Why this fish has teeth all over its body
This beautiful image of a skate fish embryo reveals something truly extraordinary about the scales on its body. As University of Cambridge biologist Andrew Gillis explains, they are, in fact, quite similar to human teeth. They’re even controlled by genes similar to those that control tooth growth in humans. You may never look at fish scales in the same way again.
The Gargoyle Gecko or New Caledonian Bumpy Gecko, Rhacodactylus auriculatus, is a species of gecko found only on the southern end of the island of New Caledonia. Its habitat is threatened by deforestation on the island. This gecko, along with several other Rhacodactylus species are being considered for protective measures by CITES, which would put restrictions on their exportation. This gecko was first described by Bavay in 1869.
Life in color: Green
Nudibranch (Cratena peregrina)
Tarragona, Catalunya, Spain. Photographer: Jordi Benitez, Spain.
World’s Tiniest Chameleons Found in Madagascar
Researchers have recently discovered four new chameleon species, which rank among the world’s tiniest reptiles. Adults of the smallest species are just over an inch from snout to tail.
The four new species belong to the genus Brookesia, also known as the leaf chameleons, which live in remote rainforests in northern Madagascar. The genus is already known to contain some very small species, with members typically resembling juvenile versions of larger species.
As small as these guys are, a super-tiny dwarf gecko found in the British Virgin Islands might be just a tad more wee.
Since the chameleons all look extremely similar, researchers used genetic analysis to determine that they belonged to separate species. The findings appear Feb. 14 in PLoS ONE.
Brookesia species tend to live within a very small range. Half the members of this genus are found in only a single location and the smallest of the newly found species — Brookesia micra — lives only on a small island called Nosy Hara. Extreme miniaturization of this sort is common in island populations. Known as island dwarfism, it may occur due to limited resources and pressure to reproduce faster.
“The extreme miniaturization of these dwarf reptiles might be accompanied by numerous specializations of the body plan, and this constitutes a promising field for future research,” said herpetologist Frank Glaw, lead author of the study, in a press release. “But most urgent is to focus conservation efforts on these and other microendemic species in Madagascar which are heavily threatened by deforestation.”
“The fact is, scientific illustrations can achieve certain things that a photograph cannot,” writes scientific illustrator Jenny Keller. “A good illustration can portray difficult-to-photograph or rarely witnessed events.”
“Sketches created while in the field can also record valuable information — sometimes even more reliably than photography,” Keller writes. “Although cameras are indispensable for capturing fleeting events and complex detail (and I would not go into the field without one), they cannot do everything. Colors in photographs are typically (sometimes dramatically) inaccurate, proportions are often distorted, and key features of the species may not be recorded clearly (or captured at all).”
Illustration: The wide range of color saturation that can be created with high-quality colored pencils is evident in this drawing of a basilisk lizard made from a captive specimen at the California Academy of Sciences. (Jenny Keller, copyright 2010)
Embryonic Turtles Communicate to Coordinate Hatching
By Olivia Solon, Wired UK
Murray River turtles communicate with their siblings while they are still in their shells, buried under the soil, in order to coordinate when they hatch.
Ricky-John Spencer from the University of Western Sydney has been studying the turtles for years. In 2003 he collected dozens of batches of wild turtle eggs, split them into two groups and incubated them at either 25C or 30C. He then reunited the eggs and discovered that they still hatched together. At this point he wasn’t sure whether the colder batch were hatching prematurely or speeding up their development.Achieving this synchronicity isn’t easy. Although the eggs are always laid at the same time in the same nest, those at the top of the nest near the sun-drenched soil develop much faster than those buried deeper in the cooler soil. However, Murray River turtles are able to tell whether their fellow hatchlings are more or less advanced and adapt their pace of development accordingly, allowing the slow-coaches to play catch-up.
Kyle Bean, Stick Insects
Surreal Macro Photographs of Insects
Portraits of the World’s Most Deadly Snakes
Serpentine, The sensual attractiveness of snakes, which coexists with their threatening, unpredictable and mysterious nature is truly unique. This dichotomy, in which their beauty seems to be heightened by their danger, and vice-versa, is what I find so fascinating. Add to these contradictions the rich symbolism of serpents and you have a wonderfully compelling subject.
10 Frightening Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Ants
We all know ants are incredibly capable creatures. They live in vast, interconnected colonies, can lift several times their own body weight, and coordinate their activity with incredible precision.
