Thursday, March 28, 2013

In Defense of Duck Dicks

The apocalypse isn't here, but the sequester is, and sometimes it feels like they're one and the same. Funding has been cut across the board, and has hit science in all of its beautiful, beaker-filled places. Recently there's been a twitter blow up about one particular scientific project that received funding when so many others did not: Richard Prum's research into duck dicks. For those of you not familiar, we have already briefly discussed the wonderful world of the corkscrew cock; now we feel the urge to defend the research behind it.

So let's talk about boners. Whether you have one, like 'em, or find them somewhat disconcerting, chances are that you see the reasoning behind not wanting to have needles stuck inside one. So with a dearth of human volunteers, the biomechanics of tallywackers have to be studied in cadavers and in animal subjects. Just do a google scholar search on Armadillo penis and you'll find scientific filth for days, filth that was funded not because people really cared too much about the state of erections in armadillos but because of the implications it could have for human beings.

We know you wanted to see one.
Ducks are one of the few birds that have erections, and those erections are craaaaaaazy. Studying them could easily lead to many advances in trouser snake morphological studies. But if that doesn't convince you that we should be funding research into duck boners, let the Vengeance Team toss out just a couple of possible outcomes and research offshoots this science could create.

Male ducks can get erections within seconds, often as they are copulating. Research into distributive shock (shock caused by dilation of the blood vessels and resulting drop in blood pressure) could take dramatic steps forward from figuring out how ducks spontaneously pop a full-on erection.  Distributive shock can kill you, ergo, duck dick research could save your life.

Only 2-4% of rape attempts result in a fertilized egg in females ducks. A lot of this is due to anatomy, as far as the current research dictates, and while lady humans might not sign up for corkscrew vaginas in order to avoid pregnancy (consensual or otherwise), further research could certainly show a hormone that causes abortions in the case of unwanted duck fetuses - potentially a hormone that could have similar effects in human beings. How will we know, unless we look for it?

Duck penises extend to 8-9 inches in the summer, and shrink to less than an inch in the winter. Yeah, we're pretty positive you can see the obvious benefits to figuring that one out. But there are other potential benefits too - what if that mechanism could shrink or expand other pieces of our anatomy... like say our muffin tops or bellies?

Boner science saves life!
These are just a few of the numerous possible offshoots and side-hypotheses research like this can generate. It's happened in the past - at first glance it may have seemed strange and pointless to research a tree, but the Pacific Yew Taxus brevifolia was found contains the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel (taxol) that is used in breast, ovarian, and lung cancer treatment. Have you ever received any sort of injectable medicine? Chances are you have, and you can thank the Atlantic horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus for preventing any bacterial contamination of your medicine. Horseshoe crab blood contains amebocytes (and is also a beautiful blue color), which play a similar role to white blood cells for vertebrates in defending the organism against pathogens. Amebocytes from the blood of L. polyphemus are used to make Limulus amebocyte lysate, which is used by pharmaceutical companies to detect bacterial endotoxins.

Horseshoe crab milkmaid: a job we do not want.
The fact is that sometimes when we explore a scientific phenomenon, we're not sure what we're going to find. The answers to common problems don't always lie in the common sphere, or we would have already solved them. Is it possible that this research will turn up nothing more important than some interesting facts about duck schlongs... just like research into new cancer treatments will just turn up some poisonous shit we can't put into our own bodies. Grants are awarded on the basis of many factors, including the quality and competence of the researcher behind the proposal and potential for furthering research within a field, not solely for the potential uses towards humankind. Otherwise unexpected advances like this might not happen.

So instead of hating on certain scientists' grant success in this dark time for research funding, lets be grateful for the scientific advances we have made, and be optimistic about the cures of the future. And in the meantime, write to your government representatives to let them know that we need to fund science if we want to fund progress, even if it does mean we learn a lot more than we ever expected to about duck dicks along the way.

UPDATE: Patricia Brennan, one of the lead scientists in this research project, has written a fantastic article about the value of her research. Check it out!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Truth About Our Readers

Got bone(r)s???
Survey says our readers do. Really, really weird ones.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology the Vengeance Team has been able to track the traffic sources of our blog. While Blogger tracks which web pages people come in from, it more importantly records the key search terms people have entered that have led them to Mary Anning's Revenge. This has brought something important (and probably intuitive) to our attention: you are all a bunch of perverts.

In addition to being a source of filth beyond comprehension, it turns out the key google search terms that lead people to our blog are also full of mystery and intrigue. Our favorites include "genitalia 14 weeks"  because that's a long fucking time, guys - OR IS IT THE OPPOSITE, is that how long you get to keep your genitals?? We will never truly know. "Monkey bites own penis off" and "animal big ugly ass" were pretty obvious choices for our blog, but we're a little offended by being found with "sex with you will suck." Most intriguing of all is the truncated search sentence of "does your butt swell when you're..." the end of which has been lost to time and space and will pique our curiousity forever... even if googling it did lead to a lot of unwanted info about hemorrhoids.

Since clearly you are all fascinated by penises and the weird ways animals use them, we decided to share with our readers another incredible prehensile penis.  It's one of Meaghan's favorite critters - so coordinated that its nose matches its junk, this creature's schlong could be mistaken for an enormous pink boa constrictor with a depth perception problem. Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you the tapir.

