Jan. 09, 2013

The Sea Otter's Toolkit

by Kara Rogers

The sea otter is one of few species of mammals, on land or in the sea, that uses tools -- an ability that at one time was thought to be possessed only by humans.

Enhydra lutris, sea otter tool use, mammal intelligence
Dec. 10, 2012

The Beaver With the Stumpy Tail

by Kara Rogers

While the more familiar North American beaver sports a spanking big tail, which serves variously as a rudder, a prop, a fat store, and a communication device, the mountain beaver gets along just fine with its stunted and furry rear appendage.

nature, animals, mountain beaver, Aplodontia rufa, North American beaver, Castor
Dec. 03, 2012

Kermit the Frog's Chubby Cousin

by Kara Rogers

The Australian green tree frog has big eyes, a friendly demeanor, and a bit of a pot belly, all of which bring to mind certain traits of Muppet star Kermit the Frog.

Australian green tree frog, Litoria caerulea, Kermit the Frog, nature, animals
Nov. 26, 2012

Strange Fish

by Kara Rogers

Dr. Seuss's McElligot's Pool (1947) features some fantastic fish—ones with pinwheel-like tails, curly noses, long floppy ears, or Kangaroo pouches. The fictional fish do have some truly strange nonfictional cousins, among which are giant oarfish, barreleye fish, and sawfish.

giant oarfish, barreleye fish, sawfish, McElligot's Pool, strange fish
Nov. 13, 2012

The Enchanted Ash

by Kara Rogers

In North America, the mystical and majestic ash is suffering from infestation with the invasive emerald ash borer, and in Europe it is battling the fungus Chalara fraxinea.

ash, Fraxinus, chalara fraxinea, ash dieback, emerald ash borer, Yggdrasil
Nov. 06, 2012

The Plant That Ran with Buffalo

by Kara Rogers

Running buffalo clover produces a single, spiked flower, one that is quintessentially clover. But unlike other clovers, running buffalo is endangered -- it was once even thought to be extinct, for reasons that are reflected in its name.

running buffalo clover, Trifolium stoloniferum, American bison, Bluegrass region, disturbance
Oct. 29, 2012

Quarrelsome Corals: Aggression on the Reef

by Kara Rogers

Stony corals can vomit digestive filaments on their neighbors to disintegrate competitors for space and light.

coral aggression, coral reef, Ctenella chagius, aggression hierarchy
Oct. 22, 2012

Riverside's Rodent: The Kangaroo Rat that Stood Up to Development

by Kara Rogers

The endangered Stephen's kangaroo rat actually is not a rat -- it is more closely related to rodents such as squirrels and gophers than it is to notorious pests like the Norway rat and house rat.

Stephen's kangaroo rat, coastal sage scrub, conservation, March Stephens' Kangaroo Rat Preserve, nature
Oct. 15, 2012

Frosted Flowers: The Complexity of Climate Change in the Rocky Mountains

by Kara Rogers

Like many other species of subalpine and alpine wildflowers, each year, as the winter snowpack recedes, the glacier lily comes to life, sprouting leaves and flowers as soon as conditions are favorable and taking advantage of every moment of the short growing season.

rocky mountains, wildflowers, climate change, frost damage, glacier lily, aspen sunflower
Oct. 09, 2012

The European Rabbit: Friend or Foe?

by Kara Rogers

Introduced populations of European rabbits have led to the extinction of native animals and threaten species of native plants.

european rabbit, Watership down, conservation, nature, animals
Sep. 24, 2012

Tiny Invasive Insect Rewrites the Landscape

by Kara Rogers

That the tiny hemlock woolly adelgid is killing off old-growth hemlock trees -- many of which measure at least three feet in diameter and stretch upwards of 100 feet in height -- seems improbable.

forests, trees, eastern hemlock, woolly adelgid
Sep. 17, 2012

Children and Nature: The Need for Safe Places of Exploration

by Kara Rogers

More than half the world's population now lives in urban areas, which means that, combined with the loss of nature from urban sprawl, fewer children than ever have the chance to walk out their back doors and into a natural world of discovery.

children, nature, exploration
Sep. 10, 2012

Foresight in the Arctic: Predation and Preservation

by Kara Rogers

Do Arctic wolves use cooperative hunting strategies?

