The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges | Quanta Magazine

(Picture from Quanta Magazine. Credit – Vaishakh Manohar.)

via The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges | Quanta Magazine

I first learned about how ants work in a cooperative manner in a book that my daughter had bought me for Christmas. The book was all about trails.  (She had figured out the perfect book for my interests!)   There is a chapter in this book about how trails historically came into being, and how these have, over time, led to our modern day system of roads, railroad tracks, and other connections for human travel.

Trails have existed for ages. The concept is not the creation of humans.  Animals of different kinds, using different skills, and for different purposes, have created trails.   There was, and still is, no real planning involved (the way humans would define it) in the creation of animal trails. It is all tied to their inbuilt instinct to survive and exist.

Ants have been creating trails for a long time.  The notable thing about the behavior of ants is that in spite of the fact that they do not have any significant level of individual intelligence, they show a great deal of collective or cooperative intelligence that lets them be effective in complex tasks.  (They do not even depend on the presence of an occasional “smart” ant that can serve as a leader.)  The book describes how their processes work for creating very efficient trails.  (There is even a kind of ant that is blind that is still very effective at this.)  Humans are now trying to understand if any of these processes are useful for our own existence.

Anyway, the article I have linked to is fascinating.  Make sure to watch the videos!

Galápagos

The visit to Galápagos Islands and the rest of Ecuador was a great experience overall, but it did not go off too well from a perspective of my ability to take pictures during the trip.  My DSLR camera which had been showing signs of some mechanical distress (a problem exacerbated by software in the device that I think could have been better designed to compensate for the situation)  finally gave up the ghost on the islands.  Fortunately, we had bought a point-and-shoot camera with an extended zoom as a backup.  I had to quickly learn how to use it properly.  This plan worked decently for a couple of days until I found out the deficiencies of the new camera.  It was chewing up battery power at an unimaginable rate whenever I tried to use its zoom capability!   You would think that the fact that the camera used standard AA batteries would be a plus in this situation, but the problem was that we were traveling in areas where availability of such batteries was limited.  Indeed, the only batteries I was able to find in some of the places were of dubious quality, some with a local brand name,  and some others with a date of expiry that had long passed.  I did try out some of these batteries and they failed in the camera within no time.  My last line of defense was the camera on the smart phone, a device that produced pictures of marginal quality.  Anyway, I managed to get some pictures during the trip using both the smart phone and the point-and-shoot camera, the latter in a somewhat more judicious manner than I would have done otherwise.

Galápagos is an amazing place!  The government of Ecuador has shown great foresight in establishing more than 90 percent of the land on the over hundred and twenty islands (of which only five are inhabited) as an ecological preserve.  They have taken significant steps to make sure that the flora and fauna are not contaminated from the mainland these days.  Although the ecology of these volcanic islands has developed in isolation for thousands of years producing unique species of flora and fauna (a circumstance that allowed Darwin to work on the theory of natural selection), the coming of man in recent years had begun to contaminate and change the place.  Indeed, some of the islands have changed significantly because of human habitation (including the effects of cultivation and meat consumption, and the impact of the non-native flora and fauna that have been introduced on purpose or inadvertently), but amazingly there still are places you can see nature in its purest form, places where the birds and the animals are still not afraid of the humans.  Visits to such places are managed carefully with a goal of preserving the local flora and fauna and their ecosystems.  Where indigenous animal and bird populations have been depleted because of human encroachments, there are attempts at recovery.  The giant tortoises of the Galapagos are making a comeback with help from the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island.  There are regular attempts to eradicate the rats and other pests that have been introduced on some of the islands, pests that are killing off the local species slowly.  Some local species have disappeared completely over the years but there is still hope for many others.

Here are just a few of the pictures I took during during our visit.  (More will be posted in a regular photo gallery elsewhere.)

We stayed at the Finch Bay Resort near the main town of Puerta Ayora on Santa Cruz Island for three nights.

