Guys, if you think you've got problems, read on...
I did promise recently that we'd have a little grown up chat about the economic viability of raising beef cattle on the hill – with or without TB. Unfortunately, it's not much of a jolly topic, and I'm really loath to look too hard at it, so I've deferred again. You go ahead and give it some thought if you must, I'll catch up later.
Meanwhile, I've been reading up on some more science stuff instead. And much more interesting it is, helping put things in perspective.
See, if you think you've had a below par week, and that the rain gods sprinkled their celestial mirth on your box of earthly fireworks, or your metaphoric winning lottery ticket has got mangled beyond recognition in the washing machine, spare a thought for the humble Rotifer.
This tiny wiggly creature – generally about half a millimetre long full grown – lives in a variety of habitats, usually aquatic. They generally make their living at the grubbier end of the food chain, eating bits of dead bacteria and the like – or 'recycling organic matter' as an optimistic Rotifer would phrase it at dinner parties. These are the guys you want in your fish tank to clarify the water… by grazing on goldfish poop. It's possibly not a job you or I would aspire to, but luckily for us we don't have to, because these Rotifers do it for us.
For good measure, being very small means that in turn, just about everything else can and does eat them. All those things you see seething around a puddle of murky pond water are in fact busily feasting on the poor Rotifer, which is only trying to get by and clean the place up. Poor little mites.
And it gets worse. Some of these noble little chaps have had to evolve a survival strategy you and I wouldn't fancy. See, if their pond dries up, they have the ability to dry out – to desiccate if you will – and blow away in the breeze. When they fetch up somewhere a bit damper, they simply rehydrate and start wiggling their way about their business once more. The longest known period of such dormancy is nine years, but who's to say it couldn't be decades? It doesn't sound like much fun, although I suppose it would get you out of no end of bother.
I don't think it works on larger aquatic animals – sea lions, basking sharks, trawler men and such – but do say if you know better.
But the really grim bit of being a Rotifer, as far as I can see, is that some of the myriad species can reproduce asexually. While most of them procreate in a fairly familiar manner – well, not that familiar if I'm frank, although the details are probably best spared at the breakfast table – some simply reproduce through 'pathogenesis'.
This is to say the female produces young without the benefit of any male input. It is a strategy which brings its own risks, the lack of genetic variation being an issue – effectively, this self-cloning prevents further evolution. Pathogenesis is usually found in the 'lower orders', although some reptiles, fish, and even birds are known to do it. It doesn't always go smoothly, and resultant offspring aren't always able to reproduce in turn. But the Rotifer seems to be quite at ease with the idea. Some female lines seem to have been managing OK for… wait for this… several million years. Imagine… no whoopee for countless thousands of generations, and no male Rotifers to be found.
Not that being a male Rotifer is much to sing about where they do occur. They often only have one testicle, and generally no digestive system at all. They only have one task, and once they've carried it out, they perish. Not so much as a cup of cocoa and a biscuit afterward, unlucky beggars.
All in all, however many good karma points the experience might rack up, I don't think I'm wanting to be reincarnated as a Rotifer. And it certainly puts my mundane farming problems in a fresh light!