nature, wolves, wolf, global warming, arctic, climate change, sea ice, musk ox, carbon dioxide
Sep. 04, 2012

Delmarva Peninsula's Endangered Squirrel

by Kara Rogers

The Delmarva fox squirrel is a very, very large squirrel. It can tip the scales at as many as three pounds.

squirrels, animals, endangered species, nature, gray squirrel
Aug. 29, 2012

Insects and Human Society: Webspinners

by The Bug Chicks

You’ve probably all seen silk webbing in the ridges of tree bark. It could be a spider’s web, or it could’ve been made by the elusive and shy insects called webspinners in the Order Embiidina.

bugs, insects, entomology
Aug. 27, 2012

A Warbler Rises from the Ashes

by Kara Rogers

Down to just 167 singing males in 1987, the Kirtland's warbler population has rebounded, with 1,828 males counted in 2011. The species has risen, almost literally, like a phoenix from the ashes.

warbler, bird, nature, kirtland's warbler,
Aug. 20, 2012

The Fabled Jackdaw

by Kara Rogers

The jackdaw's intelligence and curiosity perpetuate the bird's tendency to get into trouble.

birds, ornithology, nature, natural history, crows, jackdaw
Aug. 14, 2012

Elusive Snails

by Kara Rogers

In the United States, 26 species of snails are listed as endangered.

snail, invertebrates, nature, animals
Aug. 07, 2012

The Numbat: A Most Unusual Marsupial

by Kara Rogers

The numbat, aka the banded anteater, is a marsupial native to Australia.

nature, animals, Australia, numbat, marsupial
Jul. 24, 2012

Life in the Street Canyon: The Role of Plants in Maintaining Air Quality

by Kara Rogers

Street canyons--narrow streets lined by buildings hundreds of feet tall--are unique to the urban landscape. But while their structure undoubtedly adds to the allure of cities, it also effectively traps pollutants emitted by vehicular traffic traversing the canyon floor, resulting in poor air quality.

nature, plants, botany, conservation, biodiversity, ecology, urban ecology, cities, air pollution, pollution
Jul. 17, 2012

The Contagious Nature of Yawning

by Kara Rogers

That we can “catch” yawns is in itself fascinating, but that we can’t catch them from just anyone -- that we are immune to the yawns of perfect strangers but highly susceptible to those of family members or friends -- makes this behavior all the more intriguing.

yawning, animal behavior, psychology, sociology, empathy, chimpanzees
Jul. 10, 2012

Excerpts from "Out of Nature": Challenges Facing Biodiversity Conservation

by Kara Rogers

There are major hindrances to prioritizing biodiverse areas for conservation. Examples include determining the size of land area that must be set aside, which generally must be very large to ensure that ecosystems can maintain their functions, and determining the value of these places in economic terms.

nature, plants, botany, conservation, biodiversity, ecology, climate change
Jul. 03, 2012

Excerpt from "Out of Nature": The Role of Plants in Medicine

by Kara Rogers

The global value of plant-based medicines is most readily apparent in revenue generated from sales of over-the-counter herbal preparations. In 2005 more than $14 billion (USD) was spent on such remedies in China alone. In 2007 US citizens spent even more -- nearly $15 billion -- on over-the-counter natural products.

medicine, plants, ethnobotany, botany, plant-based medicines, books
Jun. 26, 2012

Mosquitoes Go With the Flow When Flying in the Rain

by Kara Rogers

mosquitos, insects, fluid dynamics, physics
Jun. 19, 2012

Unraveling the Genome Sequence of the Unborn

by Kara Rogers

Deciphering the DNA sequence of the human fetal genome, without penetrating the womb, was considered impossible. But in a recent breakthrough, University of Washington geneticists Jacob O. Kitzman and Jay Shendure, working with colleagues in the United States and Italy, not only successfully sequenced the fetal genome, but they did so using genetic clues teased from the readily accessible reservoirs of maternal blood and paternal saliva.

dna, genome sequencing, human fetal genome, genetics
Jun. 12, 2012

Epiphytes and the Hidden Biodiversity of Rainforests

by Kara Rogers

While epiphytes are defined by their growth on other plants, most commonly trees, they do not steal nutrients away from their hosts. Rather, they rely on specialized aerial root systems that absorb water and nutrients directly from the air.

