What Ian Learned This Week: An occasional attempt to capture bits and bobs I’ve learned in the past week or so. Most definitely not done every week, but basically whenever I feel like it.

Gizzard juggling

Reading a book about robins and somehow ended up down a rabbit hole of reading about gizzards. Gizzards are a sort of specialised stomach with muscular walls that helps to break down food in animals – particularly birds – who don’t have teeth or other mechanisms to break down their food.

What I didn’t realise is that in birds the gizzard occurs after the stomach. That means that in some birds they juggle food from their ‘true’ stomach to their gizzard and back again.

Since some animals also swallow grit or stones to help their gizzard break down food I can only imagine how complicated it gets to manage traffic in their digestive tracts.

Crocodiles, alligators, fish, grasshoppers and earthworms all have gizzards too. Some have no true stomach – just a gizzard – and some have the gizzard before the stomach. I was surprised crocodiles needed a gizzard, but I guess those huge jaws aren’t great at chewing.


Always nice to add a new bit of jargon to the personal lexicon. This week it’s ‘Ropax’.

The acronym ROPAX (roll-on/roll-off passenger) describes a RORO vessel built for freight vehicle transport along with passenger accommodation.


In contrast to roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) and load-on load-off (LoLo).

I came across the term while looking at new ferries being commissioned by Stena Line and Irish Ferries for crossing the Irish Sea. Irish Ferries recently brought in two massive boats and Stena Line appears to be about to do the same.

Sadly no Ropax ships on the Irish Sea are being commissioned that go any faster than the current 3-4 hour crossing time that most of them do.

The worm community

Reading the New Scientist on the train to Dublin it seems the media is finally giving representation to the needs of the worm community.

"This is a very substantial body of work that has been much awaited by the worm community," says Denise Walker at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
From the New Scientist on a new study on neurons in nematode worms

Speaking to my colleagues gives me the impression that I’m somehow late to the party on the worm community, and I’ve been pointed to the Worm Breeder’s Gazette.

Interestingly (I promise it is), it seems nematode worms are important to our understanding on neurons as they have a very small and simple collection of them. that makes them useful to study and experiment with.

I think titbits like this are the main reason I ever pick up the New Scientist. I increasingly avoid the articles about how we’re all going to die horribly as a result of everything from asteroids to bacteria.