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Zoology

212 articles
  • He Did Right by Animals. And Didn’t Take Bull from Anyone.

    Bernard Rollin was a pioneer in animal rights. He left us with this scalding interview.

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    A Close Encounter with a Flame-Bright Egyptian Vulture

    On a bright March morning as wildlife photographer Oriol Alamany tucked into breakfast on the island of Socotra, an Egyptian vulture landed on a nearby rock. Caught without proper equipment, Alamany crawled across the ground to photograph the bird from below at close range with a small camera he kept in his pocket. The vulture […]

  • The Truth About Sharks

    Spearfisher turned marine activist Valerie Taylor wants you to respect these oft-maligned creatures—not fear them.

  •  Jewett_HERO-2

    Order Flocking Out of Chaos

    A physicist-turned-photographer captures the incredible harmony of starling murmurations.

  • The Witness Is a Whale

    Uncovering one of the greatest environmental crimes of the 20th century.

  •  Hannibal_HERO-2

    David Attenborough’s Life in Color

    New technology enables filmmakers to capture how animals use color like never before.

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    The Whale Who Will Come Soon

    A whale-watching trip is a voyage into the psychic dimensions of ocean in the 21st century.

  • Roth_HERO

    The Evolutionary Wonders in the Deep Sea

    It’s a golden age for finding new and mysterious forms of deep-sea life.

  • In the Deep Sea, Incredible Animals Abound

    It’s a golden age for finding new and mysterious forms of deep-sea life.

  • Helm_HERO

    The Largest Cells on Earth

    Deep in the ocean abyss, xenophyophores are worlds unto themselves.

  • Keim_HERO

    How “My Octopus Teacher” Defied Convention

    Craig Foster reflects on a relationship that changed his connection to the natural world.

  • The Octopus Teacher’s Student

    Craig Foster reflects on a relationship that changed his connection to the natural world.

  • The Light Magic of Squid

    How squid transmute illumination into intention

  • The Mystery of the Missing Sockeye

    A disease detective hopes to discover why British Columbia’s wild salmon continue to decline.

  • Wilmer_HERO

    Cognitive Scientists Are Going to the Dogs

    Unleashing a new breed of research into co-evolution and the aging brain.

  • Keim_HERO

    Octopuses Find New Hunting Buddies

    Animals are teaming up to adapt to a changing world.

  • In the Partnership of Octopus and Fish, a Marvelous Sign of Resilience

    It’s not just physical adaptations that allow creatures to survive the challenges of a warming planet. It’s learning, too.

  • The Whale Who Will Come Soon

    A whale-watching trip is a voyage into the psychic dimensions of ocean in the 21st century

  • The Curious Strength of a Sea Sponge’s Glass Skeleton

    A glass sponge found deep in the Pacific shows a remarkable ability to withstand compression and bending, on top of the sponge’s other unusual properties.

  • Geib_HERO

    We Didn’t Evolve for This

    A lesson from the animal kingdom on why COVID-19 is so deadly to humans.

  • Fish in the 21st Century: The Good, the Bad, and the Hopeful

    Will our relations with fish ever catch up to our knowledge?

  • Goldman_HERO

    How Sea Turtles Find Their Way

    Whether you’re a sea turtle or a ship’s captain, you’ll need two tools—a map and a compass.

  • How Sea Turtles Find Their Way

    a map and a compass.

  • biographic_HERO

    These Photos Remind Us Why Conservation Matters

    Enjoy the 2020 winners of a natural photography competition.

  • Lessons for the Return of Great White Sharks

    Modern science has largely debunked the idea of sharks as marauding “man eaters.” Can modern culture catch up?

  • A Tale of Two Species

    The entangled worlds of horseshoe crabs, whelks, and us.

  • The Earth-Shaping Animal Migration No One Ever Sees

    A closer look at one of nature’s hidden wonders.

