An elusive Saharan cheetah recently came into the spotlight in Niger, Africa, where a hidden camera snapped photos of the ghostly cat, whose pale coat…Read More »
and emaciated appearance distinguish it from other cheetahs. Its appearance, and how the Saharan cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) is genetically related to other cheetahs are open to question. The cat is so rare and elusive that scientists aren't even sure how many exist. Among the threats to the pale cat are scarcity of prey due to poaching and overuse, and conflicts with herders over stock harassment and killing of their animals, according to SCF. Apparently cheetah skins are prized as prayer rugs or used to make slippers. Less «
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Credit: Shin-ichi Uye
Nemopilema nomurai, known as Nomura's jellyfish, can grow up to 6.6 feet (2 meters) in diameter. It is edible, though it hasn't caught on widely. When…Read More »
Nomura's jellyfish bloomed in 2005, some Japanese coped by selling souvenir cookies flavored with jellyfish powder, according to the New York Times. Less «
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Credit: Greg Rouse
As if attending an underwater gala, seadragons are adorned with gowns of flowing limbs. These graceful characters belong to a family of fish called Syngnathidae,…Read More »
which also includes seahorses and pipefish. Now, University of California, San Diego, marine biologists Greg Rouse and Nerida Wilson are using genetics to unlock some of the mysteries of this mystical animal. In popular dive spots off the coast of Australia, the duo took tiny snips of tissue from the appendages of seadragons for genetic testing, before releasing the creatures. While seadragons are generally grouped into three species, leafy (shown here), weedy and ribboned, the team's genetic analyses and examinations of body structure have shown the eastern and western populations of weedy seadragons could be divided into two species. They also found the mysterious ribboned seadragon is not related to the leafy and weedy seadragons. Less «
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Caught on Camera
A jaguar in Peru is captured on an automated camera set by Smithsonian researchers. Such cameras allow scientists to monitor wildlife in remote locations.
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Ball of Color
Credit: Spike Walker
This photomicrograph shows the ruby-tailed wasp called Chrysis ignita, which is the most commonly observed of this species. The abdomen's is coloring --…Read More »
ruby red and bronze – give the wasp its name. The underside of the abdomen is also concave, which allows the wasp to roll itself into a protective ball if threatened. Ruby-tailed wasps are "parasitoids," meaning they eventually kill their hosts. Chrysis ignita parasitizes mason bees: The females lay their eggs in the same nest as mason bees, so when the ruby-tailed wasp larvae hatch, they feed on the mason bee larvae. Ruby-tailed wasps do have a sting but it is not functional and most species have no venom.
The fantastical image snagged a spot on the Wellcome Image Awards 2011, which chooses the most striking and technically excellent images acquired by the Wellcome Images picture library in the prior 18 months. Less «
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The Downside of Island Life
Credit: Kesler/University of Missouri
This colorful, tropical bird called the Tuamotu kingfisher lives on one tiny island — Niau in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, in the south Pacific.…Read More »
Today, just 125 of the birds exist, and scientists say they will go extinct without serious intervention.
By working with farmers and residents on the island inhabited by the kingfishers, Dylan Kesler, at the University of Missouri's School of Natural Resources, has come up with factors critical to the birds' survival. These include: hunting perches; clear ground so they can spot their primary food, lizards; dead trees for nesting; means for keeping predators away from the birds' nests.
A Brazilian free-tailed bat flies with its prey -- a moth -- clutched in its mouth. According to an article published April 1, 2011 in the journal Science,…Read More »
bats save U.S. farmers 22.9 billion dollars a year by eating pests that would otherwise destroy crops. Less «
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Penguin Pomp: Birds of a Feather
Credit: Todd Stailey, Tennessee Aquarium
A flock of gentoo penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga puts on a show. At heights of almost 3 feet (1 meter), gentoos are the third-largest…Read More »
penguin species in the world. Gentoos build nests out of round, smooth stones, which are highly prized by females. To curry favor with a potential mate, male gentoos sometimes present "gifts" of these coveted rocks. Less «
The satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus) is the smallest of 12 species of bizarre-looking leaf-tailed geckos. The nocturnal creature has…Read More »
extremely cryptic camouflage so it can hide out in forests in Madagascar. This group of geckos is found only in primary, undisturbed forests, so their populations are very sensitive to habitat destruction. Large Uroplatus species have more teeth than any other living terrestrial vertebrate species.
The gecko species was discovered in Mantadia-Zahamena corridor of Madagascar in 1998 during one of the Conservation International (CI) "Rapid Assessment Program" (RAP) surveys. The animal snagged a spot on CI's "Top 20" list of animals discovered during these expeditions, which began 20 years ago today, April 14, 2011.
A pronghorn fitted with a GPS collar leaps through the snow. Scientists in Idaho have set up a similar collaring program to track the migration of these…Read More »
grazing mammals. The Idaho pronghorns make an 80-mile (129 kilometer) journey between their summer and winter ranges, and human development can cut off their migration routes. The collars, which eventually drop off of the animals, will give researchers a better idea of which areas are crucial to pronghorn migration, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. Less «
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Tooth and Claw
Credit: Steve Zak, Wildlife Conservation Society
A red fox trots away with its kill — a smaller arctic fox. This scene in northern Alaska is becoming more common as warming temperatures have opened up…Read More »
new territory to red foxes, threatening the survival of their arctic cousins. Less «
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A Bedbug's bite
Credit: CDC/ Janice Haney Carr
This is a close-up look at any homeowner's nightmare: A bedbug. These reddish-brown bugs, each the size of an apple seed, are tough to eliminate once they…Read More »
take hold in the linens. Bedbugs were once virtually wiped out in the United States, but international travelers have carried them back to U.S. soil.
This scanning electron microscope photograph of a bedbug's head reveals its mouthparts, which are used to pierce the skin and suck the blood of its victims. While some people have no reaction to bedbug bites, others experience itchy clusters of hives. Less «
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Into the Blue
Credit: T. Moore, NOAA.
Here a close-up shot of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) in the Gulf of Mexico's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, which is about…Read More »
100 miles (179 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast. Two new studies are showing the turtles are being contaminated with so-called persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which include banned substances such as DDT and toxaphenes, once used as pesticides; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), once used as insulating fluids; and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), once used as flame retardants.
