1. How Tigers Get Their Stripes.

    60 years ago, Alan Turing, a mathematical genius who some refer to as the father of computer theory, surmised a mechanism for the patterns seen in many living things. Spots on Dalmatians, stripes on tigers and other patterns, he suggested, might be the result of a chemical activator-inhibitor pair, which he called morphogens. Recently, scientists studying the regular ridges on the roof of mouse mouths have isolated the two chemical activator-inhibitors responsible for this regular pattern, much as Turing predicted. The study was conducted by scientists at King’s College London and published online in Nature Genetics. Fittingly, Alan Turing would have been 100 years old this year.

  2. Flies Booze It Up to Evade Predators.

    An experiment was designed to see if flies who laid eggs on alcohol producing fruits fared better against parasitic wasps than those laid eggs on low alcohol fruits. It turns out that the alcohol in fermenting fruit becomes a hostile environment for parasitic wasps which lay their own eggs on developing fly maggots. In the experiment, far fewer wasp eggs were laid where a heavy background of alcohol surrounded the fruit on which the fly maggots were developing. And, in those that did lay eggs there, the wasp progeny seemed to be less healthy.

    Read more at the New York Times. Listen to the story on NPR.

  3. He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Cousin.

    An interesting inter-species interaction has been document several times in the ocean. Humpback whales seem to fully cooperate in giving a sort of ride to bottlenose dolphins. As the photographs demonstrate, the dolphins sit atop the nose of the humpback, which then let’s it slide back into the ocean. The game, and it does appear to be an example of interspecies play, is repeated several times. Both of the interactions documented in the article took place in Hawaiian waters, so it’s possible that both species were simply on vacation.

    See photos at Global Animal

    Watch video of marine mammals from PBS Nature’s Ocean Giants.

  4. A Pompeii-like Petrified Forest.

    The city of Pompeii remains famous because a volcanic eruption turned it into an instant fossil and an historical marvel. About 300 million years ago, a volcanic eruption in what is now China turned an entire Permian forest into a fossilized time capsule. The researchers who are digging at the site report that the many feet of ash from the ancient volcano preserved trees, leaves and branches. Jun Wang of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology in China has written an article about the discovery, in which, among other things, extinct spore-producing trees were discovered.

    More at Live Science.

  5. Back from the Dead.

    Almost 32,000 years ago, a squirrel did what squirrels always do — it brought the fruit of a local plant back to its midden in what is now frozen sediment in Siberia. Thawing temperatures led to the discovery of the remains by scientists. Because actual plant tissue remained, Russian scientists were able to successfully regrow the remaining cells into a full size plant. Silene stenophylla has now flowered for the first time since mastodons roamed Siberia. Because similar fossilized burrows are likely to be uncovered in Alaska and Canada, researchers believe that more “back from the dead” plant recoveries might follow.

    Read more at New Scientist.

  6. Smell Your Enemy.

    Ants, it seems, remember a rival colony’s smell after an initial encounter by just a few of its members. This information is passed on throughout the colony so that other members can quickly react if the same rivals are encountered again. In an experiment done with weaver ants, a colony familiarized with its rival engaged the rival much more ferociously in a second encounter than it did when it encountered a new rival colony. In addition, with each additional encounter with the same rival, the colony response became even greater, suggesting that increased frequency of contact triggers an enhanced sense of danger from the rival colony.

    Read more at Red Orbit.

  7. Deep Cave Dwelling Insect Sets New Record.

    A cave-dwelling insect that lives more than a mile below the surface has been discovered near the Black Sea area of the Caucasus Mountains. It is believed to be the deepest land animal dweller ever found. The insect is eyeless and has long antennae. Plutomurus ortobalaganensis lives in total darkness and feeds on organic matter such as fungi. Interestingly, the insect still has body pigment which suggests to scientists that it is still adapting and its deep dwelling experience is relatively recent.

    More at Live Science.

  8. DOGTV Is Coming Soon.

    A cable station in San Diego will soon be programming a dog series about dogs and for dogs. DOGTV is going to be launched with the expectation that dogs will tune in and watch, especially when they are alone in the house and lonely. The program will feature dogs playing, sleeping and riding in a car – from the pooch’s perspective. While the enterprise is certainly novel, it already has its critics. Dr. Katherine Houpt, professor of animal behavior at Cornell University, said that she believed that dogs would more likely pay attention to the sounds of the show rather than the video. That might mean that most dogs are likely to sleep through the programming, much as their owners do.

    More at Global Animal.

  9. Selenium Pollution and Two-headed Fish.

    Selenium is an element that is a known health hazard for humans and non-humans. Strict EPA limits on selenium in public water supplies have been recommended for states since 1987. The J.R. Simplot Company is a mining operation in Idaho that, according to the New York Times., has been linked to water pollution in the past. In a recent scientific study commissioned by the company, it was concluded that higher selenium levels should be permissible in the creeks near the plant. However, in the appendix of that report was evidence of serious fish deformations caused by selenium, including a two-headed trout, that are now raising concerns. While the EPA seemed sanguine about the study’s findings, other scientists, both private and those from other federal agencies, are sounding the alarm. For example, the Fish and Wildlife Service also reviewed the company’s study and found it seriously “biased,” and the Forest Service and Geographical Survey have both weighed in on the need for stricter selenium controls. Unfortunately, the issue is not likely to be resolved until these agencies speak with one voice.

  10. New Species of Endangered Amphibian Discovered.

    After intensive digging in the mud of Northeastern India, researchers have found a new legless amphibian that resembles a snake. Called Chikilidae by the locals, it is about eight inches long and burrows into the earth about a foot. Human encroachment into the Chikilidae’s habitat is threatening the species, which has been around since the dinosaurs. Compounding this is the fact that the local population sometimes mistakes them for venomous snakes and kills them. There is hope that the villagers can be made to understand the Chikilidae actually eats insect pests that threatens their crops.

    Read more at Red Orbit.

“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.


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