Bored with Paragliding? Try Parahawking.
It seems hawks can teach us a thing or two about flying. As reported first-hand by New York Times’ John Bishop, a new sport, “parahawking,” uses raptors as flight guides. The flights are conducted from a hill in Pokhara, a small Nepalese city within view of the Himalaya Mountains. The sport uses rehabilitated birds of prey that can no longer survive in the wild. Amazingly, the raptors have been taught to lead human paragliders (a small bribe of meat helps) to just the right updrafts for a scenic and no doubt unforgettable glide across some of the most beautiful terrain in the world. The operators hope that the parahawking school will help support efforts to save Nepal’s birds of prey from an anti-inflammatory drug, given to local cattle, that has been debilitating the raptor populations.
Cats Dip, Dogs Slurp – Cats Drink Elegantly Using Principles of Inertia.
The pressing question of how cats manage to drink so neatly has been answered. It appears that cats don’t actually form a ladle with their tongues like dogs do. That would lead to a slobbery, messy chin – a situation no cat could tolerate. Instead, feline manners employ the principles of inertia. By dipping the tip of its tongue in the liquid at extremely high speed, too fast for the human eye to detect, and then retracting the tongue just as quickly, cats cause a column of the liquid to leave the surface directly above the tongue. Because the tongue is retracted so quickly, the column moves in the direction of the retracting tongue (inertia), where it momentarily defies gravity and neatly enters the cat’s mouth. The result: a refreshing drink and clean whiskers.
Read more at Global Animal.
Octopus and Squid Match Camouflage to Ocean Depth.
An octopus or a squid can change their color within a fraction of a second. We know why they do it: to hide from predators. But why do they choose transparent camouflage for surface waters and red or black for the ocean bottom? Researchers now have an answer. It appears that a transparent camouflage makes any animal at surface level almost invisible. On the other hand, at the ocean bottom predators are known to use bio-fluorescence to search for prey. In that environment, a clear camouflage would make an octopus or squid light up. Instead, by turning dark red, the blue light of bio-fluorescence is absorbed and the creatures remain invisible.
Read more at Scientific American.
Microscopic Life Hugely Photogenic.
Every year, Olympus announces its Bioscape photography winners and honorable mentions. The photographs of microscopic life in the Olympus gallery for 2011 are a treat for the eyes.
Horseshoe Bats Flex Their Ears to Suit the Environment.
Faster than the blink of a human eye, some bats can change the shape of their outer ears in order to fine tune their sonar reception. Bats send out ultra-sonic sounds which bounce off objects and return to their sensitive ears, thus mapping the space around them. Researchers studying the bats had to use high-speed, high-resolution equipment in order to detect the changes in the ear shape. The researchers believe that the high speed ear transformations are used in order for the bats to adapt to a specific environment, or to accomplish a particular sonar task.
Read more at ScienceDaily.
Our Closest Relatives to Get a Reprieve from Invasive Research.
The New York Times reports that the confluence of efforts by many humane organizations is expected to put a stop to invasive chimpanzee medical research in the United States. Because they are so genetically similar to humans, chimps have been used for medical research that has successfully led to cures for several fatal human diseases. However, our closest cousins’ similarities to us are a double-edged sword. Many advocates for chimps and other primates have argued convincingly that subjecting near-humans to invasive biomedical research is immoral, despite the medical benefits. The matter is now in the hands of Congress. The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act will, if passed, severely constrict the use of primates in medical research.
Dragonflies to Sport New Electronic Gear.
Just how do dragonflies perform their aerobatic maneuvers to catch insects in mid-flight? In order to find out, researchers are attaching a miniature electronic chip to the insects which will record in-flight information from attachments to 16 neurons in the dragonfly’s nerve cord. The information will then be transmitted wirelessly to electronic measurement devices that will hopefully give researchers some clues as to how the dragonfly uses what it sees in order to make almost instantaneous and precise flight maneuvers.
Read more at New Scientist.
Ancient Moths and Butterflies Were Psychedelic.
A fossil of a moth that is some 47 million years old is allowing scientists to estimate the color of ancient moths and butterflies. Like other insects, moths and butterflies use coloration to camouflage themselves from predators and to announce that they contain toxins and would not be a tasty treat. Coloration rarely survives in fossils. However, moths and butterflies rely not on pigment, but on the surface structure of their wings to reflect light in just the right way to produce vibrant colors. With that in mind, the scientists made use of an electron microscope to study the minute variations in the fossil moth’s wing surfaces. Then, using what is known about modern moths and butterflies, they were able to extrapolate the color of the fossilized moth. The result was a green and blue color that is surprisingly brilliant, if not psychedelic.
Read more at Wired.
Human Threat to Orangutan Populations Increasing.
A recent study concludes that hundreds of orangutans are killed each year in the Kalimantan region of Borneo. Killing the animals has become easier with the ready availability of automatic weapons and explosives. The survey estimates that between 750 and 1,790 Bornean orangutans are killed each year in the Kalimantan region. That number exceeds the tipping point for extinction: it is estimated that no more than 1% of the females can be killed each year before the population can no longer recover.
Read more at National Geographic.
Orange-munching Cows May Be in Our Future.
A team of scientists, including representatives from the Agricultural Research Service arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has been exploring ways to safeguard milk production while reducing the amount of antibiotics fed to cows. They now believe there may be a cost-effective alternative to antibiotics in the form of citrus byproducts. Apparently, when cows are fed orange or similar citrus pulp, a natural antibiotic effect can be achieved. The cows seem to tolerate the taste of the citrus additives. And it seems to work. In a test done with sheep, a tenfold decrease in Salmonella was measured in the intestines of the sheep.
Read more at Red Orbit.
Turtles’ Bones Stunted from PCB Exposure.
PCBs (pentachlorobiphenyls) are widespread in today’s environment and have long been suspected of harmful effects on human health. A new study on turtles establishes that exposure to the chemical stunts their growth and bone development. The study used water that contained no greater concentration of PCBs than what is normally found in urban waterways. After several months, compared to a population of control turtles, the PCB exposed baby turtles were smaller, had less bone density and were less developed. Because concentrations of chemicals such as PCB increase in concentration for animals higher up the food chain, the study raises further concerns about PCBs and human health.
Read more at Red Orbit.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.
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