Archive for February, 2010

A Spotted Dog Story

February 20th, 2010

It’s interesting how when you travel to the more remote parts of the world, you still see dogs. I remember being stuck in a raging sandstorm on the western fringes of the Sahara some years ago, and there was a recognisable family group of dogs there, whose coats were virtually the same colour as the sand. They were living on the fringes of human society, just as their ancestors would have done – scavenging for whatever food and leftovers they could find.

It’s easy to see how localised breeds would then have developed under these circumstances. There are somewhere around 400 breeds today – some ancient, others modern – and barely half of these are officially recognised for show purposes in the UK, Australia and North America. Many breeds in the world are still largely unknown therefore, outside their area of origin.

When you think about it, what sets dog breeds apart is their physique, rather than their coloration. While there are various breeds such as the Russian black terrier which can be defined by their coloration, there’s only one – the Dalmatian, which is distinguishable by its spotted patterning.

That’s what makes this particular pet dog, photographed on the streets of Kalimpong, a hill station in India’s famous tea-growing district of Darjeeling, West Bengal, so remarkable. It has a very distinctive and unique spotted patterning, but clearly isn’t of any particular breed type.

Spotted dog © Sukantho Debnath

Spotted dog © Sukantho Debnath

There’s no physical resemblance to a Dalmatian evident in its appearance, but perhaps surprisingly, I don’t think the possible influence of this breed can be ruled out entirely. Kalimpong was a town famous for its educational institutions established there during British rule, which began in the 1860s.

It became home to many expatriates, with a particularly strong Scottish representation amongst them. This unusual dog may represent an unexpected legacy from that era. A Dalmatian brought from Britain during colonial rule may well have ended up transferring its spotted patterning into the dog population of the region. This would then explain how such markings could emerge in litters of puppies today.

Deep Sea Fish

February 14th, 2010

Scientists said they are stunned by what was revealed by an expedition which filmed nearly five miles (8km) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

“It’s incredible. These videos vastly exceed all our expectations from this research. We thought the deepest fishes would be motionless, solitary, fragile individuals eking out an existence in a food-sparse environment,” said Professor Monty Priede, director of University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab. “But these fish aren’t loners. The images show groups that are sociable and active – possibly even families – yet living in one of the most extreme environments on Earth”.

“All we’ve seen before of life at this depth have been shriveled specimens in museums,” he added. “Now we have an impression of how they move and what they do. Having seen them moving so fast, the description of snailfish seems a complete misnomer.”

Snailfish as a group are very diverse in their habits, with some being found in rock pools, but the hadal snailfish does not occur above 6,000 meters (19,685 feet). It is actually named after this particular region of the ocean depths where it occurs. The water pressure here is tremendous, being roughly equivalent to 1,600 elephants piled up on top of the roof of a small car. It is also totally dark and very cold, but these snailfish are clearly thriving in this environment. They feed on the myriad of tiny shrimp-like creatures which scavenge on the carcasses of fish and other creatures that have sunk down to these depths.

“We got some absolutely amazing footage from 7,700 meters,” said project leader Dr. Alan Jamieson of the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab. “More fish than we or anyone in the world would ever have thought possible at these depths.

Video courtesy and copyright of the Natural Environment Research Council and University of Aberdeen.