Do seahorses validate “queerness”? The naturalistic fallacy committed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust

January 21, 2022 • 11:15 am

Every day I get six or seven links from readers about the infestation of society by performative brands of DEI (i.e., “wokeness”). The links are often distressing and depressing, but I have to tell readers “I’m sorry, but I can’t write about everything!”

But when I am compelled by the laws of physics to write about something is when people try to bend biology to fit their ideological narrative. The most egregious example of this is the claim that there is no such thing as a sexual binary in humans and other animals, which is just wrong. Males have small mobile gametes (that’s the definition), and females big and immobile ones. Just like my Drosophila, about 99.99% of humans are either male or female by this definition. Hermaphrodites or other intermediates are not “other sexes”; they are developmental anomalies. (That’s not a slur on human intermediates; it’s a statement that you get the very rare intermediates only when development slips off the rails that have evolved to ensure a sexual binary.)

These attempts to refer to nature as a way of validating human behavior, morality, or ideology is, of course, an example of the “naturalistic fallacy,” usually described as the fallacy of saying “what’s seen in nature is good in humans.” And it’s a dumb fallacy, because a lot of animals behave in nature in ways that we would consider immoral in our own species. (Chimps, for example, attack other bands of chimps and rip individuals apart while they’re still alive. Some spider females kill and eat males after mating.) We can’t look to nature for morality, because, at bottom, nature is amoral, for animals don’t have the capacity to argue and make considered judgments about how to behave. Often “considerate” behavior towards others is the evolutionary product of reciprocal altruism or kin selection.

So when the Sussex Wildlife Trust tries to use the pregnancy of male seahorses as a justification for “queerness”, as they do below, they’re committing the naturalistic fallacy. The reason we shouldn’t discriminate against non-cis people is because discrimination is wrong and hurtful, not because male seahorses (and, by the way, male pipefish and sea dragons, contra the tweet below) get pregnant. Mallard drakes sometimes kill females during forced copulation, which in humans is the equivalent of rape. Does that make rape okay? You get my point.

Here’s the tweet. The original has been deleted (I wonder why?) but here’s a screenshot of the original:

 

Now a bit of biology before we go on to the associated article.  Seahorses have a fascinating mating and breeding system. They’ve evolved so that the males largely take care of the eggs. (In many species, males do at least half the tending and rearing). In seahorses, pipefish, and sea dragons, this occurs by males sequestering the eggs in their kangeroo-like pouches, fertilizing them there, and sequestering them until hatching.  (This may be a way to increase offspring number by favoring those individuals who protect their reproductive investment by protecting fertilized eggs.)

The important thing is that, in seahorses, sea dragons, and pipefish, the females produce eggs faster than the males can put them in their pouches, so females are always looking around for an “empty” male. Because—unlike in most animals—females are thus competing for males’ attention, and sexual selection is reversed. It’s the opposite of what happens in most other species, in which males compete to fertilize females. This is why, if there is sexual dimorphism in seahorses, it’s the females who are more elaborately decorated and with more secondary sexual characteristics. (See also here.)

Note that the males, while they take care of fertilized eggs and in that sense are pregnant, are still males, as they produce sperm rather than eggs. So you could say that “males get pregnant”, but that’s not the same thing as transsexual men who can sometimes get pregnant, nor does seahorse pregnancy somehow show that transmale pregnancy is “okay” or “moral”. It IS perfectly okay, but not because you find it in some marine species.

I like to show students the video below of a male seahorse giving birth, which looks almost as laborious and painful as labor in human females. This form of reproduction, given the female’s rapid rate of producing eggs, may have evolved to protect eggs and embryos from predation. We just don’t know.

What we do know is that males have a form of pregnancy, but this says nothing one way or the other about transsexual pregnancy in humans. The pregnant seahorses are neither queer nor transsexual, but males, and there’s no morality in the fishes (yes, seahorses, sea dragons, and pipefish are “fish”).

I wouldn’t have written all this if reader Al, who was steamed, sent me this associated link from the Sussex Wildlife Trust news (click on screenshot to read).  Now I’m not going to go after this very hard, as I want to just reiterate the naturalistic fallacy and how it’s used as a justification or valorization of human behavior. And yes, pregnant seahorses do show that animal behavior is diverse and unexpected.  But pregnant male seahorses remain males, and they’re not “queer,” either, as the author seems to imply in her piece.

