A charming guide to cacti and other desert plants… Click the image to see it larger. I’m afraid I couldn’t identify the source of the image.
There was apparently a time in our planet’s history when plants evolved into trees (in order to be able to grow taller while still supporting themselves structurally) but there was no type of fungi yet evolved that could break down the trees when they died. So for a long period trees just piled up. This interesting BBC documentary on decay explains the Carboniferous period. (via reddit)
Watch a time-lapse video showing the Museum’s smallest workers, flesh-eating beetles, preparing the skeletons of a great green macaw, tawny owl and mountain peacock-pheasant for our collections. Chemical preparation of skeletons can cause damage to the bones so a special beetle species, Dermestes haemarrhoidalis, is used to strip off the flesh while leaving the bones and collagen untouched.
The Natural History Museum is using a species of flesh-eating beetles to clean-up skeletons of bird specimens. They were kind enough to upload a video for the curious.
The creator of this undersea sculpture was a small puffer fish.
Attracted by the grooves and ridges, female puffer fish would find their way along the dark seabed to the male puffer fish where they would mate and lay eggs in the center of the circle. In fact, the scientists observed that the more ridges the circle contained, the more likely it was that the female would mate with the male. The little sea shells weren’t just in vain either. The observers believe that they serve as vital nutrients to the eggs as they hatch, and to the newborns.
More pictures & info here.
He understands, as Darwin would, that there is a war of nature. But, where in Darwinian wars some species flourish while others go extinct, in Aristotelian wars the combatants simply fight forever.
A documentary exploring Aristotle’s biological investigations and comparing his understanding to our current knowledge.
Reuben Margolin‘s wave inspired mechanical sculptures.
The other day I was wondering… Why does rain not accumulate (‘coalesce’) in the sky, given the distance it falls, to form deadly sheets or lakes of rainwater that could fall in one place as one large mass? I found the explanation that there is a maximum size of droplet that is reached before the droplet begins to break apart again in freefall.
Picture a huge room full of tiny droplets milling around. If one droplet bumps into another droplet, the bigger droplet will “eat” the smaller droplet. This new bigger droplet will bump into other smaller droplets and become even bigger–this is called coalescence. Soon the droplet is so heavy that the cloud (or the room) can no longer hold it up and it starts falling. As it falls it eats up even more droplets. We can call the growing droplet a raindrop as soon as it reaches the size of 0.5mm in diameter or bigger. If it gets any larger than 4 millimeters, however, it will usually split into two separate drops.
On the topic of water coalescence I coincidentally discovered this uncanny video that shows a mind-boggling dance that occurs when a drop of water meets another body of water. The drop only becomes assimilated after a strange interaction that happens too quickly for us to see without high-speed cameras.
Like some eccentric prominent family, whose genius shades easily into the occult, the evil and the mad, Solanaceae, the family of the nightshade (so often prefixed by “deadly”), both contains several of our most ubiquitous food plants (typically of New World origin) and many of the multifarious toxins and deliriants beloved of witches, shamans and poisoners throughout history. The plants of Solanaceae are a dramatic-looking group, full of trumpet-like flowers that open at dusk and branches and stems that curl together like gnarled witches claws. They are also the source of eerie legends and origin myths, as exemplified by mandrake, said to grow from the ejaculate of a hanged man, and whose scream (when pulled out of the ground) will kill everyone in earshot.
To anyone who has ever shuddered at or been baffled by the thought that for most of history the Italians have had no tomatoes, the South Asians have had no chillies and no one in the Old World (including the Irish, the Germans and the Russians) has had potatoes, the gifts of Solanaceae are apparent. These are the bounty of the New World, plants that were brought over from the Americas by European explorers, introduced into their home countries and then spread to the rest of the world (many of the sins of the Portuguese colonists should be offset by their introduction of the chilli to India). Traces of this recency exist on the linguistic map, and several cultures label tomatoes and potatoes as some sort of eggplant or apple1.
