Search This Blog

Loading...
Loading...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chimpanzee and Human Locomotion

Here is a picture of Bow at rest this morning.


He spends many quiet moments just lounging on his blanket.


Here is a picture of Bow in action. He spends many powerful moments engaged in action outdoors.


Chimpanzees have a different way of moving from humans, a distinct gait and manner of locomotion.


Some scientists believe there is an evolutionary significance to this different mode of locomotion, so they do research about it.



Recently this was brought to my attention, because of that lawsuit which is ongoing in New York about chimpanzee personhood.

Chimpanzee locomotor energetics and the origin of human bipedalism

Is it okay to do research on chimpanzee locomotion? Sure. While it's not my topic of greatest interest, anything is a legitimate subject for study, and you never know when you start out what great new facts will be discovered or what ingenious applications there may be to those facts. For instance, there is one study that suggests common lower back pain problems in humans are related to the fact that their backs may have been "designed" for a different form of locomotion than the one they are currently using.

Persistent lower back pain and its origin in humans

In one of my comments to the earlier post on chimpanzees and personhood, I may have been premature in condemning the type of research performed on the chimpanzees in question. It really may not be all that bad, if they are given the chance to run and play and the energy outlay when they do so is measured by non-invasive means. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon of condemning something we know nothing about, and to the extent that I said anything like that, I would like to retract it. I know nothing about the research being done nor the conditions under which the chimpanzees live, and I do not feel the need to pass judgment on a situation I am ignorant of. The only thing I would add is: if the research is funded by the government, that needs to stop. This is not anything to do with the research, and everything to do with the rights of citizens to decide what to do with their own money.



I myself am a researcher. Many people think that research on ape language abilities in general is useless. Some question the value of my work in particular. That is all  right, though, because I am privately funded, and even if nothing of value is learned from my project, no other person was hurt in the process.

The video embedded below is the introduction to our Project Bow 2006 DVD. This video was made before we had our big language breakthrough with Bow in 2007. But it does show the living and working conditions under which Bow was raised, and it explains the philosophy behind the teaching method used for Project Bow.

video


In the video below you can see a brief clip from the spring of 2006 in which Sword and Bow play chase in a natural setting. Even though she got a head start, he always caught up with her pretty fast, despite his mode of locomotion -- or perhaps because of it!

video


As for Bow's treatment, even though I am more interested in language than locomotion, I have recorded lots of footage of Bow's locomotion as contrasted with that of my daughter.


The video embedded above was shot in December of 2006 on a 100 acre plot of land we were allowed to use. Bow could have gone anywhere, but he chose to stick very close to Sword. In fact, every time she ran off in a different direction, he ran after her to bring her back to within a few feet from me. Watching this video, we can see their vastly different modes of locomotion. But we can also see the attachment and affection between the two.



Some people equate any relationship between a chimpanzee and a human as slavery. Some think that research, no matter what the subject being investigated, is necessarily cruel, They are wrong about that. It does not take an expert to recognize cruelty when it happens or to see kindness when it occurs. How we treat others is quite evident even in the small gestures.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Issues in Speciation

I am beginning to wonder whether the difficulty in finding a simple answer to the identity of the beautiful new flowers in my pasture is not in part due to issues in speciation. At this point, it is clear to me that the new flower, Something Else,  is more closely related to the Prairie Rose than to the Missouri Primrose, due to the number of petals, the thorns and the leaf shape. But that does not mean that it is identical to the Prairie Rose.

The New Flower (Something Else)  When First It Opens

When the new flower first blossoms, it looks like the picture above. But when the Prairie Rose first blossomed on my property, it looked like the picture below.

Wild Roses When First They Bloom

After the Something Else flower has had a chance to spread out its center, it looks like the picture below.
The appearance of the center of the Something Else flower changes after  the first day 
The color seems to deepen with time for the wild roses as their center becomes more defined, too.

