The End is Near 

It’s Actually Here Right Now!

I used to start my Introductory Biology Course with the following question:  I asked the students to tell me what they thought was characteristic or typical  of “Life” and, of course, there were answers like “movement and sensitivity”, “reproductive capacity”, “growth”, “feeding and metabolism”, but almost never did I get to hear “senescence and death”.  And yet, they too are part of Life.

Although a series of essays (or ‘blogs’) like those of my “BIOFORTHEBIOBUFF” cannot be compared with living organisms, it does, however, have to come to an end  – eventually. And the end for this series, which has been appearing week after week for more than six years and which covered a variety of topics, aspects and subjects (and often touched upon events in my life), is now here.

The topics that I had chosen, to a very large extent reflected my activities and interactions as a university teacher with students from a huge number of countries and regions, but also the experience I had gathered on expeditions and research trips to diverse and often remote places on Earth as well as during the times I had lived and taught in many different parts of the world. 

My aim had been to deal with specific topics (that I felt were worth tackling) on an A4 page using font size 11 or 12 in as fully and understandably a way as was possible given that space. Quite often the topics, as already mentioned, came from my own research in a variety of disciplines and the courses that I had taught; some, however, were related to questions I had received from students, my own children and other people and some arose from news and discussions I had followed in the media.

What I certainly will not forget and must mention, is the contribution that my trusted friend Florian Nock has made over the years. Not once in over six years has he forgotten to put the texts on the web and to monitor and administer our ‘Wordpress’ webpage. For that and his support, I thank him wholeheartedly.

Finally, I should also not forget the readers of the “BIOFORTHEBIOBUFF”, because the feedback we received from some of them was one hundred percent positive and encouraging.  We can only assume that the ‘silent majority’ also enjoyed the series and got something out of it, be it reliable and accurate information or simply “food for thought”. If the blogs have shown our readers how fantastically wonderful it is to observe, learn and understand Nature and all its living manifestations, and not everything needs to be “applied” or “useful”,  then we have achieved a great deal of what we set out to achieve.

I am ending this series now, because I feel I have covered a sufficiently wide range of topics and I do not wish to repeat or update any of them. Too much of anything can be counter-productive.  I now have plans to embark on a different project and sign off:  it’s been a great journey! 

If, however, someone has an idea how the series (or perhaps a selected number of the blogs) could be published in book form and can suggest possible publishers, we’d be most grateful.

Without much further ado: Cheerio and keep appreciating Nature and never stop learning from it !

PS: You might enjoy reading some of the older blogs (they started on October 17th, 2015) !

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Less Attractive

But More Successful in Attracting High Quality Males

Sexual dimorphism in which males and females differ from each other morphologically is widespread among animals and occurs in many groups, e.g., to name but a few: insects, spiders, fishes, birds and even mammals. It puzzled already Charles Darwin why, for instance, some male moths and male beetles frequently had much larger and seemingly better developed antennae (which during Darwin’s time had not been identified as the sensors for odours, but were seen merely as touch receptors).  He and many other researchers felt that the larger development of certain structures in male animals served as ‘advertisements of prowess and vitality’ and indicated to a female the presence of a superior sex partner. That enlargements and greater conspicuousness of structures increased the chances of being recognized (and preyed upon) could, of course, have been a handicap, which is why Zahavi suggested females chose males because they had survived and reached sexual maturity despite being more vulnerable and in greater danger of being attacked than cryptic ones.

What, according to Australian researchers Mark Elgar et al. had not fully been considered till 2018 in the discussion of sexual dimorphisms and attractiveness (at least with regard to insects in which female individuals release some odoriferous chemicals known as pheromones) was the role sensors play. Large and often plumose antennae in insects contain receptors that detect the presence of molecules in the air, i.e. chemicals released by plants, possible food items and, of course, females in case of moths and many beetles. Some of these sensors or so incredibly sensitive that only a few key molecules need to be present for the males to respond to. In case of some moths, a male can smell a female 10 km away. To maintain the sensitivity of sense organs, whether they be mechano-, photo- or chemoreceptors and to process the information received by them is energetically expensive as my former colleague Dr Simon Laughlin at Cambridge University has shown. Consequently, as has been argued, those males with the most highly sensitive sensors are more ‘valuable’ than males, whose sensors only respond to the most obvious and strongest stimulation. But how to eliminate the latter and favour the former?

