Although I’ve eaten flying fish before, I’d never actually seen them “fly” until recently (easily accessible to me but not something I’ve ever gone out of my way to find). The above video, filmed for BBC Earth, shows a glide of flying fish soaring through the air. Truly majestic.
They’re also a significant part of Bajan culture (I ate them in Barbados while visiting my dad’s family):
Many aspects of Barbadian culture center (sic) around the flying fish; it is depicted on coins, as sculptures in fountains, in artwork, and as part of the official logo of the Barbados Tourism Authority. Additionally, the Barbadian coat of arms features a pelican and dolphinfish on either side of the shield, but the dolphinfish resembles a flying fish. Furthermore, actual artistic renditions and holograms of the flying fish are also present within the Barbadian passport.
Charismatic clownfish, the coral reef fish made famous by the film Finding Nemo, are instantly recognizable by their white stripes. These stripes, which scientists call bars, appear as clownfish mature from larvae into adults in a process called metamorphosis, but how these distinctive patterns form has long remained a mystery.
Now, a new study has found that the speed at which these white bars form depends on the species of sea anemone in which the clownfish live. The scientists also discovered that thyroid hormones, which play a key role in metamorphosis, drive how quickly their stripes appear, through changes in the activity of a gene called duox.
Anemonefish are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they develop into males first, and when they mature, they become females. If the female anemonefish is removed from the group, such as by death, one of the largest and most dominant males becomes a female. The remaining males move up a rank in the hierarchy.
Climate change sucks but nature has an uncanny knack for adapting to new environments. After all, it’s been doing it for billions of years. An example that piqued my interest was the pizzly bear (or grolar bear if you prefer that portmanteau).
So what is a pizzly bear?
A pizzly bear is the offspring of a grizzly bear and a polar bear. They were first discovered in the wild in 2006 and the reason for the pairing relates to both species moving to better climates: grizzlies are looking for warmth and polar bears are looking for cold. They meet halfway, come into contact when hunting, and engage in “opportunistic mating,” according to Larisa DeSantis, an associate professor of biological sciences at Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University.
DeSantis also says they’re “more resilient to climate change and better suited for warmer temperatures”:
“We’ve known about pizzlies for quite some time, but their occurrence may be more common with ongoing Arctic warming […] Usually hybrids aren’t better suited to their environments than their parents, but there is a possibility that these hybrids might be able to forage for a broader range of food sources.”
Many bees have a brain cell density greater than that of small birds – but most ant brains contain a far lower density of neurons. The difference may be down to the insects’ lifestyles: because bees fly, they may need more brain cells than ants do in order to process visual information […]
However, the difference in the insects’ brain cell counts probably has little to do with intelligence, says team member Wulfila Gronenberg, also at the University of Arizona. The researchers think flying insects probably need more neurons to power the enhanced vision they need for flight, an idea that they will test in future.
Last year, a Smithsonian marine biologist called Karen Osborn and her colleagues found a unique specimen while hauling deep-sea fish. But when she tried to use strobe lights to take a photo for cataloguing, she could only make out its outline. It was as if the fish was absorbing the light. Except it was.
But wait a second, Osborn figured. “I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can’t see any detail,” she says. “How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?”
It disappears because the fangtooth, along with 15 other species that Osborn and her colleagues have found so far, camouflage themselves with “ultra-black” skin, the deep-sea version of Vantablack, the famous human-made material that absorbs almost all the light you shine at it. These fish have evolved a different and devilishly clever way of going ultra-black with incredible efficiency: One species the researchers found absorbs 99.956 percent of the light that hits it, making it nearly as black as Vantablack.
99.956% is as good as 100% to the naked eye so “Vantafish” seems like the perfect name.
Victor Mair wrote a very in-depth piece on the etymological origins of the word “daughter” and its connection to milking cows.
I was just thinking how important cows (and their milk) are for Indian people and was surprised that’s reflected in such a fundamental word for a family relationship as “daughter” — at least in the popular imagination.
Upon further investigation, Mair traced “daughter” back to its roots, via Middle English, Old English, Proto-West Germanic, Proto-Germanic, Proto-Indo-European, and finally Vedic Sanskrit—duhitṛ (“one who milks”).
2020 is the year of being “over it”. Over what? Specifically everything.
Reza Farazmand is the creator of Poor Drawn Lines and draws comics 3 times a week for our amusement. For yesterday’s edition, we see a pigeon claiming they are “over it” to which their feathered companion asks what they’re over.
“All of it.”
“Can you be more specific?”
I’ve never felt so connected to a pigeon in my life.
(Content warning: this article contains bugs and nasty stuff they do)
Yesterday, I wrote about the concept of parasitic architecture and questioned how parasitic it was. After all, it didn’t really “feed” off its host as such; it was more of an extension and had benefits for people needing places to live. And then I found out about a true parasite and just how wild they can be.
The emerald cockroach wasp aka the jewel wasp aka Ampulex compressa is a parasitoid wasp that feeds off cockroaches in order to reproduce and survive. Parasitoids aren’t uncommon in nature or films (see the Alien series and, to a certain extent, The Thing) but the emerald cockroach wasp is fascinating to me. Here’s how it reproduces:
A female wasp stings a cockroach and its venom paralyses its front legs
Then, the wasp stings it again in its brain, specifically in the area that controls the escape reflex.
Once the host is immobilised, the wasp chews off some of its antennae and then begins feed on the hemolymph (a blood-like substance) that comes out.