The studies showed the turtles accumulate more of the contaminant chemicals the farther they travel up the Atlantic coast, suggesting their northern feeding grounds in Florida have higher POP levels. The turtles likely consume the POPs when they eat contaminated prey such as crabs, the researchers said. One of the studies was published online April 20, 2011 in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, and the other will be published in a forthcoming issue of that journal.
Robotic insects? The jewelry of an ancient Egyptian queen? No, these bugs are the real thing: Two species of gold and silver beetle found in the rainforests…Read More »
of Costa Rica.
The reflective shells of Chrysina aurgians (gold) and Chrysina limbata (silver) may help the bugs blend into their damp, forest environment, which is studded with shimmering droplets of water. A new study published in the open-access journal Optical Materials Express finds that the beetles' shells are made of progressively thinner layers of the exoskeleton material chitin. As light passes back through each layer of chitin, the waves combine to become brighter and more intense, creating the glint of gold and silver.
According to study researchers, understanding the beetles' beauty may help scientists replicate it -- creating metallic-looking materials out of organic ingredients. Less «
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Credit: Birch Aquarium at Scripps
It's not hard to imagine where these moon jellies got their name. As delicate as they look, jellies are tough: They've been around for 600 million years,…Read More »
predating sharks and surviving multiple mass extinctions, including the one that killed the dinosaurs.
What makes jellies such survivors? Unlike fish, they're able to absorb oxygen directly through their bodies, storing it in their tissues so they can hunt in deep waters. Baby jellies can develop from swimming larvae directly into adults, but they often settle down and turn into polyps. Polyps can go dormant if conditions get bad, survive months without food, and even clone themselves. Less «
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Credit: CREDIT: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
If you think gestating one baby is tough, try 3,000. The squid Gonatus onyx carries around her brood of 2,000 to 3,000 eggs for up to nine months. The…Read More »
squid moms have their arms full: While carrying their eggs, they're stuck swimming with their fins and mantle instead of their much more effective arms.
So why would G. onyx take such care of its thousands of offspring? According to a 2005 study published in the journal Nature, the squid carry their eggs to deep water, where predators are rare. The deep-sea offspring are also larger and more capable of survival than shallow water squid -- thanks, mom! Less «
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Snow-White Penguin Chick
Credit: Gerald L. Kooyman, Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UC San Diego.
Not all emperor penguins sport black-and-white tuxedoes. Scripps reseacher Gerald Kooyman spotted this unique all-white emperor chick, dubbed Snowflake,…Read More »
during a penguin survey on the ice shelf of the Ross Sea, Antarctica, in December 1997.
Its white feathers blended in so well with the icy background that Kooyman said he almost missed the chick – emperor penguin chicks are usually covered in a grayish down coat, with dark tail feathers and dark bills and feet.
Scientists don't think Snowflake is an albino, however, as it didn't have the characteristic pink eyes associated with albinism. [Here's a Scripps video of Snowflake]
Even in the chilliest water, life can thrive. This Antarctic ice fish, photographed during an Alfred Wegener Institute Polarstern mission, has no red blood…Read More »
cells or red blood pigments. The adaption makes the fish's blood thinner, saving energy that would otherwise be needed to pump the blood around the body. Less «
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Credit: Cédric d'Udekem d'Acoz
This shy-looking critter is an inhabitant of Antarctica first found during the research vessel Polarstern's ANTXXIII-8 cruise. Found in water near Antarctica's…Read More »
Elephant Island, the arthropod is about 1 inch (25 mm) long. Less «
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Walking the Dog
Credit: Martin Fischer, Jena University
Step right up, come this way, see the amazing see-through Chihuahua!
Okay, it's really just a normal Chihuahua, but scientists in Germany caught the animal…Read More »
on high-speed x-ray film as part of a project to learn more about how canines move. This Chihuahua is one of 327 dogs from 32 different breeds videotaped, a project that the researchers hope will boost knowledge about dog anatomy and evolution. For example, did you now that the length of a dog's foreleg is always 27 percent of that of the entire leg, regardless of breed? Now you've got something to talk about at your next cocktail party. Less «
A common leaf-tailed gecko licks its chops. These Madagascar natives have more teeth than any other land-dwelling vertebrate.
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Credit: Dylan George, Colorado State University
This juvenile big brown bat may be cute, but the animals are major carriers and transmitters of rabies. A new study, published online June 6, 2011 in the…Read More »
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that hibernation keeps rabies-infected bats alive long enough to pass the disease on to young bats in the next season. These hibernation patterns continue the cycle of rabies infection. Less «
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Flirty Fish: You're Pretty Cute
Credit: Tim Griffith, California Academy of Sciences
Come here often? This giant sea bass seems to have an eye for the ladies at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Jealous boyfriends should…Read More »
think twice before challenging their fishy foe: "Buccalo," as he's known, is over four feet long and weighs 165 pounds.
The emerald tree boa, which is found in the Amazon basin, is equipped with highly sensitive heat-sensing organs that it uses for 3-D thermal imaging of…Read More »
their prey. Its color pattern and the way the tree boa drapes itself over branches are similar to the green tree python from Australia and New Guinea. Less «
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I've Seen a Ghost
Credit: Terry Gosliner, California Academy of Sciences
This pale creature haunts the sea floor near the Philippine island of Luzon. Newly discovered during the California Academy of Sciences’ 2011 Philippine…Read More »
Biodiversity Expedition, this species of sea slug doesn't need ectoplasm (or a shell) to ward off predators.
Instead, sea slugs produce toxins to protect themselves. Some of these toxins are quite dangerous: In 2009, five dogs in New Zealand died after eating gray side-gilled sea slugs that had washed up on the beach. Ingesting half a teaspoon of gray side-gilled slug would kill a human, New Zealand officials said. So while we know it might be tempting, don't eat the slugs. Please.
A Papuan taipan gives up its venom for science. These snakes, which can grow to be 6 feet (2 meters) long, are shy, but they will bite when threatened.…Read More »
And that bite is nasty: According to the University of Melbourne's Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU), taipans will often inflict multiple bites on their victims, injecting bigger payloads of venom with each bite. The venom contains toxins that destroy nerves and prevent the blood from clotting. It can kill within 30 minutes.
