Caturday felid trifecta: Soothing purr generator, how to say “cat” in Europe, pussy cat parade

Having trouble sleeping? This purr generator can help! Click on the screenshot below, and be sure to adjust all the buttons to MAXIMUM for the most vibration. You can also adjust different components, including bass, mids, and treble, and time it so it goes off when you’re asleep.

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 5.51.33 AM

You might try testing it on your own cat, and note that there are many other noises you can use for sleeping or what they now call “self care.”


This map, showing of how Europeans say “cat” (from Maps on the Web), also teaches you some etymology. My theory, which is mine, is that the word “kitty” comes from the Turkish “kedi”.



Finally, reader Lauren sent me a cat song with a nice note:

Last night I found this video on YouTube. I would say that this was a record I had as a child, except that I still have it. It was one of my favorite songs back then, and one I used to sing to my back-then cat Smaug as I drove him to and from vet appointments.

I have to say that it’s very catchy. It also reminds me of one of my own childhood favorites, “Teddy Bears’ Picnic“—but with felids. (I can still sing the entire song—the Rosemary Clooney version—from memory.) I’ll add the 1932 version of the teddy bear song by Henry Hall and His Orchestra, which, according to Wikipedia, played a big role for the BBC.

The 1932 Henry Hall recording was of especially good quality with a large tonal range. It was used for more than 30 years by BBC audio engineers (up until the early 1960s) to test and calibrate the frequency response of audio equipment.

h/t: Ant, Tom

Readers’ wildlife photographs

Colin Franks, whose website is here and whose photography Facebook page here, sent a batch of nice bird photos, of which I’ll show only about a third today:

Tree SwallowTachycineta bicolor:


Female Wood DuckAix sponsa:


Marsh WrenCistothorus palustris:


Juvenile Great Horned OwlBubo virginianus:


Adult Great Horned Owl   Bubo virginianus:


Blue-winged Teal (male), Anas discors:


California QuailCallipepla californica:


Saturday: Hili dialogue (and Leon lagniappe)

It’s Saturday, and all cats must rest on the Sabbath (the other days, too!).  Sadly, the same is not true for secular Jewish professors. Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is using her wiles to lure Andrzej away from his computer so they can both go for a walk.

Hili: Cyrus, tell him that there is a flock of swans on the river.
Cyrus: Dogs never lie.
Hili: And that’s a serious handicap.


In Polish:
Hili: Cyrus, powiedz mu, że na rzece jest stado łabędzi.
Cyrus: Psy nigdy nie kłamią.
Hili: To jest poważne kalectwo.

And Leon is showing himself somewhat of a scholar:

Leon: You print, I will write.



Friday afternoon evolution cartoon

Someone should make a book out of these “fish evolving out of the water” cartoons. There must be hundreds of them by now (add a link to your favorite below). This one is by Dan Piraro from Bizarro!


Exclusive pictures: the Crafoord Prize in Biosciences

On January 15 I announced that the prestigious Crafoord Prize in Biosciences was awarded jointly to my Ph.D. advisor Dick Lewontin and Tomoka Ohta for their work on genetic variation in natural populations. (See the press release here.) I am pleased to present the photographs of the May 6 ceremony in Stockholm, in which the King of Sweden (who of course also hands out the Nobel Prizes), gave the pricey gold medal to Ohta and to Lewontin’s representative, my friend Andrew Berry (Lewontin couldn’t make it).  There’s also a handsome check: about $500,000. A few details about the Prize from Wikipedia:

According to the Academy, “these disciplines are chosen so as to complement those for which the Nobel Prizes are awarded”. Only one award is given each year, according to a rotating scheme – astronomy and mathematics; then geosciences; then biosciences. A Crafoord Prize is only awarded when a special committee decides that substantial progress in the field has been made.