But the seahorses are used to somehow buttress the insecurity of a woman trying to come out as queer.

A few quotes:

As a keen zoology undergraduate who adored, almost worshipped, Darwin’s theory of evolution, I couldn’t quite come to terms with his theory of sexual selection. It really didn’t add up as I was tentatively stepping out of the queer closet back in 1996. I lived and breathed evolutionary theory but where did I fit in? A deviation? An anomaly? A kink in the genetic spiral of life? So, of course, I started studying the evolution of sex and soon discovered how incredibly diverse and fascinating the plant and animal kingdoms (more like queendoms or even queerdoms) really are in terms of gender and sexuality.

. . . .In the plant world too there is a whole host of queerness to explore. In fact bisexual flowers are described as “perfect”, having both male and female reproductive structures. Examples include roses and lilies but also the horse chestnut, highlighted in a wonderful project by the Queer Botany Society at the Walthamstow Marshes SSSI.

Now, with my work for the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project much of my favourite flagship “queer” marine species are linked directly to our conservation work here on the Sussex Coast. For example bottlenose dolphins who are known to engage in homosexual behaviour and sex for fun, again thought to increase social bonding and cooperation. The black seabream which are all born female and change to male at maturity (known as protogynous hermaphrodites). And finally the incredible seahorse species that in my opinion can claim the throne of the animal drag-kingdom in having the only true reversed pregnancy.

I’m sure Darwin would agree that rather than it all being about nature versus nurture we should focus more on nurturing our true nature, that part of us that is wild and free and far from binary. Wouldn’t it be dull if everything were so very black and white… life and love is in fact gloriously technicolour thanks to evolution’s rainbow.

Now people can find solace where they will, but I think it’s misguided to look to nature to validate a behavior in humans. For every mammalian species that shows homosexual behavior, there are a dozen who don’t.  (Do those show that homosexuality is “unnatural, ergo wrong?” Of course not!) And homosexuality in humans, which often involves attraction solely to members of your own sex, is not at all the same thing as homosexual behavior in dolphins. For when a the male wants offspring, he knows where to go. Should a rapist find validation by studying ducks?

The last sentence of the piece above, referring to “evolution’s rainbow,” is likely a reference to Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow, a book-length attempt to justify human non-cis-ness by looking at animals (Roughgarden is a transsexual female). I reviewed it for the Times Literary Supplement in 2004. My review is no longer online but I have a copy and will send it to those who want to read it. Here’s the last part of my review (it was mixed: I found Roughgarden’s descriptions of behavior being very good but her moral “lessons” untenable). Yet the warning about the naturalistic fallacy is apparently is as relevant today as it was when I wrote this 18 years ago:

But regardless of the truth of Darwin’s theory, should we consult nature to determine which of our behaviours are to be considered normal or moral? Homosexuality may indeed occur in species other than our own, but so do infanticide, robbery and extra-pair copulation.  If the gay cause is somehow boosted by parallels from nature, then so are the causes of child-killers, thieves and adulterers. And given the cultural milieu in which human sexuality and gender are expressed, how closely can we compare ourselves to other species? In what sense does a fish who changes sex resemble a transgendered person? The fish presumably experiences neither distressing feelings about inhabiting the wrong body, nor ostracism by other fish. In some baboons, the only males who show homosexual behaviour are those denied access to females by more dominant males. How can this possibly be equated to human homosexuality?

The step from “natural” to “ethical” is even riskier. As the philosopher G. E. Moore argued, identifying what is good or right by using any natural property is committing the “naturalistic fallacy”: there is no valid way to deduce “ought” from “is”. If no animals showed homosexual behaviour, would discrimination against gay humans be more justified? Certainly not. Roughgarden’s philosophical strategy is as problematic as her biological one.

Roughgarden believes that evolutionary biologists, with their enthusiasm for the “classical” gender roles of the neo-Darwinian theory of sexual selection, are partly responsible for society’s unease with gay and transgendered people. She is wrong. This theory is powerful and largely correct. Yes, there are nuances of behaviour that require special explanation, or that we don’t yet understand. But nobody, least of all Darwin, ever claimed that evolutionary biology is characterized by ironclad laws. Our field is not physics. Nevertheless, some generalizations, such as the pervasive competition of males for females, can be powerful and useful.

