May 2010

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Two years ago while I was on sabbatical I had the great good fortune of working with the incredibly talented and ultra super nice Troy Cummings. Troy colored the cover of Optical Allusions and his vision for the colors turned the cover into an eye-popping, eye-catching piece of eye-candy (eye book, eye puns, get it?). Anywho, Troy is a magnificent illustrator and his new book The Eensy Weensy Spider Freaks Out (Big Time) is now available in fine bookstore near you or online. This one has it all: an arthropod star (sweet), a fun twist on a familiar on song and pictures that make you go homina homina homina. You really should buy it and if that doesn’t convince you, here is a Youtube trailer. Plus, he has small kids to feed, so y’know, think of the children!

You would think that in the two weeks after final exams that I would be blogging my brains out, right? The problem is that writing a blog entry is so much more appealing when you are faced with alternatives like grading papers and writing test. But when the grades are in, the students are graduated and there are no more classes to teach that means there is time to deal with all of the fires and projects I have been putting off. In the last few weeks I have drawn several logos, gifts, a honey label and two T-shirts designs. There have also been soccer games, elementary school band concerts, rehearsals and filming (more about that at the end of the summer). I am also wrapping up a paper to submit for publication, finishing a glossary for the evolution book and working on the art for Age of Elytra.  In a word, the last two weeks have been AWESOME! Here is a recent image of quiet reflection from Age of Elytra. It seems quite apropos.

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You know things are bad when I am fall behind posting a strip that has been done for over ten years. We are in the throes of final exams. In fact, I am posting this while proctoring my final in Sensory Biology. All other finals are graded and I only have three more final papers to grade, so the end is in sight. But since it has been so long, here are three (count ‘em three) strips for today. In these are begin taking more cheap shots at the grim & gritty, hard-boiled look-kids-comics-are-serious comics of the 1990s. How on earth did Jack Kirby write decent stories without showing a periodic beheading or gruesome vivisection? It’s a mystery. The final strip is my commentary of the strained formula used by writers to bring heroes together for a team-up/fight.

CB_strip_022CB_strip_023_024

Beautiful sounds like the rhapsodic strings in an orchestra or the melody of a song bird can be stunning. Not surprisingly, several comic characters take this metaphor and make it reality (as real as comics can be, that is). The crime fighter Black Canary can produce a cry from her super vocal chords that can break things, knock people out and, as an absolute last resort, put the kibosh on them completely. Fellow good guy and physician Dr. Mid-Nite has determined that Black Canary’s cry reaches into the ultrasonic range. This, according to him, is what spells lights out for the bad guys. From this diagnosis we can derive only one, inescapable conclusion: Dr. Mid-Nite is a quack.

BC finalBlack Canary (c) DC Comics

Humans can’t hear ultrasound and as a consequence shouldn’t be affected by it. Imagine how awful it would be if we were. Every summer barbeque would have to wrap up at dusk so that the intense ultrasonic cries of echolocating bats didn’t make us pass-out on our sizzling grills and impale ourselves on our croquet wickets. No, it is clear that the good doctor got it wrong. Fortunately, scientists in this dimension have identified a few critters that can incapacitate (and kill) with sound. Enter the snapping shrimp.

snapping shrimpSnapping shrimp. Note the big right claw. Figure from Versluis, et al. (2000) Science 289, 2114

The snapping shrimp is about the size of half a hot dog and it has one claw that is much bigger than the other (see image above). When the snapping shrimp leaps into battle it puts the hurt on its foes by snapping it’s big claw ridiculously fast. As the claw closes during a snap, it shoots out a jet of water. No big deal, right? Every kid at the pool can do that. But this jet of water moves faster than the surrounding water can rush in to replace it and a bubble of air stretches out in its wake. But the gas in this bubble (called a cavitation bubble) is extremely thin and it rapidly collapses under the pressure of the surrounding water. When this happens, the collapsing water produces a high-pressure sonic pulse that can stun or even kill a small fish within 4 cm.

snapping shrimp 2

Time lapse of cavitation bubble formation and change in sound pressure. Figure from Versluis, et al. (2000) Science 289, 2114

During time lapse footage of  the snapping shrimp closing its claw you can see the formation of the cavitation bubble (a couple of frames after the frame labeled 2 in the figure above) and it’s collapse (the frame labeled 3). The graph on the left shows the peak in sound pressure that corresponds with the collapse at 3. In other words: Ka-Pow! The sound created by the snapping shrimp is audible and a reef with a lot of snapping shrimp can sound like the shootout at the O.K. Corral. This might explain the snapping shrimp’s other moniker: the pistol shrimp. Hmmm. One animal, two names. Kinda sounds like a secret identity. I can see the comic book tag line now:

The Stunning Pistol Shrimp, Stopping Crime is Snap!

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Versluis, M, Schmitz, B,  von der Heydt, A and Lohse, D (2000) How Snapping Shrimp Snap: Through Cavitating Bubbles. Science 289, 2114