The King gives the prize to Berry:

2015-05-06 Stockholm. Crafoordpriset 2015. H.M. Konungen delar ut priset till Ârets mottagare Richard Lewontin som representerades av Dr Andrew Berry. His Majesty the King presents the Crafoord Prize in Biosciences to laureate Richard Lewontin who was represented by Dr Andrew Berry. Foto: Markus Marcetic

Berry then  conveys the prize to Lewontin at Harvard, with Dick showing proper humility:


The King gives the prize to Ohta:

2015-05-06 Stockholm. Crafoordpriset 2015. H.M. Konungen delar ut priset till Ârets mottagare Tomoko Ohta. His Majesty the King presents the Crafoord Prize in Biosciences to laureate Tomoko Ohta. Foto: Markus Marcetic

Ohta and Berry; as Andrew said, “between us Ohta and I are a pretty good embodiment of human polymorphism”:


Matthew Cobb answers questions about evolution and animal sniffers

Manchester Life Sciences has posted a new YouTube video in its “Ask a Scientist” series, and the scientist to ask happens to be our own Matthew Cobb. In this 15-minute video he takes on six questions about evolution and about his own speciality: olfaction. It’s very interesting: click on either screenshot below to go to the video:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 9.30.28 AM

Our hero! (Notice his collection of toy dinosaurs in the office.)

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Ontario school officials respond—or rather, fail to respond—to queries about why they don’t require teaching human evolution

A short while ago I reported, based on a post  on DarwinQuixote site, that while the province of Ontario requires teaching of evolution in secondary-school biology classes, there’s no requirement for teaching human evolution. A colleague of the DarwinQuixote author wrote to Ontario’s Ministry of Education asking about this omission, and got the following reply:

“Ensuring that curriculum is inclusive in nature, addresses the education needs of all students, and reflects the diversity of the Ontario population is very important to our government. The Equity and Inclusive Education section (Section 1.4) in Ontario Schools: Kindergarten to Grade 12, Policy and Program Requirements for example describes a number of principles relating to values which should permeate the school and curriculum. The Statement on Equity and Inclusive Education describes the importance of staff and students demonstrating respect for diversity in school and the wider society. It is expected that teachers will plan units of study, develop a variety of teaching approaches, and select appropriate resources to address the curriculum expectations, taking into account the needs and abilities of the students in their classes. As well, learning activities should be designed to reflect diverse points of views and experiences.”

This implies strongly that the omission of human evolution comes from a misguided “respect for diversity”—that is, some religious people will feel disrespected if their faith is contravened by the biology curriculum.

Several readers and I then wrote to the ministry of education (see my letter here), emphasizing the importance of teaching human evolution in the required evolution unit, and asking why this wasn’t done. I have not yet received a reply—perhaps because I’m not Canadian—but reader Diana MacPherson did. Here’s the evasive response she got, for what it’s worth (I’ve put one sentence in bold):

Dear Diana MacPherson:

Thank you for your email dated August 13, 2015, inquiring about human evolution in the Ontario curriculum. I am pleased to respond.

The theory of evolution is a fundamental one in science. It is, therefore, a strand or broad area of the curriculum in the Biology, Grade 11, University Preparation course in the curriculum policy document for Grades 11 and 12 Science, implemented in September 2009. The learning related to evolution in the course includes big ideas about:

  • the process of biological change over time based on the relationships between species and their environments,
  • the theory of evolution as a scientific explanation based on a large accumulation of evidence, and
  • technology that enables humans to manipulate the development of species that has economic and environmental implications.

The learning related to evolution is intended to explain key structural and functional changes in organisms, including humans, as they have evolved over time.

By the end of the course, students will:

  • analyse the economic and environmental advantages and disadvantages of an artificial selection technology, and evaluate the impact of environmental changes on natural selection and endangered species,
  • investigate evolutionary processes, and analyse scientific evidence that supports the theory of evolution, and
  • demonstrate an understanding of the theory of evolution, the evidence that supports it, and some of the mechanisms by which it occurs.