Yet in the end, all of this is irrelevant to the gay and transgendered community’s genuine concerns about repressive social attitudes. Rather than wringing her hands about the theories embraced by her biological colleagues, Joan Roughgarden might consider visiting a school board meeting deep in the American Bible Belt. There, ironically, she would find where opposition to a sexually diverse society really thrives, as does opposition to the very theory she is partly lambasting, Darwinism. It is not the intellectuals who are the problem; it’s the anti-intellectuals.

Nature, as varied as it is, can be used to “validate” any human behavior, therefore it can validate NO human behaviors.

True facts about life in the deep ocean

November 20, 2021 • 2:00 pm

ZeFrank appears to have invited himself on a virtual NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) “deep dive” from the Okeanos Explorer, a research ship that has a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that can descend to 6,000 meters. A variety of videos reside on the NOAA website, and I suspect that ZeFrank took the video, with permission, from the site.

The goals of the Ocean Exploration mission are these:

With the mission to explore the ocean for national benefit, NOAA Ocean Exploration is the only U.S. federal organization dedicated to exploring the deep ocean. We are filling gaps in the basic understanding of U.S. deep waters and the seafloor and delivering the ocean information needed to strengthen the economy, health, and security of the United States.

We execute our mission by leading expeditions on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and other research vessels; establishing public, private, and academic partnerships; providing funding and other support for ocean exploration expeditions and technology development, including via a competitive grants program; and guiding and supporting the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute.

The “conversation” you hear is the narration of the original videos combined with voiceover from ZeFrank, creating a “dialogue” between him and the Explorer personnel. Regardless, you’re here for the weird creatures that live in the depths of the ocean.

It’s rough down there, as you’ll see.

 

h/t: Ryan

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 2, 2021 • 8:00 am

Since I noted that this may become a sporadic feature because of a lack of submissions, I’ve gotten many of them. Thanks!

Today we have a new photographer prompted by my plea. Here are photos from Florida by reader Quentin Tuckett. His notes are indented, though I’ve left out the Latin binomials. Click on the photos to enlarge them. Be sure to check out the amazing snack-mimicking caterpillars at the bottom.

Some photos attached (and captions) from my travels in and around Tampa, FL. I am not a photographer, even an amateur one; thus, most of the photographs were taken with various phone cameras. Ultimately, I am sending these along because I enjoy the wildlife photographs and would love to see them continue,

Green tree frog in the morning light:

Some type of skink; perhaps the readers will know. Photographed near Tampa:

Gopher tortoise in Little Manatee State Park; the disturbed earth is due to rooting wild hogs:

Gopher tortoise in the backyard; this species (and its burrow) is protected under Florida law:

Turtle with shell damage, presumably due to a car strike:

Green swordtails captured in Hillsborough County; feral populations exhibit extensive color variation:

Juvenile bowfin; they are really cute when small. Students of comparative zoology will be familiar with this fish:

Blackchin tilapia, a non-native species in Florida. Captured in estuarine waters of Tampa Bay:

Tilapia (probably blue tilapia) bower, the light patches; the tilapia are the dark shapes; many tilapia are moothbrooders so it’s not a nest:

Parakeet, likely escaped from a pet owner; I suspect it didn’t last long due to its bright color and the presence of raptors:

Sandhill crane; these birds are lawn ornaments in my area of Florida:

Turkey in scrub habitat:

Yellow-crowned night heron in a red mangrove along the coast of Tampa Bay:

Three pictures of a snake mimic; we’ll see if the readers can identify it; Hillsborough County, FL:

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 1, 2021 • 8:00 am

I have a queue of photos, so if you haven’t seen yours yet, please be patient. And of course I can always use more.

Today’s photos are by Tony Eales from Queensland. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

I’m headed to the outback next week so with luck I’ll have some cool things to share when I get back. For now I have a grab bag of reasonably recent shots of this and that.

I’ll start with a new mimic for me. This is one of several jewel beetles that mimic the presumably very unpalatable lycid beetles. This is the most widespread species being found in every mainland state of Australia, mainly across the southern half: Castiarina rufipennis.

And is the model, Porrostoma rhipidius. Very common in spring.

These are tiny Monomorium sp. known as Timid Ants. But they’re struggling mightily with this seed.

