Friday, June 10, 2005


‘We must tackle and grasp the larger and encompassing themes of our universe, but we make our best approach through small curiosities that rivet our attention – all those pretty pebbles on the shoreline of knowledge. For the ocean of truth washes over the pebbles with every wave, and they rattle and click with the most wondrous din.’
-Stephen Jay Gould, 'Wonderful Life' [Vintage. 2000]

The body of a stowaway was ripped in half during a flight into New York and his leg landed in a garden in the suburbs. Pam Hearne of Floral Park, heard a 'loud crash' before finding a foot clad ina trainer and sock on her lawn. The leg, with hip and spine attached, dented here garage roof as it fell. Another leg was found in the plane's wheel well.Since 1947, 69 stowaways are known to have boarded 59 commercial flights. Only 15 survived.

A group of 13 Cubans were picked up by the US Coast guard just 20 miles off Florida's Key West. They were trying to reach the US in a converted 1949 Mercury taxi, with a prow fitted on the front. In 2003, another group of Cubans tried the same trick in a 1951 Chevy.

Explorer John Bashford Snell has found an old submarine in waters off the coast of Panama, which he believes may have been the model for Captain Nemo's vessel Nautilus in Jules Verne's '2000 Leagues Under the Sea'. Built in 1864, the 10m-long cigar-shaped Explorer was built for the American Civil War but never used. It had a unique lock-out system which Blashford-Snell believes Verne must have read about because he used it in his book which came out five years later in 1869.
Searchable text for 20,000 Leagues:
Article on the Nautilus in Undersea Warfare, The Official Magazine of the US Submarine Force:

According to the problem is that universities these days are subject to many tests, ratings and measurements all of which leave out one vital factor, in fact the one most important measure of the quality of a university - duck density, the ultimate mark of a university's prowess and brilliance. They say: 'Right now we need your help to establish the water resource and preliminary duck counts for all the universities around the country. This will then allow you the chance to rate your university by its Duck Density, and see how others rate theirs. Join the campaign and help us promote Duck Density at your university.'

Researchers from the University of Alaska have discovered that the penis of a male Argentine lake ducks (Oxyura vittata), when fully extended, is about the same length as its body, measuring about 0.5m (17ins.) long. Surprisingly few birds have penises at all and this is the longest of any bird known so far.
When not in use, the corkscrew-shaped penis retracts into the duck’s abdomen. According to their report in Nature, the factors responsible for the evolution of this remarkable organ could include runaway selection, whereby drakes with longer penises gain dominance and copulate with more females, or preference by females for drakes with longer and more decorated penises.
Kevin McCracken, the lead author of the report, says ‘our best guess is that the birds use [the long penis] as a kind of lasso. The males have to chase the females, and even during copulation the females are trying to escape.’

Source: Kevin G. McCracken et al, ‘Sexual selection: Are ducks impressed by drakes' display?’ [Nature 413, 128 (13 September 2001)]; For picture of duck (but not its organ) see: Hillary Mayell, ‘Evolutionary Oddities’ [National Geographic News 23 October 2001]

Many dinosaurs had cancer and their tumours were like those of human patients. Radiologist Bruce Rothschild discovered this when he and his team from the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown took a portable X-ray machine across North America and used it to scan 10,000 dinosaur vertebrae from more than 700 museum specimens. They discovered that only one group – the hadrosaurs or ‘duck-billed dinosaurs’ - suffered from cancer. The team found 29 tumours in bones from 97 individuals of this herbivorous group from the Cretaceous period, about 70m years ago. The most cancer-prone hadrosaur was Edmontosaurus, which was also the only one to have a malignant tumour. Three per cent of its bones contained a lump of some sort.

Little is known about dinosaur cancers. The commonest growths were hemaniomas – benign tumours of the blood vessels; these are found in ten per cent of humans. It is not known for certain what might have caused these cancers, though Rothschild point out they fed on coniferous trees, which are high in carcinogenic chemicals. Cancers have been found in everything from coral to budgerigars. There frequency in most species is unknown.
[ Sources:

Related story: The earliest known human cancer was a growth on the femur of ‘Java Man’, found in Indonesia in the 19th century and thought to be over 1m years old. The growth may have been a bone tumour.
Source: ‘Quickfire’ [Focus May 2004]

No comments: