Tag: living world

What the Duck? Lady Mallards May Get Down With Bright-Billed Drakes to Avoid STDs

By Patrick Morgan | April 13, 2011 3:57 pm

When it comes to mallard bills, brighter is better: A bright yellow bill is duck-speak for “I’m healthy,” attracting more female ducks than dingy green ones. After discovering that avian semen has antibacterial properties, scientists then found that the semen of brighter-billed males killed more bacteria than the semen of darker-billed ones. It implies that by seeking out bright-billed males, female ducks are protecting themselves against bacteria-related sexually transmitted diseases.

In her experiment, University of Oslo researcher Melissah Rowe collected semen from ducks (a feat unto itself—the videos in this link are amazing, but watch at your own risk) of various bill colors, and then tested how well the semen killed bacteria such as E. coli. She found that ducks whose bills had more carotenoids—an organic pigment that brightens bills—also had semen that more effectively killed E. coli. However, they discovered that the semen’s effectiveness against the bacteria S. aureus wasn’t associated with bill color, possibly implying that this bacteria doesn’t pose much harm to ducks.

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Time (Eats) Flies: Clock Powers Itself by Catching & Eating Bugs

By Patrick Morgan | March 28, 2011 11:03 am

Cat clocks. Cuckoo clocks. Grandfather clocks. Often times, clocks are named after the objects, animals, or people they resemble. Not so the fly clock: This mechanical wonder is billed as the first-ever carnivorous clock, sucking energy from decomposed fly carcasses (giving new meaning to the phrase “eating up time”).

The mechanics are quite elegant: Unsuspecting flies get stuck on the clock’s flypaper, which is rigged as a corpse-carrying conveyor belt. A blade on the clock scrapes the catch into a microbial fuel cell. As it digests the fly, the fuel cell extracts electrons to power the LCD screen. As flypaper keeps trapping and the wheels keep turning, you have yourself an Earth-friendly, critter-ridding timepiece the likes the world has never seen.

UK engineers got the idea of a carnivorous clock from Chris Melhuish at the Bristol Robotics Lab, whose team previously developed another fly-powered robot, according to MSNBC. But the idea of carnivorous robots goes back at least a decade, to the aptly named Slugbot.

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Vladimir Putin Conducts Whale Research via Crossbow

By Joseph Calamia | August 26, 2010 5:47 pm

Required for biopsying a gray whale: one speed boat, one crossbow, and one Russian prime minister. Vladimir Putin recently spent some quality time in Olga Bay, helping the V.I. Il’ichev Pacific Oceanological Institute sort out the family tree for a group of gray whales.

As Nature’s blog The Great Beyond explains, the Institute hopes to determine if the whales descended from a Californian or extinct Korean whale population, and the crossbow holds a specially-designed arrow for taking a skin sample. The bold Russian prime minister, known for his shirtless fishing, fire fighting, and bear tracking, told the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS that science can be tricky but exciting:

“I had the sporting feeling, I missed the target thrice, but hit it the fourth time.”

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Here's Your Awesomely Trippy Math Video of the Week

By Joseph Calamia | August 5, 2010 5:15 pm

If you’ve ever caught yourself fantasizing about infinite series of irrational numbers while out in the woods, this video is for you. Or if you just like cool graphics.

Cristobal Vila’s Nature by Numbers:

As you may’ve noticed, an important motif in the video is the Fibonacci Sequence. The series starts with 0 and 1. After those first two, you can calculate each subsequent number in the series by adding the previous two: 0 + 1 = 1, 1 + 1 = 2, 1 + 2 = 3, 2 + 3 = 5 . . . Thus 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5 . . .

Among other things, the series is good for making a Fibonacci Spiral (from squares with side lengths defined by each number in the sequence) which sort of matches a Golden Spiral, which sort of matches a Nautilus shell.  The complete explanation of the numbers behind the nature is available on the Vila’s website, here.

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Video: Cristobal Vila Nature by Numbers

Building a Better Dead Body Detector

By Joseph Calamia | August 3, 2010 10:31 am

graveIt was just like an Easter egg hunt, except instead of eggs, two researchers hid dead rats. Some rats waited three inches underground. Others sat in the open. The duo also buried empty boxes–for comparison. By the end of their study, Thomas J. Bruno and Tara M. Lovestead were expert deceased rodent-hunters, and may have developed a tool to help law enforcement find buried human bodies.

Bruno and Lovestead are chemists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Their body-finding tool has an aluminum needle, slightly thicker than a human hair, which they used to prick grave soil for samples from underground air pockets. Back in the lab, they sorted through those samples for rotting flesh gases, in particular one called ninhydrin-reactive nitrogen.

They found that five week-old bodies gave off the most ninhydrin-reactive nitrogen, but that they could  detect the gas even after twenty weeks. Their test is an improvement on more expensive means for finding dead bodies, because the device works at room temperature (previously analysis required an ultra-cold device). It also uses a chemical already available on a crime scene–forensics teams use ninhydrin reagent to pick up latent fingerprints.

Though this initial study only uncovered rat bodies under soil, Bruno said that the device might even detect a human body buried under a concrete slab (after drilling a one-eighth-inch hole). A seemingly particular scenario, but for crime show and mafia movie enthusiasts an understandable one.

Check out DISCOVER’s new TV show, Joe Genius.

Related content:
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Discoblog: Decapitated, Lion-Chewed Remains = Ancient Gladiator Graveyard

Image: flickr / Jay Malone

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Crime & Punishment

Study: Belly-Flopping Frogs Evolved Big Jumps Before Smooth Landings

By Joseph Calamia | July 26, 2010 1:31 pm

Apparently it’s hard to teach an old frog a new trick: landing on its legs. As painfully demonstrated in the video below, the primitive frog family Leiopelmatidae prefers to belly-flop.

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