Joshua Foer is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Joshua is a freelance science journalist and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Dylan Thuras.
Graham Burnett wrote a fascinating essay in Cabinet recently about otolithic organs, the pair of sensors in the inner ear that help us stay balanced and maintain inertia. "Grossly speaking," writes Burnett, the otolithic organs consist of "a bunch of tiny pebbles (of the white rock known as calcium carbonate) embedded in a gooey wad that sits atop a carpet of delicate hairs." In humans, those "pebbles" are practically microscopic, but in fish, they can be as large as marbles:
There are several thousand researchers around the world who spend their whole working day looking at fish otoliths. This has nothing to do with their physiological functions, however, and everything to do with their structure and the staggering amount of information they contain. In the first place, each species of fish has a unique otolith shape. Couple this with the fact that they are stone (and therefore comparatively resistant to decomposition), and their utility as a biological marker becomes clear. Interested in the food habits of bottlenose whales? Pump their stomachs and you will end up with relatively few bones but lots of otoliths. Find an otolith expert and he or she will be able to give you a menu...
But the true wonder of these peculiar pearls lies within. Should you have occasion to tonsure a snapper or sea-bass, slicing off the top of its skull just above the eyes, you might take a moment to remove the two largest otoliths (there are, as a rule, six in all, three on each side) from their velvet seats to the right and left of the brain stem. With the heel of a knife you should be able to snap one of them in two, and then, holding it to the light, you will discern a set of concentric bands. These are growth rings--annuli--which, properly counted, will give the age of your fish in years.
Scientists declared the ruby seadragon a new species in 2015, but that was based on dead specimens in a museum. Now though, Scripps Institution of Oceanography biologist Greg Rouse who led the team that originally discovered the species, managed to find two of the wonderful fish swimming around the Recherche Archipelago, off the south coast […]
Scientific American summarized five of Donald Trump’s “major moves many see as hostile toward science.” They are: • Trump’s pick for head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actively battled its mission “To lead the EPA, Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has long opposed environmental regulations and has questioned the science […]
Why does The Caterpillar Lab only have 44 subscribers? Caterpillars set to smooth jazz, like these gorgeous stinging rose caterpillars checking each other out, make this New Hampshire nonprofit a hidden gem.
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