BIO-MUSINGS

Thought-provoking e-essays that explore original ideas, enticing readers to think beyond the prevailing conceptions in Biology.


Bio-musings

Land tortoises are fully terrestrial, mainly plant-eating members of the Order Testudines. Oddly, Australia – despite having an impressive radiation of two suborders and eight genera of amphibious testudines – today lacks land tortoises or convergent reptiles derived from other lineages. There are two possible explanations for this lack...

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Large felids are watchable, perhaps mesmerising. And yet it has gradually dawned on us, during about three decades of watching the lion, watching biologists watch the lion, and watching the scientific literature on the lion: some obvious points about the appearance of this species keep on being missed by both expert and layperson...

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No mammalian family more thoroughly exploits camouflage than the cats. Whether by stripes, rosettes, blotches, mottles, melanism, or plain countershading, cats are highly adept at blending into their surroundings. Indeed, the variations of patterning and colouration, found in the 14 genera and 38 wild species of felids, make interpreting their evolutionarily adaptive value a complex task...

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Butyric acid  is an unlikely contender for a newly discovered vitamin in the human species. Yet that is what we contend – apparently for the first time – here at Exploring the Bio-edge...

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The Maasai of East Africa claim a staple of bovine milk as their birthright. Such a diet in adulthood has no precedent among mammals. Furthermore, no physiological adaptation in the Maasai to such specialisation has been discovered. We investigated how humans might achieve...

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The most famous castaway of all time, Jose Salvador Alvarenga, estimated age 37 years, has now returned to obscurity in central America. The media circus has moved on, ready for the next miracle. The limited information contained in news bulletins, with only superficial interpretation...

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Although much richer in bird species, South America cannot match Australia's large, brainy passerines. With a relatively well-watered, reliable environment, it's not surprising that South America supports many bird species, each specialized in its own way. By contrast, the unreliability of Australia's resources, particularly rainfall, is likely to limit specialisation in birds while at the same time favouring braininess on the island continent...

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On the face of it, cellulose is the most mundane of biological products. Everyday cotton.
When you put on pyjamas of 100% cotton, you're donning a product made simply from one natural polymer called cellulose, produced directly by plant cells, harvested by humans, and tweaked into shape as a garment without chemical transformation...

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If we survey the native faunas of the archipelagos of the world, it is birds rather than mammals that have, in general, succeeded on small patches of land isolated by sea. At first glance, this is unsurprising because the birds – or at least their ancestors – could have flown across the water...

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Amputating the clitoris is, by any standards, an abuse of the human body. As in the case of a hand amputated, some functions have been lost. But which functions, exactly? The answer 'sexual pleasure' is too simplistic. Societies that routinely amputate the clitoris have lost respect for the biological nature of our species...

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Most biologists know that conservation of the giant panda is biased, but we introduce clarity here on three counts. Firstly, part of the bias is for pied colouration. Secondly, this piophilia deserves a name. Thirdly, piophilia seems to have contributed to the salvation of several other large mammals...

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'Pinna' means feather in Latin, and yet it's mammals, not birds, that have an ear pinna: that auricle projecting from each side of your head. Okay, so no bird has external ears like those of mammals, but is this a biological trivium or a real mind-teaser? The feather is, after all, the definitive feature of living birds...

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Mammalogists have no common or vernacular name for one of the most important animal species on Earth, Bos taurus. Why have we failed to name a species we humans ourselves created more than five thousand years ago?

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The Bio-edge starts with the human body. So many enigmatic body parts to choose from: chin, appendix, eye whites, thumb, foot, penis, mammaries, sinuses, kidneys . . We could start anywhere in this list and more of puzzles. But we've chosen something almost arcane: the ear lobe.Is the ear lobe restricted to humans among primates?

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Is there a reader who hasn't scratched a head over the role of sodium in the human diet? The behaviour of Na in diet, health and ecology seems illogical. This is partly because sodium has an addictive aspect – and all addiction is paradoxical from an adaptive point of view. Personal experience plus ongoing scientific investigation allow us to suggest some original hypotheses on this subject...

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For more than a year Robin and the Honey Badger have felt inspired to compare the giant panda of China with the capybara of South America. What has lagged, however, is a creative way to combine the relevant biological principle with the right expository form. Without both, this comparison may seem far-fetched, its subjects too disparate...

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At the mention of the leatherback turtle, most people generally knowledgeable about animals may visualise merely one of the half dozen-odd types of marine turtles collectively associated with tropical seas. However, this particular species deserves a special shelf in the mind of the nature-lover because it differs from all other turtles...

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Grand constructions by non-human organisms seem to defy our self-concept as the engineering animal. Yet some of the greatest feats of engineering can be found in Nature itself beaver dams and lodges; mima mounds on a landscape scale; termitaria five metres high; and the breakwater of coral reefs...

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