Because It's Christmas
Friday, December 25, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Make an animal's day great today. It's easy, fast and free.

Go click the big purple button at

They deserve a present today too.
It's Not Too Late To Do Something That Really Matters
Wednesday, December 23, 2009 | Author: eventer79

Still looking for that last minute holiday gift? Look no further. Click here to go to Heifer International and make a donation in honor of anyone you choose. This holiday season, give a gift that will truly make a difference and may not only change, but save, someone's life. Instead of investing in the self-serving pattern of consumption that is a retailers wet dream, step up and take action that matters and be part of a pattern that makes the world a better place.

With gifts of livestock and training, we help families improve their nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways. We refer to the animals as “living loans” because in exchange for their livestock and training, families agree to give one of its animal’s offspring to another family in need. It’s called Passing on the Gift – a cornerstone of our mission that creates an ever-expanding network of hope and peace.
-Heifer International
Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut
Friday, December 18, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

In Indonesia, the veined octopus has recently been discovered collecting coconut hulls and assembling them into underwater shelters. Octopuses (because it's more fun to say then "octopi") have long been known for their incredible intelligence, including differentiating shapes, colours, playing, and learning by observation, but this level of tool use is a first, not only for this group but the entirety of the diversity of invertebrate fauna.

All I'm saying is, when you've finished that pina colada on a serene Indonesian beach, do an octo-friend a favour and hurl it into the surf!

"I've got a love-ly bunch of coconuts..."

Now you see me, now you...snap!
Is It Spring Yet?
Thursday, December 17, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Every winter,
When the great sun has turned his face away,
The earth goes down into a vale of grief,
And fasts, and weeps, and shrouds herself in sables,
Leaving her wedding-garlands to decay--
Then leaps in spring to his returning kisses.

--Charles Kingsley
Saint's Tragedy (act III, sc. 1)

Underwater Architects
Friday, December 11, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

Yup, I let Darwin choose your fun fact topic for this week: the largest living structures on the planet -- corals. What you see as a coral reef is actually a skeleton of calcium carbonate which is built by millions of tiny polyps. Polyps vary in shape, size, and colour (example at right), but each is an individual animal, working with its neighbours to build the rock hard foundations on which they sit.

No doubt you have heard about the vanishing coral reefs of the world, thanks to pollution, warming oceans, and direct destruction. Fact is 70% could be gone by 2050, only 40 short years from now. "Oh well," many think, "it's not like I need a coral reef to get through my life."

You might.

Reefs have provided treatments for cancer, HIV, cardiovascular disease and uclers. The calcium carbonate coral skeletons have been used for bone grafts. Boy, when you need it, I'll bet you'll be thinking coral reefs are THE most important thing in the world.

In addition, even though reefs only cover about 1% of the planet's surface, they provide a home for over 25% of marine fish species. And food and livelihoods for 500 million people. Let me say that again -- 500 MILLION PEOPLE. $375 billion (yes, BILLION) of goods and services EACH YEAR exist thanks to coral reefs.

So, Mr. Darwin, your mighty little architects are indeed not to be lightly dismissed. The industrious polypus has gifts to offer each of us, upon which our lives might one day depend.

To learn about how you can help coral reefs every day, click here.

A True Wandering Wonderer
Saturday, December 05, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I know, I know, my head is hanging in shame that I missed your Friday Fun Fact this week, but I offer a new look at an old friend as compensation.

We all think we know him, but I have recently discovered that there is much more than I ever thought to the man who stood biology and society on its head. Yep, this week was the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin's legendary epistle on evolution of species via natural selection. Now being a biologist, one would think that I have pored over the pages of this particular tome, but in truth, I had managed to reach this point in my life without ever cracking the cover.

Feeling a bit out of the loop, I figured I should read SOMETHING he wrote, seeing as he gets the credit (or blame if you happen to be some crazy right wing nut in sheer denial of reality, but then, I'd guess if you were, my blog is not exactly on your Favourites Toolbar anyway) for the founding theory of my field (even though credit should be fully shared with his gifted contemporary, Alfred Russell Wallace). I didn't really want to drag my toes through Origin itself, I confess that as much I love to read, it just seemed too much like a text book and too much like, well, work! So I picked up a copy of The Voyage of the Beagle instead and began following a young Darwin on mule treks through South America, hikes across Australian bushland, banquets in Tahiti and all the other things that I had no idea he ever did!

Turns out Charles Darwin was a lot more than a naturalist. He had an objective curiosity about the world and EVERYTHING in it. Every where, why, how, and when, he pondered possible answers. He had a keen eye for details and patterns that led him, unbeknownst to him, to ideas decades ahead of his time. Every place he went, he also turned his hand to rudimentary anthropology and tells story after story of both the native peoples and the (mostly Spanish) colonizers, both good and bad that cross his path. I also discovered he had a very dry wit about him and even in the most dismal circumstances, could bring an unexpectedly humourous turn of phrase to a story, such as a recounting of his guides hurling a cooking pot from the summit of a mountain in the belief that it was cursed after having failed to cook their potatoes (even though Darwin himself tried to explain to them that water boils at a reduced temperature at high elevations). In Tierra del Fuego, he tells of scaling a mountain.