botany, nature, plants, epiphytes, tropics, bromeliads, biodiversity
Jun. 05, 2012

The Molecular Secrets of Turtles

by Kara Rogers

There are few animals in the world that share the morphological peculiarities of turtles, and the physical likenesses that do exist between these shelled wonders and other animals are so ambiguous as to be considered one of the last great obstacles to a more complete understanding of not only the turtle's evolutionary past but also the whole of vertebrate evolution.

evolution, genetics, turtles, genome, microRNA, animals, species
May. 29, 2012

Lice Shed Light on Lemur Social Behavior

by Kara Rogers

The brown mouse lemur is one of the smallest primates in the world. It also has the distinction of being the only animal that is parasitized bya particular species of blood-sucking louse that recently found itself at the center of a scientific effort to map the social network of its elusive host.

lemur, madagascar, animal behavior, nature, animals, social biology, lice, insects, parasites, population, biology
May. 17, 2012

The Genetic Choreography of Circadian Rhythm

by Kara Rogers

The circadian clock is a biological timekeeper. As it ticks through its 24-hour cycle, some 10 to 15 percent of our genes dance to its beat, stirring us to wake and eat and lulling us to sleep. Remarkably, this complex dance is choreographed by only a handful of master regulatory genes, two of which recently were found to not only regulate clock activity but also influence the metabolism of nutrients.

circadian rhythm, internal clock, brain, neurology, metabolism, circadian clock, genes, gene expression
Nov. 15, 2011

Cephalopod Camouflage: The Ultimate Invisibility Cloak

by Kara Rogers

J. heathi and O. banksii appear to have remarkable control over their cloaking response to light.

May. 02, 2012

Sea-Ice Microorganisms: Survival in Extreme Polar Ocean Environments

by Kara Rogers

 The frozen seawater of the Arctic and Antarctic seems uninhabitable. Yet, within these cold, salty formations, there exists an amazing array of microorganisms, from algae and fungi to bacteria, archaea, and protozoans. Together, these organisms make up the sea-ice microbial community, a remarkable alliance of diverse life-forms unified by the common theme of extreme adaptation, which enables them to thrive and makes them important members of the larger sea-ice ecosystem.

adaptation, algae, Antarctic, Arctic, bacteria, biology, climate change, Ecology, microoorganisms, nature, protazoa, biology, Sea Ice, ocean, phytoplankton
Apr. 03, 2012

The Victory Squawk of the Little Blue Penguin

by Kara Rogers

Victory is sweet, so much so that we often feel compelled to rejoice with a cry of triumph. For some animals, that cry not only announces a win to all those within earshot but also serves surprisingly complex social functions. Take, for instance, the call of the victorious little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor), which a recent study in the journal Animal Behavior revealed has a direct effect on the behavior of “social eavesdroppers” -- penguins who, from the safety of their burrows, assess the quality of fighting individuals based solely on their vocalizations.

Feb. 21, 2012

Chevrotains and the World of Unusual, Tiny Ungulates

by Kara Rogers

Chevrotains have two-toed hooves and specialized stomachs that allow them to regurgitate and chew on partially digested plant matter to help breakdown undigestible cellulose -- characteristics that classify them as ruminants. Chevrotains, however, are the most primitive ruminants alive today, as evidenced by their lack of horns or antlers, their long upper canine teeth, and their three-chambered stomachs (as opposed to the typical four-chambered anatomy of other ruminants). These features, along with certain pig-like characteristics, have led some scientists to conclude that chevrotains form an evolutionary link between ruminants and nonruminants, or animals with single-chambered stomachs, such as pigs and humans.

Feb. 14, 2012

It's a Bird, it's a Plane, it's...a Gliding Mammal?

by Kara Rogers

Gliding mammals sail silently from one tree to the next, maneuvering to their destinations with extraordinary precision and control, often in complete darkness. This unique ability is found in only about 60 species of mammals in the world, but those species include marsupials and placental animals, two very distantly related groups distinguished by the vast evolutionary differences in their reproductive systems. As a result, gliding mammals serve as a fascinating example of convergent evolution -- when similar physical and functional traits occur in unrelated species.

