Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Alligators and humans

While in Florida Ian and I took an Everglades tour. I learned several odd and interesting things. One is that back in the 1980s one out of three adult males in Everglades City were involved in smuggling drugs from Colombia. Everglades City is tiny, more like a hamlet, but it does have an international airport (read Colombia-USA), as the guide cheerfully pointed out.

I learned that alligators are fresh water creatures, unlike crocodiles, which thrive in salt water. Florida has mainly alligators, but also a small number of crocodiles. According to our guide, an alligator stays under water a good deal of the time, but the soft membranes behind its eyes pick up vibrations through the water from the surrounding environment, enabling the alligator to sense what is on land. I began to wonder if the soft membrane in alligators heads are similar in function to the soft spots (fontanelles) in newborn humans.

Human fontanelles are known to serve two functions, to allow the baby's head to ease through the birth canal and for rapid brain growth during the first two years of life.

It seems reasonable (to me, at least) that there could also be a third function to human fontanelles, that of sensing the environment, just as alligator soft spots do. The implication would be that babies in utero and in their first two years of life pick up much of the information in their environment due to vibration. Remember that the human ear is fully formed by the fourth month of pregnancy and then of course, there is the umbilical cord shared with the mother which also picks up vibrations from the mother and the environment.

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