Argentinian capybaras reclaim their land; are called 'invaders'; memes ensue

There’s a gated community of rich people in Argentina called Nordelta. It was founded in 1999 and lies in the north of Buenos Aires, home to luxury homes, sports facilities, even a shopping mall. However, Nordelta also encroaches upon the Paraná wetlands, which is already under pressure from overfarming, and the extraction of natural resources. And capybaras live in those areas.

So what happens when humans build on or around animal habitats? The animals fight back and a group of plucky capybaras (known as carpinchos in Argentina) has been tearing through Nordelta, destroyed lawns and infrastructure, causing traffic jams, and even attacking pets.

So what happens when animals try to reclaim their homes that humans built on? They fight back with guns. According to The Guardian, some residents have brought out their hunting rifles to defend themselves and their property.

[…] But many other Argentinians have taken to social media to defend the rodents – known locally as carpinchos.

In politically polarized Argentina, progressive Peronists see Nordelta as the enclave of an upper class eager to exclude common people – and with tongue only partly in cheek, some have portrayed the capybaras as a rodent vanguard of the class struggle.

And that’s where the memes come in. I found these on a Tumblr post that brought the whole capybara story to my attention:

They’re magnificent and they warm my heart. As for the plight of the communist capybaras, it remains precarious but campaigners are still trying to pass legislation that will protect the wetlands from further development:

“Wealthy real-estate developers with government backing have to destroy nature in order to sell clients the dream of living in the wild – because the people who buy those homes want nature, but without the mosquitoes, snakes or carpinchos,” he [Enrique Viale] said.

Here at Cultrface, we are in full support of the capybaras. Solidarity with the rodents!

Related to animals in South America: Are Pablo Escobar’s hippos good for Colombia’s ecosystem?

What if there was a '48 Laws of Power' for cats?

McSweeney’s, at their irreverent best, posted some excerpts from “The 48 Laws of Power for Cats”:

Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions

For humans, this simply means hiding your intentions from other humans, which they seem to do quite frequently. As a cat, you need to go further and conceal your intentions from all living things, including yourself. To truly master this Law, you must have no idea what you intend to do. You must be able to suddenly bolt out of a room at full speed for reasons that nobody, even you, can fathom. Let go of purpose and meaning. Embrace the chaos. Discernable intentions are for lesser creatures, like dogs and social media influencers.

Law 6: Create an Air of Mystery

For humans, this probably means stupid and petty stuff like using a pseudonym, starting rumors about yourself, or changing your style dramatically and abruptly. You, a cat, are already poorly understood by your human housemates, so you must be extreme to achieve real mystery. For example, every now and again, try staring into the empty upper corner of a room for hours. You will become an enigma, an unsolvable cipher. They will talk about this for years, always trying to determine why you did it. Only you will know the truth.

Cat literature-related: Pussy and Her Language – A Pamphlet For Cats

The etymological identity crisis of Arctic bears

A fascinating read about bears and the Arctic and how their etymological histories are based on anonymity and opposites. The link to the Slovak Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh where the below quote is from is dead so here it is from the Boing Boing article:

The Old Slavic people (the linguistic ancestors of today’s speakers of, e.g., Slovak, Polish, Croatian), Old Germanic people (the linguistic ancestors of today’s speakers of, e.g., English, German, Norwegian), and Old Baltic people (the linguistic ancestors of today’s speakers of Latvian and Lithuanian), who lived next to each other and interacted for many generations, came to believe that if you call the bear by his true name, he would hear and understand, and you would fail to catch him, or he would come to harm you. The bear was the only really dangerous animal in their woods. The original word artko was tabooed. Such beliefs about not calling prey and danger by their “true” names are not uncommon among hunters and people in general through the present.

And then there’s the etymology of the Arctic which basically means “the place of the bear” and Antarctica means the opposite of the place of the bear.

On the surface level, this makes for a rather literal and simplistic naming convention for the planetary poles. The Arctic, the place of the bear, has Polar Bears; Antarctica, the opposite of the place of the bear, does not have polar bears.

That all tracks. Until you remember that “bear” is just a placeholder name for That Big Furry Beast That We’re Too Scared To Mention. And so, the Arctic was technically named as the “place of the thing that shall not be named.” By extension, the name of Antarctica exists in direct reference to that signifier, which itself is a reference to something that shall not be named—literally, “the opposite of the place of the thing that shall not be named.”

I don’t know about you but I want to know what the bear’s real name is!

Flying fish doing what they do best

Flying Fish Picked Off From Above And Below | The Hunt | BBC Earth

Although I’ve eaten flying fish before, I’d never actually seen them “fly” until recently (easily accessible to me but not something I’ve ever gone out of my way to find). The above video, filmed for BBC Earth, shows a glide of flying fish soaring through the air. Truly majestic.