The Papuan taipan is responsible for 82 percent of the serious snakebites in the Central province of Papua New Guinea. Now, AVRU scientists have developed a new antivenom for the deadly bites, publishing their preclinical results in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. The new antivenom is less expensive than the current taipan bite treatment, which must be imported from Australia. Shortages of that drug have created a black market in antivenom, study researcher David Williams, a doctoral candidate at AVRU, said in a statement.
The researchers are now seeking funding to test the antivenom in rigorous medical trials.
Ready for your close-up? This pigeon's head-held camera captures all, including the secret of how these birdbrains navigate tricky forest environments.…Read More »
Researchers from Harvard University attached tiny cameras to the heads of pigeons and trained them to fly through an artificial forest in order to learn how the birds make choices in flight.
The pigeons proved excellent navigators, the researchers reported on July 1 at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual conference in Glasgow. They always chose the straightest route through the trees and seem to exit the forest heading the same direction as when they entered, despite the twists and turns they have to take to avoid crashing. The results will contribute to research in developing robotics and auto-pilots, the researchers said.
This ringtail possum has the camera, so who's going to provide the action? Taken in 1943 somewhere in northern Australia, this photo is part of the Australian…Read More »
War Memorial collection. The possum, someone's pet, apparently became interested in a Department of Information movie camera and assumed the director's position. Normally, ringtail possums live a less artistic life in dense, brushy forests. Like the more-famous koalas that share their Aussie home, ringtail possums are eucalyptus-loving marsupials.
African penguins take a sidewalk stroll. These two-foot-tall birds are also known as "jackass penguins" because of their loud, donkey-like calls. They…Read More »
nest in burrows along southern Africa's coastal waters, laying two eggs that are cared for by both mom and dad. One major African penguin colony is right near Cape Town, South Africa, at Boulders Beach. There, penguins rub elbows with tourists and swimmers. Less «
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Sea Turtle Stare-Down
Credit: Claire Fackler, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries
A Hawaiian green sea turtle mugs for the camera at the Hawaaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
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St. Patty's Puffin
Credit: copyright Jessi Vahling
Ireland: Home of Guinness beer, leprechauns and ... puffins? Yes, the rocky islands on Ireland's west coast are the summer breeding grounds of a variety…Read More »
of birds, including this little fellow photographed on Skellig Michael in July 2011. Atlantic puffins like this one nest in bonded pairs, and both mom and dad help hatch and raise one chick per year. Less «
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Wondrous Whale Dance
Credit: Barbara LaCorte, Channel Islands Naturalist Corps
A humpback whale breaches in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. A new study, published Aug. 16 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy…Read More »
of Sciences, finds that to protect marine mammals like these gentle giants, humans need only set aside 4 percent of the world's oceans for conservation. The research found that just 9 conservation sites would protect habitat for 84 percent of all marine mammals species on Earth.
The critical sites are off the coasts of Baja California in Mexico, eastern Canada, Peru, Argentina, northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Less «
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Eye-Popping Undersea Color
Credit: Ken Bondy, NSF
A gelatinous nudibranch (Janolus barbarensis) adds a splash of color to the ocean in Morro Bay, Calif. Nudibranches are ocean-dwelling mollusks without…Read More »
shells; they're often called sea slugs, but some sea slugs are in a family of their own, unrelated to the 3,000 or so species of nudibranch.
Marine scientists believe that the colors on nudibranches keep predators at bay, much like a neon sign reading, "Tastes terrible, do not eat!" And indeed, some nudibranches store up toxins from their diet of poisonous sponges, making the slug-like creatures themselves deadly to predators. Less «
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Looking for a Seafood Buffet
Credit: Mark Hay, Georgia Institute of Technology
A moray eel lurks outside a cage full of fish in the Caribbean Sea. The fish are part of a living experiment to find out how different species affect the…Read More »
growth of noxious seaweed that can harm coral reefs. The eel, on the other hand, is just hungry. Less «
This harlequin shrimp isn't clowning around (yeah, yeah, cue groans). Hymenocera elegans here is found in the waters off of Indonesia. Popular among aquarium…Read More »
enthusiasts for their bright colors, harlequin shrimp are nonetheless tough to care for in a tank. One reason is their diet: They eat only starfish (and sometimes sea urchins), and they reportedly prefer to eat them alive. Since the prey is so much larger than the predator, it sometimes takes the shrimp two weeks to finish off a single (living) starfish. No wonder people think clowns are scary. Less «
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Nest-Weaving Bird Learns from Experience
Credit: Rachel Walsh
Practice makes perfect for the Botswanan Southern Masked Weaver, shown above weaving a complex nest of out grass. Weavers aren't born knowing how to build…Read More »
these structures, researchers reported today (Sept. 26, 2011) in the journal Behavioural Processess. Instead, the bird vary their technique from one nest to another, sometimes building left to right, sometimes starting from right to left. As the birds gain more experience building nests, they drop grass less often, suggesting that they improve at their art. Less «
A blue dragonfly perches on a flower. The insect seems to be making googly eyes, but of course those black dots aren't really pupils; dragonflies have…Read More »
compound eyes with hundreds of tiny lenses. Less «
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Snowbird Snuggles In
Credit: Dan Strickland
Nothing like a nice nest of twigs and snow to keep you warm on a winter's night. The gray jay takes the weather in stride, though — these Canadian…Read More »
birds don't fly south for the winter, and they start their breeding season in mid-February when temperatures are below 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius).
A new study by researchers at the University of Guelph finds that these birds survive in their winter wasteland by storing berries, fungi, insects and even bits of scavenged meat in the nooks and crannies of trees. The new research, published in the journal Oecologia, revealed that spruce and pine trees make better treasure troves than deciduous trees, perhaps because the resin in conifers helps preserve the birds' food. The findings explain why gray jays seem to be disappearing from areas without much pine and spruce. Less «
We couldn’t wait until Halloween to share this spooky thermal image of bats in flight. Provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, this image…Read More »
was taken by Boston University researchers trying to better understand how bats navigate the air in response to weather, bug activity and climate change.
According to the United State Geological Survey, bats save farmers at least $3 billion a year by scarfing down insects that would otherwise eat crops. But bats are threatened by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that kills them, as well as by deadly collisions with wind turbines.
