Monday, October 12, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
DIY Comparative Osteology Collection
Monday, April 27, 2009
Understandably, at NNP the juveniles are at the Animal Orphange. The nearby Safari Walk has adults of various kinds in larger, more natural habitat enclosures. There's much to blog about, which I will return to regularly over the next six months, but here I want to record the first in-person adult male bongo I have seen. And boy is he beautiful (even if decorated with mud from today's copious rain).
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Swim, little pilgrim
A homemade rap music video starring mindless blood-thirsty crocs eating not-so-brainy East African herbivores, mainly Thomson's gazelles.
Hattip to Dr. Vector.
(If you want to see the total demolition of a full-grown zebra in under 9 minutes by over a dozen crocs, go here. Warning: not for bleeding hearts.)
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Here is an 8-month old female greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) at the Nairobi National Park Animal Orphanage.
And next is a 12-month old female lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis) at the same place. They're basically the same height, and it'll be interesting to see how the greater kudu grows over the next few months. I'm in the process of setting up a research collaboration with the veterinary staff there, to take regular measurements of these and other antelopes in their care.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Oliver Twist, Jr.
The above flower is a gratuitous pretty pic using my new lens (click for larger view), which I meant to post back in early February. The pic was taken at a distance of about 12-15 ft, using my Nikkor 70-200mm VR, and cropped to approximately 10% of its original size. This is my just-saw-an-antelope-at-100m-running-away lens :D. I'll have new animal pics next time, I promise.
Oh, Oliver Twist was the name of an orphaned buffalo I met at the Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy's Animal Orphanage back in 2007. I think it's a better name for an orphaned spiral-horned antelope, know what I mean?
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Happy (belated) Birthday, Mr. Darwin!
I bought a cake for the occasion - how often does Darwin turn 200 and I'm the invited speaker on the same day? I designed the top decoration when I learned the bakery could print out, on edible icing, any picture of your choosing. So I modified the design from the Essig Museum's (of the Berkeley Natural History Museums) Darwin Day flier, which was quite spiffy already. I added some barnacles on the left, some orchids on the right, and increased the resolution of his face since I was worried he'dcome out all grainy on the icing print-out. After the usual logistical ado that is typical of Kenya, I managed to get the cake safely from the bakery to the seminar room on the appointed day. Huzzah. The image is above, and next the actual cake prior to demolition.
I have to say, my research talk was probably the best research talk I've ever given. There are many ways I want to improve it, if I get the chance to give the talk again, but overall it was the most comfortable, most well-spoken talk I've ever given on my research. I'm proud of my slides, the content and logical flow, and my ability to articulate on my feet the big and small ideas alike.
My Darwin talk was less about Darwin himself and more a brief history of evolutionary theory since 1859 (which I would not have been able to do without my advisor's seminars on Darwin and evolutionary theory, and Gould's Structure of Evolutionary Theory - thanks much!). From there I segued into current questions being researched in evolutionary biology, touching on paleobiology, macroevolution, and evo-devo, then moved on to an overview of the state of science understanding and education in America, the re-emergence of creationism, likely sources of the problem, and likely solutions, ending with a infomercial-esque plug for the Coalition On the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) and their Year of Science 2009 initiative.
Overall, I quite enjoyed the experience (at least once it was underway), and I hope to have the opportunity to give one or both of these talks again while I'm in Kenya. The talks ran long, but a lot of people stayed the whole time. And, even though I had planned for ~50 people when I ordered the cake, approximately 20 people managed to eat two-thirds of the cake. I'd call it a success.
I carried the giant cake box the quarter mile back to the guesthouse through the choking fumes of rush-hour traffic and made a gift of the leftovers to the hotel staff. Once I communicated my intentions and the location of the cake, there was a discrete stampede into the kitchen and many broad smiles the rest of the evening - although most were under the impression it was my birthday. I'm not sure many grasped that it was Darwin's 200th birthday, or that many of them know who Darwin was anyway.
I nabbed the last piece of cake with any remnant of Darwin on it (the brim of his hat) and ate it out in the garden, then took the rest of the night off. It was VERY good cake.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
So far, I'm very happy with my set-up. I got a Nikon D90, after reading many rave reviews and losing much sleep hemming and hawing over the D300. I settled on the D90 because of the smaller price tag, lighter weight, single-hand operation (hot diggity-dog!), and more intuitive buttons/operation (a big plus for me).
The big lens (an AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED: bwahahhahaha) has yet to come, but my AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens has pleased me so far. It's more for museum and microscope work, but it's a good general purpose lens if my subject is less than, say, 25yards away.
I've test-driven the 18-55mm lens in low-light and high-light conditions, up-close, at distance, on animals, and moving objects. If I was into naming inanimate objects, I think I'd name the D90 "Jeeves." It does everything but tell the dog to fetch the paper. I particularly love the read-my-brain auto-focus abilities (note the plural). I know I'll get much better at fine-tuning my shots, but the most difficult thing I encountered straight-out-of-the-box was attaching the lens: it was so intuitive, I over-thought it and couldn't figure it out. D'oh.
The vibration reduction (VR) aspect to the lens is said to make tripods nearly obsolete. Hurray! - since I can't use a tripod from the car anyway, which is how much of my "fieldwork" is done. The VR makes my 1/5 sec shots look like my Panasonic's 1/35 sec shots, and my 1/15sec shots look like 1/80sec shots. Lovely! This way, when I crop away 85% of a 200-yard picture, I should have more than a brown smear of bovid to work with - trying to get proportional measurements on otherwise-unwilling subjects.
I can't wait for the 70-200mm to come in, as well as a camera-carrying backpack I ordered that I'm super-excited about. I love ingenious solutions to vexing problems, and I hope the downturn in the economy doesn't take too many niche solutions out of the market.
(I uploaded all these pics at 25% original size (click the thumbnails to see). Original size is 4.5-4.9Mb from a 12Mpix camera).
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Cornified papillae (both labial and buccal) are found in much of the mouth of at least cattle and elands (to my knowledge so far). They are definitely not found to any similar degree in horses. I seem to recall a few raised bumps in the corner of the mouth of our (now deceased) family dog, but I just did a quick check on my brother's pit bull here, and [updated 12/29, now that I inspected her lips under good light] she has a few widely spaced papillae that seem to be uncornified (or at least not noticeably cornified). Broader sampling needed . . .
Just in front of the incisors the labial papillae are low rounded bumps (seen on both upper and lower lips in this pic. She has a bit of an underbite since a good portion of the skull's weight is resting on the back of the jaw, pushing the jaw forward. And there are no upper incisors on any bovid, in case you are wondering.)
What surprised me was how the papillae became long and pointed, shaped like sharks' teeth in the angle of the mouth - individually and in their spiral out-folding arrangement collectively.
The papillae look to be part of a widespread pattern of epithelial modification in the mouth; you can see lines of somewhat similar bumps on the roof of the mouth (hard palate). (Sorry for the washed out pic; I had one hand dedicated to the specimen, one had dedicated to the camera, no help, my contacts were corroding my eyeballs, and it was midnight).
According to Budras & Habel's Bovine Anatomy (1st ed.) both labial and buccal papillae help keep cud in the mouth during the wide lateral jaw movements during rumination (thank you, GoogleBook Search). Which might help to explain why dogs and horses (and people) don't have these papillae.
And now you (and I) know!