Waterfoul – Part 2: How it spreads

Originally posted on Steemit: https://steemit.com/fiction/@mobbs/waterfoul-part-2-how-disease-spreads

waterfoul.jpg

The clarity of mind she felt when seeing the ducks on the news was unlike anything she had felt before. At least, that’s what her suicide note claimed. It was only local news. Just regional, nothing spectacular. But she understood. All her predictions were laid out on her tea-stained notebook, albeit with little useful help in guidance towards, say, a cure or preventative measures. She probably didn’t have a clue.

Her work log described foreboding results with what she considered was an abject failure; chimps ripping out each other’s intestines, mice de-worming each other… to put it mildly. But she claims in her writing that the genes involved with tuberculosis resistance in humans was the crux of her study, and insists humans would be safe from the effects.

Those studying her work corroborated the idea in principle, saying even chimps, a mere 2% difference genetically, lack our resistance to this particular bacterial disease, though chimps have greater malarial resistance to compensate.

‘If true, if all of it is true, we may be looking at little more than a pond infection. I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen pond jellyfish clog up machinery, seaweed drowning hundreds of individuals. Let’s not jump to alarming conclusions’ Dr Jack Zhang said, seemingly to nobody.

The rest of the forensics team were idly watching the news looking for more up-to-date info:

The duck the old, gay men first observed disappeared, as if running away from a crime. Shortly after, the bird that should have drowned worked its way feebly towards the men’s general direction. When it managed to get up on land, within inches of the bench they sat, it simply shook its feathers and waddled away like it couldn’t even see them.

The men, however, were quickly distracted by the reeds beyond the far side of the pond. A swan, neck all contorted, emerged with an aggressive stance, feathers all ruffled. It made room for a water runway and set off into the air, one leg dropping from the sky, bouncing off a child’s pram.

The news continued. The family of the child didn’t even notice the decapitated leg nearby until the baby was firmly strapped in, crying. Presumably because it saw the leg.

The parents saw a duck with half its face missing approach them, and they quickly decided to leave. The husband was ready to release a hefty football kick of course, but considered it could have an infectious disease, and left with his family, a good distance between him and the bird.

‘All we need, is to find a one-legged swan. They typically go to the same brooding grounds, so we simply call the animal control officer, get a team assembled and stamp this fire out before it spreads.’ Dr Zhang, louder this time, head blocking the TV.

Confidence oozed from him. This is easily containable. If it even needs containing in the first place. Just a precaution. Then again, it ain’t tuberculosis, whatever it is.



1

The two men left their interviews, furious that the journalist started questioning their sexuality ON LIVE TV, as if that had anything whatsoever to do with a… zombie duck crisis. What is WRONG with people?? they both thought, more or less in verbatim.

It was time anyway, they had a flight to catch. In all their years together, they had never actually taken a proper holiday. Sure, they did a fantastic road trip from Arizona to Maine, and England was good too but it felt more business than anything. India, however. India was a whole new world. India would be a place to die happy.



2

‘You should really change her nappy before we leave, we don’t want a repeat of last time’ Lisa demanded

‘Me? I did it last time, I thought we agreed to alternate all disgusting chor… besides, she won’t let me do anything without going all mental at me ever since she saw that…leg’

‘Ok Lewis, ok fine. But if we aren’t willing to give things up and just do each other a favour sometimes, instead sticking to these bureaucratic counselling bullcrap rules, Japan is going to be another regret in our memories. Ok let’s just chill. It IS my turn.

But you better drive fast, ok?’

‘Works for me’



3

Dr Zhang was discussing the most likely locations based on the swan’s tag with the control officer when one of his hired goons came up the hill, swan’s wing in hand.

‘Yes! He can’t be far, unless he can fly with his beak.’

The hunt was on. Within minutes, they found a hobbling swan, twisted neck over a trash can, gobbling away at some sausage meat. The officer and his team made quick work catching it – but made sure to keep it alive, as per Doctor’s orders, and they headed back to base.



4

Night was waking. The crescent moon nowhere to be seen. Stars had their chance to finally impress. A shadowed figure approached the park bridge. She, or he, looked busy. Looking for something. Their nose was active, like a rabbit. Dressed in home-made rags, the barefooted individual directed their gait to a meaty smell towards a trash can.

The homeless soul took whatever scraps they could and stuffed them in pockets, took a few bites of this and that, and hobbled off more jovially than before, into the night.



Hope you enjoyed this first of hopefully an ongoing story!