Wild roses in the woods with the bloom at its brightest
The most important differences are not the color. My wild roses do come in a pink variety that looks remarkably like the new flower. But notice the following more formal differences: the flowers are smaller than the leaves on the wild rose, but not so with the new flower, and they are smaller than the new flower, and they bloom in clusters, and they are on bigger bushes and they have a different blooming season. The wild roses are almost all withered away, and the new flower is just now at its most beautiful.

The  New Flower When it is More Mature
Compare our new flower, aka Something Else, above, when it has its deepest color, to the wild roses at their peak.

The Wild Roses in the Woods When in Full Bloom
You can see a definite resemblance between the wild roses, aka Prairie Rose, and the new flower, aka Something Else. They are clearly related. But they are not at all the same. Yet so far I have not been able to see any clear listing for this species on the official sites identifying flowers. Sometimes we see Prairie Rose identified with a picture of  what looks like my wild roses. Sometimes it is a picture that looks a little more like Something Else. Could they be some kind of natural hybrid -- an example of imperfect speciation? Take this turtle that I saw just before sunset yesterday.



Looking at this turtle in the harsh light of the setting sun, I was sure it was a box turtle, but a little less certain as to whether it is a three-toed box turtle or an ornate box turtle.


So I consulted my turtle expert, Pam Keyes, for an identification. Here is what she had to say:

This may be a cross between three-toed and ornate. It is a female, middle age range, around 20-25, with some shell damage from predators.

The three-toed box turtle (terrapene carolina triunguis) and the ornate box turtles (terrapene ornata ornata) are two different species. But nobody told them that! So they happily interbreed whenever they meet, species boundaries or no species boundaries. This is the sort of boundary crossing that makes the lines that biologists draw a little less than the absolute truth.

A Common Chimpanzee (pan troglodytes) that I happen to know

We all know the story we have been told about hybrids. A horse is horse. A donkey is a donkey. A mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey, but it cannot reproduce, so it's a dead end, and that's the story of hybrids. But the real story is a lot messier than that. Species break off from one another for many reasons, not the least of which is simply separation by distance. They start to look different when different individual members of particular lines can reproduce only with each other. But if they happen to meet, though there are visible differences, the different groups still can often interbreed. This is what happened when humans and chimpanzees first broke off from each other. They still continued to interbreed whenever they happened to meet.  And it is probably also the case for bonobos (pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (pan troglodytes) if they get the opportunity.



Which brings me to the identification of our problem rose, Something Else. Could it be so closely related to the Prairie Rose that cross pollination can occur? Is it a hybrid? And if so, a hybrid between what and what?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Something Else

When Bow was a very little fellow, and we were still using lexigrams, he had menus for food that would go something like this: "BANANA, GRAPES, APPLE, JUICE, MORE, ENOUGH, LATER, SOMETHING ELSE". We had to include the label "SOMETHING ELSE" because while we were doing language research, we were also just a family, eating whatever foods happened to be available that day. and I could not always print out a new menu every time a new food was introduced. We would verbally tell Bow what the food was called, but if he wanted it at that meal, he would point to "SOMETHING ELSE."

In the stand up menu on the table the top right corner says "SOMETHING ELSE"
משהו אחר

To this very day, if Bow is too lazy to spell out "What is that called?" he will just ask for "something else." It means "that thing that I don't have a name for". Bow remembers the good old days when he used to eat in the kitchen and point at lexigrams. In fact, that's what he misses the most about his childhood outside the pens. It's not our long walks in the woods or the trips in the car that he longs for. He wants to eat in the kitchen. The one time he was out of the pens briefly after his confinement, he headed straight for the kitchen and swiped a muffin.  And when he complained to me early on about being locked up, what he said was: "Let me eat in the kitchen."

Bow looking over the fence on a wet day

These days, Bow is quite resigned to our living arrangement, and when I go on my long walks, he also surveys the property from his perch atop the bench on the outer pens.


