CreatureCast – Picky Females

posted by Sophia Tintori / on January 14th, 2010 / in lifecycles, Podcast

A couple of weeks ago the Dunn lab went out after work, and we got to talking. There’s this thing that usually happens whenever we get together after a day in the lab or field– being a group where everyone focuses in one way or another on the diversity and evolution of reproduction and development, we start to tell stories about how animals reproduce. Someone mentions some surprising tidbit of reproductive biology they recently heard, and that sets it off. Then someone else remembers a weirder story, and tells it. This spurs someone else’s memory, and so on, and then I start feeling overwhelmed.

Well, this time we got caught up on the issue of female choosiness. It takes more energy and resources to make an egg packed with resources, or to raise offspring, or to carry a baby inside the womb, than it does to make sperm. This often leads females to be more selective about their mates than males are. We started talking about ways in which female choosiness manifests itself; sometimes through behavior, sometime through anatomy, and sometimes at the level of the cell. And then sometimes it is all for naught.

In this episode of CreatureCast Rebecca Helm, a graduate student in the Dunn Lab, recounts a few short stories about the many levels of reproductive selection.

Editing and animation by Sophia Tintori. We Want To Be Old by Bird Names. Photos of bowers by Mila Zinkova and Peter Halasz. Duck story from the research of Richard Prum and Patricia Brennan. Video of the inside of a comb jelly egg by Christian Sardet, Danielle Carré and Christian Rouviere, from the BioMarCell group. This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Spicules and droplets

posted by Erwin Keustermans / on January 4th, 2010 / in Science & Art

When I was a kid and colour television was rare, people would shrug away the need for it saying that the only good reason for having a colour set would be marine documentaries.

But it’s not only the colours and optics that are different, also form and movement are part of the experience. Life in water is different in shape, structure and kinetics. Evolution in a marine environment makes creatures that are very different from ground- or air-bound life. Wentworth D’Arcy Thompson, a Victorian scientist, set out to demonstrate the mathematical and physical aspects of under water biological processes in his book “On Growth and Form” (1917). For marine life that would be gravity, pressure, scale, osmosis, and buoyancy.

I mention the book here because it is very readable, even for the layman, and even after more than 90 years. Without reading it I probably would not have realized why it is such a smart idea for the artist/filmmaker Saskia Olde Wolbers to use liquids. Olde Wolbers’ stories are told in voice-over while showing seemingly unrelated going-ons in submersed sets that are smaller than life-size. She fills these with – next to more recognizable props – fluids of different densities .  And that definitely makes for an uncanny visual experience.

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But even without knowing the precise techniques used, you feel somehow that those are the particular optics and physics at work in this shot from her 2003 film “Interloper”.

Reading on Saskia Olde Wolbers can be found in Tyler Green’s art blog. An interview  about a video that relates to the Three Gorges dam. Olde Wolbers’ images at Maureen Paley Gallery. The image shown courtesy of Maureen Paley Gallery.