June 2008 Archives

90,000 foot salamander found

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In Alameda CA, 6,000 people including 3,800 elementary school kids came together for two weeks in mid-June to draw a huge 90,000 sq. ft. salamander. The artist responsible, Mark Wagner, Creative Director of the Kids Chalk Art Mission, provides a salamander-ladened story on his blog. The footnote of the salamander story blog entry states that he told the story to the elementary students of Alameda CA and I imagine this is the inspiration for the event. And, according to Mark Wagner's blog (which I couldn't confirm) the drawing set a world record!
Sometime last Summer on the side of the small U-Haul truck, I noticed a large, beautifully-illustrated image of a salamander. Several other U-Haul trucks with similar images showed up this Summer which spurred me to find some more information. I went to the U-Haul Web site and found links for images for all 50 states (and a few Canadian provinces) including the state of Washington represented by the Olympic torrent salamander (Rhyacotriton olympicus). The site provides images to download for a desktop, a page to print out for children to color and a way to order t-shirts of the image.
While looking on Flickr for a new desktop background I found this image (a portion of a much larger image) which the artist states as his "attempt at understanding [these] fine creatures". The larger image comes with names and descriptions of each species. Enjoy.

can salamanders count?

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A July edition of Discover Magazine article (based on an excerpt from a recent book "Year Million: Science at the Far Edge of Knowledge") states that salamanders can perceive numbers. Intrigued, and without access to the book's references, I searched the Internet and found two articles: "Foraging Tactics of a Terrestrial Salamander: Assessing Prey Density" and "Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) go for more: rudiments of number in an amphibian". "Foraging Tactics of a Terrestrial Salamander: Assessing Prey Density" found that red-backed salamanders (red-backed salamanders, Plethodon cinereus, were used in both studies) were using information gained during prey encounters more than information gained during prey capture and therefore, perhaps, were "counting" prey. The other article "Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) go for more: rudiments of number in an amphibian" by Claudia Uller, Institute of Cognitive Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, went a step further. Conducted by presenting salamanders with test tubes filled filled with increasing numbers of flies from 1 to 2, 2 to 3 and 3 to 4, etc, the salamanders had similar results to tests given (of course, with something other than fruit flies) to non-verbal infants and nonhuman primates. Salamanders, like the non-verbal infants and nonhuman primates choose the test tubes with greater numbers of flies up until the test tubes contained more than 3 flies. The definition of the word "count" is to "determine the number or amount of". The studies show the capacity within salamanders to have, as the Uller paper states, "numerical discrimination" or the ability to perceive"more". If a salamander can perceive "more", which is a determination of at least two amounts, then can't it be said that they can count.