Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stuff I learned in Costa Rica, Part 3

This leaf is from a Zamia plant.

Zamias are members of the cycad family, if you're interested. But in ten seconds, when I tell you the really crazy things about Zamias, you won't care what family they're in.

First off, zamia plants produce sperm cells that have cilia for locomotion. (Some scientists dispute that the cilia actually do anything, but come on guys.)

Not only that, these are the largest sperm cells in the world at almost a half millimeter. (You can see them without a microscope.)

Okay, here's where it gets even weirder. But to go any further I have to introduce you to this fellow:

His name's Eugenio. He once told me: "You can forget your wallet, your passport, your cell phone, and even your wife. But don't ever forget your machete."

Eugenio is a 42 year old biologist at Dúrika Biological Reserve in the Talamanca mountains. He said that one particular group of indigenous people used the zamia as a contraceptive; the men made an extract from it which they drank. It would knock out their sperm production for 6 to 12 months. Kind of ironic because, well, the plant itself produces sperm cells...

Here's where this thing really gets wonderful. Tradition held that this plant was a gift from the gods. (I mean, you would have been grateful too.) The gift was delivered on a "flaming disc" that came down out of the sky. (By the way, these indians are credited with being the first people ever to put the responsibility of birth control on the men.)

So. Weird plant that seems almost foreign to this world, delivered on a flaming disc. Can you see where I am going with this? Eugenio stood and waited for me to connect the dots myself. "You mean like aliens?"

Yes, like aliens. As far as he could see, the only trouble with such a theory is that the zamia is only pollinated by special beetles which feed on the seed cones. Did the beetles get to ride on the flying saucer too? Or were they already here and just really open-minded, such that they could come to appreciate this new ethnic food? In any case, let us not forget the Malcolm Principle.

"Life finds a way."

Anyway, kudos to those aliens. Every time we try something like that we seem to have less fortunate results.

One last thing: Eugenio said that Merck is developing a birth control pill for men made from zamia. I haven't been able to find info on this yet, so don't get too excited.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Stuff I learned in Costa Rica, part 2

Don't be fooled by the apparent simplicity of Spanish. Here's just one example:

Pizzería = Pizza store
Papelría = Stationery store
Taquería = Taco Store
Librería = Bookstore
Yonkería = Junk yard

But a "Ferretería" does not sell ferrets. If you find yourself in Latin America AND in need of a ferret, such a store will not help you!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stuff I learned in Costa Rica, part 1

(Once the video starts playing, click on it again to watch it at youtube. That way the side doesn't get cut off.)

The quote at the end says: ...human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them ...life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


The only thing I hate more than sloths is baby sloths!