Jellyfish

If you were here I would take you to the beach in the mornings, right after coffee. In addition to the usual seaside delights, we now have Dead Jellyfish Season: every morning there are dozens of dead Lion’s Mane jellyfish sparkling on the beach. Some are small — just a foot or so across — and others are two or three times bigger.

Most are right side up; those ones are smooth blobs of jelly. It’s the upside-down jellyfish that are really interesting. Here, look:

(The jellyfish photos are no longer here. But one of these days I’ll post some new ones for you.)

I’ve been busy making desktop wallpaper out of the close-up jellyfish photos I took this morning. Here’s a tiny peek — just a small section of much a much bigger image:

The best thing about our digital camera is that it lets me see this kind of detail.

To see what Lion’s Mane jellyfish look like when they’re alive and swimming, visit
this photo by Sergiy Kostenko and this one by Mark Thomas.

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DR Congo frees goats from prison

From the BBC: DR Congo frees goats from prison.

A minister in DR Congo has ordered a Kinshasa jail to release a dozen goats, which he said they were being held there illegally.

Deputy Justice Minister Claude Nyamugabo said he found the goats just in time during a routine jail visit.

The beasts were due to appear in court, charged with being sold illegally by the roadside. [continue]

If I said "I am not making this up" as often as I thought it, then it would be the most frequently used phrase on Mirabilis.ca.

Bumblebees outwit robotic spiders

From the BBC: Bumblebees outwit robotic spiders.

Scientists have found that bumblebees learn from their "near-death" encounters with crab spiders and adapt their future foraging strategies.

They watched real bees in an artificial meadow — containing yellow "flowers" and robotic crab spiders.

Bees that had been "captured" spent longer inspecting flowers during subsequent foraging trips.

They may outwit the spiders — but at the expense of [continue]

Bees are eating Lichfield Cathedral

From Christopher Howse’s article in The Telegraph: Bees are eating Lichfield Cathedral.

Bees are eating Lichfield Cathedral. It sounds like science fiction, but it is science fact. I might take back the kind words I had for bees in this column (June 28), except that the cathedral-eating kind are not our beleaguered honey bees.

The vandals are masonry bees, of which there are nearly 20 species in Britain. Who’d have thought it? Normally they do little harm, as readers have reported in the Telegraph letters page (July 26). But Lichfield cathedral is built of soft old sandstone, which crumbles like cheese. The bees take advantage of exfoliating stone, and where one lays her eggs, others are attracted. Their little mandibles can burrow a system of galleries, and the holes fill with water, which freezes in winter, splitting the stone, and providing yet more desirable residences for bees.[continue]

While you’re thinking about Lichfield Cathedral, stop in at their website to have a peek at Lichfield Angel, the St Chad Gospels, and Herckenrode Glass.

Elephant kicks heroin habit

From AFP: Elephant kicks heroin habit with China island rehab.

An elephant has kicked his heroin habit after a three-year stint on an island rehab in southern China, an official and state media said Thursday.

The four-year-old Asian elephant, called Xiguang, has now being transported to a wildlife reserve in southwest China after being cured of his addiction with some clean living on Hainan island, Xinhua said. [continue]

Just right for the garden: a mini-cow

How did I miss this? From the Times: Just right for the garden: a mini-cow.

It’s the little cow with a big future. Rising supermarket prices are persuading hundreds of families to turn their back gardens into mini-ranches stocked with miniature cattle.

Registrations of the most popular breed, the Dexter, have doubled since the millennium and websites are sprouting up offering “the world’s most efficient, cutest and tastiest cows”.

For between £200 and £2,000, people can buy a cow that stands no taller than a large German shepherd dog, gives 16 pints of milk a day that can be drunk unpasteurised, keeps the grass “mown” and will be a family pet for years before ending up in the freezer. [continue]

Some of us would love to have a mini-cow here. Others, not so much.

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Wolves prefer fishing to hunting

From the Beeb: Wolves prefer fishing to hunting.

Wolves in western Canada prefer to fish for salmon when it is in season rather than hunt deer or other wild game, researchers have found.

Scientists studied the eating habits of wolf packs in British Columbia.

Deer is the staple food of the wolves in the spring and summer but they often injure themselves hunting them.

When Pacific salmon return to the region’s rivers to spawn in the autumn, the wolves prefer the taste of the more nutritious and easier to catch fish.

The researchers studied [continue]

In vaguely related news, my dog loves to catch and eat her own fish. She likes Pacific sand lances for breakfast.

Dragonfly

We walked in the rain the other day, through the forest and out to the bluff. When the rain stopped the world sparkled, and this dragonfly stood out like some kind of gem.

(Update: The photo isn’t here anymore.)

By the way, do any of you happen to know what kind of dragonfly this is? I’d love to know. Thanks to Dr Weevil (see comments below) for identifying this dragonfly for me.

Cattle shown to align north-south

From the BBC: Cattle shown to align north-south.

Have you ever noticed that herds of grazing animals all face the same way?

No, actually. They do?

Images from Google Earth have confirmed that cattle tend to align their bodies in a north-south direction.

Wild deer also display this behaviour — a phenomenon that has apparently gone unnoticed by herdsmen and hunters for thousands of years.

In the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say the Earth’s magnetic fields may influence the behaviour of these animals. [continue]

The owl and the greyhound

Oh, too cute! A greyhound puppy has adopted a baby owl. From the Mail Online:

In the childhood fairytale it was the owl and the pussycat who were the very best of friends.

But in real life it is this greyhound and owl who have formed a rather bizarre friendship at an animal centre.

The six-month-old dog, Torque, adopted tiny baby owl Shrek when she was taken from her mother for her own protection after just three days.

Keepers feared Shrek’s mother would eat her first clutch if she became stressed.

Adoptive dad Torque is now guarding the rare bird at the home of head falconer John Picton.

They spend their evenings together watching Eastenders and Coronation Street. [continue, see photos]

Link found here at Uncertain Times.

Wild dolphins tail-walk on water

This delights me. From the Beeb: Wild dolphins tail-walk on water.

A wild dolphin is apparently teaching other members of her group to walk on their tails, a behaviour usually seen only after training in captivity.

The tail-walking group lives along the south Australian coast near Adelaide.

One of them spent a short time after illness in a dolphinarium 20 years ago and may have picked up the trick there.

Scientists studying the group say tail-walk tuition has not been seen before, and suggest the habit may emerge as a form of "culture" among this group. [continue]

Military penguin becomes a ‘Sir’

From the BBC: Military penguin becomes a ‘Sir’.

A penguin who was previously made a Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian Army has been knighted at Edinburgh Zoo.

Penguin Nils Olav has been an honorary member and mascot of the Norwegian King’s Guard since 1972.

Over the years, he has been promoted through the ranks after being adopted by Royal Guard who visited the zoo.

During the ceremony, Nils had a sword dubbed on each side of his head, where his shoulders should be, to confirm his regimental knighthood. [continue, see video]

Bees, fish analyzed to understand serial killers

From discovery.com: Bees, Fish Analyzed to Understand Serial Killers.

Studying species in the animal world helps police catch human criminals — and vice versa. Originally developed to catch serial killers, a method called geographic profiling is now being used to study great white sharks, bats and bees.

In turn, criminologists expect that these biological studies will help refine their criminal studies, making it easier for them to catch criminals more quickly. Eventually they want to apply it to other fields, such as epidemiology.

"The same general geographic framework that criminologists use to catch criminals can be used by zoologists as well," said Kim Rossmo, co-author of an article in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface and a professor at the Texas State University Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation.

“This makes us think that it can be applied to other areas as well, like epidemiology.” [continue]

The old ladies and the rats

What if you’d bought a house in a good neighbourhood, moved in, and then realized that you had a major rat problem caused by the old ladies next door? The LA Weekly tells of Scott and Liz Denham, who had that very problem: Unchallenged by Health Officials, Elderly Twins Fed Local Vermin Population.

"You start to realize that, as you go to that property, ‘Wait a minute. Something isn’t right here,’" says Scott. He hadn’t paid much attention to the house next door. But now, he noticed, "You couldn’t see in any of the windows. I don’t know if it was tarp, but it wasn’t just curtains. It was blacked out. You couldn’t see in the house. The front door was rotted."

When he crept closer,the odor — "a urine stench" — was "unbearable." By the end of their first long weekend in the Palisades, Liz was stressed out, peering at shadows. The more she peered, the more rats she saw. Standing in her own master bedroom, she found herself at eye level with a group of rats who clearly had a routine, slipping methodically in and out of drains and cracks on her neighbors’ outside wall.

She saw three rats squeeze out of a roof drain in a precision, shoulder-to-shoulder group, Ratatouille-style. Another rat pack traveled along the dusty, reeking hedge on the property line. The hedge was a rat highway, and it swayed under its commuters’ weight. [continue]

I love the way the writer of this article, Max Taves, includes information from so many different sources. Hurrah, Max! A fascinating read.

Stories like this make me want to climb on my soapbox to give my one piece of house-shopping advice: go interview the neighbours before you buy a house. They’ll tell you if there are crazy old ladies feeding rats, or if the dog-breeder down the street lets her 74 hounds yip and howl for hours. People selling a house don’t want you to know these things, so they’ll try to arrange it so that you don’t find out. Ask questions, and walk through the neighbourhood at different times of the day when you don’t have an appointment.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Small shrew is heavyweight boozer

From the Beeb: Small shrew is heavyweight boozer.

A tiny tree-shrew that lives on alcoholic nectar could — pound for pound — drink the average human under the table, scientists have discovered.

Malaysia’s pen-tailed tree-shrew waits until nightfall to binge on fermented nectar from the bertam palm.

The animal could give insights into how humans’ alcohol tolerance first evolved, the scientists say. [continue]

Migrating songbirds learn survival tips on the fly

From EurekAlert: Migrating songbirds learn survival tips on the fly.

Migrating songbirds take their survival cues from local winged residents when flying through unfamiliar territory, a new Queen’s University-led study shows.

