Friday, November 20, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
A short blurb on the Scientific America site describes Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University's second annual 'ugly bug contest.' The voting is open to the public. The contest is conducted by offering lush microscopic photographs and short behavioral profiles on each contestant. Even though the contest designers do not address the subjective nature of ugliness, it is still pretty fun.
Here is the Scientific America blurb
And here is the actual contest
Sunday, November 15, 2009
A short trip to the Field Museum of Natural History last week brought our class up-close-and-personal with the 4 million pinned (and 8 million wet) specimens they have. Jim Boone showed us around the collections, while Corrie Moreau gave us a excellent tour of the molecular phylogenetics facility and told us all about her work on ant evolution.
To round everything out, scientific illustrator and watercolor artists Peggy MacNamara showed us some of her current work in her in situ museum studio. We looked at originals from her book Illinois Insects & Spiders as well as some from a couple forthcoming books as well. All around, quite a nice "Field Trip" (sorry, couldn't help it!)
Friday, November 13, 2009
So I just watched the movie Sick Girl from Showtime's Masters of Horror anthology, and I found more than a few problems with it. For those not in the know, the series features one-hour films by "the foremost filmmakers of fright." In this particular episode, a lebian entomologist, her dream girl, and a South American parasitic mystery bug named Mick fall in love. All of them. And in the great tradition of pseudo-scientific monster flicks like Mimic, The Fly, and Species, it’s ridiculous.
The film conflates spiders, millipedes, snails and insects, which are all vastly disparate denizens of the animal kingdom: in one scene two spiders and two dragonflies are pinned to a board of beetles. If we're going to accept that “bug” is an acceptable overarching term in the first place – it’s not – the screenwriter should at least know the difference between arthropods and mollusks. We also find out that the word "proboscis" is applicable to anything extend-y (which leads to a charming penis joke) regardless of position in body plan and function. These scientists are haplessly uninformed and strangely unwilling to accept the possibility of a new species. “An insect that hunts and kills mammals? Come on, there's no such thing!” an entomologist scoffs at one point, despite the fact that the specimen is the size of a dinner plate. This “bug,” cutely dubbed Mick, is vaguely arachnid and vaguely mantid, with sucking mouth parts and non-functional wings, if they exist at all. The fact that the researchers couldn't determine the sex of an unknown species was taken as a point of spookiness, whereas in biology hermaphroditic, asexual and even intersexed species or individuals are rampant. The real question - whether it has six legs or not - is evaded by the use of quick camera work and cheesy effects.
Not only is the film uninformed, it perpetuates the stereotype of entomologists - in particular female entomologists - as socially-deficient weirdos, a trope emphasized by the protagonist's "deviant" sexual preference for other women. This makes sense in terms of director Lucky McKee's other work (in particular, 2002's May, another weirdo-romance story also featuring Angela Bettis), but in this case her undesirability is directly related to her enthusiasm for bugs: she's the ick-equivalent of the crazy cat lady, baby-voicing the tarantulas that are perpetually crawling all over her while the audience takes its cue to squirm. While cutesy and sympathetic, the placement of this story under the auspices of horror cements the “extreme” status of both “bugs and babes.”
Some other gems o’ skewed-logic that we can glean from Sick Girl:
- Brazil is a place where wondrous demon bugs roam wild, because it's tropical and stuff
- The irresistable urge to add screechy sounds and mucus to everything vaguely monstrous/unknown is never wrong, regardless of the biology you’re ripping off
- Pencil drawings of faeries make for good art
- Lesbians are always hot
It’s hard to say whether this story is to be taken as an individual case or a symptom of general attitudes towards "bugs," those who study them, and alternative sexualities. Maybe it's just a stupid horror movie.
At least the soundtrack was decent.
posted by Anne Chino
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Scientists have recently discovered a population of Heliconius butterflies that have begun to show the process of divergent evolution. The Heliconius have color-based mating preference, and the two colors within the population are beginning to mate exclusively with their own color, despite their genetic likeness. Read the article at http://www.utexas.edu/news/2009/11/05/butterflies_species/
posted by Joe Song
Monday, November 9, 2009
A week or so ago in class the question came up as to why males are not only so colorful relative to females, but why across species the colors and patterns vary so much.
Research reported on this week points to one possible answer: To avoid INTERspecies male-male competition!
In a variation on sexual selection theory we see coloration as not only a means to attract mates of the came species, but perhaps also avoid conflict with those of other species you happen to cohabit with.
This work has found observational support in damselflies, and the question is to how many other species it may apply.
To see a little about the research, go here.