Hints that squid can propel themselves through the air have tantalized scientists for some time. When marine biologist Ronald O’Dor kept Northern shortfin squid in his lab, he’d sometimes be greeted with dead squid lying on the floor around their pool. When Julie Stewart tracked Humboldt squid, she found that they were somehow getting places much faster than anyone thought. And when retired geologist Bob Hulse was vacationing on a cruise off the coast of Brazil, he actually caught it on camera: little 2½-inch orange-back squid soaring through the air.
Flapping while running up a ramp takes far
less energy than flight at the same angle.
What’s the News: How did birds get their wings? And how did they start using them to fly? These questions have bedeviled evolutionary biologists for more than a century, and with flight’s origins long buried, a lot of careful measurements of how modern birds work combined with clever guesswork has resulted in several fiercely differing theories. The two major camps have proto-birds either dropping from trees or running along the ground before finally taking to the air.
A new study lends credence to the idea that flapping wings while running could have been involved by showing that it requires much less energy than flying while still helping birds get over obstacles. This suggests that it could have been an easy way for proto-birds to start going through the motions.
What’s the News: Bats have to use twice as much energy to fly when they’re wet as when they’re dry, a new study in Biology Letters found, which may help explain why many bats refrain from flying in heavy rain.
For tiny spores, there’s no defeating gravity—unless they work together.
The pathogenic fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum travels from place to place by shooting its spores up in the air to be carried away, the same way many plants and fungi spread. A single spore, however, can barely get airborne before it falls back to the surface. A species isn’t going to spread far with that kind of flight time, but luckily, this fungus has a solution. It blasts its spores en masse, creating a wind current that helps them all drift away to new homes.
Science: It’s best with stuffed fish and a wind tunnel.
When flying fish leap from the water and glide through the air, they appear as streamlined as any bird or insect. But how does one put that assumption to the test? Easy: Catch flying fish from the Sea of Japan (or East Sea, as South Korea calls it), kill them, stuff them, place them in a wind tunnel, and turn on the breeze.
Hyungmin Park and Haecheon Choi did just that. Their study of airflow around the fish, which is out in The Journal of Experimental Biology, concludes that flying fish glide as efficiently as some birds, and perhaps even more so than some flying insects.
Players complaining about the new ball: It’s one of the traditions that returned like clockwork with this World Cup, along with egregious diving, English misery, and American fans perking up when the team performs and then swearing off soccer for another four years when USA crashes out.
But while equipment discontent typically fades as the tournament enters its final stages, anger toward World Cup 2010’s Jabulani ball won’t subside. So Caltech scientists decided to find out for themselves: They took the ball into their lab’s wind tunnel to see if it’s really so bad.
If you’ve spent any time kicking around a soccer ball, you’ll remember that it isn’t a perfect sphere, but rather is made of geometric panels with grooves in between. But while a traditional ball contains 32 panels, the Jabulani contains only 8, which made the team led by Beverly McKeon suspect there could be something to the complaints about its erratic behavior.