophisticated means of language - writing and speaking mainly - communicating ideas or concepts through our manipulation of sound and symbology.

Evolutionarily speaking, this is a recent development; there are certainly no written documents from the time of the Australpithocenes or Homo erectus, and scientists can only guess at their ability to use a complex language.

Scent marking, then, is a much more ancient, much more prevalent form of communication between animals. Even humans use scents for communicative purposes - we use perfumes to send a message to others telling of our state of cleanliness (or lack of) - however, our vocal language has largely replaced the necessity of scent communication.

The binturong, like other civets (cat-like, mostly arboreal carnivores), leaves scent markings all over tree branches, limbs and leaves during their nighttime travels through the dense rainforests of south Asia. The markings are chemical messages to other binturongs and can communicate anything from territory ownership to reproductive maturity; some may be just a simple hello.

They secrete a oily substance from a special gland located in their hind section (called simply a perineal gland - perineal refers to the region of the body more than any specific function - the groin area). The binturong has been observed dragging the gland across tree limbs and other surfaces, as well as marking singled-out "posts." When the binturong applies its olfactory message to these special surfaces, there is an equally special (quasi-ritualistic) position into which it moves (such as an inverted, "sloth-like" position for a certain diagonal limb).

The male binturong also uses its tail to sop up its own urine, another important scent messenger. Its tail assists the animal in climbing (prehensility) and is naturally involved in embracing limbs and branches for balance, so surfaces upon which the binturong climbs are automatically marked.

I think it's obvious that binturongs might not be the best choice of pet for western households.* It's frustrating enough when the housecat sprays; bints can probably do some lasting damage to your favorite rug.

But, rather than be repulsed by these creatures, it is important to recognize that they manipulate the laws of physical world to create interpretable messages for each other just as we do. I am not equating our language with theirs, but the purpose is largely the same; it is quite obvious that throughout the millenia, natural selection has valued communication - chemical and otherwise - in response to the rigors of the environment.

*In southern Asia, many people do keep binturongs as pets. They are not very aggressive animals, and are easily domesticated (mostly).


Kleiman, D.G. 1974. Scent marking in the binturong, Arctictis binturong. J. Mamml, 55:224-227.

Photo by belgianchocolate.

2 responses so far

>Studying the Gray Bat; Erudition #16

Aug 29 2006 Published by under Animals, Environment

>Jen has a great neat post about gray bats over at SBES:

To those of you who think bats are icky and are not necessary in the world, just consider this: one gray bat can eat 3,000 insects in one night. If there is a colony of 100,000 bats, the colony could eat 300 million insects every night! That's fantastic news for anyone who hates mosquitos and garden pests. But on a larger scale, think of how bats can help control pests that can seriously damage commercial crops. Bats help keep extremely destructive insect populations in check, helping farmers earn a living. In some areas of the country, farmers have actually attracted bats to their fields on purpose by building "bat condos" to cut down on the use of pesticides. Some organic farms actually rely on bats as part of their plan to use no pesticides at all.

One response so far

>First Day of the [Binturong] Semester...

Aug 28 2006 Published by under Animals, Binturong, Editing

>and I have tons to do. Classes every other hour (9:00, 11:00, 1:00) today, a meeting with the pres at of the university at three and an editorial staff meeting tonight at seven.

I'm hoping I can find time today to start the next series of posts on the binturong, another oddity in the animal kingdom. Like the red panda, the binturong is offically classified as a carnivore, but feeds mainly on fruit.

The animals' common names also line up nicely.

Red Panda = Catbear

Binturong = Bearcat

Should be fun.

4 responses so far

>The Emerging Ancestry of the Red Panda

Aug 27 2006 Published by under Animals, Evolution, Paleontology, Physiology, Red Panda

>Until very recently, no direct ancestors of the red panda (Ailurus) were known. Most paleontologists link Ailurus with previous, raccoon-like (procyonoid) fossil animals - Cynarctis, Phlaocyon, Aletocyon - mainly by the similarities in their molars.

A closer relative was described in the 1970's, an animal 50% larger than Ailurus found in Europe and North America, appropriately named Parailurus anglicus. Researchers concluded from these fossils that the red panda's ancestry was based solely in North America:

Intermediate forms between Parailurus and Ailurus are not known. The smaller size diminished range of Ailurus suggests that it may represent a specialized offshoot of the early ailurine lineage (and possibly even of an Asian form of Parailurus) that survived the Pleistocene glaciations in the mountain refugia of southern China (Pen, 1962).

But in 2003, paleontologists in Japan found the first molar evidence of another species of Parailurus in Asia around the same time period as the European and North American fossils, complicating the ancestry of Ailurus a bit further. If the red panda's ancestors came from North America, why were fossils of another species found in Japan?

It largely depends on how you take the evidence. If the Pleistocene glaciations were indeed responsible for the spread of Parailurus throughout the northern hemisphere, then perhaps the populations were isolated during the interglacial periods and speciated.

In 2004, paleontologists working in the Gray Fossil Site in eastern Tennessee published an article about a sturdy ancestor of Ailurus dating from the late Miocene period (4.5 - 7 Ma), further evidence supporting the western world's standing as cradle for the red panda.

Pristinailurus bristoli, as the animal has come to be known, could not have fed on bamboo, as the plant is not native to North America. However, there was a species of river cane extant at the time that Pristinailurus may have eaten, and the modern red panda is known to be a bit more versatile in diet than its cousin, the giant panda.

