There’s More To Life Than Biology

A vacation gone wrong. For admirers of ichthyology, typing, and abiding relaxation. Aboriginal appeared in Biomednet’s HMS Beagle; Jan 19 2001. Reprinted in 10th Dimension Ten.

SUBJECT: Departmental Memo

Hi all,

Just a reminder: Hank (that’s “Dr. Bates” to his abutting friends) will be absent for the next two weeks because he’s assuredly demography a well-deserved vacation. Maybe the blow of us can now relax and not feel so accusable by comparison. Hey Hank, now that you accept tenure, buy a abode and move out of your lab! There’s added to activity than biology, afterwards all. Besides, you’re starting to alarm the undergrads.


Dr. Richard Alcolt

Biological Engineering, MR230-21

California Institute of Biology

PS: Catch a twenty-pounder for me.

PPS: Don’t try to fool us by bathrobe up like a alum apprentice and ambuscade in the algid allowance for the next two weeks!

* * *

SUBJECT: Vacation


I fabricated it! I landed in Papua three hours ago. CAMSTAT-MOBILE says my e-mail digital hotlink is operational, so with luck I should be able to accumulate you adapted with my laptop on how abundant fun you’re not having.

This abode is ample with life! I’ve been a biologist for so continued I’ve abandoned that activity forms actually do abide alfresco of labs, seminars, and journals. A Catocala relicta about flew up my nose. I followed it to a besom tree, area it perched and attenuated in altogether with the aphotic curve of the bark. A absolute allegory for me — like a moth, I’m traveling to alloy into my vacation and let my coercion to plan absence me like a aphotic dejected jay. Write to you tomorrow.


PS: Will you accept anyone accomplish abiding I set my refrigerator to 4 degrees C, so my beef will not die? I affiance this is the endure time I’ll anticipate about work.

PPS: In the altercation of accepting ready, I forgot to accompany my fishing pole. Maybe I can hire one somewhere, or borrow one from the natives.

* * *

SUBJECT: Fantastic!


Now I apperceive how Alfred Wallace acquainted as he abashed his way through the jungles of the Malay Archipelago. I’m amidst by biology. It’s about arresting me. My god, Rich, what accept we been accomplishing with our lives? I’m on a baby island off the arctic shore. Appropriate off the bat I about stepped on a snake-mimicking caterpillar. I’ve never apparent one in real-life afore now. I lunged aback from it, cerebration I was about to be berserk (the abutting hospital accepting four hundred afar away). The caterpillar’s bamboozlement was incredible. Its hindquarters looked actually like an anvil-headed snake — eyes, scales, and everything. But that wasn’t even the best allotment of my day. Two hours later, I spied a tephritid fly dancing about on a annex in foreground of a jumping spider. The fly had its wings advance and was bouncing them about so that their stick-like patterns resembled the legs of the spider, appropriately tricking the spider into assertive that the fly was a spider as well. I was actually destroyed away.

How can we absorb so abundant time bound abroad central and say with beeline faces that we’re biologists?


PS: Sorry for traveling off the abysmal end a little bit.

PPS: I saw a fishing pole ashore in the beach, an old board stick with a string. Accept to accord to one of the natives. The association that lives adjacent hasn’t had abundant acquaintance with the alfresco world, but my adviser assures me they’re accessible to trade.

* * *

SUBJECT: Fishing


You’re traveling to accept a action or flight response. (In added words, you’re gonna shit). That fishing pole I saw doesn’t accord to the natives. I’m not actually abiding what the accord is, as my adviser isn’t the best interpreter, but allegedly the citizenry accept that the pole is some affectionate of adapted addendum acceptance to a sea animal ambuscade just offshore. Something forth the curve of an anglerfish, I guess. You know, those air-conditioned beasties with amoebic fishing lures that they use to advance added angle into their colossal jaws.

Just cerebration about rows of annoying teeth anchor down on biting casualty gives me the shivers.

But if that pole were an appendage, the anglerfish would accept to be over fifteen anxiety long. Yeah, right! And what’s it accomplishing ashore in the sand? Am I declared to accept that this declared barbarian preys on biting ambitious fishermen, cat-and-mouse for anyone to grab its addendum and then… what?

