Playing a Harmonica with a Trunk.
At the Smithsonian National Zoo an Asian elephant named Shanthi has put her musical inclinations to good use. When zookeepers attach a harmonica to her stall, she plays it with her trunk. To be sure, the pieces are original, but there is little doubt that Shanthi is enjoying her performance.
More at Discovery.
Biggest Trees Lock In Most CO2.
Few of the trees in Yosemite National Park are giants whose trunks measure 3 or more feet in diameter. However, these monsters account for about half of the total biomass in the park. Unfortunately, assays of the number of giant trees in the park have shown a continuing decline for many years. Because locking up carbon dioxide is so important for climate change, the research underscores the special importance of caring for and cultivating the largest trees in a forest.
More from Smithsonian Science.
Dinosaur Flatulence Contributed to Global Warming.
Just as cows and other ruminants do today, certain dinosaurs, sauropods, are believed to have produced prodigious quantities of methane in the form of flatulence. Today, it is estimated that our domestic grazing animals produce from 50 to 100 million tons of methane per year. Based on some speculative assumptions about how much methane the much larger dinosaurs might have produced, the scientists at Liverpool John Moores University in England estimate that dinosaur emissions were of sufficient quantity to have produced warmer earth temperatures.
More at National Geographic.
Zombie Ants and Killer Fungi — It’s Not Science Fiction.
In the Brazilian rainforest lurks a killer fungus. When it shoots spores into the air, some land on the bodies of ants. The spores begin to take over the ant’s brain, forcing it to go to a cool location where the ‘zombified’ ant can be completely consumed by the fungus and its progeny. New spores pour out of the ant’s head and body, and the cycle continues. Is it the end for the Brazilian rain forest ant? Of course not. The balance of nature now comes into play and another fungus, as yet unnamed, uses a chemical attack to “castrate” the zombie-producing fungus. The net result of this battle of the fungi is that most of Brazil’s rainforest ants survive, thanks to the “friendly” fungus that protects them.
More at National Geographic.
Just How Smart Are Animals?
In this article, several of the smartest animals on earth are discussed and compared. Seven in particular have skills that humans cannot match. A few of the animals that made the list: homing pigeons, ants, elephants, crows, and dolphins.
More at Global Animal.
Fighting Malaria with Haute Couture.
Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people every year. Now, a Cornell University researcher has teamed up with an African-born designer to produce a fashionable solution. The garment they have invented binds an insecticide with the fabric itself at the molecular level. Consequently, the insecticide does not easily wear off and remains effective at keeping malaria-carrying mosquitos at bay. And, because the garment was designed by a local-born fashion designer, it should be attractive enough to locals to be quite popular. The team is already looking ahead to future designs, one of which will allow the fabric to give off additional insecticide protection at night, when mosquitos are most active.
More at Red Orbit.
An article in Live Science offers a new and somewhat shocking indictment of the most common of food additives – table salt. On average, Americans consume about 10 times more salt than the body requires. “Reducing daily sodium intake by 2,000 milligrams at the population level could prevent 1.25 million deaths from stroke and almost 3 million deaths from cardiovascular disease each year, according to an analysis published in the British Medical Journal in 2009.” But industry cooperation is unlikely. Salt is a profit generator in many ways. In meat, added salt binds to water and increases the gross weight of meat on the supermarket shelves. For beverage manufacturers, salt obviously drives sales. And low quality fast foods taste palatable when enough salt is added.
Cypress Family of Trees Shows Evolution’s Path.
Two hundred million years ago, all of today’s continents were part of a single land mass, called Pangaea. DNA evidence collected from hundreds of cypress species reveals that trees in the Cypress family were common in Pangaea, but that these trees drifted apart along with the sections of Pangaea that ultimately formed today’s continents. Once separated into the modern continents and isolated from each other, some of these original trees evolved to form the much more varied Cypress family of trees that now populate North America, Europe and parts of Asia, while others evolved into the Cypress family common to the continents of the Southern hemisphere – South America, Australia and Africa.
More at MSNBC.
iPad Mania Aped by Orangutans.
Love your iPad? So do the Orangutans at the Milwaukee Zoo where iPads have become a popular pastime for the apes. iPads were introduced to the Orangutan population through a project fittingly called “Apps for Apes.” Because they are so dexterous, the Orangutans take naturally to touch screens. So far, they seem to enjoy video-calling each other (presumably with the help of zoo workers), and they express their artistic side using the iPad’s drawing application. What’s needed next is a more durable iPad model that can handle the rougher treatment that Orangutans dish out.
More at Daily Mail.
Whale Population Decline Traced to Early Whaling Years.
The present population of Pacific gray whales is just a fraction of what it was before the whaling era of the 19th and 20th centuries. But might the decline in population have been triggered by some event that occurred before whaling? To find out, scientists turned to DNA analysis. Using bone specimens from fossils between 150 and 2500 year ago, the DNA of the gray whale revealed the answer. The population size of the gray whale had undergone a very recent steep decline, which aligns perfectly with the whaling era and negates any possibility that pre-whaling forces had already reduced the gray whale population.
More at Science Daily.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.