Researchers estimate that the loss of one million bats in the Northeast alone has probably resulted in between 660 and 1320 metric tons fewer insects being eaten by bats each year. Now that's scarier than blood-red bats any day. Less «
A baby orangutan takes thumb-sucking to a new level thanks to prehensile feet. Much like human children, baby orangutans remain dependent on their moms…Read More »
for a long time, sometimes being carried most of the time until they're 5 years old. Young orangutans normally don't leave mom's side until they're 10 or so, and even when they do strike out on their own, they often return to "visit" for the next few years. Less «
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Credit: H. Freitag (2009)
This creepy-crawly is a spider water beetle, a water-loving bug that lives in mountain rivers on Palawan Island in the Philippines. The beetles get their…Read More »
name from their long, spindly legs (imagine if this fellow stretched his out!). They also create their own little scuba-diving bubbles called "plastrons," which allow them to live permanently under the water. Less «
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Do You Hear Something Rattling?
Credit: Bill Love
Look out, this rattler is ready to strike. Fortunately, rattlesnakes really are more afraid of you than you are of them. They rarely bite unless provoked…Read More »
and would much prefer to warn you away. Only about 7,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year, and only about 0.2 percent of bites result in death, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Less «
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Credit: Casey Dunn lab, Brown University
It's hard to miss a flamingo tongue snail (Cyphoma gibbosum), with its mantle splotched with a pattern of irregularly shaped orange, white and black spots.…Read More »
Considered gastropod mollusks, the snails are members of the Mollusca phylum, which includes octopuses and oysters, and the class Gastropoda, which includes marine snails with and without shells.
Mollusks encompass a wide variety of animals, with the lineage dating back some 500 million years. Just recently, in a study published in the Oct. 27, 2011, issue of the journal Nature, Casey Dunn, an evolutionary biologist at Brown University, and colleagues put together the most comprehensive evolutionary tree of mollusks.
The researchers found that a mysterious group of deep-ocean animals that resemble limpets, called monoplacophorans, are a sister clade to cephalopods, which include octopuses, squid and nautiluses. "Cephalopods are so different from all other mollusks, it was very difficult to understand what they are related to. They don't fit in with the rest," Dunn said. "Now, we have a situation where two of the most enigmatic groups within the mollusks turn out to be sister groups." [Amazing Mollusks: Images of Strange & Slimy Snails] Less «
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Credit: Image courtesy of Christopher J. Brown
Even though the oceans tend to warm slower than the land, researchers report in the Nov. 4 issue of the journal Science that similar movement rates are…Read More »
needed for organisms to stay ahead of climate change on land and in the oceans.
After analyzing 50 years of global temperature and climate data, Michael Burrows of the Scottish Marine Institute in Argyll and his colleagues found that the speed and direction of climate change, along with the arrival time of various seasons, is happening just as fast in the oceans as on land. The research team says that this climate-change velocity and seasonal shifts can be used to predict shifts in habitat ranges and life-cycle changes in a warming world.
For instance, organisms like these marine sea slugs and even elephant seals (shown here in bull kelp in the Southern Ocean) must adapt to new temperatures or move to new areas to stay in an optimal habitat. Less «
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Jellies In Leopard-Print
Credit: Matt Gove, National Ocean Service
These leopard-spotted jellies are appropriately decorated, considering they're terrifying predators — if you're a plankton. This species, Mastigias…Read More »
papua is known as the spotted jelly or the lagoon jelly. They live in coastal waters in the South Pacific and grow about 5.5 inches (14 to 16 centimeters) in diameter.
But what makes spotted jellies really cool is that they grow their own gardens. The jellies get their greenish-brown tinge from algae that they harbor. The algae is a handy food source for the jellies. Some of the larger individuals will even keep extra hangers-on: Little minnows that live inside the jellyfish's bell until they're large enough to face the wider ocean.
Jellyfish facts courtesy the Monterey Bay AquariumLess «
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The Scary Clown of the Animal Kingdom
Credit: Justin Marshall, University of Queensland, via NSF
This colorful creature acts more like Stephen King's "It" than Bozo the Clown. The mantis shrimp, a predator that is neither a mantis nor a shrimp, spears…Read More »
and dismembers prey with its powerful claws. Mantis shrimp are also capable of using their claws as hammers to crush snail shells, and larger species can even muster enough force to crack aquarium glass.
Mantis shrimp look shrimp-like, but they're actually their own subgroup of crustacean. According to new research from the University of Queensland, mantis shrimp have a unique way of seeing the world. They detect circular polarized light, a type of light beam that spirals either to the left or right. Filters in their eyes re-orient this light to turn it into the linear polarized light. To the human eye, linear polarized light is only a glare, the sort that requires the need for polarized sunglasses.
Researchers aren't yet sure how the mantis shrimp make use of this ability to filter circular polarized light. It's possible that this visual ability allows animals to see light patterns reflected off the shells of male animals — possible courtship displays visible only to the species that needs to see them. Less «
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Credit: Frank Schnorrer / MPI of Biochemistry
Flies are quite adept at buzzing around, despite the fact that their wings are small in comparison to their bulky bodies. Now, new research published Nov.…Read More »
17 in the journal Nature has uncovered the gene switch responsible for building the flight muscles in flies.
Much like hummingbirds, flies have to flap their wings extremely fast to stay aloft. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster contracts and relaxes its flight muscles 200 times a second. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany have found that a gene transcription factor called "spalt" creates these specialized muscles. Spalt is an important go-between that ensures that genes get translated into functional proteins. Without it, flies develop only slow-moving leg muscles.