Maybe some female moths and beetles that attract their males with pheromones have found a way. If a female sends out a strong pheromone signal, the latter will disperse widely and reach a huge number of possible male partners, including those that have rather insensitive “noses”, in other words do not exactly possess a highly developed sensory system. But they are not the males the females want to have as “fathers for their babies”; the females want those males that are alert to the slightest of stimulation and what better way to get their attention than to emit only a fraction of the pheromone that is so successful in reaching all kinds of males near and far? This is apparently a strategy that works, because young females which because of their age can afford to be choosy, use it, while older females that have not obtained a partner increase the amount of pheromone they emit.

Whether this idea of “less being more” can be applied to vertebrates as well has not been tested (yet). However, if we take an unbiased, objective look at our own species, aren’t we observing that it is those who are beautiful and attractive as young individuals that need less make-up, lipstick, and other beauty-enhancing stuff than physically less fortunate females, who want to become more noticeable to men through exaggerations? And isn’t the use of perfume, wrinkle-hiding cream, eye-catching jewellery increasing among older females? Perhaps there is indeed a parallel to female moths and beetles. But what about the males that the females attract? There, too, could be a parallel: the less sharply observant and somewhat superficial males do not see beyond the make-up on the skin, the red colour of the lips and the artificially enhanced signals of the female. It takes “sensitivity” and “smartness” (as in case of the male moths and beetles), for males to identify a quality female. And yet, it seems enhanced female signalling is there to stay  –  in moths, beetles and humans as well.

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posting Live Animals in the Mail

How to send live animals through the mail? That was the question I faced when I needed to get firebelly newts (Cynops pyrrhogaster) from the Japanese island of Hachijojima (where I lived) to Okinawa, where a geneticist lived, who was to determine from where the Hachijojima newt population originally came. Newts, being amphibians, are prone to desiccation and need to be packed carefully with moist moss in a flat plastic container with a few tiny aeration holes. I prepared two packages with 6 newts each, went to the post office and declared the two items to be mailed as “Scientific Specimens”. I never had to say that the 2 packages contained live newts. When because of bad weather airplanes did not fly to Hachijojima for three days and the newts did not arrive in Okinawa until 8 days later, I was worried my animals might have died. But luckily they arrived in a healthy condition, were genetically studied and compared with other populations in Japan and revealed that they all must have come from Shikoku and not, as had been assumed, from the much closer region of Chiba Prefecture. But was it legal to send them by mail?

Which animals you can and can not send in the mail depends on international postal agreements and on local regulations. In countries of the European Union vertebrate animals will usually not be accepted by the post and will have to be transported by private carriers. However, even such non-governmental private carrier companies have to obey existing animal protection and welfare regulations that stipulate cage material and dimensions, adequate ventilation, supplies of food and water during transport if deemed necessary and, of course, safety concerns. Regarding invertebrates, live honey bee queens (and workers in small quantities) and live Drosophilidae fruit flies (for biological research) are permitted, just like silkworm caterpillars, leeches and a few other beneficial invertebrates. For the bees the most popular cage has 2 compartments; a larger to house the queen and 6-12 attendant worker bees and a smaller with a mixture of powder sugar and about 20% honey. Water is not necessary, but there should be ventilation holes in the envelope and a label of “Live bees” and “Protect against sunshine” on it.

In the United Kingdom not only live honey bees, caterpillars, stick insects, cockroaches and crickets, maggots, earthworms, leeches and spiders, but also some live fish can be sent by mail  – provided the latter are classified as fish fry or eggs. It always surprises people to hear that certain fish can be sent in the mail, but to be honest it needs to be pointed out that what can be sent in an envelope are not the adult fish but their desiccation-hardy eggs, the so-called ‘annual eggs’. The family of fish I am referring to are the killifish (Cyprinodontidae) with more than a thousand small and colourful, mostly freshwater species of fish. The fish inhabit small streams in the Americas, Africa and Asia which frequently dry up. That kills the adults but not their eggs, which survive in the mud for several weeks and even months until it rains and their habitat is filled with water. The eggs then resume their development and the baby fish hatch. Eggs of rare and protected species are, of course, not permitted to be collected or sent.

The USA postal authorities not only allow bees and other invertebrates to be sent by mail, but also small, harmless, cold-blooded animals like toads, frogs, newts and lizards with the exception of snakes, turtles and turtle eggs. Live birds, if not too large or protected by law, can also be sent, which includes live, one day-old poultry. That the packaging meets the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act is understood as the animals must not suffer during air or surface transport. Not allowed in probably any country of the world is to send mammals in the mail. However, that didn’t deter Reg Spiers in 1964 to post himself in a wooden box from England to Australia: he didn’t have the money for a ticket. He chose cash-on-delivery and after arriving at Perth Airport and being placed in a storage shed, he climbed out of his box, left the storage area unnoticed and got home. (His story)

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.