For more information on the Ontario science curriculum, please visit

You may be interested to know that the university preparation courses are validated and accredited by university professors to ensure that they are current and responsive to key elements of the discipline.

Again, thank you for writing. I hope you have found this information helpful.

Original signed by
Karen Gill
Curriculum and Assessment Policy Branch

If you look at that pdf file, which lays out the requirements for the evolution unit in Grade 11 (pp. 52-53 in this document) you won’t see a single mention of human evolution. The sentence I’ve put in bold above is simply misleading, for the evolution of humans (as opposed to how we’ve used evolution to improve “technology”) simply isn’t in the curriculum. Diana did the same search and didn’t find anything about human evolution, either.  She also flagged the “technology” aspect of evolution on p. 46:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 7.03.29 AM

Diana noted this:
P.46 is pretty much what [Gill] quoted in her note to me. The part that I thought was ideological is sort of: they have some goals they want to achieve and map all their science instruction back to those goals, one of which is to show how science relates to technology (I suspect this is a reflection of our Federal government’s idea of science needing to be practical). It is odd that Ontario is doing this, though, since they are Liberal and Canada right now is Tory. Maybe I’m oversensitive because of the Tory muzzling of science.
and then added this:
The big red flag to me is this bit under p. 39’s “Anti-discrimination Education and Science” because, although noble, I think it explains the whole issue:

“In many instances, variations in culture and location (whether rural, urban, or suburban) can be found in a single classroom. Students living in apartment buildings will have different access to plants and animals than students living in a rural setting or on a First Nation reserve. There may be cultural sensitivities for some students in areas such as the use of biological specimens. For example, a number of religions have prohibitions regarding pigs. Although it is impossible to anticipate every contingency, teachers should be open to adjusting their instruction, if feasible, when concerns are brought to their attention.”

This, which echoes the response given to DarwinQuixote‘s colleague, once again implies that “cultural sensitivity” is the reason why human evolution isn’t taught. Just as dissecting pigs (or, perhaps, learning about them) may offend Jews or Muslims, so learning that our own species evolved may offend the “sensitivity” of religious creationists.

Until I learn otherwise, then—and the Ministry of Education hasn’t seen fit to answer my letter—I’m going to assume that Ontario doesn’t require the teaching of human evolution because it’s giving a sop to creationists. Of course some enlightened teachers will go ahead and teach about our own species in the evolution unit anyway, but the point is that that isn’t required.  Bowing to “cultural sensitivity”, the government of Ontario says it’s ok to prevent children from learning what is probably the most important thing about their own species.

Gruesome but amazing falcon behaviour

JAC: In lieu of our usual dollop of living creatures in “Readers’ wildlife photographs,” I’ll post this contribution by Matthew.

by Matthew Cobb

Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae) is a kind of hobby with a wingspan of about 1 meter which breeds on Mediterranean islands and overwinters in Madagascar. It’s a rather fine-looking bird, as this photo by Jürgen Dietrich from Wikipedia shows:


Outside of the breeding season, Eleonora’s falcon mainly eats insects, but when there are babies about they will take larger prey, including other birds. A short paper has just been published in Alauda, the journal of the Société d’Etudes Ornithologiques de France, which reveals that in one population of this species, predation can take on quite a gruesome aspect.

As reported on Morrocanbirds and another of other sites (I haven’t been able to read the original article), the discovery is part of a long-term study of a population of this falcon off the Moroccan Atlantic coast by Moroccan scientists. According to the article, the birds will sometimes catch their prey and then, rather than feeding it to their chicks straight away, they store them, alive, sometimes having removed the flight feathers of the poor victim.

The Morrocanbirds piece includes two grim photos by Abdeljebbar Qninba of doomed birds, the first of a chiffchaff sans tail and wing feathers, the second of a common whitethroat peering from its prison:

Many birds in temperate regions will stash the bodies of their prey for later consumption. In the case of the shrike or butcher bird, this can become quite macabre, with bodies impaled on spikes. Eleanor’s falcon appears to have taken the process a step further – in the heat the Moroccan coast, any stashed body would rapidly dry out. By disabling and imprisoning the prey for a while (it is not clear what is the maximum duration – at least a matter of days), their food will stay fresh for longer…

Here’s a picture of an adult brooding a pair of eggs, from here. It looks pretty cross.

