Certain whales can imitate the voices of humans
The marine mammal, a white whale named NOC, copied the sound of people so well that at first, researchers thought they were hearing humans conversing in the distance. A diver who worked with NOC once even left the water, wondering, “Who told me to get out?” The voice turned out to be that of NOC.
“They are highly vocal animals,” lead author Sam Ridgway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation told Discovery News, adding that NOC was not the first to copy human speech.
“A major instance occurred at Vancouver Aquarium in 1979,” he said. “In that case, people thought the whale uttered his name (“Lagosi”) and other sounds that were like garbled German or Russian. Our whale was the second example, however, ours was the first solid demonstration using acoustic analysis including ‘voice print’ simultaneously with human speech.”
A quick audio lesson on American Southern Linguistics by Judy Whitney-Davis
A wealth of languages make their home on the Indian Subcontinent. Estimates for the number of languages spoken range from over three hundred to well over a thousand, though the bulk of these are dialects of one language or another. Even with the most conservative estimates, these languages differ greatly in their technical aspects, but a Russian linguist, G.A. Zograf, assigns four major language families to the Subcontinent: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, and Tibeto-Burman. Most languages come under one of the first two categories which, together, account for nearly 75% of the various idioms of the Subcontinent (Ethnologue).
In his book, The Languages of South Asia, Zograf provides detailed descriptions of many of the sub-categories of languages in this part of the world. This website considers only the two broadest categories: the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian language families. It should also be noted that the history of the Indus Valley and its civilizations is currently a hotly debated issue. In no way is this site meant to favor one theory of migration and/or conquest over another; rather, its purpose is simply to shed some light on some important differences between the major Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages in the context of India, specifically.
Some people will say that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. These people are fools, because when life (or, in my case, my mother) gives me lemons the only sensible thing to do is to make lemon curd. This was part of how I passed my weekend, but then I was left with too many egg whites. Not being fond of meringue, I came across an excellent recipe for coconut macaroons. As this is a language blog, not a baking blog, I’ll spare you the details of that process - but it got me thinking about macaroons and macarons.
Currently macarons are the cake. It was cupcakes, but they’re old hat now. Perhaps it’s doughnuts next, or cakepops, or heaven knows… teacup cheesecakes. But for the last year or so, the flavoured almond sandwiches holding goopy ganache has been the darling of Melbourne sugar-fiends. Macaroons, on the other hand, are little piles of fluffy, sticky coconut that remind me of grandmothers and suburban bakeries. And I love them.
I was not surprised the two are historically related, coming from the Middle French macaron. Although the Oxford English dictionary doesn’t capture it, my feelings are that (in Australian English at least) macaroon refers to the coconut variety and macaron to the more Parisian-style almond sandwich.
I was more amused to discover something that is painfully obvious once it’s pointed out; that Middle French word appears to be borrowed from an earlier Italian word - the same word that gives us the Modern Italianmacaroni. It used to be assumed that it came from the older Italianmaccare to bruise- but the OED says this is now rejected, and its origin is uncertain from what I can tell. It used to refer to dumpling shaped pasta (like gnocchi), rather than tiny tubes, which makes it easier to see how the French borrowed it to mean small cakes.
And that’s what happens when I bake - a head full of amusing word stories and a belly full of cake.
I saw this and knew it was too cool not to share… a lab from North Carolina State University has figured out a way to basically control the movements of a cockroach. As you can see in the video above, they can effectually get it to walk along a curved line pretty accurately. There is a microcontroller that is connected the roach’s antennae and cerci (both of which are their sensors for the rest of the world). The microcontroller basically just sends an electrical impulse onto the antennae or cerci, which makes the roach think it’s hitting a barrier, so it will move away from it. You can then get it to move along a pathway by sending the appropriate signal to the appropriate body part. A suggested use for this kind of technology is to search collapsed buildings for survivors (such as after an earthquake). It’s a fairly impressive result from a logical idea. For more information, see this article.
1959 the Russian scientist Dmitri Belyaev began one of the most intensive experiments into domestication, in spite of intense political problems in the past. Starting with a group of wild foxes he tested categorised them into groups based on how they reacted to humans and allowed the most approaching, and consequentially the tamest, to mate. By continuing this practice with the resulting offspring for many generations Belyaev eventually had a group of foxes that would not only approach humans but actively seek their attention through nuzzling and wagging their tails.
Sound familiar? Well it is not the change in the fox’s behaviour that is the most startling aspect of this experiment, but their change in appearance. The foxes seem to not only have taken on behaviour similar to a dog’s but also a similar appearance. The colouration of the fox’s fur and the shape of their skulls had changed to be more dog like and their ears even became floppy. This change of appearance is so surprising as Belyaev did not breed based on appearance merely behaviour. The effects shown in this change in appearance are evidence of a phenomenon known as pleiotropy. Pleiotropy is the presence of genes that affect more than one trait. In this example the allele of the gene that caused tameness also caused this striking change in appearance.
When a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, the transformation is so radical that it’s hard to believe they belong to the same species.
But regardless of the new wings and body, the new diet and airborne lifestyle, butterflies remember what they learned as babies.
In a study published yesterday in Public Library of Science ONE, Georgetown University biologists gave mild shocks to tobacco hornworm caterpillars while exposing the caterpillars to particular odors.
After the hornworms built cocoons and emerged as moths — a process that involves the reorganization of both brain and nervous system — they still avoided the smells that once brought them shocks.
The findings “challenge a broadly-held popular view of lepidopteran metamorphosis: that the caterpillar is essentially broken down entirely, and its components reorganized into a butterfly or moth,” wrote the researchers.
Original paper here.
This is an image taken by the McNeil lab of a hippocampal growth cone exploring. Growth cones are the part of the neuron (from the axon which has to make connections) that grow outward to seek out other neurons and make connections/synapses. For more information, see this post.