While the major Solanaceae food crops that we eat are from the New World, most of the family members used in the Old World were used as hallucinogens, medicines (in small doses) or as poisons (with the notable exception of eggplant). Both tomatoes and potatoes suffered from these associations, and it took a while before people became convinced that they were safe to eat. One is generally not responsible for one’s relatives (except children), but there is some truth to this fear. The leaves and stems of tomato plants are mildly toxic, and potato sprouts can be quite dangerous (in recent years, much of this has been bred out of the plant varieties that we eat, though the same is probably not true for non-mass-market varieties). Once they broke through to acceptance, though, they spread widely and now both are cultivated widely all over the world. Potatoes in particular were an essential new source of cheap calories for the Industrial Revolution and were declared by Engels to be the equivalent of iron for their historically revolutionary role. They are thought to be responsible for a significant fraction of Old World population growth in the 18th and 19th centuries, with the downside that potato crop failures lead to severe famines.
The classical Old World members of Solanaceae are plants like deadly nightshade (belladonna), datura, mandrake, angel’s trumpet and henbane; these are famously the plants of Hecate and the occult. They are striking examples of the weird intersection of the toxic, the medicinal and the religious that characterize our relationship with a number of plants, and of the thin line between the altered states of revelation and transcendent experience and those of poisoning and death.
More at 3QD.
A report on ‘frazil ice’ and ‘snowcones’, chilly natural phenomena found in Yosemite national park in March and April.
Nature doesn’t need an audience. These wonderful orchids come from the south-eastern Ecuadorian and Peruvian cloud forests from elevations of 1000 to 2000 meters and as such not many people throughout history got to see them. However, thanks to intrepid collectors we do get to see this wonderful Monkey Orchid. Someone didn’t need much imagination to name it though, let’s face it.
This is one of the most incredible adaptations I’ve seen.. More about the Monkey Orchid at kuriositas.
Stonethwaite Beck, Smithymire Island, Borrowdale, Cumbria. 1/07/2005
Here’s a video in which Knowles explains his process. (Via Myrvatje.)
These naturally magnetic microorganisms usually live in aquatic environments such as ponds and lakes, below the surface where oxygen is scarce.
They swim following the Earth’s magnetic field lines, aligning in the magnetic field like compass needles, in search of preferred oxygen concentrations.
When the bacteria ingest iron, proteins inside their bodies interact with it to produce tiny crystals of the mineral magnetite, the most magnetic mineral on Earth.
Having studied the way the microbes collect, shape and position these nano-magnets inside themselves, the researchers copied the method and applied it outside the bacteria, effectively “growing” magnets that could in future help to build hard drives.
“We are quickly reaching the limits of traditional electronic manufacturing as computer components get smaller,” said lead researcher Dr Sarah Staniland of the University of Leeds.
“The machines we’ve traditionally used to build them are clumsy at such small scales.
“Nature has provided us with the perfect tool to [deal with] this problem.”
More: BBC Technology
Patterned by Nature was commissioned by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences for the newly built Nature Research Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The artwork, a collaboration between Hypersonic Engineering & Design, Plebian Design, and Sosolimited, celebrates our abstraction of nature’s infinite complexity into patterns through the scientific process, and through our perceptions. It brings to light the similarity of patterns in our universe, across all scales of space and time.
10 feet wide and 90 feet in length, this sculptural ribbon winds through the five story atrium of the museum and is made of 3,600 tiles of LCD glass. It runs on roughly 75 watts, less power than a laptop computer. Animations are created by independently varying the transparency of each piece of glass.
The content cycles through twenty programs, ranging from clouds to rain drops to colonies of bacteria to flocking birds to geese to cuttlefish skin to pulsating black holes. The animations were created through a combination of algorithmic software modeling of natural phenomena and compositing of actual footage.
An eight channel soundtrack accompanies the animations on the ribbon, giving visitors clues to the identity of the pixelated movements. In addition, two screens show high resolution imagery and text revealing the content on the ribbon at any moment.
Dr. Bernie Krause, creator of Wild Sanctuary, explains how he recorded audio signals emitting from the trunk of a cottonwood tree while trying to record bat emissions. He decided the song derives from cells dying as a result of sucking in too much air while trying to maintain osmotic pressure.
Dr. Bernie Krause, creator of Wild Sanctuary, demonstrates that every living organism produces sound. This presentation focuses on the symbiotic ways in which the sounds of one organism affect and interrelate with other organisms, local and regional, within a given habitat.
Complete video at: fora.tv