They’re also a significant part of Bajan culture (I ate them in Barbados while visiting my dad’s family):

Many aspects of Barbadian culture center (sic) around the flying fish; it is depicted on coins, as sculptures in fountains, in artwork, and as part of the official logo of the Barbados Tourism Authority. Additionally, the Barbadian coat of arms features a pelican and dolphinfish on either side of the shield, but the dolphinfish resembles a flying fish. Furthermore, actual artistic renditions and holograms of the flying fish are also present within the Barbadian passport.

How a clownfish earns their stripes

Charismatic clownfish, the coral reef fish made famous by the film Finding Nemo, are instantly recognizable by their white stripes. These stripes, which scientists call bars, appear as clownfish mature from larvae into adults in a process called metamorphosis, but how these distinctive patterns form has long remained a mystery.

Now, a new study has found that the speed at which these white bars form depends on the species of sea anemone in which the clownfish live. The scientists also discovered that thyroid hormones, which play a key role in metamorphosis, drive how quickly their stripes appear, through changes in the activity of a gene called duox.

Something else I didn’t know about clownfish is how they transition from male to female over time:

Anemonefish are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they develop into males first, and when they mature, they become females. If the female anemonefish is removed from the group, such as by death, one of the largest and most dominant males becomes a female. The remaining males move up a rank in the hierarchy.

I’ve got an idea for a Finding Nemo sequel!

(via SciTechDaily)

Fish related: The ‘vantafish’ that absorbs nearly all light that hits it and how fish skin is used for leather

Grizzly bear + polar bear = pizzly bear

Vanderbilt researcher explains Pizzly bear hybrid species

Climate change sucks but nature has an uncanny knack for adapting to new environments. After all, it’s been doing it for billions of years. An example that piqued my interest was the pizzly bear (or grolar bear if you prefer that portmanteau).

So what is a pizzly bear?

A pizzly bear is the offspring of a grizzly bear and a polar bear. They were first discovered in the wild in 2006 and the reason for the pairing relates to both species moving to better climates: grizzlies are looking for warmth and polar bears are looking for cold. They meet halfway, come into contact when hunting, and engage in “opportunistic mating,” according to Larisa DeSantis, an associate professor of biological sciences at Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University.

DeSantis also says they’re “more resilient to climate change and better suited for warmer temperatures”:

“We’ve known about pizzlies for quite some time, but their occurrence may be more common with ongoing Arctic warming […] Usually hybrids aren’t better suited to their environments than their parents, but there is a possibility that these hybrids might be able to forage for a broader range of food sources.”

Animal related: that time when the UN claimed a million species were close to extinction

Bees' brain cell density is higher than birds

This from New Scientist about bees:

Many bees have a brain cell density greater than that of small birds – but most ant brains contain a far lower density of neurons. The difference may be down to the insects’ lifestyles: because bees fly, they may need more brain cells than ants do in order to process visual information […]

However, the difference in the insects’ brain cell counts probably has little to do with intelligence, says team member Wulfila Gronenberg, also at the University of Arizona. The researchers think flying insects probably need more neurons to power the enhanced vision they need for flight, an idea that they will test in future.

See also: stingless bees and murder hornets

(via New Scientist)

The 'vantafish' that absorbs nearly all light that hits it

Last year, a Smithsonian marine biologist called Karen Osborn and her colleagues found a unique specimen while hauling deep-sea fish. But when she tried to use strobe lights to take a photo for cataloguing, she could only make out its outline. It was as if the fish was absorbing the light. Except it was.

But wait a second, Osborn figured. “I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can’t see any detail,” she says. “How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?”

It disappears because the fangtooth, along with 15 other species that Osborn and her colleagues have found so far, camouflage themselves with “ultra-black” skin, the deep-sea version of Vantablack, the famous human-made material that absorbs almost all the light you shine at it. These fish have evolved a different and devilishly clever way of going ultra-black with incredible efficiency: One species the researchers found absorbs 99.956 percent of the light that hits it, making it nearly as black as Vantablack.

99.956% is as good as 100% to the naked eye so “Vantafish” seems like the perfect name.

Colour and fish related: Anish Kapoor banned from colour-changing paint, fish leather, and gefilte fish!

(via Wired; photograph: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian)

Daughters, milking cows, and etymological debates

An Indian woman milking a cow

Victor Mair wrote a very in-depth piece on the etymological origins of the word “daughter” and its connection to milking cows.

I was just thinking how important cows (and their milk) are for Indian people and was surprised that’s reflected in such a fundamental word for a family relationship as “daughter” — at least in the popular imagination.

The etymology of ‘daughter’

Upon further investigation, Mair traced “daughter” back to its roots, via Middle English, Old English, Proto-West Germanic, Proto-Germanic, Proto-Indo-European, and finally Vedic Sanskrit—duhitṛ (“one who milks”).

But rather than take Wikitionary’s word for it, Mair posed two questions to a host of linguists:

  1. Is that analysis reliable?
  2. Is duhitṛ cognate with “daughter”?

Enter a mixed bag of responses for and against the cognate connection. I won’t list them all here but if the answers were on a spectrum, every part of it would be covered but here are two extremes:

duhitṛ is indeed cognate with Eng. daughter. While I’m no kind of Indo-Europeanist, I do recall hearing that connecting it with √duh, dogdhi, etc. is spurious. But I don’t have any references to hand.

