You never know what stories old photos may tell. Researchers analyzing 1990-1992 images of Venus noticed a widened vent in the Maat Mons volcano, evidence that there’d been an eruption, which means Venus is volcanically active! So, hold onto the old photos albums and read about parasitic queens, dizzy apes, and errant whales.
At 11:36 p.m. on March 12th, while some people were asleep, a powerful flare blasted off the far side of the Sun. Given it’s trajectory away from us, you’d think Earth would be unaffected. But, classified as a rare coronal mass ejection because of its remarkable speed of 1,321/second, the blast spread out around the Sun, visible as a halo from the SOHO spacecraft, and created a shockwave that reverberated to our side of the Sun. Watch the video HERE.
Like humans, apes seek mind-altering moments by twirling
Remember when your friend would spin you around on the rope swing until you got hilariously dizzy? It looks like our human spinning antics came from a page in the ape playbook. A recent study shows that other great apes also spin until they are so dizzy that they lose their balance. But why?
The researchers hypothesize that, like us, our gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo, and orangutan cousins are looking for a mind-altering experience. Says study author Adriano Lameira, “Spinning alters our state of consciousness, it messes up with our body-mind responsiveness and coordination, which make us feel sick, lightheaded, and even elated.” Humans take spinning to the extreme to get a natural rush, like HERE.
Before humans found psychoactive plants, or in addition to altering consciousness with drugs, they probably spun for fun. If all the great apes spin, then it’s fair to assume that our ancestors did so as well. And, by the way, dogs sometimes spin themselves silly too. What’s next? Dizzy bugs?
Mutant, parasitic ants infiltrate other colonies by mimicking queens
Typical ants have cooperative division of labor among castes within their colonies, with queens reproducing while workers do various tasks to support her egg laying. Raider ants, in contrast, rely on storming other ant colonies, stealing babies, and bringing them back to their own nest. Not nice.
Now, a new study shows that 50 species of ants have imposters living amongst them — ants from their own colony that superficially resemble queens and use the likeness to gobble up food without doing any work.
But how would these slackers in queen’s clothing evolve? Researchers raised raider ant colonies in the lab and noticed slackers sporting wings like only a queen ant would wear. Says study author Waring Trible, “Seeing these winged females was very shocking, very striking, right away. I immediately thought it was something genetic.”
Indeed, separately breeding the winged females resulted in winged offspring that were also slackers. And genomic analysis traced the characteristic to a supergene — ILP2 — that appears to control whether ants mature into workers, queens, or…slackers. These findings may illuminate a step toward the evolution of entire parasitic ant species.
Mice born from male “eggs cells” have two dads
If two human males want to have a child together, their options are adopting or having a woman carry the child either from a donated egg or her own. But now, a new possibility is incubating.
In a recent study, researchers took cells from a male mouse’s tail and turned them into pluripotent stem cells, i.e., cells that can give rise to all the cell types in the body. They converted the XY chromosome pair typical of male cells to an XX pair (female) using a chromosome deletion-duplication sleight of hand. Says study author Katsuhiko Hayashi, “The trick of this, the biggest trick, is the duplication of the X chromosome.”
Voila, behold a “male” egg cell, which was then fertilized by the sperm cell from another male! The embryos were implanted into surrogate other mice, and 7 mouse pups were born. With only 7 born from 630 tries, it was not a great success rate and will require lots of tinkering before any potential application to humans. But it pioneered something mind-blowing: babies produced from two dads.
The right whales seem to be in the wrong places these days, or maybe it’s us that are in the wrong places.
Right whales (Eubalaena spp.) include three species that sort out into distinct parts of the world’s oceans — North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Southern — separated by warm equatorial currents. Right whales tend to hang around relatively close to shore, in bays and continental shelves where there’s lots of food. The problem is, that’s where the fishing vessels hang out too.
Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are the two main causes of death for these whales. Southern right whales haven’t been hit quite as hard, perhaps because they feed far south near Antarctica where ship traffic is less intense.
But the northern species share waterways with intensive human use, such as a recent citing of a North Pacific right whale off the coast of Monterey, CA. The Monterey Whale Watch captain was surprised to see its telltale squared fin and V-shaped burst of spray from the blowhole. “Of course, all of us were like, there’s no possible way, because there are so few left in this particular population that passes along our coast,” says biologist Colleen Talty.
The remnant population is estimated at just 30 whales. Because right whales were popular targets with their slow swimming speed, abundant blubber, and tendency to float when dead (Right = the “right” species for hunting), they were decimated during the era of whaling. After 1931 protections were put in place, North Atlantic right whales rebounded…until 2000, when they declined again. See HERE.
From 2017 – 2023, an unusual mortality event took a bite out of the recovering populations. This map shows the dead whales found during that period peppered along the East Coast with causes identified as nearly all from interactions with human fishing activities. Writes biologist Michael Moore, “We indirectly kill whales while enabling the shipping and fishing industries to pursue our wants and needs.”
What to do to reduce vessel strikes? NOAA’s in charge of setting limits for boaters, but the challenge is that the Right Whale Slow Zones and Dynamic Management Areas (such as places where they’re giving birth) are voluntary. NOAA notifies and provides maps, but from there the responsibility rests on the vessel operators. Says director of whale research group Paul Sieswerda, “When the whales are in these channels, you have to cross your fingers and hope there are no collisions.”
On a more personal note, HERE you can meet the 12 known North Atlantic right whale calves for 2023. Their moms have lofty names like Aphrodite and Porcia, honoring how invaluable these females have become in saving the declining population. Scientists estimate that 50 calves/year are needed to stabilize the population. Annual calving runs through mid-April, so let’s keep our finger crossed for some more youngsters.
Next time we’ll take a plant’s perspective on carbon cycling.
Written by Devin Reese, Edited by Jake Currie
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