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Crow Fulfills Aesop Story

The fabled intelligence of the crow has been tested, and the crows passed.  Bird and Emery tested an old Aesop fable and were amazed: In Aesop’s fable The Crow and the Pitcher, a thirsty crow uses stones to raise the level of water in a pitcher and quench its thirst.  A number of corvids have […]

Protein Function: It’s All in the Fold

Most chemical reactions involve atoms or molecules bumping into one another and exchanging electrons.  Proteins, by contrast, derive their immense functional repertoire from their shapes.  Several recent studies explore the amazing potential for strength, motility and catalysis that derives from the way proteins fold. Clots:  A picture of fibrin graces an article in Science Daily.  […]

Sexual Selection Discounted in Toucan Bill

Darwin thought that the large bill of the toucan might be an ornament produced by his theory of sexual selection.  A new study says, rather, that the bill serves as a heat radiator the bird uses to control body temperature.  National Geographic News summarized a paper in Science that explained the process.1  The authors studied […]

Nanotech Blurs Line With Biophysics

Machines on the molecular scale – in the literature these days, one needs to dig to find whether a news article is talking about man-made machinery or the living cell.  Both employ laws of physics to do work.  Notice how seamless the connection is in the following examples. Kinesin tightrope walk:  Scientists at Northwestern University […]

Dragonflies Are Marathon Champs

Step aside, monarch butterflies: some of your fellow insects beat your distance flying wings down.  The BBC News reported on findings by a biologist in the Maldives about dragonflies that migrate 14,000 to 18,000 km from southern India to East Africa and back – including 800 km over open sea.  How these insects can navigate […]

A Rat Race to Build Whiskered Robots

Some scientists at Bristol Robotics Lab are pretty proud of themselves for building a robot with whiskers.  It can seek out and identify objects using its whiskers, just like rats do.  But they should still take their hats off to their living model, because the rat’s technology is far superior.  Science Daily mentioned several facts […]

How Did the Turtle Get Its Shell?

The cover story of Science this week is about turtle evolution.  The caption on the cover illustration, which compares the skeleton of a turtle, chicken and mouse, reads, “The turtle body plan is unusual in that the ribs are transformed into a carapace, and the scapula, situated outside the ribs in other animals, is found […]

How the Animals Learned to Count

Any evolutionary article that begins with “How…” should be checked for Kipling-style just-so storytelling.  Characteristics to watch for include (1) fanciful speculation without evidence: i.e., “made-up” tales that provide an answer to a childish question without appeal to rigorous proof, and (2) statements made with dogmatic authority, like a parent would explain to a child […]

Evolution of Foraminifera Questioned

A long, long time ago, primitive sea creatures called foraminifera lived on the ocean bottom.  One day, some of them invaded a new ecological niche: the ocean surface.  There, they became part of the plankton zoo.  When the catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs occurred, most of the surface foraminifera died.  But they recovered in […]

Animals Are Not Malthusians

According to Malthus and Darwin, the struggle to survive favors those who have the most fitness to take advantage of limited resources.  A study by the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology in Vienna, reported by PhysOrg shows this is not the case: Charles Darwin and his contemporaries postulated that food consumption in birds and mammals […]

The Elephant Explosion

The title is not intended to suggest pieces of pachyderm flying all over the place, but rather one paleontologist’s theory about the rapid pace of elephant evolution 60 million years ago.  He bases his ideas on a small fossil he found in Morocco.  According to him, the primitive ancestor of all elephants (order Proboscidea) lived […]

Computer Programmers Borrow Eye Technology

Computer processing of video images may become twice as accurate with 10 times the speed of earlier models, thanks to what scientists are imitating in the human eye.  “The linear solution to one of the most vexing challenges to advancing computer vision has direct applications in the fields of action and object recognition, surveillance, wide-base […]

Dino Fossils Generate Overblown Claims

04/10/2006), inventing feathers out of thin air.  This time, it was justified on the basis of a new paper in Nature that claims to remove an obstacle in the dinosaur-bird evolution story.1  Doubters had pointed to differences in the three forward-pointing toes.  With dinosaurs, it was toes 1, 2 and 3 that were retained; while […]

Plants Use the Perfect Propeller

What kid hasn’t played with maple seeds to watch them spin in the air like helicopters?  Scientists watch them, too.  A team from the Netherlands and California found out how they stay in the air for so long without engines to drive them.  One would think in an era of advanced aeronautical engineering the physics […]

Fighter Jet of the Animal World

A male hummingbird in its aerial display achieves speeds proportionally faster than a jet fighter with its afterburners on, reported the BBC News – and that’s on nectar and wings, without jet fuel.  The tiny birds even resemble top-gun fighter jets in the pictures accompanying the article.     It took a camera shooting 500 […]
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