Thursday, March 24, 2011

Slothing around

Look at my adorable hat. Look at it.

From today's New York Times, an entry in the "Scientists at Work" blog about why animals sleep. 

Why do animals sleep? Why do we sleep? We still don't know, which I think is further evidence that science answers a lot of questions, but not the ones I'm really curious about.

Bryson Voirin's delightful blog entry catalogs his research amongst the three-toed sloths of Panama. Using a new, tiny electroencephalogram (or EEG, because spelling electroencephalogram right on the first try is as hard as spelling bourgeouise...bourgeoisie...bourgouise...never mind), Voirin shimmied up trees in the Panamanian jungle in search of these elusive creatures, who despite spending the vast, vast majority of their time unconscious, immobile, or unconscious and immobile, are rather hard to find:

"My first finding was that despite their being the world’s slowest mammal, the notion that they are “slow and therefore easy to catch” is false. Simply finding a sloth is an accomplishment. Sloths have an extremely cryptic lifestyle. Their evolutionary strategy is to never be seen or noticed. They typically masquerade in the canopy as a termite nest or clump of leaves, refusing to react to any movement or noise on the ground. The rain forest is full of stationary termite nests and clumps of leaves quietly minding their own business in the trees. They’re everywhere. The key to identifying one as a sloth is to painfully examine every single clump with binoculars and look for the presence of hair."

This is one defense mechanism I can get behind, since I react to threats by masquerading as an end table. (And it's worked pretty well - I'm still here, after all.)

Anyway, Voirin discovered that sloths in the wild sleep an average of about nine and a half hours a day, which means we have a lot in common, because I do too. He found out a lot of other interesting - well, interesting to the .0002% of the population desperate to learn more about the sleeping pattern of the Panamanian three-toed sloth, which includes me, because oh my god have you seen his cute little hat? - data about the wild sloths' snoozing habits, but we still don't know why they sleep. Or why we sleep.

1 comment:

  1. Did you ever hear the story about Killer and the attic? You remember Killer? Gerry's cat from Trotter Road. Another lesson learned: cats do not ALWAYS land on their feet.