Lately, I have been seeing these flowers all over the pasture, and some friends assure me that they are Missouri Primroses. But when I look up Missouri Primroses, they don't look the same. They don't even have the same number of petals. So until I know what they really are, I am going to just call them Something Else.



Now the blossom itself resembles a wild rose or a prairie rose, having pink petals and a yellow center, but it is bigger than the wild rose blossoms that we have all over my property. It can't be a Missouri Primrose because those flowers have four petals and a different center. But it is also not a Prairie Rose, even though the blossom is very similar, the body of the plant is not.



These flowers grow in ones and twos and can be seen all over, and the only time they do not have five petals is when they have been damaged, because something has eaten some of their petals.


There are many insects that like these flowers, and not all of them are pollinators.


The flowers are so pretty now. They seemed to have increased their color saturation in the past twenty-four hours, because they started out pale pink, but now they are bright pink almost to the point of lavender.


Until I know what they are, I am going to stubbornly insist that they are Something Else!


So far, I do not have this problem when I see a rabbit. I do not ask myself what kind of rabbit it is. But I would feel kind of gauche reporting that I saw a flower today, as there are so many obviously different kinds of flowers that I see every day.


I need a good way to distinguish a daisy from ... well, from something else!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Yesterday's Turtle and All of the Turtles of Yesteryear

Yesterday, I spotted another turtle, sunning itself in the newly mown grass just outside the woods.

Turtle spotted 5-24-15
It was very green out that day, as rain was expected and the atmosphere had this emerald glow that comes upon the world just before a storm.


Bow was yawning in the outer pen when I went for my walk. Everything was pretty much routine.

Young male box turtle 5-24-15
The Markings on this turtle are very vivid 
I used to get very excited when I spotted a turtle, but I have seen so many of them here over the years now, that the first question that pops into my mind is: have we met before or is this an entirely new turtle? In order to try to figure out whether it is the same or a different turtle, I examine the patterns on the shell, as well as the coloring on the face. This one is a young male three-toed box turtle, about five to ten years old, according to my turtle expert, Pam Keyes. It did not clam up when it saw me, but instead it decided to go into the woods, so I got some footage of it walking.



The question of whether it is the same or a different individual of a known species is not a trivial one. My friend Arle described in his comment a similar phylogenetic quandary that a young man new to this country had. He asked out a girl for a date, but when he wanted to confirm the date, he could not tell her apart from all the other girls, because all American girls looked the same to him. While I don't think that all box turtles look the same, it is still sometimes hard for me to tell for sure if I've seen one before. And I have seen quite a few now, since I began living here.

Female over fifty spotted May 18, 2015
The female whose picture is linked above was my first turtle spotting of 2015. I think it is easy to see she is not the same as the young male from yesterday, both by the marking on the shells and the absence of the white coloring around the mouth that the male has. And this is even without taking into account size, age or sex. But could she be the mother of yesterday's turtle?


twenty-five year old male three-toed box turtle spotted August 18, 2014


Again, I think we can see it is a different turtle by the markings, and it not just a matter of the age difference to yesterday's turtle. But could this turtle have been the father of yesterday's turtle?

Turtle spotted July 2, 2014
The turtle on the ledge to the rock garden when we got back from our trip to Saint Louis also had a reddish face like the one spotted on August 1, 2014, but was it the same one or a different one? This is where it starts to get really difficult.

Turtle spotted June 23, 2014
The turtle pictured above from June 23, 2014 has a little white marking by its mouth, though not nearly as much as yesterday's turtle. 

Turtle spotted  June 16, 2014
The turtle from June 16, 2014 had markings on its shell that remind me a little of yesterday's turtle.

male fifty year old three-toed box turtle spotted June 1, 2014
The male fifty year old box turtle pictured above looks remarkably similar to the one I spotted on June 23, 2014 on the sidewalk.  

