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Friday, August 10, 2018

Friday links

The Inventor Of The Phone Was Obsessed With Sheep Nipples.

Predicting weather with bug sex.

Amish man starts Uber-esque horse and buggy ride-sharing. 

The story of the 1776 plot (from within) to murder George Washington and his senior officers.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include Milton Friedman's birthday, Beatrix Potter's botanical drawings, how to become a fossil after you die, and, from 1380, the onion test for determining whether someone is or is not dead (with bonus Monty Python).

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Herd Reich? Brit farmer turned Nazi super cows into sausage because they were too agressive

Hitler’s drive to produce the perfect Aryan race was not confined to people – it also extended to a specially bred herd of Nazi-engineered cows, which have turned out to be so aggressive that a UK farmer has been forced to turn half of them into sausages.

Heck cattle was bred by Nazis as
propaganda tools. Màrtainn MacDhòmhnaill
Derek Gow imported more than a dozen Heck super cows to his West Devon farm in 2009, nearly a century after they were first created in the 1920s.

But, Farmer Gow, who is the only British farmer to own the breed, has been forced to kill seven of his herd because the cows were so aggressive they repeatedly tried to kill his staff.

“We have had to cut our herd down to six because some of them were incredibly aggressive and we just couldn’t handle them,” said Farmer Gow, who said the meat made “very tasty” sausages that tasted a bit like venison.

“The ones we had to get rid of would just attack you any chance they could. They would try to kill anyone. Dealing with that was not fun at all. They are by far and away the most aggressive animals I have ever worked with,” he said.

Comparison of the reconstructed appearance
 of the aurochs (top) with average Heck cattle (bottom)
The aggressive breed was produced by German zoologists and brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck, whom the Nazi party commissioned to produce a breed of cattle based on aurochs, a species of extinct ancient wild bull.

The resulting cows, made from wild genes extracted from domestic descendants of the aurochs, had such muscular physiques and deadly horns that they were used in propaganda material during World War II as a further illustration of the Third Reich’s strength and purity.

“There was a thinking around at the time that you could selectively breed animals for Aryan characteristics, which were rooted in runes, folklore and legend. What the Germans did with their breeding programme was create something truly primeval,” said Mr Gow.

“The reason the Nazis were so supportive of the project is they wanted them to be fierce and aggressive. When the Germans were selecting them to create this animal they used Spanish fighting cattle to give them the shape and ferocity they wanted.” Fresians and Simmentals were also part of the breeding process.

Aurochs, or Bos primigenius, died out in 1627 in Poland. 
The aurochs were a species of wild bull that had once roamed the forests of Europe but were hunted to extinction in the 17th century. The brothers' imitation was slightly shorter than the original, but retained the muscular body, deep brown complexion and shaggy, coffee-coloured fringe.

The cattle were mostly destroyed after the fall of Nazism in 1945, although some have survived in European nature conservation parks.

Although many of Farmer Gow’s herd were aggressive, others were calm and quiet, he said, adding that he has no regrets.

A painting by Heinrich Harder showing an
aurochs fighting off a Eurasian Wolf pack
“Since they have gone it is all peaceful again. Peace reigns supreme on the farm. Despite these problems, I have no regrets at all. It has been a good thing to do and the history of them is fascinating,” he said.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Predicting weather with bug sex

In this scientific study, the authors examined how the weather—or, more specifically, atmospheric pressure changes – affects the sexual behavior of insect species, specifically the curcurbit beetle, the armyworm moth, and the potato aphid. They found that any change in the atmospheric pressure caused the bugs to be less frisky, likely to protect themselves in situations involving high winds and heavy rains.

Potato aphids were less interested in mating
 when pressure changes heralded a storm.
When they measured the male beetles’ response to female sex pheromones under the different conditions, they found a significant decrease in pheromone response when air pressure fell compared to stable or increasing pressure.

Furthermore, 63 percent of males started copulating faster in the presence of females during dropping atmospheric pressure, a condition associated with high rains and winds. By contrast, under stable or rising air pressure conditions, all males showed full courtship behavior.

Additionally, the amount that female armyworm moths and potato aphids showed mate-attracting behavior was also measured under the three atmospheric conditions.

The female armyworms’ calling was reduced during decreasing air pressure, but the potato aphid showed reduced calling during both decreasing and increasing air pressure, two conditions that can occur with high winds. In both cases, reduced calling went hand-in-hand with reduced mating behavior.

Generic bug sex picture
“The results presented show that three very different insect species all modify aspects of their sexual behavior in response to changing barometric pressure,” explained co-author Dr José Maurício Simões Bento from the University of São Paulo.

“However, there is a great deal of interspecific variability in their responses that can be related to differences in size, flight ability and the periodicity of mating.”

More at Nature and Discover, and here's the full study: Weather Forecasting by Insects: Modified Sexual Behaviour in Response to Atmospheric Pressure Changes