Springtails stick the landing as the world’s tiniest acrobats

With one powerful flick of their tail, aptly-named springtails propel themselves from water to air. Though a close relative of insects, springtails can soar at heights 16 times the length of their body. No larger than a grain of rice, springtails are leaps and bounds ahead of cats when it comes to landing on their feet. Their controlled take-off, landing, and ability to right themselves in midair is unmatched and have caught the attention of scientists. These ancient acrobats may yield key innovations for robots with controlled landing.

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Why are zebras striped? – Biting flies read between the lines

Why are zebras striped? A simple question with a seemingly complex answer. The stark black and white striped pattern has mystified scientists as to why the animal developed such coloration. Researchers have tested ideas from individual recognition to camouflage from predators. Perhaps the stripes help zebras avoid attacks from a much smaller predator. A recent study adds a piece to the puzzle, though this research poses more questions that leave the stripes an enigma.

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Bubble, Bubble, Toil, and Trouble: Deep-sea ghost shark evolved a sixth sense

Rising from the depths of the sea, bubbles signal trouble: a confrontation between a predator and its prey. A relatively unexplored and mysterious place, the deep-sea hosts creatures that have adapted to the darkness and silence of the ocean’s floor for hundreds of millions of years. Spending so much time in these harsh conditions has forced the ghost shark to develop a sixth sense – the ability to detect changes in the electromagnetic field. Scientists are starting to uncover this ghostly tale, but much of this story remains a mystery.

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Into the Brains of Mosquitoes – Finding out how they find us

It’s all fun and games outdoors until mosquitoes crash the party. Female mosquitoes need protein-rich human blood for energy to produce eggs. While an itchy bump follows most bites, some can transfer harmful viruses, like Zika and dengue. Mosquitoes are experts at finding human hosts, and now scientists have discovered how. Mosquito brains may give insights into new strategies to control mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.

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Oversimplified – Deforestation cuts down spider species

We tend to value simplification over complexity in our day-to-day lives, but animals rely on complex environments to maintain diversity. When we cut down forests for agriculture, livestock, or manufacturing, we simplify environments by reducing the diversity of plants – a disturbance that forces out many vital animals. A recent study showed that converting the diverse Atlantic Forest in Argentina into rows of pine trees for paper production has had severe consequences for spider species. Can time heal the wounds caused by clear-cutting?

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Is your garden bee-friendly? – City gardens promote bee parasites

Parasites are threatening pollinator populations worldwide, raising concerns for the future of our food security. How we manage our gardens in cities could impact parasite transmission among pollinators, especially bees. Researchers found that bee parasites decrease when we plant plenty of flowers to promote diverse pollinators. We also reduce parasites when we refrain from mulching our gardens, as mulch covers nests for ground-nesting bees. As spring approaches, will your garden be friendlier to bees or their parasites?

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Prey or Mate – Can web-building spiders tell the difference?

After reaching maturity, male web-building spiders leave their webs in search of a mate. The real challenge occurs once the male reaches a female’s web because the female could easily mistake male vibrations for prey vibrations. Not wanting to be the female’s next meal, the male needs to produce unique vibrations to identify itself as a potential mate, not prey. The female must decipher male and prey vibrations and delay attack when a potential mate enters the web. Will this be enough to avoid tragedy? Click to find out!

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Using mangrove genes to protect where the land meets the sea

When two of Earth’s forces meet, we often get monumental products. Where the land meets the sea, the mighty mangrove forest protects the coastline and all its inhabitants. Deforestation has led to rapid declines of mangroves, threatening the diversity of life that they support. Analyzing the genetic variation in a forest is a promising tool for protective measures and restoration. Saving mangrove forests might be in the genes.

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For birds, drab is in fashion in our cities

Color has the power to affect our feelings and emotions. For many animals, color signals status or condition. Factors such as food quality, stress, and pollution can cause changes in animal coloration. The color of the background can also have significant effects on how animals perceive color. Cities introduce drab, grey buildings and pavement, pollutants, and reduced plant complexity. A recent study shows that city birds produce darker, duller feathers with less complex patterns. Click to find out how cities may be hindering the color and diversity of wildlife.

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Flying on the Edge – Bees use linear features to navigate

Ever noticed how straight roads or the edges of crop fields are? Humans love turning naturally curvy land into straight lines. While land modification poses significant threats to many animals, some can take advantage of these changes. A new study found that bumble bees exploit human-made lines and edges to navigate to food sources. Taking the path most traveled may make all the difference for these bees.

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