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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sex, sex, sex

OK, I know, we've been remiss here in revealing the "sex secrets of the Himalayan masters". But, although I won't be revealing those here, I do want to talk about sex. Specifically, did you know:
* The male boar releases 85 billion sperm in a single act of copulation?

* The guppy can switch sex so quickly that, if two female guppies "in the mood" meet, they may frustrate each other by repeatedly becoming male, then female, then male again, each switch taking only a few seconds?

* Schistosoma haemaatobia develops with the female already embedded in the male in a kind of permanent sexual embrace?

* The blue whale gives birth to young weighing 15 tons and already 2/5 of her length (i.e., her baby is bigger than an elephant at birth)?

* Madame Feodor Vassiliev of Russia gave birth to 69 children, 16 twins, 7 triplets, and 4 quadruplets?

* Worms mate by mutually penetrating their partner's vagina with their penis while their own vagina is similarly penetrated?

* Ragweed plants may emit up to 1.6 billion pollen grains per hour?

These facts are drawn from a fascinating, if deeply flawed, book, entitled The Seven Mysteries of Life. The worst flaw in the book is the author's insistence on dividing life into animal and "vegetable" kingdoms, extending so far as to call paramecium animals and bacteria "vegetables". Quite to the contrary, "vegetable" is not a biological classification at all, but a culinary one -- mushrooms, which are fungii, not plants, appear in the "vegetable" section of the supermarket.

In fact, biologists now recognize the three main branches of multi-cellular life, the animals, the plants, and the fungi, as mere stems on the more major branching scheme -- they represent the eukaryotes (creatures whose cell has a nucleus). The other major forms of life are the bacteria -- whom, lacking a nucleus, are no more "vegetables" than are paramecium -- and the archaea. The fascinating thing about the archae, for those who might suspect science is "almost done", is that, 40 years ago, the existence of this form of life was entirely unsuspected, whereas now, scientists think that the archaea may be as numerous as the members of the other two great kingdoms.

It was once thought that life only existed down a far as the topsoil extended. But now life has been found to exist as far down as any sampling of the earth's crust has reached. And it is the archaea whom occupy those depths.

6 comments:

  1. Gene, fascinating, of course. I think "Archaea" is now preferred. Industry is finding all kinds of uses for these critters.

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  2. Gene,

    The three main branches, or "domains," of life are the bacteria, archaea, and eukarya, as most biologists currently classify them. Very interesting post, thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "The three main branches, or "domains," of life are the bacteria, archaea, and eukarya..."

    I thought I just said that!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yeah, I guess you did.

    ReplyDelete
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