Bad news sandwich

Gordon Brown was reputed to have a bit of a temper when prime minister, especially when he got bad news. Which is why his staff when needed to bring him some resorted to an old trick: a bad news sandwich. Give a bit of good news, then a bit of bad news, then a bit of good news again. I want to try this as well, to take the bitter taste of Palin away. So this is another cute animal video post.

Now the next post down is Palin, but the post after that is kittens!

What’s That Coming Out Of Your Nose -Is It A Monster?

Is it a monster? Or could it be something thought to have been extinct aeons ago?

In a shudder inducing post at Circus of The Spineless GrrlScientist describes a new species of bloodsucker from Amazonia that feeds on the mucous membranes in the nose:

As if most people don’t have enough blood-suckers in their lives, a new species of mucous-membrane infesting leech was discovered in the nostril of a 9-year-old girl. She frequently bathed in lakes, rivers and streams in the Amazonian part of Peru and was distressed when she felt “a sliding sensation” in the back of her nose.

The girl’s physician, Renzo Arauco-Brown, at the School of Medicine at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, removed the leech and sent it to Mark Siddall, a leech expert and curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Despite careful study, Dr Siddall and his colleagues were unable to place this specimen into any of the known leech families.

However, they did note that the specimen had eight very large teeth embedded in its jaw.


Hang on a minute -a jaw and teeth on a leech? Isn’t that evolutionarily and taxonomically unlikely?

Now I’m no evolutionary biologist, nor do I even play one on TV, but the first thing I thought when I read the species description was “That’s a conodont, surely”.

Conodonts are extinct chordates resembling eels, classified in the class Conodonta. For many years, they were known only from tooth-like microfossils now called conodont elements, found in isolation. Knowledge about soft tissues remains relatively sparse to this day. The animals are also called Conodontophora (conodont bearers) to avoid ambiguity.

The conodonts are currently classified in the phylum Chordata because their fins with fin rays, chevron-shaped muscles and notochord are characteristic of Chordata.

They are considered by Milsom and Rigby to be vertebrates similar in appearance to modern hagfish and lampreys, and phylogenetic analysis suggests that they are more derived than either of these groups. This analysis, however, comes with one caveat: early forms of conodonts, the protoconodonts, appear to form a distinct clade from the later paraconodonts and euconodonts. It appears likely that the protoconodonts represent a stem group to the phylum containing chaetognath worms, indicating that they are not close relatives of true conodonts.

Wouldn’t it be so cool if Tyranobdella turned out to be related to the conodont? And if the conodont is still about the place, what other lifeforms thought extinct millions of years ago are lurking in the planet’s more obscure corners?

More on Tyranobdella and its evolution here

Links For A Dull, Rainy Sunday

‘Nomnomnomnom’ goes the kitteh:

They could have turned off the Gulf oil leak like a tap. But they chose not to, and Obama was a wimp.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the well lacked a remote-control shut-off switch that is required by Brazil and Norway, two other major oil-producing nations. The switch, a back-up measure to shut off oil flow, would allow a crew to remotely shut off the well even if a rig was damaged or sunken. BP said it couldn’t explain why its primary shut-off measures did not work.

U.S. regulators considered requiring the mechanism several years ago. They decided against the measure when drilling companies protested, saying the cost was too high, the device was only questionably effective, and that primary shut-off measures were enough to control an oil spill. A 2001 industry report argued against the shut-off device:

“Significant doubts remain in regard to the ability of this type of system to provide a reliable emergency back-up control system during an actual well flowing incident.”

However, a spokeswoman for Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority said the switches have “been seen as the most successful and effective option” in North Sea usage. Several oil producers, including Royal Dutch Shell, sometimes use the switch even when it is not required by country regulations.

(via Digby)

, cute baby badger alert. Talk to the paw… ’cause the ear isn’t there.

If you read nothing else on US politics today, readPapers, Please: Asserting White Supremacy Since 1492, a fantastic post from Jesus General on the naziesque ID laws passed by Arizona and the non-reaction of the allegedly libertarian teabaggers:

Even more noteworthy about all this is the reaction from the Tea Baggers — or perhaps I should say the lack of reaction from the Tea Baggers. We’ve sat through months of Tea Bagger complaints about government overreach and the threats to our liberty from government intrusions into our lives. In every case, there’s been little to no empirical evidence that their complaints were based on any reality.

