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New Species?

Posted 2009.08.06 18.30 in Pointless Blather

How many new species have come along in the last, say, 10,000 years? Versus the number of species that have gone extinct in the same time period?

I mean, I think it’s sort of somewhat common knowledge that lots of things have gone extinct in the last few millenia – we’ve all heard of wooly mammoths, mastadons, dodo birds, sabre-toothed tigers, elephant birds, and so on and so on.

But how many new species have sprung up in the same timeframe? I don’t mean the genetically modified man-made ones, I mean like in nature?

One of the quirky things is how you define the word Species, of course. My understanding is that for a critter to be a distinct and separate species, it is capable of breeding with its own kind and producing viable (fertile) offspring. So you can tell two critters are not of the same species if either a) they can’t interbreed or b) they can breed but their offspring are themselves incapable of doing the same. (A good example would be Mules – a cross between a horse and a donkey. Aside from a few very rare exceptions, mules are not able to reproduce.)

This poses an interesting dillema though. How does a new species occur, if by (our) definition it cannot successfully mate with any other species? Like, if one animal were to mutate/evolve into something new, that would only work if there were other critters mutating/evolving in exactly the same way and exactly the same time, so that there was a breeding population that was always in sync and able to carry on. And this is actually probably what happens – there’s got to be some time of crossover where the ‘new’ species is still able to interbreed with the ‘old’ version, and during that time we might call them a sub-species or a variant, but not say it’s a truly new and separate species. At least, not till the variant had gotten so far from its original version that the two were no longer compatible.

And I’m babbling again, when really the question is simple. In the last 10,000 years, how many new species have come into being, verus how many species have gone extinct in the same time?

Is the world in a net-gain or net-loss of diversity at the moment?

Muffin? Cupcake?

Posted 2009.03.31 9.21 in Pointless Blather

So I was on my way to work this morning, when I grabbed a coffee and a blueberry muffin.  The muffin was really sweet and yummy, and then it hit me – what’s the difference between a muffin and a cupcake?

They are both similar in shape and size. They both tend to wear little pleated paper skirts. Unless I miss my guess, both can be made in a ‘muffin tray’. And both come from the oven. So what is the determining factor that one is a muffin and the other is a cupcake?

My first thought was that the latter has frosting and the former does not.  But then, I realize that this is probably not a definitive basis for classification.  I am certain that I have seen things advertised as muffins, yet which bear frosting. 

What is it?

What Is It?

So then I think, if it’s not something obvious then maybe it’s something internal, genetic.

Although my understanding of biology is somewhat shaky, I have read somewhere that one determining factor of whether two things are the same species or not, is if they can mate and have viable offspring. So if a muffin and a cupcake can couple and produce an offspring that itself is fertile, that means that muffins and cupcakes are the same thing. Now I’ve never seen a mufcake or a cupfin (that I know of) but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Cupcakes and muffins do not generally associate with each other, due to social pressures. One is a breakfast food and the other is desert. It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys, they aren’t allowed to fraternize with each other.

Now, before I go kidnapping cupcakes and muffins to start some twisted pseudo-scientific cross-breeding programme, I think I will try and explore a few more less-crazy options. I’m thinking, the experts at Get Frosted! may be able to help shed some light on the classification.

In the meantime, I will continue my own daily research. I know they make chocolate muffins… if I can locate a bran cupcake, that may confirm my suspicions.