Hot and Scalding

Some organisms manage to harness extreme heat

We all know that dragons and other mythical beasts are frequently given the power of fire-blowing or fire-spitting, but I also know that fire and life don’t mix well and can therefore categorically rule out the existence of fire-producing creatures (with the exception of fire-blowing circus and stage acts). What I am less certain about, however, is what I am supposed to make of stories I heard in rural France, spending 7 months in Moulis, namely that gas production by cows in crowded and badly ventilated stables is said to have been responsible for the occasional explosion. OK, cows produce methane, but who would ignite it? Stranded and decomposing whales on a tropical beach build up gases inside their body due to bacterial activity and can, indeed, explode, but generating fire? No. —>


The Third Eye Comes First

But where is the third eye and what does it do?

My colleague swears by melatonin for alleviating jet lag and recommended I take a dose before departing on a flight across several time zones. The French 17th century philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes was convinced he had at last found it: the soul. Hindi and Jain women wear a “bindi” (a small red spot on the forehead between their eyes) as a “third eye” to fend off evil (and to look pretty). What do these three statements have to do with each other? Well, we shall see. The organ Descartes regarded as the soul was the “pineal”, also called “epiphysis” – a tiny appendage on the upper side of the brain, located between fore- and midbrain. Though we no longer believe it is the seat of the soul, we still don’t have all the answers regarding its function. In humans and other mammals this small glandular structure appears to be involved in suppressing the maturation of the sex organs, for a pineal tumour or the surgical removal of the structure can result in precocious puberty. —>


Nose Blowing

And other strange sounds

Sounds accompany many kinds of activities. The buzz of a mosquito in the bedroom comes to mind; and then there is the clashing of horns of mountain sheep in combat, the chewing of food, the knock on the door, sounds in courtship, territorial claims in birds, monkeys and other animals. etc. Come to think of it there aren’t really terribly many animals that are totally silent; worms perhaps and, with very few exceptions, spiders, but certainly not fish. —>