Humans can't fly, but our heart muscles contain spalt, according to study researcher Frank Schnorrer. That could mean that the factor is important in regulating heartbeat, although more research is needed. Less «
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Back from the Dead
Credit: A. Hausmann
This beetle is a predator in the water but vulnerable in the wider world. Graphoderus bilineatus, a European water beetle, is listed as a vulnerable species…Read More »
by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and was thought to be locally extinct in Germany. But researchers with the Barcoding Fauna Bavarica project in Germany discovered that these beetles are still kicking around. The project is part of a larger scientific push to "barcode" species based on DNA snippets, enabling researchers to identify flora and fauna more accurately. Researchers engaged in barcoding projects convene these week in Adelaide Austraila for the fourth annual International Barcode of Life Conference. Less «
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Hello There, Bear
Credit: Steve Hillebrand , Fish and Wildlife Service
A brown bear rolls on its back in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Yum, anchovies. Actually, this generous puffin meal is made up of sand lances, little fish commonly found in the North Pacific and North Atlantic. Sand…Read More »
lances and other "forage fish" are critical to the survival of seabirds like this puffin. According to new research published Dec. 23 in the journal Science, seabirds need about a third of the fish in the sea to maintain their current lifestyles. That information is important because it gives researchers a sense of how much overfishing will affect animals that depend on the ocean for dinner. Less «
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A Dignified Bunch
Credit: (c) Alex Rogers
Fur seals sun themselves on South Georgia Island in the Southern Ocean. Oxford zoologist Alex Rogers snapped this shot during an expedition to explore…Read More »
... But there's a frog in my drink. Or maybe this little guy is an amphibious genie, here to offer three froggy wishes? Either way, it's best not to sip…Read More »
this beverage: This strawberry poison dart frog from Isla Bastimentos in Panama is quite toxic. A new study, published in January 2012 in the journal The American Naturalist, finds that these frogs' coloration patterns, as seen by birds, corresponds to how deadly they really are. Now that's truth in advertising. Less «
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Brand-New Snake Species
Credit: Tim Davenport/WCS
This striking black-and-yellow fellow is a brand-new species just discovered in remote Tanzania. Dubbed the Matilda's horned viper after the daughter of…Read More »
the Wildlife Conservation Society's Tanzania program director, the snake measures 2.1 feet (60 centimeters) in length and sports horn-like scales above its eyes.
The WCS announced the discovery of the new horned viper on Jan. 9, but they're keeping the exact location of the snake's habitat a secret to prevent poaching from illegal pet collectors. But the snake is already likely to be placed on the endangered list, as its habitat has been hit hard by logging and charcoal manufacturing. Less «
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Fly Behind Bars
Credit: Floris van Breugel
Stuck behind bars for a crime he didn't commit? Nah, this fruit fly is part of an experiment to uncover how insects navigate thousands of miles during…Read More »
migration, or even find their way from flower to flower in the front yard. The "bars" of light demarcate a light-emitting diode (LED) flight arena, but what really holds the fly in is a magnetic field (he's glued to a metal pin, allowing him to move naturally within the field but keeping him in place).
The outcome of this bizarre set-up is the discovery that fruit flies look to the sky to keep their bearings. In naturally polarized light, the flies had no trouble staying on course. But when researchers altered the light polarization patterns, the flies got discombobulated. That means that as long as a bit of sunlight makes its way to the fly's eye, it can use the patterns in light to get where it's going — sort of an all-weather version of sailors navigating by the stars. The researchers reported their results Jan. 10 in the journal Current Biology. Less «
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High-Stakes Slug Sex
Credit: The California Academy of Sciences
This banana slug yin-yang is not quite as innocent as it seems. In fact, it's a bizarre mating dance — and just the beginning of how weird things…Read More »
are about to get for these mollusks.
You see, banana slugs are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sexual organs. These organs are located, oddly enough, near their heads, explaining the cheek-to-cheek position you see here. When banana slugs start to mate, they nip, bite, and eventually intertwine, inserting their penises into one another's genital openings.
Once the sperm transfer is complete, slugs sometimes can't disengage from one another. That's when they do something really strange: a process called apophallation. Not to mince words, this means that one or both slugs chew the other's penis clean off. The organ doesn't regenerate, so these post-apophallation slugs live the rest of their days as females.
For more crazy animal mating strategies, see: Top 10 Swingers of the Animal Kingdom. West-coasters can learn more at a new exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco called "Animal Attraction," which opens Feb. 11, 2012. Less «
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Deadly Undersea Beauty
The tendrils of a sea anemone bring to mind the petals of a flower — but these petals bite. Sea anemones are predatory animals. Their tentacles are…Read More »
studded with venomous cells called nematocysts, which release toxins into prey such as fish and crustaceans, paralyzing the victims for easy digestion. Less «
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We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
Credit: Jim Abernathy
Strangest class picture of all time? Nope, just a little tourism. A 12-foot-long female tiger shark shows off her size above a row of SCUBA divers at Tiger…Read More »
Beach in the Bahamas, a popular ecotourism spot. There have been worries that these eco-tourist spots disrupt sharks' natural wanderings by making them overly dependent on the chum that tour guides throw out to attract the giant, predatory fish. But new research suggests that's not the case. In fact, responsible eco-tourism may benefit sharks by encouraging local governments to protect them. [Read the full story here] Less «
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Credit: Dr. Lynn Kimsey, Dr. Michael Ohl
A newly discovered wasp found in Indonesia has enormous sickle-shaped jaws to rival its fearsome sting.
The new species has been dubbed Megalara garuda…Read More »
after the Garuda, a part-human, part-bird legend that is the national symbol for Indonesia. Little is known about the wasps' behavior, but based on other wasp species, males may use their giant jaws to hold females during mating.
The wasp was simultaneously discovered by researchers Lynn Kimsey of the University of California, Davis and Michael Ohl of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, who report their discovery in the journal ZooKeys this week. A specimen of the wasp collected in the 1930s was lurking in the insect collections of the museum, unexamined. At the same time, researchers searching the Indonesia island of Sulawesi found a modern specimen of the same wasp. Less «
Welcome to my ice crevasse. Two divers meet an unexpected surprise in the frigid waters of Palmer Land on the Antarctica Peninsula during a 1962-1963 expedition.…Read More »
Their encounter was with a Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii), a deep diver that favors a coastal ice habitat. These bruisers can tip the scales at up to 1,360 pounds (600 kilograms) and they live farther south than any other mammal on Earth.
