Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Skelly spidey

Meet the two latest species of the flashy peacock spider, discovered in Queensland, Australia, by Madeline Girard, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. Officially named Maratus sceletus (IMAGE ABOVE) and Maratus jactatus (IMAGE HERE), she has playfully nicknamed them "Skeletorus" and "Sparklemuffin," respectively. Entomologist Jürgen Otto describes the mating dance of the spider pictured: "When [the male] got within a few centimeters of the female, he exploded into a firework of activity. The spinnerets were extended and flicked around at an amazing speed, one of the legs was flexed like he wanted to show off his muscles, and he moved constantly from one side of the grass blade to the other.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fact to fiction to fact

Step 1: Write a first novel - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - woven around a series of found photographs. Step 2: Publish said novel to great acclaim. Step 3: Travel with an urban explorer in Europe to find and document abandoned houses like the one described in the pages of his novel (VIDEO HERE).

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Winter waves

Photographer Jonathan Nimerfroh captured evidence of just how brutal the winter in Massachusetts has been. Waves off the coast of the island of Nantucket southeast of Boston had begun to freeze. He describes, "They were perfect dreamy slush waves. What an experience to be absolutely freezing on the beach watching these roll in while I mind-surfed them..."

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Flaying frogs

It was in 1987 that a lawsuit brought by 15-year-old Jenifer Graham of Victorville, California, U.S., resulted in several states offering an alternative to the dissection of frogs in science class. But for many middle school students, it is still a rite of passage and for good reason, according to David Evans, Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association. Not only does the anatomy extrapolate to the human body, but it's hands-on: "There's something visceral and important about the real thing. What does this particular organ feel like? How stiff is it? Is it compressible?"

Friday, February 27, 2015

Underground railroad

Beneath the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York is a secret train platform that was built in the 1930s to allow VIPs a private entrance. Most notably, it was used by Franklin D. Roosevelt and still houses the train car and private elevator, which were both large enough for FDR's armor-plated Pierce Arrow car. It has since been the site of a party hosted by Andy Warhol, a home for squatters, and a destination for urban explorers (IMAGES HERE).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Friendly fronds

Two species of ferns with tens of millions of years of evolution between them reproduced, creating a hybrid named Cystocarpium roskamianum, which botanists have always thought looked a bit strange. This unlikely pairing between a fern that grew on rocky outcrops and another fern that grew on the forest floor was confirmed by DNA analysis at the University of British Columbia. As researcher Carl Rothfels puts it, "A 60 million year divergence is approximately equivalent to a human mating with a lemur."

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Twins immemorial

Behold the earliest known example of twins in the archaeological record, dating back almost 8,000 years to the Neolithic Era. Sad to say, it is also the oldest example of death by dystocia, or obstructed labor. The skeleton of the 20- to 25-year-old mother– with the bones of 2 infants, one in a breech position, in her pelvic region – was discovered in a prehistoric cemetery called Lokomotiv, near present-day Irkutsk in Russia, and her burial was indistinct from others at the site. As Canadian archaeologist Angela Lieverse of the University of Saskatchewan points out, "It suggests either they didn't know she had twins or that dying during childbirth wasn't so out of the realm of possibility that it would be considered unique."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Manganese in raw form

Members of the German research organization GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel were on a research expedition looking for deep-sea organisms in the Atlantic Ocean when they stumbled upon natural deposits of the rare earth metal manganese. The mineral accretes over millions of years into nodules that range in size from golf balls to bowling balls. Lead scientist Colin Devey explains the rarity of the find, "Manganese nodules are found in all oceans. But the largest deposits are known to occur in the Pacific. Nodules of this size and density in the Atlantic are not known."

Monday, February 23, 2015

16th c. spread

Fire ants have a dubious distinction as one of the first worldwide invasive species, being spread from the New World around the globe in 16th c. Spanish galleons. Entomologist Andrew Suarez of the University of Illinois explains, "A lot of these ships, particularly if they were going somewhere to pick up commerce, would fill their ballast with soil and then they would dump the soil out in a new port and replace it with cargo. They were unknowingly moving huge numbers of organisms in the ballast soil."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Buddha body

Now on temporary display at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest is a Buddha statue recently found to contain the mummified remains of 12th c. Chinese Buddhist master Liuquan. His body was revealed by CT scan (IMAGES HERE), his abdominal cavity was determined to contain paper scraps with Chinese characters, and DNA analysis is being carried out on his bones.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Gallagh guy

The male bog body of a 20-year-old known as Gallagh Man, who was killed in Iron Age between 470 and 120 B.C.E., is housed at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. Discovered in Co. Galway in 1821, the mummy was not acquired by the Royal Irish Academy until 1829. By then it had greatly deteriorated, which is why it is in a relatively poor state of preservation today. The family who found it while digging their peat was reluctant to part with it:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lowly limpet

The humble rock-scouring limpet, which is not as storied as the barnacle, now has a claim to fame. The teeth of the snail-like creature are believed to be the strongest natural material yet found on the planet. British researcher Asa Barber of the University of Portsmouth says of the newly announced superlative, "Until now, we thought that spider silk was the strongest biological material because of its super-strength and potential applications in everything from bulletproof vests to computer electronics, but now we have discovered that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On with her head

The battered lead disc above, the Moost Happi medal in the British Museum in London, Is the only remaining undisputed likeness of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII. After she was beheaded in 1536, there was a concerted effort to erase her memory. But an interdisciplinary team at the University of California, Riverside, may have resurrected another image of the queen. Using state-of-the-art facial recognition software, they have found a close match with the privately owned Nidd Hall portrait, held at the Bradford Art Galleries and Museums. Admits Amit Roy-Chowdhury, head of the video computing group, "What the computer gives at the end is another source of evidence for the discussions that have been going on about these questions.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sand sculpture

What is has taken millions of years to do to sandstone, the wind has done on a miniature scale to frozen sand in a matter of days and weeks. The photo was taken at Silver Beach County Park in Saint Joseph, Michigan, U.S., on February 14, 2015, by Joshua Nowicki, who noted that the largest of the formations was only about 12" (30 cm) tall.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Remote rumors

This puffin-hunting lodge, with no electricity or indoor plumbing, was built in 1953 and is now trumpeted as the most isolated house in the world. It is located on the island of Elliðaey, part of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago south of Iceland. While native pop singer Björk may or may not have considered buying the property, and Iceland may or may not be interested in selling the islands off its coast, the fact is that it was not presented to her as a gift by the government of the country grateful for the attention she has brought it.


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