Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bats and Sonic Plants Cozy Up

I've heard of birds nesting in trees and insects building homes in foliage, but bats in pitcher plants? So interesting!

In Borneo, carnivorous pitcher plants (Nepenthes hemsleyana) figured out a way to get bat guano (fertilizer) delivered for free. They offer bats (Kerivoula hardwickii) their vase-shaped leaves as natural sleeping bags to spend the daylight hours in protected comfort. 

Apparently, the plants advertise the comfy roost as well. They have evolved a way to reflect back the bats' high frequency sonar in a 5 star luxury hotel way (compared to the 1 star surrounding plants). The thin pitcher shape is crucial to the habitat marketing and allows the bats to find them easily and settle in. 

In the past, scientists reported tropical plants that evolved sonic skills to attract bats as pollinators. This is the first time a plant has used sound to call the hogs (er... bats in for the night). Go science! 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Catching Up with Iconic American Wildlife

If you are like me, most vacations include chance sightings of many of America's best loved animals. My last trip to Yellowstone included, buffalo, numerous raptors, and even a cheeky coyote who trotted along the side of the rode at roughly the same speed as our car in the summer tourist traffic. 

Many of these favorites and others are compiled in a list by science and wildlife writer, Matt Miller (of The Nature Conservancy blog), here. The listing also provides updates of numbers, endangered status and overall health of the different species.

Go science!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Auroras on Mars

As many of you know, I am super interested (some might say obsessed) in space exploration. So I'm excited to relate the latest Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) findings about auroras on Mars. 

Auroras happen on Earth when energy particles from space rain down on the upper atmosphere and are pulled to the Arctic and Antarctic poles by the planet's global magnetic field. On Mars, no organized planetary magnetic field exists so solar winds can blow them anywhere. Only pockets of magnetic fields draw them.

Since scientists know that Mars had a thick atmosphere billions of years ago, they are studying localized auroras to see if solar winds are still eroding the carbon dioxide and oxygen molecules present in the red planet's very thin atmosphere.

What does an aurora on Mars look like? 

"A diffuse green glow seems quite possible in the Mars sky, at least when the Sun is throwing off energetic particles," notes Nick Schneider who leads MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument team at the University of Colorado.

MAVEN's mission is to explore the planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with the Sun and solar wind. Scientists will be watching for loss of volatile compounds—such as CO2, N2, and H2O—from the Martian atmosphere into space. Understanding this loss will offen insight into Mars' atmosphere and climate, liquid water and potential for habitability.

To see the aurora borealis or aurora australis on Earth is definitely a bucket list item for me, but perhaps auroras on Mars will be a common site for our children's children. I can only hope! Go science!

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to Exercise an Octopus

You thought your dog could do cool tricks? Cat? Horse? How about octopus? It's not super scientific, but watching an octopus unscrew a jar from the inside has got it all over a horse that counts or a dog jumping through a hoop. Watch the flexibility and maneuverability of this animal. If you look carefully, you can even see the beak at times.

The part that particularly awed and scared me was the animal's seemingly haughty attitude when the feat was accomplished. Mother Nature's pets are an amazing bunch. Go science!