Stories tagged nature


I was looking around at the number of people that visit which stories on our website this morning and noticed a huge spike in traffic to this story we wrote back in 2006 on Boxelder bugs. Just yesterday alone the number of people searching for the story went from an average of 40 people to about 250 in one day. This got me wondering, are you starting to notice that seasonal invasion of these bugs?

Leave a comment here to tell us about your box elder stories. 2006 was a big year for the little buggers and I wonder what differences you might see this year.


Nipping crime in the bud: When asked whether or not this method could be used to find the source of other illegal drugs, the Alaskan scientist stated, "Um... What?"  (photo by ilmungo)
Nipping crime in the bud: When asked whether or not this method could be used to find the source of other illegal drugs, the Alaskan scientist stated, "Um... What?"
(photo by ilmungo)

Sometimes I place quotation “marks” randomly. It’s a kind of written-language Tourette’s Syndrome, and I live in constant fear that its effects might “lead” people to false conclusions. “”

Anyhow, scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are developing methods of tracing samples of marijuana back to their points of origin by studying the “isotopic fingerprint” of the plants. Presumably this is to aid people suffering from the advanced stages glaucoma find their medicine.

Whatever the reason for it might be, the process for determining the growing location of the drug is an interesting one. Isotopes, for those of you who are still reading, are, of course, elements with the same number of protons and electrons, but different numbers of neutrons. For example, the element nitrogen can be found with 13 neutrons, 14 neutrons, or 15 neutrons – those are all isotopes of nitrogen.

When you look at the ratio of isotopes in an object, you can sometimes find out where that object came from geographically, because certain areas will sometimes have isotopic signatures. This is how scientists figured out where Otzi the Iceman came from: the enamel on his teeth had an isotopic match with a small region in Italy, so it’s very likely he grew up there.

Applying this basic method to marijuana, the Alaskan scientists are finding that isotopic levels of hydrogen and oxygen in the plants can show where the water they were fed with came from. Carbon in the plant can show whether or not it was grown indoors. Nitrogen isotope levels can also be used to learn about plants’ origins. Combining the information from all of these ratios, researchers are attempting to construct a map of marijuana isotopic signatures, so that any sample with unknown origins could be matched up with a specific location.

In order to achieve this isotope map, however, the project director says he needs “time, money and many more samples of marijuana.”

Science takes back the streets!

You don’t need to be Thoreau or Emerson to share your love of the natural world through poetry. The National Wildlife Federation wants your nature-themed haikus! Send them in by June 30th. Select haikus will be posted in next month’s Wildlife Online, but you can publish yours immediately by submitting it to Science Buzz, too. Just click on the title of this post, and then leave a comment with your poem.

Digital photography reveals nature's works of art. You can view winning photos of the 2006 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition.


Unhappy elephants: photo by Aaron Logan
Unhappy elephants: photo by Aaron Logan

Killer elephants

Why are some elephants turning into killers? Three young male elephants were found responsible for raping and killing 63 rhinos and attacking people in safari vehicles.

near the western border of Bangladesh, 300 people were killed by elephants between 2000 and 2004. In the past 12 years, elephants have killed 605 people in Assam, a state in northeastern India, 239 of them since 2001.

What is causing elephants to breakdown?

When the rhino assaults were investigated, researchers determined that the adolescent males involved had all witnessed their families being shot down. When herds were culled, the youngsters were often tethered to the bodies of their dead and dying relatives until they could be relocated. Often these traumatized youngsters are relocated into groups without a mother or father and lacking older matriachs or bulls needed for "socialization".

Normal elephant parenting disrupted

In normal elephant societies, young elephants are

raised within an extended, multitiered network of doting female caregivers that includes the birth mother, grandmothers, aunts and friends. These relations are maintained over a life span as long as 70 years.
When an elephant dies, its family members engage in intense mourning and burial rituals, conducting weeklong vigils over the body, carefully covering it with earth and brush, revisiting the bones for years afterward, caressing the bones with their trunks, often taking turns rubbing their trunks along the teeth of a skull’s lower jaw, the way living elephants do in greeting.

Orphaned elephants given therapy

At the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, human caregivers serve as surrogate mothers to young orphan elephants, gradually restoring their psychological and emotional well being to the point at which they can be reintroduced into existing wild herds. The human ‘‘allomothers’’ stay by their adopted young orphans’ sides, even sleeping with them at night in stables. The caretakers make sure, however, to rotate from one elephant to the next so that the orphans grow fond of all the keepers. Otherwise an elephant would form such a strong bond with one keeper that whenever he or she was absent, that elephant would grieve as if over the loss of another family member, often becoming physically ill itself.

