Illustration by Arina Kokoreva
A bit late considering the special issue was published one month ago, but here is another article in a recent series featuring unusual ideas about how to address climate change:
A Heat Shield for the Most Important Ice on Earth
Engineers might be able to protect Arctic ice by coating it with tiny glass bubbles. Should they?
An aerial view of the glass-bubble-covered ice, at left, and the bare ice. Photograph by Doug Johnson
On a clear morning in late March, in rural Lake Elmo, Minnesota, I followed two materials scientists, Tony Manzara and Doug Johnson, as they tromped down a wintry hill behind Manzara’s house. The temperature was in the high thirties; a foot of snow covered the ground and sparkled almost unbearably in the sunlight. Both men wore dark shades. “You don’t need a parka,” Johnson told me. “But you need sunglasses—snow blindness, you know?” At the bottom of the hill, after passing some turkey tracks, we reached a round, frozen pond, about a hundred feet across. Manzara, a gregarious man with bushy eyebrows, and Johnson, a wiry cross-country skier with a quiet voice, stepped confidently onto the ice. Continue reading →
A blue morpho butterfly sits on a leaf. A new study finds that butterflies likely originated somewhere in western North America or Central America around 100 million years ago. Kristen Grace/Florida Museum
It is almost a certainty that if you visit Costa Rica you will see the blue morpho fluttering by somewhere. And you may be in the location of its origin story:
Butterflies originated in North America after splitting from moths, new study suggests
Akito Kawahara remembers being eight years old when he went on a special tour of the insect collection at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He marveled at the vast array of pinned bugs before stopping in front of a large picture of the butterfly family tree.
A red lacewing butterfly perches on a plant. Rachit Pratap Singh
A number of spots on that tree, he saw, were curiously blank.
“Just looking at it, realizing that scientists at these museums still don’t know these basic things — I’ll never forget that day,” Kawahara says.
That moment sparked a lifelong passion in Kawahara to fill in those blanks and determine where these charismatic insects originated. Now, he’s gotten a little closer to an answer. His latest research shows that butterflies probably first flapped their wings in present-day western North America or Central America. Continue reading →
The groceries we shop for, even with the finer shopping options, sometimes disappoint; but some foods are just plain wrong, as this article by Sally Wadyka in the New York Times explains:
The Link Between Highly Processed Foods and Brain Health
Eating packaged foods like cereal and frozen meals has been associated with anxiety, depression and cognitive decline. Scientists are still piecing together why.
The video is worth a minute of your time, and the short article that follows is as close as we get to nature-related good news these days. Our thanks, as always, to Yale e360:
The newly discovered deep-sea reef in the Galápagos Marine Reserve. WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION
In Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, where ocean warming has decimated shallow-water reefs, scientists have discovered a healthy, sprawling coral reef hidden deep under the sea.
“This newly discovered reef is potentially an area of global significance,” Michelle Taylor of the University of Essex, co-lead of the expedition, said in a statement. It is “a site we can monitor over time to see how a pristine habitat evolves with our current climate crisis.” Continue reading →
Bees are in a class by themselves as pollinators, a role that requires a sophisticated mind, says one expert. Photograph: Alamy
Stories about bees in our pages are the proverbial bees knees, again, this time with some information on their sense of the world:
‘Fringe’ research suggests the insects that are essential to agriculture have emotions, dreams and even PTSD, raising complex ethical questions
When Stephen Buchmann finds a wayward bee on a window inside his Tucson, Arizona, home, he goes to great lengths to capture and release it unharmed. Continue reading →
Whether to ward off predators or to exploit their victims, creatures can gain advantage by posing as different creatures. Illustration by Lou Benesch
When Elizabeth Kolbert reviews a book we know that at least the review is a must-read:
Why the Animal Kingdom Is Full of Con Artists
Some crows “cry wolf” to snatch food from their neighbors; some caterpillars trick ants into treating them like queens. What can we learn from beasts that bluff?
On April 20, 1848, Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates set off for the Amazon on a boat named Mischief. The two young men—Bates was twenty-three, Wallace twenty-five—had met a few years earlier, probably at a library in Leicester, in England’s East Midlands. Both were passionate naturalists, and both were strapped for cash. (Neither had been able to afford university.) To finance their adventures, they planned to ship specimens back to London, where they could be sold to wealthy collectors.
For reasons that no one has ever been able to explain—but that many have speculated about—Wallace and Bates separated soon after they reached Brazil. In the decade that followed, Wallace amassed an immense trove of new species; lost most of them in a ship fire; set off again, for Southeast Asia; and, with Charles Darwin, discovered natural selection.
