Fun Science Friday – Using the Force to Detect Cancer…. Sorta

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish! What does that have to do with this week’s Southern Fried Science…. nothing! But that quote always makes me laugh.

This week we bring you another crazy break through in science that involves fruit flies and cancer. No, fruit flies do not cause cancer… that we know of. I am probably a little late on this, but the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is the newest weapon in the fight against cancer. Yes you heard that right, man has turned one of the more annoying creatures into something useful! Useful for humans that is. 😉

Side view of a  a 0.1 x 0.03 inch (2.5 x 0.8 mm) small male fruit fly. Credit: André Karwath

Side view of a a 0.1 x 0.03 inch (2.5 x 0.8 mm) small male fruit fly.
Credit: André Karwath

Read More

No bones about it

Hello, dear internets! Thank you for the warm welcome. I am extremely excited to be joining Southern Fried Science—talk about being in good company! For those of you who don’t know me, I am a student at the University of Oregon, where I study marine biology and journalism. I love all things science, but I have a small (ok, not so small) love for shark biology. I look forward to promoting ocean outreach through kick-ass science communication with the rest of the team, here at SFS.

Enough about me, on to some animal insides.

In honor of #unshark week’s end, I return to the awesome that is shark science. Like skates and rays, sharks are chondrichthyans, cartilaginous fishes whose skeletons are made primarily of cartilage rather than bone. Ever wonder what a mostly-boneless skeleton looks like? Sure you have (and if not, you are now thinking about it and the suspense is killing you, I say).

Shark skeletons are complex, beautiful, and thanks to Dr. Gavin Naylor, and his team at College of Charleston Naylor Lab, they are here for you to see.

Read More

Fisherman catches cosmopolitan planktonic tunicate. You’ll never guess what various news agencies are calling it.

“Translucent fish leaves New Zealand fisherman stunned” ~UK Metro

“Shrimp-like Translucent Sea Creature Found off Northland’s East Coast” ~Science World Report

“Now that’s a jelly fish! Stunned fisherman catches wobbly shrimp-like creature” ~Daily Mail

And another half-dozen variations on translucent, fish, shrimp, and baffled.

article-2543194-1AD845CC00000578-850_634x476This creature, whose image has gone viral in the last few days, is a salp. Salps are pelagic tunicates that drift through the open ocean, sometimes solitary, but often in large aggregations. It both swims and feed by pumping water through its body, filtering out plankton and expelling a jet of water from an organ called the excurrent siphon. In the water they look quite majestic.

Read More

Fun Science Friday – BP Oil Spill Impacts Dolphins

Happy Fun Science Friday!

Though this post does not present such a happy story, given the recent discussion about dolphin photobombing, this week’s FSF is topically related.  In the spring of 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil rig experienced catastrophic failure resulting in the worst oil spill in human history. The Gulf of Mexico (GoM) was the unfortunate host of this catastrophe and the GoM community is still feeling the ecological, social, and economic consequences of this disaster.

Pod of bottlenose dolphins swimming underneath oily water of Chandeleur Sound, La., May 6, 2010. Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

Pod of bottlenose dolphins swimming underneath oily water of Chandeleur Sound, La., May 6, 2010.
Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

One such impact that received little TV coverage during the spill was the uncharacteristic spike in dolphin deaths. A few months following the BP spill there was an unprecedented spike in dead dolphins washing ashore along the Gulf Coast; 67 dead dolphins by February of 2011, with more than half (35) of the dead dolphins being calves. This is in stark contrast to years preceding the spill when one or two dead dolphins per year were normally documented to wash ashore.  Despite the spike in dolphin deaths, there was no definitive evidence linking the dead cetaceans to the oil spill as a number of other factors could have been responsible for the deaths, including infectious disease or the abnormally cold winter proceeding the spill.

Read More

Happy Fun Science Friday – First Venomous Crustacean

Happy Fun Science Friday everyone! After a busy semester I hope to get into the regular groove of Fun Science Friday posts.

This week I bring you the first and only known venomous crustacean, the remipede Speleonectes tulumensis.

Remipede

A remipede (Speleonectes tanumekes). Credit: Joris van der Ham

These crustaceans were first discovered in the 1980s and suspected to be venomous after documentation that behind their jaws, they had a pair of sharp, hollow-tipped fangs that were connected to glands.  This was a strong indication that the fangs were being used to inject a chemical into prey, though it was never proven…. Until now!  Step forward Bjorn von Reumont, from the Natural History Museum in London, whose team  thoroughly described the fangs and characterized the cocktail of toxins in the venom of S. tulumensis.

