Something Special About Islands

Carrie Arnold Islands seem to have it all: ample sunshine, white sand beaches, and species you can’t find anywhere else on Earth. Since Charles Darwin first traveled to the Galapagos Islands and British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace to the Malay Archipelago in the mid-19th century, ecologists have believed there is something special about islands. A … Continue reading

Snakes and Humans

‘Arms Race’ Exists Between Snakes and Humans Sarah C. P. Williams, ScienceNOW At sunset on 13 March 1973, a reticulated python (Python reticulatus) slithered into a thatched hut in the Philippines and killed two siblings: a 4-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy. The third child in the family was saved when his father returned to … Continue reading

Bumpy nipple smells guide babies to milk

Linda Geddes YOU may not wonder why women have bumps around their nipples but it has bemused many. Now the mystery has been solved. Smelly secretions released from the nipples of women who have just given birth may help babies find and extract their mother’s milk. During pregnancy, women often notice an increase in the … Continue reading

Earth’s Plant Life ‘Recycles’ Carbon Dioxide Faster Than Previously Estimated

A Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego-led research team followed the path of oxygen atoms on carbon dioxide molecules during photosynthesis to create a new way of measuring the efficiency of the world’s plant life. A team led by postdoctoral researcher Lisa Welp considered the oxygen atoms contained in the carbon dioxide taken … Continue reading

How Snail Species May Have Flown Across Mexico to Mingle

By Daniel Strain, ScienceNOW Pigs may never fly, but in the Gulf of Mexico, snails take to the skies. Or at least they used to. A new study suggests that two species of marine snails may have traveled between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans—all in the belly of a bird. The two species are known … Continue reading

The amphibious fish that mates with itself

Michael Marshall Species: Kryptolebias marmoratus Habitat: Mangrove swamps on the east coast of North and South America Faced with the inevitability of death, some people draw up a "bucket list": a checklist of things they plan to do, like learning a musical instrument or visiting the Grand Canyon. The Bucketlist website collates these ideas, including … Continue reading

Sex at sea lets female elephant seals stay in control

FEMALE elephant seals scurry out to sea for a bit of rough and tumble with the boys. The finding casts doubt on the long-held belief that they are submissive players in a highly chauvinistic mating game. Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonine) have been cited as a model of extreme polygyny. Every year, females come ashore … Continue reading

A brand new species of monkey

Flora Graham (Image: Julio Dalponte/WWF) Say hello to a brand new species of monkey. This reddish primate doesn’t have a name yet, but belongs to the Callicebus genus, also known as titi monkeys. The newcomer was discovered on an expedition in December 2010. WWF, the conservation body that sponsored the expedition, announced the find today. … Continue reading

Cow-like Mealybug Home to Sexy Symbiotic Machine

Jennifer Frazer  Mealybugs and their myrmecoid herders. Photo by Ron Hemberger, courtesy J. McCutcheon. Used with permission. If it goes around on six legs, it doesn’t get much dowdier than the mealybug 1. Powdery, bovine, and frightening if you find them binging on your gardenias, these wax-shedding roving syringes are one of many mosquito-like parasites … Continue reading

The invasive species war

Do we protect native plants because they’re better for the earth, or because we hate strangers? A cherished principle of environmentalism comes under attack (Left: iStock photo; Right: Roel Smart/iStock photo) Leon Neyfakh EARLIER THIS MONTH, a troop of volunteers in Newton piled into canoes and went to war in the name of the Charles … Continue reading

Leaf acts as an echo beacon to lure bat pollinators

Yun Xie A montage shows a bat approaching a disk-shaped leaf. As a Pallas’s long-tongued bat flies around a rainforest looking for nectar, it relies on echolocation from the sound it emits to find flowers. From a plant’s perspective, it’s good to be found by bats, which are highly mobile pollinators. But how can a … Continue reading

India’s Vanishing Vultures

Meera Subramanian Can the world’s fastest growing nation restore its prime scavenger before there are untold human consequences? At first, no one noticed they were missing. Vultures—massive and clumsy, their naked faces buried in rotting flesh along the roadside, on the banks of the Ganges, lining the high walls and spires of every temple and … Continue reading

