Mid-week Reptilian #8: Happy Turkey Day!

Thursday, November 26, 2009 at 2:04 PM Bookmark and Share
What more appropriate reptilian to showcase this holiday than the one on the dinner table? How about it's wild counterpart - the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).

The Wild Turkey is the largest of the 2 extant turkey species (the other being the Oscillated Turkey of S. America).  There are around six recognized subspecies (nominate South Mexico M. g. gallopavo, Gould's M. g. mexicana, Eastern M. g. silvestris, Florida M. g. osceola, Merriam's M. g. merriami,  and Rio Grande M. g. intermedia) and a variety of domestic breeds including the somewhat pitiful breed most Americans will be carving up this Thanksgiving.  Turkeys are classified in the order Galliformes, which includes the other chicken-, grouse- and pheasant-like birds. In the past turkeys belonged to their own family (Meleagrididae), but recently they've been deemed more closely related to the grouse and pheasants lumping the three previously distinct family groups into the family Phasianidae

Figure 1: Two male Eastern Wild Turkeys doing a courtship display.

Figure 2: The completely unrelated Turkey Vulture, here regally poised atop
a decaying deer carcass (for your post-Thanksgiving-dinner pleasure).

Turkey's received their common name from their early arrival to Europe, when they were imported to Turkey from the new world.  They became know as "Turkey Fowl" on the market, and as Europeans moved to the Americas, the name stuck.  In spanish many call turkey pavo, likely from early European confusion with Peafowl (genus pavo), and in parts of Central American and Mexico turkey are known commonly by their Nahuatl name of guajolote.

Turkey are conspicuous birds, and not surprisingly hold a place in U.S. history.  Aside from the Thanksgiving tradition, there is also Benjamin Franklin's rather famed criticism of the Bald Eagle as our national emblem.  In a 1784 letter to his daughter Sarah, he compares a few other birds with that "bird of bad moral character", the eagle - including the Wild Turkey.
For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours; the first of the species seen in Europe, being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada, and served up at the wedding table of Charles the Ninth. He is, besides, (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that,) a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.

Kids Explain Evolution: The Charlie's Playhouse Compilation

 at 2:20 AM Bookmark and Share
A while ago, some of you may have seen requests for parents to share some video of their kids answering the question "What's Evolution?" The result is the video version of the Ask the Kids! project at Charlie's Playhouse which is now available on the web (including right down below...)

On the Origin of Species turns 150

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 11:01 AM Bookmark and Share
I'm sitting here in an airport Starbuck's somewhere in the midwest, and thought I'd try and crank out a quick blog post while I was killing time. So given today is the 150th anniversary of Darwin's first edition of On the Origin of Species, here are a few odds and ends that caught my eye:

NSF launches Evolution of Evolution website

Monday, November 23, 2009 at 7:47 PM Bookmark and Share
The National Science Foundation has launched a new website called the Evolution of Evolution: 150 Years of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. A cursory look at the site revealed a nice (though a bit overpackaged) presentation at how the theory of Evolution has pulled together a broad array of scientific disciplines, and expounds upon a few cool, important or otherwise noteworthy examples of the recent scientific accomplishments as well as significant historical work.  Also a bit of history surrounding Darwin and his legacy - no doubt in celebration of his 200th birthday this year, and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species this Tuesday, the 24th of November.

If you get a chance to work through any of the site in detail, feel free to leave your impression in the comments below.

The appropriate response to an awesome new animal...

Saturday, November 21, 2009 at 11:45 AM Bookmark and Share
"Wow! Whoa! Wow!"

Mid-week Reptilians #7: High Altitude Flamingos!

Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 7:15 PM Bookmark and Share
While I've been busy lately with thesis work (among other things), I recently found out some fellow grad students won the Audience's Choice award in the first of The Scientist Video Awards. Here's a brief article on some of that work on these magnificent birds.

Job well done folks!

Ray Comfort versus the 9th Commandment

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 12:38 PM Bookmark and Share
Looks like the "Creationist edition" of Darwin's Origin went out a day early:
  1. Ray has a change in plans | Pharyngula
  2. Wednesday, November 18, 2009 | Ray Comfort's blog
Hope you were able to get your copy! If so, let us know if it was the full text, or if it was missing chapters?


[Correction to what's below - my bad...]  While most regard the final 6th edition  (1876) of Darwin's book the definitive version of the text, in the spirit of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the first edition (1859) it is that edition that has been used by Ray Comfort.  The concern below over a missing Chapter was based on comparisons with later editions (5th and 6th, I believe), so it appears that (at least some) of the books distributed to students contained complete copies of the 1st edition. 

A friend of mine noticed the copy of Comfort's edition of the book that he picked up on campus today was missing Chapter 7. I checked a downloaded copy of the PDF of the full text from Comfort's website (see the link to the intro - it's his whole book) and it too is also missing Chapter 7.  Funny enough - mere pixels from the link to the PDF missing chapter 7 - Comfort writes on his website...
This will be the entire publication (304-pages). Nothing has been removed from Darwin’s original work.
After Darwin's famous final paragraph, there's a "Special Note" by Ray Comfort which ends
... It was Irish playwright and skeptic George Bernard Shaw who warned, “All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions.
– Ray Comfort

Why use animals for scientific research?

Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 5:37 PM Bookmark and Share
[Hat tip to Dr. Isis]

The American Physiological Society has a new FAQ up on using animals in scientific research (big emphasis on medical research).  If you've ever wondered...
... then hop on over to their website and have a look.

Mid-week Reptilians #6: Snake vs. Woodpecker

Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 5:42 PM Bookmark and Share
Busy week, so this so here's a quickie: a spectacular reptilian interaction that was caught on video in the Amazon.

The caption along side the video (with minor corrections, and the bird's binomial name C. melanoleucos added) explains:
On vacation in Peru Yarapa River Lodge we came across a woodpecker knocking on a tree, when we came closer we saw the fight between a [female] woodpecker and a snake.

The snake is: Olive whipsnake, [Chironius fuscus]
The Woodpecker is: Crimson crested woodpecker [Campephilus melanoleucos]
[See below for correct ID of the snake.]


I spoke with our local herp expert, Harry Green, and the snake is actually not the (typically terrestrial) Chironius species as indicated above. It's actually one of the "Bird-eating Snakes" in the genus Pseustes (maybe this one?). One of the few real bird specialists out there, these snakes are also known as Puffing Snakes, owing to the defensive behavior of puffing up their "throat" (as seen in this video) to ward off would-be attackers.