Category: Biology

BiologyComicsdinosaurspaleontologyScience

Ladies and Gentlemen…the Thagomizer

If your adolescence happened to occur during the 1980s or ’90s, then your sense of humor was very possibly influenced by Gary Larson’s The Far Side. For those of you who may not be familiar with The Far Side, first – welcome to the daylight, hopefully you had a pleasant upbringing in your Amish cave. Second, The Far Side (along with Jim Davis’ Garfield) absolutely dominated the comics page in the local newspapers from the early ’80s up through the mid-90s.  The comic spawned more than twenty books and countless greeting cards and calendars.

The Far Side was a surreal and irreverent single-panel comic, often with a focus on animals and nature, and it counted scientists, paleontologists, and biologists,among its many fans, with the likes of Jane Goodall and Stephen Jay Gould contributing pieces for the foreward for several Far Side compilations.

While everybody has a favorite Far Side comic (ed. note: well clearly not EVERYBODY. It’s kind of hard to imagine that Turkish president Erdogan is a big reader of the comics page), this comic, printed in 1982 was one of the more popular and clip-and-pin-on-the-cube-wall worthy:

thagomizer-comic

Courtesy United Press Syndicate and Gary Larson (1982)

Funny stuff, yeah?  Well LOTS of people thought it was funny and copies of that comic were undoubtedly clipped out of innumerable editions of the local fishwrap and thumbtacked to just as many office doors and cubicle walls. One of those who clipped the comic was Ken Carpenter, a paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and he apparently liked it so much, that he referred to the tail spines of a stegosaurus as the “Thagomizer” during the 1993 annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Since that conference, the term has been adopted as an informal anatomic term and is used by the likes of the Smithsonian Institution, the BBC documentary Planet Dinosaur, and Dinosaur National Monument in the U.S., and even more importantly, has its own Wikipedia page.

thagomizer2

The Thagomizer. (The arrows make it so much easier to see, right?)

So, now more than 25 years after the comic was first published, and more than 60 million years after encountering his ignoble fate, Thag Simmons lives on forever. And for those concerned about scientific accuracy, first may I point out this was a comic and second, when asked about his comics and their legacy, Larson was quoted as saying “Father, I have sinned – I have drawn dinosaurs and hominids together in the same cartoon“.

Now I just wonder if we can get Ankylosaurus’ tail knob renamed to something like “LampreyOnlineThumper”.

BiologyHistoryScienceUncategorizedWarfare

It’s a bomb, Batman! …

…or more accurately, “it’s a bat-bomb, man!”

It was World War II. The US was dealing with war in two theaters – Europe and the Pacific, and the Department of War was having to deal with combating two entirely different enemies in two very different environments.

And that’s where our hero of our story comes in. Lytle Adams was a mild mannered dentist by day, and an insatiable hellcat by night (ed. note: citation very much needed and probably super unlikely). History may be inconclusive on whether Dr. Adams was or was not a hellcat, but he was most assuredly a dentist, and he was one with a curious mind. In fact, in 1937 Doc Adams invented and patented a way for airplanes to pick up and drop mail without landing. While that idea was inarguably awesome, the idea we celebrate Lytle for today is an altogether different one. Because, in 1942 Lytle Adams was the person who gave us the idea for the BAT BOMB.

batbomb

                                        No, not that one.

The idea Adams came up with could be summed up with this premise: “What if we strapped a sh*t-load of bats with a sh*t-load of tiny incendiary bombs and then chucked the whole thing at Tokyo?” And Adams told his very good friend Eleanor Roosevelt about his idea. After hearing his idea, Roosevelt presumably asked “Jesus, man. What the hell do you have against bats?” before taking the idea to her husband who happened to be the president of the United States. After laughing himself out of his wheelchair, FDR asked a few zoologists if the idea was at all practical, to which the zoologists replied “Prolly“.  You see, Adams realized a number of useful facts:

