Category Archives: Science

Disappearing Trick

This is the first bird I’ve seen reacting to a magic trick. I saw an orangutan on Youtube not long ago that seemed to be baffled by a card trick. It puzzles me no end that so many “experts” believed for so long that these intelligent animals were little more than flesh and bone robots, with neither feelings nor thoughts. How ignorant those “experts” were! In case anybody doesn’t get it, it takes intelligence to be fooled by a magic trick.

I think this is a yellow-crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea), but there are several very similar species and I’m no ornithologist. All of them are magnificent birds. The yellow-crested cockatoo is critically endangered, with the world population estimated to be less than 7,000, because of poaching for the pet trade. However, there has been a feral population in Hong since the early 1940s, consisting now of maybe 200 birds, that appears to be prospering.

There are a variety of interesting videos on Youtube. In the one below, one bird gets turned on by a pretty good Elvis impersonator. The other, not so much.




Flipping Magnets

Every magnet has two poles designated north and south. Like poles of two or more magnets repel each other, but unlike poles attract each other.

When very small, disk-shaped magnets are placed onto a smooth, lubricated table top, each with the same pole pointed upward, they arrange themselves into a grid like the one first shown above. That equalizes the magnetic forces acting on each magnet from all the other magnets to the extent possible. But if the grid is squeezed, or compressed, from the sides, the grid begins to deform. Then. suddenly. one of the tiny magnets leaps into the air followed immediately by others.

As they tumble in the air above the tabletop, being pushed and pulled by each other and all the ones still on the table, when a north pole and a south pole come together, they stick, forming long rods until no more are left flat on the table.

Isn’t sciencey stuff fascinating?



Where Did It Go?

Where? I don’t see any butterfly. There’s nothing here but a brown old dead leaf.

Many insect species–and some larger animals, too–are colored to blend into their natural backgrounds and disappear from view. This is one of the best. When endangered, it just closes its wings and disappears. It’s just one more example of what natural selection can do when it has unimaginable lengths of time–many millions of years–to do its work.

Your Microbiome

Microorganisms from a Human Mourh
Microorganisms from a Human Mouth, Magnified About a Zillion Times
How many cells make up your body? It’s actually not all that easy to answer that simple question. But recently, scientists have made a pretty good effort. And their final count is…37.2 trillion.
October 24, 2013


You know that your body is made up of cells. Right? But 37 trillion of them! Who could have guessed? And now that we know, what does it really mean? How many is 37 trillion, anyway? And how did they come up with this number in the first place?

Estimate based on volume, and you get only 15 trillion cells; by weight, you get 70 trillion cells. Unfortunately, nobody has actually counted them all yet. (I wonder why?)

They divided the body into parts and estimated the number of cells in each part, from intestines to knees. This works better because cells are packed more densely in some organs than others. There are 100 billion neuron cells in your brain alone. (Interestingly, these neurons each put out a great number of feelers that link up with, on average, the corresponding feelers from 1,000 other neurons. Altogether, your brain contains a staggering 100 trillion circuits with which to compute your thoughts and feelings.)

The smallest cell in the human body is the sperm; the largest, the egg. The ostrich lays the largest egg of any living bird, weighing up to 3.3 lb and measuring up to 7.0 in × 5.5 in; but the largest cell on the planet is probably the egg of the whale shark, measuring up to 11.8 in × 5.5 in × 3.5 in. That’s one big cell!

But I haven’t even mentioned your microbiome yet. That consists of all the single-celled bacteria, archaea, fungi, and protists that live and make their living on and in your body. The generally accepted figure is that there are ten times more microbes living on and in you than there are of your own human cells in your own human body.

Blood Cells
Blood Cells

This is possible because a human cell can easily have 1,000 times the volume of a bacterial cell, for example. Again, nobody ever sat down one afternoon and counted them. It’s an estimate.

So that’s 372 trillion critters crawling, swimming, and otherwise making their ways around your body, or just sitting still. Many of them are essrntial to your own health. A few are harmful and any number of them may be neutral, neither harming or hurting you. There are so many and they are so tiny and hard to study that it’ll be a long, long time before all that gets sorted out.

So how many is 372 trillion? It’s 372,000,000,000,000. If they were minutes into the past, no animal or plant life had evolved on earth yet. Your ancestors and mine were teensy, tiny, single-celled creatures not terribly different from an amoeba.

If these 372 trillion microbes were inches, they’d reach more than half-way across the galaxy. Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of bugs! All on you.

Wash your hands before you eat.



Kakapo Joy

No wonder the kakapo is the most endangered parrot in the world!

The one here trying to copulate with a man’s head is named Sirocco. His species of large, flightless, ground-dwelling, nocturnal parrots endemic to New Zealand is critically endangered because of humans.

After New Zealand broke off from the supercontinent  Gondwana, around 82 million years ago, all the major major predators on it became extinct. Among other creatures that survived was a population of parrots, which eventually evolved into several species, including the kakapo.

There were several species of hawk and an owl that occasionally preyed on the kakapo. but nothing on the ground. Even most of the avian predators are extinct now. The giant Haast’s eagle died out when humans hunted its main prey, the giant moa, to extinction. The moa was another flightless bird looking similar to an overgrown ostrich which could stand up to twelve feet tall, taller than an elephant.

The kakapo was of high value to the Maori, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages beginning about 1250 a.d., bringing with them the rats and other vermin that accompany humans everywhere. They hunted the birds for meat and for their beautiful feathers and sometimes kept them as pets.

Sirocco the Kakapo

Then European settlers came in the seventeenth century, bringing dogs, cats, foxes, ferrets and other beasts that go feral and devour the native fauna and flora. The flightless, ground-nesting birds didn’t have a chance! The imported beasts ate their eggs and chicks and some of them even killed and ate the adult birds.

The Europeans also hunted them for meat and kept
them as pets. One settler wrote that his kakapo’s behavior toward him and his friends was “more like that of a dog than a bird.”

New Zealand has no native non-marine mammals except bats, for the obvious reason that bats flew there and other mammals couldn’t. Why did they? I dunno. Maybe they got lost. Maybe a storm blew them off course from wherever they intended to fly to. Who knows?

Birds often lose the power of flight and grow larger on islands with no predators to escape from, and this is what happened to the kakapo. It’s the largest parrot on earth and accumulates masses of body fat, but it didn’t need to fly until humans came with their vermin. Since there were no predators, it also nested on the ground. Big mistake!

After the Polynesian and European colonizations, the kakapo was almost wiped out. Now, all surviving kakapos are kept on three predator-free islands, where they are closely monitored. Two large islands have been the subject of large-scale ecological restoration to create self-sustaining ecosystems with suitable habitats for the kakapo. As of April 2018, there were 149 known adult kakapos.


The Great Tree of Life

From VisuallyThe Great Tree of Life.

The “Tree of Life,” which shows relationships among all forms of life to the extent we know them, is no longer a tree. It has taken the form of an arc with many thick branches. On seeing it depicted this way, one is inclined to remember Charles Darwin’s words:

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us (the laws of nature).

On the Origin of Species (First Edition), by Charles Darwin