People who visit my living room are often struck by the sheer, jungle-like lushness of the vegetation in my 125-gallon aquarium. The tank has such a profusion of plant life that its fish sometimes fight for the clear spaces or disappear for weeks on end in the thickets, living as they would in only the most abundant natural settings. This is a far cry from the aquaria I maintained as a child, when the only plants I could keep alive were the most beginner-friendly, least demanding species, if even then. Perseverance got me to my current skill, and a key part of that perseverance is learning my way around more advanced tools of the aquarist trade. And for someone who takes great joy in aquatic plants, that means carbon dioxide (CO2).
Humans are very, very bad at biological categories. We focus on general shapes and ecotypes and miss the biologically significant details that truly trace the history of life on our planet, and again and again our colloquial terms fall short of the expansive splendor of reality. I’ve written before about how the basic categorization schemes humans use don’t quite capture the way turtles versus tortoises, frogs versus toads, and other dichotomous pairings relate to one another, and today, we dive into a still-deeper morass: what is an antelope?
This seemingly simple question is actually such a mess of corner cases and evolutionary accidents that it not only defies an easy answer, but drags the concept of “deer” down with it. Let’s have a look.
I recently returned from a vacation in French Polynesia. This was my first ever solo vacation and something I planned and anticipated for a long time before I could finally make it happen. It was not my first air travel, nor my first vacation, but the first time I traveled to a far-off place alone with no academic conference, family visit, or other purpose in mind. It was also the farthest from home I have ever been, at nearly double the distance of my previous record. And it was glorious.
It’s the end of an era, and by era I mean a handful of months of trying something new and watching it not quite work. Today, I officially lay my paludarium ambitions to rest for the foreseeable future. It was okay while it lasted, but the test did not yield the desired results and it is over. I am pivoting.
So, what happened?
Folks who pay attention to the Perfumed Void’s Patreon know that, for the Friends of the Void tier on up, I offer a monthly informative video presentation. These are patterned on, or derived from, presentations I give at presentation parties or events like Skepticamps and full of my characteristic wit, thoroughness, and sass.
To celebrate this tier of my Patreon, I am offering one of my most talked-about and sought-after presentations as a free sample on YouTube: Plants Are Fucking Weird. Join me on this tour through plant reproductive biology and how absolutely wild it is when analogized into animal terms.
Unfortunately, due to its title and subject matter, this video is age-restricted on YouTube, so I cannot embed it here. You’ll have to follow this link to enjoy it.
And a visual tease:
Enjoy, and subscribe over at Patreon to see the rest of the series.
Cladograms are a versatile diagramming tool for tracking changing events with heritable consequences. They were developed for biology and are used primarily to track evolution and speciation, showing how different organisms, genes, or populations are related to each other and which events caused them to become distinct. Although cladograms are best known for their increasing prevalence in biological literature, their logic is flexible enough to be used in numerous other fields as well. In particular, linguistics, archaeology, and computer engineering all have roles for cladograms, because all these fields have something in common with biology: an interest in tracking shared past events through future divergence.
This connection to the ideas of past and future gives cladograms another, surprising purpose: they can be used to map the mess of time-travel-related parallel universes in the Dragon Ball franchise.
Spoilers ahoy for the second two-thirds of Dragon Ball Z and the first half of Dragon Ball Super as presented in their anime adaptations.
Evolution is a powerful thing. In the span of generations it turns scuttling reptiles into towering sauropods and soaring birds, and it has made and unmade more living things than humanity will ever know. Understanding the relationships between the lineages of living things is one of the grander ways in which humans understand our place in the infinite assemblage of life, and it also tells us an enormous amount about how everything is related to everything else. For the right ultra-specific kind of nerd, it’s also barrels of fun. Fortunately, we have just such a nerd in attendance.
So I made cladograms for all my pets and plants.
For the past several years, I have known that I had space for exactly one more aquarium in my office and my tank-maintenance routine, bringing the total in my home to three. I have been hemming and hawing about what, exactly, to do with that space ever since. My original hope was to set up a marine system designed for a mantis shrimp, in fulfillment of a childhood dream, but my research into that quest showed it to be far more expensive and challenging than I was prepared to take on, especially as a third system. I ultimately settled on a different childhood dream to pursue: a paludarium. Continue reading “Operation Paludarium”
I’m trying something a little different today. By popular request, I’ve filmed a video going over the contents of my 125-gallon (473-liter) aquarium. Come for the aquarium insight, stay for my clothes, leave knowing more about turtle penises than you ever wanted to know. Have fun!
I made a big decision recently. I replaced my 55-gallon (208 liter) aquarium with a shiny new 125-gallon (473-liter) beast that now defines the layout of my home office. This was no small task, and I offer this series of thoughts as guidance for anyone else attempting a similar upgrade.