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Preventing Bird Divorce: Mates Take Different Flights, Arrive Together

A shorebird named the black-tailed godwit presents a puzzle to biologists: “arrival synchrony” (leave it to scientists to give big names to simple concepts).  The males and females of this bird mate for life, but like some humans, live apart for months at a time.  This presents two puzzles: how do they stay apart without […]

Little Tyrannosaur with “Proto-Feathers” Found

National Geographic News wasted no time; a day before a report of another Chinese dinosaur with feathery-like structures was published in Nature,1 they already had color artwork on their news page, trumpeting the title, “T. Rex Cousin Had Feathers.”  Yet Nature itself seemed ho-hum about the announcement.  It was neither the cover story, nor mentioned […]

Your Eyes Have Automatic Light Meters

Every pupil knows that pupils constrict in bright light and dilate in dim light, but how?  Physiologists had assumed the retina signalled the iris muscles, but now it appears there is an independent mechanism in the iris itself, at least in birds, and probably in mammals, too.  A report in EurekAlert summarizes a finding from […]

Darwinian Just-So Story Criticized

When Young and Brodie & son published their article “How the Horned Lizard Got its Horns,” (see 04/01/2004 headline), they apparently meant it as a bit of April-fool joke, not a real Kipling-style just-so story.  Several respondents in the Sept 24 issue of Science,1 however, either didn’t think it was funny or concluded the story […]

Cell Exhibits Robust Engineering Design

Cells are so good at robustness against perturbations and uncertainty, engineers could well learn from their design principles.

Termites: If You Can’t Lick ’Em, Mimic ’Em

Termites, despite their bad rap, have something to teach human homebuilders.  Their mounds are self-sufficient, air-conditioned, environmentally friendly and cheap to run, according to a story in EurekAlert.  “The mounds incorporate a complicated network of tunnels and air conduits designed to channel air flow for the control of internal air quality, temperature and moisture levels.” […]

Take Out the Garbage?  No– Feed the Worms

Every kitchen needs one, says National Geographic News: a popular new device that turns garbage into fertilizer.  What is it?  A new high-tech electronic machine?  No, something more ancient: a worm bin.  Modern homes are finding old benefits in vermiculture, the art of composting garbage into plant food via worms and bacteria.  A small bin […]

Salamander Genes Give Darwinists a Wake-Up Call

A press release from UC Berkeley says that the evolutionary family tree of salamanders, once thought secure, has been turned topsy-turvy by a study of the genes.  The opening paragraph is reminiscent of an irritating alarm clock going off in a comfy bedroom: Biologists take for granted that the limbs and branches of the tree […]

Submarine Engineers Admire Penguins

An ocean engineer from MIT, Franz Hover, says “we never miss marveling at them,” speaking of penguins.  In the cover story of Science News,1 the submarine designer elaborates: Under the power and guidance of its versatile flippers, a penguin can move through the water faster than 10 miles per hour, turn almost instantaneously, and leap […]

Cooing Doves Set Muscle Speed Record

The dove: a symbol of peace, innocence, love, and gentleness, right?  Its cooing call is a soothing song to nature lovers.  Yet hidden in the throat of the dove is one of the fastest-acting muscles in the animal kingdom, report Elemans et al. in the Sept. 9 issue of Nature.1  The cooing song contains a […]

Darwin’s Finches: Researchers Tweak the Beak

Every once in awhile, a new angle on Darwin’s finches (an icon of evolution) appears in print.  Peter and Rosemary Grant, who have devoted their life to studying everything possible about these related species of birds that inhabit the Galápagos Islands – only to find that evolutionary changes are reversible (see 04/26/2002 headline) – have […]

Genes Fail to Reveal Evolutionary Pattern in European Mammals

One would think an examination of DNA from fossils would track the animal’s geographical distribution as they evolved.  However, a study reported in PNAS1 failed to find any correlation in European mammals after the last glaciation.  Hofreiter et al. report: Here, we analyze mtDNA sequences from cave bears, brown bears, cave hyenas, and Neandertals in […]

Humans Lose Some, Win Some in Animal Olympics

Imagine humans competing in Olympic events with animals.  Astrobiology Magazine predicts we would lose many events, but excel in others: “In most cases of physical competition, the animals beat us at our own games,” says the website’s staff writer, Dr. David Noever. 100 Meter Sprint:  Cheetah wins the gold at 3 seconds.  Silver goes to […]

Dragonfly Inspires Hi-Tech Hovercraft for Mars

Exclusive  Dragonflies possess not only compound eyes like other insects, but additional “simple” eyes called ocelli (sing., ocellum) with full-field retinas like mammalian eyes.  These function as a “horizon sensor/attitude reference system,” according to an engineer trying to copy it.  In an engineering project supported by the military and aerospace, Dr. Jaavan Chahla and an […]

So Is Archaeopteryx a Transitional Form, Or Not?

An international team set out to determine if the skull features of Archaeopteryx, the famous fossil bird, indicated whether it was capable of flight.  The answer reported in Nature1 was affirmative: Here we show the reconstruction of the braincase from which we derived endocasts of the brain and inner ear.  These suggest that Archaeopteryx closely […]
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