Read More

Eleven Marine Organisms that would make Amazing Aquaman Villains

Physalia_physalis1

Physalia physalis. Public domain.

Black Manta. Ocean Master. The Trench. Scavenger. King Shark. Toxin. The Fisherman. Aquaman has had some pretty memorable villains over the last 80 years. Also, the Fisherman. This is Southern Fried Science, a blog famous for two things – inspiring the world with our unique blend of marine science and conservation and doing horrible, horrible things to Aquaman.

Catch me flounder for I have finned. It has been 98 days since my last Aquaman is Awesome post.

Sure, Black Manta has some pretty sweet gear, a compelling back story that justifies his hatred of the Atlantean king, and he looks like he’s poised for some serious awesome during DC’s Villains Month. The Trench even appear to be able to utilize chemosynthesis, when they’re not trapping dogs in cocoons. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

That’s right. No matter how ridiculous Aquaman’s comic book foes become, you can bet all your clams I’ll find real marine organisms that would make equally amazing villains. Here’s eleven of them.

Meet Man-o-War, the colonial killer that understands the value of teamwork.

Imagine a super villain composed of thousand of individual organisms that form one giant super-organism. Rather than a body filled with vital organs, this villain can take massive damage without a loss of ‘self’, only to spawn new minions to replaced the damaged parts. Now give this deadly foe 60-foot long venom-filled tentacles whose sting brings excruciating pain. Such a villain would certainly assume the identity ‘Man-o-War’.

The Portuguese Man-o-War (Physalia physalis), arguably the best known of the siphonophores (it is a cnidarian, but it is not a jellyfish) possess tentacles that unleash an unbelievably painful sting, the weapon of choice for our newest menace. But the weapon does’t make the man (o-war), and our villain has a strategic secret. Man-o-Wars are not singular animals, they are a colony of highly specialized polyps — each one an individual animal that combines to form a deadly super-organism.

The pneumatophore is a polyp the creates a gas-filled bladder for flotation. This produces the distinctive ‘sail’ of the Man-o-War, a bilaterally symmetric air sac that allows the colonial to remain at the surface and provides some propulsion by catching the wind. The sail is not just a sac of air, it also has defensive capabilities. When attacked, the sail is able to deflate, allowing the colony to sink below the surface and avoid predators. The gonozooids, which occur in tight clusters, are responsible for reproduction. Man-o-Wars engage in both asexual and sexual reproduction. Young colonies can reproduce clonally by budding, but as the colony becomes more mature, that gonozooids become sexually differentiated and release eggs and sperm to form new colonies. The gastrozooid takes care of all the digestion-related needs and surround the dastardly dactylozooids. Finally, the dactylozooids produce 10-meter (or longer!) tentacles that capture prey and drag them towards the gastrozooids. This is some serious teamwork.

Man-o-War even has minions. The shepherd fish is immune t the stinging tentacles and hangs out within the tentacles. The fish gains the protection of its lethal ally while the Man-o-War gets to use the shepherd fish as bait to lure other fish into its deadly trap.

Imagine Aquaman facing off against a colony of polyps that combine to form a deadly super-organism with massive stinging tentacles. Siphonophores have no nervous system, so Aquaman’s fish-talking power are useless. No matter how many dactylozooids, gatrozooids, and pneumatophores he destroyed, the gonozooids are there, churning out more.

But Man-o-Wars are not without their own predators, the largest of which is the enormous, cnidarian nom nom-ing Leatherback Turtle. Despite their size, leatherbacks are the largest live sea turtle, they survive exclusively on large numbers of jelly-like organisms — to the tune of the equivalent of eating 16 cucumbers per day. Leatherbacks aren’t the only animals that prey on Man-o-War, the salacious siphonophore has many foes, two of which join this list as super-villains in their own right.

Read More

Six sea monsters that make their horror movie counterparts look tame

Evolution is infinitely creative. Sometimes, amid the beauty and wonder, the awe that emanates from the shear power of natural selection, and the poetry of descent with modification, evolution produces something that terrifies. I am not talking about our natural predators, for whom fear is part of our evolutionary heritage, but rather creatures that appear as though they emerged from our darkest nightmares. But even our nightmares are limited by our finite minds.