Browse all posts about the red panda


Roberts, M.S. and J.L. Gittleman. 1984. Ailurus fulgens . Mammal Species, No. 222:1-8

Tedford, R.H., and Gustafson, R.P., 1977, First North American record of the extinct panda Parailurus: Nature , v. 265, p. 621-623.

Wallace, S.C., and Wang, X., 2004, Two new carnivores from an unusual late Tertiary forest biota in eastern North America: Nature, v. 431, no. 7008, p. 556-559.

No responses yet

>Red Panda, Crow, Candy and Cupcakes

Aug 26 2006 Published by under Animals, Art, Red Panda

>Heather just finished her latest painting, this one depicting a red panda's strange little birthday party.

So here it is, just as I promised. Suspicious Birthday Guest by Heather Ravenscroft:

(Click to enlarge)

I might not get to ancestry this evening, hectic day all in all.

2 responses so far

>New Post Up on FFS!

Aug 26 2006 Published by under Blogging, Links, [Politics]

>I just posted a new article at FFS! (Fighting for Science) discussing stem cells and a new technique that attempts to circumvent the moral objections by sampling single cells for culture from the blastocyst:

While I appreciate the effort - some funding is better than none - it seems like an unnecessary step. Bush’s rejection of federal funding might as well be a complete ban, and now that he has turned his first veto into a fence around this “moral boundary.” We hear statements from conservatives about how they don’t oppose ESC research, but it shouldn’t be funded federally.


This stance is the same one taken regarding climate change and conservation. They oppose the federal creation of MPG regulations and emission reduction measures. Leave it to the private sector, they say.

While the private sector surely has the power to change the perceptions of American society, I wonder if we need a little push every now and then.

FFS! is a team blog all about defending science from both the pseudosciences and politcal agendas, while providing accurate information on new research and explaining the basic tenets of science.

FFS! is still looking for science minded writers. Eric Ingram, site founder:

The goal of this website is to provide a “hip” resource to fighting bad science, pseudoscience, etc. I hope this website will encourage people to ask questions instead of indulging in free handouts.

I’d like this site to cover ALL sciences, from astronomy to zoology. I’d also like to cover current events regarding science education and what can be done to prevent the suppressing of it. This site isn’t meant to be too formal, as I want it to appeal to students. If you’re interested in helping, please leave a comment stating so. If you have a blog of your own, I still encourage you to participate. Repost your blog entries here. It would be awesome to have all disciplines in one location.

Jen from Studying Biology and Environmental Science has signed on recently, and we have gained an astrophysicist from the University of Alabama, but there are still openings for bloggers and, of course, readers.

Take a few minutes and look around; we have a great group of bloggers with varying specialties in the scientific disciplines.

One response so far

>Deluded Apparel: Red Panda Hats?

Aug 25 2006 Published by under Conservation, Environment, Links, Red Panda, Religion, [Politics]

>The traditionalist Chinese, for all their deep philosophies of unity and transcendence, sure love to slaughter rare and beautiful animals for their own vanity.

Apparently, it is still acceptable in China to give hats made from the fur of poached red pandas as traditional gifts for special occasions.

From the BBC:

Red pandas are poached for their fur or sold as pets. Red panda fur is used to make hats and clothing in China. In the past red panda hats were given as wedding presents because they were seen as good luck charms. This tradition continues in some regions.

Red panda populations can only be roughly estimated. It’s thought that there has been a 40% decrease in China’s red panda population during the last 50 years.

It's not only the red pandas, either. Tiger parts of all sorts - bones, internal organs and genitals - and rhino horn are used prolifically in traditional Chinese holistic medicine. Some estimate that nearly 60% of China's 1.3 billion inhabitants use these holistic medicines with some frequency.

From the WWF:

Because of their use in medicines -- along with other factors like habitat loss -- tigers have almost disappeared, with as few as 5,000 to 7,000 left in the wild. If the use of their bones for TCM continues, the powerful and majestic wild tiger may not be around for future generations. Rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicines for centuries to treat fevers, convulsions and delirium. But now only 3,100 black rhinos survive in Africa. In Asia, the situation is even more dire, with only about 2,800 of all three Asian species combined.

I am all for the preservation of cultural integrity, but this is where the line needs to be drawn. These animals are in grave danger of disappearing forever for the sake of primitive, worthless medicines and adornments, infinitely replaceable by modern synthetics.

This is a nice hat:

This is not:

*Ancestry tomorrow, promise. :-)

5 responses so far

>The Sympatric Panda Pals

Aug 24 2006 Published by under Animals, Ecology, Environment, Evolution, Links, Red Panda

>Back to the pandas...

Photo: mindrec

We established that the giant and red panda co-inhabit the same habitat, but exploit very specific parts of that main habitat, different microhabitats. Giants stick to the low lands, feeding in sparse forest, while the reds alight the long branches of rhododenrons, stripping leaves from branches.

They are said to have a sympatric relationship, meaning that both pandas became separate species (speciation) while existing in the same area. Allopatry is the opposite process; it describes speciation by environmental isolation.

When ecologists and evolutionary biologists make references to sympatry or allopatry, they are talking not only about the present relationship between two organisms, but also about the coevolution of each in that habitat.

The need for divergence is especially strong in sympatry, since there are significantly fewer obvious pressures on the organism to change. In the case of the pandas, it may have just come down to avoiding direct competition for their main food, bamboo, which makes up over 98% of both animals' diets.

Tomorrow I'll hopefully be able to get to a few of the red panda's ancestors, which, surprisingly enough, stretches across the Pacific - to North America.

2 responses so far

Older posts »