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]

Human Foot Pwns Any Shoe We’ve Ever Made

By Anupum Pant

Background

No doubt we have come far enough to be able to cram in Billions of transistors on a few mm² of real estate. Hell, we’ve even been able to construct single atom transistors. Technology sure has come far, but within a just few decades of evolution of technology, are we really sure that we’ve done better than the work done by nature through Millions of years of evolution in the field of bio-mechanics? I’m not too sure we have. Rather I believe, nature already is far ahead of us. That is probably the reason, we are not even close to properly understanding how animate matter really works. We have a long way to go. And here is why I say that…

Although this was back in the year 2010, it is still relevant.

Skeletal Biology Lab at Harvard

Professor Daniel E. Lieberman from the Skeletal biology lab of Harvard asked a simple question, “how and why did ancient humans run comfortably without modern running shoes?”
This question encouraged him to start a research in his Skeletal biology lab – The result of which made the professor to ditch his shoes (read on to know why). Now, he is the “barefoot professor”.

In a 2 Million year span through which humans have been running, it’s been only a couple of decades since they’ve started using shoes to run. Before that, for Millions of years, people used to run barefoot. In the process that has lasted about 2 Million years, the professor believes that the human foot was able to evolve into a very advanced bio-mechanical device. Turns out, you don’t need shoes to run, you just need feet. The foot easily beats any modern running shoe. Here’s how…

The Research

In their research, they observed and studied several cases of people running with and without shoes. With the help of modern technology (again) they were able to map out the kind forces that are experienced by the foot in both cases. Moreover, they found a stark difference in how people run with shoes, and how they do it without shoes.

Running with a shoe: When people run with shoes, they tend to rely on the soft cushion at the heel of the shoe, and most of the time they land on the heel. This abrupt landing creates huge impact forces and hurts your foot. In the long run, it causes problems. Nature clearly didn’t design the foot to run with shoes! As the video screenshot shows… (the running style is of course shown without the shoe).

running with a shoe

Running without a shoe: Now, that doesn’t happen when you run without a shoe. Since you don’t have a cushion to rely on, you tend to land on the front part of the foot (with almost a parallel footing, a little tilted towards the front). This part isn’t solid like the heel. It has been crafted very carefully by the nature to absorb the impact forces (or in other words to delay the time for which forces are experienced, like a shock absorber). That means, there are no peak impact forces. The curve, as you can see is a beautifully smooth curve, without peaks.

running without a shoe

In the following video, Madhusudhan Venkadesan explains this using a simple pen analogy (at 3:52).

via [ScienceDump] Know more at the website [RunningBarefoot]

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Wasp Uses Venom to Turn Cockroaches into Zombies

By Anupum Pant

Background

The Emerald Cockroach Wasp A.K.A Jewel wasp – a metallic blue/green colored, 2 cm long wasp – is something that will blow your mind by the way it reproduces. More specifically, the Emerald Cockroach Wasp uses venom to hack into cockroach brains, turns them into zombies and lays eggs inside them. With time, this live yet immobile cockroach body is hollowed out by the larvae of the wasp and the young ones come out eventually.

How does it reproduce? (details)

At a time when the female Emerald Cockroach Wasp is ready to lay eggs, it competes with the other females to find a host to lay their eggs. When a wasp finds a good host – only this one kind of cockroach – the weird reproductive activity begins.

  1. The wasp attacks the cockroach and injects the first dose of venom into its central nervous system that is aimed at making the front legs of the cockroach paralyzed. Killing the cockroach with its venom is simple for the wasp, but keeping it alive is what matters here. So, the right amount of venom at the perfect place is injected.
  2. Now, when the cockroach can’t move its front legs, the wasp attacks again at a perfectly still moment to inject the second dose of venom. It carefully sticks the stingers into the brain of the victim in a way that the perfect amount of venom reaches the exact place in the brain of the cockroach which controls escape reflex. In short, it performs a micro neurosurgery and turns the cockroach into a zombie – Now it gets completely under control.
  3. Next, the wasp chews off half the antennae from the cockroach’s head and drinks its blood to gain energy.
  4. Then it grabs the cockroach by its antennae and hauls it into a burrow, lays the eggs on the abdomen of the cockroach, goes out and obstructs the entryway of the burrow using small pebbles to ensure that the host doesn’t escape. The calm zombie-cockroach is left in there to take care of the larvae for several days.
  5. The larvae hatches, drills a hole into the body of the cockroach, eats it from the inside, hollows is and comes out after a few weeks as a grown up wasp. The cockroach is dead.

Did you know? There is funny sticker selling on the internet – Jewel wasp vs. Zombie cockroach sticker. (Just FYI. I have no affiliation with it)

[Video]