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Two owlets, one iphone

August 16, 2010

[mp3 here if the player above doesn’t play]

Recorded the night of August 12th, as I stepped out back to catch what I could of the Perseids. Yes, six-and-one-half minutes of plaintive, hungry wails from two baby barred owls, though certainly fledged as one flew in from a more distant tree to be closer to it’s sibling while I was recording.

And yes, though these critters were cloaked in night’s inky fold, I am absolutely sure that they are as cute as all flipping heck.

Representative cuteness via flickr user Minette Layne

Circus of the Spineless

August 2, 2010

That monthly feast of invertebration known as Circus of the Spineless has been served Augustly over at Birder’s Lounge. And what a meal it is, if you like picking exoskeleton out from between your teeth. I’ve even contributed the After-Hours Night-Cap to the menu, though IDs, apparently, will be checked.

Delicious meal, Chez Amber!

Next month, September, will have the circus rolling into town at . . . hold on, lemme check the schedule . . . omg! Right here! Yep, I’m hosting!

I’ve got a distinct feeling the hectocotyli CotS’ll be less a 3-ring-big-top, and more carny-trailer-funhouse. But you never know what to expect with those itinerant invertebrates.

So please, if you’re writing about some animal on your blog during the month of August, and that animal doesn’t have a backbone, I wanna know! Send contibutions my way to hectocotyli>gmail or DM on twitter.

Catch you on the midway!

A deep sea squid’s parting money shot to the world

July 18, 2010

Let me preface this story with a brief, humble note to the hard-working field researchers, front-line colonialists of knowledge, impaling the flag of how-the-fuck-does-that-work in the warm, beating heart of an alien world and claiming it for science. You are heroes, all of you. But is it too much to humbly ask for a video? kthxbai!

Deep sea squid is the Greta Garbo of the aphotic, sighted far more in our fevered imaginings than out in society. And though the marine paparazzi have made some high-dollar, front-page encroachments of late, deep sea squid’s day-to-day is still cloaked tight in sunglassed, wide-brimmed, furtive dashes of mystery.

Consider this, then, squid’s Rob Lowe sex-tape moment.

Deep sea boy squid lack (mostly) the subtle and articulate hectocotyli that are used by their shallower-water cousins to deftly deliver spermatophores. Instead (with the exception of Architeuthis dux) they have only the blunt penis, just like us (mostly). Sharing this sex-organ lackiness, deep sea girl squid do not have a special place to receive the spermy gift. Instead the males stick the seed where they can get away with it, in what must be a painful, corrosive process of fertilization.

No cephalopod voyeur has yet witnessed deep sea squid mate. Dead squid have shown deposits of spermatophores injected in myriad of locations on the body, including areas on the female that would seem far from the reach of the male’s mantle-tucked penis. Speculation ran hydraulic, with some researchers wondering whether the squid packed a bit of the cannon-boom to fire sperm packs out at great pressure for the long shots.

Then came a boat of biologists from the Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department on a deep sea research cruise along the Patagonia slope. Finding they had caught a mature male squid Onykia ingens, they quickly placed his alive, though moribund, form on the stainless steel examination table. I’ll let one of the researcher’s describe what followed:

When the mantle of the squid was opened for maturity assessment during processing of the catch onboard, the penis of the squid, which previously had extended only slightly beyond the mantle margin, suddenly started to erect. It became rigid and quickly elongated to 67 cm total length, almost the same length as the whole body of the animal… Immediately after elongation, several spermatophores were ejaculated from the penis tip…

This copulatory adaptation has placed deep-water squid as the record holders in penis length among all mobile animals (more than total body length). Only the impressive trunk-like penises of sessile barnacles described by Darwin (1854) are relatively longer.

Did you catch that? O. ingens‘ diminutive willy burst out with a boner the length of his entire body & came all over the exam table. And, then, presumably, he died smiling.

