Archive for January, 2011

So if you read boingboing, this week you saw the special feature on Everybody Loves Cephalopods, which includes a great video on cephalopod neurobiology and behavior. If you didn’t catch it, you can enjoy it now!

What follows:
1. Cephalopods are awesome.
2. My last post was on mollusks inspiring art.
3. This week I also came across this video of an octopus coming out of a beer bottle:

The culmination of all of this stuff? This print I just found by artist Sally Harless, whose internet home is sadlyharmless.

You can buy a print from her etsy store! I came across this because she has another print of a scarf being knit by two narwhals acting as the needles. She has yet another print of musk oxen, yet another of my favorite animals, so I might just need a tryptic of her work in my apartment…

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I recently watched two documentaries (available instantly on Netflix) that got me thinking. One was called A Man Named Pearl, about an extraordinary topiary artist named Pearl Fryar, who lives in Bishopville, SC. The other was a documentary about paper folding/origami called Between the Folds.

A Man Named Pearl was interesting mostly because his topiaries are stunning and he himself is quite the dude. I got a bit annoyed with the movie for the same reason I gave up on the Ken Burns National Parks series despite my intense love for the National Parks system– it was weighed down with unnecessary religiosity. That said, it’s still a movie worth watching, and not just for the topiaries, because it also has some interesting commentary on race and class in the South.

Between the Folds was just fascinating, hands down. I liked how the film profiles people with different approaches to paper folding, from craftspeople to technicians to anarchists. I suppose most artforms can accomodate all those types. What I also hadn’t really ever thought about is how origami is a transformative art– there’s no adding of media (as there is in, say, painting), nor is there subtracting of media (e.g. some kinds of sculpture). That kind of constraint is really intriguing to me. One of my other favorite artforms, glassblowing, is similar in that regard, though not as rigid since adding and subtracting does happen. Thinking back to Pearl’s topiary, he’s got this incredible task of subtracting, transforming (by training branches, etc) and anticipating the addition that happens naturally and ever so gradually.

Fiber arts, my media of choice, also has that quality of transformation. Where paper folding is taking something two dimensional and giving it a third dimension, knitting and related crafts take something essentially one dimensional and transform it into higher dimensions. Cool stuff. It’s no coincidence that I’m a math geek and a knitting/crocheting enthusiast.

So what does this have to do with mollusks? Well, part of why I love mollusks is that people are so inspired by them, including both topiary artists and paper folders. I’m sorely tempted to attempt a wee topiary of my own, like so:

But there are some great topiaries to be seen: check these out!

And origami! Just check out the underside of this octopus!

Octopus (hunting) take 5
(photo: josephwuorigami)

Mollusks lend themselves wonderfully to paper folding, especially shells and snails.

There’s a bonanza of clickage in this post. If you missed the origami squid attacking the old timey ship, I urge you to retrace your steps!

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I’m back from Boston and recovering from the madness that is Mystery Hunt, but I wanted to make sure you know that you should submit to Circus of the Spineless! I promise I’ll share your posts even if they’re not about mollusks. Email submissions to shellandmantleATgmailDOTcom.

I’m working on a post inspired by a couple of documentaries I watched recently, so here’s a teaser…

Origami Snail
(photo: carlo_mastrogiacomo)

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A quick post before I head off to Boston tomorrow for the Mystery Hunt. If you’re unfamiliar with this nerdly ritual, you can read up on wiki or listen to the episode of This American Life that featured Hunt. Then you should delve the archives and solve some puzzles! I wish I knew any puzzles that had anything to do with mollusks off the top of my head, but I don’t.

Back to research: I love the journal PLoS One, mostly just because I have access to the articles without having to borrow someone else’s university access. There have been a couple of cool mollusk ones recently.

* How invasive species, including mollusks, affected the mass extinction in the Late Devonian. I had never thought about invasive species before humans came along facilitate those invasions, so this was an eye opener for me.

* How some burrowing clams that live in the Antarctic region may respond to ocean acidification. Indeed, a more acidic ocean stresses them, but there’s some evidence for a mechanism that will allow them to adapt to future conditions.

And of course, a lollusk:

see more Lolcats and funny pictures

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Baltimore’s aquarium was great, but what’s a vacation without two aquarium trips? The New England Aquarium has long been one of my favorites, because of the huge central tank with all the cool stuff in it, including three different species of sea turtles. Also, there are harbor seals you can see from outside that spend a lot of time in this blorpy iceburg pose:

Harbor Seal
(photo: atrphoto)

And, of course, there are PENGUINS. This was the big draw when I was a kid, as penguins were my absolute favorite animal back then. They have three different penguin enclosures with three different species, and one of the enclosures has a fish-shaped flashlight that allows you to play with the penguins in a manner not unlike cat and laser pointer. My husband and I were thrilled to see the little blue penguins, the world’s smallest penguin species. We were happy to see them in particular because before this our only encounter with this species of penguin had been in New Zealand, where a dead one floated by our sea kayak. Let the healing begin.

I couldn’t find a video of penguins chasing the light at the aquarium, but it’s like this, but in the water. So cute.

I have to say, the New England Aquarium certainly does give some invertebrate love. They had another Pacific Giant Octopus, the biggest nautilus I’ve ever seen, amazing corals, crustaceans, anemones, urchins, sea stars, sea cucumbers and the like, and a first for me– cuttlefish!
These are common cuttlefish and were just adorably hovering in their dark little tank.

All of these recent cephalopod encounters made me realize I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live squid before. How to rectify?

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I’m back from epic holiday travels, where I spent some amount of time in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. I drove through five of those states on the same day, in fact.

I was so fortunate during this time to visit two aquariums! I have been to both before, but I hadn’t been to the National Aquarium in Baltimore since I was but a wee lass, and I visited the New England Aquarium several times in childhood and again as an undergrad.

First up was the National Aquarium. I love that it has this big awesome tank with rays and sharks and a three-legged sea turtle hanging out in it. Very mesmerizing. As for mollusks, they had a young-ish Pacific Giant Octopus and many an unlabeled snail-type creature. I was rather pleased with myself that I correctly identified the octopus as “rather small” when the explainer standing by told me it was indeed a young ‘un. There were also chambered nautiluses hovering ominously.

The most alarming and new-to-me thing I saw there was the sea robin. Sea robins have these spines that have separated from the pectoral fins to become creepy leg-like appendages. It was…Das Unheimliche. Watch the video, if you dare.

The other cool invertebrate thing at the National Aquarium was the jellyfish exhibit. I’ve seen jellyfish exhibits before, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and at the aquarium in the Mall of America (yes I went to the Mall of America; no judging), but I think this is the first time I’ve seen Upside Down Jellyfish. They are a lot of fun to watch, somehow.

Next up, my adventures at the New England Aquarium!

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