Blue Planet II, episode 2

Blue Planet 2. Problem solving and coordinated group action by clownfish. Who knew? Besides other clownfish, I mean. And what’s with the meter long carnivorous worm? Teeth sharp as pinking shears, hence the name: Bobbitt. As in Lorena. David Attenborough left that part out (no pun intended).The damn things can get up to ten feet, I read, like sandworms in Dune. They can lop a foot long fish clean in half. A Devonian Era nightmare, giant meat eating invertebrates. Acid visions of carnivorous trilobites. Thankfully they went instinct first.

Then the scene with hundreds of reef sharks swimming menacingly above thousands of groupers. Suddenly l’amour drives the groupers mad and they rush upward into the sharks, shedding eggs and milt to the seven seas. The sharks go into a feeding frenzy and the surging waters are all blood and roe and sperm, a veritable fish fuck massacre. Stella!

The clownfish were so neat and orderly and mannered in comparison. They’ll go far. Check back in a hundred million years.

(Originally posted on BricksScience.com in 2018).

Everybody thinking you’re somebody

1968, it says on the back in my mother’s flawless longhand, Age 11. I was probably 5’6” by then. I was 5’5” earlier in 5th grade, which I remember since the kids said I was fifty foot five. I peaked out at 6’5” when I was sixteen, so I was gaining height about two inches a year. Must have spent a lot of time waiting for a flood. Adolescence had trouble keeping up and I was coming in on six feet before my voice finally cracked in 9th grade. I had the voice I have now by the time I was a sophomore. I remember all the songs I could sing just a few months before were hopelessly above my range. No more Simon and Garfunkel for me, Emily would have to find herself. Not that it bothered me any, because suddenly my voice had power, and no one ever fucked with me. It was like being a grown up in 10th grade surrounded by all these silly kids. That’s a very easy way to begin adulthood, everybody thinking you’re somebody because you’re so goddamn tall, everyone seeking your approval, dudes apologizing who hadn’t done a damn thing to apologize for but just wanted to be safe. But then that’s a behavior that’s been hardwired into us apes—gorillas, chimps and all the various human species—since we evolved from monkeys 25 million years ago. I’m just carrying on the tradition.

A plenitude of platys

Damn, man, got an overpopulation crisis in the aquarium. Platys up the wazoo. They’ve live bearers—as opposed to egg layers—and being really awful parents they tend to devour their own offspring. You can see them hunt them down, moms and dads and extended family members all in an orgy of devouring their own genes, evolution be damned. Of course, this keeps the population in check. Now in the wilds of Central America the newly born hide amongst the vegetation. In your typical aquarium with its handful of plastic plants that is not much of an option and the entire litter (or whatever a bunch of fry is called) is lunch. Alas, our tank is positively lush with plants, real plants, unplastic. So a mess of the little fuckers made it. And now they’re adults, beautiful, happy, healthy adults. On the handy side they’re amazing algae eaters, better even than the impossible to spell otocinclus. And they don’t make a lot of noise. Or pick on the other fish. The tank looks like a freshwater tropical reef, plants and fish everywhere. Have no idea what to do. Maybe consider them an investment, being that they’re running four bucks each in the shops now so eventually we can retire. But we’re already retired. They’re too small for a Friday Night Fish Fry, and too big to put down the garbage disposal without years of analysis. If anyone has a fish tank that could use a few of them, you can have as many as you want. It’s an incredibly healthy aquarium—we haven’t had any fish diseases since the 80’s, three tanks ago. Our damn fish live forever.

In the meantime I’ll sit here and watch them swimming and blooping and chasing each other and think about life. There sure is a lot of it in this fish tank. Damn. And you thought you had problems.

Parthenogenesis

“Female termites in Japan are reproducing without males” – Newsweek

Parthenogenesis. Fairly common among the social insects. It’s cloning. Upside is that it avoids sexual reproduction, which takes up considerable resources and requires otherwise useless males like yours truly. Downside is that eventually something comes up that your hardwired DNA can’t handle. You’ve parthogenetically opted your DNA out of natural selection. Extinction looms. Which is what happens when selfish genes are way too selfish. Hence most species have sex instead of cloning around.

