This is Uraba lugens, a caterpillar that wears a bunch of its old heads on top of its current head like the world's most ridiculously macabre hat. The part of this photo where the otherwise horizontal caterpillar goes vertical? That's a pyramid of exoskeleton head capsules, stacked in descending order from smallest to largest.
The venerable Bug Girl has some better shots of this phenomenon at her blog, along with lots of great information explaining how the heck Uraba lugens ends up making this questionable fashion statement. She also offers this helpful advice:
If you do happen to see one of these, you should not touch it! Apparently these caterpillars are covered with highly itchy and irritating spines–which seems to make their chapeau of old heads a bit redundant.
Image: Uraba lugens, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from dhobern's photostream
For a mosquito, every summer storm is like a million Volkswagen Beetles falling from the sky. How do they survive the deadly deluge? Meghan Cetera explains at Popular Science
. — Maggie
There doesn't have to be a pre-ordained meaning to the universe in order for it to mean something. That's one of the fun things about being human — we get to make meaning for ourselves. With that in mind, please read this lovely essay by Brian Switek about finding wonder and joy in the oft-denigrated idea of being "just" a product of time and chance
. — Maggie
Sierra Magazine posted their picks of "Earth's Weirdest Landscapes." Some I was familiar with, like the Fly Geyser in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, California's Mono Lake, and Hawaii's Kilauea volcano. But others are new-to-me strange spots that I would be delighted to explore. For example, above is Lake Hillier in Western Australia's Recherche Archipelago. Yes, it really is pink. According too Sierra, "some believe (the hue) comes from a dye produced by two microorganisms called Halobacteria and Dunaliella salina, while others suspect the red halophilic bacteria that thrive in the lake's salt deposits." Earth's Weirdest Landscapes (Thanks, Orli Cotel!)
As they move through tunnels dug in a wide variety of soils, ants do sometimes slip and fall down their own shafts. But they catch themselves, with their limbs and even with their antenna. Scientists are studying the ways ants brace against a fall to help design better robotos for search-and-rescue missions
. — Maggie
What happens inside a caterpillar's cocoon? Scientists got to watch the whole process with the help of X-ray 3D scanning technology. In the video above, you can watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. Over the course of 16 days its breathing tubes (shown in blue) and its digestive system (shown in red) change shape and position within the body, while other structures grow from scratch.
Ed Yong has a great story to go with this, too. All about why it's important to actually watch the process happening in a single caterpillar, instead of just relying on the data scientists have collected from years of dissecting different caterpillars at different stages in the transformation.
The Golden Ratio — that geometric expression of the Fibonacci sequence of numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, etc.) — has influenced the way master painters created art and can be spotted occurring naturally in the seed arrangement on the face of a sunflower. But its serendipitous appearances aren't nearly as frequent as pop culture would have you believe, writes Samuel Arbesman at The Nautilus. In fact, one of the most common examples of mathematical perfection — the chambered nautilus shell — actually isn't. Even math can become part of the myths we tell ourselves as we try to create meaning in the universe.
Image: Golden Ratio, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from ernestduffoo's photostream
Ambergris is often referred to as "whale vomit", but that's not really correct. A more accurate analogy would be to say that ambergris is like the whale equivalent of a hairball. It's produced in the whale digestive tract, possibly to protect intestines from the sharp, pointy beaks of squid — you'll often find squid beaks embedded in the stuff. Most of it gets pooped out. But the big chunks of ambergris have to exit the other direction. In the human world, these lumps — which have the consistency of soft rock or thickly packed potting soil — are famous because we use them to make things like perfume. The ambergris washes up on beaches, people collect it, and sell it to make cosmetics.
Anyway, that's what usually happens. Recently, a dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Holland and the conservationists who dissected it found a huge quantity of ambergris in the animal's intestines.
That news made me realize that I'd never actually seen a picture of ambergris before, so I went hunting around to see what the stuff looked like. That's a photo of a lump of ambergris, above. But it's not really indicative of what ambergris looks like all the time. In fact, as far as I can tell, the stuff comes in a wide variety of shapes and colors — ranging from stuff that looks like small brown pebbles to yellow-green globs covered in bubbly nodules. The diversity is worth perusing. This website, for a company that buys and sells ambergris, has several nice photos. And Google image search turned up a plethora of pics that really capture how different one lump of ambergris can be from another.
“Within ten to twenty seconds,” came the report, “the mealworm is chewing out of the animal’s stomach.”
Read the rest
Everybody dies. But naturalists — the people who study animals and plants in those species' natural environments — well, they die interestingly
. Some recent causes of death in this scientific field include: Elephant charge, being eaten by caimans (assumed), and the plague. — Maggie
In 2011, the Pagami Creek Fire burned through 92,000 acres of Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area. At Outside magazine, Frank Bures tells the story of two kayakers caught in the inferno
. Includes some amazing photos taken by one of the kayakers. — Maggie
My new ambient-sound-while-working internet radio jam: Brazilian Birds.
(Photo: Toucan eye, a Creative Commons image from doug88888's photostream)
Pando is 80,000 years old. Pando is grove of aspen trees in Utah. Tremble before Pando. — Maggie
There's a war on in America, pitting invasive ant against invasive ant in a fight to the finish. It's sort of like Alien vs. Predator, in a way, because whoever wins ... we lose. Argentine ants (the reigning champions) have wiped out native ant species in many of the environments they've invaded over the years, affecting the survival of other animals that used to feed on those ants. Worse, they have a fondness for certain agricultural pests, like aphids. In places with lots of Argentine ants, aphids do very well — and plants do worse.
But now the Argentines are facing a serious challenge in the form of Asian needle ants, another invasive species that — for reasons nobody really understands — have suddenly gone from minor player to major threat in the last decade. The big downside to Asian needle ants: They sting. They sting us. And, right now, it looks like they're winning.
John Roach tells the story at NBC News. But you can get a good idea of what this matchup looks like by checking out the work of insect photographer Alex Wild. That's his picture above, showing an Argentine ant on the left and an Asian needle ant on the right.