Birds: An Evolutionary Conundrum

on Monday, January 31, 2011

Thanks to the mass media, paleontology has been almost completely focused on trying to find the common ancestor between our modern birds and the reptiles of the past. Science is still a great many fossil finds away from solving that mystery completely, but thanks to a new fossil finding in the Chinese Liaoning Province, paleontology has started filing in the blanks.

A newly uncovered Darwinopterus fossil has given some insight into the egg formation and reproduction of these winged beasts. It appears that this female broke her wing just before her death, and as a result became entombed along the edge of a prehistoric lake. While this female underwent the early stages of decay and fossilization, a great deal of pressure built up within the body causing an egg to be expelled and preserved along with the mother. Needless to say this in itself was a superb find because it allowed the scientists to determine the relationship in size between mother and offspring when previously this had been unknown. However, the real gem of this finding was the nature of the egg itself.

Chemical analysis of the egg determined that this species of pterosaur laid soft shelled eggs, similar to that of our modern turtles. This radically changed the previously conceived parental behaviors for this species. It seems that instead of a mother laying hard-shelled eggs and then monitoring them, as our modern birds are prone to do; these females let the environment provide most of the nurturing. This style of parenting would allow the least amount of energy expenditure from the mother, while still ensuring the relative safety of the offspring. All in all, it seems that it takes more than simply looking like the ancestor of our modern birds to explain the evolution of hands on parenting.

My Review: I initially tried to " hook" my readers with my title. I felt that by beginning with discussion of the mystery behind our modern birds, my readers might be more inclined to find out what exactly this new finding had uncovered. I tried to remain mindful of my " word- sentence-paragraph- story" formation in order to keep my readers interested throughout the entire course of the posting. I tried to keep most scientific jargon out in order to appeal to the largest audience.

Go ahead, contract those zygomaticus major muscles!

on Sunday, January 30, 2011

We all do it. It may be from a funny joke, an adorable puppy or a compliment from a friend but they all cause us to smile. Surprisingly, this behavior may be more complicated than we think. A recent article in the New York Times (More to a Smile Than Lips) interviewed Dr. Niedenthal (Blaise Pascal University, France) in regard to her research with smiles. The two main aspects which Niedenthal investigates are where they come from and how we perceive the different types of smiles.
Analyses of smiles have been underway since Darwin’s time when he too mused over the role such a behavior played in humans. A connection was drawn with chimpanzees, who often smile when watching their young play or when threatened and show their teeth. This variation is also seen in humans. We too have a “power grin” and even an embarrassed smile.
Yet, not only is it important to generate such behavior but also to interpret the smile given. Analysis of a smile has two approaches; the person may either compare the geometry of the “smiler’s” face to a regular smile or they can mimic the smile themselves. For example, if you are walking down the street and make eye contact with a person who smiles you will automatically mimic their smile. This then activates the same region of the brain as the “smiler”. The brain pattern differs between a happy smile as opposed to mimicking one. We then distinguish between genuine and fake smiles because when we mimic the fake smile a different region of the brain is triggered. To support such thought, Niedenthal experimented with test subjects who observed a series of images of people smiling (both genuine and fake). To prevent the test subjects from mimicking the smile in front of them, a pencil was placed in their mouth. As a result the viewer was less accurate at perceiving the smile by instead relying on the individual’s surroundings.

  • My blog post “Go ahead, contract those zygomaticus major muscles!” attempted to exhibit the writing tips we discussed in class last week. I tried to “hook” the reader in the beginning by not initially stating the topic of my post. Instead, I listed various situations which cause us to smile hoping to keep people reading in order to find out the topic of my post. I listed the two main aspects of Niedenthal’s research (where they come from and how we perceive the different types of smiles) hoping to arouse the reader and then fulfill their curiosity by discussing the above topics later in my post. I also made an effort to eliminate any usage of the passive voice. I do however, need to improve my writing to “show not tell” as well as formatting my blog post into a story format to make it more appealing to read.

B is For Blog

on Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Before embarking on this assignment I came across the quote "Blogging: Now you can show the whole world why no one listens to you" and although some of the blogs I found epitomized this statement, I was successful in finding a number of great blogs which presented an array of scientific topics in a fun and very appealing manner. I have some experience with blogging from previous courses at Ashland University however, I still have much to learn (this explains why two "Rachel Days" are following the Bio-Diversity Blog and something I promise to fix soon).
At first, I did not like any of the blogs I came across. They were either too unaesthetically pleasing, did not have enough text and too many pictures or, were just plain boring. I finally found the blog A Snail's Eye View published by a fellow from Queensland, Australia who discussed an array of natural history topics. All of the information was new to me and accompanied with a variety of photographs. I found this to be a perfect balance between text and visual aids.
My second favorite blog was Arthropoda and as the title implies, the author (a graduate student studying mantis shrimp) posts various blogs regarding organisms which fall into this phylum. The photography was excellent and the style of writing was clear and concise. Although this blog had much attention directed towards his research; I liked how the posts would vary and provide new information for readers. Overall I found the most important aspect of any blog to be the title. For me, if it isn't interesting or witty I won't check it out. Although I may be missing out on some great blogs, I assume this is a common decision among bloggers.