It’s a case of "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," says biologist Joseph Nocera, who conducted the research while working as an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow at Queen’s under the supervision of Biology professor Laurene Ratcliffe.

Avoiding predators can substantially increase a bird’s chances of survival during migration, notes Dr. Nocera. But to do that, it first has to recognize who its predators are. "We believe some prey use social cues from other animals to gain information about potential predators," he says. [continue]

Stockholm syndrome for moths

From Carl Zimmer at The Loom: Stockholm Syndrome For Moths.

A caterpillar’s life is not an easy one. The plants that it eats make toxins to make it sick. Birds swoop in to pluck it away and feed it to their chicks. But the most horrific threat comes from wasps that use caterpillars as hosts for their young. These parasitoid wasps are among my favorite creatures (see my post on the emerald cockroach wasp, which attacks cockroaches like a neurosurgeon). So it was with eye-popping delight that I read a new paper in PLOS Biology One about how another species of wasp in Brazil attacks another caterpillar. Glyptapanteles glyptapanteles is more than just cruel to its host. It also gives its host an extreme case of Stockholm syndrome.

The fun begins when [continue]

I love this kind of stuff! I’d never heard of Carl Zimmer before coming across The Loom. Turns out that he’s written a book that looks plenty interesting: Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures. Tempting. I might have to order that one.

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One-Horned ‘Unicorn’ Deer Born in Italy

From discovery.com: One-Horned ‘Unicorn’ Deer Born in Italy.

A deer with a single horn in the center of its head — much like the fabled, mythical unicorn — has been spotted in a nature preserve in Italy, park officials said Wednesday.

"This is fantasy becoming reality," Gilberto Tozzi, director of the Center of Natural Sciences in Prato, said. "The unicorn has always been a mythological animal."

The one-year-old Roe Deer — nicknamed "Unicorn" — was born in captivity in the research center’s park in the Tuscan town of Prato, near Florence, Tozzi said.

He is believed to have been born with a genetic flaw; his twin has two horns.

Calling it the first time he has seen such a case, Tozzi said such anomalies among deer may have inspired the myth of the unicorn. [continue, see photo]

Comfort food, for monkeys

From the New York Times: Comfort Food, for Monkeys.

The ladies who lunch do not obsess about their weight in the rhesus monkey compound at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. Food is freely available, and the high-status females do not pride themselves on passing it up. (…)

In fact, the dominant females ordinarily eat a little more than the subordinates. The lower status monkeys can get as much food as they want but seem to have less of a desire to eat, perhaps because of the higher level of stress hormones in their brain. The anxiety of constantly toadying to their social superiors seems to curb their appetite, researchers suspect, at least when their regular high-fiber, low-fat chow is on the menu.

But suppose you tempted them with the equivalent of chocolate and potato chips and ice cream? Mark Wilson, a neuroscientist at Emory University, and a team tried that experiment at Yerkes by [continue]

Olympic swimmers learn from sharks, dolphins

From discovery.com: Olympic Swimmers Learn From Sharks, Dolphins.

When winning an Olympic gold medal in swimming is the goal, it helps to take inspiration from some of the best swimmers in the world — sharks and dolphins — and that is exactly what U.S. Olympic team swimmers have been doing as they train.

From suits to strokes, coaches, researchers and other advisers are making sure that their athletes benefit from fish and marine mammals’ natural swimming abilities.

"Some of our athletes are now [continue]

Eat insects to help the environment

From Discover Magazine: Want to Help the Environment? Eat Insects.

David Gracer lifts a giant water bug, places his thumbs in a pre-sliced slit in its underside, and flips off its head. "Smell the meat," he says, sniffing the decapitated creature, and the people gathered around the table willingly oblige. Members of the New York Gastronauts, a club for adventurous eaters, they murmur appreciatively as they scoop out and swallow the grayish, slightly greasy insect flesh.

"Perfumey, tastes like salty apples," one says. "Like a scented candle blended with an artichoke," another adds.

The giant water bug, or Lethocerus indicus, a three-inch-long South Asian insect that looks uncannily like a local cockroach, is just one of the items on the menu of this bug-eating bacchanal. The Gastronauts’ meal may seem more like a reality TV stunt than a radical environmental strategy, but Gracer is on a serious mission to shake up how we all think about our food supply. Gracer, a self-described "geeky poet/nature boy" who teaches composition at a community college in Providence, Rhode Island, has made it his duty to persuade ordinary Americans to eat insects.

Gracer wants people to move away from getting their protein from traditional livestock such as cows, pigs, and chickens because [continue]

Young birds babble like babies

From discovery.com: Young Birds Babble Like Babies.

The happy babbling that entertains parents as their babies try to mimic speech turns out to have a parallel in the animal world.

Baby birds babble away before mastering their adult song, researchers report in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

Michale S. Fee and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the brains of baby zebra finches as the little birds learned the unique song they would use as adults.

The baby birds practiced making sounds incessantly, the team reported.

"Birds start out by babbling, just as humans do," Fee said, while the adult bird produces a very precise pattern of sound. [continue]