Larger Hoverflies Pretend to Sting Like a Bee.
Hoverflies do not sting, but they can do a fair imitation of a stinging bee or wasp. Entomologists studying the hoverfly have noticed that there was a positive correlation between the size of the hoverfly and the authenticity of its bee imitation. It seems that the difference may be need-based. Smaller hoverflies are probably not worth the trouble for predators to pursue them. Larger ones, however, make for a more nutritious meal and have, as a matter of necessity, come to better mimic the movements of stinging insects to dissuade the predators.
More at New York Times.
New Giant Wasp Species Identified.
A discovery of a giant wasp species last year on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has led to the identification of another giant wasp species from an existing collection. Both of these wasps are large in body size but also have gigantic jaws that are used for multiple purposes. If the jaws are not enough to frighten an opponent, they also have a stinger which is used to paralyze prey. The photograph accompanying the article in Red Orbit is, fortunately, not to scale.
These Feet Were Made For Climbing.
If the inferences drawn by paleontologists about the recent discovery of a 3.4 million year-old foot fossil are correct, human ancestors did not have to choose between walking and climbing trees. The new fossil discovery comes from Ethiopia. Only some of the bones of the foot have been uncovered so far, but scientists think that a strong case can be made that this creature could climb trees and walk, albeit awkwardly. Professor Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University commented that “some of our ancestors had retained feet well adapted to climbing trees, millions of years after we started to walk on two feet.” The excitement of the new discovery will be enhanced if additional parts of the body can be unearthed.
More at Guardian.
Court Backs Wolf Hunts.
In a sign of the times, Congress has, for the first time, removed a species from the endangered species list where it has been granted protection since 1974. Now, that law has now been upheld by the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals against challenges by environmental groups. The new law will permit states to allow wolf hunts in the Northern Rockies to satisfy complaints by ranchers of wolf predation on their livestock. It is likely Wyoming will now join Montana and Idaho in allowing wolf hunting this fall. No decision has been made on whether to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
More at Yahoo News.
10,500 Years Ago, Domesticated Oxen Led to Today’s Cattle.
Genetic analysis of bones dug up in Iran, the probable home of domestic farming, is leading to some clues about the evolution of modern cattle. When farming first began some 10,500 years ago, a small number of oxen, more accurately called aurochs, were probably first domesticated. The DNA trail now suggests that a small number of aurochs, perhaps as few as 80, began a genetic lineage that leads to today’s modern cattle.
More at Red Orbit.
Trouble for European Butterflies.
Last week we reported on the plight of the Monarch butterfly in North America. But in Europe, butterflies are facing their own threats. In order to flourish, butterflies need just the right combination of cleared land, meadows, and patches of taller vegetation. The trouble is human activity tends to leave either too much or too little of the individual components of this natural mix. One of the things that can be done to save the populations of native butterflies is keep the amount of deforestation and heavy farm grazing more evenly spread, thereby preventing the spread of no-butterfly zones in the European countryside.
More at Live Science.
The Case for Culling.
Environmentalists warn that human intervention is the chief cause of imbalance in natural habitats. But once human interference has caused an imbalance, is it incumbent upon people to try to undo the damage? In this article in Wildlife News, the author makes a compelling case for why we must eliminate invasive species that we have introduced to naive habitats. A good example is Florida, which, the author points out, has been virtually invaded by human introduced “monkeys, huge snakes like Burmese Pythons, Giant African land snails, Asian Swamp Eels, Asian Tiger Shrimp, Lionfish, New Zealand Mudsnail, Northern Snakehead, Round Goby, Quagga Mussels, Zebra Mussels,” among many others.
You can watch the full PBS Nature film about the Burmese Python Everglades invasion here.
Brighten Up Your Sushi Meal.
As reported last year, zebrafish have been genetically modified so that they can glow in the dark depending upon the level of pollution in their environment—a useful tool in pollution control. Now, however, glowing fish are finding their way onto sushi menus. Apparently, some diners find novelty in having their meal glow in the dark. Whether or not this fad takes hold, there is concern about the safety of glowing fish as food. California has banned its use for consumption, leading one enterprising individual to name one of his menu entrees the “not in California” sushi roll.
More at Treehugger.
The Toll of the Gulf Coast Spill.
The damage done by the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010 has now been shown to include coral. At a distance of 11 kilometers from the epicenter of the spill, coral show signs of oil-related contamination. The coral show tissue damage and have accumulated a brown substance that is a by-product of their exposure to oil. The article, which appears in Science News, quotes a scientist as saying, “Because deep water corals live so long and grow at a biologically glacial pace, it could be years before the full effect of the oil spill on deep water corals is known.”
Ancient Mound Sculptures Found in Peru.
Satellite imagery and archeological measurement reveal that perhaps around 4,000 years ago, a Peruvian civilization was creating mounds of earth to represent animals in their environment. The general concept is not unique. The 2,000-year-old Nazca, Peru line sculptures, which depict animals and astronomical figures, also can be seen from space and have been the subject of debate and speculation since their discovery. The difference is that the newly discovered Peruvian sculpture are made from earth mounds that can be a thousand feet wide – a feature previously found only in North America. So far, what appears to be a condor, an orca and a figure represented as a chimera-like puma/alligator have been identified. The sculptures line up with astronomical features and were probably directed by astronomer-priests of the day.
More at Live Science.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.