Waterfoul – Part 1

Originally posted on Steemit: https://steemit.com/fiction/@mobbs/waterfoul-part-1The cracked mirror reflected a broken woman. Her eyes; windows to panic, her hands withered with stress. Despite the summer weather beaming in from barely 3 feet away through a cracked pane of glass, the light upon the mirror seemed monochrome. At least to her.

She was out of time. Her grant was running thin, and she had spent all year meddling with things that ought not to be meddled with, not least because it was simply over her head. Over anybody’s head, she reckoned.

She took a step back to see whether she could get away with going into the public eye as long as the average person kept to their own personal space, decided she passed despite the wine stains on her sleeve, and left her tiny bathroom.

On the table in the hallway, her life. Everything she had worked on in a single test tube. A failure, in essence. With notes of ridicule. Not even close to what she was going for. Tests on nematodes? They ate each other. Tests on mice? They ripped each other’s skin off. Tests on chimps? She didn’t even want to recall that afternoon. Bloody Mondays.

Self-pity had made her late. It was time to submit her death juice.

The elevator was strangely tall and thin, thinner than yesterday it seemed. Perhaps a projection of her chances of success.
She was to pitch a product, yet she had no product to pitch. She could lie, but people would find out within the hour; a quick sampling of the formula would see to that. She could replace it with the strawberry milk in her handbag and get a better response.

My life is a joke, she thought. Ugh…They shouldn’t be burdening a single individual with a task for an entire industry in the first place. What is this, slavery?

31st floor.

One last ditch effort to check a bathroom mirror to see if her disdain for existence had improved… nope.

What to do… What to do…

Banging her toecaps apathetically on the bathroom wall, drying her hands for longer than is sensible, she had an epiphany.

That’s it! Fuck ‘em!’

She quickly opened her handbag, pulled the test tube out and poured the substance down the drain.

Nobody should get their hands on this. Could be consequences.

She went down the elevator, now wider than ever, and left the building, never to return.



The park was quaint, not in the ‘sales pitch’ kind of way, but genuinely quaint. A small bridge over a small stream – seemingly pointless really – the cracks in the wood filled with moss as old as the park itself. A few benches dotted around here and there with the occasional retiree occupying it, passing time. Two old men were feeding ducks in a quintessential duck pond. Bread is not good for ducks, guys.

In fact, it looks like the ducks were not doing well at all.

‘Hey jim, look a’ that one… you seen a duck keep its head under the water that long b’fore?’
‘Uh I guess, I dunno. How long?’
‘I been watching for like, nearly 10 minutes. How long can a duck hold its breath?’
‘Err, Google says… no more than 5… but I see its tail still moving about all duck-like so you must be countin’ wrong’
‘Nah, I ain’t countin’ wrong, you bloody fool’

The duck in question was indeed failing to drown itself. But if the two old folk had been in the water for closer inspection, they would have seen that was not the intent. The duck was gorging.

Below the water, a second duck, as dead as the first duck ought to be. The first duck was passionate. Its upper beak was driven like a spear into the spine, the lower beak hanging loosely, floating aimlessly, attached to the duck’s body by a mere strand of tendon. But the furious bird was far more focused on driving its face deeper into the spine, deeper. Must go deeper.

Eventually, the bones completely separated, and the corpse floated to the surface.

The seemingly possessed hell-duck finally lifted its head from the water, looked around, and casually made its way to the reeds. The old men stared in disbelief.

MUTUAL SYMBIOSIS – Fascinating teamwork in nature – Evolution # 4

Originally posted on Steemit: https://steemit.com/nature/@mobbs/mutual-symbiosis-only-limited-by-imagination-evolution-4
Egyptian plover birds don’t give a sh#tPreviously:

Convergence
Stupid Design
Weird Evolution
The Axolotl

So.

We’ve looked at some pretty amazing aspects of evolution so far, but where convergent evolution happens often, and badly designed organisms are common, symbiosis is quite literally all around us. In fact, some scientists even argue that the earth is essentially one giant symbiotic organism.

What is it?

As you likely know, symbiosis is a situation where two or more separate species are physically in contact with each other in a way that is beneficial for one or both members. However, this can be broken down into several categories:

• Mutualism – Classical symbiosis, where both members benefit equally
• Parasitism – Where one member actively damages or destroys the other
• Commensalism – Where one member benefits and the other has no noticeable change
• Obligate symbiosis – Where the organism requires the relationship in order to survive
• Facultative symbiosis – Not entirely necessary but it does boost chances of survival

How does symbiosis happen?