A: bats are able to carry their own body weight in flight

B: bats would seek out places to land after being dropped out of an airplane. Places like under eaves and roofs

C: bats are unable to read and therefore unable to ask why the hell a giant Molotov cocktail was being strapped to its backside

D: WWII era Japan, being made of wood and paper, was flammable as hell

And what Doctor Adams thought about these facts was that hundreds of small bats could be strapped with tiny incendiary bombs and then collectively loaded into a large canister which would then dropped from a plane once over Japan. Once dropped, a parachute would open and the panels of the canister would pop off, allowing the suddenly awakened bats to fly away, only to roost for the day in buildings all over a 20+ mile radius from the drop zone.

And thus, Project X-Ray was born. In 1943, the US Army designed a bomb-shaped bat carrier that consisted of twenty-six stacked trays each capable of holding up to 40 boom-bats. For those scoring at home, that’s more than a THOUSAND tiny organic potential explosives.

And the army took Doctor Adams’ idea seriously, spending over $2 million dollars (ed.note: that’s nearly $30 MILLION in 2018 dollars) in design and testing. And the idea worked. During a 1943 test at the Carlsbad Army Airfield in Carlsbad, New Mexico, one of the bats managed to roost under a fuel tank, resulting in the entire test range being incinerated.

The National Defense Research Committee, who was in charge of finding cool new ways to blow sh*t up, determined that Project X-Ray was an effective weapon, but the project was shelved in mid-1944 (ed. note: much to the relief of bats everywhere) when the government opted to go another direction – instead of many small explosions, one big ass bomb that blew up everything and everyone. But that’s a story for another day.

BiologyFoodScience

Barbecue season ticks by…

Here in the northern hemisphere, summer officially started this past Thursday. For some people (particularly my kids), the last day of school is the date that gets circled on the calendar to represent the start of summer. And some Americans consider Memorial Day weekend the unofficial start of summertime.

But here at Lamprey Global Headquarters (temporary motto: “We suck everything interesting out of the internet“), summer unofficially starts the very day that evening temperatures allow for the ceremonial grilling of the meats without freezing my delicate bits. Burgers, brats, hot dogs, BBQ chicken, the savory deliciousness of a gigantic slow-cooked sous vide ribeye that crusts up over raging hot coals. All of it in its delicious, meaty goodness. Often in the summer, it’s too hot to cook inside, and it’s just too damn nice to not cook outside. Grilling meats is a summertime tradition dating back to early neanderthal man standing around the fire, arguing about the pros and cons of the designated hitter rule while mammoth steaks roast on the coals (ed. note: Citation needed, but where the f*** am I going to get a neanderthal to ask??).

However, in addition to the threats of eating underdone poultry, disease-ridden mosquitoes, and murderous grill scrapers, there’s a new menace to natural born grillers everywhere. There’s a species of tick in the US called the Lone Star tick and its bite carries with it a VERY unfortunate side effect. When bitten, some people develop an acute allergy to red meat, called alpha-gal allergy…which, contrary to its name is not sneezing a lot when encountering a really cool girl.  According to NPR’s The Salt, cases of alpha-gal allergies have increased exponentially over the past decade, with only a few dozen cases reported in 2007 and 2008 compared to over 5,000 known cases in the US today.

As its name suggests, the Lone Star tick originated in Texas, but its range has expanded annually to include most of the northeastern and central US:

tick range

Picture courtesy US Center for Disease Control and Prevention

There is currently no treatment or preventative for alpha-gel allergies, aside from not being bitten in the first place. Approximately ten to fifteen percent of all sufferers get the double whammy of also becoming allergic to dairy as well, which just goes to show that, yes – it can always get worse. However, some patients have reported that the allergy symptoms abated and people ‘outgrew’ their allergy after a period of time and not being chewed on by hideous spider-crabby things anymore. So there’s that to look forward to. Now we just need to breed a species of insect whose bite improves liver function and reduces the impact of these post-cookout hangovers.