And Then, We All Became White Men: Casual Racism in Evolutionary Diagrams

My thoughts exactly!

Alaina Mabaso's Blog

For the fifty-some percent of Americans who know evolution is a thing, there’s still a little confusion on the left side of that oft-illustrated evolutionary march from ape to man. Did humans start out as gorillas, or as chimpanzees? Fortunately, the modern side of the diagram is much more consistent: after a few million years, we all became tall, muscular Caucasian men.

At least that’s what the majority of these diagrams would have you believe.

Look for a few moments at one of those handy textbook pictures, which show a hairy, crouching ape becoming a striding, pale, naked huntsman (usually with a luxuriant Brad Pitt-worthy ‘do) in about five easy steps, and there’s so much wrong with it you don’t even know where to start.

Some people scoff at the pastors who exclaim a gorilla could not possibly be your Grampa, and that therefore evolution is a load of Godless…

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Apse = Arch

apse

Photo by Caroline Nye Stevens at the Field Museum

Doing some reading on tuatara, as one does when preparing a zoology lecture later in the semester (OMG, CHORDATES!!! It took only 14 weeks of learning about worms and worm-shaped non-worms to get here!), and I came across this:

https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/tuataras-are-great-but-theyre-not-lizards/

Overall, not bad. Written fairly clearly and hits all the main points. My one issue with it is that the author does not define “apse” correctly. I’d put that in the comments section, if it hadn’t been closed long ago. Apse means “arch”, although in architecture it refers to a recessed shallow hole in the wall, not unlike a niche. However, the apse is formed with an arch, and that is what apse means in biology. A diapsid skull is a skull with two arches that form the “holes” in the skull (actually called “fenestrae”). Diapsid wouldn’t even really make sense if you thought “apse” meant “hole”, because there are three fenestrae in the diapsid skull; the orbital, the superior temporal fenestra, and the inferior temporal fenestra.

The real reason I’m involved in this is because some innocent, well-meaning student had to ask what nitty -gritty details distinguished the tuatara (the only members of Order Sphenodontia) from the lizards of Order Squamata. I had a feeling it was something esoteric about the skull, but didn’t have that answer on the tip of my brain. So tomorrow I can say with confidence that the big differences are jaw mobility (tuatara have less) and hemipenes (tuatara must go in for the cloacal kiss that birds are famous for).

Electrofishing is Fun

Helping out some folks in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue, especially Casey Day and Sarah Meronk (a Masters student with Dr. Patrick Zollner and an undergraduate with Dr. Liz Flaherty, respectively) I headed out on a beautiful May morning to electrofish along streams in northwest Indiana. So what’s electrofishing? In our case, this meant that a small boat with only a generator and an electrofishing unit mounted on it was pulled along by Dr. Reuben Goforth, while another student slowly moved the electrofishing wand in an arc in the stream. The rest of us walked behind, wearing waders and rubber gloves (as insulation against getting shocked), scooping up stunned fish with nets and setting them carefully into a collection bucket. Within minutes, the fish recover from the shock, so time is of the essence. The purpose of this exercise was twofold: to identify species that could potentially be part of river otter diet, and to collect tissue samples for isotope analysis (so the fish could be identified to species if present in river otter poop). We also noted river otter sign (tracks), so we confirmed that they were in the area. We also climbed over a beaver dam, so they are also present. Overall, it was a very productive day. The best part of electrofishing is sampling fish that you might otherwise not have known were lurking under submerged branches, especially the non-game fishes that are not typically caught via angling. I found that,

Electrofishing1

It was a bit chilly for May!

once again, my polarized sunglasses were a huge help in helping me see beneath the surface of the sun-dappled water. I also managed to get through the day without dying or miscarrying, despite being 4 months pregnant, I’m sure all you other lady scientists out there are shocked by that news, right?

Starting a New Postdoctoral Research Position!

Starting June 27th, I will be developing an eDNA (that’s environmental deoxyribonucleic acid) assay for invasive and POTENTIALLY invasive species in the Great Lakes. This position is at the University of Toledo’s Lake Erie Center in Oregon, OH. I am excited to be working on an important project such as this one, the final products of which will enable researchers and managers to quickly identify the presence of invasive species within water systems. In the meantime, I’m finishing up my work on the biomass removal effects on forest community ecology project at Purdue. Just this past weekend (May 30-31), I presented early results of this multi-PI project at the Carnegie Museum’s salvage logging and ecology symposium at Powdermill Nature Reserve in Rector, Pennsylvania. Lots of interesting forestry research going on in this field!

Birds birds birds!

I *finally* went birding this past weekend with some great folks to Kankakee Sands and Willow Slough! The highlights:

Wilson’s snipe (a lifer for me!), displaying

Northern pintail

Greater yellowlegs

White-fronted geese

Pectoral sandpipers

Two brown thrashers having a calling war

About 10,000 coots

White pelican

One lonely loon

Green winged teal

Blue winged teal

Bufflehead

Red-headed woodpecker

Eastern towhee

Greater scaup

And the usual suspects, such as American crow, common grackles, robins, killdeer, field sparrows, and Canada geese. Surprisingly, not a lot of mallards.

All in all, a great way to spend a cool, bright spring morning, and well worth the hour drive to get there.