Feb. 07, 2012

Trouble in Paradise: Mosquitoes, Disease, and Hawaii’s Native Forest Birds

by Kara Rogers

The southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus) arrived in Hawaii in the 1820s, its larvae likely entering the local water supply when contaminated water casks aboard a sailing vessel were dumped at the port of Maui. Up to that time, mosquitoes had been nonexistent on the islands, and hence native birds had evolved in environments without mosquito-borne disease, leaving them with no innate defense against infection. As a result, the arrival of avian pox (in the 1800s) and avian malaria (in the early 1900s), both of which are transmitted by Culex and presumably reached the islands in nonnative birds transported on ships, facilitated the near decimation of Hawaii’s forest birds.

Jan. 31, 2012

Taking Chance out of Species Richness in Tropical Forests

by Kara Rogers

Community structure in ecology is defined by species richness and population abundance, characteristics that some scientists have argued are produced by unrelated, chance processes. But new research by a team of scientists in Germany and the United States has taken chance out of the biodiversity equation. After uncovering similarities in the community structure of tropical forests in three regions of the world, the scientists concluded that species richness and abundance must be governed by related, deterministic processes, including predation and disease.

Jan. 24, 2012

The Impact of Ocean Acidification on Fish Behavior

by Kara Rogers

The continued increase of atmospheric carbon suggests that by the end of this century the world’s oceans, which absorb 25 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions, could contain twice as much of the greenhouse gas as they do now. Such a steep rise could have significant impacts on some species of marine fish, since the introduction of more carbon dioxide turns seawater acidic and dramatically alters the animals’ sensory response -- changes that a new report published in the journal Nature Climate Change indicates are mediated by a chemical receptor in the brain known as GABA-A.

Jan. 17, 2012

The Tiny Frogs of Papua New Guinea

by Kara Rogers

Lilliputian life is all around us -- in trees and water, or as a team of U.S. scientists recently reported, in leaf litter on the forest floor. Indeed, it was beneath the leaves in the lowland rainforests of eastern Papua New Guinea where they discovered two new species of tiny frogs. The most diminutive of the two, at 7 to 8 mm in length, claims the title of world’s smallest vertebrate, and its discovery raises intriguing questions about the limits of extreme body size.

Jan. 10, 2012

Supersoldier Ant Evolution

by Kara Rogers

Pheidole ants, of which there are more than 1,100 known species, making the genus one of the largest in the taxonomic system, are known for their extraordinary diversity. And among their sundry forms is a “supersoldier” subcaste, a rare group of ant sumo wrestlers. But as a team of scientists from Europe, Canada, and the United States has discovered, although supersoldiers are produced by just a few Pheidole species and thus are infrequent in nature, all Pheidole ants have the potential to produce them, and they have possessed this ability since the genus evolved some 35 to 60 million years ago.

Jan. 03, 2012

The New Magnetic Bacteria of Badwater Basin

by Kara Rogers

Badwater Basin in Death Valley sits 282 feet below sea level and is known for its extensive salt flats and brackish water. The harsh environment is forbidding to all but the specially adapted and salt-tolerant. And recently added to its collection of atypical life-forms is a group of greigite-producing magnetic bacteria, which were isolated from a sample of brackish spring water and described in a report published in Science in late December.

Dec. 27, 2011

The Fin Whale: Fleeing from Extinction

by Kara Rogers

Fin whales are enormous animals, with the largest individuals measuring nearly 90 feet in length and weighing 80 tons. Something that large should be conspicuous, especially in the coastal waters where fin whales spend much of their time. But the species’ propensity to disperse to open water and steep declines in its numbers in the 20th century have rendered it a rare sight. And so, relative to its famous baleen cousins, the blue whale and the humpback, the fin whale is lesser known, and its behavior little understood.

Dec. 20, 2011

The Life of the Least Weasel

by Kara Rogers

With a black button nose, large round eyes, and fuzzy knobs of ears, the least weasel is undoubtedly adorable. And it is made all the more so by its small size, with the tiniest individuals weighing just 25 grams and measuring a mere four inches in length. But beneath the fur and the lanky little profile lies a fierce meat-hungry predator, a bantamweight killer that carries a reputation as the world's smallest carnivore*.