The most generous perspective on those complaints is that the Tea Baggers bought into lies from Republican leaders who sought to increase their profile through fear mongering. A less generous perspective would be that they generally knew they were complaining about nonsense but did it anyway because it made them feel better because they didn’t have to admit openly that their real complaint was that a black man was in the White House.

So what are we to make about the overall lack of response to the Arizona “Papers, Please” law? Here is a genuine example of government overreach. Here is a genuine example of the government trying to infringe upon people’s individual liberties. Why aren’t the Tea Baggers protesting this? Why don’t large numbers of Tea Baggers go to the state capitol in Arizona with guns and threatening signs? Where are all the “Don’t Tread on Me” banners?

I don’t think that there is a “most generous” interpretation this time. It’s not plausible that the Tea Baggers are unaware of the law and it’s not plausible that they are unaware of how it will impact people’s lives. It seems to me that the only realistic interpretation is that they don’t care how the Arizona law will impact people because it won’t impact them or people like them — i.e., white people. Tea Baggers aren’t stupid and know just as well as the rest of us that white people won’t be stopped and asked for their papers like brown people will. More….

Ooh, A Shiny New Toy

This Dynamic Planet is an online, interactive world map of volcanoes, earthquakes, impact craters, and plate tectonics, jointly produced by the USGS and the Smithsonian.

Click for interactive map
(Click image to go to interactive map)

Clicking on a feature within the interactive map zooms in to even more detailed maps and information. I’m going to be playing with this for days. Weeks, even.

BBC’s The Beauty of Maps:
Historical Maps- Experience five of the world’s most beautiful old maps and discover their secrets
Digital Worlds- Find out how we map virtual spaces and understand our world today

British Museum: Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art

Linky Goodness: Science, Scones and Squid

Discover Magazine: Off the California Coast, Giant Volcanoes Made of Asphalt

Tin-Tin In The Congo is likely to be banned in Belgium unless sold with a racism warning sticker. Quite right too.

Also sounding rather Tin-Tinesque, an insight into the odd social life of the world’s only living secular saint in The Mystery of Naomi Campbell and the Blood Diamond

But back to the benthic theme: a lovely deep sea fauna gallery, including video of the elusive oarfish (often mistaken historically for an actual sea serpent) , from the Serpent Project. NB: Piglet squid!

There’s nothing as delicious as scones with jam and cream (or better still, treacle and cream, AKA ‘thunder & lightning’) but it’s not a treat I get often; even though I was born and bred in Devon my scones are like bricks, despite my incredibly light hand with pastry and talent for cakes. But my mother’s scones were light as a feather, while her pastry was like concrete. Small wonder her pasties (the savoury kind, not the sequined nipple covers) were known in our family as ‘trainwreckers’. The scone gene got twisted somewhere. So when I saw this post – How to make the perfect scone- I was inspired to have another go. But first I have to get out of this hellhole of a hospital.

3,000 years of pre-Sumerian history left undiscovered because of husbandly misogyny

Some Days All You Want To Do Is Cry

Vent Fauna

Hydrothermal vents have been compared to oases. That’s a good description. Oases are lush areas in a desert based on a water source. In a similar way, a vent is an oasis: it is teeming with life in the middle of the nearly barren ocean floor. A vent spewing microbe- and mineral-rich, super hot water is this oasis’ water source.

Vent communities are an ecotone. They are a transition zone between the hot water emerging from the vent and the cold environment of surrounding sea water. Just 15 centimeters (6 in.) laterally away from the vent, the seawater is cold, yet the heat and chemicals rising from it can be measured with powerful thermometers for many miles.

The life forms we see are truly bizarre, and some are very ancient. The vents probably predate life on earth. Scientists believe vents have been around for 3.5 – 4 billion years, and life in them probably began soon thereafter. We saw vents for the first time fewer than 25 years ago, in 1977.

I first came across the issue of seabed mining rights when studying maritime law in the early nineties and I thought then that the lack of international legal safeguards against exploitation meant that here was a disaster waiting to happen.

