Welcome to Circus of the Spineless! This is the migratory blog carnival that specializes in all things spineless, and the contributions that you’ll find here range from essays and photoessays, to photographs with some accompanying explanatory text and even a few videos. This blog carnival has seen some scary times in its recent past where it almost went extinct, but thanks to some friends of mine who are much more expert in spineless things, it was revived after I made a bunch of noise about this impending loss to the blogosphere. I have enjoyed tremendous support from several readers, most especially Vicky, to whom I am sending three Bronx Cheers, who have helped scour the intertubes in search of appropriate contributions for this edition of the Circus of the Spineless. I have tried to include no more than two entries from any one blog, but you will find that I broke that rule several times, but I trust that you will agree with me that the extra contributions I included were worth it.
So without further ado, here’s the latest installment of Circus of the Spineless:
My former Scibling, Peter Etnoyer, who is a co-author of Deep Sea News, takes a closer look at the age of benthic cnidarians and writes, “at four thousand years old, the Leiopathes sp. black corals beat the quahog clams, which live to be four hundred, and they beat the tortoise Jonathon, who’s 176.” He has some interesting observations that he shares with us about life and immortality, especially as they apply to clonal marine organisms.
Elisabeth Enslin is an anthropologist and nature writer, who looks for “inspiration and distractions in nature.” So she recently wrote and published a piece on her blog about tarantulas that relates to a literary essay that she wrote and published in Fringe Magazine. In this blog essay, she ponders why those gargantuan spiders have such hairy legs .. actually, why they have hair all over the place. She also includes a link to her Fringe magazine essay for you to follow up on.
The Annotated Budak, who “clucks about life, nature and ducks”, shares a short essay and some scream-worthy images about spiders; another octopod and a unidentified jumping spider in outstared. Keep in mind that I received a bunch of submissions from this author, but did not link to all of them. That should not prevent you from exploring this site because there is plenty of terrifying images of spiders and other invertebrates to be found here. Arachnophobes, beware!
Miriam Goldstein writes about the six secrets of squid sex for Slate magazine’s online site. She is the author of the blog, The Oyster’s Garter and her submission was sent to me by my friend and colleague, Kevin Zelnio, who added a few videos to this entry. Kevin also revived this blog carnival a few months ago and thus deserves our admiration.
The blog that goes by the entertaining name, Beetles in the Bush, sent along this contribution about the natural history of the Millipede Assassin Bugs, a common species throughout southern Africa. The first time I ever met assassin bugs was after I learned that one of my grad school officemates was doing research with them. Needless to say, after learning that I saw sharing my office with a colony of these bugs, I always checked my chair and desk before sitting down to work, for fear that one had escaped and was waiting to sting me.
Susannah, who writes Wanderin’ Weeta, recently published this interesting photoessay on her blog about The Flight of the Ladybug. I admire her both patience and her camera equipment as she captured this behavior.
My good friend and colleague, Bora, has written a follow-up piece about the influence of light cycle on the dominance status and aggression in crayfish. Originally, he published his own research data on his blog because, as he writes, “[it was] too small even for a Least Publishable Unit.” So he hoped that someone would read and follow up on his studies. It looks like Bora got his wish because a paper was just published by a German group that investigates this phenomenon; Circadian Regulation of Agonistic Behavior in Groups of Parthenogenetic Marbled Crayfish, Procambarus sp. Bora takes the time to explain in plain English what this study was investigating, and he shows us the data the team obtained.
Here is another contribution from The Annotated Budak. This time, it is a photoessay about fiddler crabs entitled, The Claws of Attraction, that includes some really nice images and information about fiddler crab sex. Yes, sexsexsex!
Biochemical Soul writes an interesting feature, “Adaptation of the Week”. This particular installment in the series discusses the insect dorsal ocelli, as found in cicadas; “The ocellus is a strange and still quite mysterious organ. It is present throughout the insect world, but only erratically. Despite their ongoing mystery, the organs have been studied fairly extensively since the 1920s and 3. [...] Many species it seems have found great use in the ocellus, as evidenced by its retention throughout much of the Insecta class, while others have completely disposed of it. But what is it?”