Dec. 13, 2011

Climate, Humans, and Extinction: Lessons from the Past

by Kara Rogers

Around 20,000 years ago, as the Last Glacial Maximum—the world's last significant glacial period—was coming to a close, Earth began to change dramatically. The climate warmed, large ice sheets began to melt, and humans crept increasingly into northern latitudes. At the same time, large mammals, or megafauna, such as woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, and cave lions, were disappearing. In the end, North America lost 72 percent of its megafauna, and Eurasia 36 percent.

Dec. 06, 2011

Space Worms and the Biological Impact of Long-Duration Spaceflight

by Kara Rogers

Space explorers and science fiction authors have long dreamed of space colonization, of the day when the human species will inhabit distant planets. Habitable planets, however, lie beyond the roughly 1,200-mile-boundary of low Earth orbit (LEO), which humans have not flown past since the final Apollo mission in December 1972. Beyond-LEO travel poses significant challenges to human survival—problems that researchers are now addressing through studies in space with the worm Caenorhabditis elegans, an organism that shares 40 to 50 percent genetic similarity with humans and hence offers insight into potential impacts of distant space travel on human physiology.

Nov. 29, 2011

The Color of 47-Million-Year-Old Moths

by Kara Rogers

The color of a fossil species is often its greatest secret, its pigmented tissues having decayed and returned to the earth long before its discovery. An anomaly in this pattern was the recent reconstruction of wing coloration from color-producing structures discovered in the wing scales of 47-million-year-old fossil lepidopterans (moths and butterflies) recovered from the Grube Messel oil shales in Germany.

Nov. 08, 2011

The Marching Eagle: Africa's Secretary Bird

by Kara Rogers

On the open lands of sub-Saharan Africa, the world's only terrestrial bird of prey, the long-legged secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius), stalks across the ground, sometimes walking as many as 20 miles in a single day in search of quarry.

Nov. 01, 2011

Life in the Smoker: The Fire Lobe of the Chimney

by Kara Rogers

Plumes of hot water gush upward from chimney-like structures in the floor of the mid-Atlantic Ocean, turning black as the sulfide minerals they contain mix with the cold surrounding water. Known as black smokers, such hydrothermal vents are signs that the violent, molten world that exists beneath Earth’s surface is still very much active. And amazingly, alive within this mercurial environment, is a microorganism known as Pyrolobus fumarii, the “fire lobe of the chimney.”

Oct. 25, 2011

The Flight of the Bumblebee Bat

by Kara Rogers

In the dark depths of a limestone cave in Sai Yok National Park, a tiny bat hangs effortlessly from the ceiling, resting, waiting for sunset, when it will take flight and embark on its nightly foraging expedition. It will not be out for long -- indeed, this bat, the bumblebee bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai), needs only a few small insects to satisfy its appetite. It is, after all, a mere two grams in weight and a little over an inch in length, making it one of the world's smallest mammals.

Oct. 18, 2011

The Shadow of the Moose: Wyoming's Herds in Decline

by Kara Rogers

For an animal that stands as tall as 7 feet at the shoulder and weighs as many as 1,500 pounds, the moose has an uncanny ability for slipping silently into forest shadows and escaping notice. But in areas of Montana and western Wyoming, moose themselves are becoming shadows. Indeed, in those states, herds of the Shiras moose (Alces alces shirasi) are shrinking, and with no clear explanation why and no way of stopping the decline, biologists are concerned that some herds may soon vanish entirely.

Oct. 11, 2011

Pint-Sized Pika Challenged by Climate Change

by Kara Rogers

Chirping from the talus slopes of the Teton Range in the Rocky Mountains, the American pika (Ochotona princeps) sends a warning call to intruders -- in this case humans climbing up the switchbacks in Grand Teton National Park's Cascade Canyon. Sounding its alarm from a rocky perch, then darting into crevices and shadow on the steep slope, the rodent-sized, round-eared, brownish gray pika goes largely unnoticed. But as the second species petitioned for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of climate change-associated threats (the polar bear was the first), the pika cannot afford to be overlooked for much longer.

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