If other deep sea squid follow this morphology (and, really, why on earth wouldn’t they want to) it may at last answer the question about how those spermatophores end up stuck way over in the far end of the females: a colossal squid cock performing the champ of all reach-arounds.

Mature males of deep-water squid Onykia ingens with cut-open mantles showing non-erect (A) and fully erect (B) penes.

Alexander I. Arkhipkin , and Vladimir V. Laptikhovsky. Observation of penis elongation in Onykia ingens: implications for spermatophore transfer in deep-water squid. Journal Molluscan Studies Advance Access published on June 30, 2010, DOI 10.1093/mollus/eyq019.

Reported in BBC Earth News Super squid sex organ discovered.

Giving blood: one of the many benefits of having a vagina.

July 16, 2010

Have you ever had sex with a man? Even once? Lucky you, you coy fox. Unfortunately your carnal actions have denied the nation from enjoying the gift of that other, more precious, bodily fluid: the blood in your veins.

But you used a condom? Regularly test negative for HIV? Have been in a monogamous relationship for the past 51 years? Sorry. Your intimate proximity to dick has made your blood too potentially tainted for the US to consider accepting a generous donation of your platelets and plasma.

Unless, that is, you have a vagina.

Who says the patriarchy can’t toss the ladies a bone when it wants?

Don't ask, don't tell?

The FDA Advisory Committee on Blood, Safety and Availability met this past June to re-evaluate the lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men (MSM in demographic and craigslist parlance). The AABB, America’s Blood Centers, and American Red Cross asked that it be lifted. Sixteen US senators asked that it be lifted. The former chair of the self-same advisory committee asked that it be lifted.

But the committee pruded out and cock-blocked changing the rules.

Statistical calculations are neutral. Interpretations, not so much. How the FDA is slicing the demographics of risk is not unlike how state legislatures slice the demographics of voting districts. Lump these neighborhoods, remove those, pretty soon you’ve gerrymandered the electorate into a politically expedient geography of choice.

The FDA argues that with the prevalence of undetected HIV among MSM 15 times that of the general population, the burden of risk MSM would put on the nation’s blood supply is too great to justify the benefit. But the filter of what-is-the-sex-of-your-sex-partner is no less a construct than a filter of what-is-your-neighborhood, or what-is-the-color-of-your-skin. Which is to say, expedient, lazy, and scaffolded by bias. As argued in a recent Slate article, using this same slice/dice number-crunch approach would likely put black-skinned individuals’ HIV risk, when compared to white-skinned, at an similar burden to MSM/hetero .

But what should be obvious is that the risk is based on behavior, not sexual preference, certainly not skin color. Sex without a condom, with an prostitute, with partners who themselves engage in high-risk behavior, or even, for women, sex with an MSM: these are all behaviors that, for the straights, result in a reasonable deferral for blood donation for 12 months.

So go vanilla, wait a year, and they’ll take your het blood. Men: touch another man’s penis even once, though, and you can fuck off forever.

And we haven’t even touched on exceptions to the traditional cis gender binary. One day at a time, troublemaker.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of slice-and-dicing before people start to bleed.

Recommended reading:

Galarneau, Charlene. 2010. Blood Donation, Deferral, and Discrimination: FDA Donor Deferral Policy for Men Who Have Sex With Men. The American Journal of Bioethics. 10(2):29-39
DOI: 10.1080/15265160903487619

Your Kink Is Not My Kinky metaphor for dangerous sexual behavior

June 6, 2010

Sucks to be Homo. Homo sapiens that is. Where the irrepressible desire to get one’s rocks off is often just so much fodder for the semiotics of othering.

Take the undeniable hotness of receiving couch cunnilingus from a four-foot fuzzed arachnid. No? Doesn’t do it for you?

A South American arachnid?

Ok. If like your arthropod sex a bit more vanilla, how about drilling a queen-sized scorpion missionary-prone on the rumpled sheets of the double-wide?

Oh, orgasm! Where is thy sting?

