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Cinereous Vulture

“Cinereous” means “color of ash” because “grey vulture” sounds stupid.

As I was reading about grey, I stumbled upon the claim that you can define grey as all solutions of the inequality: 0 ≤ (R = G = B) ≤ 255

There are rather more than 50 options.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.
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Carmine Bee Eater

Sometimes you read a name and go “hmm”. This often leads to wikitrails.

In this case, the word carmine is a word for deep red. It is linked to cochineal, which is a sort of insect from which red dyes have traditionally been made.

From wikipedia, the etymology goes: carmine <- carmin (12 century French) <- carminium (medieval latin) <- qirmiz (Arabic) <- carmir (Middle Persian). The word "carmir" means, as one might expect, "red". So far, so good, but here it gets interesting ...

"carmir" is believed to come from "kṛmi-jā", the Sanskrit word for "insect-produced", as "krmi" means "worm" or "insect". But that's okay, right, because the cochineal makes the carminic acid from which the dye is made. However, while today they are rather wide-spread, back in the days that Sanskrit was commonly spoken, the cochineals were only found in central and south America. Barring some of the rather interesting and, shall we say, wildly hypothetical, websites out there, between 2000 and 600 BCE there was very little knowledge in India about how the Olmecs were making cloth in what we now call Mexico.

So how did this happen?

The answer is that, in the Mediterranean area, a scale insect called "kermes" also produced a red dye, from which we get the word "crimson": crimson <- carmesinus (Latin) <- qermez (Arabic) <- kṛmi-jā (Sanskrit, again). Carmesinus, of course, is where we got the word "carminc" for the acid.

But wait! Did India trade with the Mediterranean world when Sanskrit was being spoken? After all, if the kermes only lived in the Mediterranean world, how did kṛmi-jā come to be borrowed in the first place?

We know that Scylax, a Greek explorer, was sent to explore the Indus river in 515 BCE. Is it possible that he traveled so far, he fell through a time portal and went back at least another century to land in India where people could marvel over his red clothes and, as he explained how they were made, they came up with "kṛmi-jā", so we could eventually get the words "carmine" and "crimson"?

I'm sure there is a website out there somewhere that offers this as proof, but this explanation seems somewhat far fetched to me.

However, according to Mira Roy who studied the red dyes of pre-colonial India in 1977 (aren't you glad someone did?), the word krmi/kermes does appear to enter the language in the post-Vedic period (500 BCE to 300 AD). More interestingly, she points out that there were three insects from which red dye was produced:

- The lac* <- lak (Persian) and lakh (Hindu), whose name comes from "hundred thousand", referring to the number of eggs it took to make the dye (though I doubt they actually counted them to that level).

- The indragopa which is mis-translated by Mira Roy (and many Indian dictionaries) as the cochineal. As noted previously, this can't be right, because the cochineal is South American and didn't reach India until well after the name kṛmi-jā was applied to mean red. This is covered in decent detail by Siegfried Lienhard who concludes it's actually a red velvet mite, which is bright red, but not useful for creating dyes.

- And finally, our old friend, the kermes or krmi, which was very popular in Europe for dyeing***, but that as Mira Roy notes, was only discovered to have the dye-producing properties in the POST-Vedic period.

So what do we have going on here?

1) We have a word that is believed to originate from a Sanskrit word
2) An insect that was known to make that red dye in Greece, but before the Greeks encountered the Indians speaking Sanskrit
3) An insect that was known to make that red dye by the Olmecs, who (we sure hope) never encountered the Indians at all
4) An insect** that is bright red, was known to the Indians speaking Sanskrit, but that cannot be turned into dye

All of this probably means that the word "kṛmi-jā" is a false etymology. It is more likely that the root of both "carmine" and "crimson" has nothing to do with mites or scale insects at all, which makes sense because neither does this bird. It eats bees.


* Amusingly, these insects are referred to as subsisting on trees that produced "electrum", which meant both an alloy of gold and silver and what we now call amber. It likely meant the latter first and was later applied to the alloy because of the yellowish colour of the alloy, even though we now know amber exists in many colours, only one of which is called "amber".

** Technically not an insect

*** This is where "in the grain" comes from, as the kermes eggs were so fine they were referred to as "grains", but that have nothing at all to do with actual grain.