During the first two hours I gave over all hopes of reaching the summit. So thick was the wood,...every landmark, though in a mountainous country, was completely shut out...So gloomy, cold, and wet was every part, that not even the fungi, mosses, or ferns could's course was often arrested by sinking knee deep into the rotten wood;...we did not stay long on the top of the mountain. Our descent was not quite so laborious as our ascent, for the weight of the body forced a passage, and all the slips and falls were in the right direction.

The Beagle's route around the world

In short, though it's taken me forever to read it, it's a wonderful book and I LOVE it. I feel as though I am sitting at the knee of the legend himself while he recounts his stories. Each story of each day wanders in the tracks of his thought and you never know where the road will leave you. It is no great leap for his curious mind to go from observing a crawling insect to philosophizing on fate of mankind or the world. At times, I even felt a bit like a cheering teacher, watching his theories develop and with my own knowledge of modern biology, seeing where he is completely off course and then a few moments later, postulating ground-breaking truth. To appreciate how far out on a scientific limb Darwin's theories really were, one must understand that the current accepted theory in the scientific community of his time was that God had created each species individually and these species would continue, unchanging forever and were unrelated to each other.

It's fascinating, entertaining, amusing, and educational, all in one. There is sadness at the treatment of indiginous peoples, at the rapacious waste of resources newly found, but at the same time, wonder that fairly oozes from every line as he discovers people and places and creatures unknown to his world. I would like to have met him, to have basked in that passion, in that eagerness to explore and to question and to experience every moment and detail life has to offer. But since I can't, I shall have to suffice with this journal of his voyage which really did change the world.

I will leave you with one of his more beautiful passages revealing his deep love and wonder for the animals he spent his life pursuing and watching, written as he gazed upon waves pounding the shore of the coral atoll islands in the Malay archipelago.

It is impossible to behold these waves without feeling a conviction that an island, though built of the hardest rock...would ultimately yield and be demolished by such an irresistable power. Yet these low, insignificant coral-islets stand and are victorious: for here another power, as an antagonist, takes part in the contest...Let the hurricane tear up its thousand huge fragments; yet what will that tell against the accumulated labor of myriads of architects at work night and day, month after month? Thus do we see the soft and gelatious body of a polypus, [I interject: here he refers to the corals themselves, living animals who build the hard structure of the reefs and islands] through the agency of the vital laws, conquering the great mechanical power of the waves of an ocean which neither the art of man nor the inanimate works of nature could successfully resist.
Changing Their Futures
Tuesday, December 01, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I just finished reading this article in last month's National Geographic. If you haven't figured it out yet, yes, I unashamedly love that magazine. In short, we are introduced to a program called the Watershed Organization Trust (WOTR), who works with villages in India to reclaim their land by reshaping their watersheds and capturing the rain on which their life depends.

India, like most of the world, including the US, has fallen victim to the fatal combination of changing climate patterns, development, and associated human over-exploitation of resources. Most villages rely on farming, which in turn, relies on water, in order to survive. However, as water is sucked up by development in cities and water tables are drained while less rain falls due to climate change, wells dry up, crops fail, land parches, and hope withers and blows away on the dusty wind.

From the article: "Our lives are wrapped up in the rain," explained a woman named Anusayabai Pawar... "When it comes, we have everything. When it doesn't, we have nothing."

WOTR works with villages, getting everyone invested by requiring that all parties, including women, lower caste members, and children contribute to the work of planting vegetation, digging ditches, capturing runoff, everything that slows down the monsoon rainwater and allows it to soak into the soil, replenshing wells and reviving both the land and the people's futures.

If you are thinking, "Oh, this is India, they just have lots of poor hungry people, and deserts, I am just fine in my snug suburban home in my western nation," think again. We are not unspeakably far from a similar predicament in the US. Our water tables are dropping steadily as it is impossible for rainfall to replace the massive quantities we suck out for ridiculous things like golf greens and car washes. Wells must be drilled deeper and even then, they are frequently in danger of contamination or drying up in droughts, which we are beginning to see more of. Full on legal wars broke out all over the country during our most recent dry-up in 2007 pitting state against state in a battle over a scarce resource.

We don't do a good job of using water wisely, as I discussed here. We don't do a good job of keeping the water we drink clean (here and here). But that doesn't mean we can't change. That doesn't mean we can't take a hint from WOTR and from some hardworking villagers in India who have discovered that not only does taking care of your watershed benefit you directly by ensuring that you have water to use, it builds your community via people working together, talking to each other, and enterprising new solutions for a better, brighter future.