Well, that disaster’s here:

Nautilus Minerals, a small Canadian company backed by the giant mining company Anglo-American, has just received an environmental permit from the government of Papua New Guinea to conduct the world’s first deep-sea mining in the vent fields of the Bismarck Sea.

Giant undersea excavators will be built this year, and ore could be rising from depths of 1,600m by 2012.

Conservation biologist Professor Rick Steiner, formerly of the University of Alaska, was called in to examine the company’s original environmental impact assessment study.

He is concerned about the dumping of thousands of tonnes of rock on the seabed and about the danger of spillages of toxic residue, but his real objection is more fundamental.

He explained: “The site that they mine, they’re going to destroy all these vent chimneys where the sulphide fluids come out.”
The HyBIS submarine captured images of the vents on camera

He added that it could cause the extinction of species that are not even known to science yet.

“I think that, from an ethical stand-point, is unacceptable,” he said.

Steven Rogers, CEO of Nautilus, said that he accepted that the mined area would be damaged, but said he was convinced that it could recover.

He believes deep-sea mining will be less damaging to the environment than mining on land.

He said: “I think there’s a much greater moral question…. here we have an opportunity to provide those metals with a much, much lower impact on the environment.”

The success of the Nautilus enterprise is dependent less on questions of morality than of profit.

Steven Rogers estimates that this first mining site could yield anything from tens of millions of dollars up to $300m in value.

But Professor Steiner believes that success in the Bismarck Sea will provoke a “goldrush” at vent systems around the world, most of which have yet to be properly studied.

Vent systems are fundamental to life on this planet, each one a fully functioning ecosystem that supports the web of life on the planet in ways we are only just beginning to understand.

“….deep-sea mining will be less damaging to the environment than mining on land.” says Steven Rogers; what he actually means is “If I can’t actually see the damage, it isn’t actually happening”.

What the hell are New Guinea thinking, letting these profiteers destroy the vent fields?

And that’s only within their territorial waters. There’s nothing to stop similar profiteers doing the same in the open ocean. No governmental permission is required. How long before the profiteers destroy the mid-Atlantic Ridge vent fields and their associated fauna and flora?

Not very long – plans are already in hand. Pass me a hanky, please.

Previously only seen in bad sci-fi stories

Monstrous bacterial colonies the size of entire countries have been spotten in the Pacific:

A mat the size of Uruguay composed of giant bacteria has been discovered in the mid-depths of the ocean off the coasts of Chile and Peru, report scientists who are working on a series of studies of the ocean’s smallest life forms. These enormous spaghetti-like mats of megabacteria (Thioploca spp.) may play a key role the region’s extremely rich fisheries, says marine biologist Víctor Ariel Gallardo, vice-chair of the Census of Marine Life Scientific Steering Committee, which released the preliminary results of its survey in early April.


The megabacteria were discovered in the cold Chilean waters in the 1960s, but, Gallardo said, few scientists could believe at the time that a bacterium could measure two to seven centimetres – big enough to see with the naked eye.

The discovery that these giant bacteria also live in vast colonies is more recent, and it has only been in the past couple of years that funding has been available through the Census of Marine Life to finally investigate this surprising abundance.


These bacterial mats may be remnants of that Proterozoic period 2.5 billion to 650 million years ago, surviving in the oxygen-starved mid-depths of the ocean.

Such oxygen-minimum layers exist in parts of the world’s oceans where little of this gas mixes down from the surface or up from the cold, oxygenated water that sinks at the poles and oozes like poured cream along the sea floor to other world regions.

Isn’t it a strange, wondrous world?

Clever clog^wcrows

Researchers teach already way too clever crows how to combine tools:

In their experiment, they temporarily captured seven wild New Caledonian crows and presented them with a complicated problem that could only be solved by using a number of tools in a specific order.

The birds were placed on a perch, and tied to the perch was a string. A short stick was tied to the end of the string.

A long stick was placed out of reach, behind bars, but close enough that it could be reached with the short stick. Finally, a scrap of meat was placed out of reach of the bird, far enough that it could not be reached with the short stick, but could be reached with the long one.

By my calculation, this use of multiple tools puts them ahead of most rightwing bloggers.