Animals

Can drones fly as well as Luke Skywalker

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: January 19, 2012   View Article

Next-generation drones may fly like Luke Skywalker zipping through the Endor forest on a speeder bike, suggests new research which focuses on how birds such as northern goshawks determine their maximum speed limit.

These birds race after prey through the forest canopy without smacking into tree trunks.

They avoid this fate by observing a theoretical speed limit, according to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Robots show randomness in evolution of language

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: January 4, 2012   View Article

Even if everything about different groups of animals is identical down to the level of their genes and physical surroundings, they can develop unique ways to communicate, according to an experiment done with robots that use flashing lights to “talk.”

The Swiss researchers used the robots to get handle on why there is such diversity in communication systems within and between species, something that is difficult to do in living animals.

Oldest Antarctic Whale Found, Shows Fast Evolution

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: November 16, 2011   View Article

The oldest known whale to ply the Antarctic has been found, scientists say.

A 24-inch-long (60-centimeter-long) jawbone was recently discovered amid a rich deposit of fossils on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The creature, which may have reached lengths of up to 20 feet (6 meters), had a mouthful of teeth and likely feasted on giant penguins, sharks, and big bony fish, whose remains were also discovered with the jawbone.

New Shark Species Found in Food Market

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: September 1, 2011   View Article

It’s unlikely anyone’s ever complained, “Waiter, there’s a new species in my soup.” But the situation isn’t as rare as you might think.

A monkey, a lizard, and an “extinct” bird have all been discovered en route to the dinner plate, and now a new shark species joins their ranks, scientists report.

Fish taxonomists found the previously unknown shark at a market in Taiwan—no big surprise, according to study co-author William White.

Dino-era Mammal the “Jurassic Mother” of Us All?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: August 24, 2011   View Article

A tiny, shrew-like creature of the dinosaur era might have been, in a sense, the mother of us all.

Named the “Jurassic mother from China” (Juramaia sinensis), the newfound fossil species is the earliest known ancestor of placental mammals—animals, such as humans, that give birth to relatively mature, live young—according to a new study.

The 160-million-year-old specimen pushes back fossil evidence for the evolutionary split between the placental and marsupial lineages by 35 million years. Although it’s unclear if the creature is a direct ancestor of modern placentals, it’s “either a great grand-aunt or a great grandmother,” the study authors say.

Captive male frog coughs up babies

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: June 3, 2011   View Article

A captive male Darwin’s frog coughed up ten babies Thursday at a zoo in Santiago, Chile, a milestone in a project to save the amphibians from extinction.

The vulnerable species is one of two members of the only genus on Earth that rears its young inside of its vocal sac, a job taken on by the males.

Skewed sex ration curbs courtship

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 25, 2011   View Article

When a woman walks into a male-crowded bar she’s unlikely to be showered with courtly attention — that is if findings about mating in the animal kingdom translate to the human realm.

“She might just be watching them fight it out and then have one particularly possessive one making sure others aren’t getting access to her,” Laura Weir, a postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, told me today.

In other words, as the dudes duke it out with each other, one little weasel will sneak over and trap her in a corner and try to keep her all to himself?

“Exactly,” she said, although she stressed her reluctance to take the analogy too far. The data, she noted, is compiled from the mating behaviors of the birds and bees … and alligators, fish, frogs, lizards and lobsters, too.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach