W is for Wasps

It's summer time.  And you know what that means? Sure, summer means picnics, barbecues, and sun. But it also means the coming of the most dreaded outdoor villains: wasps. Some people freeze up when they see the stripey serial stingers, others try to wave them away.  I prefer the stoic strategy of a short, sharp …

T is for Tardigrade

Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew.  They're versatile! No, I'm not talking about taters.  I'm talking about tardigrades: quite possibly the most durable creatures on Earth. They might also be the strangest combination of cute and terrifying anybody has ever seen looking through a microscope. Tardigrades, also known as water bears, evolved 500 million …

S is for Simple Rules

Consider the following: schooling fish, roundabouts, segregation, and human consciousness are all examples of the same fundamental property of the world.  It may seem crazy to suggest that roundabouts may be interesting in some sense, but bear with me. The property in question, and this week's topic, is emergence.  In each case individual entities, by following simple …

R is for Ratzilla

An excerpt from my favourite scene in the 1987 film, the Princess Bride: Westley: Rodents of Unusual Size? I don't think they exist. [R.O.U.S. attacks Westley] Westley: Ahhhh!!! Why is that my favourite scene?  Because I laugh every time I watch it.  The R.O.U.S. is just so ridiculous-looking and shows up right after Westley disbelieves its existence. For the devoted …

N is for Naming

Next time you happen to be walking though the Chamela-Cuixmala nature reserve on the West Coast of Mexico, keep your eyes out for this parasitoid wasp: Its scientific name is Heerz lukenatcha.  There is also a related wasp named Heerz tooya.  Who comes up with these things!? Biologists, it turns out. The current official naming system for animals …