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Mandy Moon
249 followers -
Leaving a trail of Cretaceous echinoderms behind me...
Leaving a trail of Cretaceous echinoderms behind me...

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Our pig was telling us that we don't give him enough attention. 

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A year ago, we had some spare pet points and I thought a fishtank might be kind of cool. Fish are quiet, odorless and low maintenance, right? But eventually I got bored with the fish and starting keeping primarily crayfish. They're cheap- you can buy them by the pound at the seafood market. So every now and then we buy a pound or two and eat most of them, but pick out one or two that seem to be outstanding individuals. Whichever one is the largest is named Dr. Claw. 

A few hours ago, I noticed Dr. Claw was missing. I've learned that crayfish are surprisingly good at escaping the tanks. The lid on the tank doesn't quite cover the gap created by the filter unit. Sometimes I block the gap, but sometimes I forget. Jon heroically got out a flashlight to search for the missing Dr. Claw under all the couches and other furniture, but we finally gave up- we just couldn't find him. 

About 20 minutes later Jon reported that he felt something cold and pinchy when we sat down. What a great crabby adventure for Dr. Claw. I'm honestly impressed. And  Dr. Claw has now been safely returned to his tank. 
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I had to listen to Christian rock for 3 1/2 hours this morning. I need to clear my blessed head. 

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First blurry, indistinct photos of Bigfoot out for a swim. Or was it Champ?

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I knew Jon and I had seen that creepy baby somewhere before...
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I decided I could make this inane series of pictures somewhat educational. Have you ever wondered why some newborn/newly-hatched animals are adorable, while others are pink, helpless, wrinkly and gross? Among animals, it's because of two different evolutionary strategies. Let's take the cute newborns first. In zoology, the term "precocious" has a specific meaning. It means that the baby is born fully furred, eyes open, usually can stand up and walk within minutes, and is usually really cute. Examples of precocious babies in the animal world include guinea pigs, most hoofed mammals, elephants, ducks, geese, chicks, emperor penguins. There is a trade-off in having precocious babies- they're not hopelessly defenseless, they can see right away, they can follow mom instead of having to hide in a nest.  They're also not as weak and feeble as gross pink newborns. In the case of hoofed mammals out in the open plains, it's very dangerous for both the baby and the mother if the baby can't walk or run, so a fast-walking baby is a good idea. But a big downside of precocious babies is the long, long gestation (or having to sit on an egg for a long, long time). The mother suffers much more taxing energy demands to carry a baby for that long, and she usually can only give birth to one or two babies at a time. They also tends to make more difficult births with complications occasionally. Finally, it's a riskier investment for the mom- if her baby that's she's carried for months and months gets killed, the whole thing was a tremendous waste and she'll have to wait a very long time before she can have another one. 

The gross, larval babies that are born completely helpless are called altrical babies. Their disadvantage is obvious- they look like grubs and they're feeble and get cold easily. But for some animals, it pays to have altrical babies. Examples include mice, rats, most songbirds, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, and humans. I'll get back to humans in a second. One pro of having an altrical baby is the short gestation time and relatively light resource demands on the mother- they only carry the babies around for a short time, and because they don't spend so much energy developing a complicated baby, they can have a whole litter instead of just one or two. So if half your babies get eaten, it's ok- you still have a bunch more. They're also relatively small and easy to give birth to- like compact little jellybeans. And if some predator comes along and eats your entire brood, that's still ok- it wasn't any big shakes to carry and birth those babies, and you can get pregnant and have a whole new litter in less than a month. It wasn't the huge, draining investment that the precocious babies were. This is also why some rodents eat their babies if they feel their nest is threatened- it's a better use of the protein to eat the litter and have a new one in a short time, rather than possibly die defending these babies that are very likely to be eaten anyway. 

But wait, you say- you said humans have altrical babies. True, they're pink and helpless and larva-like, but we have a long, long gestation period and usually give birth to one baby at a time, not litters. Childbirth is also very difficult, so difficult that many women used to die from it. Also, we go to great lengths to defend and protect a baby, it's an enormous investment. What gives? The answer is that evolution gave humans the shit end of the stick when it comes to babies. The requirements of our tremendously complex brain supersedes all other concerns- we don't have any resources left to focus on giving fetuses strong, robust walking legs in utero, to have fully developed vision at birth, to be able to sit up, lift their gigantic head, etc. We don't even have enough resources to develop the brain completely in utero, because the human brain is just that complex. I've heard that Hermes was born able to walk and talk at birth, so maybe Greek gods are truly precocious at birth. Just not humans. 

All of this was going through my head when we were visiting the pink panthers. Clearly pink panthers give birth to altrical babies. 
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The Proud Father was also present.
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...But Jon was nevertheless a dutiful midwife delivering the ugly baby. 
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