Caught on Camera
Ball of Color
This photomicrograph shows the ruby-tailed wasp called Chrysis ignita, which is the most commonly observed of this species. The abdomen's is coloring -- 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.
The Downside of Island Life
This colorful, tropical bird called the Tuamotu kingfisher lives on one tiny island — Niau in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, in the south Pacific. 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.
Penguin Pomp: Birds of a Feather
'You Lookin' at Me?'
The satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus) is the smallest of 12 species of bizarre-looking leaf-tailed geckos. The nocturnal creature has 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.
Tooth and Claw
A Bedbug's bite
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.
Into the Blue
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 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.
Oro y Plata
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.
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.
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!
Snow-White Penguin Chick
Not all emperor penguins sport black-and-white tuxedoes. Scripps reseacher Gerald Kooyman spotted this unique all-white emperor chick, dubbed Snowflake, 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]
What Big Paws You Have
Hitch a Ride on a Dragonfly
Walking the Dog
Okay, it's really just a normal Chihuahua, but scientists in Germany caught the animal 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.
Yum... You Look Delicious
Flirty Fish: You're Pretty Cute
— Stephanie Pappas
All Wrapped Up and Ready to ...
I've Seen a Ghost
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.
— Stephanie Pappas
Milk the ... Snake?
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.
— Stephanie Pappas
Pigeon Cam Gives Birds-Eye View of Forest & Trees
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.
— Stephanie Pappas
Frog in a Log
Penguins All In A Row
Sea Turtle Stare-Down
St. Patty's Puffin
Wondrous Whale Dance
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.
Eye-Popping Undersea Color
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.
Looking for a Seafood Buffet
Bold Fashion From a Colorful Critter
Nest-Weaving Bird Learns from Experience
Snowbird Snuggles In
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.
Blood-Red Bats Take to the Skies
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.
Do You Hear Something Rattling?
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]
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.
Jellies In Leopard-Print
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 Aquarium
The Scary Clown of the Animal Kingdom
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.
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.
Back from the Dead
Hello There, Bear
Hungry, Hungry Puffin
A Dignified Bunch
Excuse Me, Waiter ...
Brand-New Snake Species
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.
Fly Behind Bars
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.
High-Stakes Slug Sex
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.
Deadly Undersea Beauty
We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
The new species has been dubbed Megalara garuda 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.
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.
Pretty in Pink
Cozy Penguin Babies
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.
Predator Under Threat
Flee the Flea
The Ocean's Tiny Aliens
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.
The Pink Lady
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.
The (Tiny) Face of a Killer
Points of Light
Emperor's Gravity-Defying Leap
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.
Guardian of the Lava
Zigs and Zags
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.
Hanging in the Keys
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]
Bad News for Bats
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.
Mommy and Me
Bad Birthday Boy
Welcome to the Neighborhood
This is Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, approximately 110,000 acres of bird-friendly 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.
Aww! Baby Okapi Takes a Stroll
Tadpole Eat ... Tadpole?
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.
Humpback Whale Kenai Fjords
As the above image shows, 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.
- Brett Israel, OurAmazingPlanet Contributor
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