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    Why We Should Eat Crickets. And Other Bug Ideas

    As the human population expands, we are going to have to find better ways to feed ourselves without further decimating the environment.Photograph by Koldunova Anna / Shutterstock In his new book, The Butterfly Effect: Insects and the Making of the Modern World, Edward Melillo calls some insects “little laboratories,” the various productions of which have […]

  • To Save Sharks, We Must Understand People

    In Sri Lanka, laws are supposed to protect sharks—but what if people won’t obey the laws?

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    The Fungal Evangelist Who Would Save the Bees

    How mushrooms could solve colony collapse disorder.

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    No, Animals Do Not Have Genders

    How do we know that gender is not simply a biological fact? What makes it cultural, rather than analogous to sex-differentiated behavior in animals?

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    Eels Don’t Have Sex Until the Last Year of Their Life

    Why eels are one strange fish.

  • There’s a World Living on Every Loggerhead

    Scientists from Darwin on have marveled at how these sea turtles transport other species across the ocean. New research suggests they're even better at it than we thought.

  • The Grace of Manta Rays

    New research suggests that manta rays aren’t just solitary ocean wanderers. They’re also shaping the undersea environment in ways we never imagined

  • This Animal Hides Using—& Is Kept Up by—Its Own Glowing Head

    The Hawaiian bobtail squid uses an interesting camouflage strategy.

  • How and Why Computers Roll Loaded Dice

    Researchers are one step closer to injecting probability into deterministic machines.

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    The Animal Kingdom Should Have Father’s Day Too

    A concerned clownfish father looking after his nest of tiny, orange eggs.Justin Rhodes Becoming a parent brings out the best in many animals. Although parenting is usually left to the females, males from many species go above and beyond to care for the offspring. Take anemonefish. In Finding Nemo, Marlin swims over 1,000 miles from […]

  • The Fish That Took a Century to Name

    The unlikely story of Alfred Russel Wallace’s pike.

  • MacNamara_HERO

    T. Rex Was a Slacker

    A natural wonder of the big theropod was how it conserved energy.

  • MacNamara_HERO

    T. Rex Was a Slacker

    A natural wonder of the big theropod was how it conserved energy.

  • Stewart-Williams_HERO

    Evolution Is the Greatest Show on Earth

    These videos are a gateway drug to science.

  • Yeh_HERO

    Welcome Back, Animals!

    It’s time to consider how we can have more animals in our daily lives in the city.

  • MacNamara_HERO

    The Unintended Beauty of Starlings

    Those wondrous, undulating flocks are stirred by predators.

  • The Acquired Tastes of Foodies and Cockroaches

    How genes influence the animal palate.

  • Spark of Science: Joyce Poole

    The elephant researcher tells her story.

  • LeDoux_HERO

    The Tricky Problem with Other Minds

    How our mental states overlap with and diverge from those of other species.

  • How Swarming Insects Act Like Fluids

    By studying a swarm of flying midges as though it were a fluid, physicists have learned how collective behaviors might stabilize a group against environmental disruptions.

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    How Swarming Insects Act Like Fluids

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Starlings take to the sky in swirling vortices; ants teem like rivers. “They stretch, they move around, but they retain cohesion in a way you’d expect from a fluid moving,” said Nicholas Ouellette, a physicist at Stanford University. That’s why to him, it isn’t far-fetched to think about collective animal behavior in […]

  • Gray_HERO

    It Takes a Village to Raise a Meerkat

    What the rare cooperative species tells us about ourselves.

  • Dupzyk_HERO

    We Need Insects More Than They Need Us

    Inside the world of plastic-eating worms, dung-rolling beetles, and agricultural ants..

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    Fear Is Good for the Forest

    In 2011, the renowned evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson paid a visit to Gorongosa National Park, in Mozambique. It is one of the few places in the world where you can get a feel for the Great African Rift Valley, humanity’s evolutionary home. After a couple hundred thousand years, the area is largely as it was—mostly […]

  • Elucidating Cuttlefish Camouflage

    Research sheds light on the control and development of skin patterning in cuttlefish.

