Friday, July 6, 2012

Till We Have Faces

The title of this post is an allusion to a book by C.S. Lewis whose title popped into my head as I watched this video at New Scientist. It's a brief but fascinating time-lapse based on human embryo scans captured between 1 and 3 months after conception as the embryo's face develops. The article tells us that:
A close look at the animation reveals that a face forms from three main features that rotate into place, meeting at the philtrum, the groove above the top lip. The transformation occurs with very precise timing and delays can result in a cleft lip or palate.
Doubtless, however, mutations occurring at precisely the right time and selected for by natural selection can explain how it all turned out swimmingly for human embryos so that cleft palates became the exception rather than the norm:

Panama Trip

I just returned from a week in Panama viewing birdlife and other natural beauties of the country with a couple of friends. We stayed for several days in a B&B in a lovely town named Gamboa which was built by the Panama Canal Company for its workers during the construction of the canal and is located just a mile or so from the prison which houses the erstwhile dictator Manuel Noriega.

Many of the birds and butterflies we saw there were simply spectacular, and I thought I'd share a couple of them with you. The photos were taken from the web except the hummingbird pic which was snapped by one of my companions on the trip.

The first photo is of the Ocellated antbird. It's a forest dweller that follows swarms of army ants and feeds on the insects the ants stir up. The blue patch around the eye (the ocellation) is bare skin:

The next photo is of a Spectacled owl which was perched on a branch only a few feet above our heads. We didn't see it until we were walking away and someone turned around and spotted it.

The Blue cotinga is known for its strikingly metallic blue plumage. We observed this bird from a thirty two meter high tower that allowed us to survey the forest canopy from above:

The Crimson-backed tanager was common in leafy residential neighborhoods. It's beak is a bright silver color:

Another favorite of the group was the stunning Violet-crowned wood nymph, a type of hummingbird found at feeders in forested regions:

For weirdness its hard to beat the Common potoo, a nocturnal bird that roosts during the day on trees which it mimics almost perfectly:
There were so many other beautiful birds, insects, and trees, that I can't show pictures of all of them, but here's one of dozens of the stunning butterflies we saw everywhere in the forest. It's called a Blue morpho:

The heat and humidity, especially in the lowlands in the canal zone, were, well, tropical, but seeing such gorgeous creatures made it easy to put the discomfort out of one's mind.