Tag Archives | Nature

Why Are Penguins Losing Their Feathers?

Photo: Jeffrey Smith

Photo: Jeffrey Smith

Jennifer Viegas writes for Discovery News:

A new condition is causing many penguin chicks to lose their feathers, with some victims dying as a result of the mysterious problem, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The condition, called “feather-loss disorder,” appears to have emerged recently and is now affecting penguin colonies on both sides of the South Atlantic.

“Feather-loss disorders are uncommon in most bird species, and we need to conduct further study to determine the cause of the disorder and if this is in fact spreading to other penguin species,” Dee Boersma was quoted as saying in a WCS press release. Boersma has conducted studies on Magellanic penguins for more than three decades.

“We need to learn how to stop the spread of feather-loss disorder,” she added, “as penguins already have problems with oil pollution and climate variation. It’s important to keep disease from being added to the list of threats they face.”

So far, Boersma and her colleagues offer the following as possible causes for feather-loss disorder: pathogens, thyroid disorders, nutrient imbalances or genetics…

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The Last Free People On Earth

Joanna Eede writes for National Geographic:
Deep in one of the remotest parts of the Brazilian Amazon, in a clearing at the headwaters of the Envira River, an Indian man looks up at an aeroplane. He is surrounded by kapok trees and banana plants, and by the necessities of his life: a thatched hut, its roof made from palm fronds; a plant-fiber basket brimming with ripe pawpaw; a pile of peeled manioc, lying bright-white against the rain forest earth.
The man’s body is painted red from crushed seeds of the annatto shrub, and in his hand...
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Indonesia’s Plant-Based Birth Control Pill for Men

GandarusaWhile the U.S. progress lags, Indonesia readies a male contraception pill. Patrick Winn writes on Global Post:

On the remote Indonesian island of Papua, tribesmen have long noticed the curious effect of a shrub called “gandarusa.”

If you chew its leaves often enough, men say, your wife won’t get pregnant. Indonesian scientists, who have transferred this folk method from the jungle to the lab, claim they can extract the shrub’s active ingredient and mass produce it as an over-the-counter pill.

If they’re right, they will accomplish what Western pharmaceutical giants have researched but failed to deliver for decades: a birth control pill for men.

“With luck, it could be released late this year, but it will probably be sold in stores early next year,” said Sugiri Syarief, the head of Indonesia’s state-run National Family Planning Coordination Board. Researchers began analyzing gandarusa in 1988, Sugiri said. Animal and human trials began in the 1990s and the plant’s effective compound was patented in 2007.

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The Horrifying ‘Spider Trees’ Of Pakistan

Ah, the wonders and surprises of Mother Nature. The 2010 floods in Pakistan caused an unexpected evolution in arachnoid behavior — to escape the rising waters, millions of spiders took to living in trees. The UK’s Department for International Development has an eye-popping Flickr gallery of what is now typical across Pakistan. The sticky, web-cocooned trees have proven extremely effective at catching pests and curbed the mosquito population. (The trees in the below picture are festooned with dead bugs.)

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Earth Getting Mysteriously Windier

Occluded Mesocyclone TornadoMason Inman writes on National Geographic:
The world has gotten stormier over the past two decades — and the reason is a mystery, a new study says. In the past 20 years, winds have picked up around 5 percent on average. Extremely strong winds caused by storms have increased even faster, jumping 10 percent over 20 years, according to the new analysis of global satellite data. The study, the first to look at wind speeds across such a large swath of the planet, bolsters some earlier findings, according to study leader Ian Young, of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. "Some regional studies had found similar results, so we suspected there may be an increasing trend," Young said.
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Artificial Trees Convert CO2 To O2

398px-Trees_near_CoggeshallWhat would happen if there were no longer any trees? Well, we could just make our own. Via AOL News:
It's not nice to fool Mother Nature. Or is it? If you're not getting enough air, you might want to spend time sitting under a newly designed artificial tree that converts carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen. In the modern world of urban pollution, we can't seem to grow enough trees to naturally convert carbon dioxide into life-sustaining air -- the process of photosynthesis -- until now. Researchers at New York's Columbia University, working with Influx Studio in Paris, France, have designed a faux or artificial tree. It's basically a machine fashioned to resemble a dragon blood tree, complete with wide branches and umbrellalike tops that are used as support for the large solar panels...
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Frozen Flamingos Fall From The Sky In Siberia

_mg_1510NPR provides more wildlife-plummeting-from-the-heavens oddness to cap off a packed season. Going back at least a hundred years, solitary flamingos occasionally fall from the sky in the brutal Siberian winter, thousands of miles from the birds’ habitat:

The two boys ran over, called their father, Vasily, who picked up the bird and took it home. It was still alive. “[This is the ] first time I see a bird like this,” he told a TV reporter.

They fed the flamingo fish and buckwheat saturated in water (not normally flamingo food) and pretty soon it was up, active and knocking around the Muravyev’s apartment. Here it is, head in a feeding bucket.

That should be the end of the story. Except that one year later, also in November and also in Siberia, it happened again. Another flamingo flew out of the sky, landed by another Siberian river, was also brought to the greenhouse, then sent to the zoo and the locals began to wonder, “Where are these birds coming from?

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Is Earth Due For Its Sixth Mass Extinction?

FishShould we all be on the endangered species list? Science Daily reports:

With the steep decline in populations of many animal species, from frogs and fish to tigers, some scientists have warned that Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction like those that occurred only five times before during the past 540 million years.

Each of these ‘Big Five’ saw three-quarters or more of all animal species go extinct.

In a study to be published in the March 3 issue of the journal Nature, University of California, Berkeley, paleobiologists assess where mammals and other species stand today in terms of possible extinction, compared with the past 540 million years, and they find cause for hope as well as alarm.

“If you look only at the critically endangered mammals — those where the risk of extinction is at least 50 percent within three of their generations — and assume that their time will run out, and they will be extinct in 1,000 years, that puts us clearly outside any range of normal, and tells us that we are moving into the mass extinction realm,” said principal author Anthony D.

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Hidden Messages Woven Into Birds’ Nests

kitenestJust more evidence that non-human animal species have deeper intelligence than we give them credit for, and communicate in ways to which we are oblivious. Wired Science discusses a secret form of bird-language, which we should probably learn if we hope to foil the coming avian takeover:

The discovery of messages in raptors’ nests has raised the possibility that many bird species encode signals into these structures, with seemingly decorative flourishes actually full of meaning.

Among black kites, scraps of white plastic are used to signal territorial dominance. To other kites, the scraps are a warning sign. To humans, they hint at an unappreciated world of animal communication.

“It’s probably very common that other bird species decorate their nests in ways compatible with what we found,” said Fabrizio Sergio, a biologist at the Doñana Biological Station in Spain. “And not only birds, but fish and mammals.”

A few species, such black wheateaters and bowerbirds, are already known to use nest design in courtship displays.

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