Two questions that have been bugging me

1. When a dog is sniffing very quickly (not from tiredness, just sitting around and sniffing) does he get a better time-resolution on smells? In other words, if he were breathing slowly, would he miss some smells that don’t last very long (for example, if someone who smells interesting walks by quickly)?

2. Why the heck do people (or other mammals, for that matter) have hymens? What kind of evolutionary advantage is that? Is it vestigial in humans, seeing as some women are born without one and there are lots of physical variations?

Be kind to your claw-handed friends

Scientists in Northern Ireland have concluded that lobsters and crabs feel pain when they’re injured. I loved this quote from the Discovery news feed:

Robert Elwood, the lead author of both papers, explained to Discovery News that pain allows an individual to be “aware of the potential tissue damage” while experiencing “a huge negative emotion or motivation that it learns to avoid that situation in the future.”

Part of me wants to say “well, duh.”

The crabs observed in the experiment not only responded to pain by leaving the situation in which they were being hurt, but also behaved in ways similar to what many other animals do when in pain — grooming, stress-related fidgeting, and protective behaviours such as limping.

Is this an experiment that needed to be done, and will the results change the way people treat invertebrates? Or was it an unnecessarily cruel thing to do to a bunch of hermit crabs for the sake of an obvious result?

Given the number of people who do believe that these animals don’t feel pain, arguably because it’s a “nice” thing to believe when you like to eat a type of critter that is traditionally boiled alive, maybe a scientific result is needed to shake things up a bit and make people question commonly-held beliefs.

The next question might be: are there any members of the animal kingdom who don’t feel pain, who would not benefit from it as a sign of danger because they aren’t capable of evasive or defensive action?

Echolocation

This is just me thinking out loud and having more questions than answers. If anyone has the answers, let me know.

I was listening to a radio documentary (I think it was called “Ocean Mind”) on CBC Radio late last night, about how dolphins and whales perceive their world. Among other things, it talked about how echolocation (or sonar) may provide levels of social intimacy well outside the range of human experience.

One way is that since sound waves can travel through flesh, dolphins can see inside each other’s bodies. Another is that dolphins can intercept each other’s echoes, and effectively “see” what someone else is looking at.

Can unborn dolphins pick up on returning clicks that their mothers send out, and can they “see” the world around them from long before they’re born (or at least as long as they have sufficiently developed organs to detect the sound)? Would it be nonsensical without any other senses for frame of reference?

For that matter, how much learning or brain pathway development can a human fetus do before it’s born, when it can hear things from outside its mother’s body? As far as I know, babies who are born deaf don’t seem to have suffered intellectually from not having been able to hear before they were born.

The birds and the bees

…and moths and ants, and the occasional bat, and sometimes just a good stiff wind. Sorry to disappoint — this is about plant sex. It’s gardening season, so in honour of the new White House kitchen garden, here’s a refresher on how plants make whoopie.

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