Headline of the week concerns genitalia

"Being Around Predators Changes the Shape of This Fish’s Penis", by The Smithsonian Magazine's Rose Eveleth.

Excellent blog about backpacking the John Muir Trail

Tom Fassbender, an active member of Boing Boing's G+ community, hiked the John Muir Trail solo last year. It's over 200 miles long, and he's been writing entertaining and informative articles about his adventure on his blog, Ford's Basement. Tom writes about gear, food, clothing, maps, tents, water purification, footwear and foot care, trash, batteries and solar recharging, photography, first aid, sun protection, and crapping in the wilderness (and what do do with your crap).

Anyone thinking about embarking on a backpacking trip of similar length (or even weekend trips) will benefit from reading his posts. If you aren't, the posts are still great travel writing, and you'll learn about gadgets and other gear that might be useful in your daily life.

Backpacking the John Muir Trail

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What's inside the stomach of a mako shark?

Psst, hey kid. You wanna see some clips from the dissection of one of the largest mako sharks ever caught? Sure you do.

This NOAA video has amazing footage of the shark's stomach — so big it fills a tall Rubbermaid tub — and the even more amazing footage of scientists lifting an almost completely intact sea lion head out said shark's stomach.

What's the benefit? Studying the stuff in a shark's stomach helps us understand how different species are interrelated — which helps scientists figure out how to better manage the conservation of whole ecosystems. Essentially, write the good folks at Smithsonian.com, this is an example of scientists making valuable use out of a not-exactly-ideal situation. The shark was legally caught and killed by fishermen filming a scene for a reality TV show.

Video Link

Even the most adorable parts of nature can mess you up

This Shark Week, the seals of the world would like to take a moment to remind you that appearance isn't everything. Scary-looking creatures might not actually be that much of a threat to you. Adorable ones are not necessarily as cuddly as they let on.

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Why do mosquitoes prefer to eat some people over others?

If you seem to be the target of bloodsucking attention, there are two biological systems you can blame — your microbial flora, and/or your immune system. Your particular mix of skin bacteria play a big role in determining how well mosquitoes can smell you (and whether you smell delicious). Meanwhile, your immune system controls your allergic response — or lack thereof — to mosquito bites. If you never get red welts to go with the biting, it's easy to think that you're not getting bitten as often as someone who does.

Leeches vs. poisonous water snakes

Please enjoy this dispatch from a beautiful summer day in central Alabama — where babbling brooks are home to both poisonous cottonmouth snakes and metric crap-tons of leeches. Intrepid writer Jim Godwin manages to make the experience of wading in one such creek seem weirdly idyllic and is rewarded with photos of an almost Syfy-worthy showdown, in which a pack of leeches go after one of the snakes. Thanks leeches. Theeches.

A hunk o' burnin' lamprey love

New research shows that male sea lampreys (that's a sea lamprey mouth pictured above) entice females into reproduction with the help of a special bump of tissue. No, not that. Get your mind out of the gutter. The lamprey's "rope tissue" is fascinating, writes Science Codex, because it's made of heat-generating fat cells similar to the kind found on mammals that maintain their own internal body temps — something the lamprey can't do.

Image: Sea Lamprey Mouth, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from usfwspacific's photostream

Tapir penis: Almost as horrifying as echidna penis

In this not-exactly-safe-for-work video, two tapirs (a jungle-dwelling mammal, related to the rhinoceros) go at it with verve, while a nice family watches and makes what I assume to be amusing commentary.

As Matthew Cobb at Why Evolution is True discovered, this is only one entry in a whole genre of tapir sex videos and tapir penis photos.

Previously: The truly horrific penis of the echidna

Video Link

Meet the "Mad Hatterpillar"

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

Dolphins on acid (and other bad ideas)

How dosing dolphins with LSD (and giving dolphins hand jobs) helped shape our modern pop culture beliefs about dolphins as sources of healing — beliefs that, according to neuroscientist Lori Marino, can endanger both dolphins and the humans who come to them for help.

Why raindrops don't kill mosquitoes

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.

How atheists find meaning and joy in nature

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.

Sierra Club magazine list of "Earth's Weirdest Landscapes"

NewImage

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!)

How ants always land on their feet

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.

Watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly, in 3D

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.