  • Gillespie_HERO

    A Eulogy for a Cow

    How commodified animals die.

  • Ohl_HERO

    Hitler and the Naming of the Shrew

    When zoologists tried to change the words for bat and shrew, the Führer was not amused.

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    How Insulin Helped Create Ant Societies

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine‘s Abstractions blog. Ants, wasps, bees, and other social insects live in highly organized “eusocial” colonies where throngs of females forgo reproduction—usually viewed as the cornerstone of evolutionary fitness—to serve the needs of a few egg-laying queens and their offspring. How they got that way has been hard to explain despite more than 150 […]

  • How Insulin Helped Create Ant Societies

    Evolution may have coopted an ancient metabolic mechanism to set social insects on the path toward one of the most puzzling behaviors found in nature.

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    Predators, Prey, and Vodka

    Surveying muskoxen in the Russian far north.

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    What If Only Females Could See Color?

    No doubt if you had the special ability to see beyond the color spectrum, it would benefit not just yourself, but your family and friends, too.Pexels Have you ever wondered how your life might be different if you could see beyond the visible light spectrum—into ultraviolet or infrared? For one thing, you might be immune, […]

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    When It’s Good to Be Antisocial

    It turns out that, even in a highly coordinated hive, antisocial individuals persist.“Wanderer above the sea of fog,” by Caspar David Friedrich (1817) Bees are emblems of social complexity. Their honeycombs—intricate lattices dripping with food—house bustling hive members carrying out carefully orchestrated duties like defending against predators and coordinating resource collection. Much of our own […]

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    What Is It Like to Be a Dolphin?

    Maybe dolphins are more “tuned in” with the world around them, by necessity: a holistic blend of the physical, sensory, and cognitive, all seamless enough to remember to go up for air. Photograph by Matthew Baya / Flickr Humans have come to fetishize dolphins: their smiles, their penchant for heavy petting, and they imbue their […]

  • Complex Animals Led to More Oxygen, Says Maverick Theory

    that new animal behaviors raised oxygen levels and remade the environment.

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    Why Are So Many Animals Homosexual?

    Few creatures can boast of devotions so deep as greylag geese. Most are monogamous; many spend their decade-long adult lives with the same goose, side-by-side in constant communication, taking another partner only if the first should die. It’s a remarkable degree of fidelity, and it includes relationships of a sort that some humans consider unnatural. […]

  • The Antelope Killing Fields

    Why did two thirds of all saiga antelope die in a couple months?

  • Zuther_HERO

    The Antelope Killing Fields

    Why did two thirds of all saiga antelope die in a couple months?

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    The Real Difference Between You and a Plant

    The best way to draw the line sounds less biological than poetic: What separates us is the “difference between staying and going,” as Hope Jahren, the geochemist and geobiologist, puts it.Vincent van Gogh / Wikicommons One way to rouse someone is to ask: “What makes you think you’re so different from a plant?” Several sensible […]

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    Would Twitter Ruin Bee Democracy?

    Simple-majority democracy is used by many animals. But they don’t have social media.

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    The Fish That Took a Century to Name

    The unlikely story of Alfred Russel Wallace’s pike.

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    Darwin’s Lost Beetle Is Back

    It’s difficult to overstate the importance of finding an original Darwin specimen, collected during the Beagle’s first voyage. But finding it, and realizing it was a lost specimen collected by Darwin, was just the first step in a much longer journey.Photograph by fiddledydee / Flickr On August 24, 1832, HMS Beagle dropped anchor at Bahía […]

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    When Mollusks Fall in Love

    Two stories from the remarkable work of Sy Montgomery and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.

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    When It’s Good to Be Antisocial

    It turns out that, even in a highly coordinated hive, antisocial individuals persist.“Wanderer above the sea of fog,” by Caspar David Friedrich (1817) Bees are emblems of social complexity. Their honeycombs—intricate lattices dripping with food—house bustling hive members carrying out carefully orchestrated duties like defending against predators and coordinating resource collection. Much of our own […]

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    I Am Not a Monster

    Science has turned the squid from a storied monster into a marvel.

