Evolution of Eggs

By Anupum Pant

Eggs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. Birds, a major group of creatures that descended from reptiles have, for several years, continued to evolve the design of their eggs for millions of years now (not consciously, through natural selection).

Eggs could have been cube shaped. In that case they would have been very difficult to lay. Also, they would have been weakest at the centre points of a face of the cube. Hence, eggs didn’t end up being squarish.

While most eggs have evolved to, well, an egg-shape, some eggs like those of some owls are nearly spherical in shape. But oval and pointy eggs do have an advantage of sort.

Spherical eggs tend to roll easily, and if laid somewhere near a cliff, they’d roll away, never to be seen ever again. Oval eggs normally tend to roll in circles. Usually, they roll in big circles. Still dangerous for birds who perch on cliffs most of the time.

Of all the eggs, the egg of a common guillemot bird is probably the most incredible – in the sense that it has a design that doesn’t let it roll down cliffs very easily.

Common guillemots are sea birds and they normally like to perch on cliffs. To add to the danger of their precarious perching places, they usually perch on such cliffs with a huge group. Also, they don’t even make nests.

Had their eggs been shaped like those of owls, they would have easily gotten knocked by someone from that huge group of perching birds, perching on precarious cliffs. So, their eggs have evolved to survive these conditions.

This is how their eggs look like. They are very awkwardly shaped. But when it rolls, thanks to natural selection, it rolls in very small circles! They don’t fall off cliffs easily. Wonderful!

common guillemot egg

First seen at [io9]

The Amusing Kiwi Beaks

By Anupum Pant

Kiwis have a fairly long beaks, but technically they have the shortest beaks of all birds. There’s a very funny reason for that.

Kiwis can’t see too well. However they have an exceptionally good sense of smell, thanks to their nostrils which are at the tip of their beaks.

According to another research done recently, Kiwi beaks have specialized sensors at the tip which help them to sense tiny vibrations. Combining both the exceptionally good sense of smell and the ability to detect minute vibrations using their beaks, kiwis are able to find creepy crawlies moving under a layer of mud.

Now, they have long thin beaks, physically. And at the end of the beak there are nostrils.

Officially the convention to measure the beak of a bird dictates that the measurement be done from the end of the tip to the nostril. And since Kiwis have nostrils at the tip, the distance from the tip of their beaks to their nostrils is very less (negligible). That distance is also, technically, according to the convention, the length of their beaks.

So, Kiwis officially have the shortest beaks among all birds, even if they physically have fairly long beaks.

Alex The Genius Parrot – A Touching Tale

By Anupum Pant

Alex was a random African grey parrot that Irene Pepperberg, an animal cognition scientist, picked up from a pet store. She had a point to prove. There wasn’t anything different about this particular parrot. And yet, for 30 years, both the parrot and the researcher worked together for hours everyday and proved something no one had ever proved before.

Irene demonstrated that a “bird brained” creature was able to demonstrate excellent language, communication and intelligence. After the 30-year long experiment, Irene had clearly shown that it doesn’t take a primate sized brain to display intelligent behaviour – or the kind of behaviour we humans label as intelligent.

In fact she says, animals display extremely intelligent behaviour all the time in nature, it’s just that we humans have a different definition of the word intelligent.

Alex knew more than 100 english words, a couple of one liners, shapes and colours. More importantly, unlike what all the parrots usually do, Alex actually understood what he said. He displayed a remarkable ability to combine 2 different words from his vocabulary to say something meaningful. It wasn’t just repetition of sounds he did.

In these 30 years, Irene had become extremely attached to Alex, had started moving on to teach him more complex tasks and treated him like a child. But suddenly on September 6th, 2007 at the age of 31, Alex died. This event left a hole in the researcher’s heart. It made headlines the next day. Economist even published an obituary like they do for famous human deaths. It was indeed a huge loss for Irene, and science. Its last words were –

You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.