A Chimp’s Plea for Freedom.
It is one thing to assume that caged animals would like their freedom. It is quite another when one actually asks for it. At the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Great Britain, a chimpanzee was videotaped putting the sign language it had learned from humans to good use. In a heartbreaking scene captured on videotape, the chimp futilely uses American Sign Language to implore passersby to open the gate to its enclosure.
More at Global Animal.
New Species Discovered on the Internet.
Guek Hock Ping likes to take photographs of nature. He also likes to publish them on the internet. When he published a photograph he had taken in Malaysia of a a green lacewing with black lines and blue spots on its wings, an entomologist, Shaun Winterton ook notice. It turns out that the amateur photographer had captured a high resolution image of an unknown species of lacewing. An actual specimen was later found in Malaysia and named for Winterton’s daughter. This probably wasn’t the first nor will it likely be the last instance of accidental species discoveries via the internet.
More at io9.
Imported Giant of the Everglades.
The invasive Burmese Python that has invaded parts of Florida has been discussed here before, but this week there was a record event. A giant python measuring 17 feet, 7” and weighing in at 165 lbs. was captured in the Everglades National Park. With no natural enemies in Florida, the Pythons will be difficult to control. Apparently, this means that the present size record probably won’t stand for very long.
More at Red Orbit.
Blind Lab Mice Get Gene Therapy.
A new approach to diseases such as macular degeneration might involve both genetic therapy and prosthetics. Sheila Nirenberg, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, has been testing this combination approach. Using mathematical formulae to simulate the way neural cells translate light into electrical impulses for the brain combined with genetically modified cells that enhance light sensitivity, the new prosthetic has given blind lab mice a way to see again. Nirenberg is the first to admit that this is only a first step toward treating human vision loss, but it might be an important first step.
More at Live Science.
When It Comes to Light Receptors, Sometime Less is More.
Human eyes have four different types of color receptor cells, three are for color and two are for shades of black and white. The Mantis shrimp (Haptosquilla trispinosa), on the other hand, can boast of 16 different eye color receptor cells. Which species would you expect to have the finest color perception? It turns out that even with 16 receptor cells, the shrimp are far less able to discriminate colors than are humans. In fact, average people can distinguish colors whose wavelengths are only 2 nanometers apart while the best the shrimp can do is 15 nanometers. As explained by Thomas Cronin of the University of Maryland, human color discrimination is performed primarily by our large brains and only four different light receptors are necessary to do the job. Shrimp, on the other hand, have less brain power and that may be why they need more receptors.
More at Science News.
A Different Kind of Shark.
Every year, a multitude of basking sharks flock to the coast of Scotland. Perhaps even more surprising, they are considered welcome guests. That is because basking sharks, like whale sharks, are filter feeders — gentle giants that feed on tiny plankton, just as whales do. They frolic and even breach the water at times to the delight of tourists and native Scots. New scientific tracking equipment is monitoring the sharks’ activity to learn more about what exactly it is that attracts them to the Scotland coasts. More focus on these kinds of sharks will perhaps lessen the hysteria that often accompanies the mere mention of sharks. If its been a slow summer, you can track the sharks’ moverments yourself online at Wildlife Tracking.
More at Discovery News.
More Benefits of Chocolate.
The news about chocolate just keeps getting better. Well, maybe it really isn’t news since the indigenous tribes of Central America knew centuries ago that cocoa-related products were good for us and they consumed them daily. Apparently, flavanols found in chocolate cause a natural relaxation of the walls of blood vessels, which results in lower blood pressure and, possibly, fewer heart attacks and strokes. These results are reflected by several existing studies that were examined by the researchers. More research into whether the benefits actually extend to heart attack and stroke prevention is still ongoing. In the meantime, pass the dark chocolate.
More at Science Daily.
Mom Rescues Her Young from House Fire.
Acting on instinct, Amanda of Santa Rosa, Chile, rushed repeatedly into a burning home to rescue her young, one by one. She placed each one inside one of the fire trucks that had responded to the house fire. Mother and all but one of the newborns are recovering at a local hospital. Amanda is a german shepherd mix.
More at Daily Mail.
Africa’s Elephant Paradox.
Much attention has been paid to the decimation of elephant populations in some parts of Africa due to poaching. What is paradoxical, however, is that in South Africa, elephant overpopulation is a threat to both elephants and people. There are around 18,000 elephants in South Africa, which is too many for the limited parks and preserves in which they are now located. A contraceptive program has been initiated which uses darts laced with a non- hormonal contraceptive. The hope of South African conservationists is that the contraception program will be successful and drown out calls to cull elephant herds.
More at Scientific American.
Octopus Inspired Robots.
Two teams, one from Italy and the other from the United States, have begun to look at the octopus in a new light. The octopus’s ability to shrink itself into small spaces, achieve almost infinite flexibility of movement, and to camouflage itself to match its environment, has inspired thoughts of a robotic equivalent. This would be is stark contrast to the stiff and inflexible robots commonly seen at science fairs. If the efforts are successful, the future of robotics could less like R2D2 from Star Wars and more like the T-1000 from Terminator 2 — but hopefully in a good way.
More at Scientific American.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.