  • McNeal_HERO-3

    Manhattan’s God of Insects

    Lawrence Forcella reminds us why we loved bugs as kids.

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    Why It’s Good to Be Curious About Insects

    One of the best jokes May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, has ever told at a conference goes like this: A man walks into a doctor’s office, imploring her for help. “I think I’m a moth,” he says. The doctor goes, “It’s clear you have a problem, but I’m a pediatrician not […]

  • Why It’s Good to Be Curious About Insects

    Entomology—and all curiosity driven research—catalyzes unexpected, useful discoveries.

  • Uberti_HERO

    Where the Wild Things Go

    The remarkable travel itineraries of animals.

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    How to Hear Like a Champion Birder

    Take a walk with the man building a Shazam for birds.

  • Dugatkin_HERO

    How We Really Tamed the Dog

    A daring experiment builds a new tame species in just 60 years.

  • Are We Headed for a Sixth Extinction?

    The stability of life on Earth depends on the biogeochemical cycles of carbon, which in turn depend on poorly understood microbial ecosystems.

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    What It’s Like to Be an Ant

    The idiosyncrasies of our social and cultural lives significantly influences our conscious and unconscious responses to the smells of others and our behaviors toward them.Photograph by Gayil Nalls / Installation View: The Hugo Boss Prize 2016: Anicka Yi, Life Is Cheap, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, April 21–July 5, 2017 Right now, at the […]

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    Traffic Wouldn’t Jam If Drivers Behaved Like Ants

    Ant colony optimization has itself migrated with impressive speed and range, and has been taken up residence in all kinds of research pursuits, from estimating electricity consumption in Turkey to designing supply chains to the design of tall bridge piers to robot learning.Photograph by Bernardinus Nugraha / Flickr As someone so flummoxed by traffic I […]

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    How a Kids’ Cartoon Created a Real-Life Invasive Army

    Once upon a time, raccoons were strangers to the island of Japan, save for the occasional critter kept in a zoo. That all changed when Araiguma Rasukaru aired and turned a nation onto raccoons’ inherent charm. Tales of monsters invading Japan are a longstanding tradition, usually involving menacing kaiju—literally “strange creatures”—rising from the sea to […]

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    If Bugs Are Sentient, Should We Eat Them?

    The ethics of eating insects.

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    What the Rat Brain Tells Us About Yours

    The evolution of animal models for neuroactive medicine.

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    What to Do When Your Girlfriend Is 70 Times Bigger Than You

    Out in the clear waters near the Great Barrier Reef, a common blanket octopus male swims toward a female. This male need not worry about showing his brightest colors or engaging in a showy battle of strength in hopes of winning the female’s permission to approach. In fact it’s unclear if the female even notices […]

  • Why Do Jellyfish Glow?

    A fluorescent protein helped researchers illuminate human cellular biology.

  • What Sea Slugs Taught Us About Our Brain

    The simple nerve cells of sea creatures helped scientists fathom human memory.

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    The Evolutionary Pull of Ocean Tides

    How animals’ biological clocks turn with the tides.

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    Inside the Goth Chicken: Black Bones, Black Meat, and a Black Heart

    In the historical novel The Black Tulip, written by Alexandre Dumas, an honest and decent Dutch tulip fancier is nearly brought to ruin by his quest to breed a purely black flower. More precisely, his misadventure is due to the dastardly schemes of his neighbor, who, frantic with spite and jealousy over the plants, frames […]

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    Why Birds Love Mobs

    When I tell Katie Sieving, an avian wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida, that it’s probably a stretch to call “mobbing” an act of heroism, she laughs. Mobbing, as the term suggests, involves a mob: It’s when a group of animals band together to harass and drive out a common predator—a behavior already well-known […]

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    Spark of Science: Jon Beckmann

    The conservation ecologist discusses the plight of animals in a human-dominated landscape.