Weevil Has Nuts and Bolts in Its Legs

By Mark Brown, Wired UK Think nuts and bolts are exclusive to mechanics and engineers? Think again. The Trigonopterus oblongus weevil has been using the mechanism in its hips for 100 million years. Using samples from the Karlsruhe State Museum of Natural History and the instruments at the Institute for Synchrotron Radiation at the Karlsruhe … Continue reading

Bug’s Penis Makes Loudest Animal Sound

This minuscule water boatman might be smaller than a drawing pin, but it’s also the loudest animal on the planet. Well, relative to its body size, at least. Mark Brown The male lesser water boatman, aka Micronecta scholtzi, can create mating calls as loud as 99.2 decibels, which is the equivalent of sitting in the … Continue reading

Lionfish no match for big groupers

Despite its invasive success, the lionfish can’t withstand grouper appetites Janet Raloff Initially all but ignored by native predators, the beautiful but venomous lionfish — an Asian native — has been spreading widely and rapidly throughout eastern U.S. waters and the Caribbean since being introduced through the aquarium trade. However, an international research team now … Continue reading

Ocean Life Facing Mass Extinction

A number of threats could result in an unprecedented loss of species, according to a shocking report. Daniel Politi The oceans are in far worse state than previously thought, according to a prestigious group of scientists. Of course, doom-and-gloom environmental stories are so common they’re almost yawn-inducing. But this one is different, insists Time’s Bryan … Continue reading

Unfaithful female finches have their genes to thank

Kate Shaw Birds are notoriously promiscuous; even species that are referred to as "monogamous" often indulge in extra affairs on the side. For males, the advantages of these extrapair copulations are obvious: more offspring with not a lot of extra effort. However, the benefits for females are less clear, since philandering females don’t generally lay … Continue reading

Californian dolphin gang caught killing porpoises

Shaoni Bhattacharya SEEMINGLY random acts of violence by bottlenose dolphins on porpoises could be down to sexual frustration among young males. Cases of the cetaceans killing other creatures for no apparent reason have been reported in UK waters. Now bottlenose dolphins have been seen attacking harbour porpoises in the Pacific Ocean. Crucially, these observations show … Continue reading

‘Devil Worm’ Takes Animal Life to New Depths

Brandon Keim It came from the deep, a mile below the Earth’s surface, in a place where only bacteria were thought to exist. It’s Halicephalobus mephisto, a new species of roundworm that radically extends the possibilities of animal life on this planet and perhaps on others. “Our results expand the known metazoan biosphere and demonstrate … Continue reading

The Man Who Swims With Coelacanths

Brandon Keim More than seven decades later, the words have the same urgency as when they rolled off Marjorie Courtinay-Latimer’s telegraph machine and into history: MOST IMPORTANT PRESERVE SKELETON AND GILLS = FISH DESCRIBED. Courtinay-Latimer was the young curator of a natural history museum on South Africa’s east coast. The message came from J.L.B. Smith, … Continue reading

Red-Crested Tree Rat Reappears After 113 Years

Alice Vincent A red-crested tree rat, a rodent about the size of a guinea pig, has been sighted for the first time in decades. The relatively unknown creature made a casual reappearance in a Colombian nature reserve after over a century, and even stayed around for a photo shoot. Volunteers at the El Dorado Nature … Continue reading

Bees’ royal jelly secret revealed

by Michael Marshall There’s more than one way to turn a commoner into royalty. Honeybees create queens by feeding their larvae royal jelly, the secret ingredient of which has now been identified. Masaki Kamakura of Toyama Prefectural University in Imizu, Japan, stored royal jelly at 40 °C for 30 days, feeding it to bee larvae … Continue reading

The "warrior gene"

By John Horgan Just when you think the blame-it-on-our-genes craze can’t get worse, the "warrior gene" goes viral. The latest media outlet to flog it is the Dr. Phil show, which on April 4 broadcast "Born to Rage?". From the promo: "Scientists believe they may know why some people are quicker to anger than others. … Continue reading

Man discovers a new life-form at a South African truck stop

By Rob Dunn  Like many biologists, the German biologist Oliver Zompro spends thousands of hours looking at specimens of dead animals. He found his first new species when he was twenty. By the age of thirty he had named dozens of wild new forms. While other people around him did crossword puzzles and drank lattes, … Continue reading

