More than two decades ago, when Elizabeth Turner was still a graduate student studying fossilized microbial reefs, she hammered out hundreds of lemon-sized rocks from weathered cliff faces in Canada’s Northwest Territories. She hauled her rocks back to the lab, sawed them into 30-micron-thick slivers—about half the diameter of human hair—and scrutinized her handiwork under a microscope. Only in about five of the translucent slices, she found a sea of slender squiggles that looked nothing like the microbes she was after.
To most people, giraffes are merely adorable, long-necked animals that rank near the top of a zoo visit or a photo-safari bucket list. But to a cardiovascular physiologist, there’s even more to love. Giraffes, it turns out, have solved a problem that kills millions of people every year: high blood pressure. Their solutions, only partly understood by scientists so far, involve pressurized organs, altered heart rhythms, blood storage — and the biological equivalent of support stockings.
The title of most poisonous animal on Earth is typically given to the beautiful and deadly golden poison dart frog of Columbia—the one-inch-long frog is sometimes drenched in enough poison to kill ten grown men. But a far less exotic creature is capable of producing enough poison to kill up to 20 people: the unassuming rough-skinned newt, with its bumpy skin and fiery orange underbelly, a familiar sight in the Pacific Northwest of North America. Continue reading Toxic Newts Use Bacteria to Become Deadly Prey
About a decade ago, evolutionary biologist Richard Merrill would spend several hours a day in “hot, steamy Panama,” sitting in a cage filled with Heliconius butterflies, waiting for them to have sex. Continue reading The Reason These Poisonous Butterflies Don’t Mate Is Written in Their DNA
One November night each year, beneath the full moon, more than 130 species of corals simultaneously spawn in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Some corals spew plumes of sperm, smoldering like underwater volcanoes. Others produce eggs. But most release both eggs and sperm, packed together in round, buoyant bundles as small as peppercorns and blushed in shades of pink, orange, and yellow.
Years ago, Danny Abrams heard about a strange phenomenon: Deer skeletons were being found beside trees in the forests of the Midwest. These male deer had apparently gotten their massive, unwieldy antlers caught in the branches, where they’d found themselves trapped. Unable to find food or flee predators, they quickly met their demise.