Friday being my day for cats and other creatures, and today being everyone else’s day for romance, here’s a couple to celebrate the day:

Number 13 of this collection of twenty five non-human romantics. Although, some of them just look like cats that like each other without being an item.

So, do birds actually mate for life? According to this, ninety percent of bird species are “socially monogamous”, but …:

… socially monogamous birds are not necessarily faithful partners, but they care for each other and for the young of their nest. Rearing young together does not imply sexual fidelity. Studies of eastern bluebirds have found that nests with mixed parentage – that is, they have eggs by more than one father, or more than one mother, or both – are not uncommon.

A lot like us, in other words.

Male seahorse delivering babies

Here. Amazing. I never knew this. At all.

Far too good to wait until next Friday. (Friday being my usual day for cats and other creatures stuff.)

I Twitter-follow Steve Stewart-Williams, and strongly recommend him as a followee. (Provided only that you agree with him (and me) that evolution is real and that doubting it is foolish, in which case he might make you angry.)

Or, to put the more general point the other way, if all you get from your Twitter feed is political bile and general nastiness, you’re not doing it right.

Steve Stewart-Williams on how looking at other animals helps us understand why the Nurture Only view can’t be right to explain human sexual differences

The Nurture Only view being, in this case, the claim that all the differences in behaviour and attitude – with regard to such things as casual sex, attaching importance to physical sexual allure, and so on – between human males and human females are all caused by societal pressure.

Says SS-W (on page 90 of The Ape That Understood The Universe):

Arguably, though, the most persuasive argument against the Nurture Only view is that sex differences in sexual inclinations and choosiness can be found in many individuals who have no gender norms, no socialization, and little in the way of culture: that rather sizeable group, so often overlooked by psychologists, known as other animals. The differences aren’t found in all other species, but they are found in many, including most birds, mammals, and reptiles. And when we find the differences in other animals, evolution is the only reasonable explanation. Why should humans be different? It’s logically possible, of course, that the differences are products of evolution in squirrels, turkeys, and frogs, but of learning and culture in Homo sapiens. But it hardly seems likely. In other species, the differences appear when the ceiling number of offspring for males is higher than that for females. Humans meet this condition, and our species presumably evolved from earlier species that displayed the normal sex differences. As such, what the Nurture Only theory asks us to believe is that, in our lineage and ours alone, natural selection eliminated the normal sex differences, despite the fact that the selection pressure that initially created them was still operative. Why would it do that? It’s particularly perplexing given that, when we look around the world, we still find the sex differences that selection supposedly eliminated. Thus, the Nurture Only theory asks us to believe not only that selection eliminated the differences for reasons unknown, but that learning and culture then coincidentally reproduced exactly the same differences in every culture on record. This is not a compelling thesis. Cultural forces clearly influence people’s willingness to engage in casual sex, and to some extent their desire to do so as well. But the idea that culture creates these sex differences out of nothing not only clashes with the available evidence, it clashes with everything we know about how evolution works.

This comes in the middle of the chapter entitled “The SeXX/XY Animal”. Right at the beginning of this chapter, just below the subheading “An Academic Culture War”, appears this academic wisecrack:

“Everyone knows that men and women are different … except social scientists.”

Which doesn’t mean that everyone who knows that men and women are different also knows exactly what those differences consist of. And don’t consist of.

The “Other creatures” category at this blog usually means other creatures besides cats and kittens. But for this posting “Other creatures” means other creatures besides the particular creatures that are humans.

How big creatures assemble themselves

Speaking of animals, as I like to do of a Friday, how does Life get from little tiny single cell thingies to, you know, animals. Well, somewhat like this:

The little tiny cells don’t themselves get that much bigger. No. Instead they combine into cooperating flocks, like the fishes above.

To be clear, the above is not an actual creature evolving. What you see there is merely analogous to how bigger creatures assemble themselves from tiny little cells.

I continue to read this SS-W book. My problem is: I’m already persuaded of the truth of everything he says. But I am learning plenty, so will continue.

Niall Ferguson on networks versus hierarchies

I have been reading Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower, and so far am enjoying it. It’s about how historians have tended to emphasise the impact of orderly hierarchies because these leave big paper trails, and to neglect less orderly networks, because these leave less of a paper trail. Yet, networks clearly matter a lot, even if, as Ferguson points out, networks are not necessarily benign in their impact.

The chapters are short, which I like because I am reading this book in short snatches, in among doing other things. Even a short burst of reading means me probably getting through an entire chapter and maybe even two or more chapters.

Right now, however, I am in the middle of a chapter, about how Guttenberg met Luther, and about how Guttenberg turned Luther’s merely written thoughts into best-selling printed volumes, thereby unleashing the Reformation and much else besides. (Like modern science. Printing enabled science to accumulate.) This is a process that has long fascinated me, and it happened because two people merely met, rather than because one person met another person and gave that other person an order. (Modern science is likewise a network rather than a hierarchy. When modern science becomes hierarchical, it tends to degenerate into propaganda for the hierarchy it is serving.)

Modern science has mostly been benign: But the only slightly delayed impact of the Reformation was, as Ferguson notes, that (p. 84):

Religious conflict continued to simmer and erupted again in the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict that turned Central Europe into a charnal house.

I will now finish reading this chapter.

Bird keeping its head still


I challenge you to think of a better way to use the next fourteen seconds of your life.

Creatures hitting the news in the USA

I’m not just talking about the hero dog who helped to catch an austere religious scholar, whose austere religious scholarship inspired him also to become a rapist and a torturer.

I’m also talking about goats:

A hungry herd of 500 goats has helped save the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library from the California wildfires.

In May, the library hired the goats to clear flammable scrub surrounding the complex as a preventative measure.

The goats ate the brush, creating a fire break that slowed the flames and gave firefighters extra time to react.

Okay, the goats didn’t exactly put the fire out. That was done by firefighters. But, the goats did help.

This next titbit is a bit stale, from two months ago, but I am still interested, because it concerns a bridge:

Engineers in southern California are hard at work designing the biggest wildlife corridor in the world, to extend over US Highway 101 to the north-west of Los Angeles.

The corridor will connect different parts of the Santa Monica Mountain chain, which is crucial to the future of mountain lions – but it will help other species as well. The $87m bridge has entered its final design phase and is on track to open in 2023.

Other Californian creature news involved voracious purple sea urchins:

Tens of millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have already chomped their way through towering underwater kelp forests in California are spreading north to Oregon, sending the delicate marine ecosystem off the shore into such disarray that other critical species are starving to death.

Meanwhile in Colorado, some 66-million-year-old fossils have been discovered. I’m guessing something threw their delicate ecosystem into disarray.

The delicate publication process for this posting was also thrown into disarray, by me pushing the “Publish” button last night, at a time when I should merely have been pressing “Save Draft”. Sorry about that.

Vapour trails

I photoed this vapour trail in December 2005. I’m pretty sure I have others, but this was the first vapour trail I found in the archives:

And I think that it is indeed a vapour trail. But now take a look at this next vapour trail.

That’s not a vapour trail.

This is a vapour trail:

As Michael Jennings, this blog’s technical curator (to whom continuing thanks), would say, this was in Straya.

Aerodynamic contrails occur when a plane lowers the air pressure as it flies, in turn lowering the air temperature and causing condensation to form on the wings. This condensation then trails behind as the plane continues forward.

In certain humid conditions, the drop in temperature and pressure is such that the droplets of condensation will freeze at varying sizes.

When the sunlight shines through these different sized droplets, it will refract at different wavelengths, hence the variety of colours that can be seen.

Blog and learn.