Archive for the ‘Language and animals’ Category

Return to the crab feast

August 28, 2015

In a posting on the 15th I recalled an odd experience with tv commercials: back in July a commercial went by for a fast-food or casual-dining restaurant (possibly Red Lobster, though I didn’t catch the name) advertising specials on crab, a feast of snow crab and king crab. The commercial — which was indeed for Red Lobster’s 2015 Crabfest — then mysteriously disappeared from the channels I watch, only to reappear yesterday, just as (it seems) the special offer is about to end.

But the commercial provided an opening for me to talk about kinds of crab (and “crab”). And now I’ll say a bit more.


All things shark

August 24, 2015

Heavy advertisement on cable tv for the summer-end event Shweekend (Shark Weekend — somehow, sharks provoke portmanteaus) on the Discovery Channel.


(The poster plays on the film title Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!)


Kraken! And GEICO!

August 23, 2015

This recent tv ad for GEICO entertained me enormously:

A description, from the site:

At a golf tournament, a golfer prepares to make a shot over the water. Just before he goes to swing, a kraken emerges from the water and grabs the golfer and his caddy, swinging them around with its tentacles. While all this is happening, the golf commentators continue quietly narrating the event. When you’re a golf commentator, you whisper — It’s what you do. If you want to save 15 percent or more on car insurance, you switch to GEICO.


Now, some notes: on the Kraken, and on GEICO and the”It’s What You Do” ads.


Crab feast

August 15, 2015

Some time ago a tv commercial went past me in the middle of the night: a commercial for a fast-food or casual-dining restaurant advertising specials on crab, a feast of snow crab and king crab. So I wondered about the crab in these two names, suspecting that we might be in a world where the referent of one or both of these names is unclear — where there are several distinct creatures called snow crab, say — and maybe also in a world where biologists claim that some things called crabs (or X crabs, for some specific X) are not in fact crabs at all, or aren’t “true crabs”. My suspicious are justified.


Briefly: ‘ware frog!

August 13, 2015

From the annals of biological nasties — drastically invasive plants, poisonous creatures, etc. — a fresh horror reported on in the NYT Science Times on the 11th, in “Frogs With a Venomous Head Butt’ by Sindya N. Bhanoo:

Bruno’s Casque-headed frog, one of two species in Brazil found to deliver venom

(That’s casquea helmetlike structure, such as that on the bill of a hornbill or the head of a cassowary’ (NOAD2).)

There are many poisonous frogs — eat the wrong frog legs at a Paris bistro, and you’re in trouble. Now researchers have discovered two venomous frogs that deliver potent toxins through bony spines on their heads.

“It was thought that frogs were completely passive,” said Edmund Brodie, a biologist at Utah State University. “In this case, the frog is doing some serious injuring.” Dr. Brodie and his colleagues reported their findings in the journal Current Biology.

The two venomous species, Corythomantis greeningi and Aparasphenodon brunoi, are found in Brazil but have not been well studied. Dr. Brodie’s colleague and co-author, Carlos Jared, a biologist at the Instituto Butantan in Brazil, was collecting specimens when one of the frogs jabbed him with its spines.

“He had intense pain radiating up the arm lasting for five hours,” Dr. Brodie said. “That was the eureka moment.”

Luckily, Dr. Jared was jabbed by C. greeningi. A single gram of toxic secretion from A. brunoi is enough to kill 300,000 mice or about 80 people, according to the researchers’ calculations.

It’s unlikely a small frog can deliver a gram of venom in a single jab, but the researchers are planning to err on the side of caution, Dr. Brodie said.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the jungle.

Morning name: Culebra

August 8, 2015

Time to go to the beach. On Culebra, from Wikipedia:

Isla Culebra (… “Snake Island”) is an island-municipality of Puerto Rico. It is located approximately 17 miles (27 km) east of the Puerto Rican mainland, 12 miles (19 km) west of St. Thomas and 9 miles (14 km) north of Vieques. Culebra is spread over 5 wards and Culebra Pueblo (Dewey), the downtown area and the administrative center of the city. Residents of the island are known as Culebrenses. With a population of 1,818 as of the latest census, it is Puerto Rico’s least populous municipality.

The place wins some kind of prize for being the least populous municipality in P.R.! But it embraces even smaller places.


Primate testicle size

July 27, 2015

From the July 18th New Scientist, in the In Brief section, “Zoologger: The sex-addicted tiny lemur with giant testicles” (on-line; in print, “Tiny lemur is best endowed primate”):

“Oh my god! How do they manage to walk and climb without bumping these things on every branch?” asked Johanna Rode-Margono the first time she saw the testicles of a giant mouse lemur close up.

In turns out they don’t. They stumble and bump their balls with almost every step they take, says Rode-Margono, who is at Oxford Brookes University, UK. At a mere 300 grams, the lemur is roughly squirrel-sized. But for its size, it has the largest testicles in the primate world (American Journal of Physical Anthropology,

If we had the same testes size, relative to weight, the average man would have balls as big as grapefruits, says Rode-Margono.

The lemurs mate all year round but constant copulation has not saved them from deforestation – fewer than 17,000 giant mouse lemurs are left, she says.


Misleadingly named animals

July 27, 2015

Via Kim Darnell on Facebook (a very long time ago), this poster:

Eight composite names — some N + N, some Adj + N. The question here is the semantic contribution of each of the parts. The poster deliberately disregards the fact that these are common names, not technical labels from biology; and it insists on treating these names as definitions, which is something no mere label can do. And it throws in some tongue-in-cheek remarks.


Morning names: naked mole rat, Penn Palestra

July 25, 2015

A double-header this morning. I have no idea where the naked mole rat came from. The Palestra at Penn was undoubtedly prompted by the music of Palestrina, which was playing on WQXR when I woke — though it turns out that palaestras and Palestrina have nothing to do with one another etymologically, nor has either of them anything to do with palisades.



July 17, 2015

This morning’s name was yellowjacket, a kind of wasp — relevant now that we’re in high summer, getting into yellowjacket season. That led me to the excellent technical term trophallaxis. Here’s the Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica, the scourge of picnics in this part of the world:



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