  • Sean B. Carroll, PhD

    Vice President for Science Education, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

  • Joyce Poole

    The elephant researcher tells her story.

  • Lisa Becking

    A marine biologist talks about the wonders of hidden lakes.

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    The Caterpillar Watcher

    Charles Bonnet discovered insect trails but became famous for his hallucinations.

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    Spark of Science: Lisa Becking

    A marine biologist talks about the wonders of hidden lakes.

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    City Living Makes Animals Dishonest

    Honesty is the basis of any good relationship. This is as true for animals as it is for humans. When a peahen is looking for a mate, she sees a peacock’s tail as an honest signal of his quality. “Look at me!” says her suitor, wiggling his ridiculous display from side to side, “I can […]

  • The Other Crisis on the Mexican Border

    Animals are struggling to cope with the US-Mexico border wall.

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    Dear Natural History Museum, What Is That Infernal Squawk Out My Window?

    The subject line of the email was simply, “Bird?” It’s not unusual for researchers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to receive requests like this. Local residents aren’t shy about asking for help to identify critters they encounter on hikes or even in their backyards. But what was unusual about this email, sent […]

  • Moth_HERO

    This Doesn’t Sound Tasty

    How moths bat away their predators.

  • Coppinger_HERO

    Only Street Dogs Are Real Dogs

    Purebreds don’t satisfy the biological definition of a species.

  • Coppinger_HERO

    Only Street Dogs Are Real Dogs

    Purebreds don’t satisfy the biological definition of a species.

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    How an Elephant Loses Its Tusks

    Elephants without tusks are a response to the selective pressure of poaching.

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    Spark of Science: Joyce Poole

    The elephant researcher tells her story.

  • Gressel Hero

    Do Dolphins Have Conversations? We Still Can’t Say

    Sure, dolphins use sonar, whiz through the ocean at incredible speeds, and battle sharks. But can they chat? Last week, a study published in Russia’s St. Petersburg Polytechnical University Journal: Physics and Mathematics claimed to have recorded two dolphins doing just that. Two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, named Yasha and Yana, exchanged a series of vocal […]

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    Fish Can Be Smarter Than Primates

    To understand the plurality of intelligence, look under water.

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    Why Freshwater Fish Are Awesome

    Think of your favorite animal. Perhaps Harry Potter’s snowy owl comes to mind.  Or, maybe the lion, king of the jungle? If we were to take our thought experiment under water, you might think of the massive whale shark, or the majestic sea turtle. Perhaps not. But I bet I can guess what wouldn’t come […]

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    The Sacred Beauty of a Hermit Thrush Call

    On an early morning in June, New York City’s Prospect Park is peaceful and nearly empty: A few people sleeping on benches, a few more walking their dogs, and the birds chirping—exactly what Ben Mirin comes to hear, and they put on quite a show. Whistling, warbling, tweeting, and trilling, the avian residents of Prospect […]

  • Cudmore_HERO

    The Case For Leaving City Rats Alone

    A Vancouver rat study is showing us how pest control can backfire.

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    Why the Songbird’s Serenade Is Going Off Key

    Urban din is forcing animal mating calls to be either unsexy or unheard.

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    Bothered by Noise? Try Being a Bat

    Human noise is a rising global pollutant. Urbanization, road networks, and energy extraction infrastructure are all widespread and expanding sources of acoustic waste. In the contiguous 48 states today, to take just one illustration, nearly 4 million miles of road cover the country; as a result, no area is more than 21 miles from a […]

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    Put Yourself in a Dolphin’s Skin

    Humans have come to fetishize dolphins: their smiles, their penchant for heavy petting, and they imbue their frolicking with moral assertions about one’s duty to live with abandon. These projections endear them to us. But the truth about what’s going on inside a dolphin’s head has very little to do with our human experience. Just […]

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    That Time in 8th Grade When an Electric Eel Almost Killed Sarah

    When you’re a kid, it’s easy to take things for granted—to assume, for example, that your experiences, however unique, are relatively common. But then you find out way later in life that no, in fact not everyone tested the “Mary Poppins Theory of Gravity” by jumping off their hay barn clutching an umbrella, as I […]

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    What Wild Animals Do in the Dark of the Night

    Capturing wildlife with flash photography at the turn of the century.