Symbiotes aren’t consciously aware of their ‘agreement’, nor do they hash out ideas in meetings to maximize their symbiotic potential. Symbiotes just do whatever they need to do, instinctively.

But how is that possible? Two creatures can’t just magically and perfectly slot together like a square block in a square whole, and then just continue generation after generation this way, so wa’ gwan with that?

‘The secret to evolution is time and death’, as Carl Sagan once put it. Over thousands of generations, two species likely start of in facultative symbiosis. This situation is pretty sweet. Addictive, even. But, like all addictions, the victims become dependent on the given benefits, and those who exploit those benefits are the ones that survive, while those who do not, die.

If that isn’t a decent argument to start taking heroin, I don’t know what is.

So it’s often just easier to use the tools of another species than figure out how to do it themselves. One example of this is the Tree-Fungi relationship. 90% of all plants in the world have a fungal partner.

Though we only see the reproductive ‘mushroom’ growing atop the ground, they are in fact a huge subterranean fungal system that latches onto the roots of trees. Fungi already has an efficient root system in place and can help the tree spread its roots further, whilst also providing nutrients. At the same time, the tree can provide a share of the nutrients created by its leafy photosynthesis.


The fine filament of a fungus greatly enhances the surface area for roots of a tree in the soilThere’s a lot of symbiosis we are plainly aware of, like our own gut bacteria; we cannot survive without it, and they need us for a nice, warm home. Like Couchsurfing.

Flowers, insects and birds often have symbiosis; the flower provides the food, the insect takes the food and also takes the pollen, dropping it off in another flower in a strange work-around sex; pollination. Birds also do this but can eat the insects if they want, too. Why not.

As shown in a previous evolution post, some flowers grow increasingly specific, allowing only a particular animal in through various mechanisms.

But there are some more bizarre and pretty outrageous. Let’s take a look.

Solar powered life

There is a worm which unfortunately lacks a popular nick name, the Symsagittifera roscoffensis, but is amazing nonetheless. Let’s call it Gitti


SourceThere are few examples better to show how in some cases, symbiosis greys the definition of what a plant and animal is.

This Gitti worm is small, flat and transparent (like your… never mind), but it takes on a green appearance after allowing algae to live and grow within its body. In return, the Gitti doesn’t even need to eat, instead surviving off the energy given by the sun, through the algae’s photosynthesis. This relationship has grown so deep, that the worm has no functioning digestive tract or mouth. What’s more, the waste products are recycled by the algae and they never need to leave Gitti’s body.


not a plantThe thing is, this isn’t even unique. Corals are animals that use algae to collect sugar, and others like sea slugs, jellyfish and sponges use this trick too. Even wilder, a few years ago the first vertebrate species was discovered running on solar power in facultative symbiosis: the spotted salamander.


Source

Cecropia Trees and Azteca Ants

The Cecropia tree is hollow, and inside it produces sugary juice perfect for Azteca ants. The ants move into this perfect shelter and feed off the sugar. In return, the ants serve as the trees own personal army, killing off any competition in the vicinity and protecting the tree from vines and other pests and herbivores.

The tree has even developed specialised, tiny gripping hooks for the ants to use to gain greater traction during fights.

Honeyguide

A honeyguide is a bird that LOVES honey, but it’s not strong enough to break into a hive itself. So what better way to accomplish this by deliberately grabbing the attention of bigger animals – including honey badgers and even humans – and leading them to the bee’s nest. After the stupid brute breaks it apart, the honeyguide can take its fair share.


Source

Urchin Crab & Fire Sea Urchin

Crabs often lack sufficient defense with those measly, giant claws of death, but the Urchin crab has managed to work with a type of poisonous urchin to guarantee safety. They take a Fire Sea Urchin over twice their own size and put it on their head while they travel, and in return, the Urchin gets a free ride. This is a pretty cute video:

Frogs and spiders

In Colombia, the lesserback tarantula likes to have a frog roommate. The tarantula benefits because the frog eats the ants that would otherwise kill the eggs in the nest, and the frog benefits because it has a huge-ass tarantula protecting it.


Source

Sloths, Moss and Sloth Moths

Try saying that three times quickly.

The three-toed sloth is a bit of a mystery. Nobody was quite sure why it would make the tedious journey down from the tree canopy just to take a poop at the base of a tree. This is super dangerous, and up to half of sloth mortality happens here.

Recently, scientists kind of figured out a three-way symbiotic relationship that could possibly make the risk worthwhile.

