To Evolve Or Not To Evolve

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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From time to time, it's good to check in on the latest goings on in the plant and animal kingdoms.

That way, some uppity rutabagas won't try to supplant us humans as the master race. When you rule the world, it's good to sleep with one eye open.

Our first item comes from a story in the Los Angeles Times about papayas. Bet you didn't know that papayas come in three sexes -- male, female and Michael Jackson.

Just kidding. Actually, the third papaya sex is hermaphrodite, which, of course, means having the sex organs of both males and females.

Before this conjures up images in your mind that could cause permanent brain damage, the gist of the story is that scientists had no way to determine a papaya's sex -- until now, that is.

I won't bore you with the scientific details, because I don't have a clue what they're talking about. But why, one could certainly ask, would we want to determine the sex of a papaya anyway?

You don't have to be a papaya scientist to understand the answer. It's because hermaphrodite papayas produce the sweetest fruit.

And while female papayas produce "good" fruit, the fruit of the male papaya is "undesirable." So now that scientists have figured out a way to determine a papaya's sex from its seed, males can simply be eliminated. Which just goes to show you that we human guys have more in common with papaya guys than one might think at first glance.

Moving over to the animal kingdom, a recent Associated Press article tells the story of "a bizarre gathering of eagles, pigs and foxes" on California's Channel Islands.

Seems a plentiful supply of pigs attracted a community of golden eagles, a protected species. Then the eagles discovered that the endangered foxes that lived on the island were also good to eat.

In less than a decade the foxes disappeared from San Miguel and Santa Rosa islands, and they decreased from 1,500 to just 65 on Santa Cruz Island. Now federal officials are faced with a grisly dilemma -- they may have to kill the protected golden eagles to save the endangered foxes.

Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that maybe this all got out of control because the feds were too busy monitoring the sex life of papayas. But we must move on.

Speaking of sex lives, our journey takes us to Herefordshire, England where a 425 million-year-old fossil "may be the oldest record of an animal that is unarguably male," writes James Gorman in the New York Times.

Quoting from a report in the journal "Science," Gorman said the tiny crustacean, just two-tenths of an inch long, has been given the name Colymbosathon ecplecticos. Roughly translated from the Greek, it means swimmer with a large -- well, you know.

The emphasis here is on "roughly translated," because geologist David Siveter suggests that the name "may, like so many other references to virility in males, be a bit of an exaggeration."

More significant, according to Siveter, is the fact that the discovery pushes the presence of these crustaceans, which have plenty of modern descendants, back some 200 million years. "It offers," Gorman writes, "a striking example of evolution almost standing still."

Not, we might add, unlike what happens when an entire community dons green and yellow caps bearing the legend "Payson Concrete & Materials."

Of course, one place where evolution never stands still is California, and our tour of the wacky world of plants and animals concludes back where we started. Seems the state we love to hate has become the only one to ban glowing zebra fish, the world's first bio-engineered household pet.

"The normally black-and-silver zebra fish were inserted with genes from sea anemones or jellyfish to turn them red or green, and (make them) glow under black or ultraviolet lights," writes Don Thompson in an Associated Press article.

Despite assurances that there is no danger to state waterways, even if the fish escape, the state Game and Fish Commission "drew the line on permitting widespread sales of a biotech fish that was developed by Singapore researchers but which would only be sold for visual pleasure."

Does it strike you as perhaps just the slightest bit odd that the state that lives and breathes visual pleasure would assume such a pose. But then assuming poses is a big part of what California is all about, witness Arnold Schwarzenegger posing as governor.

And are you the least bit surprised to find out that California residents buy 25 million ornamental fish a year -- fully 25 percent of all such fish sold nationwide.

Sigh!

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