Round and Round

A Look at Rotations in the Animal World

I spent countless hours watching one of my sons swimming his rounds in a pool and preparing for backstroke competitions (and winning quite a few of them). At that time I began to wonder about the mechanics of the “wheeling” motions of the arms of the back-stroking swimmers. Seeing how they thrashed the water reminded me of propeller propulsion. Yet, surprisingly, true rotation, in other words turning in circles relative to some other part of the body of a machine, is virtually absent from the living world. —>

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The Insect Crown Witness

Crucial testimony without words

Many years ago I spent several highly enjoyable and educational months on the Trobriand Islands (nowadays also referred to as Kiriwina Islands) off the coast of the south-eastern end of Papua New Guinea. The islands became famous, because of Bronislaw Malinowski’s 1929 ethnographic book “The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia”. Local residents over there display a considerable knowledge concerning insects and their lives and on several, occasions I was warned not to drink from this or that stream because a particular insect had been sighted on or near the water, indicating a poor status of the water’s drinkability. I was also warned not to proceed any further into the jungle, when a particular species of fly was spotted that occurred when an animal corpse was somewhere nearby. —>

Oddballs of the Plant World

Strange, stranger, strangest

Higher plants (and I will probably restrict myself to those that have seeds and are therefore referred to as Spermatophytes) are supposed to have roots, a stem, leaves, flowers and seeds, right? Fungi (mushrooms, toadstools and the like) used to be considered odd plants, but for quite a while now have been given their own “kingdom”, namely that of “Fungi”. Since they are not “autotroph” like plants and with the help of sunlight can turn water and CO2 into sugars and starch, but like animals require food in the form of organic matter, they have more in common with the latter than with the former. Also the fact that fungal cell walls are made of chitin (a carbohydrate typical of, for example, insects and kin, but not plants) and some fungi possess the enzyme collagenase, contain melanin, or are able to produce light, demonstrates that they share more features with animals than plants. —>