So possibly we have one identical sighting for all these different turtles, and that does not even cover all of 2014. If you want to look at more turtle pictures, follow the link below:


Which is the same and which is different is a  very tricky topic that preoccupies me as a linguist as much as it does as a nature enthusiast. 

Here is the paradigm for one of the reconstructed PIE copulas.


Here is the paradigm for the reconstructed PIE third person demonstrative pronouns.

I want to show that the third person demonstrative pronoun root meaning "this" in the majority of  its oblique cases (genitive, ablative dative and locative)  is related to the root for the copula, meaning "is", since both of them consist of the sequence h1-e-s. But that could be a coincidence, right? Well, if that is a coincidence, how do we know that each of the entries in the same paradigm are related to each other? In other words, do we have to prove that the root of the same word in a different case is related to itself? I have never heard of anyone arguing that before!


If we have to go through hoops proving that two words have the same root when they clearly have the same sequence of phonemes of which the root consists, then what do we have to do to prove that a word is identical to itself? The question is not as trivial as it sounds. Ask any forensics expert! Ask all the people who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime based on DNA evidence.

So I'm still mulling it over and waiting to see if anyone has a shortcut for solving the problem. And meanwhile I am looking at pictures of turtles. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

When the Grass is Mowed

The mowers came again yesterday, as the grass had been getting quite tall again. They hurried to get all done in one day this time, because as usual, we are expecting rain. Bow asked to go outside into the outer pen after they came, but when I opened the door, he gestured for me to come with him. I told him I would come, but I had forgotten to bring my phone to film with, so I went back inside


 Alone in the pen with all that noise from the mowers, Bow looked unsure of himself.


When I came back out with the phone, I was surprised by a sight that I never expected to see: Bow was apologizing to Leo. I was not really ready  -- it was so unexpected, that I not able to get pictures of the entire apology, so this is just the tail end of it.

Leo did not quite know what to make of Bow's apology, but even as the dog walked away, Bow was still trying to make up to him, with friendly faces.

This may look silly, but this is the face Bow makes when he is trying to ingratiate himself with someone

In case you want to refresh your memory as to what Bow's full apologies look like, you can read this post from 2013:

http://notesfromthepens.blogspot.com/2013/01/chimpanzee-apologies.html

Now why would Bow feel he needed to apologize to Leo? What was he apologizing for? You may well ask. He was probably not apologizing for any specific thing, so much as trying to get into Leo's good graces. Bow had wanted me out there for moral support against the mowers. When I left, he felt a little abandoned. Rather than displaying at Leo, the way he usually does, Bow was trying to get Leo to help him against the mowers, in case he needed extra support. He was not saying "I am big and strong and I can beat you up!" as he usually does. He was saying: "If I was mean to you, I am sorry. Now please help me."

Bow's apologies, even when they are to Lawrence or to me, are extremely pragmatic in motivation. He does not really apologize because of heartfelt remorse. He apologizes because he's in trouble, and he is trying to get out of it. That's really not so different from most humans I know.


Even after I was out there and Bow did not need Leo's help, he still was not as aggressive as he usually is toward the dog. His focus was more on the mowers, and he did not seem to be able to decide whether he wanted to court them or warn them. In the video above, the gently rocking up and down dance that Bow initially does on top of the bench is not an aggressive move. He does break into a kind of display afterwards, but it, too, is less aggressive than usual, and you can see that he has no problem with Leo, showing only friendly regard to the dog, while he worries about the "mower problem."

Later, the head mower came in the house, and Bow said hello to him. He has known the man many years and actually seems to like him. He's just not crazy about the machinery that is used to mow the grass and the noise it makes.


When the mower and Bow were communing, I mentioned to him that the next plant about to bloom by the lagoon was the yucca, and I needed the poison ivy cleared away from around it, so I could admire the blossoms. Only just at that moment, I could not remember what the yucca plant was called. So I fumbled around for words to describe it, and here's what came out: "Spiky leaves. Tall tower of flowers. Cactus." Now, I knew that was wrong when it came out of my mouth. A yucca is not at all a cactus. But I needed a fast way to say what I wanted, and I could not think of the right classification: succulent. However, this shorthand, inexact description was good enough for the mower, and he got the job done! It's funny how faulty phylogenetic classification is good enough to communicate with another human being.


