Phallostethus cuulong was swimming quietly in Vietnam’s Mekong River, minding its own business, when humans discovered the fish in 2009. And now that researchers have described P. cuulong [pdf], we can’t help violating its privacy by gazing unabashed at its most interesting feature. That feature sits on the throat in the form of a priapium, an organ with as many parts as a Swiss Army knife, most of which contribute to a single function: making as many babies as possible.
Seaweeds showing off their drag reducing skills.
Littered with the dehydrating corpses of seaweeds, beaches after a big storm are a reminder that life can be tough out there in the crashing waves. But seaweeds aren’t totally defenseless. A recent study in the American Journal of Botany studied two different strategies that seaweeds use to reduce drag so that fast-moving waves don’t uproot them.
Drag is proportional to the total area of the seaweed multiplied by drag coefficient, which depends on the seaweed’s shape. (For example, a boxy school bus has a higher drag coefficient than a race car.) That means seaweeds can either get smaller or more streamlined to ride out the waves.
The naked tail of a hermit crab is a flaccid, unsexy, and vulnerable thing. When a snail shell of the right size is nowhere to be found, the hermit crab’s gotta do what’s it gotta do, which in this case is living inside a sea anemone. Hermit crabs will often place anemones on their shells—the anemone’s stinging tentacles keep away predators and it gets to hitch a ride while feeding on food particles the crab misses. That’s probably how this started. But when the crab outgrew its small snail shell, the anemone grew to cover both shell and crab.
Greg Rouse and colleagues found this critter during an expedition off the coast of Costa Rica in 2010. The area is lacking in large snail shells, says Dr. Rouse, and there has been a previous report of this species, Parapagurus foraminosus, covered by an anemone.
Image courtesy of Greg Rouse, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
An Emperor penguin being skinned on board the Endurance.
Imagine you’re in Antarctica. It’s cold. You’re cold. Your joints ache, old wounds are reopening to ooze pus, and your teeth loosen, threatening to fall out one or two at a time. What do you feel like eating? How about “a piece of beef, odiferous cod fish and a canvas-backed duck roasted together in a pot, with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce?”
If this sounds delicious, then your stomach serves you well. That’s how famous polar explorer Frederick Cook described the taste of penguin meat, and that is how you cure yourself of scurvy in Antarctica when fresh vegetables are nowhere to be found. Fresh meat—lightly cooked or raw—contains vitamin C, whose deficiency causes scurvy and the delightful symptoms described above.
Unfortunately for turn-of-the-century Antarctic explorers, most expedition leaders were not as enlightened as Cook and many a man succumbed to scurvy. Unfortunately for Antarctica’s penguins, they were also easy prey for the men who did eat them. “Long lines of curious penguins marched across the ice and right into camp, which almost always meant death as dog food, human food, or fuel for the boiler. A stew of penguin heart and liver became a crew favorite,” describes Jason C. Anthony in a paper on Antarctic cuisine in the Heroic Age in Endeavour.
What’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold, you say? With all due respect to André 3000, this frigid brine is even cooler. This icicle is caused by sinking brine, which becomes concentrated with salt at the surface. It’s super-salinity both allows it to become colder than ice, and sink, as it’s denser than sea water. This salty spout freezes the water around it, forming a sinister (and amazing) “brinicle.” Poor starfish. It was filmed by BBC filmmakers under the ice at Little Razorback Island, near Antarctica’s Ross Archipelago.
Scientists have discovered a new type of silk that combines the legendary stickiness of barnacles with the strength of spider silk (which is strong as steel and five times less dense). But the new material doesn’t come from a lab—it’s made by the small shrimp-like animal Crassicorophium bonellii. These crafty amphipods spin the silk using their legs like spiders to fashion mud-coated tubes in which they live.
Before: scuzzy yellow (top); and after: pearly white! (bottom)
Killer whales are best known for their picturesque profiles and predilection for seal flesh, but they also like to travel, a recent study confirms. And these aren’t your basic joyrides through ice flows. These are 6,200-mile excursions to the tropics, where scientists speculate they engage in a pursuit familiar to anyone who’s headed to a Bermuda spa in February: getting rid of that wintry dead skin.
To get detailed information about whales’ movements, a group of scientists equipped whales with tags that would record swim velocity and current location. At first they just noodled around the Antarctic hunting, a behavior the scientists could identify from the bursts of speed they put on as they went after prey. But then, each in their own time, they started to rocket northwards, moving nonstop until they reached the balmy waters hear Uruguay and southern Brazil, nearly 6,000 miles away. Then, just as suddenly, they whipped around and came back. One whale made the trip in just 42 days.
So you finally got that 3D printer. It was pricey, but now you can fabricate anything you want! After making a few dozen hamster food dishes, a model of your own head, and as many toilet part replacements as you will ever (God willing) need, you’re feeling at loose ends. You need a cause to print for.
Ichthyosaur bones: clear evidence of kraken lair
A well-known paleontologist found the lair of the heretofore-mythical kraken, proving that a hyper-intelligent giant squid hunted schoolbus-sized ichthyosauruses before breaking their necks, drowning them, and bringing them home to its pad on the bottom of the sea. After feasting on the delicious sea reptile, the kraken felt artistic and made a self-portrait, arranging their bones in a pattern resembling the suckers on its tentacle.
Unfortunately, this insane story isn’t a tale from a science-fiction novel. It was actually stated in a news release from the Geological Society of America and credulously regurgitated by many news sources covering it, taking the, uh, not entirely rock-solid claims made by Mount Holyoke College paleontologist Mark McMenamin at face value.
Bluestreak cleaner wrasses servicing a “client.”
Our legal system was built on the idea that different crimes warrant different punishments. Aggravated assault will snag you less jail time then, say, premeditated murder. And with no small degree of hubris, many of us believe that we’re the only animals on the planet to implement such a discerning system. But scientists have now learned that a species of fish also punish delinquents according to the severity of their crimes.
Starting life as females, bluestreak cleaner wrasse band together to clean off parasites and dead tissue from bigger fish, including sharks. At some point, the largest wrasse in a group, which typically has about 16 members, will change sex, become harem master, and reproduce with the others.
Yet while they normally feed on parasites, wrasse females actually prefer something a bit tastier: their clients’ mucus. However, a misplaced mucus nibble can annoy the client and thereby drive off the group’s food source, so males chase and bite any females caught misbehaving. Last year, scientists saw that punished females seem to fall back in line.