More information:
- Siegfried Lienhard on "indragopa": http://www.indologica.com/volumes/vol06/vol06_art14_Lienhard.pdf
- Philip Smith on amber: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Electrum.html
- Mira Roy on Indian dyes: http://insa.nic.in/writereaddata/UpLoadedFiles/IJHS/Vol13_2_2_MRoy.pdf
- Sanskrit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit
- Crimson etymology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimson#Etymology
- Carmine etymology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmine#Etymology
- Kermes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kermes_(dye)
- Cochineal: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochineal

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 19th, 2016 02:01 pm
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They look a lot different when they’re not covered with a layer of dust.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 18th, 2016 11:01 pm
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You know how dinosaurs in movies are green and scaley?

Yeah. That’s probably wrong.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.
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Leaf Cutter Ants_9

Sometimes it takes teamwork.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 18th, 2016 02:01 pm
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I have no idea if those weird bumps on the back of his head are bonus eyes, but I kinda hope they are.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 17th, 2016 11:01 pm
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The birds are less impressed when the bed knob makes everything fly because they can do that on their own.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 17th, 2016 06:01 pm
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Butterflies have yet to invent napkins.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 17th, 2016 02:01 pm
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I find it fascinating that every mammal that adapts to ocean life decides that necks aren’t worth the trouble. The same is true for most aquatic reptiles, though turtles just sort of tuck their necks away instead of losing them altogether.

Yet, sea monsters in ancient books and maps are almost all neck.

Maybe that’s why they died out.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 16th, 2016 11:00 pm
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In information security, this is an example of what we call “discretionary access control”.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 16th, 2016 02:01 pm
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Sometimes you spend all day following a path and then, once you finally get where you’re going you realize there’s nothing there and you have to turn around and try again.

Insects call this “climbing grass”.

Humans call this “doing I.T.”

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 15th, 2016 11:01 pm
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This fly really wants you think it’s a bee. Their strategy works because of the following logic:

1) When being pursued by a predator of little brain, they see the yellow and black stripes and think “OMG! It’s a bee! Better leave it alone!”

2) When being pursued by a predator of rather much brain, they see the yellow and black stripes and think “Hmm, it looks like a bee. But I know that some flies look like bees. Better look that up. OK, it looks like flies don’t stick pollen to their legs like bees do, but maybe it’s a bee that just started it’s day’s work. Flies also have larger eyes and smaller antenna than bees, but that’s only useful if there’s a bee to compare against. Oh! Bees have wings that overlap but flies have wings that stick out. So it’s probably a fly. To be safe though, I should compare it to other bees. Where can I find other bees?”

3) Then, when the predator of rather much brain is look up “bees” on Google Maps, the fly can get away.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 15th, 2016 06:00 pm
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When you pet them, bees purr. Sure, it sounds like buzzing because they are so much smaller than cats, but it’s really purring.

Be careful though. If you pet them too much, they can bite.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 15th, 2016 02:01 pm
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Suddenly realized that he forgot to file his taxes.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.
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American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

Sometimes I wonder how many alligators died before they realized that their nostrils should be higher than the water.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.
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Ostrich (Struthio camelus)_2

Ostriches, for some reason, are unable to fly.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 13th, 2016 11:01 pm
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It turns out that Missouri is rather quite humid and, when it rains, the front of the lens can get covered in tiny little water droplets. This is roughly equivalent to a fog filter which I never had until I took this shot and decided that I quite liked the effect. I haven’t taken the time to really experiment with it yet though.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


Apr. 13th, 2016 06:01 pm
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Last year, I took a trip to Missouri for work. As always, I went to the St. Louis Zoo because it’s a pretty awesome zoo. What I did not anticipate was that 1) the zoo would close early … at noon … to prepare for a big event and 2) that it would be pouring rain. Now, I was prepared for the rain because I always keep a camera raincoat in my bag, so my camera was kept nice and dry. Camera rain coats work by using an extremely tight weave of ripstop nylon that is treated with a water repellent.

Ducks stay dry by using an extremely tight layering of feathers coated with a thin layer of oil that serves as a water repellent.

Humans stay dry by having the good sense not to go out in the rain.

I got thoroughly soaked and it took me a good two hours for my clothes to dry out.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.
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Bactrian Camel (Camelus bactrianus)_8

In late autumn, the camels turn brown and fall off the trees.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.


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