This vintage photograph was taken in 1962 during an Antarctic survey led by biologist Waldo Schmitt, an honorary research associate at the Smithsonian Institution. A crustacean expert, Schmitt travelled the world on multiple research expeditions. The one to Antarctica would be his last. He died in 1977 at the age of 90. Less «
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Pretty in Pink
Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010
Extending its arms 8 inches (20 cm) across, a pink crab perches on a bed of soft coral 2,310 feet (740 meters) deep in the Sangihe Talaud region off of…Read More »
Indonesia. The Little Hercules ROV captured this image of the colorful critter during a 2010 ocean expedition. Crabs like these are only found living on soft coral. Less «
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Cozy Penguin Babies
Credit: Paul Ponganis, National Science Foundation
Brrr… It's cold out there! Baby emperor penguins snuggle up with their parents on the chilly Antarctic ice. Recent research headed by Michelle LaRue of…Read More »
Minnesota University turned up good news for these beautiful birds: Using high-resolution satellite imagery, the scientists counted the entire population of emperor penguins in the Antarctic and found twice as many as expected.
Still, LaRue said in a statement, the loss of sea ice in the Antarctic is troubling for emperor penguins, which rely on the ice for their breeding grounds. Knowing the baseline number of birds will help researchers monitor populations over time, better clarifying how environmental change affects these birds.
Emperor penguins are the only species that breeds exclusively on Antarctic sea ice. After the chicks hatch, mom and pop penguin alternate cuddling with baby while the other goes to fish. After about 50 days of this, all the baby penguins huddle together for warmth while their parents strike out to sea, returning occasionally to bring food. These baby penguin huddles, called crèches, can hold thousands of little penguins. Less «
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Predator Under Threat
Credit: Marc Nadon
Gliding watchfully over coral and reef fish, a black tip reef shark patrols the waters off the Rose Atoll of American Samoa. A recent study found that…Read More »
reef sharks like this one are vanishing rapidly near populated islands, with up to 90 percent of sharks in these areas missing compared to isolated reefs. The cause could be illegal shark fishing or simply human activity in these reefs that leaves less food for the sharks. For more on these threatened apex predators, visit our gallery of wild sharks.Less «
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Credit: Paula Keener-Chavis, NOAA, Islands in the Stream Expedition 2002
Ready for fishy kisses? On second thought, it's best to steer clear of this south Atlantic scorpion fish. This fellow is part of the Scorpaenidae family,…Read More »
a group that includes the world's most venomous species. (The lionfish, with its venomous fin rays, is another family member.) This image was taken in 2002 during a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expedition to explore the eastern coast of the U.S. from Florida to North Carolina. Less «
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Flee the Flea
Credit: Janice Haney Carr/CDC
Where do fleas get their incredible jumping abilities? Look no further than these massive hind legs. Although fleas only get about 1/8 of an inch (3 millimeters)…Read More »
long, they have a horizontal jump range of up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) — that's more than 1,000 times their body length. Flea bites are to be avoided; it's these jumping insects that are responsible for transmitting the Black Death, or plague, from rats to humans in the 1300s. Less «
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The Ocean's Tiny Aliens
Credit: Art Howard, NAPRO. Image courtesy NOAA Ocean Explorer.
Alien or sea creature? This delicate blue organism is a nudibranch, a type of marine mollusk. Nudibranches are often confused for sea slugs, but the two…Read More »
groups are separate.
The blue nudibranch seen here is just an inch (2.5 cm) long. It was found clinging to sargassum seaweed during a NOAA Life on the Edge mission in 2003. Scientists explored the continental slope and shelf edge off the coast of the southern U.S., from North Carolina to Florida. The team observed everything from sea urchins to flying fish on the 11 day mission. Less «
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The Pink Lady
Credit: Carsten Pape, Alfred-Wegener-Institut
Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) plays a key role in the food webs of the South Ocean. In fact, throughout their evolutionary history, these tiny crustaceans…Read More »
have developed many biological rhythms that are closely connected to large seasonal changes in their environment.
But how will marine organisms like the krill react to environmental changes at the poles, such as receding sea ice and ocean warming, given that their vital processes, such as reproduction cycles and seasonable food availability, have been synchronized with the environment over millions of years? To answer this question, researchers in the virtual Helmholtz Institute PolarTime are taking a very close look at Antarctic krill, which serves as a model organism for a polar plankton species that has adapted to the extreme conditions. The Helmholtz institute is part of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. Less «
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The (Tiny) Face of a Killer
Credit: CDC/ Michael and Paula Smith
The visage of a tiny velvet ant peers up in this scanning electron microscope image magnified 23 times. This tiny creature, genus Dasymutilla is not actually…Read More »
an ant at all, but a wasp. She (this is a female) boasts a nasty sting, especially if you're another wasp or bee. In order to reproduce, velvet ants lay their eggs inside the larvae of wasps and bees. When the eggs hatch, they feed on the still-living but paralyzed larvae that house them. Less «
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Points of Light
Credit: David Burdick, distributed by NOAA under a creative commons license.
Here's a marine mystery for you: What is this glowing creature emerging from the depths? If you recognized it as the underside of a jellyfish, congrats!…Read More »
This photograph was captured near the wreckage of the Shinkoku Maru, a World War II-era Japanese oil tanker sunk by a torpedo attack in 1944. The shipwreck now rests in the Chuuk Lagoon in Micronesia. Less «
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Credit: Ray Boland, NOAA/NMFS/PIFD/ESOD
Divers free a Hawaiian Monk Seal entangled in a lost fishing net in this 1997 photograph from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Fortunately for this unlucky…Read More »
seal, the divers were successful. Marine litter remains a problem in the area more than a decade later, however. In July 2012, NOAA divers plucked 50 metric tons of marine debris out of the Pacific near the islands during a single clean-up mission. Less «
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Credit: Lucile and William Mann; Smithsonian Institution Archives
Don't try this at home: An unidentified child cuddles a tiger cub during the 1937 National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Expedition to the Dutch East…Read More »
Indies, now Indonesia. The purpose of the expedition was to collect zoo animals for the National Zoological Park. Less «
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Credit: Robert Schwemmer, CINMS, NOAA.