Zoos are rethinking elephant's needs

The Bronx Zoo, one of the oldest and most formidable zoos in the country, announced that upon the death of the zoo’s three current elephant inhabitants, Patty, Maxine and Happy, it would phase out its elephant exhibit on social-behavioral grounds — an acknowledgment of a new awareness of the elephant’s very particular sensibility and needs.

The New York Times article is long and may require registration, but has much more information about this issue. If you read it, I would be interested in your comments.

Source article: New York Times


Racing Clone?: Mules are the first cloned animal to be pitted against each other in a race to see if there are differences between genetic make-up and physical training. (Photo by doctor_bob)
Racing Clone?: Mules are the first cloned animal to be pitted against each other in a race to see if there are differences between genetic make-up and physical training. (Photo by doctor_bob)

The differences between genetics and natural development have been theoretical discussions, up until a mule race earlier this month in Nevada.

Two cloned mules, with identical DNA, were part of the field of eight mules in a race at the Winnemucca Mule Races, Show & Draft Horse Challenge. But the results from the races were far from conclusive.

The brother clones finished third and seventh in the race against six other regularly bred mules. Clone number-one, Idaho Gem, was third in the 350-yard sprint with a time of 21.246 seconds. Idaho Star was in seventh place with a time of 22.181 seconds. The winning mule finished 2.5 lengths ahead of Idaho Gem with a time of 20.866 seconds.

So from that race, at least, there were no clear-cut answers to the differences between nature (genetics) and nurture (environmental impacts on development).

The racing finals that day were the first to match identical clones against each other in a race. The brothers had each won their preliminary heats the day before (with the same jockey riding each mule, by the way) to match up in the final race. Obviously, the same jockey wasn’t able to ride both mules in the final race.

Mules are an interesting species to do cloning research on. They are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, and usually are sterile. But with the cloned mules, identical DNA was taken from a fetus produced of the same parents that sired a champion mule racer.

But beyond that, cloning researchers are excited about the experiment for a lot bigger reason than wagering, however. They think the experiment with cloned mules could lead to break through information on treating cancer.

Equine animals have significantly lower cancer rates than humans and through the cloning process, cancer researchers are hoping to find out what advantages they might have over humans. Of particular interest is how their levels of calcium might impact their chances of developing cancer.

Not everyone is excited about the prospect of cloned mules, Spokespeople from the Humane Society of the United States object to the project noting that there currently is no shortage of horses or mules in the world and that the animals shouldn’t be exposed to the risks that come in cloning experiments.

What do you think? Does the possible knowledge we might gain from this research out-weigh potential risks to the animals? Are we playing Dr. Frankenstein games with these animals?


Dragonfly: Courtesy Charles Lam

The common housefly or even an octopus might inspire the next generation of optical gadgets. Bioengineers are looking to the animal kingdom for ideas for the next high-tech cameras, motion detectors, and navigation devices. It does not come as any surprise that bioengineers wish to replicate the advanced light catching structures in animal eyes. Stated in an article from AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) “natural selection has produced at least ten animal vision systems, each tailored to fit the specific needs of its owner. Eyes for different species are adapted for seeing in the day or night, short or long distances, with wide or narrow fields of view, ect.”

In some cases, animal systems are less complex and more efficient when compared to synthetic counterparts. Nanotech researcher Luke Lee at the University of Berkeley with college Robert Szema are trying to better understand and imitate animal eyes in hopes of creating the next cutting edge optical gadget. Lee and Szema described their attempts in the November 18 issue of the journal Science. Now lets gain a better understanding about animal eye structure.

Animals have two main types of vision systems: camera-type eyes and compound eyes. Humans have camera-type eyes, as do many fish, birds and reptiles. Camera-type eyes utilize a single lens focusing images onto a light detector termed a retina. Lee and other researchers have only created gadgets using the principles of the camera-type eye. However, scientists are getting closer in constructing gadgets based on compound eyes.

Compound eyes, such as in dragonflies, use up to 29,000 lenslets per eye. Lenslets or ommatidia function independent of each other producing remarkable fast-motion detection. Biology professor and dragonfly-vision expert Robert Olberg at Union College in Schenectady, New York stated, “The dragonfly’s field of vision is actually 360 degrees.”

Lee has gone as far as creating 180-degree hemispheres with ommatidia, like the dragonfly, though the hemispheres might not display all the possible pictures. Lee hopes to bond two 180-degree hemispheres to create a 360-degree view. Practical uses could be outstanding surveillance cameras or perhaps scoping the inside of our digestive tract. Would you like to own a gadget having 360-degree vision? If so, what would it be?