There's something really unnerving about this little snail eating lunch. It's too gross to be adorable, but too adorable to be gross. Are his little antennae an emotional reaction?
This baby nautilus emerged this week from an egg laid last November at San Diego's Birch Aquarium. For this tiny cephalopod, the process of being born took not hours, or even days, but weeks. The ZooBorns site has a series of photos that show how the nautilus slooooooowly emerged from the egg.
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(Video link) Before signing off tonight, I strongly urge you to set aside whatever bad news you may have seen today and watch this adorable video of a three-year-old boy named Kieran asking Santa Claus for Spider-Man and then having his Christmas wish immediately granted. The video was created by Sean Ward, a long-time friend of Kieran's family and the filmmaker behind the extremely popular (and hilarious) series of Toronto Batman videos. Way to end a great year on a heartwarming note! (Thanks, Sean!)
It's true! Science proves it!
And it's more than just an effect of infrared imaging. If you duck over to Joseph Stromberg's post at the Surprising Science blog, you'll see a photo of a real, live reindeer with an adorably red nose (and upper lip).
Turns out, it's the result of an evolutionary adaptation. Some (but not all) reindeer have noses full of densely packed blood vessels — a difference that makes those reindeer better at regulating their own body temperatures.
To come to the findings, the scientists examined the noses of two reindeer and five human volunteers with a hand-held video microscope that allowed them to see individual blood vessels and the flow of blood in real time. They discovered that the reindeer had a 25% higher concentration of blood vessels in their noses, on average.
They also put the reindeer on a treadmill and used infrared imaging to measure what parts of their bodies shed the most heat after exercise. The nose, along with the hind legs, reached temperatures as high as 75°F—relatively hot for a reindeer—indicating that one of the main functions of all this blood flow is to help regulate temperature, bringing large volumes of blood close to the surface when the animals are overheated, so its heat can radiate out into the air.
Also: red-nosed reindeer on treadmills, you guys. This is clearly the most adorable science of the holiday season.
Via Bart King
Who's a chubby little water bear? Yes you are. Ooh, yes you are.
This moment of straight-up cuteness is brought to you by Bob Goldstein, who researches tardigrades at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Tardigrades are, of course, microscopic animals that live in moss and the muddy sand on beaches. They can survive high temperatures, freezing, and crushing pressures by drying themselves up into a little hard ball, called a tun. Stick a tun in water and — no matter what horrible conditions it's dealt with — it will rehydrate and regenerate back into a tardigrade. Beyond that, though, we know shockingly little about these animals. Even their place on the evolutionary tree of life is up for debate. Among other work, Goldstein and his team are in the process of sequencing the tardigrade genome. It may well be the most adorable genome on Earth.
Thanks to Xeni for finding this in the BoingBoing Flickr pool!
Underwater, Antarctica's Weddell seals are fast-moving, graceful predators, catching and eating as much as 100 pounds of food per day. They dine on squids and fish and have been known to enjoy the occasional penguin or two.
On land, they are hilariously ineffectual blobs of jelly.
You can see that dichotomy in action in this great (and long) video made by Henry Kaiser in Antarctica. Following the adventures of a baby seal on the ice and under the water, the video is peaceful, meditative and reminds me a bit of the sort of old-school Sesame Street video that would build simple, kid-friendly narratives out of nature footage and music. (The music, by the way, was written and performed by Henry Kaiser, as well.)
Despite their poor performance in land-based locomotion, Weddell seals actually live on the ice, descending into the water to hunt and mate and swim around. They use natural holes in the ice to get from above to below and back, but they also work to maintain those holes and often use their teeth to chew at the edge of the ice and make a small hole larger. At about 13 minutes into the video, you can watch a seal doing just that — rubbing its head back and forth to enlarge an opening in the ice.
And why hang out on the ice, to begin with? Simple. In the water, seals are, themselves, potential dinners for larger creatures. On land, they have no natural predators at all and can safely bask in the sun, lying on their cute and chubby bellies for so long that their body heat hollows out divots in the ice.
And, with the help of her colleague Dexter — and their owner/trainer, who is also a chemist — Paige can even teach chemistry.
Here, Paige and Dexter serve as models for a discussion about chemical bonds — the forces that attract one atom to another and form the basis of all the chemicals that make up our world.
Via Matthew Hartings
Watch it eat. ERMAHGERD. It's almost enough to make you forget about the horrors of the echidna penis. Almost. Until you notice that the puggle has five legs. So, there's that.
Male peacock spiders are fuzzy, strangely adorable, and boast a brilliantly colored abdomen that they flip up and use as a prop for an elaborate (for a spider) mating dance.