A male northern elephant seal watches a shorebird trot by in this photograph from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in California. Male elephant…Read More »
seals earn their name with their enormous size, growing up to 13 feet (4 meters) long and weighing up to 4,500 pounds (2,000 kilograms). Less «
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Emperor's Gravity-Defying Leap
Credit: Dr. Paul Ponganis; National Science Foundation
I can fly! I can fly … Well, maybe not. Emperor penguins may be flightless, but as this 2011 shot reveals, they're perfectly adapted to their semi-aquatic…Read More »
lifestyle. These penguins can dive more than 1600 feet (500 meters) down for up to 12 minutes. After a completed hunting spree, the birds launch themselves back onto the ice like feathery torpedoes. Less «
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Credit: David Haring/Duke Lemur Center
If you prefer your creatures of the night to be cute rather than cuddly, have we got the critter for you. This is an aye-aye, a species of nocturnal lemur…Read More »
originally found only in Madagascar. The aye-aye is a harmless omnivore with one long, spindly finger it uses to fish grubs out of rotten logs. Like 91 percent of lemur species, aye-ayes are threatened with extinction, but it's not just habitat loss and deforestation that may do this fuzzy creature in. Madagascar superstition holds that aye-ayes are harbingers of death, so the animals are often killed on sight.
This particular aye-aye is a resident of the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, N.C., a research and conservation facility that houses 250 lemurs and their close relatives. In honor of Halloween and the wrongly maligned aye-aye, the Lemur Center has a special deal for the month of October: Pledge a donation and receive not only a packet of information about a lemur of your choice, but also this cute photo. Less «
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Guardian of the Lava
Credit: Dmitry Demezhko, Institute of Geophysics UB RAS, Yekaterinburg, Russia. Distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons License.
What are you doing at my rock outcrop? Geology fieldwork sometimes brings scientists face-to-face with local fauna, like this curious red fox living in…Read More »
a lava field on Iturup Island. This volcanic island is part of the disrupted territory between Russia and Japan, with both nations claiming it as their own Less «
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Credit: Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR
Looking nearly unreal with its green-and-purple color scheme, this anemone decorates the ocean floor near Chuuk, one of the Federated States of Micronesia.…Read More »
Despite the vegetal look, anemones are actually animals that prey on small fish and crustaceans. Less «
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Credit: Lucile and William Mann, Smithsonian Institution
Two cuties get cuddly in this 1937 photograph taken on a National Geogrpahic Society-Smithsonian Institution expedition to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).…Read More »
This image is part of the collection of William Mann, director of the National Zoo, and Lucile, his wife and a writer and editor, but the Smithsonian knows little about this strangely cozy primate and tiger cub. Less «
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Swirling in a translucent mass, a bloom of jellyfish-like salps pulsates through the waters off the coast of New Zealand. Some reports have suggested…Read More »
that blooms like this are on the increase, choking fishermen's nets and power plant intake pipes. But while these striking consequences do happen, a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science finds no strong evidence for a global jelly rise over the past 200 years. In fact, jellyfish numbers oscillate from high to low over decade-long periods but remain stable over time, researchers reported online Dec. 31. Some areas, such as Japan and the Mediterranean have seen regional increases in these gelatinous creatures, however. [Top 10 Underwater Cameras] Less «
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Credit: Edgardo Griffith
A load of round yellow eggs weighs down this Hemiphractus fasciatus , the casque headed tree frog. Mama frog will carry these eggs on her back until they…Read More »
hatch as mini-frogs — no tadpoles here! These frogs are threatened with extinction and are one of 11 species of high conservation concern being bred in captivity in Panama. Less «
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Zigs and Zags
Credit: Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR.
My, what a zig-zaggy mouth you have! The cock's comb oyster (Lopha cristagalli) is a common site in tropical waters in the Indo-West Pacific. This specimen…Read More »
was photographed in Chuuk, one of the Federated States of Micronesia, in 2006. Like other oysters, these creatures survive by cementing themselves to one spot and filtering edible debris out of the water. Less «
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Credit: NOAA's National Ocean Service
A huddle of starfish adds a splash of color to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Washington State. The Sanctuary protects 2,408 square nautical…Read More »
miles off the coast, the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Living in this protected area are organisms ranging from microscopic plankton to sea otters to albatross to migrating gray whales. It's a high-nutrient environment, which is why intertidal species like these starfish thrive. Less «
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Credit: Nature, 2005
My, how many tentacles you have! This alien-looking creature is known as Nematostella vectensis, or the starlet sea anemone. Like other anemones, starlets…Read More »
start life as free-swimming larvae. They then settle into an appropriately mucky spot on the seafloor and metamorphose into their adult polyp form, seen here. Anemones lack brains, but the section of the larvae containing the sensory organs actually becomes the bulbous root end of the adult, while the other side sprouts delicate tentacles and transforms into a filter-feeding mouth.
Researchers have now found that the "head genes" of N. vectensis, though held in what eventually becomes the animal's "foot," correspond to the head genes found in the actual heads of higher animals. Humans and other brainy beasts share a common, brainless, ancestor with sea anemones that lived 600 million to 700 million years ago. The findings were released Feb. 20, 2013 in the journal PLOS Biology. Less «
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Credit: Fatma Wassar, University of Milan, distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons License
An unidentified dragonfly species shows off delicate wings in this photo taken in a maize field in Italy in 2010.
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Credit: Eric Vance, U.S. EPA
A Great Blue Heron wades in the wetlands. These majestic birds rely on watery environments for their food supply (fish and other aquatic animals), but…Read More »
humans are no less dependent. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, wetlands and streams are a crucial source of water, with 117 million Americans relying on water supplies that, in turn, rely on the nation's hundreds of thousands of miles of streams. Wetlands also provide a buffer against storm-induced flooding. South Carolina's swamps alone can store the equivalent of 7,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water, according to the EPA. Just constructing a stormwater treatment facility for that amount of water would cost more than $200 million. Less «
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Credit: Image courtesy of Elaine Miller Bond, www.elainemillerbond.com
A black-tailed prairie dog gets the jump on a rival in a snowy mating-season fight. A new study published March 8 in the journal Science finds that female…Read More »
prairie dogs like to stay close to mom. Unlike many species that move away from their families to avoid competing with kin, prairie dogs are more likely to disperse when their families move away. Less «
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Hanging in the Keys
Credit: NOAA's National Ocean Service
Good new for fish in the Florida Keys: A new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report…Read More »
finds that the declaration of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve has done wonders to combat overfishing in this sensitive ecosystem.
