Earth ChangesS


'Stench of life' prevents ants from being buried alive

© National Academy of Sciences/PNASPupae that had been coated with the chemicals that signal life - dolichodial and iridomyrmecin - were ignored by workers
Life really stinks for Argentine ants. New research shows that while alive, the ants produce two odoriferous chemicals that prevent their compatriots from immediately carting their bodies away to the 'morgue'.

Within minutes of their death, however, the conspicuous absence of these chemicals prompts workers to remove the carcasses, explaining how the foraging ants are able to detect and dispose of their dead before infectious pathogens and pungent chemicals fill the corpse.

The work overturns a long-held idea - first suggested by ant expert E. O. Wilson - that it is the buildup of fats after death that encourages workers to collect the dead.

Dong-Hwan Choe, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside, says the accrual of fats can't explain why some ants and bees dispose of their dead well before the chemicals reach a high level.

Arrow Down

Strong winds knock down 270-year-old palm tree in West Bank

ancient palm tree
© Ma'an ImagesBystanders inspect the ancient palm tree
Hajj Abu Ala Al-Eteili wept when he awoke to find that high winds knocked down a 270-year-old palm tree in his garden in the West Bank city of Tulkarem on Monday morning.

Al-Eteili told Ma'an that that the tree was knocked down in the early morning hours. He said his father and grandfather were born during the tree's lifespan.

He said that he had cared for the tree his entire life and had taught his children to care for it.


Doth Smithfield Protest Too Much? Swine Flu Brings Focus to Factory Farm Practices

As I wrote earlier this week, the virus formerly known as the swine flu (although the CDC continues to say that indeed the H1N1 strain does, as initially reported, contain swine, human and avian virus components) seems quite likely to have links to an industrial hog operation in the La Gloria community where the outbreak was believed to have started, although new information suggests that this strain of the flu may actually have origins in the US as well as Asia. As could be expected, Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork processor and co-owner of the La Gloria facility in question, came out early last weekend denying culpability in the outbreak.


Experiment: Songbirds' tunes are in their genes

A Zebra Finch
© RedOrbit.comA Zebra Finch
In an experiment that examines genetics in the development of culture, biologists at The City College of New York (CCNY) and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have discovered that zebra finches raised in isolation will, over several generations, produce a song very similar to that sung by the species in the wild.

Young zebra finches learn to sing by imitating adult male songbirds. But when raised in isolation, they produce an unrefined, off-beat song quite different from anything heard in the wild. In order to understand what would happen to this "isolate song" through generations, the scientists designed experiments in which these isolated singers would pass the song to their progeny, which was repeated in following generations. The birds were either paired one-on-one with their offspring, or placed in a more natural social setting with a colony of non-singing females to breed for a few generations.

Heart - Black

Bear tapping: A bile business

Jasper is an Asiatic black bear, also known as a moon bear because of the yellow crescent on his chest. In 2000 he came to the Animals Asia Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu, China, from a bear farm.

When Jasper arrived his rescuers had to cut him out of a tiny "crush cage" that pinned him down so the farmer could extract lucrative bile from his gall bladder. Bear bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine and fetches a tidy price. In China, the wholesale price is around 4000 yuan (approximately $580) per kilogram; each bear produces up to 5 kilograms a year. But it comes at terrible cost.

Cloud Lightning

Philippines: Storm 'Dante' toll: 21 dead, 3 missing in Bicol

Manila - The death toll from tropical storm "Dante" has risen to 21 while three remained missing, disaster management officials said early Monday.

Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) Bicol regional director Raffy Alejandro said that as of 10:30 p.m. Sunday, they recorded at least 21 casualties [fatalities], and three still missing.

Bizarro Earth

Mission to Break up Pacific Island of Rubbish Twice the Size of Texas

Common Dreams plastic pacific
© ALGALITA MARINE RESEARCH FOUNDATIONA shark carcass on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, where plastic particles outnumber sand grains until you dig down about a foot

A high-seas mission departs from San Francisco next month to map and explore a sinister and shifting 21st-century continent: one twice the size of Texas and created from six million tonnes of discarded plastic.

Scientists and conservationists on the expedition will begin attempts to retrieve and recycle a monument to throwaway living in the middle of the North Pacific.

The toxic soup of refuse was discovered in 1997 when Charles Moore, an oceanographer, decided to travel through the centre of the North Pacific gyre (a vortex or circular ocean current). Navigators usually avoid oceanic gyres because persistent high-pressure systems - also known as the doldrums - lack the winds and currents to benefit sailors.


Ancient tsunami 'hit New York'

© British Broadcast CorporationSuch a wave today would flood Wall Street and the Long Island Expressway
A huge wave crashed into the New York City region 2,300 years ago, dumping sediment and shells across Long Island and New Jersey and casting wood debris far up the Hudson River.

The scenario, proposed by scientists, is undergoing further examination to verify radiocarbon dates and to rule out other causes of the upheaval.

Sedimentary deposits from more than 20 cores in New York and New Jersey indicate that some sort of violent force swept the Northeast coastal region in 300 BC.

It may have been a large storm, but evidence is increasingly pointing to a rare Atlantic Ocean tsunami.

Steven Goodbred, an Earth scientist at Vanderbilt University, said large gravel, marine fossils and other unusual deposits found in sediment cores across the area date to 2,300 years ago.

Better Earth

Dolphins Maintain Round-the-clock Visual Vigilance

© iStockphoto/Peter BarkerDolphins have a clever trick for overcoming sleep deprivation. They are able to send half of their brains to sleep while the other half remains conscious.
Dolphins have a clever trick for overcoming sleep deprivation. Sam Ridgway from the US Navy Marine Mammal Program explains that they are able to send half of their brains to sleep while the other half remains conscious. What is more, the mammals seem to be able to remain continually vigilant for sounds for days on end. All of this made Ridgway and his colleagues from San Diego and Tel Aviv wonder whether the dolphins' unrelenting auditory vigilance tired them and took a toll on the animals' other senses?

Ridgway and his team set about testing two dolphins' acoustic and visual vigilance over a 5 day period to find out how well they functioned after days without a break.

Bizarro Earth

Guatemala: Earthquake Magnitude 6.1

© US Geological Survey

* Sunday, May 03, 2009 at 16:21:46 UTC
* Sunday, May 03, 2009 at 11:21:46 AM at epicenter

Location 14.664°N, 91.144°W

Depth 104.2 km (64.7 miles)

Distances 45 km (25 miles) ESE of Quezaltenango, Guatemala

70 km (40 miles) W of GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala

125 km (80 miles) ESE of Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico

1005 km (620 miles) ESE of MEXICO CITY, D.F., Mexico