Agar Art Contest Winners Grow Masterpieces with Microbes

By Elizabeth Preston | May 22, 2017 9:16 pm
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Finding Pneumo, by Linh Ngo of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (2nd place)

No matter how flamboyant your shower curtain mold is, it couldn’t have competed with the fungus that won this year’s Agar Art contest.

This is the third year the American Society for Microbiology has run the contest, asking for “works that are at their core an organism(s) growing on agar.” The artwork can be any kind of microbe colonizing any size or shape of petri dish. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Microbes & viruses

Tadpoles Seek Piggyback Rides to Escape Cannibal Siblings

By Elizabeth Preston | May 12, 2017 1:41 pm

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Swimming in a pool of cannibals after being abandoned by one’s parents is a pretty grim situation. But a tadpole that finds itself here doesn’t passively await its fate. Instead, it tries to jump onto the back of any visiting frog and hitch a ride to safety. Even if the frog has no interest in a rescue, the tadpole is ready to rescue itself. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: evolution, parenting, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ecology, Evolution

Recluse Spiders Have the Only Self-Powered Silk Spinners

By Elizabeth Preston | April 28, 2017 12:22 pm

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Even if you detest spiders—even if a photo of one makes you recoil from your screen—pause for a moment and consider the sheer machinery of these creatures. They coordinate the movement of eight legs and up to eight eyes at once. They are their own miniature textile factories, pumping out silk thread from an intricate set of appendages. And while most spiders use their legs to help spin the thread, or glue one end to a surface to pull it out, recluse spiders don’t need the help. They have the first known spinners that are entirely self-powered.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: bugs, evolution, magic, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Evolution, Gadgets

Exploding Sea Cucumber Butt Threads Are a New Material

By Elizabeth Preston | April 21, 2017 11:38 am

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Whoever named the sea cucumber after a vegetable didn’t give it enough credit. Yes, sea cucumbers are soft, warty tubes that scoot eyelessly along the seafloor. But they aren’t helpless. Some secrete a poison that’s deadly to other animals. And some, when threatened, shoot sticky threads out of their anuses to tangle up predators. When researchers collected these bizarre weapons and tested them in the lab, they discovered a material that’s unique among sea creatures. Read More

Dolphin’s-Eye Video Is Breathtaking, Barfy

By Elizabeth Preston | April 14, 2017 2:31 pm

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It’s surprisingly hard to stick a camera to a dolphin. Surprising, anyway, when you consider the other animals that have carried monitoring devices down into the ocean for human scientists: sharks, sea turtles, birds, manatees, even whales. When a group of researchers recently overcame the challenges and created a camera that dolphins can wear, they were inducted into a dizzying underwater world.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: pretty pictures, tech, the ocean, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Gadgets, Ocean

The Snail That Only Lives in a Hole inside Another Hole under a Sea Urchin

By Elizabeth Preston | March 31, 2017 9:16 am

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If you think house hunting is hard, consider the plight of this snail. It lives only in tide pools in southern Japan. Within those tide pools, it only lives in holes carved out of rock—specifically, holes dug by sea urchins. But it can only move into one of those holes after the hole-digging urchin has moved out. When a second, differently shaped sea urchin moves into the hole, it leaves a gap between its spiny body and the wall of the burrow. It’s this nook that the snail snuggles into. Read More

Caterpillars Recruit Friends with Anal Scraping

By Elizabeth Preston | March 28, 2017 11:42 am

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Newly hatched caterpillars look helpless: they’re teensy, soft and juicy, with no parent around for protection. But certain young insects, the masked birch caterpillars, are more capable than they seem. They gather in groups to keep themselves safe. To form those groups, they use a previously undiscovered language of buzzes, vibrations, head banging and butt scraping.

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MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ecology, Senses

An Elephant Never Forgets…to Be Awake

By Elizabeth Preston | March 9, 2017 9:45 am

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They say an elephant never forgets. But a more accurate adage would be that an elephant never sleeps—or, hardly ever. Tracking two wild elephant matriarchs for a month revealed that they averaged only a couple of hours a night. On some nights they surprised researchers by never going to sleep at all. This might make them the most wakeful mammals in the world. Read More

A Weekend Camping Trip Is Enough to Reset Your Internal Clock

By Elizabeth Preston | February 28, 2017 1:00 pm

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Humans have been fighting our internal clocks ever since we invented sitting around a campfire. We have powerful natural rhythms that keep us on a 24-hour cycle; if you’ve ever been steamrollered by jet lag after an intercontinental flight, you know how powerful those rhythms are. But we muffle them with caffeine, alarm clocks, and electric lights. It’s easy to undo the damage, though. One weekend of camping can do the trick—and it’ll even cure your case of the Mondays.

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This Squid Gives Better Side-Eye Than You

By Elizabeth Preston | February 20, 2017 1:30 pm

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Yes, this cephalopod is looking at you funny. It’s a kind of cockeyed squid—an animal that looks like some jokester misassembled a Mr. Potato Head. One of the cockeyed squid’s eyes is big, bulging and yellow. The other is flat and beady. After studying more than 25 years’ worth of undersea video footage, scientists think they know why. Read More

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