It’s Shark Week! That time of year where television networks pretend sharks are the most dangerous animal out there. Here we compare how many people are killed by sharks per year versus the two deadliest animals for humans – mosquitoes and other people. Want to learn more? Watch the video here where we highlight 15 of the deadliest animals out there.
A new study explains why we owe the spiciness of mustard, horseradish and wasabi to an ancient ‘arms race’ between plants and caterpillars that dates back to the dinosaurs.
By: Russell McLendon – July 1, 2015
Mustard is a summertime staple in the U.S., from the yellow spread on hot dogs to the piquant greens in salads. But while people have eaten it in various forms for several thousand years, its tang has a much longer — and less benign — history.
The origins of mustard, along with related foods like horseradish and wasabi, date back nearly 90 million years. As a new study explains, they’re the result of an “arms race” between plants and insects that’s been going on since the age of dinosaurs.
Despite humans’ taste for mustard, it evolved as a pest deterrent. Mustard plants start by making compounds known as glucosinolates, which in turn produce pungent mustard oils when chewed or crushed. This was prompted by relentless nibbling from butterfly larvae, but as caterpillars evolved new ways to cut the mustard, plants had to up the ante — thus growing zestier and zestier over time.
The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sheds light on the genetics behind this co-evolution of butterflies and Brassicaceae, a plant family that includes more than 3,000 spicy species.
“We found the genetic evidence for an arms race between plants like mustards, cabbage, and broccoli and insects like cabbage butterflies,” says co-author and University of Missouri biologist Chris Pires in a statement.
Mustard and catch-up
Plants began evolving glucosinolates sometime in the late Cretaceous Period, and eventually diversified to produce more than 120 varieties. These compounds are highly toxic to most insects, but certain species evolved ways to catch up with mustard by detoxifying the plants’ chemical defenses.
This is an example of co-evolution, in which two species can mutually influence the way each other evolves. It was first revealed by scientists in a famous 1964 study, but the new research offers details on how it happened — and how humans might leverage this relationship for more than just a spicy condiment.
The researchers used genomes of nine Brassicaceae plants to make an evolutionary family tree, letting them see when new defenses emerged. They compared that with the family trees of nine butterfly species, revealing three big evolutionary waves over 80 million years in which plants debuted defenses and insects adapted.
“We found that the origin of brand-new chemicals in the plant arose through gene duplications that encode novel functions rather than single mutations,” says Pat Edger, a former postdoctoral researcher at University of Missouri and lead author of the study. “Given sufficient amounts of time, the insects repeatedly developed counter defenses and adaptations to these new plant defenses.”
The spice of life
The pressure of this rivalry led to more biodiversity, of both plants and insects, than in other groups without the same back-and-forth battles. It also led to the spicy flavors now enjoyed by modern humans, although we’re starting to discover our debt to these caterpillars and plants may be even greater than we thought.
For one, learning the secrets of natural insect deterrents might help farmers protect crops without synthetic pesticides. “If we can harness the power of genetics and determine what causes these copies of genes,” Pires says, “we could produce plants that are more pest-resistant to insects that are co-evolving with them.”
And despite their effects on insects, mustard and its relatives also offer notable health benefits for humans who eat them. Mustard seeds are high in selenium and magnesium, for example, and research suggests the glucosinolates in both mustard greens and seeds may reduce the risk of heart disease and even fight cancer.
The coast of Maine is alive with seabirds—see for yourself.
By Jennifer Huizen
June 09, 2015
Hear that sound? It’s the “whirrrrrr” of a chainsaw, buzzing through the forest and the clear ocean air. But wait, there are no trees on this island: only 65 acres of bare rock and bird poop. So that sound must be a puffin, buried in its burrow on Seal Island Sanctuary, a little spot off the coast of Maine that gives rise to a booming colony of seabirds every summer.