The eyespots have it after all

New experiments may reconcile conflicting studies regarding the peacock’s allure By Susan Milius The number of eyespots on a peacock’s train may separate the winners from the losers in wooing females, but perhaps only the winners from the really pathetic losers.R. Dakin The tale of how the peacock got his eyespots has taken a new … Continue reading

King Crabs Invade Antarctica

It’s like a scene out of a sci-fi movie — thousands, possibly millions, of king crabs are marching through icy, deep-sea waters and up the Antarctic slope. "They are coming from the deep, somewhere between 6,000 to 9,000 feet down," said James McClintock, Ph.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham Endowed Professor of Polar and Marine … Continue reading

Jurassic Spider from China Is Largest Fossil Specimen Discovered

With a leg span of more than five inches, a recently named Jurassic period spider from China is the largest fossil specimen discovered, and one that has modern relatives in tropical climates today. A research team of KU and Capital Normal University (Beijing) researchers said the spider belongs to the living genus Nephila, or golden … Continue reading

Brown Recluse Spider

Range Could Expand in N. America With Changing Climate One of the most feared spiders in North America is the subject a new study that aims to predict its distribution and how that distribution may be affected by climate changes. When provoked, the spider, commonly known as the brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa), injects powerful venom … Continue reading

Orangutans Use Simple Tools to Catch Fish

By Bruce Bower, Science News MINNEAPOLIS — Orangutans swim about as well as they fly, but research on three Indonesian islands shows that these long-limbed apes nonetheless catch and eat fish. Orangutans living in Borneo scavenge fish that wash up along the shore and scoop catfish out of small ponds for fresh meals, anthropologist Anne … Continue reading

X-rays expose new species of stingrays in Amazon

Ferris Jabr, reporter (Image: Solent News / Rex Features) Biologists recently fished out two new species of freshwater stingray from a river in the Amazon rainforest near Iquitos, Peru. The animals have been put into a new genus – the first time this has been done for stingrays since 1987. At first glance the creatures … Continue reading

What Is It?

A closer look at a two-millimeter pond invertebrate By Ann Chin  Image: Kevin Mackenzie University of Aberdeen Smaller fleas: What appears as a mere speck to the human eye has plenty of character when observed under a microscope. The nearly invisible Daphnia, a water flea, came to life with tufts of hair, big eyes and … Continue reading

Ravens kiss and make up after a brawl

by Michael Marshall Angry ravens might kick and chase each other, but if they are close allies they make up afterwards. Plenty of primates and other mammals reconcile after a conflict, but previously no birds were known to do so, says Orlaith Fraser of the University of Vienna in Austria. Monitoring a group of seven … Continue reading

Bignose bites again

by Michael Marshall  Video: Proboscis monkeys chew their food twice Species: Nasalis larvatus Habitat: swamps, mangroves and forests of Borneo, sticking their noses into each other’s business Mmm, cud (Image: Ikki Matsuda) Pinocchio has nothing on the proboscis monkey. The fabled wooden boy’s nose grew to extreme lengths only when he told lies, but this … Continue reading

Wasps Battle Ants by Dropping Them

by Sara Reardon As anyone who has been stung by one would know, wasps have anger management issues. The yellow jacket wasp is no different, but when it wants to bully something small, it eschews the stinger for something more creative. When a wasp comes upon a swarm of ants on food it wants, it … Continue reading


John Brockman Introduction About a year ago, on Wednesday April 14th, I was on the way to London from JFK, when the pilot announced a slight delay into Heathrow in order to avoid the ash cloud coming out of the Icelandic volcano eruption. This was the first time I paid any attention to the subject. … Continue reading

World’s wind and waves have been rising for decades

by Wendy Zukerman Wind speeds and wave heights over the world’s oceans have been rising for the past quarter-century. It’s unclear if this is a short-term trend, or a symptom of longer-term climatic change. Either way, more frequent hurricanes and cyclones could be on the horizon. Ian Young at the Australian National University in Canberra … Continue reading

The Physics of the Flower’s Bloom

By Daniel Strain, Science News While wandering lonely as a cloud, William Wordsworth should have stopped to wonder how those daffodils bloomed. Not content to just watch flowers dance in the breeze, Harvard physicists have described for the first time how flowers generate the forces needed to curl open come springtime. In the asiatic lily … Continue reading