Poison  ivy spreads everywhere, and I am allergic to  it, so I have been trying to think of ways to get rid of it that would not harm the other plants. The last time we spoke, the mower said that he had heard of a spray that gets rid of poison ivy. But on further inquiry, he informed me yesterday, that spray would kill everything else, too. "Well, we don't want that," I commented. And he agreed.


In the evening, I enjoyed resuming my favorite walk on the newly mown trail. I got to see flowers that have only just now bloomed on either side of the path.


However, I saw no new wildlife until I got back to the mowed portion of the yard.


I spotted a rabbit from afar. But the rabbit disappeared into the underbrush by the lagoon, and then I heard a sound and saw a deer leap across my fence, and into the neighbors' field. I went toward the fence line to look.


The deer stood there for a while looking at me and twitching its tail, so that I wondered whether it was waiting for a companion to follow. But when no one else came, it went into the woods.


And just as the deer disappeared, I heard some rustling from the underbrush by the lagoon. I thought it was the rabbit coming out again. But no, it was an armadillo!


The armadillo did not seem to be aware at first that I was watching him. He went out to the newly mown grass and started digging at once.


I wanted to get a better look at its face, but when I drew closer it suddenly noticed me and initiated a program of armadillo evasive maneuvers, which are quite different from rabbit evasive maneuvers.
He went straight for the woods and took a very short break there. After taking a short rest among the cypress spurge plants at edge of the woods, he continued on his way in a more or less straight line trajectory -- no zig-zagging for him -- until he hid for a while under the storage building.



The armadillo did not stay there for long, though. Soon  I could see that he had crawled out from under the storage building and was going as fast as he could toward the barn, where he seemed to think he would be able to take shelter. However, no sooner had he gone into the barn than he came out again. I think the kitten scared him away! I watched as he went into the woods by the barn and pursued him no further.




The coming of the mowers causes a temporary disruption in the normal flow of events around here, but that subsides pretty fast. The grass starts to grow again. The wildlife goes back to its usual habits, and so do the rest of us.  This morning, Bow was displaying aggressively at Leo again, and Leo was bounding up in the air and barking at him. Everything is back to normal.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Damselfly and Phylogenetic Relationships

Yesterday I came across a beautiful insect in the grass. At first, I thought it was a dragonfly. But on closer inspection I was not really sure. Something about it was like no other dragonfly I had seen.


I got in as close as I could, and I tried to film it, but it was hard to focus on something so small  for too long.


Later, I posted the photo below and asked my friends on Facebook to tell me what this insect was called. Some thought it was a dragonfly just as I had initially believed. But my friend Arle identified it as a damselfly, a close relative of the dragonfly.



Somebody else asked: "Are damselflies like  mayflies?" I answered that they were quite different, as mayflies are in the order Ephemeropteroida, because they are short-lived, but damselflies, like dragonflies,  are in the Odonata order. Arle agreed, He also noted: "They are about as closely related as I am to a rhinoceros." This was a startlingly vivid way to consider phylogenetic relationships, and I think it's a mental exercise well worth the effort.



Every once in a while, someone I know will exclaim that we cannot be more closely related to Bow than Bow is to a monkey, because Bow "looks like a monkey", and we don't. In fact, Bow does not look any more like a monkey than we do, but there is a psychological effect in place that makes us always view ourselves as unique, and anyone who is different from us as more similar to all the others who are different from us. I don't know what this effect is called, but it should have a name.


 All living things on earth are related. Somewhere in the tree of life, you will find our kinship with the ox-eye daisy.

Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/12/CollapsedtreeLabels-simplified.svg/800px-CollapsedtreeLabels-simplified.svg.png


 But the relationship to the daisy is so very distant, that we might as well not be related at all. On the other hand, the damselfly, the mayfly, the rhinoceros, the chimpanzee and man are all more closely related to each other than each of us is to a daisy. This kinship is formalized by biologists by saying that we all belong to the Kingdom animalia. whereas the daisy belongs to a different Kingdom, Plantae. We're all animals, and the daisy is a plant. So far, so good. Most people can recognize the difference between a plant and an animal, without ever having studied biology.

Can you tell which is the plant and which the animal in this picture?

Most people will also  agree that insects, (Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Anthropoda, Class: Insecta) are more closely related to each other than to any vertebrate (Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum Chordata. Clade: Craniata, Subphylum: Vertebrata). We have an almost instinctive sense of how those differences break down, which is why when I saw the damselfly I knew at once it was an insect. I had no need to look that up. Where it gets trickier is assessing relatedness between and among beings very different from ourselves, and maintaining objectivity regarding beings very similar to ourselves.

So the rhinoceros is classified phylogenetically like this:

DomainEukaryota • RegnumAnimalia • PhylumChordata • SubphylumVertebrata • InfraphylumGnathostomata • SuperclassisTetrapoda • ClassisMammalia • SubclassisTheria • InfraclassisEutheria • OrdoPerissodactyla • SuperfamiliaRhinocerotoidea • FamiliaRhinocerotidae • Genus: Rhinoceros
And my friend Arle is phylogenetically classified like this:

DomainEukaryota • RegnumAnimalia • PhylumChordata • SubphylumVertebrata • InfraphylumGnathostomata • SuperclassisTetrapoda • ClassisMammalia • SubclassisTheria • InfraclassisEutheria • OrdoPrimates • SubordoHaplorrhini • InfraordoSimiiformes • ParvordoCatarrhini • SuperfamiliaHominoidea • FamiliaHominidae • GenusHomo • Species: Homo sapiens 
It's all exactly the same until you get to the order! And the mayfly and the damselfly also share everything until you get down to the order, which is where they diverge. They are both insects and so very different from us, but when you look at it from their perspective, they are about as different as a rhinoceros is from a man.

So much for differences. Now let's compare similarities. The dragonfly and the damselfly share an order, Odonata, but they diverge at the suborder. The dragonfly is from suborder Anisoptera, whereas the damselfly is suborder Zygotoptera.

Family Tree of the Order Primates from Wikipedia


But humans and chimpanzees are much more closely related to each other than the damselfly is to the dragonfly, because we do not simply share an order, Primates, but we also share a family, Hominidae  (Great Apes) and a subfamily, Homininae, and a tribe, Hominini. The only thing we do not share is a genus. So yes, we are different species. But much more closely related than a dragonfly to a damselfly.

Family Tree of Odonaraptera from Wikipedia

Most phylogenetic classification presupposes binary bifurcations as you can see in the trees above. But real life can actually get much more messy. The other day I met a man who told me a long story about how his family tree crossed-over several times, along the lines of the popular song, "I am my own grandpa."  This involved marriage and in-laws, but it can also happen with plain genetic relationships. In reality, after humans and chimpanzees split into two groups, it is also known that they continued to interbreed for a period of time, so they may be even more closely related than a simple phylogenetic bifurcating tree can show.

 If dragonflies and damselflies are less closely related than chimpanzees are to humans, why is it so hard for us to tell the difference between the two, whereas we see the physical difference between humans and chimps so clearly?



I think it's the same reason that we tend to think we look very different from all our family members, but an outsider can spot the family relationship very clearly just by looking at us.  I have had complete strangers tell me I look just like my mother, and my daughter has had the same experience when people compared her to me, but we do not think we look anything alike. The differences are what we notice, not the similarities. To see how closely we resemble chimpanzees, we should ask an outsider, someone very different from us, like the damselfly,  how hard it is to tell us apart.

To a damselfly, humans and chimps probably look the same