Puffins have a strong homing instinct, and each spring adults fly back to their birth site after spending the winter at sea. This year’s returning inhabitants are the descendants of seabird restoration efforts that date back to 1984. The island was desolate for decades until biologists relocated 1,000 chicks here from Newfoundland, Canada; by 1992, breeding pairs were once again nesting on the island. Convincing the first of the puffin pioneers to recolonize the island required numerous tricks, including decoys and playing recorded calls.
Since 2012 the Seal Island web cams have offered viewers a front-row seat to the private lives of the inhabitants, and this year is no exception. Three 24/7 live feeds are now available on explore.org: one offering a rare glimpse into the nesting burrow of a mating puffin pair (see below), another giving a view of the ledge outside the burrow, and the last zooming over the boulders and rock crevices around the sanctuary. The cameras are also capturing the antics of other avian species that live alongside the puffins, including Razorbills, Arctic Terns, and Black Guillemots.
Here are some facts that you should know before you get sucked into the drama on Seal Island.
Puffins are slow bloomers.
“Once mature they return to the island where they grew up, then spend years ‘prospecting’ between other fairly close locations,” says Kress. “Puffins may be as old as 7 before picking one location to build a burrow and nest. They then wait a year or so before mating—like an engagement.”
Kress says little is known about the mates’ romance out at sea. Even if the couple doesn’t migrate together, each spring they somehow find each other and pair up.
Burrows are pretty cozy.
Puffins usually make their burrows in protective rock crevasses, but they might also dig them into the soil. This is the third time that this pair, Phoebe and Finn, is known to have returned to Burrow 59, tucked among granite.
“This year’s nest is made almost entirely of grass, which lines the whole burrow to offer padding and warmth,” says Kress. “But it can include bits of seaweed or moss.”
The nests have plenty of design features that keep chicks safe, too. “The egg is laid in a corner, so if a predator like a gull sticks its head in there, it will probably be too dark for them to notice the tiny egg or chick.”
Puffins are a rather conservative bunch.
Phoebe and Finn are incubating one egg—the puffin norm. It may sound risky to put all reproductive hopes in one egg, but puffins invest an incredible amount of time and energy in each offspring, right from the shell stage.
“Eggs require 20 percent of the female’s body weight and are bigger than an extra-large chicken egg. Puffins are only 10 inches tall, more like Bantam chickens,” says Kress.
The birds also mate on the water, making it hard to determine a precise lay time. But they generally begin breeding in April, and this year’s egg was found on May 23. That means Phoebe and Finn’s chick ought to hatch date around early July.
You can get involved, too.
The unborn bird is already spurring friendly competition among humans. The Baby Pool—in which users predict the puffling’s birthday—has 23 bettors who stand to win serious bragging rights. There’s also a contest to name the pufflings, hopefully with more success than their parents.
“Phoebe and Finn were named before they were sexed, but upon closer inspection Phoebe’s larger build and bill dimensions made him the father, not mother,” says Kress.
There are other ways to pitch in. Viewers can help read the numbers on the pair’s leg bands to identify the individuals. The live feeds also have a snapshot feature (a clickable camera icon) that allow users to share special moments from the island. Kress also encourages users to leave their observations (date and time-labeled snapshots, queries, or remarks ) in the comment section to create a sort of dataset.
“Right now we’re only monitoring things like feeding times, but this method could provide information on things we normally don’t, or can’t look at, like hatching,” says Kress.
Any time is puffin time.
Currently, there is no wrong time to tune into the puffin cams, says Kress. The feeds are buzzing with activity all throughout the day.
“The couple is incubating for the next month or so; then we’re on pip watch,” he says, referring to the special fractures in the shell that the chick’s egg tooth is designed to chip through while hatching.
Audubon will be covering the unfolding story of Phoebe and Finn (plus their soon-to-be, still-unnamed puffling). Check back to read more about their journey.
“That’s a cute little bug, evolution!”
“Yes, thank you! It’s a beaded lacewing. I’m just finishing up the larval form’s feeding mechanism now.”
