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  • Wild Things

    Fire ants build towers with three simple rules

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    When faced with rushing floodwaters, fire ants are known to build two types of structures. A quickly formed raft lets the insects float to safety. And once they find a branch or tree to hold on to, the ants might form a tower up to 30 ants high, with eggs, brood and queen tucked safely inside. Neither structure requires a set of plans or a foreman ant leading the construction...

    07/21/2017 - 14:54 Animals
  • Say What?

    Earth might once have resembled a hot, steamy doughnut

    Synestia\sin-es-ti-ə \ n.

    A large spinning hunk of hot, vaporized rock that forms when rocky, planet-sized objects collide

    Earth may have taken on a jelly doughnut shape early in its history. The rocky planet was spinning through space about 4.5 billion years ago when it smacked into a Mars-sized hunk of rotating rock called Theia, according to one theory (SN: 4/15/17, p. 18). That hit...

    07/21/2017 - 09:00 Planetary Science
  • Science Ticker

    This robot grows like a plant

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    Robots are branching out. A new prototype soft robot takes inspiration from plants by growing to explore its environment.

    Vines and some fungi extend from their tips to explore their surroundings. Elliot Hawkes of the University of California in Santa Barbara and his colleagues designed a bot that works on similar principles. Its mechanical body sits inside a plastic...

    07/19/2017 - 17:26 Robotics, Plants
  • News

    Humans first settled in Australia as early as 65,000 years ago

    Tools, paints and other artifacts excavated from an ancient rock-shelter in northern Australia are giving new glimpses into early life Down Under. The first humans may have arrived on the continent 65,000 years ago — 5,000 years earlier than previously thought — and they were sophisticated craftspeople, researchers report July 19 in Nature.

    Archaeologists unearthed three distinct layers...

    07/19/2017 - 13:00 Archaeology, Anthropology
  • News

    Water bears will survive the end of the world as we know it

    Water bears may be Earth’s last animal standing.

    These tough little buggers, also known as tardigrades, could keep calm and carry on until the sun boils Earth’s oceans away billions of years from now, according to a new study that examined water bears’ resistance to various astronomical disasters. This finding, published July 14 in Scientific Reports, suggests that complex life can be...

    07/14/2017 - 11:40 Animals, Astronomy, Astrobiology
  • News

    Ravens pass tests of planning ahead in unnatural tasks

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    Ravens have passed what may be their toughest tests yet of powers that, at least on a good day, let people and other apes plan ahead.

    Lab-dwelling common ravens (Corvus corax) in Sweden at least matched the performance of nonhuman apes and young children in peculiar tests of advanced planning ability. The birds faced such challenges as selecting a rock useless at the...

    07/13/2017 - 14:20 Animals, Neuroscience, Evolution
  • News

    Brain activity helps build an alpha male

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    Boosting the activity of certain brain cells can help a mouse climb the social ladder.

    Nerve cells in a region called the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex appear to control whether male mice are dominant or submissive to other males, researchers report in the July 14 Science. The finding adds to previous evidence that this brain region is involved in social interactions...

    07/13/2017 - 14:00 Neuroscience
  • Science Ticker

    Here are Juno’s first close-ups of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

    The Juno spacecraft’s first closeup views of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot are here. The spacecraft flew just 9,000 kilometers above the famous storm on July 10.

    Scientists had expected the images to take until at least the night of July 13 to download because the spacecraft’s antenna was pointed away from Earth. But the first images arrived early, hitting the internet at about 11:30 a.m. EDT...

    07/12/2017 - 13:22 Planetary Science
  • Science Ticker

    Whales feast when hatcheries release salmon

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    Humpback whales, those innovative foodies, have discovered their own pop-up restaurants.

    Migrant humpbacks returning to southeastern Alaska in spring are the first of their kind known to make routine visits to fish hatcheries releasing young salmon into the sea, says marine ecologist Ellen Chenoweth.

    The whales are “40 feet long and they’re feeding on fish that...

    07/11/2017 - 19:05 Animals, Ecology, Science & Society
  • News

    Hermaphrodite wildflower has its own battle of the sexes

    PORTLAND, Ore. — Petals of wildflowers called starry campions may be a pretty little battleground for a sexual skirmish between the plant’s male and female parts.

    As is common in flowers, each Silene stellata bloom forms both male and female sex organs. After measuring petal variation between plants and tracking parenthood of seeds, Juannan Zhou suspected a sexual tug-of-war.

    ...

    07/07/2017 - 08:00 Plants, Evolution