Of course, this is no different from the behaviour of many hymenoptera, which paralyse their prey (generally caterpillars, but in some cases spiders), lay eggs inside them or next to them and then wall them up in a hole or a pot, where the victim is slowly eaten alive by the maggots…

To paraphrase Miranda from The Tempest, and with only a touch of irony:

Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous nature is!

O brave new world that has such creatures in ‘t!

Reference: Qninba, A., Benhoussa, A. Radi, M., El Idrissi, A., Bousadik, H., Badaoui B. & El Agbani, M.A. 2015. Mode de prédation très particulier du Faucon d’Éléonore Falco eleonorae sur l’Archipel d’Essaouira (Maroc Atlantique). Alauda 83(2): 149-150.

Readers’ wildlife photos (including paleobiology!)

I’m pleased to feature some paleontology today from reader John Scanlon.  In case you didn’t know, stromatolites are layered accretions of microorganisms, usually cyanobacteria (“blue-green algae”), and they represent some of the oldest fossils on earth: about 3.5 billion years old—only about a billion years after the Earth was formed. But these accretions are still formed today by living bacteria, and exist in a few spots on the planet that have extremely salty water, including Australia, Brazil, and Mexico.

Shark Bay, Australia, which John mentions below, is one of these places, and I’ll put a photo of living stromatolites below his photos. His notes:

My phone generally doesn’t do justice to actual fauna, but might do for some nice palaeobiology on a recent working trip in the Hamersley Range (Pilbara, Western Australia). The area’s well known for its banded ironstone formations (BIF; formed as the dissolved iron in the oceans rusted out, keeping the level of toxic oxygen low for a while), but also has extensive basalt flows (also dikes and sills) and outcropping granite/greenstone basement, ranging from Archaean into Proterozoic. The tectonic stability of the area is shown by the fact that most of the stratified rocks are still nearly horizontal , though there are also some very attractively folded BIFs around the edges.

The attached photos show something I haven’t often seen in the Pilbara: really well preserved stromatolites (in the Carawine Dolomite). They have the same range of sizes and shapes as the ones forming today in Hamelin Pool at Shark Bay, not very far away. The stromatolitic carbonates formed in shallow parts of the basin at the same time as the BIFs were accumulating in the deeper areas. The vertical and horizontal jointing and differential etching of the rock make them outstandingly clear examples, and also full of crevices so I had good reason to spend time looking at the rock while searching for animals. In one pic, wave ripples on a horizontal surface have been polished by Euro (JAC: waleroos, a marsupial: Macropus robustus) using the overhang as a sleeping shelter.

Ref: Rasmussen et al. (2005, doi: 10.1130/G21616.1) date these rocks to about 2.63 Ga. [JAC: 2.6 billion years old!]

The remnants of ancient life:



Wave ripples polished by sleeping wallaroos!:



Here are some living stromatolites being formed today in Shark Bay, Western Australia (picture from Wikipedia). They look just like their fossil forebears.


Here’s a cross-section of a living stromatolite, showing its similarity to the ancient ones (source here):


Friday: Hili dialogue (and Leon lagniappe)

It’s Friday, and the week slinks to an end with chilly weather in Chicago. And there must be a drought in Poland, for Hili remarks on the cherry trees:

Hili: This doesn’t bode well.
A: What doesn’t bode well?
Hili: Leaves falling from trees in August.

P1030288In Polish:

Hili: To nie wróży dobrze?
Ja: Co nie wróży dobrze?
Hili: Liście spadające z drzew w sierpniu.

And nearby, tabby Leon faces the Intelligent Cat’s Dilemma:

Leon: I have a serious problem: to read or to sleep?



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