Evolution has no such limits and the immense size and incomprehensible diversity of the oceans has produce animals that make us yearn for the comforting familiarity of the common Pumpkinhead. Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I present six sea monsters that make their horror movie counterparts look tame:

1. These mind-bending tapeworms crawled straight out of Slither.

Here is a classic horror movie scenario for you: alien/parasite/mutant invaders enter your body, latch on to you brain, and take control, forcing you to do their bidding as they multiply and infect those around you. From Body Snatchers to Slither, mind-controlling parasites are a mainstay of the genre. But you’re a reader of Southern Fried Science. You already know all about barnacles that take over crab brains and induce sex-changes when necessary or fungi that invade ants and force them to climb to their doom. Mind control parasites aren’t really all that uncommon, but they mostly infect invertebrates. There aren’t any deadly mind-melting monsters that can take over us higher organisms, right? Right?!

Wrong.

Read More

DiveTracks: because we can’t talk underwater

We’re happy to announce a new experiment in our ongoing effort with casual video adventures. We take short videos from one of our SCUBA diving adventures, watch them together, and do a running commentary about whatever issues, topics, and stories emerge during the video. There’s just two rules – neither of us can have watched the entire video more than once and the discussion must be completely unscripted. DiveTracks, because we can’t talk underwater.

Watch our very first episode, here:

But we don’t want this to be the David and Andrew show. No, no, no. We want you, our loyal readers, to submit your own underwater videos for us to discuss. Feel free to e-mail me or David if you would like to contribute to DiveTracks.

Herring Wars: Quotas, Conflicts, and Climate Change in the North Atlantic

Herring and other fish hung out to dry on a trawler in Klaksvík. Photo by ADT.

Herring and other fish hung out to dry on a trawler in Klaksvík. Photo by ADT.

A small collection of islands in the North Sea, a few hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle, is preparing for war. The European Union, under the auspices of an international fisheries management agreement, is ready to levy heavy trade sanctions against the Faroe Islands, an independent protectorate of Denmark. The Faroes, with a population of less than 50,000, intends to fight these sanctions, defy EU authority, and defend their economic independence. The object of contention is the right to fish Atlanto-Scandian Herring; the driving force behind this dispute–dramatic shifts in fish distribution brought on by warming seas and altered currents. This may be the first international conflict directly attributable to climate change. It will not be the last. Regardless of the outcome, this confrontation will set a precedent for future climate conflicts. Welcome to the Herring War.

Despite their uninspiring name, herring are a rather handsome fish. Atlantic herring, Clupea harengus, are relatively small with a classically “fishy” (fusiform) body shape. They are among the most abundant fish in the ocean, forming schools that can number in the billions. Along with other planktivorous fishes, such as menhaden, that convert phyto- and zooplankton into higher trophic-level biomass, herring are critical to ocean food-webs. They are considered to be among the most important fish in the sea. Herring are the dominant prey species for many large, pelagic predators like tuna, sharks, marine mammals, salmon, and sea birds, among others. Their dominant predator, unsurprisingly, is us.

Read More

The Sex Lives of Spoonworms: 10 marine animals with parasitic, dwarf, and otherwise reduced males

Earlier this week, Fox News commentator and all-around terrific guy* Erick Erickson, while discussing a recent Pew Study that revealed that women were the sole breadwinners in 40% of US households that contain children, had this to say:

“I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science. But liberals who defend this and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology—when you look at the natural world—the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role.”

source

headshot-thalerSMALL

I’m not sure where Erickson got his science education from, but it’s pretty clear he should have spent a little more time shopping around on the free market, because he sure is wrong. How wrong? I managed to assemble this list of 10 marine species with dwarf, parasitic, or otherwise reduced males (including an entire female-only class) while waiting for my toast**. So have a seat and let me show you how much weirder and more wonderful the world is than Erickson’s Disney-esque misinterpretation of biology.

1. Anglerfish

The deep-sea Anglerfish is among the most common examples of parasitic males in the marine world. Anglerfish comprise a variety of taxa in the order Lophiiformes. Almost all (females) possess a specialized appendage that acts as a lure to attract unwary prey. Life in the deep sea is rough–even though it is the largest and most diverse ecosystem on Earth, biomass is fairly low–so finding a mate is a struggle for these slow swimming fishes. The solution: carry your partner with you.

Male anglerfish are tiny, often less than 5% the size of the female, but they possess powerful olfactory receptors, allowing them to seek out females. Once a mate is located, the male anglerfish latches on to her abdomen, fuses his circulatory system with hers, and is then slowly digested until there’s nothing left but a sac of gonads surrounded by basic life-supporting tissues. Female anglerfish are not monogamous, either. At any given time she could be covered by a half-dozen parasitic males. Kinky.

Read More