In the nich of time

As a big fan of microbiology, chronobiology, and fungi my two favorite blogs are Twisted Bacteria and MicrobiologyBytes. The things i like most about the Twisted bacteria blog is the creative pictures and videos. This blog is more entertaining but it is effective in sparking interest to click other links to science articles. I do chronobiology research on Aspergillus, so i found it really cool to see a time lapse video of Aspergillus fumigatus and other molds on the Twisted bateria blog. I liked the article content on MicrobiologyBytes, because i enjoy reading about viruses and immunology; this blog also looks at interesting environmental bacteria such as nitrogen fixing cyanobacteria. I usually try to read current articles regarding the CDC and public health related issues, which is the main reason why i like this blog.

Another blog that i found quite enjoyable was Small Things Considered, as you can probably guess it's more about microorganisms. This blog explores many interesting bacteria such as Haloferax volcanii found in thermophilic environments and cyanobacteria found in ancient mud scrolls.

This picture was found at

blogging...easy as pie

I have to admit, the term blogging was pretty much foreign to me until a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't sure how to find blogs or even how to post on blogs. To my surprise it is actually a pretty easy thing to do. You can find blogs almost anywhere you surf on the internet, and the blogs that you look at often lead you to more is quite fascinating!

Anyways, through my quest to educate myself on blogging I came across two particular blogs that caught my eye. The first blog that I found interesting was titled Southern Fried Science. This blog is written by three different graduate students, Andrew, David, and Amy. I actually was first attracted to this blog because of its unique name. As I was browsing the blog I realized there were quite a few aspects of this blog that I felt were interesting and "attention grabbing". First of all, this blog has a lot of pictures and even some movies. I find that pictures and movies add that extra touch to a blog because often times I find an abundance of text overwhelming. Quite frankly, if there is something to grab my attention such as a picture or movie, I am more likely to read it. The pictures also all correspond to each blog post (which I find somewhat important), and the text in each blog post is just the right amount, not too little, nor too overwhelming. I highly suggest checking this blog out...if you do you can learn about shark attack policies in the most current blog post (It isn't something you necessarily need to know, but I found it neat...and who knows one day you might be on Jeopardy and this information may be useful!)

The second blog that I found interesting and really liked was the blog titled Plague-erism. I am in love with this title, I find it very creative, and it is a very suiting name for this disease and health blog. There are multiple aspects about this blog that I think make it a great blog. The first aspect that I like is that the authors make sure to tell you exactly what their blog is about. Some of the blogs I have read, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what the theme is, or even if they have a theme. In my opinion knowing the theme of the blog makes it easy to determine if it something I want to spend time reading. The second aspect that I like about this blog is the authors have found a creative way to present the information at hand, and trust me, this makes it way more enjoyable to read. The content of this blog is also great. Overall, the authors on this blog have done a great job, at least in my opinion, but I have to admit I am a sucker for disease and health information!

Blahs and blogs

I haven't been blogging for very long, and I definitely have never kept up with a blog outside of class. I am pretty picky when it comes to following a blog. I don't like blogs that are extremely opinionated and lack good information.  I like for a blog to have a specific focus instead of revealing that the author has a bad case of ADD. Occasionally, I will come across a blog when I am looking for research papers, but I have never really found one blog that I would like to read daily.  While searching for blogs for this assignment, I came across this one: the artful amoeba. I immediately liked it for its simple, yet creative design. It wasn't super overwhelming with bright colors, links everywhere and more pictures than words.  The posts are written on fascinating topics with enough movies, pictures and diagrams to compliment the post.  Some of the posts seem opinionated, but not in a bad way. In fact, the latest post is about Oprah Winfrey narrating the Life Series instead of David Attenborough. This stuck out to me because I also noticed that the Life series seems more interesting when David Attenborough narrates it.  In her post, the author provides videos from the series by each narrator to back up her thoughts and allow the reader to make a decision for themselves.   
The second blog I liked was Beyond the Human Eye.  This blog belongs to Botanist Phil Gates.  It is also not too overwhelming, easily navigated, and incredibly fascinating. The posts include beautiful pictures with a wealth of information, all about the smaller aspects of Botany and Biology. The pictures in his posts are absolutely incredible. If you are just scanning the page, it automatically draws you in and you begin reading just to find out about the pictures. I found many blogs that I liked, but these two really drew me in, and that's what's important in a blog. I don't want to feel like I am reading someones jumbled thoughts or their school assignments.
Note: Image from