The scariest (and laziest) animals in Australia.

I’m on a break over Christmas, so the blog is a bit science-lite this week. Despite my poor abilities as a photographer, I’ll probably post some fun sights from my trip back home.

I went to Healesville Sanctuary, a wildlife park for native animals, this week. Most of the animals there were the usual Australian marsupials, although I was very pleased to see some rodents also featuring! Yay for common rock rats, hopping mice and water rats!

However, I’d like to present (in no order) the two scariest birds in Australia:

The bush stone curlew, Burhinus grallarius, lives in woodland areas across a fairly wide chunk of Australia. It’s a furtive-looking, tallish, skinny bird that does not look particularly scary. Observe (one is standing and one is sitting):

What is terrifying about these birds is their call. It sends chills down my spine. The first time I heard it, I had no idea what it was. Listen:


The other scariest bird in Australia is the emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae. Taller than a person, this bird would bite your fingers off, given the chance. Eek!!

Finally, I’ll finish with the laziest animal in Australia. This is a tough one, because I saw wombats, echidnas, kangaroos and tree kangaroos all asleep or sitting around doing nothing. But the clear winner is this koala, who was so lazy it didn’t even hold on to the branch it was sitting on.




Lego for girls

Lego Friends is not my friend

I don’t get to the toy departments of shops very often and I also don’t pay a lot of attention to upcoming toy trends (what is a Squinkie??) so I was unaware that Lego are launching a special range of building sets for girls, in pink and purple. Presumably, the girls that play with these sets will be constructing beauty parlours for the little helmet-haired Lego people.

Yesterday, however, I read a superb opinion piece on this, from writer Michelle Smith, in The Age newspaper. Go to the link here and read it.

I played with gender-neutral Lego when I was a kid. I built spaceships and cars with blocks in blue, red, green and yellow. I even got a Technic set for Christmas one year that had a battery pack so I could make cars that drove around. I wasn’t a tomboy, but I did like building things and seeing how things work. It’s a very sad thing that Lego is responding to society’s assumption (presumption?) that young girls need to be pigeonholed in such a way that they should play only with pink blocks that are designed to build girly-type structures.

From Michelle:

This is not to deny girls take pleasure in styling Barbie’s hair or taking a wavy-haired Lego figurine out on a pony ride. Yet we should be careful to differentiate between innate desires and culturally constructed ones. As Cordelia Fine shows in a study of neuroscientific literature in her book Delusions of Gender, our ideas about ”hard-wired” differences between boys and girls are baseless.

Such perceptions are based on sexism. The cycle of socialising children into believing that girls should like particular things that boys should not, is not only continuing, but is further compartmentalising children into their genders. This becomes more substantial when these perceptions affect how girls and boys are raised by their parents, making these ”innate” gender differences a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Monday Awesome: Crazy Christmas Storm!

I nearly forgot that it’s Monday, because I’m still recovering from Christmas festivities.

Today’s awesome is a series of serious storms that struck over Melbourne yesterday afternoon, right when we were travelling from one family celebration to another. It seems that many people ended up with a white Christmas, which is most unusual for the middle of summer!

As I was driving through the storms, I don’t have any photos of my own.

Here is a photo of some hailstones (from the Herald-Sun website):

We saw a car driving along without a back window. Reports varied, but golf ball-sized hail seemed to be common, but cricket ball-sized hail was observed near the highway we were on.

Stormy stuff (via The Age website).

Avian influenza drama

Avian influenza virus

I’m intrigued by the current goings-on regarding the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity’s request to the journals Nature and Science to redact/edit/censor key details of the methodology in some papers submitted on avian influenza. Some links to news stories here and here.

Normally, this would be a bizarre request, because the one of the key aspects of publishing scientific research is to present the methods in such a way that anyone else could replicate the study. Everything needs to be documented and transparent. That’s why methods sections of papers are usually rather meticulous, but also fairly boring. In this case, the request has been made to leave out or edit specific details on the basis that the knowledge may “fall into the wrong hands”, or be used as bioterrorism. Meanwhile, thousands of birds are being culled in Hong Kong, after avian influenza was detected in three wild birds. This highlights the seriousness with which avian influenza should be treated. Continue reading

Monday Awesome: goliath spider

This morning I read an article about the current warm and wet conditions in Australia leading to a population spike of common house spiders (and presumably, also, ones that don’t live in houses) here, which got me thinking about which spider is the biggest.

The all-powerful Google led me to this National Geographic video of the goliath bird eating spider (Theraphosa blondi) from South America. I’m not scared of spiders, but I do think I’d be pretty freaked out if I came across one of these.

goliath spider video

Science round-up – stories and research that caught my eye.

I’ve been looking around the interwebs this week, and several things have captured my attention.

1) Small spiders have their brains in their legs. Really.

2) Higgs boson (because according to the media, we can’t get enough of it).

3) Naked mole rats!

4) Hot chocolate helps you think (or does it?)

5) Mystery video for those who persevere to the very end of the post 🙂

Anapisona simoni: tiny spider, normal-size brain

Continue reading

The Higgs boson is like Paris Hilton…

… both are potentially not real. *chortle*

No, seriously guys, the point of the title was because there are various news groups reporting on the rumours that CERN researchers have possibly discovered something boson-like. From the ABC news, theoretician Sascha Vongehr is quoted as saying that “the anticipation among physics enthusiasts is almost palpable”. Whoa, steady on guys, we wouldn’t want you to get too excited about it. They also quote it as being called “light Higgs”, which makes me think that it’s a low-calorie Higgs, perfect for snacks between meals. But I digress. The reason why I found this blog-worthy was the awesomely fabulous analogy featured on another news article, from Melbourne newspaper The Age. To explain what Higgs bosons are, they described them as follows:

“The mysterious Higgs bosons are thought to be crammed together in empty space, giving all matter in the universe its mass – just as hangers-on at a party can weigh down a celebrity moving through a crowd.”

Really? Higgs bosons are like celebrities at a party? Are they suggesting that the particle that gives the universe its matter is somehow equivalent to a fawned-over nobody who gets paid an outrageous amount of money to do little else than stand around looking good? Jeebus, give me strength.

I’m all for making science accessible to the broader population, and good science communication can be difficult when dealing with the abstract concepts of theoretical physics. This, however, is utterly ridiculous and the journalist who wrote it should be sat down in a windowless room and made to write lines – I will not use stupid analogies to dumb down important aspects of physics – until their BlackBerry-tapping fingers fall off.