Tag: unusual organisms

Researchers Use Avatar Camera Technology to Try to Understand Kangaroo's Hop

By Patrick Morgan | March 10, 2011 3:04 pm

At first glance, biologists slapping motion capture gear onto kangaroos sounds like a scientific foray into the 3-D-movie craze. But James Cameron can rest assured: The scientists are merely performing their day jobs, studying kangaroos—and using a nifty new camera to do it.

As kangaroos mosey along at low speeds, they walk, using their tail as a  fifth limb. But as they speed up, they slip into their signature bounce. The mystery for scientists is why such large animals—some being over six feet tall—are so darn springy, and as Alexis Wiktorowicz-Conroy, a researcher at the Royal Veterinary College, told the BBC, “We can’t really explain … why their bones don’t break at high speeds.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World

Robots That Talk Like Cave-Dwelling Crickets: Using Silent Puffs Of Air

By Patrick Morgan | March 9, 2011 5:32 pm

Ant trails, airborne chemicals, wood vibrations—scientists have a long history of borrowing clever communication techniques from the animal kingdom. Inspired by the odd social habits of a cave-dwelling cricket, scientists have now taught robots to communicate by firing rings of pressurized air at each other.

The cricket in question is the African cave cricket (Phaeophilacris spectrum), which rapidly flicks its wings to launch donut-shaped air rings, a type of vortex, to both potential mates and enemies. Reduced to two kinds of messages, its “language” is pretty simple: It sends isolated vortices to threaten its rival, and a rapid sequence of vortices to woo would-be lovers.

When Andy Russell, an engineer at Monash University in Australia, learned about the cricket, he thought this technique would improve robots’ ability to communicate in noisy environments—but that wasn’t the only benefit. “Like the cave crickets, there may be times when a robot does not want its communications intercepted,” Russell told New Scientist. Researchers speculate that the cricket uses vortices to communicate undetected by predators—so why not robots? Chris Melhuish, a researcher at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK said, “This could be a useful addition to the communication armoury of future robotic systems.”

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology

New "Thunder Thighs" Dino Had a Mighty Kick

By Patrick Morgan | February 23, 2011 12:00 pm

When it come to dinosaurs, names say a lot: “tyrant lizard king” sums up the towering stature and carnivorous ways of Tyrannosaurus rex, and “arm lizard” gestures toward the Brachiosaurus‘s long front legs. And the same is true for the newest discovered dinosaur species, which has been dubbed “thunder-thighs.” That’s because scientists think its muscular thighs were so strong that it used them to boot its enemies.

The official name of this new sauropod species is Brontomerus mcintoshi. The first name is Greek for “thunder-thighs,” and the species name honors the Wesleyan University physics professor and amateur paleontologist Jack McIntosh. This dino is believed to have bigger leg muscles than any other sauropod.

A team of American and British scientists discovered the dinosaur in a quarry in Utah, and published their findings in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. Fragments from two skeletons were found: one from an adult (believed to be the mother) and a juvenile. These specimens are roughly 110 million year old, and the larger one would have weighed in at six tons and measured over 45 feet long.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World

How Acacia Trees Prevent Elephant Attacks: With Armies of Ants

By Joseph Calamia | September 2, 2010 1:13 pm

acacia-treeFrom Ed Yong:

It’s a classic David and Goliath story, except there are 90,000 Davids and they all have stings. On the African plains, the whistling-thorn acacia tree protects itself against the mightiest of savannah animals – elephants – by recruiting some of the tiniest – ants.

Elephants are strong enough to bulldoze entire trees and you might think that there can be no defence against such brute strength. But an elephant’s large size and tough hide afford little protection from a mass attack by tiny ants. These defenders can bite and sting the thinnest layers of skin, the eyes, and even the inside of the sensitive trunk. Jacob Goheen and Todd Palmer from Kenya’s Mpala Research Centre have found that ants are such a potent deterrent that their presence on a tree is enough to put off an elephant.

Read the rest of this post (with video!) at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Related content:
80beats: Parasite-Infested Zombie Ants Walked the Earth 48 Million Years Ago
80beats: Is an Ant Colony’s Caste System Determined by Epigenetics?
80beats: Finally, a Predator to Control the Notorious Cane Toad: Meat Ants?
80beats: Tricky Caterpillars Impersonate Queen Ants to Get Worker Ant Protection

Image: flickr / ebrelsford

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

Could Infrared-Loving Chlorophyll Let Solar Cells Capture More Energy?

By Joseph Calamia | August 20, 2010 6:04 pm

stromatolitesAfter mashing up rock and algae chunks known as stromatolites, researchers have found a new type of chlorophyll, the pigment in plants that takes in light and provides energy for photosynthesis. Unlike its known cousins, this chlorophyll uses infrared light–that’s a surprise to some researchers, who doubted that lower frequency infrared had enough energy to split water for photosynthesis’s oxygen-creation.

“Nobody thought that oxygen-generating organisms were capable of using infrared light… ,” says Samuel Beale, a molecular biologist at Brown University whose work centers in part on chlorophylls [but who was not involved with the study]. “I think what they found here is a new modification of chlorophyll that shows the flexibility of photosynthetic organisms to use whatever light is available.” [Scientific American]

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

Unique Russian "Plant Bank" May Be Saved by Presidential Intervention

By Joseph Calamia | August 19, 2010 11:46 am

VavilovLast week, we described the plight of the Russian Pavlovsk Experimental Station: Plans for a housing complex threaten some 5,000 rare plants, including varieties found nowhere else on the planet. A court judgment last week meant that only the president or prime minister could save the plants, which scientists said would take years to relocate. Now government telegrams and a presidential tweet hint that the plants might have a chance.

