Bite a mouse in the back of the neck and don’t let go. Now shake your head at a frenzied 11 turns per second, as if saying “No, no, no, no, no!”
You have just imitated a hunting loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus), already considered one of North America’s more ghoulish songbirds for the way it impales its prey carcasses on thorns and barbed wire.
Once the shrike hoists its...
News in Brief
A draft of the poppy’s genetic instruction book is providing clues to how the plant evolved to produce molecules such as morphine.
Scientists pieced together the genome of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Then, they identified a cluster of 15 close-together genes that help the plant synthesize a group of chemically related compounds that includes powerful painkillers like morphine...
The Science Life
A firefly’s blinking behind is more than just a pretty summer sight.
It’s known that fireflies flash to attract mates (SN Online: 8/12/15) — but the twinkles may serve another purpose as well. Jesse Barber, a biologist at Boise State University, had a hunch that the lights also warn off potential nighttime predators. He wasn’t the first person with this hypothesis. As far back as 1882,...
Salamanders and lizards can both regrow their tails, but not to equal perfection.
While a regenerated salamander tail closely mimics the original, bone and all, a lizard’s replacement is filled with cartilage and lacks nerve cells. That contrast is due to differences between stem cells in the animals’ spinal cords, researchers report online August 13 in Proceedings of the National...
A fish that lives in rain puddles has beaten its own record for the fastest known sexual maturity among vertebrates.
Turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri) that hatch after unpredictable deluges in Mozambique can go from hatchling to ready-to-breed adult in 14 days, researchers announce August 6 in Current Biology. Killifish in cushy lab conditions had already grown up faster than...
News in Brief
The extinction event that wiped out all nonbird dinosaurs about 66 million years ago also shook up shark evolution.
Fossilized shark teeth show that the extinction marked a shift in the relative fates of two groups of sharks. Apex predators called lamniformes, which include modern great white sharks, dominated the oceans before the event, which took place at the end of the Cretaceous...
A newly identified dinosaur’s evolutionary origins are written all over its face.
Bony knobs studding the head and snout of Akainacephalus johnsoni, a type of armored dinosaur called an ankylosaurid, are similar to those of Asian ankylosaurids. That was a surprise, says Jelle Wiersma, a paleontologist at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. He and Randall Irmis, a...
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Spying on WhalesNick PyensonViking, $27
Just before humans evolved, whales and dolphins were, pound for pound, the brainiest creatures on Earth. Another cetacean superlative: Today’s biggest whales are heftier than the largest dinosaurs that ever lived. The evolutionary trends that produced big, brainy marine animals are just a few of the fascinating tales told in Spying on Whales...
Scientists have long wondered what the earliest mammals’ balls were like. After all, a few species today live with theirs swaddled safely up by the kidneys, like elephants do. Most other mammals drop their testes to the lower abdomen to a spot under the skin — like seals — or into an extra-abdominal sack called the scrotum — like humans. What style came first has been a topic of debate.
Conservationists are stuck in a catch-22: In trying to save some species, the would-be protectors may be giving the animals an evolutionary disadvantage. A new study describes how efforts to protect the endangered northern quoll, a spotted, kitten-sized marsupial native to Australia, by placing a population on a threat-free island may have actually undermined a key survival instinct.