Galapagos Tortoises Make a Comeback, Thanks to Rat Eradication

By Carl Engelking | January 19, 2015 1:25 pm

A baby tortoise spotted on Pinzón Island. (Credit: James Gibbs)

When it comes to protecting endangered species, humans can do more harm than good. However, sometimes our efforts are exactly what Mother Nature ordered.

In 2012 conservationists waged an aggressive campaign to poison the invasive rats living on Pinzón Island, part of the world famous Galapagos archipelago. The rats — introduced through human activity — are the top enemy for saddleback giant tortoises, one of the world’s most ancient and threatened species.

Fortunately, it seems the carpet-bomb approach to Pinzón’s rat problem is working: For the first time in over 150 years, the population of saddleback giant tortoises is set to recover on its own and has nearly tripled since conservationists stepped in to help back in 1959.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Hypnotic Eye Candy of Spinning 3-D Printed Sculptures

By Carl Engelking | January 16, 2015 1:09 pm

With a little math, sculptures can come to life.

It’s hard to be anything but mesmerized by Stanford professor John Edmark’s writhing, wriggling 3D-printed sculptures. No, those sculptures aren’t alive, though your eyes may deceive you. The secret to this eye-massaging video is actually Edmark’s creative application of Leonardo Fibonacci’s famous sequence of numbers.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: mathematics

Cats Are Finally Getting Geneticists’ Attention

By Carl Engelking | January 15, 2015 1:27 pm


Consumer doggie DNA testing is old hat at this point, having been around since 2007. But cat-lovers who wish to decipher their pet’s breed are out of luck  no such tests exist for felines.

That fact reflects the state of the underlying science. Since the first full dog genome was sequenced ten years ago, geneticists have identified hundreds of genes behind canine diseases and physical traits. By comparison, just a handful of such genes have been identified in cats.

But a group of geneticists is working to close this gap by sequencing 99 domestic cats. This week the researchers unveiled the first results from their “99 Lives” initiative.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

Gardeners’ Good Intentions Are Killing Monarch Butterflies

By Carl Engelking | January 15, 2015 9:00 am

monarch butterfly

For monarch butterflies, the path to endangered species status could be paved with good intentions.

Throughout the United States, monarch-lovers are replenishing the supply of milkweed — the plants monarchs lay their eggs in — by growing it in their gardens. However, they’re planting the wrong species of milkweed. And in doing so, well-intentioned gardeners are actually putting more stress on declining monarch populations by convincing them to give up the annual migration altogether.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Researchers Discover Prehistoric Reptile That Roamed Scotland’s Seas

By Carl Engelking | January 12, 2015 2:08 pm
todd marshall pa

Dearcmhara shawcrossi, technically a marine reptile and not a dinosaur, is the first prehistoric aquatic species that’s uniquely Scottish (Credit: Todd Marshall/PA)

Researchers have verified fossil evidence of a massive sea beast that swam off the coasts of Scotland. And, no, this has nothing to do with the Loch Ness Monster. Or does it?

After compiling fossil fragments collected over the past 50 years from Scotland’s Isle of Skye, paleontologists have identified a new species of marine reptile that was 14 feet long, lived 170 million years ago, and looked like a cross between an alligator and a dolphin. It’s the first marine reptile from Scotland to be discovered, studied and added to the scientific record, and it goes by the name Dearcmhara shawcrossi.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs

7 True Facts About the Bizarre Double-Star System Eta Carinae

By Sarah Scoles | January 12, 2015 11:44 am

homunculus nebula

The Homunculus Nebula looks alive. Its two lobes of gas, which resemble twin human hearts stuck artery to artery, stretch half a light-year each from its center. And they’re getting bigger all the time, swelling outward at 1.5 million miles per hour. If you could fly through them, on some Magic School Bus, you’d find two stars at their center—two huge stars, whipping around each other once every 5.5 years.

When their orbits bring them close together, as they did in August 2014, the stars are only as far apart as Mars and the sun. During that close passage, and the two previous to that, astronomers peered deep into the heart of the Homunculus Nebula to find out about the stars that supply its blood.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Monkeys Learn to Recognize Themselves in a Mirror – And Promptly Check Out Their Butts

By Carl Engelking | January 8, 2015 2:30 pm
This is a scene from experiments showing that rhesus monkeys can learn to recognize themselves in the mirror. (Neng Gong and colleagues/Current Biology 2015)

This is a scene from experiments showing that rhesus monkeys can learn to recognize themselves in the mirror. (Neng Gong and colleagues/Current Biology 2015)

What would you do if you saw yourself in a mirror for the first time?

When, after weeks of training, rhesus monkeys learned the true identity of their reflections, one of the first things they did was check out all the locales on their bodies they’d never before seen — and we mean every intimate nook and cranny.

The fact that these monkeys could look in a mirror and recognize those nether regions was stunning. That’s because rhesus monkeys have never proven that they can recognize themselves in a mirror. However, researchers proved that, through a little training, they could foster a certain sense of self-awareness in these primates. And that could teach us more about how the brains of humans and other primates allow them to self-recognize in a mirror. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Newly Discovered Antibiotic is a Bacterial Triple Threat

By Carl Engelking | January 7, 2015 2:35 pm


In the fight against infectious bacteria, humans are slowly losing the battle. That’s because common pathogens are developing resistance to the antibiotics we use to wipe them out. By 2050 it’s expected that, globally, drug-resistant infections will kill more people than cancer.

However, the fight is far from over. Researchers have discovered a potential new class of antibiotic that’s a triple threat: it obliterates many types of drug-resistant bacteria, it’s safe in mammals, and enemy cells weren’t easily able to develop resistance to it. And the microbes that produce it were discovered in the soil of one of the study authors’ backyards.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

Mom Was Right: You’ll Catch a Cold from Being Cold

By Carl Engelking | January 6, 2015 2:20 pm

cold virus

“Put on a jacket or you’ll catch a cold.”

Countless energetic children are told this every day as they zoom outside for playtime. But as kids grow up, this bit of advice is usually dismissed as an age-old, superstitious epithet. A virus, not the temperature, is what makes us sick, right? Well yes. But it turns out mom’s advice contains a kernel of truth too. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

Eight Likely Habitable Exoplanets Discovered

By Liz Kruesi | January 6, 2015 12:14 pm

This artist’s conception depicts an Earth-like planet orbiting an evolved star that has formed a stunning “planetary nebula.” Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

The search for a planet like our own Earth just got one step closer to the ultimate goal. Astronomers have confirmed three more exoplanets orbiting their stars in the habitable zone — where the temperature is just right for liquid water to exist on a planet’s surface. They also added five worlds that are likely in their stars’ habitable zones.

This new crop of planets nearly doubles the number of worlds up to twice Earth’s size in habitable zones. And it includes two of the most Earth-like planets yet discovered.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: exoplanets

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