If these fossilized turtles had a final thought, it was probably, “If you’ve gotta go, go out with a bang!” New evidence suggests that the ancient reptiles died while mating and were preserved in their final embrace.
Germany’s Messel Pit Fossil Site contains black oil shale that has preserved even the soft tissues of tens of thousands of 47-million-year-old fossils. Among them, the only ones found in pairs were nine sets of coupled carettochelyid turtles, and although previous research speculated that the reptiles were copulating, there was no proof until now. German researchers discovered that the turtles were all in male-female pairs (in the above image, the larger fossil on the left is the female), and that their tails were aligned, a position that indicates the close contact of a mating stance.
Adélie penguin chicks chase an adult.
Penguins are undeniably adorable. What other animal waddles around in a little tuxedo? But don’t let that cute exterior fool you: on a 1910–1913 Antarctic expedition, surgeon and zoologist George Levick bore witness to some surprising sexual behaviors of Adélie penguins, including coerced sex and necrophilia. In fact, the paper he wrote on the penguins’ sexual habits was considered too explicit to be published during the Edwardian era, and has only recently been rediscovered after spending almost a century hidden away in the Natural History Museum at Tring.
Levick travelled to Antarctica with Captain Robert Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova expedition, where he spent 12 weeks in the world’s largest Adélie penguin colony at Cape Adare, observing the birds, taking photographs, and even collecting nine penguin skins. After his return, Levick used his daily zoological notes as source material for two published penguin studies, one for the general public and a more scientific one to be included in the expedition’s official report. Intriguingly, this second account includes vague references to “’hooligan’ cocks” preying on chicks. Levick merely writes, “The crimes which they commit are such as to find no place in this book, but it is interesting indeed to note that, when nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness.”
Now, modern-day researchers have discovered that Levick did in fact describe the hooligans’ crimes in the paper, “The sexual habits of the Adélie penguin.” This paper was expunged from his official account, probably because it was too disturbing for Edwardian mores. Levick himself covered some explicit passages of his personal notes with coded versions, rewritten in the Greek alphabet and pasted over the original entries. Although the paper was withheld from the official record, researchers at the Natural History Museum did preserve it in pamphlet form, printing 100 copies labeled, “Not for Publication.” But most of the originals have been lost or destroyed, and no later works on Adélie penguins cited this paper until recently, when researchers in the Bird Group at the National History Museum at Tring discovered one of the original pamphlets in their reprints section.
Hey, Internet. It’s science here wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day. And we do mean happy—we wouldn’t be here if there weren’t any oxygen in the air right?
Let’s start with a pretty picture. Copy all of the below mathematical function and enter it into Google. Just do it.
sqrt(6-x^2), -sqrt(6-x^2) from -4.5 to 4.5
…and links to the best V-Day science out there:
That soap opera cliche of someone clutching their chest and kneeling over dead after finding out a dead lover has some science behind it. Sudden shocks—even positive ones like winning the lottery—can cause a massive release of adrenaline, causing the heart to freeze up. The hearts of patients who die from this take on a distinctive shape resembling a Japanese octopus trap, which is where the name takotsubo cardiomyopathy comes from.
Every year on Valentine’s Day, writers dig up the origin of the holiday to talk about naked Romans. Sorry, we’re not immune to it either. Those pagan Romans used to run around naked with whips, hitting young women to increase their fertility. (Seriously? Dinner plans are looking so much better now.) Then, the Church pegged that pagan celebration to the story of St. Valentine, so today we have chocolate and roses and singing valentines. We’re not really sure what those have to do with St. Valentine either.
The “love hormone” oxytocin makes you more empathetic and generous and, as it turns out, also more racist and less trustful. Huh? Ed Yong, who’s covered this before on his blog, writes on the latest hypothesis about oxytocin at New Scientist. Instead of just making us feel cuddly, it helps direct our attention to salient social cues in the environment. And what’s salient, of course, depends on the environment.
Since Facebook tracks both your relationship status to and what songs you listen to when (among other things), they put it together and released a list of most popular songs when starting new relationships and breaking up. We’re only surprised that Adele doesn’t have a monopoly on the breakup list.
Oldies but goodies. Two pieces comparing the types of men and women you date with the types of physics you might encounter. Did you know that the derivative of acceleration is called jerk? Just saying some of these remind us of that.
Elsewhere on DISCOVER, you’ve got the hearts of space (love really is universal), animals that don’t have sex (sex is not so universal), and right here on Discoblog’s NCBI ROFL is the Valentine’s week archive. Get lovin’.
When a male’s bits don’t fit with a female’s bits, you wind up with reproductive malfunction. But shape isn’t everything, as a team of researchers recently discovered while watching hundreds of skink lizards court and spark.
