Readers react to mysterious protists, bird brains, more

A storm brewing

Warming ocean waters due to human-caused climate change are spurring more hurricanes to rapidly intensify, Carolyn Gramling reported in “Why hurricanes intensify so swiftly” (SN: 10/7/23 & 10/21/23, p. 10).

The story made reader Barry Maletzky wonder why hurricanes take a spiral shape.

A hurricane’s spiral form is due to a phenomenon called the Coriolis effect. Earth constantly spins on its axis from west to east. Objects not firmly rooted to the ground, including air currents, airplanes and hurricanes, curve as they travel through the air because they conserve the momentum of the planet’s rotation.

Tropical cyclones, such as hurricanes, typically form near the equator, where warm ocean waters and air create the right conditions for the storms to occur. Each cyclone consists of a low-pressure center, known as the eye, which sucks in the surrounding high-pressure air. The Coriolis effect deflects that air slightly to the east as it rushes toward the storm’s eye.

At the same time, air from the equator moves toward the poles and is also deflected east by the Coriolis effect. All together, this causes the whole storm system to spin — counterclockwise north of the equator and clockwise south.

Microscopic marvels

A journey through the mysterious world of protists reveals how much we still have left to learn about life on Earth, Susan Milius reported in “Charismatic microfauna” (SN: 10/7/23 & 10/21/23, p. 18).

The story reminded reader Michael Steinfeld of the work of scientist, photographer and cinemicroscopist Roman Vishniac.

Famous for his snapshots of Jewish communities in pre-Holocaust Europe, Vishniac spent much of his career zoomed in on the life sciences. At the height of his career in the 1950s through the ’70s, he studied, photographed, filmed and wrote about animals, plants and microorganisms, including protists (SN: 9/15/62, p. 172). Vishniac’s work on tiny life-forms significantly shaped the field of photomicroscopy.

Reader Kurt Sroka shared a self-written poem about microorganisms, entitled “Hierarchy”: Without Micro-Beings / Human-Beings couldn’t be here / to “dominate” Earth.

Bird brain

Songbirds with complex vocal skills solve problems faster than their less vocally adept peers, Darren Incorvaia reported in “Some songbirds excel at brainteasers” (SN: 10/7/23 & 10/21/23, p. 14).

“The phrase ‘bird brain’ often gets a bad rap, but science tells us that bird intelligence is far from lacking,” @factfrontier_ wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Take the African grey parrot, for example, capable of understanding the concept of zero — a feat … shared with humans and a few primates. Then there’s the New Caledonian crow, which uses tools to extract insects from tree bark, showing problem-solving skills that rival those of young children.… So, calling someone a ‘bird brain’ might just be underselling the intricate cognitive abilities that birds possess.”

X user @PhillSher also remarked on the intelligence of crows: “Crows are exceptionally smart. I once saw a crow pick up a morsel of food, stack it on top of another that was a couple of feet away, then pick up both and fly off.”