Of course, as your host, I must include a little essay of my own, so I rewrote this piece about Bumblebees, a species that I almost studied for my dissertation work (endocrinology and behavioral ecology). This piece is a condensation of two earlier essays I wrote and published in the Biology Department newsletter while I was a grad student. The result is this piece filled with pictures and valuable book references that discusses the natural history and economic importance of Bombus species — the Bumblebees — and what you can do to help keep them happily living in your garden.
Here is a beautifully written essay from The Primate Diaries about group selection in ants. Group selection is the idea that, under certain circumstances, genes will be selected for because they benefit the overall success of the group rather then just the individual. Further, the authors of the paper being discussed suggest a scenario in which group selection could apply to unrelated group members, which might explain how unicolonial populations of unrelated ants originally arose?
The author of Braincrumbs is after my own heart. Basically, she has done what I’ve proposed to do in my own art farming days of not so long ago: she bought one of those Antworks ant habitats that is filled with a NASA-developed transparent gel compound that the ants eat and tunnel through. She asked her friend to make a time lapse video of the ants tunneling their way through the gel. I am jealous! I wanted to share this with you myself!
An interesting contribution from TGAW asks the question, What do these four species of ants have in common? Until I read the commentary, I didn’t see any commonalities except, well, they’re all ants. But they do have at least one commonality even though their morphologies are very distinct.
Susannah (Wanderin’ Weeta) is really a fan of all things spineless, as you’ll realize while browsing her other contributions to this blog carnival. Normally, I would limit contributions from any one blog to just two essays, but seriously, I couldn’t choose which two of Susannah’s submissions to share with you, so I am sharing all the submissions I was sent from this blog. This particular photoessay is about one of our favorite isopods — pillbugs, rolly pollies, sowbugs .. regardless of the name you know them by, they impressed us as cute when we were mere kids, and I am one person who still thinks they are cute. Well, for a bug.
Susannah (Wanderin’ Weeta) has put together another fascinating photoessay, I Can’t Believe It’s a Moth! This strange moth is the bagworm, Dahlica triquetrella — a moth with no wings, eyes, or mouth. A parthenogenic female moth, in a population without males (at least while they’re in Canada). At the end of her photoessay, she asks insightful questions; “This kind of life cycle leaves me full of questions. If the female never leaves her bag to interact even with other females, and each of her offspring is basically a clone of the mother, how does the species survive as a species? Would they not gradually change in different ways until each one is almost a species to itself? How did they survive when they first arrived in Canada (first sighting, 1941), if they were ‘used to’ reproducing sexually back home in Europe?”
Susannah (Wanderin’ Weeta) decided to publish another charming photoessay of her experiment where she flipped a Periwinkle upside down, and she photographed and described in writing the process that this small snail followed to right itself once more. As one commenter writes on this essay; “Hands are so overrated.”
Invertebrates as Bird Food
The winner of the weirdest blog name in this blog carnival is Carp without Cars (who thinks of these names anyway?!?). Anyway, the author of this blog kindly answered my pleas for spineless contributions by writing a photoessay about marshland invertebrates — as bird food. Now, I have to point out that I am an ornithologist, so even though I have taken several entomology courses while a grad student in Zoology, and I do really appreciate insects and other invertebrates, my invertebrate expertise mainly lies in this same area. Please accept my humble apologies for viewing invertebrates as fuel for my feathery friends! However, if you are offended by this, you are encouraged to go express your outrage at the author of this peculiarly named blog.
Another contribution to the “crusty things as bird food” category was written by a friend of mine who writes the DC Birding Blog. This essay discusses the Maryland’s new horseshoe crab hunting policy. Basically, horseshoe crab eggs are a crucial resource for migrating Red Knots and other shorebirds. However, because fishermen have been decimating the horseshoe crab population to use them as cheap bait, the numbers of the migratory shorebirds that depend upon them are plunging dramatically — the fishermen have reduced the population by 99%, and as a result, the Red Knot is projected to go extinction by the end of this decade, or early in the next decade. Hopefully, by protecting the horseshoe crab populations, the Red Knot will recover its numbers.
Okay, this photoessay and accompanying video contributed by The Science Pundit could have been placed into several taxonomic orders that I include in this blog carnival, but I chose this order because it is (sort of) bereft of contributions. This piece reports on Chelicerata Morphing Evolution where Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History has put together a video that looks at the chelicerata evolutionary tree from a different perspective. They’ve used morphing technology to show the transformation of the ancestral Cambrian progenitor into each of the major taxonomic sub-groups. Very interesting!