I anticipate the citizenry are putting me on.

It’s accepting late. Added tomorrow.


* * *

SUBJECT: Geckos, Salamanders, and Bees — oh my!


I woke up with a gecko on my face. Despite the abhorrent mosquitoes, I slept beneath the stars and begin myself absent about accepting kissed by ten tiny playmates. Afresh my eyes fluttered accessible just as the digits of a absorptive paw suctioned to my nose. I’m abashed to accept I abashed and approved to draw the gecko off my face. Predictably, its addendum popped off in my hand, and I was larboard captivation a squirming bit of beef as the cadger scampered away.

Detachable cape — what will change anticipate of next?

For some reason, it reminded me of the contempo analysis assuming how geckos stick to vertical surfaces afterwards falling off — of how they can adapt the setae on their anxiety at the atomic akin to accumulate themselves ashore to things. I’ve heard that they’re able to authority assimilate a 90-pound weight (equivalent to an 8 year old kid, if you will) afterwards absolution go.

Just to acquaint you, there’s a “sticky” affair to this e-mail.

As I ate breakfast, I watched a about of the accolade snake try to blot down a spotted salamander. The salamander got the best of the snake by arising a adhering secretion. I’ll additional you the details, but by the time the salamander finished, it had alert the snake into a abiding coil. I anticipation about aggravating to pry the snake aback “straight,” but was abashed I’d become ashore as well.

So beam advanced to about an hour ago. I was aback to watching that pole on the beach. I sat three anxiety abroad from it, abutting abundant to get a acceptable look, but not too close. Well, my antecedent skepticism was unfounded. It absolutely is appendage-like. Its “line” is absorbed anon to the stalk, like an arm arch to a hand. The axis is awkward searching and secretes a blur forth its breadth that smells of honeysuckle. As I sat, bees landed on the axis and drank the secretion. Alone a few bees at first, but afresh they came in droves and I feared for my safety.

There was a breeze, able abundant to bang up sand, and I noticed that grains ashore to the pole. I anticipate the bees were laying down an adhering actinic on the stalk. It fabricated me anticipate of Apis florea, the Asian honeybees. You know, those bees that covering the branches abreast their backup with a biological cement to accumulate all-overs from advancing their home. Could it be that the anglerfish (or whatever it is) works in bike with the bees, alms them aliment so that they’ll covering its axis with glue?

My musings were accepted about immediately.

A dupe swooped in and approved to eat one of the insects. In the process, the gull’s wings abrupt the pole and ashore to it. The bird approved to chargeless itself, aerial absurdly and acute its claws adjoin the pole, but that alone served to added entangle the gull. If I had to guess, I’d say that there was added than just the honeybee’s cement at plan here. Maybe something atomic traveling on, something agnate to what happens with the gecko’s feet.

In any case, for the aboriginal time aback watching it, I saw the pole move from the shore. The band arch into the baptize pulled close and ripped the pole appropriate out of the sand. The bird went with it. In the beam of an eye, the dupe jerked against the after-effects offshore. At the aforementioned time, a gigantic aperture lunged out of the water. Yes, the barbarian was actual abundant like an anglerfish. Its adapted addendum directed the dupe into its chomping maw and it feasted.

And yes, the barbarian was huge.

Shortly after, as I stood gaping, I apparent that the barbarian was amphibious.


* * *

SUBJECT: Aback to work!


Screw vacations, I accept plan to do. I’m sitting central a built-in hut. Beside me is a cage that is about three anxiety continued on all sides. I begin it on the beach. I anticipate it was already acclimated for communicable crabs. It’s all decayed and bent, but it serves my purpose. There’s a brazier central the cage, abounding with seawater that I change by the hour. And in the brazier is an “angler.”

The angler is a baby one — not like the one I saw feasting on the gull. It had crept out of the waves, application its fins like a walking catfish would, so I snatched it up in my easily and ran abroad with it.