The wasp “walks” the roach to its burrow by dragging it in by the remaining antennae. Then, it lays one or two eggs between the roach’s legs.
The roach (which is still alive at this point by the way) rests in the burrow while the eggs hatch, which takes about 3 days. But that’s the start of the end for the roach as the larva then feed off the insides of the roach for the next 4–5 days.
After a week or so, the larva will have eaten all of the roach’s internal organs and go into its cocoon.
After that process, the wasp emerges from the roach’s body and starts adulthood.
I’m not super squeamish but even that turned my stomach. The mating process is efficient too. Time is of the essence as adults only live for a few months and, in line with that, mating only takes a minute (Missy Elliott probably wouldn’t be a fan). One session is all it takes for a female wasp to successfully parasitize several dozen roaches.
One of the most unique ways it uses its venom isn’t to immobilise and then eat but to alter the host’s ability to escape and nothing else. It can still technically fly and flip over. If only the roach could just believe in itself!
Emerald cockroach wasps live in tropical regions, mostly Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands. Some are found in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro as well. They were introduced to Hawaii in 1941 as a form of pest control but that didn’t work out. I guess Edgar the Bug would have been grateful for that too.
Ever wondered where the term “black sheep”, to denote a bad character, came from? Well, language blog Grammarphobia answered that very question but not before taking a counterquestion first:
Q: You say the phrase “black sheep” has been used to mean a bad character since the 17th century. That might be true, but it’s only the result of an even earlier meaning. “Black sheep” is actually a very old weaving term. Black sheep were considered unlucky because you couldn’t dye the wool any other colors.
Grammarphobia couldn’t find any instance of that terminology before or after the bad character definition but suggested a possible link with the “disreputable usage”:
The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest example of “black sheep” meaning a bad character is from a 17th-century religious treatise about the conversion process in Congregational churches of New England:
“Cast out all the Prophane people among us, as drunkards, swearers, whores, lyers, which the Scripture brands for blacke sheepe, and condemnes them in a 100. places.”
They then go further back to the 16th century biblical texts and a passage from the 2013 edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms which suggested that the use of “black sheep” for a person of bad reputation was “based on the idea that black sheep were less valuable than white ones because it was more difficult to dye their wool different colors.”
But a direct link between them? Nothing concrete but not totally implausible. Finally, Grammarphobia discussed the general etymology of “black” as a negative descriptor which would tie the two concepts together, albeit with loose string.
I can still remember the faux debate between White people over the alleged banning of singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep”. You can’t say anything these days. Or in 1997.
What a wild year 2020 has been. First, we had (or still have) murder hornets in the news and now we have stingless bees making headlines in the science community. But unlike their Hymenopteran relatives, they could be a help rather than a hindrance.
Scientists from Australia and Malaysia have found trehalulose, a rare sugar in honey made by stingless bees with “many reported health benefits”. Researchers tested five species from Australia, Malaysia, and Brazil and found the sugar amongst 85% of those analysed. Honey is also said to fend off liver cancer symptoms and keep one healthy.
Trehalulose is made up of fructose and glucose bound together. The trehalulose found in these stingless bees had a low glycaemic index (GI), meaning it digests slower and causes a lower and slower rise in blood glucose. In other words, it’d be better for diabetics and people with high blood pressure. It’s also non-cariogenic, which means it doesn’t cause tooth decay and I’m sure 5/5 dentists would agree.
“Keeping native stingless bees is gaining in popularity in Australia, for their role as pollinators as well as for their unique honey. As well as having health benefits, stingless bee honey is valued for its flavor and is in high demand from chefs.:
The story goes that Pablo Escobar acquired four hippos for his zoo in 1981. But in 1993, he was murdered and the government couldn’t maintain his zoo so the animals were sent away. Except for the hippos. They were left to their own devices in the Colombian wilderness and 4 became about 100. The hippos have been a source of debate, dubbed “cocaine hippos” and seen as invasive creatures. But on the other side, people are asking whether the hippos are a benefit to Colombia’s ecosystem.
Hippos are nocturnal herbivores and often graze on grass at night. And when it’s time to go to the hippo potty, they do so in rivers and lakes which is an essential feeding source for fishes that live in the water too. And so the food chain cycle continues. But that works in places where hippos are native and the ecosystem depends on that behaviour. In Colombia, that might not be the case and scientists fear fishes may actually die and water flow may be affected.
But—another but—a paper published in March suggests hippos might be doing what they should have from the beginning. Animals similar to hippos, known as notoungulates, used to live in South America and provided much-needed nutrients to the area, alongside the giant llama.
So the crux of the debate is: are the hippos invading land that should never have been theirs or are they restoring natural order? After all, the reason why Colombia’s ecosystem is the way it is (for good or bad) is because of humans. Modern animal extinction is often due to humans killing them for sport, meat, and the hell of it. So I’m all for Pablo Escobar’s hippos living their best lives.
The animals were discovered by London-based designer, Paul Middlewick in 1988. They’re created using only the lines, stations and junctions of underground railway maps. Paul first spotted the elephant while he was staring at the world famous London Underground map during his daily journey home from work.
The more he looked, the more animals he found and the elephant was quickly joined by many other cute animals including a bat, a cat, a polar bear, several dogs and even a bottlenose whale.
But over time, people have discovered animals on other underground transport systems including the Moscow Metro, the New York Subway, and the Paris Metro.