Twitter campaigns and a petition led by The Global Crop Diversity Trust appear to have caught the attention of the Russian Civic Chamber which monitors parliament and the government. As The Guardian reports, the Civic Chamber sent a telegram to President Dimitry Medvedev to request a protective appeal and Medvedev updated the world via Twitter:

[N]umerous supporters of the research station have made their feelings felt on Twitter (using the #pavlovsk hashtag). On Friday, following a week of lobbying Medvedev tweeted back: “Received the Civic Chamber’s appeal over the Pavlov Experimental Station. Gave the instruction for this issue to be scrutinised.” [The Guardian]

The outcome of the Medvedev-ordered investigation is far from certain, but advocates for the botanical gene bank have promised to keep up the pressure and say they hope Pavlovsk station will yet be saved. For all the details on the station and its valuable collection, check out Andrew Moseman’s previous 80beats post.

Related content:
80beat: “Living Library” of Fruit Plants May Fall to Russian Bulldozers
DISCOVER: The Numbers on Seeds, From the Largest to the Oldest to the Safest
DISCOVER: The “Doomsday Vault” Stores Seeds for a Global Agricultural Reboot
DISCOVER: The Banks That Prevent–Rather Than Cause–Global Crises
DISCOVER: Beautiful Images of Strange Fruits (photo gallery)

Image: Wikimedia Commons (N.I. Vavilov, institute founder)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

4 Messages a Pantomiming Orangutan Might Be Trying to Convey

By Joseph Calamia | August 11, 2010 5:32 pm

orangutanStop patting yourself on the back. You’re not so special. Orangutans, a new study suggests, also use complex gestures or pantomimes to communicate.

Looking through twenty years worth of orangutan observations, researchers believe they have found 18  examples of pantomimes. The study, which appeared today in Biology Letters, supports the claim that we’re not unique when it comes to abstract communication and lends credence to other observations of great ape gesturing, according to lead researcher Anne Russon.

[Orangutans and chimpanzees were already known] to throw an object when angry, for example. But that is a far cry from displaying actions that are intentionally symbolic and referential–the behaviour known as pantomiming. “Pantomime is considered uniquely human,” says Anne Russon from York University in Toronto, Canada. “It is based on imitation, recreating behaviours you have seen somewhere else, which can be considered complex and beyond the grasp of most non-human species.” [New Scientist]

Of the eighteen observed orangutan pantomimes, four took place between orangutans and 14 between a human and an orangutan. If you ever find yourself in the Indonesian jungles, here are some examples of messages that you might expect:

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins, Living World

16,000 Feet Under the Sea: Deepest Hydrothermal Vent Discovered

By Joseph Calamia | July 21, 2010 4:01 pm

deepventvehicleWant to know what early or extraterrestrial life might look like? You might try looking at Earth’s extremes: the coldest, highest, and deepest places on our planet. One unmanned research vehicle just tried the last of these strategies, and took samples from a hydrothermal vent plume 16,000 feet under the sea–about 2,000 feet deeper than the previous record-holding vent.

A research team led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and including scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory studied three hydrothermal vents, found along an underwater ridge in the Caribbean called the Mid-Cayman Rise. They published their findings yesterday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hydrothermal vents are usually found in spots where the Earth’s tectonic are moving away from each other, creating a weird zone of raw chemistry. A mixture of hot vent fluids and cold deep-ocean water form plumes, which can contain dissolved chemicals, minerals, and microbes. Instead of searching the entire 60-mile-long ridge with the vehicle, the team scouted for chemicals from the plume to zero-in on the vents.

“Every time you get a hydrothermal system, it’s wet and hot, and you get water and rocks interacting. Wherever this happens on the seafloor, life takes advantage,” said geophysicist Chris German of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. “Every time you find seawater interacting with volcanic rock, there’s weird and wonderful life associated with it.” [Wired]

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

Paleontologists Find Treasure Trove of Fossils in Marsupial Death Pit

By Joseph Calamia | July 15, 2010 4:21 pm

nimbadonWhat 15 million years ago was very bad for Australian marsupials is now very good for paleontologists: Researchers have uncovered a death trap, an underground limestone cave where hundreds of animals stumbled to their demise.

A paper published today in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology details the resulting fossil menagerie, which includes an extinct wombat-like marsupial known as Nimbadon lavarackorum.

Karen Black of the University of New South Wales led the excavation and says in a press release that her team has already uncovered 26 Nimbadon skulls. The varying ages of the skulls detail the Nimbadon‘s whole life cycle from “suckling pouch” to “elderly adults.”

“This is a fantastic and incredibly rare site,” says Dr. Black [regarding the cave]. “The exceptional preservation of the fossils has allowed us to piece together the growth and development of Nimbadon from baby to adult.” [Society of Vertebrate Paleontology]

See a photo gallery of the excavation and fossil processing below the jump.
Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Photo Gallery

Female Baboons Find a Secret to Longevity: Close Girlfriends

By Joseph Calamia | July 2, 2010 4:19 pm

baboonApparently, in the animal kingdom, it’s better to be a girl. We have seen that women macaques are superior conversationalists. We learned that lady humpbacks enjoy long-lasting friendships. Now research published in Current Biology shows that baboon ladies with good friends around them may live longer.

At Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve, Joan Silk of the University of California, Los Angeles and her team spied on 44 female chacma baboons over the course of six years. Among other things, Silk looked at which girls had the most visitors and how often the women picked junk out of each other’s hair. In other words, true friendship. She also tracked each baboon’s circle of friends, seeing how each lady’s top three buddies changed over time.

Silk saw a correlation between sociability and longevity. She divided the baboons into three groups, and found that the least friendly lived 7 to 18 years, while the friendliest group lived from 10 years on (they were still kicking when the study ended). They also found that those baboons who formed stable, enduring bonds were more likely to have long lives than those with flightier friendship habits.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »