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Bizarro Earth

Samoan Tsunami wave was 46 feet high

The tsunami that killed more than 200 people in the Samoan islands and Tonga earlier this year towered up to 46 feet (14 meters) high - more then twice as tall as most of the buildings it slammed into, scientists said Friday.

New Zealand scientists studying the size, power and reach of the tsunami as part of efforts to guard against future disasters said they found up to three destructive waves were caused by the magnitude 8.0 undersea earthquake in September.

The massive waves that struck Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga totally destroyed traditional wooden buildings, many of them singly story, along the coast while reinforced concrete buildings sustained only minor damage, said Stefan Reese, a risk engineer with New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

The waves were up to 46 feet (14 meters) high, Reese told The Associated Press. The scientists measured watermarks on buildings and trees to help confirm the height of the waves.

"In some areas there was virtually nothing left" after the waves reached up to 765 yards (700 meters) inland, Reese said.

Magnify

Humans Wonder, Anybody Home?

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© Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post
To prevent Shania the octopus from becoming bored, keepers at the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C. gave her a Mr. Potato Head filled with fish to snuggle.
Brain structure and circuitry offer clues to consciousness in nonmammals

One afternoon while participating in studies in a University of Oxford lab, Abel snatched a hook away from Betty, leaving her without a tool to complete a task. Spying a piece of straight wire nearby, she picked it up, bent one end into a hook and used it to finish the job. Nothing about this story was remarkable, except for the fact that Betty was a New Caledonian crow.

Betty isn't the only crow with such conceptual ingenuity. Nor are crows the only members of the animal kingdom to exhibit similar mental powers. Animals can do all sorts of clever things: Studies of chimpanzees, gorillas, dolphins and birds have found that some can add, subtract, create sentences, plan ahead or deceive others.

To carry out such tasks, these animals must be drawing on past experiences and then using them along with immediate perceptions to make sense of it all. In other words, some scientists would say, these animals are thinking consciously.

Magnify

By Feeding the Birds, You Could Change Their Evolutionary Fate

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© iStockphoto/Andrew Howe
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) male at a bird feeder.
Feeding birds in winter is a most innocent human activity, but it can nonetheless have profound effects on the evolutionary future of a species, and those changes can be seen in the very near term. That's the conclusion of a report published online on December 3rd in Current Biology, showing that what was once a single population of birds known as blackcaps has been split into two reproductively isolated groups in fewer than 30 generations, despite the fact that they continue to breed side by side in the very same forests.

The reproductive isolation between these populations, which live together for part of the year, is now stronger than that of other blackcaps that are always separated from one another by distances of 800 kilometers or more, the researchers said.

"Our study documents the profound impact of human activities on the evolutionary trajectories of species," said Martin Schaefer of the University of Freiburg. "It shows that we are influencing the fate not only of rare and endangered species, but also of the common ones that surround our daily lives."

Bug

How a Brain Hormone Controls Insect Metamorphosis

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© iStockphoto/Cathy Keifer
Various views of a monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.
A team of University of Minnesota researchers have discovered how PTTH, a hormone produced by the brain, controls the metamorphosis of juvenile insects into adults.

The finding, published in the Dec. 4 issue of Science, will help scientists understand how insect body size is programmed in response to developmental and environmental cues and offers the opportunity to develop a new generation of more environmentally safe ways to control agricultural pests as well as insects that carry human pathogens.

Scientists have known for 100 years that a brain-derived neuropeptide known as PTTH controls metamorphosis and although its specific sequence was identified 20 years ago, the way it signaled endocrine tissue has remained elusive until now.

Better Earth

Birds Call to Warn Friends and Enemies

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© iStockphoto/Frank Leung
Yellow-rumped warbler. Birds' alarm calls serve both to alert other birds to danger and to warn off predators.
Birds' alarm calls serve both to alert other birds to danger and to warn off predators. And some birds can pull a ventriloquist's trick, singing from the side of their mouths, according to a UC Davis study.

Many animals respond vocally when they detect predators, but it's not clear to whom they are signaling, said Jessica Yorzinski, a graduate student in animal behavior at UC Davis who conducted the study with Gail Patricelli, professor of evolution and ecology. They might be warning others of the threat, but they might also be telling the predator, "I've seen you."

Yorzinski used a ring of directional microphones around a birdcage to record the songs of dark-eyed juncos, yellow-rumped warblers, house finches and other birds as they were shown a stuffed owl. All the birds were captured in the wild, tested, banded and released within 24 hours.

Roses

'Killer Petunias' Should Join the Ranks of Carnivorous Plants, Scientists Propose

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© iStockphoto/Denice Breaux
Fading petunias still hold interest for this fly.
Scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Natural History Museum believe that carnivorous behaviour in plants is far more widespread than previously thought, with many commonly grown plants -- such as petunias -- at least part way to being "meat eaters." A review paper, "Murderous plants: Victorian Gothic, Darwin and Modern Insights into Vegetable Carnivory," is published (4 December 2009) in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

Carnivorous plants have caught the imagination of humans since ancient times, and they fitted well into the Victorian interest in Gothic horrors. Accounts of man-eating plants published in 19th century works have long since been discredited, but they continue to appear in different media including films (Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors) and books (Tentacula in the Harry Potter series). Even popular Japanese cartoon Pokémon includes some characters based on carnivorous plants (Bellsprout, Weepinbell and Victreebell).

Carnivorous plants fascinated Charles Darwin, and he and his friend Sir Joseph Hooker (Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew at that time) had an extensive correspondence concerning them. Darwin's book Insectivorous Plants played a critical role in the idea that plants could eat animals being generally accepted. Before this, many botanists (including Linnaeus) had refused to accept that this could be the case.

Binoculars

Stranded Tundra Swan to Hitch a Free Ride to Vancouver with Air Canada

Image
© Larry Wong
An injured swan at the Wildlife Rehabilitaion Society of Edmonton's shelter in southwest Edmonton.
The tundra swan that's swimming in a small pool in Edmonton right now could soon find more paddling space off the B.C. coast.

Air Canada has offered a free flight to Vancouver for the swan, which is currently being cared for by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton.

The swan arrived at the shelter in October with a fractured wing.

The injury is now healed, but it can't stay at the shelter for the winter.

These birds don't do well in captivity, said Cheryl Feldstein, the society's executive director, adding she is very pleased with the airline's offer of a free flight.

The bird will likely take its flight out to Vancouver on Tuesday or Wednesday, where it will join other swans that overwinter in that area.

Alarm Clock

US: Bitterroot bighorn pneumonia outbreak worsens

Darby, Montana - An outbreak of pneumonia in bighorn sheep from the East Fork Bitterroot herd worsened over the past week.

State wildlife biologists collected almost 30 infected bighorn sheep from the area south of Darby. Some of the infected animals were shot in an effort to slow the spread of the disease. Others were found already dead.

"Any hope for a moderate infection rate is waning," said Craig Jourdonnais, the Bitterroot-based biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "I think we are in full blown die-off mode."

Butterfly

Resonating Feathers Produce Courtship Song in Rare Bird

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© Cornell University
A male club-winged manakin
Four years ago, a Cornell researcher reported a bizarre example of sexual selection in a rare South American bird: The male attracts the female by rubbing specialized wing feathers -- more than 100 cycles per second -- to create a high hum, similar to a sustained violin note.

While the researchers speculated how the sound was created, they have since proven that the club-winged manakin's feathers resonate at a particular frequency to create the tone.

The adaptation is a striking example of a species modifying an essential body part for the purpose of attracting a mate.

"We normally don't think of sexual selection transforming areas of critical importance," said Kim Bostwick, curator of Cornell Museum of Vertebrates and lead author of a study published in the Nov. 11 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Bizarro Earth

Global Warming: "Fixing the Climate Data around the Policy"

Al Gore
© The Minority Report
More than 15,000 people will be gathering in Copenhagen for COP 15: the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Official delegations from 192 nations will mingle with the representatives of major multinational corporations, including Royal Dutch Shell, British Petroleum. The representatives of environmental and civil society organizations will also be in attendance. Parties & Observers

Heads of state and heads of government are slated to be in appearance in the later part of the Summit event. (See The essentials in Copenhagen - COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference Copenhagen 2009)

It is worth noting that key decisions and orientations on COP15 had already been wrapped up at the World Business Summit on Climate Change (WBSCC) held in May in Copenhagen, six months ahead of COP15.