Bates, meanwhile, remained in Brazil. He sailed up the Tapajós, an Amazon tributary, and then up the Cupari, a tributary of the Tapajós. Travel in the region was often agonizingly slow; to get from the town of Óbidos to Manaus, a journey of less than four hundred miles, took him nine weeks. (At some point during the trip, he was robbed of most of the money he was carrying.) Bates would find a congenial town and spend months, even years, there, making daily forays into the surrounding rain forest. He tromped around in a checked shirt and denim pants, an outfit considered outré by the British merchants he encountered in Brazil, who wore their top hats rain or shine. Continue reading →
A new exhibition showcasing the incredible world of Australia’s birdlife will launch in Newcastle. Presented on STORYBOX, an interactive storytelling cube, The Birds of Australia, brings to life the iconic bird illustrations of John and Elizabeth Gould together with First Nations storytelling and knowledges.
We have linked to stories about both John Gould and his wife Elizabeth, and now there is a museum exhibition honoring both together, so if you happen to be in Australia:
Trace the journey of English ornithologist John Gould and his wife Elizabeth, as they travelled across New South Wales in the 1800s on one of the most significant birding expeditions in history, helping inform contemporary knowledge and conservation of Australian birds. The Goulds described and illustrated over 300 birds that were completely new to science, including the Pied Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) and the now extinct Paradise Parrot (Psephotellus pulcherrimus). It was an astonishing record of observation and sustained hard work. Continue reading →
A sunflower sea star found in a kelp forest in waters off the Oregon coast before an invasion of sea urchins. Credit Scott Groth/Scott Groth, via Associated Press
Thanks to Nicholas Bakalar (last seen in these pages seven years ago, we welcome his science reporting work back after so long):
Scientists say that reintroducing the fast-moving predators to the West Coast could help control the spread of sea urchins that are devouring kelp.
The kelp forests off the West Coast are dying, and with their decline, an entire ecosystem of marine plants and animals is at risk. A large starfish with an appetite for sea urchins could come to the rescue. Continue reading →
While sunlight gives electricity for the lights we need, there can be too much of a good thing. Thanks to Lisa Abend at the New York Times for this review:
A Manifesto for Loving the Darkness, and Not Metaphorically
Light pollution is disruptive to many species, from corals to bats to the humans who put up all those lights. “The Darkness Manifesto” urges us to reconsider our drive to dispel the dark.
Artificial lights disorient many species, including the grasshoppers that swarmed the powerful lights over the Las Vegas strip in 2019. Bridget Bennett/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Losing a connection to the night sky is losing our connection to nature, said Johan Eklöf, but it is also losing some of our history. “What we see now is the same sky as our ancestors were looking at and making up stories about.” Nora Lorek for The New York Times
The zoologist Johan Eklöf began to consider the disappearance of darkness in our brightly lit world in 2015, when he was out counting bats in southern Sweden. The surrounding grounds were dark, as they had been decades earlier when his academic adviser had tallied the bat populations in the region’s churches. In the intervening years, however, those churches — whose belfries are famously appreciated by the winged mammals — had been illuminated with floodlights. “I started to think, how do the bats actually react to this?” Eklöf says. Continue reading →
PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES
Whether we want buildings to last longer or not, we now know that reducing the carbon footprint of the materials used is a consideration is important:
ROME’S PANTHEON STANDS defiant 2,000 years after it was built, its marble floors sheltered under the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. For decades, researchers have probed samples from Roman concrete structures—tombs, breakwaters, aqueducts, and wharves—to find out why these ancient buildings endure when modern concrete may crumble after only a few decades. Continue reading →
Robert Waldinger, MD has a way with words, and ideas, and life experience, judging by his discussion with Sam Harris. This topic is not typical of most of the content we link to, but for a Tuesday in early 2023 it is as worthwhile as anything we can think to share. Click the image of the book to go to the website where its author introduces it:
Eight decades. Three generations. Thousands of lives.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is an extraordinary scientific endeavor that began in 1938 and is still going strong (Waldinger is the fourth director, and Schulz its associate director). For over eight decades, the study has tracked the same individuals and their families, asking thousands of questions and taking hundreds of measurements—from brain scans to blood work—with the goal of discovering what really makes for a good life.
Through all the years of studying these lives, strong relationships stand out for their impact on physical health, mental health, and longevity. Waldinger and Schulz boil it down simply:
“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
We appreciate Conor Feehly’s article in Discover, expanding our understanding of and ability to measure the intelligence of our co-inhabitants on this planet:
How Intelligence Is Measured In The Animal Kingdom
As understandings of human intelligence evolve, so, too, do understandings of animal intelligence.