In this video, the mating dance of the peacock spider has been helpfully set to music, so you can really see why his abdomen makes female spiders wanna shoop.
This particular specimen is apparently a representative of an as-yet-unnamed species of peacock spider. You can read more about this species, and what makes it different from its cousins, in this paper by Jürgen C. Otto and David E. Hill, who also made the video.
Via Bug Girl
Why is this owl on a scale? Because of science.
Tracking the growth of captive animals isn't just about making sure the captive animals are well taken care of. It's also an important part of understanding animal life cycles and how life in captivity differs from life in the wild. Data on millions of animals is stored in the Zoological Information Management System—a database used by zookeepers, aquarium officials, and researchers. In order to have that database, though, zoos and aquariums must do annual inventories of their charges—measuring height and weight, and recording data on details like egg-laying patterns. And this is where the cute comes in.
The Guardian has a slideshow of images taken last week during the London Zoo's animal inventory. If you've ever wanted to see somebody stretch a tape measure around a penguin's chubby belly, or coo over meerkats climbing around a scale, this is your chance.
It's not just adorable! Grooming is actually an incredibly important part of keeping this baby sea otter healthy. Joanne Manaster visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and came back with a whole post for the PsiVid blog about the science of cute baby animals.
When an otter is raised by humans, there are many skills they need to learn, including how to feed themselves, groom themselves, and to sleep in the water. Unfortunately, once they are habituated to humans, they will not gain the skills needed to hunt, so cannot be released into the wild. On the other hand, the otter raised by the surrogate will gain all necessary skills and may be released to the wild in the future.
That's why Toola—the world's most influential otter—was so important. Those habits, including grooming, are a big deal in the wild.
From Shedd’s website: “Keeping the pup’s thick fur clean, dry and fluffed is essential to her survival. Sea otters are the only marine mammals that aren’t wrapped in an insulating blanket of blubber. Instead, they have about 1 million hairs per square inch of skin, divided into an outer layer of thick guard hairs and an inner layer of dense, wooly underfur honeycombed with millions of tiny air pockets. The layers work together to keep water out and body heat in. If the fur becomes matted or fouled with pollutants such as oil, cold sea water penetrates to the otter’s skin and the animal can quickly succumb to hypothermia. Otters shed their fur gradually and throughout the year so that they are never without this vital protection.”
I had never heard about Toola the Sea Otter before today, but I'm not going to pass up an opportunity for a headline like this. Also, her story turns out to be incredibly inspiring. Seriously, this otter was a bit of human-interpretable speech away from being a guest on Oprah.
That's because Toola was a foster mother. THE foster mother, really, at least as far as the otter world goes. She was the first otter, living in captivity, to serve as a foster for orphaned baby otters. Along the way, she helped change the way aquariums all over the world approach the rehabilitation of injured otters, and how those otters are reintroduced to the wild.
NPR is calling Toola an "otter pioneer". You can read the full obituary on that site.
Via Brian Switek
Meet Brookesia micra, one of four newly identified species of ultra-small chameleons that live in Madagascar.
Never let it be said that reptiles can't be totally cute.
Things I did not know before viewing this adorable video shot by Surrey Wildlife Trust Mammal Project Officer Dave Williams:
1) The dormouse, a little rodent species you'll find in Britain, hibernate in the winter in nests they hide on the ground.
2) The dormouse spends up to one-third of its life in hibernation, and typically begin that winter "sleep" when the first frost hits, and their food sources are gone.
3) They lose about a quarter of their body weight during hibernation.
4) The word "dormouse" comes from the Anglo-Norman dormeus, which means "sleepy (one)"
You can donate to support the Surrey Wildlife Trust's nature conservation work here.
(via @joeljohnson, photo: Dave Williams, Surrey Wildlife Trust)
The science of adorable kitties is actually really fascinating, and more than a bit weird, says Marc Abrams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and the man behind the Ig Nobel prizes. In an article at The Guardian, he writes about some great moments in cat physics research.
In 1969, TR Kane and MP Scher of Stanford University, in California, published a monograph called A Dynamical Explanation of the Falling Cat Phenomenon. It remains one of the few studies about cats ever published in the International Journal of Solids and Structures.
Kane and Scher neither lifted nor dropped a single cat. Instead, they created a mathematical abstraction of a cat: two imaginary cylinder-like chunks, joined at a single point so the parts could (as with a feline spine) bend, but not twist. When they used a computer to plot the theoretical bendings of this theoretical falling chunky-cat, the motions resembled what they saw in old photographs of an actual falling cat. They conclude that their theory "explains the phenomenon under consideration".