“Oh yeah? What do the larvae eat?”
“Hm. Those can be hard to catch, can’t they? Don’t you want to give the lacewing some stronger legs or giant trap-jaws or something?”
“Nah, it’s fine. It’s going to paralyze the termites first.”
“Paralyze them? How will it do that?”
“With toxic gas.”
“Come on, where does it get toxic gas?”
“From its anus.”
“… I’m sorry, what?”
“It can release toxic gas from its anus.”
“It sneaks up and farts on the termites’ heads until they pass out, and then it eats them. I don’t know what you’re not getting about this.”
“I just… I don’t… um…”
“It’s doing the termites a favor, really. That way they don’t have to feel it when the lacewing punctures their abdomen with its mouthparts and starts digesting them from the inside. Anyway, break for lunch?”
“No thanks, I think I’m good.”
Source: Flickr / cotinis / licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Read more: Silent and Deadly: Fatal Farts Immobilize Prey by Gwen Pearson at WIRED
Monterey Bay AquariumPublished on 25 Jun 2015
Trying to attract a mate? It’s all about flashing the right colors and patterns for these bigfin reef squid, who are pairing up and laying eggs on exhibit right now! Each female lays 1,000-6,000 eggs, which take approximately three weeks to incubate. Learn more: http://mbayaq.co/1oLgXK8
- Standard YouTube Licence
Rose Marcario, Patagonia | May 22, 2015
When Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, began writing about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the early 2000s, he started by asking a reasonable question: “What does a clothing company know about genetic engineering?”
The answer, he said: “Not enough.” And neither does anyone else. In the proliferation of GMOs, Yvon saw a serious threat to wildness and biodiversity.
More than 10 years later, the prevalence of GMOs in everyday food products has risen sharply—but basic consumer awareness remains low.
An alarming bill before Congress aims to keep it that way. The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 (H.R. 4432) will remove any requirements for manufacturers to label foods containing GMOs. Even the misleading name of the bill suggests an intention to leave us in the dark.We all have a right to know what’s in our food. The manufacturers of GMO seeds maintain that GMO corn and soy, found in many everyday food products, are safe. But if they are safe, why not label them?Currently, 64 countries around the world require labeling of foods containing GMOs. Most other developed countries—including 28 nations in the European Union, as well as Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China—require labeling.
Yet, in the U.S., various food companies joined together to sue the state of Vermont, the first state to pass legislation requiring labeling of GMO food. (Last month, a district judge ruled in favor of labeling GMO food).
Sometimes a new technology puts us up against an edge that’s hard to see, feel or even define. New technologies, like genetically engineered food, should be labeled, so you can decide whether you want to risk ingesting them.
That seems like common sense to us—so it’s not clear why there is so much resistance to labeling GMOs. Among other arguments, large corporations pushing against labeling say the cost of new labels will be great and passed along to the consumer. But an independent study has shown this is unlikely as manufacturers routinely update labels for marketing reasons.
Further, we have a good, time-tested alternative to GMOs on a global scale: organic farming. Modern organic farming can be highly productive—as good as conventional systems but safer and more sustainable. It can produce high yields from small acreage through the use of locally adapted plants, intercropping, improved nutrient recycling and new techniques to minimize leaching, soil erosion and water consumption.
Claims that genetically engineered seeds will provide significant increases in agricultural production worldwide are probably true—but only in the very short term. In a comparison of organic and conventional yields, Rodale Institute discovered that after an initial decline in yields during the first few years of transition, the organic system soon rebounded to match or surpass the conventional system.
Organic farming puts food on the table (and clothing on our backs) without poisoning the Earth.
Patagonia switched to organic cotton in 1996 because we found out how many pesticides are used in growing conventional cotton. In our new food line, Patagonia Provisions, we only useorganic ingredients.
Business is responding with positive steps forward: In the last six months, several food and restaurant businesses have announced plans to reformulate products to eliminate artificial ingredients, including GMOs.