Hope you all enjoyed that... you sickos.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

PaleoArt: Osteostracan Jokes

Here is a little known science fact for you all: for the first 4 billion years or so of creation, Nature appears to have spent most of is time in a drunken haze. That's got to be the only explanation behind foot-long spiders, because the only person who thinks that is a good natural phenomenon is a person whose mind has been pickled in whiskey and bitter hatred. But Nature didn't just create enormous sea scorpions or 8-legged puddles of jello somehow strong enough to kill sharks. Nature also messed around with vertebrates.

These are Osteostracans, which as far as anybody can tell were created when Mother Nature decided that she needed an armored tennis racket. These jawless jewels of the Devonian probably filtered through mud or ate whatever was dumb enough to swim into their mouths, and if you believe Walking With Prehistoric Monsters they had an ongoing evolutionary showdown with the bullies of the deep, sea scorpions. They also had great big bony heads that made them look like they all wore funny hats that seemed totally fashionable at the time but that they were pretty embarrassed about later on.

Creatures as bizarre as these deserve to be the subject of visual puns.




All images made by Meaghan with water color pencils, pens and copious amounts of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lemur Love At Last

It's not frequent, but every once in a while the Vengeance Team sits back and reflects on how much of their life they've wasted* looking at YouTube clips of baby sloths. While we are eternally grateful that YouTube doesn't track how many times you've watched a particular video or searched for a particular keyword, it does occasionally hit us that we may be full-blown sloth-video addicts. It's a slap to the face, each time: we thought we could handle our sloth video habits, but somehow we've relapsed again and the only cure is to go cold turkey for at least a 48 hour period. And by cold turkey, we mean watch YouTube clips of OTHER adorable animals, of course. Meaghan's poison of secondary choice is anything featuring a baby mammal swimming in a bathtub (a surprisingly diverse niche video market), while Amy prefers to squeal about anything primatish, focusing pretty heavily on lemurs.

Amy loves lemurs. She tried to go to the lemur center when we were in North Carolina late last year but had to cancel on account of illness, which was a great personal tragedy. Then in December, the Vengeance Team decided to visit Costa Rica to see sloths only to, erm, spend a lot of time in a hospital instead. The point is, we've had a lot of trouble making our YouTube dreams come true, so when Meaghan found out earlier this week that there was a lemur in the city of Eugene that you were allowed to touch and play with and maybe sing a few love ballads to, she seized Amy by the hand and immediately dragged her to Zany's Zoo. Amy wasn't warned ahead of time, mostly because Meaghan was hoping to catch something akin to Kristen Bell's Sloth Meltdown. The following is best summed up as footage of undiluted joy.

Just remember, Amy - at some point, you're going to have to put some baby sea otters in a bathtub if you ever want to repay the favor. Start looking now.

Nobody has ever been so happy to be gnawed on before.

This video is basically just a starting point. In the future, we hope to cover Amy in lemurs and sloths from head to toe like a living Yo Landi Vi$$er costume creation, and film something like the following YouTube video (which should be called Naughty Lemur Banana Orgy). Gah, our future lives are going to be soooooo awesome.

*worth it. So worth it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Letter to Meaghan's Mom

Okay, Mom. Sit down, this is going to be a whirlwind. 

First off, this is an oreodont:

Cute, right?

Don't get too attached: they're dead now, as of about 5ish million years ago, but for most of the Cenozoic they were all over North America and about as common as deer, possums, or hippies are today. Their fossils were called the most common Cenozoic fossil of North America, a quote by  Malcolm Rutherford Thorpe (an old dead guy your daughter has a science crush on) that Meaghan rides pretty hard for grant proposals.

Point is, these guys were everywhere, but their taxonomy is all sorts of disagreeable. You know how Dad used to get into fights with our family friends every Thanksgiving about which type of wood was best to burn, using no evidence except his own personal volume? Yeah, it's sort of like that - people don't really know how all the oreodonts are related to one another, but some people have some really strong opinions that they haven't backed up with things they've published. They say that one group is related to another group because of some funny tooth shape or skull bone, but there's no evidence that those differences are any more important to these species than our hair color is to us.

Different species of Lohans?

So your brilliant, super amazing, totally hireable-in-the-future daughter is using lots of math to find out which bones and shapes can say a species is a species, then she's going to rewrite the family tree of this group. But why, you most undoubtedly are asking, Why, Meaghan, does anybody care? Well other than because you LOVE ME, Mom, lets revisit the whole "most common fossil in the Cenozoic of North America" thing. Fossils are useful for loads of things, but since you like living animals lets talk about those.

Endangered and Adorable

See these guys? Yeah, they're dying out, and sometimes we don't always know why. Science can do a lot of things, but predicting the future is typically pretty difficult for it (see weather reports for details). To understand what things are making animals go extinct now, we need to know what made them go extinct in the past. Are there certain features that make a creature go extinct more readily? Which environments are more likely to lose members? 

Well, we've got about 40 million years of watching oreodonts go nuts with their evolution and still fail to make it. Knowing why they died out can help us look for weak points in our modern ecosystems, and pinpoint which features spell Welcome to the Danger Zone to an adaptable, adorable hooved animal like the ones above. Evolutionary trends of the past 50 million years probably are repeating today, we just have to be able to find them. And to find them, we have to better understand how common organisms were related to one another, and how they changed over time.

Boom, Mom. That's the sound of your mind being blown by how awesome your daughter is.

Also have I mentioned lately how super intelligent and amazing and gorgeous you are? Because you're the best. And like, super nice. And cool. And amazing. Just FYI.