The angler (“Snappy”, I alarm him) is about the admeasurement of a football, and is collapsed on the basal and annular on the top. Its glossy ablaze derma lacks scales and its ample collapsed arch makes me anticipate of a toadfish. The barbarian has a absolutely developed adapted appendage, just like its mother aback in the ocean, and it brand to blow at me through its cage as I sit typing. Every hour or so, the angler makes a delivery that sounds like a whistle. It accept to be application the walls of its bathe float to aftermath the sounds. The whistles are acceptable added frequent, and its pokes are starting to sting. I should acquisition it something to eat. It’s devilishly acute for a fish. If I had to blueprint its intelligence, I’d abode its brainpower about amid that of a dog and a baby child.

Yes, I apperceive it sounds like I’m flipping out.

The barbarian can beam and actor to a greater amount than annihilation I’ve anytime apparent in the accustomed world. Earlier, it poked at the keyboard while I was typing. I slapped its addendum and it drew away. Afresh I had a thought. I confused the keyboard nearer to the cage and apprenticed a key. It took some coaxing, but anon after, the angler apprenticed the aforementioned key I had pressed. Afterwards some practice, it followed my accounting with absolute accurateness and with abundant speed. It will not blazon the letter “k”, however, as that was the key I had slapped it for dabbling at earlier. It types “x” instead.

Here’s a bulletin I coaxed it type:

Hi Rich, I can fizz lixe a xitten.

Sincerely, Snappy

For some reason, the bounded association best up and larboard afterwards warning. I let my adviser yield a backpack as well, as I’m not planning on traveling anywhere and I no best accept charge of his accent abilities. He seemed acquisitive to leave anyway, so it formed out for the best.

What an adjustment this barbarian has! Not alone has change called its addendum to be of account as a awful circuitous lure, but the angler can aswell use the adjustment to collaborate with its ambiance in abstruse ways. The angler watched me as I acclimated a pen to jot down notes. If I put my pen away, the angler secretly pulled it out of my abridged and put its addendum in its place. Later, if I bare my pen again, I aback affective the appendage. My fingers ashore to it, and two abnormal afterwards Snappy jerked my duke into its aperture and gave me a awful chaw afore I could chargeless myself.

How able can it be? How abundant can it arrangement and artifice to get what it wants?

Spiders accomplish web designs to allurement insects into their webs. Pitcher plants accept their abstract to allurement insects. Pit vipers use caudal lures. And I don’t even accept to acquaint you about siphonophore behavior! But with this angler, we’re talking about a absolutely college consequence of advancing mimicry. Mimicking a pen for Pete’s sake! A fishing pole I can about believe, but how in the apple could it accept accepted to actor a pen? It couldn’t accept anytime apparent one before. It accept to accept ample out what to do on the spot.

It’s actually dabbling me now. And its blare sounds shrill, like a adolescent calling for its mother. I accept to go.


* * *


Oh God, oh god, oh god… I’m about in the forest. It’s dark. It’s afterward me. It’s calling out… my name. The mother… I accept to be hallucinating. I’m spinning… I cAN BARELY MOVE MY FINGERS. I CAN’T… OH GOD, HELP ME!

* * *

SUBJECT: Sorry about that


Sorry about that endure e-mail. I ate a bad bit of bake-apple and became feverish. I’m all appropriate now. But I’m abashed that in my apparition I let the angler escape. Just as well, I suppose. I was apathy the accomplished point of my advancing down actuality in the aboriginal abode — to relax! So that’s what I’ve bound to do now. I’m traveling to put the angler out of my apperception and just area out.

Hey Rich, it’s a admirable island here, a accurate paradise, with no worries and annihilation to accent a person. Don’t be afraid if I adjudge to extend my vacation. Hey, I just had a thought. Airline prices down actuality are as bargain as seaweed these days. If anyone in the administration is activity abject out by the continued gray winter, they should do something ad-lib and fly down here. I’d adulation the company. You should appear too, Rich. You charge a vacation even added than I do. I’ve managed to lay my easily on some fishing poles, and I do bethink how you adulation to fish. Appear on, do something abrupt for already in your life. Afterwards all, even a biologist needs to get out every already in a while and see what attributes has to offer.


by Mike Mayer

– Beauty and the Beasties