But many of the things that make ants impressive would also make them formidable foes. Perhaps it’s time we took a look at some of these strengths in greater detail. Remember: it’s important to know your enemy - erm, I mean your new insect overlords.
10) Ants are as old as the dinosaurs
In 2006, Scientists from Harvard and Florida State University collaborated to conduct a massive genetic analysis on ants from 19 out of 20 known subfamilies. Their findings suggested that ants first arose in the mid-Cretaceous period — about 110—130 million years ago. And yes, that means:
9) Ants have already survived a mass extinction event
The Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (still commonly referred to as the Cretaceous-Tertiary — or “K-T” — extinction event) is thought to have occurred approximately 65 million years ago following an absolutely massive impact event. Widely regarded as the downfall of the dinosaurs (and, incidentally, the rise of mammals), the years following the KT-extinction event are actually believed to have been a time of incredibly rapid speciation and worldwide expansion for ants, marking what researchers Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson — authors of the Pulitzer-prize winning book The Ants — call “a rise to ecological dominance.” [Illustration by Don Davis via]
8) Ants have conquered almost the entire globe
The success of the ants all those millions of years ago continues to this day. In an article published in a 2000 issue of PNAS, entomologist Ted Schultz calls the rise of the ants “arguably the greatest success story in the history of terrestrial metazoa” ( i.e. pretty much any multicellular animal on Earth — and yes, that includes humans), and rightfully so.
7) One group of ants conquered six continents
Take the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, for example. In 2000, biologists Andrew Suarez and his colleagues at UC Davis reconstructed the invasion history of the L. humile. The team revealed that in the last century alone, the species has become established in at least 15 countries throughout the world — including a number of isolated, oceanic islands (including Hawaii) — spanning six continents. Shown here is the world distribution of the Argentine ant. [figure via]
6) The total ant population makes our 7 billion look weak
In their Pulitzer-prize winning book The Ants, researchers Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson estimate that there are upwards of 10,000,000,000,000,000 individual ants alive on Earth at any given time.
5) Some ants are quite large
Of course, even at numbers exceeding 10,000 trillion, ants are small, right? Well, that depends entirely on what you consider small. The largest ant ever discovered was actually a fossilized specimen belonging to Titanomyrma giganteum, was about 2.4 inches long and had a wingspan of almost six inches. Granted, T. giganteum isn’t around anymore, and many ants are less than a millimeter long — but there are still species like the African driver ant, Dorylus wilverthi, that exceed two inches in length. Does that sound small to you?
4) Ants have a hive mind
Truth be told, it doesn’t matter if it sounds small to you or not. When 50-million of them come together to form a single, eerily coordinated superorganism (and yes — large, self-organized ant colonies are commonly referred to as “superorganisms”) you can bet your ass you’ll think it looks a lot bigger than a single, 2-inch ant.
2) Ants cooperate with other species
There are over 200 known species of so-called fungus growing ants. Scientists had long assumed that fungi cultivated by these ants were simply passed on between generations within individual species. But in a study conducted in 2000, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin discovered that the ants’ cultivars are occasionally transferred between species, as well.
Species that practice dulosis are called, quite simply, “slave-making ants,” and they rely on this practice to support their colonies. In fact, some species of ants are thought to be incapable of feeding themselves in the absence of slave labor — to pillage and enslave is all they know. [Slave raiding ants via]
Images via Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise indicated
Biologist Erick Greene of the University of Montana makes a plea in Field Notes for biology field notebooks. “It is ironic that in spite of the rich history of field notebooks in the natural sciences, this tradition appears to be weakening, especially in the very field that spawned the tradition — field biology,” he writes. “I have made the case that field notebooks are still useful — if not essential — in field biology.”
“I can crack the cover of an old field notebook, and these time machines instantly transport me back to watching squadrons of macaws and parrots flying at dusk to roost in palm swamps in Peru, listening to the ‘wahoo’ alarm calls of olive baboons in the Okavango Delta of Botswana as they warn each other of approaching lions, observing teenage male sperm whales flip their tales up as they begin hour-long dives to catch giant squid in a deepwater trench off New Zealand, or watching tens of thousands of migrating harp seals belugas, narwhals, bearded seals, and a mother bowhead whale and her baby stream under arctic cliffs to their summer feeding grounds in Lancaster sound,” Greene writes.
Illustration: Notebook pages from artist and naturalist Claire Emery describing her observations of butterflies in a hawthorne thicket. By Claire Emery. (Harvard University Press)