A wind-riding bird gets a boost
The wandering albatross spends most of its life in flight, touching down on land to find food or to breed. These enormous seabirds, which have the largest wingspan of any living bird, conserve energy while aloft by riding the wind currents.
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Origins of huge-headed 'supersoldier' ants
Most ant species in the Pheidole genus have two social groups, or castes: workers and solders. Some also produce "supersoldiers." These large ants block their nest entrance with their extra-large heads and fight with invading ants during army ant raids. Although there are 1,100 different species of Pheidole ants worldwide, just a few of them produce supersoldiers.
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One-third for the birds!
As the numbers of big fish like tuna decline, humans are increasingly catching anchovies, sardines and other small "forage fish" instead. But if humans take too many, they could be cutting off the food supply for the animals that prey on forage fish.
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Naked mole-rats feel no pain from acid
The African naked mole-rat is, to our eyes, a pretty ugly creature. These small animals have no hair, wrinkly skin, and two long, yellow front teeth. They live in huge colonies inside deep underground tunnels, where there is little fresh air.
Honor among rats
In an unusual example of empathy in animals other than primates, new research shows that rats will liberate their distressed cagemates from a trap, even when they get no additional reward. These animals seem to be showing empathy, which has often been considered unique to primates. An empathetic animal can "put itself in another's shoes" while maintaining its own perspective and emotional separation.
There's something about a face
It's easy for people to tell one human face from another. We do it all the time without even thinking about it. But, it does take a special ability. Imagine trying to distinguish one goldfish face from another, or one squirrel face, or one wasp face. Within each of these species, all the faces look pretty much the same, right? In contrast, there's something about the human face that our brains recognize and remember in fine detail.
The world's first fish hooks?
Researchers in East Timor, a country in Southeast Asia, have discovered the remains of large fish and fishing gear in a shelter that was used by early humans long ago. The remains include some fish hooks made out of bone and they appear to be 42,000 years old, which suggests that early humans were fishing in the open ocean much earlier than researchers had thought.
For decision-making, less information may be more
A study on European starlings shows that when it comes to making decisions, it can help to have less information about the available choices -- but not always. Whether this "less-is-more" effect comes into play depends heavily on a species' ecological situation, the researchers report.
Stars may not be massive or metallic
Before stars existed in space, the only elements present in the universe were hydrogen, helium and lithium. The birth of the first stars fundamentally transformed the early universe by emitting the first light and producing the first metals. Astronomers are still trying to unlock some of the secrets of early star formation. Two new studies in the journal Science show that these early stars weren't as big or metallic as previously thought.
Bird brains primed for cooperation
Best friends sometimes finish each others' sentences, but the plain-tailed wrens of the Andes take things even further. Male and female wrens sing intimate duets in which they alternate syllables so quickly it sounds like a single bird is singing.
The big hearts of pythons
Pythons can go a full year without food, and once they do score a meal, their heart nearly doubles in size. Since the snake's heart-ballooning after a meal is similar to the heart growth seen in people who exercise a lot, like Olympic athletes, studying snake hearts could help scientists figure out how to make human hearts healthier.
Evidence from a prehistoric mastodon hunt
A controversial mastodon rib, found with the tip of a bone point lodged inside, is 13,800 years old, researchers report in a new study.
The world's first art studio?
One of the earliest forms of paint is known as ochre -- and it really wasn't much more than colorful dirt. But, researchers believe that early humans may have used this colorful ochre to decorate their bodies or to make simple pieces of artwork.
If you love something, close it up? The weird world of caves
How would you feel if someone told you they'd discovered someplace amazing, but if they let other people come visit, it would be ruined? Would you wonder, what's the point of protecting it, if nobody can enjoy it? Or, could you appreciate the place without having to actually see it in person?
Superfast muscles found in bats
As bats swoop in on their prey, their sonar-based calls -- used to locate and track their meals -- increase to an incredible speed of about 160 calls per second. This kind of super-fast sonar call is known as the "terminal buzz," and it is often the last thing an insect ever hears.
Cattle versus wildlife: The battle for food has benefits
In Africa, the widespread belief among small subsistence farmers and commercial ranchers alike is that nearby wildlife compete with livestock for food. The solution for most farmers is to kill off wildlife. These eradication efforts are troublesome to scientists and others concerned about biodiversity conservation.
Are you ready for this jelly?
There are places in the ocean where giant jellyfish rule. They look like dinner plate-sized water balloons, hundreds and sometimes thousands of them floating together. When people catch too many regular fish like sardines or anchovies, they leave behind an empty ocean neighborhood that the jellyfish move into in a big way.
Virus gene leads moths to tree top doom
A gene found in a virus turns gypsy moth caterpillars into tree-climbing zombies, reports a new study in the journal Science on Sept. 9, 2011. These moth caterpillars infected by a virus known as a baculovirus, are hypnotized into climbing to the top of trees to die, liquefy and rain viral particles on the foliage below to infect new hosts.
An evolutionary 'cradle' for ice-age giants
The frosty highlands of the Tibetan Plateau may have been an evolutionary "cradle" for the woolly rhinos and other shaggy, cold-hardy creatures that roamed North America and Eurasia during the last ice age, a new study suggests.
Earth-bound meteorites come from stony asteroids
Thanks to the Hayabusa space mission, researchers have gotten their first up-close look at dust from the surface of an asteroid. The unmanned Japanese spacecraft was launched in 2003 and sent to the stony, or S-type, asteroid known as 25143 Itokawa. In 2005, it landed on the surface of that asteroid and scooped up some loose dust. Hayabusa returned to Earth in 2010 and researchers from all over the world have been analyzing the asteroid dust ever since.
Good teachers need more than facts
What makes a good teacher? When adults answer this question, they often talk about how well the teacher understands his or her subject and can explain it to students. But, if you're a student reading this, you might be thinking, well, OK, but there's more to it than that...
By sticking with the group, wasps help themselves
What makes animals and insects like Polistes dominulus, commonly known as the European paper wasp, work together and help each other out? What benefits do these wasps receive from building their nests with strangers and serving the queen wasp? Until now, researchers have believed that the wasps are somehow benefiting their relatives by helping out around the nest.
Female frogs limit the length of male mating calls
Male tungara frogs are known for their long mating calls, which they use in hopes of attracting a female. But, a new study shows that a long-winded frog song doesn't necessarily guarantee the males a mate. Instead, it seems that the female tungara frog's perception -- or what she hears from her environment -- is just as important as what the males are singing to her.
Hear my nectar: How dish-shaped leaves attract pollinating bats
Bats use high pitched sounds to locate food and navigate. Humans generally can't hear these high pitched sounds. When these sounds bounce off of objects, bats are capable of listening to the returning echoes, which gives bats a sense about the distance, movement and size of all objects in their path -- this is called "echolocation."
A gene to help the butterfly's disguise
Heliconius butterflies include more than 40 different species of butterfly, and they are famous for their strikingly unique and colorful wing patterns. They have evolved their current wing colors by mimicking, or copying, the warning signals of other species of butterfly.
Funding provided by the William T. Golden Endowment Fund for Program Innovation at AAAS.