Most studies looking at how genitalia mismatch contributes to new species take the concept literally: if the bits don’t fit together like lock and key, matings will be unsuccessful. And if the mismatch between the gear of two groups is bad enough, they will form separate reproductive populations, and, eventually, species. But the idea, which was first tossed around more than 150 years ago, has been discounted as a possible source of new species. Differently sized or shaped genitalia is such a big change that it’s likely to come after many other speciation triggers, like mutations or long separations between populations divided by mountain ranges.
By now you’ve probably heard the recent news that male bisexuality is in fact real, in stark contrast with a 2005 study by some of the same scientists that claimed just the opposite. Bloggers and news outlets have unleashed a torrent of witty headlines and snarky remarks about the research, such as CBSNews’ “Study says bisexuality real, but bisexuals say ‘duh.’” Even the Gray Lady herself, The New York Times, got in on the fun with its quip, “No Surprise for Bisexual Men: Report Indicates They Exist.”
Presumably the studies aren’t picking up on a real increase in bisexuality over the past six years, so what’s the deal here—why the sudden change of heart for the Northwestern University researchers?
“Advertising for monkeys” is just too good a phrase to pass up.
Even since ads created for a study investigating whether monkeys respond to billboards debuted at the Cannes Lions ad conference, the headlines have been flowing freely. We learn Yale primatologist Laurie Santos and two ad executives came up with the idea at last year’s TED, after Santos gave a talk on her experiments showing that monkeys that learn to use money are as irrational about it as we are.
Ad firm Proton has now developed two billboards to hang outside capuchin monkeys’ enclosures, and the researchers plan to see whether they will prefer one kind of food, or “brand,” over another when it is shown in close proximity to some titillating photos, including a “graphic shot” of a female monkey exposing her genitals and a shot of the troop’s alpha male with the food.
The condoms, developed by UK biotech company Futura Medical, are lined with a gel that increases blood flow. The gel’s active ingredient, glyceryl nitrate, has been used for as a vasodilator for over a century. The tricky part was getting the gel to stay in the condom without degrading the latex, but the company found a way (and quickly patented it).
Normally, chicken-keepers don’t sweat it when their hens go through short egg-laying dry-spells. But when an egg-less hen grows a wattle in a matter of weeks and starts crowing at the rising sun, it may be time to worry. That’s what went through a British couple’s minds this past year, when their pet hen Gertie began looking and acting like a rooster.
It all started last November, when Jim and Jeanette Howard of Huntingdon, England, noticed that Gertie stopped laying eggs. “Then a few days later I heard her try to crow,” Jeanette Howard told the BBC. “She wasn’t very good at it at first, but she’s progressed nicely.” Gertie then got heavier and developed a wattle under her chin in the next few weeks. And as her feathers grew back during her molt, they were a darker brown than before. Sporting a scarlet cockscomb and a rooster-like strut, Gertie is now outwardly indistinguishable from a cockerel. Read More
If you want to impress a female great bustard, going clean-shaven is probably the wrong approach. According to biologist Juan Carlos Alonso and colleagues at the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences, the size of a male bustard’s “whiskers and beard” is correlated with its reproductive success.
The great bustard is a beloved but endangered bird found in Spain and other locations scattered across Eurasia. Males of the species are possibly the heaviest flying birds in the world (rivaled only by the male kori bustard), and each sports whisker-like plumage on either side of its beak, along with neck feathers that resemble a beard. They also engage in showy mating displays, strutting about “like a vicar in a tutu,” according to naturalist Chris Packham in this BBC video.
Strap on your astronaut suit and hold on to your space shoes, because in 20 years, you could just be aboard Earth’s first mission to Mars. At least, that’s the hope of over 400 people who read the Journal of Cosmology’s special edition issue, The Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet, and volunteered to take part in a not-yet-scheduled trip to Mars.
The journal spills the details about the logistics involved in a privately-funded journey to the Red Planet–a book-length brainstorm by leading scientists. What, for example, happens if you get an infection on Mars? How do you have sex in space? And, most importantly, how long do you have to live on Mars before you get to call yourself a Martian? (Ok, I made that last question up, but aren’t you curious?)
Any journey to Mars–especially one with no scheduled return to Earth–is fraught with challenges. As Fox News reports:
“It’s going to be a very long period of isolation and confinement,” said Albert Harrison, who has studied astronaut psychology since the 1970s as a professor of psychology at UC Davis…. “After the excitement of blast-off, and after the initial landing on Mars, it will be very difficult to avoid depression…. Each day will be pretty much like the rest. The environment, once the novelty wears off, is likely to be deadly boring. Despite being well prepared and fully equipped there are certain to be unanticipated problems that cannot be remedied. One by one the crew will get old, sick, and die-off.”