Human beings — with our big brains, technology and mastery of language — like to describe ourselves as the most intelligent species. After all, we’re capable of reaching space, prolonging our lives and understanding the world around us. Over time, however, our understanding of intelligence has gotten a little more complicated. Continue reading →
The sculptured toadstool (Amanita sculpta) had not been seen in Singapore for more than 80 years. Photograph: Adrian Loo/National Parks Board of Singapore
Over our nearly dozen years linking to stories we have shared plenty of what we have called lost and found stories (including this and this and this, and this), as well as fungi stories too numerous to link back to, this is the first lost and found fungi story:
A reason that the breakthrough is causing such hoopla is that it implicitly promises that we could use fusion to run the world in almost its current form. Photograph courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Without the expertise to fully appreciate the science, the hoopla can be overlooked too easily. McKibben’s comment helps clarify:
A shale gas drilling rig in St. Marys, Pennsylvania. AP PHOTO / KEITH SRAKOCIC
We thought the science of fracking’s dangers was already sufficiently clear, and now this (read Jon Hurdle’s entire story at Yale e360):
Two decades after the advent of fracking, a growing number of studies are pointing to a link between gas wells and health problems, particularly among children and the elderly. Researchers are now calling for new regulations restricting where wells can be located.
Almost 20 years after the adoption of hydraulic fracturing began to supercharge U.S. production of oil and gas, there’s growing evidence of a correlation between the industry’s activities and an array of health problems ranging from childhood cancer and the premature death of elderly people to respiratory issues and endocrine disruption. Continue reading →
In Calakmul and elsewhere, the fierce jaguar was worshiped as a deity. Ancient rulers and warriors adorned themselves with the animal’s skulls, skins, fangs and claws. Adrian Wilson for The New York Times
Several months ago when we confirmed our plans to attend a wedding in Merida, Mexico on November 5, Calakmul came to mind. We had already explored many famous Maya sites in Central America, most recently in Belize, not to mention Mexico, over the last three decades; and we have also been fortunate with big cat sightings.
We decided against extending our stay, choosing to spend a few days in Mexico City instead (I have been obsessed with Barragán in recent years, so seeing his former home and workshop there was a must). Charly Wilder‘s article in the New York Times, which I am only seeing now, makes me wonder when we will return to see what we neglected in the Yucatan:
The number of jaguars is growing in Mexico, especially in areas of the Yucatán Peninsula. Patryk Kosmider/Getty Images
The Return of the Jaguar
Thanks to Mexican conservation efforts, the jaguar is making a comeback in the Yucatán Peninsula. A traveler ventures into its habitat in the tropical jungles surrounding an ancient Maya city.
From the top of the great pyramid of the ancient Maya city of Calakmul in the southern Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, you can see all the way to Guatemala. The jungle stretches out infinitely in every direction, an ocean of green punctuated only by the stepped pyramid peaks of two other Maya temples. Continue reading →
Scientists fixed bio-logger tags equipped with cameras on tiger sharks in the Bahamas to map the ocean’s seagrass meadows. Photograph: Diego Camejo/Beneath the Waves
We thank Laura Paddison for this underwater news, published in the Guardian, that has implication for climate change mitigation:
New study, carried out using tiger sharks in the Bahamas, extends total known global seagrass coverage by more than 40%
Tiger sharks are notoriously fierce. The huge animals, which can grow to more than 16ft, are ruthless predators and scared of absolutely nothing – recent research found that while other shark species fled coastal waters during strong storms, tiger sharks “didn’t even flinch”.
But recently they have a new role that could help burnish their reputations: marine scientists. Continue reading →
A juvenile bar-tailed godwit has flown from Alaska in the US to Tasmania in Australia, covering a record 13,560kms without stopping. Photograph: Johnny Madsen/Alamy
Who’s got game in the bird world is not, strictly speaking, a phrase associated with ornithologists or what they do for a living. But sometimes, their news features what looks like competitive sport to the lay public. We have shared news of long-journey bird species on several occasions, and one that has the right stuff now stands out from the rest by virtue of tagging technology:
Satellite tag data suggests five-month-old migratory bird did not stop during voyage which took 11 days and one hour to reach Tasmania
A juvenile bar-tailed godwit – known only by its satellite tag number 234684 – has flown 13,560 kilometres from Alaska to the Australian state of Tasmania without stopping, appearing to set a new world record for marathon bird flights. Continue reading →