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.
The EVATAR is a working model of a reproductive system made from a mouse ovary and bits of a human uterus, cervix, vagina, fallopian tubes, and liver. Developed by Northwestern University researcher Teresa Woodruff and her colleagues, the EVATAR is intended to help better test the effects of medicines and toxins on women. And now […]
Texas State University’s Body Farm (AKA Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University or FACTS) is a 45-year-old facility where the corpses of medical body donors are left to decompose so that researchers can observe the rate at which human remains are consumed by the elements, scavengers and microbes, allowing them to accurately date the […]
A better understanding how a sperm swims its way toward an egg could help inform new treatments for male infertility. Researchers from the University of York have now come up with a mathematical formula to model how large numbers of moving sperm interact with fluid they’re swimming through. From the University: By analysing the head […]
Maybe it’s entirely because of podcast ads, but drag-and-drop tools like Squarespace have gotten immensely popular in recent years. While it’s definitely a great tool for any non-coders who want to get a small website up and running quickly, managing content with a primarily visual interface can become a pain once you have more than […]
When you can’t wait for the world’s longest meeting to end, the mindless leg bouncing makes your boredom obvious and just annoys everybody else. Everyone knows the TPS reports need the damn cover sheet, but some sadistic colleague keeps forgetting, probably on purpose just to eat into your lunch hour. Enough is enough!While serving a […]
What could be more fun than a slingshot that shoots tiny airplanes? A slingshot that shoots tiny glowing airplanes of course! These toy planes are outfitted with ultra-bright LEDs, so you can fly all night without losing them in the trees.Whether you are a regular-sized child, or an overgrown adult one, these light-up flyers offer […]