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Humpback whales. (Thinkstock)
Humpback whales. (Thinkstock)

Social studies

For whales on the prowl, size matters Add to ...

What whales look for in a mate

“Going underwater with video cameras and sonar, scientists have gained new insights into the mating behaviour of humpback whales,” says The New York Times. They learned that female humpbacks on the prowl prefer the largest males on the breeding ground, while smaller males gravitate toward smaller females – apparently so as ‘to run less risk of a big male coming over and beating you up,’ said Adam Pack, a biologist and psychologist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. ‘It’s basically making the best of a poor situation,’ he added.”

How large can we be?

Could a human ever be as big as a dinosaur? “Weight increases with the cube of height,” writes Luis Villazon in BBC Focus magazine. “A six-metre T-rex is 3.33 times the height of a 1.8-metre human, so scaling a 70-kilogram human up increases the weight by 3.33 cubed, which is about 37 times as much, or 2.6 tonnes. But the cross-sectional area of the leg bones only increases with the square of height. So the pressure on each one would be more than three times greater. … This would fracture your legs if you did anything more energetic than a very careful walk. Even if we re-engineered a human with legs as thick as an elephant there is still the problem of balance. The bipedal dinosaurs all had huge tails to counterbalance their body weight. Without that, the giant humans simply wouldn’t be able to bend over without breaking their back.”

Humans have big fleas

“Around 2,000 species of fleas have been described, most of them adapted to live on a particular host creature,” says the New Scientist. “Human fleas are distinguished in their own right: They are the endurance athletes of the flea world. Most flea species spend their lives lazily nested in their host’s fur, but our relative lack of body hair means our guests live in bedding or upholstery, emerging daily to feed on our blood. All that action endows them with strength and stamina far in excess of what most of their feeble cousins can muster. ‘They’re big and chunky,’ says [Cambridge entomologist Tim] Cockerill.”

A language unlocked

“Alun Morgan, 81, was evacuated to Wales during the Second World War but left 70 years ago,” reports The Daily Telegraph. “During his time there he was surrounded by Welsh speakers but never learned the language himself. … Morgan recently suffered a severe stroke, but when he regained consciousness three weeks later, doctors discovered he was speaking Welsh and could not remember any English. It is thought that the Welsh that Morgan heard as a boy had sunk in without him knowing and was unlocked after he suffered the stroke. … Doctors diagnosed Morgan with aphasia … which causes a shift in the brain’s language centre.” He is now trying to regain his fluency in English.

Taking a micro-break?

“Scientists have shown that the average person blinks 15 to 20 times per minute,” says The Huffington Post. “That’s up to 1,200 times per hour and a whopping 28,800 times in a day – much more often than we need to keep our eyeballs lubricated. In fact, we spend about 10 per cent of our waking hours with our eyes closed. So why do we blink so much? New research from Japan’s Osaka University found that blinking may serve as a form of momentary rest for the brain, giving the mind a chance to wander and ‘go offline.’ These brief breaks may last just a split second, or even a few seconds.”

Thought du jour

If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.

George Carlin, American comedian and author (1937-2008)

 

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