Zero

Zero is nothing, nada, zip, zilch. You can’t see 0 because it isn’t there. Zero represents the absence something, a relatively abstract concept. In fact as children we have to learn zero – we are not born with the ability to understand zero.

Image credit – Deposit Photos

Adult humans have understood the notion of nothing or having nothing for a very long time. However, the concept of zero as a number is relatively new. Some historians believe the origins of zero date back over 4,000 years ago to the Sumerians who used angled wedges as placeholders for zero in their counting system. Others believe that it wasn’t until that system was passed on the Babylonians around 300 BC that the wedge was clearly a placeholder. The placeholder represented the absence of a number in a string of numbers. On the other side of the world from the Babylonians, the brilliant Maya used zero as a placeholder in their calendar system. Yet despite being excellent mathematicians, they did not use zero in equations.

Zero as a number unto itself has its origins in India around 1500 years ago. It was revolutionizing to mathematics. The number zero has even been called one of the greatest human inventions of all time. In mathematics it is both a placeholder and a digit. In addition, zero allowed people to conceptualize negative numbers for the first time. Zero as a number opened the door to algebra, calculus, and more. It also laid the foundation for computer binary code.

So while zero is nothing, it is also something. And in today’s high tech world, it is the basis for everything.

Giant Wasp

The Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth – there is so much we don’t know, so many species we are still unaware of. So the discovery of a new wasp in the Amazon is cause for celebration. And this new, parasitic wasp has some rather gruesome, yet amazing adaptations.

Photo Credit – Kari Kaunisto, Unité de la Biodiversité de L’Université de Turku.

The bright yellow, giant-headed wasp only grows to be 0.7 inches (1.7 cm) long. But if you are another insect, beware. These wasps, Capitojoppa amazonica, stab their prey (other insects), suck out the fluid, then devour them from the inside out. It gets better…

The female wasp looks for a host in which to lay a single egg, including caterpillars, beetles, and sometimes spiders. When she finds a potential host, she uses her antennae to check it out. If she finds the host acceptable after stroking it with her antennae, she will pierce it with her ovipositor and deposit an egg. In a few days the egg hatches. The larvae proceeds to eat the insides of their host for a nutritious and delicious meal. They stay inside the corpse of the host as they develop their own hard, protective shell, or pupae. Once they have transformed into an adult, they finally emerge.

The team that discovered Capitojoppa amazonica also discovered over 100 other new species. The gruesome details of their adaptations are yet unknown.

Terrific Tongues

Until recently I’ve never given much thought to tongues. Then I came across an article that talked about how humans have a tongue print, very much like a fingerprint. And like fingerprints, all tongue prints are unique to the individual. Okay, that’s interesting. So yes, I did a little research which led me to animal tongues. I am hooked.

Photo Credit – CC Bilby

Take a giraffe, for example. Their tongues are so long (21 inches!) that they can even clean out their own ears. Yes, gross. I suppose if you are a giraffe, though, it’s quite handy. Giant anteaters also have exceptionally long tongues (up to two feet!). It’s long and thin like a strand of spaghetti, and covered with sticky saliva that helps them slurp up insects. That tongue is surprisingly fast too; an anteater can flick its tongue in and out of its mouth up to 150 times a minute! Frogs are also known for their super-fast tongues. More than 4,000 species of frogs have tongues so lightning quick they can nab their prey faster than the blink of a human eye. Alligator snapping turtles use their tongue to catch prey in an entirely different way. They lie in wait at the bottom of a swamp, river, or lake with their tongue hanging out. They wriggle the tongue slightly, which mimics a worm, and the unsuspecting prey is suddenly the dinner instead of the diner! Penguins have tongues that are bristly, like a toothbrush. The bristles are made of keratin and help penguins grab wriggling fish and krill.

Then there are butterflies that don’t have tongues at all, just a long proboscis. They do have a few taste buds there and on their antennae, but butterflies mostly taste using their feet! Flies, too. For the record, all insects are tongue-less.

For those creatures that do have tongues, they come in all kinds shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and abilities. Tongues are pretty terrific!

Blue Jays

Photo credit Jongsun Lee

Blue jays are colorful and majestic, but also raucous. You always know when there are blue jays around. What I didn’t know is that one of those calls mimics a hawk. They do this to warn other birds that there actually is a hawk nearby. In other cases they use their hawk call to scare the other birds away from a feeder or other food source so they can have it all to themselves. Sneaky! Blue jays are talented mimics in other ways too, able to replicate many different sounds including a cat’s meow and human speech. These birds may be loud and obnoxious a lot of the time, but they are quiet and stealthy around their nest.

Blue jays belong to the corvid family, which includes ravens, crows, and magpies. Like their relatives, blue jays are highly intelligent. They have complex social networks and close family bonds. When they mate, they mate for life. While wild blue jays have not been observed using tools, jays in captivity have, fashioning different objects into tools to reach food.

Though they are omnivorous (eating WIDE variety of foods and often stealing from other birds), blue jays love acorns and will hide them for a future meal. In fact, a single blue jay may cache between 3,000 and 5,000 acorns in the fall. Sometimes those acorns are forgotten, sprout, and grow into new oaks. As a result of this behavior, blue jays help propagate oak trees and have even been given credit for spreading oak trees after the last glacial period. So if you love oaks, thank a blue jay!