A Chicken’s Remarkable Image Stabilization Ability

By Anupum Pant

Background

I saw this Smarter everyday video, made by Destin, a very long time back and I remember very well that I had stored it away in my notes somewhere to share it with you guys in the future, but it was nowhere to be found. As time passed, I totally forgot about it. Just yesterday, while writing about how chicken heads saved Switzerland from rabid foxes, there was a sudden flash in my mind and I recalled having seen Destin’s video (I don’t know how that happened. Brains are amazing). I’ve attached it below for you to see.

In the video, Destin demonstrates how chickens have an amazing ability which enables them to keep their heads perfectly stable. It is just one of the many ways birds are better than humans. Irrespective of how their body moves, their head remains perfectly still in a way that their eyes are able to see a very stabilized image.

It is interesting to note that it isn’t just chickens who have this ability. Owls and a couple of other birds have this built-in too. In fact, cats can do it to some extent too, but chickens and owls are definitely better at it.

NASA, before it had sent humans to space, conducted a similar experiment with owls with an expectation that they would learn something that’d help them reduce trauma to humans in space. This is how an owl was moved around by them in every axis possible. It passed every test they threw at it. Look at it go…

The Vestibular Ocular reflex system

Most vertebrates have this device inherently built into their inner ears which has three tubes (probably to detect movement in all three dimensions). The biological device is called the Vestibular system. This is what it looks like. You can clearly see the three semi circular tubes coming out.

These three tubes are filled with a fluid which moves around when the head moves. As the fluid moves, it pushes something called a cupula and converts mechanical movement into an electrical signal. The signal is sent to the brain to process.

As a result, the brain sends back information to the eyes and moves them in the opposite direction. That is how your eyes are involuntarily able to stay focussed at a single point even when you move your hear. This is called the Vestibular ocular reflex system.

But the chicken’s eyes don’t move, so it isn’t probably correct to call it an ocular reflex. Instead their whole head moves in the opposite direction to their body movement. Thanks to the vestibular system. I’m not totally sure, but this could have something to do with righting reflex – the same thing that makes cats turn the right side up when they fall. Please help me with this in the comments section if you know more…

Chicken steady head cam

Using the same amazing biological image stabilization technology that was at his disposal, a youtuber decided to tie a camera to the chicken’s head to make a steady headcam. I think it’s an amazing idea for R&D.

Australian Bird Makes Camera Shutter Sounds

By Anupum Pant

Until now I hadn’t even heard about, probably the most well-known bird of Australia, the Lyrebird. These birds are there on the 10 cents coins in Australia. Their feathers are beautiful, but what these birds can do is truly astonishing – The R2D2s of the real world.

The Lyrebird has been seen mimicking the sounds of at least twenty other birds. That’s not all. Some of these captive Lyrebirds have been seen mimicking sounds of human technology like a camera shutter, car alarm and a chainsaw too – as seen in the video below.

In 1969, as observed by an ornithologist in New England National Park, these birds were able to reproduce sounds of a flute, singing two famous songs of the 30s “The Keel Row” and “Mosquito’s Dance.”  They had learnt it from a farmer who used to play these tunes on a flute.

A word of caution

Although the video would lead you to believe that wild birds have started mimicking sounds of human technology, it isn’t totally true. The birds that has been shown in the video, in reality, are captive birds from Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and from the Adelaide Zoo. While Attenborough makes it seem like the bird is mimicking “sounds of the forest”. these clips are not typically what these wild birds do in the wild.

Maybe it happens in the wild too, but it’s highly unlikely because the human technology sounds are usually lost amidst the forest sounds. Moreover, never in the past has there been a recording of this bird mimicking human technology sounds in the wild. Maybe they do, but science requires evidence.

Titin Protein – The Longest Word in English

By Anupum Pant

Background

No, I’m not talking about the fictional character Tintin. It’s Titin I’m talking about. The initial part of it is pronounced almost like Titan, but please do not confuse it with Titan.  Titin is the largest protein molecule ever discovered. Soon you’ll see why it is the largest…

Titin is the short name for an extremely massive protein molecule. The full-length scientific name of this protein molecule contains 189,819 characters and is considered (by some) as the longest word in not just English, but any language.

Others choose to not consider it a word at all. You won’t even find the full scientific name of Titin in any dictionary. According to lexicographers it is only a chemical formula, not a word. Technically, they are right. So, it is not really the longest word in English.

In that case, probably a lung disease called pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis can be considered the largest word. There are 45 letters in it. But my history teacher once told me that floccinaucinihilipilification (meaning, the estimation of something as worthless) was the longest word in English. Well, someone needs to tell me which one it really is. Till then, I’ll consider Titin as the undefeated champion…

What is it?

Titin is a protein found in certain kind of muscle tissues. It is the thing that makes those muscles elastic. For instance, in heart muscles – that expand and contract continuously for decades, without a break. The folded nature of this huge molecule makes it act like a spring – just like a long wire can be coiled into a small spring. The full chemical formula goes like this:

C132983H211861N36149O40883S693

I won’t spam my blog with the full name, but I’ll definitely point you to it. [Full name spelled out]. If you are too lazy to go there, it starts like this:

Methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylalrylglycylphenylalanylprolylvalylprolyylglycylarginylalanyllysylleucylthreonylglutamylleucylleu…

and ends like this:

partylaspartylleucylthreonylthrnylaspartylvalylglutaminyllysylglutamilthreonylleucylserylleucylglycylasparalaspartylserylalanylthr…

The video: It takes about 233 minutes to pronounce the full chemical name – Yes, a guy tried it out (with video cuts of course). The gentleman pronounces it on camera for you. If you care enough to watch the whole 3 and half hour-long video, you’ll see how the man grows a stubble while pronouncing it. Also, you’ll see the plant dying out. But those are only gimmicks that makes the video funny. I’d like to add that his expression in the end is priceless. You shouldn’t miss that. Here, I’ve attached it for you below:

To use up the same amount of time in a better manner, I suggest that you watch the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate.

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