  • Foster_HERO

    In Which I Try to Become a Swift

    The closest I ever got to flying with the birds was on the ground.

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    Why Is Hawaii Evolving So Many Species of This Wingless Beetle?

    Two Mecyclothorax beetles abandon their relatives on the forest floor to climb up a tree. They settle into a moss home, eat, mate, and die. A couple hundred years or so pass until one of the original beetles’ offspring walks back down. But all the close relatives it once had there are already gone. There’s […]

  • bear attack_HERO

    Being (Almost) Eaten Alive Can Make You a Diehard Environmentalist

    In his Oscar acceptance speech, Leonardo DiCaprio said, “Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world.” Perhaps the film’s most gripping illustration of this was when a grizzly bear nearly mauls DiCaprio’s character, an American fur trapper, to death. To be eaten by a predator, after all, may be the most apt […]

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    Parasites Are Us

    How biological invaders challenge our idea of self and other.

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    Dolphins Are Helping Us Hunt for Aliens

    When 12 men gathered at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia to discuss the art and science of alien hunting in 1961, the Order of the Dolphin was born. A number of the brightest minds from a range of scientific disciplines, including three Nobel laureates, a young Carl Sagan, and an eccentric neuroscientist named […]

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    How Birds Spot a Fraud and Choose the Right Gender for a Mate

    Humans have marvelous powers of recognition. No one’s surprised when parents identify their child in a crowd by a glimpse of her face or echo of her voice. But we aren’t unique in this regard. Other creatures have evolved impressive powers of discrimination. Take birds. “Their recognition system is really quite remarkable,” says Mark Hauber, […]

  • Schlyer_HERO

    The Other Crisis on the Mexican Border

    Animals are struggling to cope with the US-Mexico border wall.

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    Ecologists Can’t Beat Invasive Species, So They’re Joining Them

    The path to Ohe’o Gulch, in Maui, meanders through a short section of forest, past mango trees and pockets of bamboo, then opens onto the ocean. Palm trees of all sizes and varieties line the Pacific coast, their trunks hunched over the sand, fronds waving picturesquely in the trade winds. Though they may seem perfectly […]

  • Carrol_HERO-2

    The Ecologist Who Threw Starfish

    Robert Paine showed us the surprising importance of predators.

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    How This Revolutionary Old Zoo Was Redesigned for the 21st Century

    At the height of his powers in 15th century Florence, Lorenzo de Medici managed to secure a magnificent giraffe for his menagerie. The animal was such a marvel that several works of art depicted its arrival. (Just how grueling and gruesome the transit must have been to the giraffe is lost to history.) For ages, […]

  • greylag goose couple

    Why Are So Many Animals Homosexual?

    Few creatures can boast of devotions so deep as greylag geese. Most are monogamous; many spend their decade-long adult lives with the same goose, side-by-side in constant communication, taking another partner only if the first should die. It’s a remarkable degree of fidelity, and it includes relationships of a sort that some humans consider unnatural. […]

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    Meet the World’s Most Notorious Taxonomist

      In 2005, the taxonomist Quentin Wheeler named a trio of newly discovered slime-mold beetles after George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney. He believed the names could increase public interest in the discovery and classification of new species, and help combat the quickening pace of extinction. (Species go extinct three times faster than […]

  • Keim-HERO

    What Pigeons Teach Us About Love

    The sweet, avian romance of Harold and Maude.

  • Keim-HERO

    What Pigeons Teach Us About Love

    The sweet, avian romance of Harold and Maude.

