"Lucy" has fascinated scientists ever since her 3.2-million-year-old skeleton was found in Ethiopia over 40 years ago. The exquisite Australopithecus afarensis specimen, one of the oldest and most complete human relatives ever found, gave researchers a glimpse back into a time when diminutive hominids, no larger than modern kindergarteners, took the first upright steps toward modernity.
Japan was rattled yesterday by a large earthquake off the Pacific coast. It shook the nation and triggered a tsunami warning that sent people hurrying towards higher ground, waiting anxiously for the all-clear. The earthquake was large, but not monstrous. It attracted so much attention because it occurred just off the coast of Fukushima prefecture, where the largest recorded earthquake in Japan's history struck just five years ago.
There's just around 170 milligrams – somewhere between the mass of a one-carat diamond and the amount of caffeine in a Monster Energy Drink. That's how much batrachotoxin (BTX) is left in the world, according to the most recently available figures. Found in the skin of the golden poison dart frog Phyllobates, this toxin is so potent that one milligram of it would be enough to kill between 10 and 20 humans. Its unique attack strategy makes it a promising subject of drug research, but the frog's endangered status makes wild collection difficult. (Plus, since the frogs only produce BTX as a result of eating their natural diet in the wild, captive-bred frogs are useless for research, though they do retain their cuteness.)
Iridescent flowers are common in nature. Their sparkly petals attract bees' attention, tempting them to come over and pollinate the flower. But why would leaves be iridescent? This is the question Heather Whitney, a plant scientist at University of Bristol, asked while studying iridescent flowers.
City dwellers' favorite scruffy friend, the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), causes $19 billion dollars in damages around the world every year. Yet for an animal that is responsible for so much havoc, we know surprisingly little about it. Including how it came to own the globe (we just think we're in control). So a team of researchers from Fordham University conducted the first ever large-scale genomic study of the brown rat, and created a rough map of the routes the rodent immigrant took to every continent except Antarctica. It was published this week in the Royal Society's journal Proceedings B.
Its no news that bumble bees, or the "humble-bee," as Charles Darwin first deemed them in Origins of the Species, are in danger. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed putting the rusty-patched variety of these fuzzy buzzers on the endangered species list last month, after years of incredibly rapid population decline.