Human Bias and Endangered Species.
When it comes to championing the protection of species that are at risk of extinction, human bias is always a factor. Because they capture the human imagination, large animals such as tigers and elephants are in the forefront of our attention when it comes to species protection. In India, the National Board for Wildlife is attempting to take this bias into account. Fifty-seven critically endangered species, some as uninteresting as buzzards and spiders, will share the focus with the favored few. The goal is to make the degree of endangerment, rather than the appeal to human aesthetics, the goal of Indian wildlife protection.
More at Daily News.
Catapult Action Powers Insect Eating Plant.
Some carnivorous plants use a sticky glue to trap their prey. That’s fine if you’re a plant with a medium appetite. But if you’re a fast grower and need extra nutrients, the catapult may be the way to go. The rare Drosera glanduligera is native to Eastern Australia. It uses a catapult type action to launch its lunch. In this video, a fruit fly is propelled by the plant’s “snap tentacles” right into the plant’s “mouth,” directed in part by the undulations of its tentacles.
Great Barrier Reef Not So Great Anymore.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral cover during the past 27 years. Scientists have broken down the major causes for the decline. It turns out that about one-half of the loss is attributable to extraordinary sea storms over the past three decades. Another forty percent is caused by the destructive action of the ‘crown of thorns’ starfish — a coral predator that has exploded in population during this time period. The final ten percent of the decline is directly attributable to coral bleaching caused in turn by ocean warming.
More at Science Daily.
Nice Baboons Finish First.
An intensive study of baboons in Botswana, Africa, measured the likelihood of social success in the matriarchal baboon society. The researchers developed three rough categories for the baboon personalities they observed: “aloof,” “loner,” and “nice.” Loner baboons fared the worst: they and their offspring lived shorter and more stressed lives and had, not surprisingly, smaller social networks. Nice baboons were social to almost every other baboon and it paid off. They belonged to the largest and most stable social groups, were the most healthy and lived the longest. Aloof baboons fell somewhere in between the two extremes.
More at Live Science.
E. coli Evolves After 40,000 Generations in a Test Tube.
Scientists believe that millions of years ago, the familiar E. coli bacteria was able to digest the common chemical citric acid even in the presence of oxygen. Today, it cannot do so. For the past 25 years, scientists have been growing generation after generation of E. coli in 12 flasks containing sugar and a small amount of citric acid. A mutation occurred after 33,000 generations that produced an E. coli bacteria with a genetic change that permitted it to digest citric acid in an oxygen rich environment. DNA analysis shows that a mutation has made a dormant gene suddenly active in the newly evolved version of E. coli. The evolution has continued and more recent descendants of the new E. coli have four genes to more efficiently digest citric acid.
More at Science News.
Snails Sacrifice a Foot To Live Another Day.
On the Japanese islands of Ishigaki there exists a snail that has developed an interesting way to escape its key predator. Immature Satsuma caliginosa snails would be helpless when attacked by the Pareas iwasakii snake, which has a fondness for eating snails. Because the immature snail does not have a fully developed shell, it has developed a different strategy for survival — it self-amputates its foot in order to escape the grasp of the snake. The snail slowly re-grows its foot and if it reaches maturity, it can rely on a mature shell for less physically costly protection.
More at Live Science.
Ants and the Argument for Collective Thinking.
If you’ve ever felt that information overload thwarts your ability to make decisions, you are not alone. Scientists at Arizona State University have been experimenting with the ways in which ants compare and choose among new nesting sites. When confronted with as many as eight possible choices, individual ants make poor decisions. But the collective intelligence of the ant colony results in a solution that is far better, even if multiple choices are presented. The research has broader implications and may inform in the area of robotics and information technology.
More at Science Daily.
Genetic Fix Produces Hypo-allergenic Milk.
A small but significant percent of infants are allergic to a protein in cow’s milk called beta lactoglobulin (BLG). Now scientists at AgResearch in New Zealand have used a cloning technique to develop a cow that produces milk without that protein. After identifying the gene that coded for the protein, the researchers managed a genetic alteration that shut down that gene. Then they introduced that modified gene into a cow egg and a calf without that gene was recently born. It produces high-protein milk but not BLG.
More at New Scientist.
Black Mamba Snake Venom as Good as Morphine.
Chemicals in the venom from Africa’s black mamba snake may be more effective than opiates for pain relief. New research shows that the venom produces pain relief as effective as opium based products, such as morphine, with less risk of respiratory distress. Animal venom has proved useful before. Treatments as diverse as anti-clotting agents to cancer chemotherapy have been based on the chemicals derived from animal venom. Many new uses of undiscovered venoms lay in wait, but the race to find them before more venom-producing species go extinct is ongoing.
More at National Geographic.
Watch PBS Nature film Black Mamba.
Sheep Text Message to Safety.
Swiss biologists may have come up with a tech savvy solution to keep at-risk sheep populations safe. Scientists created sheep collars that text-message shepherds and emit a wolf repellent when dangerous predators are lurking nearby. The alerts are triggered when a sheep’s heart rate sharply increases from 60 beats to 225 per minute—a jump that occurs when it notices wolves around.
More from KPCC.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.