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    The Oldest, Coldest Mammals May Be Some of the Best Prepared for Climate Change

    Tim Melling/Getty Images The Arctic they grew up in is unrecognizable, but bowhead whales are oddly calm. They appear to be unexpectedly benefitting from the warmer, less icy climate that has emerged over the past decade. Last month, it was announced that the Arctic in 2015 reached the warmest temperatures ever observed, and that it is warming twice as […]

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    Is Farmed Salmon Really Salmon?

    The staple fish is having an identity crisis.

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    These Animals Use Personal Names, But Never Gossip

    Four-year old Simon is lost. His mother was in front of him just a moment ago, standing right there next to the grocery-store pyramid of apples, but now she’s gone. He looks past the lemons, the pears, the bananas, but still can’t see her. “Mom?” he cries, hoping she’ll come to his rescue. “Mom? Mom!” […]

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    What to Do When Your Girlfriend Is 70 Times Bigger Than You

    Out in the clear waters near the Great Barrier Reef, a common blanket octopus male swim toward a female. This male need not worry about showing his brightest colors or engaging in a showy battle of strength in hopes of winning the female’s permission to approach. In fact it’s unclear if the female even notices […]

  • O'Dwyer_HERO

    The Hidden Power Laws of Ecosystems

    As nature scales, complexity gives way to universal law.

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    How I Became a Crowd-Sourced Zoologist

    In the center of the photo, standing amid dry brush and trees, is something’s butt. I have 50-some animals to choose from, and I’m really not sure whose butt it is—maybe a duiker’s, a small, deer-like creature. “If you see an animal, please mark it,” the instructions say, “even if you’re not sure, or have […]

  • Snailfish

    This Legendary Deep-Sea Fish Sighting Continues to be Debated After 60 Years

    Once, while fishing for salmon, I hooked a clam. It fought bravely, and when I finally pulled it from the water I could see that I hadn’t just snagged it, as you might expect, but that it had taken the bait willingly. These are minor points; what matters here is that the clam, so different […]

  • Oconnor_HERO-4

    Big Data Is for the Birds

    The mysteries of avian migration at night are being solved with computational power.

  • goth chicken ayam cemeni hero

    Inside the Goth Chicken: Black Bones, Black Meat & a Black Heart

    In the historical novel The Black Tulip, written by Alexandre Dumas, an honest and decent Dutch tulip fancier is nearly brought to ruin by his quest to breed a purely black flower. More precisely, his misadventure is due to the dastardly schemes of his neighbor, who, frantic with spite and jealousy over the plants, frames […]

  • 88 butterfly hero

    A Riot of Color Lurking in the Amazon

    Imagine a tropical rainforest and the picture that appears in your mind’s eye is probably filled with green and brown. It’s true that those colors dominate the landscape, but a closer look at some of the jungle’s inhabitants reveals tremendous variation. I just returned from a trip to the Amazon, and here are some of […]

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    Splotchy Cats Show Why It’s Better to Be Female

    If you’ve never really noticed the wide range of colors that can adorn the domestic cat, you might want to spend some time skimming through the official color charts of the Cat Fanciers Association website. According to the association, which claims to maintain the largest registry of pedigreed cats, cats can come in seal lynx […]

  • Urken_HERO-1

    Chasing James Bond’s Hummingbird

    I venture to Cuba in search of the world’s smallest bird.

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    A Butterfly’s Beauty Comes From Organized Chaos

    This classic Facts So Romantic post was originally published in June, 2013. Take a look at a butterfly’s wing, and you can learn a lesson about life. Not that it’s beautiful, or fragile, or too easily appreciated only when it’s fading—though all that is true, and evident in a wing. Look very close, at the […]

  • chimp picking flowers in water

    Chimps and the Zen of Falling Water

    There is a waterfall in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. Maybe 12 feet high, it’s fairly modestly sized, though even a modest waterfall is quite a magical thing. And it’s here that chimpanzees come to dance. You can watch a video online, narrated by the great primatologist Jane Goodall, who, as with so many chimpanzee behaviors, […]

  • Sohn_HERO

    Counting Animals Is a Sloppy Business

    In 1989, scientists at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Zoo published a study on migratory songbirds with alarming results. The study relied on 22 years of data from annual surveys of more than 60 neotropical species, birds that breed in North America and overwinter in Central and South America. And […]

