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Picked up on this one over at Living the Scientific Life. The photo really speaks for itself:


(Photo of Lil’Bit the two-faced cat pinched from the Daily Mail.)

Not only does this cat have two faces — because his faces can sneeze, eat, and sleep separately, his veterinarians think Lil’Bit has two independently functioning brains.

At seven months old, he seems to be faring pretty well, considering his condition. He does have some trouble with the litter box, but his (very obliging) owner has solved that problem with diapers designed for premature babies.

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(Image pilfered from Vikusik on Flickr.)

Imagine what it would be like if this cute little dragonfly, cruising around your backyard, had a two-foot wingspan. It’s not sci-fi — it’s ancient history. Such giant dragonflies were a common sight in the swamps and coal forests of the Paleozoic era. Five-foot long millipedes, too.

Recent research gives clues as to why, and the answer may surprise you:

It’s a series of tubes.

Beetle air tubes

(A series of beetle tubes. Called tracheal tubes, these are the insect’s way of breathing. Bugs don’t bother with lungs. They just absorb air directly through their tracheal tubes, which penetrate throughout their bodies. Image stolen from an Argonne press release.)

To find out what the series of tubes has to do with the size of an insect, <shameless plug> check out my article about it in Discover </shameless plug>. Hint: it has to do with atmospheric oxygen concentration.

And if this makes you wish with all your heart that you could time travel back to the Paleozoic to see those 2-foot-wingspan dragonflies, you might try to get your hands on the WowWee DragonFly. It has a paltry 1-foot wingspan — but you get to control its flight.

I’m too lazy to write a useful new post because I just spent 3 hours going through a messy divorce with iWeb and moving all my furniture and possessions to the house of my rebound boyfriend, WordPress. So here, instead, is a half-wet elephant. Or maybe it’s two-thirds wet. Wait, are we talking volume or surface area? What’s the surface area of an elephant, anyway?

Half-wet elephant

(Photo by Jeremy Tucker, who has a whole website full of gorgeous photographs: check it out.)

EDIT: Er, it looks like someone (okay, two someones: K.P. Sreekumar and G. Nirmalan) has actually published scholarly research on how to estimate the surface area of an elephant. The paper is called “Estimation of the total surface area in Indian elephants” and it ran in a 1990 issue of Veterinary Research Communications. Their formula is:

S = -8.245 + 6.807H + 7.073FFC

Where S is surface area in square meters, H is shoulder height in meters, and FFC is forefoot circumference in meters. The BBC tells us that Indian elephants have a shoulder height of 2.5 to 3 meters — let’s go with 2.75. And a PBS classroom resource tells us that forefoot circumference is equal to about half of an elephant’s height, so we’ll call it 1.375. That works out to about 20 square meters, or 215 square feet.

So I guess that’s my answer. An average Indian elephant has a surface area (albeit crudely estimated) of 215 square feet.

ANOTHER EDIT: My tape measure says that’s twice the size of my bedroom.

Spider head

I took this scanning electron micrograph of a spider head back at Smith. It’s a little bleached-out-looking (I hadn’t really mastered the instrument) but nonetheless gorgeous and creepy.

Before you image a biological specimen, you have to dry it using a gizmo called a critical point drier. Simply evaporating off the water doesn’t do the trick, because the surface tension at the interface between water and air damages the spider as it dries out and you end up with a wrinkly specimen — not so pretty. If you bring water to its so-called critical point, where the density of water and air are the same, you can avoid the surface tension issue. But then you have a really-dangerous-conditions issue: the critical point for water occurs at 374 degrees C (705 degrees F) and 3,212 psi (about 219 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level). The poor little arachnid corpse isn’t likely to make it through that experience intact. Read the rest of this entry »