But even if people don’t buy organic, a majority say they want to know what’s in the food they eat. We should be informed and make our own choices about what we feed our families and ourselves.
So, as a clothing company that recently got into the food business, we believe it would be irresponsible not to push hard for transparency and other imperatives that will shape our ability to keep the planet and all its inhabitants alive and healthy in the future.
I’m was proud to join with other business leaders on May 20 in Washington, DC, to talk to lawmakers about the critical need for transparency in food labeling. I encourage you to visit JustLabelIt.org to learn more about how to protect your right to know.
Originally published on Patagonia‘s blog, The Cleanest Line.
Scientists race to identify the cause of the mystery die-off, as half of the species’ population perishes within a matter of weeks.
By: Bryan Nelson – Tue, Jun 02, 2015
- The saiga antelope, an ice age relic, once roamed alongside woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. Today, the population of this ancient species is in collapse. In just a 15-year period, their numbers have dropped by 95 percent, which represents the sharpest collapse for a mammal species ever recorded. Poaching and habitat loss are historically the main culprits, but over the last several years a new scourge has arrived: a mysterious disease that has wiped out more than 120,000 saiga in a matter of weeks, nearly half of the remaining worldwide population, reports Nature.It’s difficult to comprehend the loss that this species has suffered in such a short time. “Apocalyptic” is not too strong a word.“I’m flustered looking for words here,” Joel Berger, a senior scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told the New York Times. “To lose 120,000 animals in two or three weeks is a phenomenal thing.”So what could cause such a mass die-off? Scientists still aren’t entirely sure, but there are some clues. Here’s what they do know: Autopsies of dead saigas have revealed that they were infected with two species of bacteria, Pasteurella and Clostridium, and that these infections contributed to their deaths. But this knowledge hardly solves the mystery because these bacteria are present in most healthy antelope too. In other words, it’s likely that some other unknown ailment is crippling their immune systems, allowing the bacterial infections to take hold.Scientists are also considering whether the cause is from something other than viral or bacterial pathogens. For instance, Central Asia has experienced heavy chemical pollution over the decades from factories and farms. Climate change could also be at fault. Heavier than normal rainfall has led to lush plant growth in the region, and saigas are known to overeat, become bloated and get sick. But so far these are mere speculations.Whatever this disease is, it strikes with alarming quickness. Animals typically die within hours of developing symptoms, which include depression, diarrhea and frothing at the mouth. The only good news is that the mass die-off appears to be over, as few new deaths have occurred since the initial collapse. But unless scientists can identify exactly what is killing the antelope, there could be no stopping another catastrophe.One reason for optimism is that the saiga is a resilient animal, and the species has survived population collapses in the past. Though not as severe as the recent die-off, similar events also occurred in 1984, 2010 and 2012, and the species was able to recover. Part of the reason the saiga is so well-adapted to such population collapses is that the animals have a high reproductive rate. They regularly produce triplets and have the highest fetal biomass of any mammal.Still, it’s a long uphill climb for a species that has been so utterly decimated in such a short period of time, and there are heavy hearts for the conservationists who have worked so diligently to protect this beautiful antelope.The fossil record reveals that the prehistoric range of the saiga stretched from the United Kingdom to Alaska, though today their range is limited to pockets in Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The species is most recognizable for unusual noses, which look roughly like rudimentary elephant trunks. Though the noses look goofy, they represent remarkable adaptations. They act as filters, protecting the animals from breathing in rising dust from the dry ground in summer, and warming the air during the cold of winter.“It’s a remarkable structure, really,” said Dr. Kühl-Stenzel, a saiga expert, to the New York Times. “In the rutting season, the male’s nose swells even more, and then they shake their heads and it makes a squishy sound.”
frumpytaco:trynottodrown:untitled | NirupamNigam
“Pom-pom Crabs aren’t the ocean’s cheerleaders, they actually pick poisonous anemones and wave them to defend themselves from predators.” (Source)