Whitney Cox—Associate Professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago

Vedic duhitár- does NOT mean ‘one who milks’! That’s a 19th-c. myth that was exploded generations ago.

Don Ringer—American linguist, Indo-Europeanist, and Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania

Read the article over at Language Log and choose your own etymological adventure. And if you’d prefer articles on milk from other animals, check out pule, made from donkey milk, and cheese made from moose milk.

Over It

Over it

2020 is the year of being “over it”. Over what? Specifically everything.

Reza Farazmand is the creator of Poor Drawn Lines and draws comics 3 times a week for our amusement. For yesterday’s edition, we see a pigeon claiming they are “over it” to which their feathered companion asks what they’re over.

“All of it.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“Specifically everything.”

I’ve never felt so connected to a pigeon in my life.

Dwindling animal populations as dot density images

A Redditor by the name of WhiteCheeks (lol) posted some images he made from a script that “builds the face of an animal based on the population number of the species”.

Each dot represents a single animal, as the population numbers rise and fall the image will either become more legible or disappear completely.

He did so using data from the WWF and created the script using P5.js. We often hear the numbers attached to dwindling animal populations but having visuals really puts the message across. After all, in an article I wrote last May, a million species are already close to extinction.

We need to do more.

The emerald cockroach wasp: a true parasite

The emerald cockroach wasp: a true parasite

(Content warning: this article contains bugs and nasty stuff they do)

Yesterday, I wrote about the concept of parasitic architecture and questioned how parasitic it was. After all, it didn’t really “feed” off its host as such; it was more of an extension and had benefits for people needing places to live. And then I found out about a true parasite and just how wild they can be.

The emerald cockroach wasp aka the jewel wasp aka Ampulex compressa is a parasitoid wasp that feeds off cockroaches in order to reproduce and survive. Parasitoids aren’t uncommon in nature or films (see the Alien series and, to a certain extent, The Thing) but the emerald cockroach wasp is fascinating to me. Here’s how it reproduces:

  1. A female wasp stings a cockroach and its venom paralyses its front legs
  2. Then, the wasp stings it again in its brain, specifically in the area that controls the escape reflex.
  3. Once the host is immobilised, the wasp chews off some of its antennae and then begins feed on the hemolymph (a blood-like substance) that comes out.
  4. The wasp “walks” the roach to its burrow by dragging it in by the remaining antennae. Then, it lays one or two eggs between the roach’s legs.
  5. The roach (which is still alive at this point by the way) rests in the burrow while the eggs hatch, which takes about 3 days. But that’s the start of the end for the roach as the larva then feed off the insides of the roach for the next 4–5 days.
  6. After a week or so, the larva will have eaten all of the roach’s internal organs and go into its cocoon.
  7. After that process, the wasp emerges from the roach’s body and starts adulthood.

I’m not super squeamish but even that turned my stomach. The mating process is efficient too. Time is of the essence as adults only live for a few months and, in line with that, mating only takes a minute (Missy Elliott probably wouldn’t be a fan). One session is all it takes for a female wasp to successfully parasitize several dozen roaches.

One of the most unique ways it uses its venom isn’t to immobilise and then eat but to alter the host’s ability to escape and nothing else. It can still technically fly and flip over. If only the roach could just believe in itself!

Emerald cockroach wasps live in tropical regions, mostly Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands. Some are found in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro as well. They were introduced to Hawaii in 1941 as a form of pest control but that didn’t work out. I guess Edgar the Bug would have been grateful for that too.

The origins of the "black sheep"

A black sheep amongst white sheep

Ever wondered where the term “black sheep”, to denote a bad character, came from? Well, language blog Grammarphobia answered that very question but not before taking a counterquestion first:

Q: You say the phrase “black sheep” has been used to mean a bad character since the 17th century. That might be true, but it’s only the result of an even earlier meaning. “Black sheep” is actually a very old weaving term. Black sheep were considered unlucky because you couldn’t dye the wool any other colors.

Grammarphobia couldn’t find any instance of that terminology before or after the bad character definition but suggested a possible link with the “disreputable usage”:

The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest example of “black sheep” meaning a bad character is from a 17th-century religious treatise about the conversion process in Congregational churches of New England:

“Cast out all the Prophane people among us, as drunkards, swearers, whores, lyers, which the Scripture brands for blacke sheepe, and condemnes them in a 100. places.”

They then go further back to the 16th century biblical texts and a passage from the 2013 edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms which suggested that the use of “black sheep” for a person of bad reputation was “based on the idea that black sheep were less valuable than white ones because it was more difficult to dye their wool different colors.”

But a direct link between them? Nothing concrete but not totally implausible. Finally, Grammarphobia discussed the general etymology of “black” as a negative descriptor which would tie the two concepts together, albeit with loose string.

I can still remember the faux debate between White people over the alleged banning of singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep”. You can’t say anything these days. Or in 1997.