I noticed this video on YouTube among those featured on the main page, and it makes me wonder about otter behavior beyond the “Awww”s from the crowd;
In the wild, sea otters wrap themselves in kelp when they go to sleep so they don’t drift away. While there are predators within the kelp environment, the chances of getting hit by a great white shark are greater at the surface outside of the kelp forests. I can’t help but wonder if this “hand holding” behavior from the aquarium stems from the need to feel secure when asleep, a wild behavior that has been deferred to one that merely looks cute to the casual observer. Even if I’m wrong in the sense of the otters need to feel physically connected to something else, perhaps it reflects the need to feel (dare I say it) emotionally secure. For those who have read the book Born Free, you’ll recall Elsa was described as sucking Joy Adamsons thumb whenever she felt nervous. What reason the otters would have to feel nervous/insecure in the aquarium, I don’t know, but I can’t rule it out. If the otters are indeed a “couple,” other mammals have been known to have pair bonding behaviors, some primates sitting together with tails entwined during their courtship. Granted, the examples of Elsa and primates may not apply because behavior is not standard across the board for mammals, but I simply bring them up to convey the possibilities for why this behavior was exhibited. While I have no proof and I’m not an expert, I prefer the physical security hypothesis, but I could be entirely wrong.
Update: Upon some further research, there seems to be anecdotal evidence of otters sleeping together in groups called “rafts” and holding paws to stay together, a phenomenon also seen sometimes with youngsters and their mothers. Once again, whether this is for physical security, emotional security, or (likely) some combination thereof is not mentioned. In my opinion, it probably serves a dual purpose of making the otters feel physically secure and also assists with bonding of individuals in a group, so it seems to be advantageous from either viewpoint. Also, I owe a thank-you to WordPress for featuring this post as the “Blog of the Minute.”
In considering the question of how giraffes got so tall, it’s important to take into account the various aspects of their life history, birth being one of the high points. Here’s some video from the PBS documentary “Tall Blondes” (there’s a halfway decent companion book of the same name) featuring the birth of a baby giraffe;
There’s also video from the San Francisco Zoo showing a first-time mother giving birth, which is interesting in contrast with the “smooth” birth in the first video;
It’s somewhat interesting to consider that the giraffe has been adapted into a long-legged, long-necked form but there doesn’t seem to be any behavioral adaptation to reduce the fall of the offspring when its being born. While such births are often recorded for documentaries, I have to wonder what the mortality rate is for giraffe births, i.e. if any are done harm by the initial fall. How do such rates differ from the mortality rates of other African browsers like gerenuks? While we’re at it, what are the mortality rates among giraffes at different times of life, and what causes those deaths?
I also think that some relatively simple comparative anatomy might help answer some questions about form & function in giraffe evolution. Why not take measurements of upper leg (humerus/femur to radius & ulna/tibia & fibula) of various browsers in the same ecology as giraffes over their evolutionary history and determine what advantages the differing lengths might have as far as running/walking speed or efficiency. Giraffes certainly couldn’t have achieved their long necks without changes to their leg length as well, and the more we can understand and compare about each of the components the better we’ll be able to understand the evolution of the organism rather than just an aspect of an organism.
While I’m speculating, I also have been thinking about the sexual selection model of giraffe evolution that has been proposed and debated. Personally, I don’t find the male combat aspect of it particularly convincing, but this doesn’t mean sexual selection would not be valid; giraffes are derived from shorter-necked ancestors and so the “necking” behavior exhibited by extant males may have developed once a longer neck had been established. What if giraffe ancestor females preferred males with longer necks or if such males had a higher chance of intimidating other males (being a “winner”)? Then, a longer neck would be favored through sex and through an advantage of browsing a larger area, being doubly effective. It is important to note, however, that the necks could not extend on their own; legs and other systems would have develop along with the lengthening of the neck. The development of the giraffe’s specialized circulatory system (when it happened, precisely how it happened [were there relatively long-necked giraffes without it that didn't fare well?]) is also a big question, but if the mystery of the giraffe can be deciphered perhaps it will not only benefit us in the breadth of our knowledge, but also through using a more integrated approach to evolutionary study. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to study them in their own habitat (else what I do is primarily hypothesis without observation), and perhaps then I’ll be able to answer some of my own questions.
In quest to develop a somewhat intelligent post about giraffes and their evolution, I came across this video of a spotted hyena eating a giraffe from the inside out, literally lying down in the dead animals body cavity and having a grand old time (warning: it’s a bit messy)
While hyenas are often shown hunting in groups (or more often trying to steal lion kills in groups) many hunt on their own and are very effective solitary hunters. This is not to suggest that this hyena actually took down this giraffe, but it is important to note that hyenas do often hunt on their own. Why this one is alone with a giraffe carcass, without harassment from other hyenas, lions, or other scavengers however, I don’t know. Anyway, back to the carnage;
Dobson says that if you can’t proselytize about your faith all the time, you’re not a Christian, but according to this website, if you don’t speak in tongues you haven’t really got the holy spirit and aren’t a Christian either. I was tipped off to this nonsense by a commenter (who I’m assuming either made or agrees with the website), and it’s more of the “My religion is better than your religion” BS. According to the website, the Holy Spirit was recalled during the fraction of a second between 610/611 AD, and was not received by anyone again until the split second between 1900/1901 AD (1290 years of “the abomination desolation”). From what I’ve seen, especially in the documentary Jesus Camp, speaking in tongues is a big time requirement, many people often induced to the point of having seizures in order to be sure they have the holy spirit. Contrast this with a lady who came to Rutgers the other day proclaiming that if you weren’t Catholic, you’re going to hell, and I can only imagine what fate they believe a critic like me would receive.
What’s more disturbing is the main page’s proclamation that nuclear war is the sign of the End Times, which of course flows into the idea that if a nuclear holocaust can be brought forth sooner, God will come back sooner (the old “Well, it happened so God must have willed it to happen” defense). Just what we need; more people thinking God will reward them for annihilating everyone else.
This story is a bit old (this news article dates it at January 12, 2004) but it follows in the theme of Biblical idiocy that seems awfully prevalent today. I’ll let the video speak for itself;
While most people don’t actually want to end up in a lion enclosure, there are many zoos in which it’s excessively easy to get close to big carnivores. I wonder how often events like these occur (I’ll post about it should I find a disturbing trend of yahoos feeding themselves to lions).
With shows like BibleMan on the air, I’m glad I can’t afford television. The evangelical answer to the Power Rangers and other such shows, Bible Man is concerned that Billie is talking back to his mother and other equally heinous threats to the world. The quality isn’t the best, but the dialog in this scene is priceless;
The particular episode I caught on the Trinity network today (and tipped me off to the existence of BibleMan) featured a young boy who was getting into scuffles with other 12 year olds all the time. When confronted by the foam-rubber clad Christian, the child demanded to know why his parents were killed by a drunk driver if God really loves him. The response he got, after the stiff, hulking hero sat down on the bed, was the standard “I don’t know, but God has a plan for us” tripe. At that point I changed the channel; I couldn’t take it anymore.
This is the blog of Brian Switek, a (hopefully) soon-to-be-graduating student at Rutgers University studying ecology & evolution. Here you'll find ramblings and the occasional asinine assertion involving evolution, intelligent design/creationism, conservation, paleontology, and a myriad of other topics that occupy his mind on a daily basis. What, exactly, is Laelaps? Find out here. Other questions, problems, or trauma can be addressed to evogeek_at_gmail_dot_com.