Black and red grouper and yellowtail have all rebounded since the formation of the reserve in 2001. Mutton snapper, once thought wiped out by overfishing, have started to return to the area to spawn. Even better, the reserve is a win-win for humans and fish. Commercial catches of reef fish in the area have actually increased with better management, and there were no financial losses among local commercial and recreational fishers. [Read More: Best Underwater Cameras for Reef Photography] Less «
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Bad News for Bats
Credit: Darwin Brock
Bad news for everyone's favorite flying mammals: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed that bats at Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama…Read More »
have white-nose syndrome. The disease is a fungus that grows on hibernating bats, causing them to exhibit often-fatal behavior such as flying outside in cold weather. In eastern North America alone. 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats have died of white-nose syndrome.
Fern Cave is the winter home for multiple bat species, including the largest documented colony of gray bats, which are federally endangered. So far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had detected the syndrome in two groups of tri-colored bats in the cave. Less «
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Mommy and Me
Credit: Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Wait up, Mom! Shomili, a four-month old greater one-horned rhinoceros runs behind her mother Sundari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Shomili, or "Mili" as…Read More »
zookeepers call her, was released into the park's Asian Savanna habitat to join the rest of the zoo's herd on April 23, 2013. Mili is the 65th greater one-horned rhino born at the zoo, which is working to conserve this endangered species. Only about 3,400 of these rhinos survive in the wild. Less «
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Bad Birthday Boy
Credit: Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo
Somebody's not sharing his cake! One-year-old Tikal the jaguar keeps his twin sister Maderas away from their birthday party treat at the San Diego Zoo…Read More »
on April 26, 2013. Zookeepers made the young jaguars a "cake" made of ice and frozen blood, and Tikal was not inclined toward generosity. Mama knows best though: The cubs' mother Nindiri wasn't having any of her son's selfishness, and she joined in to enjoy the frozen treat, too. Less «
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Welcome to the Neighborhood
Credit: NOAA's National Ocean Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration executive director Joe Pica meets the locals during a dive off the Dominican Republic. Pica was retrieving…Read More »
an acoustic buoy when this humpback whale stopped by to say hi. Humpbacks are found all over the world's oceans — they migrate as many as 16,000 miles (25,000 kilometers) a year. Less «
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Credit: Edinburgh Zoo
What's going on out there? At just a few hours old, this baby gentoo penguin peaks out from beneath its parent. The as-yet-nameless chick is the first…Read More »
gentoo born at Edinburgh Zoo this year. According to the zoo, a sibling joined this curious chick several hours later, and a third in the clutch was working its way out of the egg. [Happy Feet: A Gallery of Pudgy Penguins] Less «
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Credit: Denver Zoo
Ahanu the otter slips through the water at the Denver Zoo. The two-year-old male is a new zoo resident, brought from the Oakland Zoo in California to keep…Read More »
Denver's previous male otter, Otto, company. Otto's earlier companion Ariel died of old age last year, and given otters' highly social nature, Otto needed a new friend. For more otter adorableness, check out these pups getting a checkup Less «
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Credit: Department of the Interior
Can you guess the location of this gorgeous sunset scene?
This is Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, approximately 110,000 acres of bird-friendly…Read More »
wetlands in eastern North Carolina. Ducks, raptors and black bears call the refuge home, as does the reintroduced endangered red wolf. Streaking across the sunset sky in this image are hundreds of tundra swans. These white birds migrate from their breeding grounds along the Arctic Ocean down the U.S. Atlantic coast in the winter, sometimes reaching as far south as Florida. Less «
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Credit: Steve Norris/USFWS
A meadowlark dragonfly shows off its delicate wings at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. Dragonflies are …Read More »
A 17-day-old female okapi tests out her land legs at the San Diego Zoo on Tuesday (June 4, 2013). This is the public debut for this little girl, who was…Read More »
born May 19 to mother Safarani. Okapis are giraffe relatives native to Central Africa; their shy tendencies kept early European explorers in the dark about their true existence for decades. It wasn't until 1901 that the species was formally classified and scientifically named. Less «
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Tadpole Eat ... Tadpole?
Credit: North Carolina State University
Most tadpoles survive on a diet of algae. But not Lepidobatrachus laevis, the tadpole of Budgett's frog. Not only are Budgett's frog tadpoles carnivorous,…Read More »
they're cannibals — as this image of a Budgett's frog tadpole slowly digesting in the gut of another Budgett's frog tadpole reveals.
North Carolina State developmental biologist Nanette Nascone-Yoder and her colleagues are using these carnivorous tadpoles to study how the digestive organs evolved and develop. In a study published in May 2013 in the journal Evolution and Development, Nascone-Yoder and her colleagues genetically engineered algae-eating tadpole guts to look more like that of the Budgett's tadpoles and vice versa.
"Understanding how and why the gut develops different shapes and lengths to adapt to different diets and environments during evolution gives us insight into what types of processes can be altered in the context of human birth defects, another scenario in which the gut also changes its shape and function," Nascone-Yoder said in a statement. Less «
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Humpback Whale Kenai Fjords
Credit: Ashley Lindley/U.S. Department of the Interior
For an animal that can weigh more than two-dozen tons, humpback whales sure can catch some air.
humpback whales often take flight in Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park, at the edge of the North Pacific Ocean. The whales' enormous size makes for spectacular splashdowns. Male humpbacks grow to an average length of 46 feet (14 meters) and an average weight of 25 tons. Females are even bigger, at an average of 49 feet (14.9 m) long and 35 tons in weight.
Humpbacks are identified by their distinctive body shape and unusually long flippers, which are almost one-third of the whale's total body length. Humpback whales' dorsal fins are often a small triangular nubbin with a hump that is noticeable when a whale arches its back to dive. Humpback whales are often white or partially white. A white marking on the underside of the tail is like a marine mammal name tag in that each white marking is unique to each whale.
Humpback whales are an endangered species. Their worldwide population was estimated in 2007 at 30,000 to 40,000 whales. The North Pacific population found in Alaska is thought to be around 6,000 whales.
Giant panda Tai Shan is a celebrity in his own right. When he was born at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., in July 2005he prompted a…Read More »
50-percent increase in zoo attendance and a rash of fan Web sites. He earned the nickname Butterstick after a zoo worker described him shortly after birth as about the size of a stick of butter. Because Tai Shan's parents are on lease from China, even though the cub was born in the United States, he still belongs to China by law.In February 2010 Tai Shan boarded a special FedEx cargo jet to his permanent home at the Bifengxia Panda Base in Sichuan, China. In this image Tai Shan is 11 weeks old. Less «