Dark Skies of Utah is a timelapse film by Ron Risman, featuring photography captured by his students during a timelapse workshop in Moab, Utah. I would like to take that class.
This is beautiful stuff.
Go full screen, turn up the sound, and feel you some nature feels. Have a great weekend.
Meet Anoxycalyx joubini, an Antarctic volcano sponge (it’s the one not wearing a wetsuit). It’s estimated that some slow-growing specimens may be up to 15,000 years old, making them the oldest living animals on Earth. Most live in such deep, frigid waters that they will never be seen face-to-face by human divers, whose entire known history has occurred in less than one spongy lifetime.
Image via Project SCINI/Cal State
The Secret Social Lives of Plants
(well, they’re secret to US, anyway)
From danger calls to nutrient exchange, plants have evolved a wide array of chemical communication strategies thanks to molecules they emit to the air and through the soil. Those stems may seem stoic, but veggies are far from vegetative when it comes to chatter. Via MinuteEarth.
Bonus: This great vid also features the newly-discovered Boquila mimic ivy, able to disguise itself as two plants simultaneously. Read more about this plant chameleon at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
Don’t trust your ears, because this bird’s a lyre.
An Australian lyrebird to be precise, one of nature’s most unbelievable vocal mimics. In the above video, narrated by David Attenborough, a lyrebird mimics a vast array of human sounds, including a camera shutter and a chainsaw. Here’s another lyrebird from the Adelaide zoo mimicking construction sounds. Although this sort of mechano-mimicry is very rare in the wild, it showcases the incredible ability of this bird (and others) to learn and recreate sounds.
This aptly nicknamed “superb lyrebird” has perhaps the most complex syrinx (the birdy version of vocal cords) of any songbird. When males are wooing females during the mating season, they use their mimicry of other bird calls (and occasionally power tools) as a means of vocal competition. If you added a balcony to the mix, it’s almost like something from a romantic Shakespeare scene. But I doth anthropomorphize too much…
Lyrebirds have no idea exactly what they’re mimicking, of course. But Robert Krulwich thinks they might be the “accidental historians” of the bird world, whose songs may hold audible stories of the past.
One notable example: In 1969, an Australian park ranger recorded a lyrebird singing a rather flute-like tune. He sent that recording to songbird researcher Norman Robinson. Here he is in a radio interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp. sharing some lyrebird flute mimicry:
From the park ranger’s original recordings, Robinson was able to pick out two separate popular songs from the 1930’s, “Keel’s Row” and “The Mosquito Dance.” Turns out that decades earlier, a flute-playing farmer had taken that lyrebird as a pet, and the bird “downloaded” the tunes of its human companion into its neural songbook.
Decades after it was released to the wild, that lyrebird sang lost pop songs, a feathered minstrel of the forest. Sure, it didn’t know what it was mimicking, but I’d say it’s a case of culture… for the birds.
Is the lyrebird the best mimic in nature? Maybe. But my money’s still on Michael Winslow:
Underside of a gecko’s foot. Those ridges are full of thousands of tiny setae, ‘hooks’ that allow these lizards to grasp onto nearly any surface, and in any orientation. Spider-Man employs a similar morphological adaptation. (at The Field Museum)
Gecko feet are waaaaaay near the top of the list when it comes to awesome animal adaptations.
But they don’t really “hook”, certainly not like Spider-Man does, anyway. Each of those setae is just one-tenth the width of a human hair and contains hundreds of tiny projections that are each less than half of a millionth of a meter wide. To put that in perspective, that means each projection is as wide as just two human chromosomes. That’s small.
Because they are so, so, so tiny, the geckos use atomic interactions and Van Der Waals forces to hold themselves on the wall. They are literally using the attractive forces between atoms to walk on the ceiling, with no liquid or adhesive to help. The , which is 1,000X cooler :)
I featured them in this video on Animal Superpowers:
Eerie, beautiful, captivating images of sea urchins mating and being born (that little triangle guy is a baby sea urchin).
These are a glimpse of how life begins in the deep ocean — and there’s a lot of life down there. The oceans provide about 190 times as much living space as every other space on Earth — soil, air and fresh water — put together. A vast array of amazing creatures live in the depths of this watery world. Squid, jellyfish, and plankton are just a few of our favorites (all shown as tiny babies in that last gif).
I’m strongly urchin you to fall in love with echinoderms. Such superb sea symmetry.
In my latest video, I mentioned the Stark family’s fearsome emblem: the dire wolf. What many people don’t know is that the dire wolf (Canis dirus) was a real animal, common throughout the Americas until 10,000 years ago, going extinct around the time the last Ice Age ended.
Over at Nerdist, my friend Kyle Hill has written a great history of this ancient carnivore. Thousands of them are buried in Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits, one of the richest fossil sites in the world, a portal to the Pleistocene that’s just 500 feet from a Starbucks.
It never ceases to amaze me just how much science is lying right under our noses… and feet.
Once you’re done learning about canine megafauna, check out the Science of Game of Thrones:
Whoa! Had Disney elected to make Finding Nemo scientifically accurate, Marlin would have turned into a female and mated with Nemo. Freaky. I’m glad they didn’t.
Welcome to the wonderful world of protandric hermaphroditism!! It’s surprisingly common among fish, who probably think that we land-lubbing air-breathers are pretty weird for being so set in our gender ways. Being able to change sexes is a great survival adaptation for Nemo’s kind, a way to make sure that there are always enough breeding partners to go around, and that everyone has an spread their genes.
The size difference between male and female clownfish or anemone fish is also an example of something called sexual dimorphism, which is seen in all kinds of species (including us). There’s many kinds of sexual dimorphism in nature, and all kinds of reasons for it, but bigger clownfish females may be able to produce more eggs, while smaller males may be able to migrate more easily between anemones to find a mate. Any know of other theories?
Destin, judging by your kids’ reactions, I’m not the only one who would enjoy watching the scientifically accurate Finding Nemo.
This was always my favorite David Attenborough nature special.
Please paint a picture of David Attenborough sitting proudly atop a great white shark which has somehow evolved legs and is winning the men’s 400 metre hurdles having eaten the other athletes.