Originally people just thought the sloth was SO slow that even algae would grow on its back. But it’s much more than that. As it turns out, the limited diet of low-nutrition leaves is supplemented by the high-fat algae the sloth picks off its own fur.

Not only this, but the Sloth Moths help the algae grow by living and dying on it (the algae breaks down dead moths into nutrients), and the Sloth helps the Sloth Moth breed by traveling down the tree and pooping so the moths can lay their eggs there.


SourceEverybody wins. Except the sloth when it gets eaten by a jaguar, but still.

The AXOLOTL, a God-like salamander – Erratic Evolution #1

Originally posted on Steemit: https://steemit.com/science/@mobbs/the-axolotl-a-god-like-salamander-erratic-evolution-1
SourceToday I’m going to expand my evolution series to specific wonders of the natural world. Each post will explore the inexplicable details of animals and plants with their own special niches of the ecosystem.

I’m going to start with quite a famous little monster – The Axolotl. And trust me, we have a lot to learn. So let’s get to it.


SourceThe Axolotl, or Mexican salamander, has some of the most unique features I’ve ever read upon. It’s an amphibian that either breaks amphibious rules or enhances them at its own leisure.

Bio

An axolotl can live between 10-15 years, typically grow to about 9-10 inches in length and display a wide range of appearances. It is a critically endangered species due to mass urbanization, and if functionally extinct in the wild. In 2013, just two were found in surveys throughout their single habitat in Mexico.

Appearance

Depending on what’s going on in an axolotl’s life and how they mutate, colours can range from white, black, grey, pink, brown, yellow or even red. Typically, there are 4 main pigmentation genes; pink, gold, grey and black. They are rarely white in the wild.

Axolotls have lidless black eyes, underdeveloped limbs with long fingers, and have feathery branches on their heads that are actually gills. The feathery style increases surface area to maximize gas exchange.

They have vestigial teeth that are barely noticeable. These would develop during metamorphosis, but this ain’t no normal amphibian, and metamorphosis is just something that’s not on the cards.

Neotemy

Metamorphosis is that time in life when you have to grow up from a little tadpole or larvae, grow a pair of lungs, drop the gills and head for land, among other things. This happens in all amphibians, except, well, a bunch of them. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty unique.

There are three types of Neotemy; mandatory, where amphibians actually lose the ability to metamorphize; optional, in which some newts might decide when to metamorphose based on environmental conditions; and ‘almost mandatory’, and this is where the axolotl fits in.

Scientists discovered that if they simply put iodine into an axolotl’s water tank, its thyroid gland will kick in and release hormones that start the process of metamorphosis. Their bodies are swiftly transformed from aquatic creatures with gills, to land lubbers with lungs. But before scientists interfere, an axolotl can fully ‘mature’ – even able to sexually reproduce – whilst simultaneously maintaining its juvenile characteristics, gills and all. ETERNAL YOUTH! Kind of.

Regeneration

Scientists are flocking together trying to find the secret to eternal youth, and many believe the secrets are locked away in this salamander.

Regeneration is not unheard of in amphibians, but the axolotl seems to regenerate on steroids. They are capable of regenerating entire limbs, jaws, spine and even the brain and other vital organs. The regeneration is fast, limbs being able to regrow in about a month and a half without any scar tissue to be seen.


SourceAs stated by scientific American:

You can cut the spinal cord, crush it, remove a segment, and it will regenerate. You can cut the limbs at any level—the wrist, the elbow, the upper arm—and it will regenerate, and it’s perfect. There is nothing missing, there’s no scarring on the skin at the site of amputation, every tissue is replaced. They can regenerate the same limb 50, 60, 100 times. And every time: perfect.

Naturally, scientists want a piece of this natural technology and are working tirelessly to figure it out. This isn’t just in hopes of living forever, but in real-world medical situations where donors are in short supply and rarely suitable for each other, being able to regenerate one’s own body parts could save the lives of millions.

What they have discovered is that macrophages, a type of immune cell, is vital for the regenerative process. Removing these halted regeneration and scar tissue emerged. These macrophages are present in humans and mammals, and serve as important healing material as well as embryonic development, and although it’s all incredibly complicated and very, very far in the future, it would be premature to say human regeneration is impossible.

Don’t start looking out for entire leg growth though, it’s likely we lack the genes for that.

But look, animals were not born experiments. As amazing as these creatures are at surviving and maintaining eternal youth, we have still managed to drive them into extinction, so let’s stop annihilating their habitat and start bringing them back into the wild where they belong!