Invasion of the Lionfish.
Lionfish are exotic looking fish with long poisonous spines and distinct stripes. Native to the Pacific Ocean, they were accidentally brought over to the Atlantic. Today, lionfish are overwhelming the coral reefs of the Caribbean. Ten years ago, there were very few lionfish in this area but now they have proliferated to the point that they are found at depths of 300 feet below the surface. As is the case with other invasive species, lionfish are becoming a threat to native fish species that have trouble competing with the relatively new import. Human intervention in the form of fishing or predator introduction might be necessary, but those efforts are often counterproductive.
The Problem with Puffins.
For many years, the colorfully beaked Puffin has been considered an endangered bird species. Some 40 years ago, conservationists embarked on a program to relocate Puffins to areas that were free from predators and that contained man-made burrows. Today, Puffins face challenges related to climate change. The fish that they depend upon for survival, such as herring, have been reduced due to warming sea temperatures. In this short photo series, CBS news provides a pictorial short history of the Puffin’s plight.
Nature is all about opportunity and that is why plants come in a variety of scents. Like the bees that pollinate them, we love the smell of flowers, especially roses. But some plants have evolved to be pollinated by different insects, such as dung beetles, that prefer the smell of, well, dung. Enter the corpse plant or Amorphophallus titanum. It is one of the most offensive smelling plants in nature because its main pollinator is the dung beetle. People trying to describe the horrific odor are sometimes at a loss for words, but to the dung beetle the smell suggest that rotting flesh is nearby and that is a good place to lay its eggs. The plant is native to Indonesia, but one is presently blooming in the U.S. Botanic Gardens, coincidentally just a few miles from the U.S. Capitol.
T. Rex’s Reputation Restored?
Although Tyrannosaurus Rex was traditionally depicted as a ferocious predator with strong grasping jaws and giant teeth, another theory also existed. Some paleontologists had suggested that T. Rex might have been more of a scavenger than a killer. However, a new find of a T. Rex tooth buried in the vertebrae of another dinosaur may be enough to restore T. Rex’s reputation as the ancient king of the beasts.
The Indonesian Hobbit.
Soon after the remains of what appeared to be a new archaic hominid species were found 10 years ago, the debate began. Were these miniature remains found on the Indonesian island of Flores a new hominid species or just ancient humans with a severe pathology? The small cranium of the individuals, one third the size of modern humans, did not easily fit either hypothesis. Now, the new species contingent has received new support from a detailed study of the ancient craniums. Researchers have analyzed every crook and cranny of the cranial fossils and after comparing them with archaic hominids and humans with pathologies, they have concluded it is more likely that the Indonesian “hobbit” was a separate species deserving of its scientific name.
New Triceratops Had Jimmy Durante Size Nose.
A new member of the triceratops family has been discovered in Utah. It had a huge nose protected by small horns and has been dubbed Nasutoceratops titusi, which translates into “big nosed horned face.” Like other dinosaurs of this type, the elaborate headgear was probably used by the males to engage in fighting for females, as is still common today in animals with large horns. 75 million years ago, herds of these animals roamed from what is now Southern Utah into the Canadian plains.
Mosquitoes, Birds, Snakes and Climate Change.
How are these four things related? As we know, mosquitoes are a vector for the transmission on many diseases, such as West Nile Virus, to humans and animals. They are kept in check to some degree by birds, such as the Missouri-native Acadian flycatcher. Birds can eat prodigious numbers of mosquitoes, but they too have their enemies, in this case snakes. Snakes seek out bird eggs and baby birds for food, but as reptiles, their activity is temperature dependent. Higher temperatures, such as those seen recently and attributed to climate change, have activated the snake population, which in turn has diminished the bird population. This complex scenario is playing out today in the Missouri’s Ozark forest where higher temperatures have made snakes more active. Scientists are monitoring the overall effect on the bird population.
Folklore has it that the oddly featured dogs of South Carolina were not brought here by the colonists hundreds of years ago, as most dogs were, but were instead original residents of the area. The Carolina dog has a “fish hook” tail, a pointed snout and the odd habit of digging large holes everywhere in search of roots or other nutrients. Recently, DNA evidence suggests that folklore had it right. Tests done by researchers for the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden show that genetic markers found in European dogs, including most of the dogs in the United States, are not present in certain breeds, including the Peruvian hairless, the Chihuahua and the Carolina dog. Together with historic references to these dogs in the care of Native Americans of the area, there is now solid proof that these breeds made the trip to the Americas with their Asian masters over the land bridge from Siberia to North America thousands of years ago.
Butterflies as Masters of Color.
Butterflies are not just colorful, their wings seem to play with light and color. It is a crystalline structure on the surface of the wing that causes these effects, and scientists are hopeful that the nanochemical tricks can be put to use in material science to create new pattern and designs. Using an electron-scanning microscope, scientists can see that multiple layers are needed to create these dazzlingly colorful displays. Some of the layers contain color while others are airlike and cause a mirror effect that reflects only certain colors in order to produce iridescence. If perfected, clothing manufacturers who copy the butterfly could someday produce materials that display bright colors during daytime, and subdued hues in the evening.
Sometimes You Really Need a Hand.
We’ve read many times about the intelligence of ravens and crows. Watch this amazing video of a raven who seeks out human help to remove porcupine quills from its face.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.