 

We visited a few places on the island to see the local flora and fauna.

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A Sea Lion on a beach
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A Marine Iguana
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Close to a Marine Iguana
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Baby Galápagos Giant Tortoises being raised in the Charles Darwin Research Station
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Sally Lightfoot Crabs next to the sea
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Flamingos in a lagoon near the sea

We took a boat ride to North Seymour Island to see the birds and the animals that even to this day have not developed a fear of human beings. Here are some pictures.

The pictures below are of frigatebirds nesting.DSC00375DSC00329DSC00330DSC00334

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Immature Great Frigatebird

Here are some frigatebirds in action.

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A courting male Magnificent Frigatebird
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Feeding its young one

Other creatures on the island.

A blue-footed boobie
Blue-footed Booby
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A Land Iguana
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Closeup of a Land Iguana

Could Genetic Engineering Save the Galápagos? – Scientific American

This is a fascinating article that is worth a read in spite of its length.  We are going to be visiting a couple of the islands later this week.  It is good for us to know more about the circumstances of the places we are visiting.

“Three years before Darwin’s arrival, a zoo’s worth of invasive species had become entrenched on Floreana. It is no accident that in the scientific literature, the earliest date for many invasive species is 1832. That’s when General José de Villamil, the first governor of the Galápagos Islands, arrived on Floreana to organize the penal colony. As Cruz—farmer, amateur historian, sometime bus driver and the largest landowner on Floreana—puts it, “He brought everything—goats, donkeys, cows, mules, horses, dogs, pigs, rats, everything.” Similar animal importations occurred on other islands in the Galápagos during the 19th century, with devastating consequences on the local flora and fauna. Villamil brought the mules and donkeys to haul tortoises down from the highlands. At the time of his visit, Darwin reported that a previous ship visiting Floreana had loaded up on 200 tortoises in a single day (other ships reportedly collected as many as 700 apiece, according to Darwin).”

“Humans don’t get a waiver from these waves of invasion, and their impact is increasing, too. In 1984 only 6,000 people total lived on five of the 129 islands and islets; more than 30,000 do today. And tourists? Three decades ago there were 20,000 a year; in 2016 there were 218,000. Just as more people began to come to the Galápagos to marvel at the local biodiversity, that biodiversity became increasingly threatened by the invasive species.”Credit: Mapping Specialists

via Could Genetic Engineering Save the Galápagos? – Scientific American

I wrote a blog in the past about CRISPR, and the ethical questions the use of this technology is going to bring up.

Humans May Be Influencing Bird Evolution in Their Backyards – Scientific American

“If that part of the story is true, it tells us that humans have actually been the selective agents, which [have] caused this evolutionary change in great tits.”

via Humans May Be Influencing Bird Evolution in Their Backyards – Scientific American

It is interesting to be able to observe changes like this happening even during human lifetimes, and to be able to understand the reasoning and the science behind these changes.

In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium | Quanta Magazine

Fascinating area of study that can help us understand how human interactions evolve, and can even be used to try to explain how societies, or even entire species, can progress to certain states of “equilibrium”, or not….

via In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium | Quanta Magazine

The South Hills Crossbill Is Evolving in a Seriously Bizarre Way | WIRED

; Science; Date of Publication: 09.29.16. 09.29.16; Time of Publication: 7:00 am. 7:00 am

Source: The South Hills Crossbill Is Evolving in a Seriously Bizarre Way | WIRED

My opinion:
As I have said in the past, we very often tend to look at the world in terms of absolutes.  There are many reasons, sometimes legitimate, for doing this, but absolutes usually do not represent reality.
Kuriacose

Observing Evolution in Action

I found the the following article in the Washington Post fascinating.  These scientists working in the Galapagos have been able to observe the progress of evolution even during their own lifetimes.  Not only that, they have been able to associate the evolutionary change to the DNA that is responsible for it.  Darwin had to do his work without the benefit of the tools of genetic engineering.

http://wpo.st/IK8X1