These posters were created as part of a 2004 French AIDS awareness campaign, and they’ve gotten a fair bit of play around the smutty & shocked-by-the-smutty webs since. I’ve gotta admit they are sort of hot, if fairly hetero-normative in imagination. But they’re also kind of a one-joke pony (no, I will not be exploring pony sex any further).

The meaning is immediate, once you realize the AIDS campaign context: Danger! & perhaps more subtly (against taxonomy) Bugs=Disease! And perhaps deconstructing this dead horse way too far (again with the horses!), Didn’t the HIV mutation make the jump due to inter-species copulation?

But I think what’s totally fascinating is how the ads leverage the implicit judgement against outlier sexuality. Ok, maybe I’m overstating it — after all an AIDS awareness campaign has a presumed goal of making sure fewer people die, which is A Good Thing. But the epidemiological education here is so muddled & fine-printed as to be almost meaningless. We know how to prevent HIV transmission, and it’s not by not having sex (yeah yeah, celibacy would significantly reduce risk, but get real) but by not having unprotected sex.

Note the dominant cultural context: Caucasian, wealthy, heterosexual. This is not a fluke. Ad execs get paid buckets to leave no subtleties of marketing demographics to chance, and this demographic is pretty damn low on the AIDS risk-table. So did they think “How do we get ’em to use condoms?” or did they think “How do we get ’em to make sure they only have sex with other low-risk, wealthy, heterosexual caucasians?”

Come to think of it, these actually are starting to creep me out. Maybe if you’re going to design zoophilic posters for an AIDS awareness campaign you should just leave the Homo sapiens out.

Definitely don't have sex with this rabbit.

Not all tentacle beasts are rapists

May 28, 2010

It doesn’t take an especially fertile mind to make the leap from tentacle to tapper-of-orifices. It’s kind of a tired trope, actually. Long, supple, articulating… *yawn*

No. Being shocked, shocked! at tentacle porn is so, oh . . . six-months-after-you’ve-first-heard-of-it. It’s time to move it to the next level, my sophisticated muffins. Time to move the next level into you:

If I have one rule in blogging life it is this: put nothing below the fold.

Here, looking as if they’ve been severed from the trumpeting trunk of the Octophant, are three brilliant hole-stuffers.

Need I say that I thoroughly approve? Thoroughly. Because sex with a living octopus is animal torture. But sex with a silicone, besuckered, prehensile, three-sized, three-colored, re-imagined tentacle dildo is the exact opposite of animal torture.

Via my new favorite scary sextoy blog Scary Sextoy Friday by way of a comment from Christy (who once acted as my 3000-mile-away proxy on a cephalopod appreciation investigation and even took video.)

& yes, you can buy them. (Title of this post is taken from the product description. Really.)

The octopus was brandishing the victim like a feather.

May 9, 2010

Four woodcut etchings with original captions from illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville, published in the 1871 première edition of Jules Verne’s Vingt mille lieues sous les mers.

He attacked it with blows from harpoons. (Il l’attaqua à coups de harpon.)

It was a squid of colossal dimensions. (C’était un calmar de dimensions colossales.)

One of his long arms glided through the opening. (Un de ses longs bras se glissa par l’ouverture.)

The octopus was brandishing the victim like a feather. (Le poulpe brandissait la victime comme une plume.)

Gawd, that last is stunning. My French is not sophisticated enough to know if poulpe exclusively means octopus or can apply to squid, as well. Not that it makes a bit of difference to teh awesome.

Also this: non-poulpe but so terrifically captioned that I’ve made it the new subtitle of this blog.

I approached this phenomenal mollusk. (Je m’approchai de ce mollusque phénoménal.)

Go visit The Illustrated Jules Verne where you too can become ensnared by the entire collection of extraordinary etchings which accompanied every single one of Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires. All four-thousand plus of ’em. Let me know if I need to come free you with a hatchet.