Sunday Science: David and Goliath

Now that Bloggie voting has drawn to a close, I can get back to a more sustainable and less political style of blogging. However, as one last hurrah for the campaign, I’m going to look at the David and Goliath story, and where it really happens in nature!

Most of you will know the story: the Israelis are facing the Philistines. The Philistine champion, Goliath – a hulking giant of a man – steps out, every day for forty days, to challenge any Israeli to single combat to decide the outcome of the battle.

However, the Israelis are too scared of Goliath to volunteer, until one day a young man named David puts his hand up. Rather than dressing in armour, with a sword and shield like Goliath, David goes into the duel with only a staff, sling and five pebbles selected from a nearby streambed.

Sure, this is on a beach, but it has a nice roundness to it...

David then makes some Biblical smack-talk, winds up with his sling and clonks Goliath in the middle of the forehead with a rock, winning the duel (then cuts off his head… but that’s a little too Old Testament for the purposes of my Bloggie campaign metaphor). The story grew in the re-telling; Goliath turned from a man into a giant, and it was assimilated into popular culture through movies, comics and, of course, the Bible itself.

David won the battle partly because he was using a ranged weapon, and partly because he was more agile than his opponent – it is difficult to dodge when encumbered by heavy armour! Nature, along with that great social media site Youtube, can illustrate examples of both tactics.

The use of ranged weapons isn’t particularly common in the animal kingdom. Most rely on direct claw-and-tooth style prey capture. Some have learned tool use, but there’s one fish who has the right idea: use its mouth to create a water pistol! Behold, the amazing archerfish:

Archerfish are a small group, with only 7 species in the genus Toxotes. They learn by trial and error when small, reaching a point where they can fire accurate jets at prey up to 2m away. For a 10cm archerfish, that’s like a person being able to spit at a target on top of an 8 story building (assuming we used the preferred archerfish firing angle of 74 degrees, that is).

The other key feature in the David and Goliath battle was Goliath’s ineptitude at dodging. There are lots of examples of small animals capable of taking on much larger animals, through speed or ferocity: witness spider-killing wasps, cobra-killing mongooses, lion-battling honey badgers and the like. Oh, and of course – snake-fighting rabbits!

Here, the rabbit uses its agility to first taunt the snake, then terrorise it. The snake, realising it has no hope of landing a telling blow (“float like a rabbit, sting like a… rabbit”) beats a hasty retreat, the rabbit hopping on its tail. Literally.

In this instance, the motivation for the rabbit isn’t clear – it was probably defending babies, or the like. My own rabbit, Flash (RIP!) once ran at and bowled over a rearing brown snake in our garden. The baffled snake, apparently unaware of its title as the deadliest land snake, then tried to climb a fence to escape while the slightly bewildered Flash stood, confused and victorious. I was, shall we say, not very calm while witnessing the altercation. Perhaps it’s a genetic thing for rabbits, and they get the red mist when they see a snake in their territory?

Rabbit diversions aside, it’s pretty simple what the scientific message is here: it’s better to be able to take down your enemy from afar, and if they’re bigger than you, you need to be faster than them. Unfortunately, neither strategy is very useful on the internet when attempting to win a poll, so I don’t think my Bloggie campaign will end in success – the might of my opponents could be too much to defeat.

However, I braved the battle none the less and received a remarkable amount of support from so many people! I’ll be posting a wrap after the winners are announced in a week; until then, I might be having a little blog break to reinvigorate myself. When I get back, you’ll get to see photos from the 3 rolls of film I’ve shot lately, musings on science policy, reviews of various shows I’ve seen lately and best of all, amazing things I haven’t thought of yet!

Random pic FTW! I just punched in 4 numbers to my Spotlight search and this came up. An afternoon storm looming over my street back in Queensland...

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Categories: Science, Videos | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Sunday Science: David and Goliath

  1. Mary Beth

    You are certainly a winner in my book! I love visiting here, and hopefully, will learn more about science while here.

    I am stunned to see a rabbit attack a snake! Never, ever thought that would happen!

    You know, some people are born with a “fighting spirit”, while others are more timid, and have very little “bravery”…point being, we are all different, and u can’t always judge a book by it’s cover! My little Yorkie would fight a Rottweiller in a heartbeat. I wish you continued success as a scientist, and “adventurer”, and thank you for sharing!
    mb

  2. Chris

    I will never ever forget the Flash v aggressive Eastern Brown (snake) incident. Looks as though we didn’t need to fear for Flash as much as we did that day. Loved the youtube video.

  3. You have an absolutely engaging style of writing and I hope you do a David thingy on the bloggies! Great to have the regular postings back! Cheers!

  4. very interesting videos!! and to my eyes, you are a winner!!

  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention Sunday Science: David and Goliath | David Robertson -- Topsy.com

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