One of our common species of fish that lives in both brackish and fresh water. Pseudomugil signifer Pacific Blue Eye. They are a popular aquarium fish here and a member of the colourful family of Gondwanan and mostly Sahulian freshwater fish Melanotaeniidae, known commonly as Rainbowfish. Unfortunately, these blue-eyes are being driven out by the imported Gambusia mosquitofish. These Central American fish are livebearing and eat the scattered eggs of rainbowfish like Blue eyes as well as occupying the same niche.

As everyone should know by now, I love spiders. However, I’m also fascinated by the fungi that prey on them. This is probably Gibellula sp.

Finally, an orchid I’ve seen plenty of times in the rainforest near me but never caught flowering before. It is an epiphyte, Plectorrhiza tridentata, the Common Tangle Orchid.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 27, 2021 • 8:00 am

I am still asking for readers to send their photos in, as at most I have a week’s contributions in reserve. Thank you!

Today is Sunday, and that means another batch of themed bird photos from biologist John Avise. I particularly like this week’s theme, which involves two groups of animals. (As you’ll see, John knows his fish as well as he knows his birds.)  His notes and IDs are indented, and you can click on his photos to enlarge them.

Piscivorous Birds with Their Fish

Many birds are piscivorous (fish-eating), so it’s common to see piscivores in action.  Occasionally, I’ve managed to photograph a bird and its piscine prey with sufficient detail to reveal the general type or even the species of fish recently captured (this is often helped by knowing the piscine species that inhabit the body of water where the bird was feeding).  In this batch of photos, I try to identify not only the piscivorous bird but also the type of fish it is about to consume.  The White Tern was photographed in Hawaii;  all other pictures were taken in southern California.

Elegant Tern (Sterna elegans) with topsmelt silverside (Atherinops affinis):

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) with topmelt silverside:

Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri) with topsmelt silverside:

Least Tern (Sterna antillarum) with topsmelt silverside:

Least Tern with unknown fish:

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) with mullet (Mugil cephalus):

Osprey with unknown fish:

Another Osprey with mullet:

Osprey with partially eaten fish:

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) with bullhead (Ameiurus sp.):

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) with bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus):

White Tern (Gygis alba) and chick with unknown eel-like fish:

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) with unknown fish:

Anhinga (Anhiinga anhinga) with sculpin (Cottoidea):

Anhinga swallowing sculpin:

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 22, 2021 • 8:00 am

Thanks to several readers for sending in photos. I still can always use others, though, so keep this site in mind.

Today’s photos come from Andrew Furness, whose IDs and captions are indented. Click on his photos to enlarge them.

All these photos were taken in the last 6-months in South Florida. They showcase some of the wildlife of the region, including species introduced from elsewhere in the world and now firmly established. If readers are interested, I have a Flickr account where more of my photos can be seen.

A brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) stretches while waiting for an easy meal on a fishing pier.

A male green iguana (Iguana iguana) bobs his head as a warning.

A pike killifish (Belonesox belizanus) lurks just below the water surface. This species, native to Central America, was introduced into Miami-Dade County in 1957 and is now established in South Florida’s waterways. It is a livebearer in the family Poeciliidae, the same family that includes guppies, mosquitofish, mollies, and swordtails. Remarkably, this single species has evolved a pike body shape and specializes in eating other fish.

Closeup of the head of the pike killifish (Belonesox belizanus) revealing large jaws and needle-like teeth.

A common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) with several leeches just above the head.

Brown water snake (Nerodia taxispilota). The snake was stuck in the plastic erosion-control netting. After taking a few photos I carefully cut the netting and freed the snake.

Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) mother and her chicks. These ducks are a very common in the greater Miami area.

Black ctenosaur (Ctenosaura similis), a large lizard in the family Iguanidae introduced to Florida from Central America.

A male peacock (Pavo cristatus) spreads and waves his impressive plumage.

A male sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna) showing an impressive sail-like dorsal fin.

Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox) making a foray onto land.

Close-up portrait of Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox).

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) surfacing amongst the water lilies.

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in a drying pool. The alligator, around 5 foot in length, appeared to be attempting to capture and eat schools of small poeciliid fishes swimming near the surface in the muddy oxygen-deprived water.