Sometimes Invasive Species Are Good

By Brandon Keim Invasive species are the stock villains of conservation biology, disrupting ecosystems and throwing native populations into disarray. But in certain cases, they’re actually quite beneficial, and perhaps it’s time to recognize that. In California, for example, native butterflies feed on non-native plants. In Puerto Rico, alien trees help restore abandoned pastures to … Continue reading

Plants Moved Downhill, Not Up, in Warming World

In a paper published January 20 in the journal Science, a University of California, Davis, researcher and his co-authors challenge a widely held assumption that plants will move uphill in response to warmer temperatures. Between 1930 and 2000, instead of colonizing higher elevations to maintain a constant temperature, many California plant species instead moved downhill … Continue reading

Newly Discovered Group of Algae Live in Both Fresh Water and Ocean

A team of biologists has discovered an entirely new group of algae living in a wide variety of marine and freshwater environments. This group of algae, which the researchers dubbed "rappemonads," have DNA that is distinctly different from that of other known algae. In fact, humans and mushrooms are more closely related to each other … Continue reading

Biological Clock Ticks Slower for Female Birds Who Choose Good Mates

In birds as in people, female fertility declines with age. But some female birds can slow the ticking of their biological clocks by choosing the right mates, says a new study. Female birds become progressively less fertile as age takes its toll, said co-author Josh Auld of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North … Continue reading

A cave in Vietnam so tall, a skyscraper could fit inside

Xeni Jardin From National Geographic: The light beaming from above reveals a tower of calcite on the cave floor that is more than 200 feet tall, smothered by ferns, palms, and other jungle plants. Stalactites hang around the edges of the massive skylight like petrified icicles. Vines dangle hundreds of feet from the surface; swifts … Continue reading

Most undescribed plant species have been collected, just not analyzed

By Diana Gitig At the “Sustain What?” Meeting this fall at the New York Academy of Sciences, an international group of scientists planned the best way to discover and describe the remainder of unknown species—some ten million of them—in the next 50 years or less. When they presented botanist Peter H. Raven, the President Emeritus … Continue reading

Lady MacBee

A queen stingless bee (with green mark) settles her rear into a cell to lay an egg. Stingless bee colonies routinely overproduce potential replacements, and genetic analysis shows that the spares can take over other colonies. DENISE ALVES Young queens in one stingless species often usurp their thrones By Susan Milius  In a chronically tough … Continue reading

New species a little nipper

Recently discovered vontsira is first new carnivore in two decades By Rachel Ehrenberg  MUG SHOTA small creature called a Durrell’s vontsira is the first new carnivore species discovered in more than 20 years. The critter was caught in the wetlands of Madagascar’s largest lake and probably eats mollusks and other shellfish.Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust Scientists … Continue reading

An oceanic endeavor: Census of Marine Life

Marine census catalogs creatures that roam all corners of the seas By Susan Milius  Calling a 10-year plan for ocean research a “Census of Marine Life” was from the beginning a splendid ambition, but perhaps a little loony. Scientists didn’t have names for, and may never have seen, thousands of marine critters. Nor had anyone … Continue reading

Toronto Zoo’s Tundra Trek

By Brad Moon Arctic Wolves at Toronto Zoo’s Tundra Trek (photo Brad Moon) Tundra Trek, the zoo’s sixth region was opened in 2009, the year of the zoo’s 35th anniversary. At 10 acres in size, Tundra Trek adds a number of new animals for viewing, while bringing back the polar bears that have been missing … Continue reading


By J.M. Ledgard They work together, share food and send their elders into battle to protect the young. And the world authority on them thinks they have a lot to teach us. J.M. Ledgard goes to Harvard to discuss ants, and more, with E.O. Wilson … From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Autumn 2010 What do you … Continue reading

British bumblebees are inbreeding themselves into extinction

By John Platt  Populations of a bumblebee species living on remote Scottish islands have a lack of genetic diversity because of many generations of inbreeding, a situation that could put the region’s bumblebees at risk of extinction, according to a new study by scientists from the University of Stirling in Scotland. Penelope Whitehorn, a PhD … Continue reading

Bees Work Wonders When Babies Need Them

They morph into round-the-clock nursemaids, but only when they are in direct contact with the hive’s larvae Although it is about bees, not humans, a paper just published in The Journal of Neuroscience will speak to anyone who has ever been up around the clock as a new parent, a medical resident, or any other … Continue reading