May 14, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Surprising Animals Go to Extremes

Today’s entry features a mammal, a bird and an insect that have good reasons to show off.

The insect:  A little moth has hearing unsurpassed in the animal kingdom (but we already know, from the film Metamorphosis, that any lepidopteran undergoing transformation from caterpillar to flying insect has much to boast about already).  Humans with optimum hearing can hear about 20 kHz.  That’s nothing for the greater wax moth.  Science Daily reported research at the University of Strathclyde that measured sensibility up to 300 kHz in this little, inconspicuous, gray insect.  The lead researcher remarked, “We are extremely surprised to find that the moth is capable of hearing sound frequencies at this level and we hope to use the findings to better understand air-coupled ultrasound.”  The moth’s hearing system appears overdesigned for detecting bat echolocation calls, so why would this extreme hearing evolve?  Ultrasound tends to drop in intensity through air faster than lower frequencies do.

Amazing FactsThe mammal:  Speaking of bats, one flower-feeding bat species has a dynamic tongue that works like a nectar trap.  Live Science and National Geographic have electron micrographs of the tongue tip from Pallas’s long-tongued bat.  Researchers at Brown University showed that blood in the tongue instantly fills dozens of papillae, or protrosions, in the tongue, allowing the bat to lap up much more nectar than a flat tongue could.  This all happens in less than the blink of an eye – 0.04 second.  A slow-motion video on National Geographic reveals action too fast for the eye: the papillae straighten and the tongue tip grows by 50% when the tongue hits the nectar.  The bat benefits from this mechanism because it has to expend a lot of energy hovering near the flower, so the more nectar retrieved from each sip, the better.  The full paper can be found on PNAS.

The bird:  Those emperor penguins that starred in the documentary March of the Penguins looked mighty cold out there in the Antarctic wind.  Surprisingly, their outside feathers are even colder!  New Scientist told how their freezing exteriors prevent heat from leaking out of their bodies.  Now for a bird bonus about the flying variety: PhysOrg told about how scientists are using tiny geolocators on migrating birds like the Manx shearwater to understand how they adapt their behaviors to changing environmental conditions.

The movie:  Illustra Media’s new documentary Flight: The Genius of Birds is being released on DVD today.  It has another fascinating tongue story to tell, and a great migration story, too — just two glimpses into a film packed wonderful scientific discoveries about avian flight, told beautifully in this new documentary with great cinematography and outstanding animation.  You can order a copy right now by clicking the link.  Watch the trailer full-screen here.  Join the Illustra Facebook page for news and updates.

Learning details of wonders in the animal world provides immunity against Darwinian indoctrination.  That’s why we love sharing the latest discoveries here.

We highly recommend the new Illustra film Flight: The Genius of Birds.  You can order the DVD today, but if you have a good home theater, you might want to wait till June 11 to get the Blu-ray version with its outstanding detail and sound.  Or, you can get the DVD now to watch and give away, ordering the Blu-ray version for your library to go with your HD copy of Metamorphosis: the Beauty and Design of Butterflies —a terrific pair you’ll want to watch again and again.


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  • justme says:

    Are we really accomplishing anything? I love and appreciate your efforts, I benefit from them every day. The other side seems to be oblivious to truth, observation, repetition, etc,. My present observation is most humans seem to think that if you want to believe something, that makes it true without any empiricism whatsoever. Personally, the Illustra stuff is off hook. Thanks for all the links and the efforts that entails. I do a drive-by on the major sites, sciencedaily, noaa etc., most days depending on my availability. You are ‘The’ watchman on the wall

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