59 posts tagged nature
New waterproof surface is ‘driest ever’
US engineers have created the “most waterproof material ever” - inspired by nasturtium leaves and butterfly wings. The new “super-hydrophobic” surface could keep clothes dry and stop aircraft engines icing over, they say. The lotus leaf was thought to be the gold standard for staying dry in nature, but now a team from MIT in Boston say they have surpassed it. By adding tiny ridges to a silicon surface, they made water bounce off it 40% faster than the previous “limit”. Similar ridges are found in nature on the wings of the Morpho butterfly and the veins of nasturtium leaves. By applying these patterns to metals, fabrics and ceramics, the scientists hope to inspire a new generation of moisture-resistant products - from tents to wind turbines. (via BBC News - New waterproof surface is ‘driest ever’)
World’s oldest creature was 507…but scientists killed it
World’s oldest creature - known as Ming the mollusc - is proven even older than previously thought
When scientists inadvertently killed what turned out to be the world’s oldest living creature, it was bad enough. Now, their mistake has been compounded after further research found it was even older – at 507 years. The ocean quahog - a type of deep-sea clam - was dredged alive from the bottom of the North Atlantic near Iceland in 2006 by researchers. They then put it in a freezer, as is normal practice, unaware of its age. It was only when it was taken to a laboratory that scientists from Bangor University studied it and concluded it was 400 years old. The discovery made it into the Guinness Book of World Records however by this time, it was too late for Ming the Mollusc – named after the Chinese dynasty on the throne when its life began. Now, after examining the ocean quahog more closely, using more refined methods, the researchers have found the animal was actually 100 years older than they first thought. Dr Paul Butler, from the University’s School of Ocean Sciences, said: “We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit hasty publishing our findings back then. But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now.” (via World’s oldest creature was 507…but scientists killed it - Telegraph)
Is there any reason to think dolphins and humans have a special relationship? Sure, but it might not be a friendly one (via Do dolphins really share a special bond with humans? – Justin Gregg – Aeon)
It is a truth universally acknowledged—at least by biologists—that every person owes his or her existence to parents who successfully reproduced, each of whom, in turn, had two parents who did the same … and so on, going back hundreds of millions of years to the first ancestral blob (or two) of protoplasmic goo that trundled onto terra firma from the early earth’s organic soup. From then on, no one’s ancestors missed a beat. As a strictly logical proposition, that observation is probably equivalent to the astounding fact that no matter how tall or short a person may be, her legs are always just long enough to reach the ground. Nonetheless, the universally shared, unbroken chain of successful breeding conveys a crucial biological truth: Reproduction matters. Modern evolutionists, however, can be criticized for giving short shrift to the realities of reproduction. The most important conceptual advance in evolutionary science over the past few decades has been the recognition that natural selection acts at the level of genes rather than of species, groups, or even individuals. That perspective sees individual reproduction as only a special case of the fundamental evolutionary process, in which genes are favored insofar as they succeed in projecting copies of themselves into the future, housed in bodies that need not necessarily be their own offspring. Hence the evolutionary bottom line—what is maximized by natural selection—is “inclusive fitness,” which includes not only traditional Darwinian fitness (personal reproductive success) but also an indirect component of the enhanced reproductive success of relatives, with the importance of each devalued in proportion to the distance at which he or she is related.
Elephants ‘understand human gesture’
African elephants have demonstrated what appears to be an instinctive understanding of human gestures, according to UK scientists. In a series of tests, researcher Ann Smet, of the University of St Andrews, offered the animals a choice between two identical buckets, then pointed at the one containing a hidden treat. From the first trial, the elephants chose the correct bucket. (via BBC News - Elephants ‘understand human gesture’)
Species living in rainforest fragments could be far more likely to disappear than was previously thought, says an international team of scientists. In a study spanning two decades, the researchers witnessed the near-complete extinction of native small mammals on forest islands created by a large hydroelectric reservoir in Thailand. “It was like ecological Armageddon,” said Luke Gibson from the National University of Singapore, who led the study. “Nobody imagined we’d see such catastrophic local extinctions.” The study, just published in the leading journal Science today, is considered important because forests around the world are being rapidly felled and chopped up into small island-like fragments. “It’s vital that we understand what happens to species in forest fragments,” said Antony Lynam of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The fate of much of the world’s biodiversity is going to depend on it.” The study was motivated by a desire to understand how long species can live in forest fragments. If they persist for many decades, this gives conservationists a window of time to create wildlife corridors or restore surrounding forests to reduce the harmful effects of forest isolation.
Bat embryonic development, 2006, by Dorit Hockman, University of Cambridge. Development of embryos of the Black Mastiff Bat (via BBC News - Science images from across the globe)
The right whale’s story is emblematic of all great whales. Hunted to near-extinction in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries by a sequence of nations from the Basques to the British and the Dutch, it was so-called because it was the right whale to catch: its blubbery carcass did not sink once killed but remained floating, conveniently, at the surface. That rightness proved fatal. By the early 1900s, its numbers were so reduced that it became the first whale to receive protection, under the aegis of the League of Nations, in 1935. By the late 20th century, it seemed doomed by a dwindling gene pool and the ever-increasing depredations of human activity, as well as by its own predilection for feeding in urban seas, close to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Ship-strike, entanglement in fishing gear, and the more insidious effects of chemical pollution, anthropogenic noise and warmer, more acidic seas all combine to make this perhaps the most hapless of cetacean victims of human progress. (via Why is the right whale returning to Cape Cod? – Philip Hoare – Aeon)
Dolphins are not healers
Dolphins are smart, sociable predators. They don’t belong in captivity and they shouldn’t be used to ‘cure’ the ill
Imagine this. Jay, an eight-year-old autistic boy, whose behaviour has always been agitated and uncooperative, is smiling and splashing in the pool. A pair of bottlenose dolphins float next to him, supporting him in the water. Jay’s parents stand poolside as a staff member in the water engages him in visual games with colourful shapes. She asks him some questions, and Jay, captivated by his surroundings, begins to respond. He names the shapes, correctly, speaking his first words in months. With all this attention Jay is in high spirits; he appears more aware and alert than ever before. A quick, non-invasive EEG scan of his brain activity shows that it is indeed different from before the session.
Jay’s parents, who had given up hope, are elated to have finally found a treatment that works for their son. They sign up for more sessions and cannot wait to get home and tell their friends about the experience. They are not surprised to find that dolphins have succeeded where mainstream physicians have not. Everyone believes that dolphins are special — altruistic, extra gentle with children, good-natured. And any concerns the parents might have had about the welfare of the dolphins have been allayed by assurances from the trainers that they are happy and accustomed to the role they are playing. After all, as the parents can see for themselves, the dolphins are smiling.
‘Jay’ is a composite character drawn from the dozens of testimonials that appear on dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT) websites, but stories like his, stories about the extraordinary powers of dolphins, have been told since ancient times. Much of our attraction to these creatures derives from their appealing combination of intelligence and communicativeness, and the mystery associated with the fact that they inhabit a hidden underwater environment. Dolphins are the Other we’ve always wanted to commune with. And their ‘smile’, which is not a smile at all, but an anatomical illusion arising from the physical configuration of their jaws, has led to the illusion that dolphins are always jovial and contented, compounding mythological beliefs that they hold the key to the secret of happiness.
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