Southern water snakes (Nerodia fasciata) gathered at high density in the shallow waters to hunt fish.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 1, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have some lovely osprey photos from Doug Hayes of Richmond, Virginia. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Still learning the ins and outs of the new camera. I wanted to try my hand at photographing birds in flight, so I went down to Mayo’s Bridge which connects Richmond’s downtown to the Southside. Most mornings you can see dozens of ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) fishing. In between dives, they roost in the nearby trees to eat, rest and dry out. The camera’s bird eye detection autofocus + tracking works as advertised! Once it locks on the subject (instantly), you can guarantee that your pictures will be in focus.
Scanning the river for fish. This osprey dropped down to about 30 feet or so – just within the closest focus range of the 200-600 zoom lens I was using. I actually think he was more interested in what I was doing than fishing at that moment. Keep in mind that I’m holding a nearly ten pound lens/camera combo vertically while tracking the bird which is directly overhead!
When prey is in sight, ospreys can hover for a better look, then dive, nailing their prey most of the time.
The operative word is “most” of the time. Sometimes they just get wet for their trouble. This osprey is rising from the river after an unsuccessful dive.
Circling around the river for another attempt.
Shaking off excess water.
This osprey managed to snag an American shad (Alosa sapidissima) nearly as big as it was. Believe it or not, the bird was able to fly across the river and into the trees to enjoy its feast!
Another pass over the river.
Catfish for breakfast!
This osprey managed to snag two fish with one talon!
Showing the human fisherman how it’s done.
Camera info:  Sony A1, FE 200-600 zoom lens + 1.4X teleconverter, crop sensor mode for an additional 1.5X reach (converting the 600mm maximum focal length to 1,260mm equivalent), bird eye detection autofocus with tracking, ISO 2000 – 5000, 1/2500 – 1/3200, f/9 – f/11, all shots hand held – camera body and lens image stabilization on, high speed electronic shutter (maximum burst rate 30 fps).

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 31, 2021 • 8:00 am

Thanks for the response to my importuning you for photos: I got several sets, one of which is below. But don’t neglect sending in your good photos, as I always have a need for more.

This set comes from reader David Campbell, whose captions are indented. Click on his photos to enlarge them.

A few photos for the hopper.  As usual, a diverse lot.

Great Egret (Ardea alba) photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  The bird is gliding within one half of one wingspan above the water, a condition known as ground effect.  This reduces the drag on the wing because the fixed surface (in this case the water) breaks up the wingtip vortices.  Less drag increases glide efficiency.  If the bird gets close enough to the surface of the water on a calm day, you can actually see the ripples where the vortices meet the water.  This egret did not oblige.

Spotted Sunfish (Lepomis punctatus).  Male coming into breeding color photographed in Silver Glen Springs in the Ocala National Forest.  Spotted Sunfish are among the most common of the Lepomis in the St Johns River drainage and the most approachable.  If a swimmer is  motionless and patient the fish will swim up within inches and hover.  Look closely and you can see the teeth in the lower jaw and a leech attached to the fin rays.

Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) photographed at Payne’s Prairie Preserve south of Gainesville, Florida.

Horned Spanworm (Nematocampa sp.  Probably N. resista.). This larva dropped down from an oak canopy on a silk thread.  The dorsal threads can be extended until straight.

Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).  This is a quartet of photos showing how a nonvenomous snake can intimidate perceived threats by changing its appearance to look like a venomous snake.  When grabbed, garter snakes respond by biting and smearing musky feces on the attacker.  The experience is both unpleasant and memorable.  When threatened they try to flee.  When cornered, like many other snakes, they vibrate their tails, inflate the body to look larger and fatter, and flatten the head to make it wider and more triangular while elevating the front third of the body in an S shaped coil.  It is a pretty impressive mimic of a small viper.

This is a close up of the front part of the snake.

The first photo shows a normal eastern garter snake as it would look minding its own business.

The second shows a snake that is in almost full defensive posture with inflated body and flattened head.

The fourth photo shows a snake in full defensive threat posture with head elevated for a strike.

Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox).  The trash can lid with legs and an attitude.  This is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the United States, with large females having carapace lengths approaching 40 cm long.  They spend most of their time under water except when basking or seeking mates/laying eggs.  They have very long necks and extended nostrils, allowing them to sit on the bottom waiting for food but still reach up to the surface to breathe.  The neck is long enough that the turtle can bite a careless human grabbing the shell behind the middle of both sides.  Turtle rescuers grab (VERY carefully) the front edge and rear edge of the shell to transport softshells.

Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius).  I found this little beauty crawling next to my house.  Coral snakes are elapids, related to cobras, with short fixed fangs and primarily neurotoxic venom.  We used to see them a lot more frequently, but drought and a large feral cat colony down the road have decimated populations of lizards and snakes that coral snakes feed on.  These are shy snakes that tend to be very nervous.  When threatened many (but not this one) curl the end of the tail into a small ball and wave it around, supposedly mimicking a head, while burying the real head under a coil of snake.  Several species of nonvenomous snakes mimic coral snakes, but their banding patterns are a bit different.  The late Dr. Roger Conant suggested thinking of a traffic light.  Red means stop, yellow means caution (except around here where a yellow light means floor it).  If the danger colors touch, it’s a coral snake.  In North America.

Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) This is not “wild” life but the picture shows one of my favorite cats in a beautiful pose.  It was photographed at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 6, 2021 • 8:30 am

by Greg Mayer

For today’s post we return to the New York City Subway 8th Avenue local (B and C trains) station at 81st-Museum of Natural History,this time for the amphibians.

81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

My favorite of the amphibians is this brooding caecilian, curled round its eggs. These legless, short-tailed amphibians are found only in the tropics, and there is no real English vernacular name for them. (You can find a Sicilian in the subway, but I prefer Neapolitan.)

Brooding caecilian. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

What appears to me to be a reed frog (Hyperolius sp.), an African tree frog of sorts, hangs on the wall next to a station identifying sign.

Reed frog. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

This looks like a ranid frog to me– a member of the family Ranidae, perhaps intended to be a Rana proper. Many species in this and related genera look much alike the world over. Note the nicely delineated tympanic membrane.

Frog. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

This generic frog (I won’t even try to name a family for it) is leaping out of the Signal Room. Interestingly, the subway workers here believe in free will, apparently of the libertarian sort. A scratched note on the door reads, “Use other door→ | or this one– up to you”.

Frog. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

These well-rendered salamanders provide detail enabling specific identification. On the left we have a Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum), a species of eastern North America (including the New York area), and on the right we have a Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra), a species widely distributed in Europe. The American Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum; found in the New York area) is also black with yellow markings, but the yellow markings (quite variable in both species) look more like Salamandra to me, and the evident parotoid glands at the back of the head (making it look wide) are conclusive. Ambystoma and Salamandra are similar in size and body shape, and are sort of continental ecological analogues.

Salamanders. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

The Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) is one of the few surviving lobe-finned fishes, and as such is one of the tetrapods closest living relatives, and so is included here as an honorary amphibian. I don’t know why there is a question mark on its tail; in fact I never noticed it there before till just now.

Coelacanth. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

Finally, we have a group of patently Paleozoic fish. The artist has rendered them neither strictly from above (as though we were looking down on them in the ‘water’ of the paving tile) nor from the side, but in a sort of twisted view, allowing us to see various aspects. The bottom four may be intended to be the same type of fish (I’m not sure what kind), but the top one (which seems to be more of an exclusively side view– see the partly opened mouth) looks like one of those strange Paleozoic sharks, with a spiny first dorsal fin, and a heterocercal tail. You can also see more clearly in this photo how the lighter brown granite-like stone is integrated with the darker paving tile.

Fish on the floor. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

There are other taxa represented in the tiles (e.g., ants), and other forms of art, including larger tiled murals, and casts of in-situ fossils projecting from the wall. Many of these works are depicted in a gallery at www.nycsubway.org, a subway fan/history site. Some of those depicted I’ve never seen in person, because I always exit the station at the south (Museum) end, not at the north (81st Street) end.

(Looking at one of the pictures in the gallery now, I see the undersea mosaic mural has  a coelacanth-shaped gray silhouette in the otherwise colorful tiles; could the question mark noted above be related to the coealcanth’s absence here?)

Billy Bass + Alexa = Awesome

February 14, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Big Mouth Billy Bass is an adult toy consisting of a plastic bass that sings music and moves its head and fins (see here for an early example). 

This videomaker apparently connected Billy Bass up to an Alexa and managed to synchronize its mouth and head with the words. Ergo, you can ask Billy anything. 

You used to be able to buy Alexa-compatible Billy Basses on Amazon, but they appear to be out of stock.