During most of childhood, my go-to answer for “what do you want to be when you grow up?” was marine biologist. It’s a relatively common nerd-child response (or was).
Sharks. You know.
But briefly, maybe just for a year or more, my answer changed to herpetologist. I loved reptiles, and it seemed a lovely alternative to spending all my time in boats (that’s how I imagined the life of a marine biologist).
This was before I discovered my utter uselessness at doing real scientific work. High school biology dissections? No. High school biology anything? Nope. Even grasping basic Mendelian genetics was a struggle.
So my dream changed, but the love of cold-blooded things remained. Thus my giddy reaction to this recent video of a giant python climbing a tree in (I presume) Southeast Asia:
That patient, almost mathematical coil and reach maneuver—just beautiful.
And chilling. I don’t have to worry about this in Atlanta, but I imagine the people who filmed the video did not find the sight calming. That tree trunk could easily be a rib cage.
Pythons have established a population in south Florida now. A big one. The Florida snakes are Burmese pythons, and they are doing some damage. In 2013, wildlife officials in Florida opened up a captured python in Florida and found the remains of three white-tailed deer inside.
The video also got me thinking about another recent story from the animal kingdom, this one related to a typical prey species of the python: the mouse. A friend sent me this article describing a scientific breakthrough that seems destined to backfire on us. Scientists have found a way to stimulate the predatory instinct in mice by activating the central amygdala, which controls aggression and fear.
The process reads like a sci-fi/horror film. First, the scientists infected the mice with a virus that makes their brains sensitive to blue light. Next, they employed a blue laser to activate the amygdala, sending the mice into a frenzy. The mice attacked almost anything in their path, including inanimate objects.
The most impressive (worrying?) part of this project was that the researchers accomplished this with light. No wires, no surgeries, no physical alterations to the brain.
Step 1: designer virus. Step 2: Turn on a light.
Ok, not quite madness, but a sort of “extreme hunting.” Even with the light on, the affected mice did not attack other friendly mice (though they got more physically curious).
I don’t know where this research is headed, but if it brings us any closer to the following scenario, I consider it a net positive:
I wonder if the amygdala is similar enough across species for this to work on giant pythons that scale trees with terrifying efficiency.
So what do you think? Which will destroy us first—biology run amok or technology run amok? Or a fun mix of the two?
*Random snake trivia: “Snake Plissken” of Escape From N.Y. was named after a real guy—Snake Plissken—that John Carpenter knew in Cleveland. Thank you, How Did This Get Made?