Dead owls

I suspect that the exponential increase in the pet cat population led to the exponential increase in urban and suburban coyotes which led to the decrease in the time cats spend outdoors which has caused the exponential increase in the urban and suburban brown rat population which has caused an increase in the amount of rat poison used which has dramatically increased the number of dead and dying rats which has led to the increased mortality in owls I read about today.

Axolotll

Weird how cultural perceptions change over time. When I was a kid, axolotls were really freaky looking, almost science fiction, even scary, like aliens. As bizarre looking a creature as you could find in earth. Even the name, a Nahuatl word (they are found in lakes around Mexico City), meant water monster. A little foot long water monster, pink (a relatively rare color in the wild, they are typically brownish) and exotic and weird, especially with those bizarre juvenile gills retained in adulthood. Now in this adorable educational video, fifty years later, they are seen as positively cute. They look cute to me even. How can anyone not love that anthropomorphized smile? Ripley (distinctly not a Nahuatl word for water monster) seems to have a personality, like an anime character (though in Japan, where giant salamanders are five feet long and without the neotenic gills, salamanders are more unnerving than cute and even show up in a Godzilla movie). Somewhere over this past half century there’s been a fundamental shift in what is freakish and what is cute, a shift that even changed my own perceptions. Who knows how this works. Collective thinking. We are still far from a full understanding of how our brains work, and just beginning to figure out how all our brains work together. We stumble through existence with this unparalleled device in our heads, clueless, almost, as to what it is making us think and see and do and remember.

I’m not sure when exactly the zebra danios turned into killers.

Our zebra danios have gotten scary. Where once they’d dash about madly at the top of the tank waiting for the flakes of food, now they wake slowly from sleep, huddled together, then in a three fish column begin moving slowly (not their usual frantic dash) into the plants, moving around them, seeking meat. The flakes of fish food float down all around them but they pay no attention. They keep prowling, methodically, maybe an inch or two from the bottom of the tank. I’ve come to suspect that this was how they killed the other fish, by catching them before they were completely awake there amid the plants. I can only imagine that all three would rush in, striking, chomping, killing. In the wild they eat insects and crustaceans and worms, so they are hunters, yet in the thirty some years we’ve been stocking our aquariums with them I have never witnessed them do anything more than grab flakes of fish food drifting by. I have certainly never seen this sort of apparently coordinated behavior. It seems that almost every vertebrate has within it the predatory behavior. We are all hunters. Hell, it was predation that drove evolution itself, the whole Cambrian Explosion with all its crazy speciation was the result of the ever evolving contest between predator and prey. And here, somehow, in our little aquarium, something turned these little inch and half long fish from eaters of fish food to eaters of fish, eaters of even their own kind (as there were five of them just two weeks ago). All was peaceful until the clown loach died. That loach, though never deliberately bothering any of the other fish, was at seven inches long to them like a whale shark is to us. It ruled the floor, digging up snails. The danios stayed up several inches in the tank, away from its sudden movements. But then the loach, one day two or three weeks ago, was dead. Old age. I noticed the next morning that the danios were down zipping around at the bottom of the tank. The neon tetras calmly minded their own business, the two glass catfish scooted about. Everyone, danios included, got very excited at feeding time, like they always did. Everyone swam around excitedly, grabbing bits of tetra min flakes floating by.

I’m not sure when exactly the danios turned into killers. Within two weeks I realized that all the fish were gone but these three zebra danios. Alone in the tank, they chased each other madly about, zipping one way, then another. I was mystified. Where had all the other fish gone? I did some research, and found desperate pleas on aquarium websites. “Help, my zebra danios are eating each other!!!!” or “My zebra danios are killing my other fish!!!” I read in shock just how murderous the little beasts can be. No one seemed to know why, but there was usually a dominant fish that sets it off. A handy bit of evolution, that, where some members of the species will suddenly go rogue, turn alpha, and eat everything piscene in sight. Obviously there is a genetic advantage in there somehow. Perhaps a surge in zebra danio testosterone. But I have no idea. Looking at the tank again, one of the danios is swimming like a lunatic now, frenzied. The other two have ducked behind the leaves. Perhaps there is murder afoot.

zebra-danio2

It doesn’t look like a killer.