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    Forget the Ordinary Honeybee; Look at the Beautiful Bees They’re Crowding Out

    All of the images in this post are borrowed from the amazing Flickr feed of the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab. Any day now, the apple trees on my deck will bloom, bringing with them the first honeybees of spring. It’s a moment I’ll greet with mixed feelings. To which bee-lovers everywhere may respond: […]

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    The Fly King Speaks

    Meet Fredrik Sjöberg, author of the sleeper hit, The Fly Trap.

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    The Philosopher King of the Hoverflies

    A roving meditation on nature, literature, and the joy of collecting flies.

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    Seeing Electricity, Hearing Magnetism & Other Sensory Feats

    For elephants, feet are sensory organs.Martin Harvey, Getty Images It’s pretty obvious that dogs have sharper ears and cats a keener sense of smell than we do. But as powerful these senses are, they are merely keener versions of the ones we humans possess. The animal kingdom also boast some senses that are arguably more […]

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    A Holiday Guest Is Leaving Dangerous Poop in Your Couch

    We have long known that we can catch germs while traveling. Recent years have shown that we can also bring home bed bugs. This holiday season, a PLoS One study informs us that by merely plopping into the seat of a car or airplane, we can unknowingly pick up dust mites—microscopic 8-legged arthropods that eat […]

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    The Queen of the Cumberland River

    When I traveled south to research fire ants, I discovered a different kind of hive.

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    Biologists’ Clever Way to Detect Animals They Can’t Find

    A hellbender at the National Zoo in WashingtonBrian Gratwicke via Flickr Wildlife doesn’t get much weirder than the hellbender, a frilly, crayfish-gobbling salamander, about the length of a baby alligator, whose bizarre aliases include “snot otter,” “devil dog,” and “grampus.” The giant amphibian stalks rocky streambeds throughout the eastern United States—or at least it did, […]

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    Where Endangered Vultures Go for a Healthy, Rotting Meal

    A young, captive Cape vultureChelsea Biondolillo   The sun is hot and high over Hartbeetspoort, South Africa, the air thick with humidity and flies. On the dirt in front of us are the remains of three cows. Bridgette Cahill asks, “Ready to get your hands dirty?” Her fellow volunteer Nobuhle Thelma Mabhikwa nods. They work […]

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    Songbirds in the Suburbs

    House finches, Costco, and remaking the American wild.

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    Animals Just Wanna Have Fun

    Perched on the edge of a snowy slope, the youngster drops a small, makeshift sled at his feet. He steps onto it and glides down the incline, struggling to keep his balance. When the sled slows to a stop, he picks it up and trudges back up to the top for another go. Again and […]

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    What the Deer Are Telling Us

    A lesson in home improvement.

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    These Males Are Cheating Animals

    The tricks they play would make Darwin blush.

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    This Tool-Using Sniper Changed What We Think About Fish

    An archerfish lets fly at its unsuspecting prey.Ingo Rischawy / Schuster lab, University of Bayreuth    Few animals have had their cognitive abilities maligned like fish. Myths about their dullness abound—no doubt you’ve heard the one about goldfish’s three-second memories. But have you also heard the one about gobies memorizing the location of rock pools? Or coral […]

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    Human vs. Squirrel: The Battle of Wits Is On

    “Hey, thanks for the new feeder. Now I can pretend I’m super-squirrel while I eat!”IanC66 via Shutterstock Feed the birds, they said. It will be fun, they said. Early this spring I bought a simple wood-and-plastic bird feeder. My children and I filled it with feed that promised to lure colorful birds, hung it from […]

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    The Intelligent Life of the City Raccoon

    Adapting to the urban jungle has made Rocky smarter.

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    The Intelligent Life of the City Raccoon

    Adapting to the urban jungle has made Rocky smarter.

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    The Few Tough Species That Survive the Rigors of Nothingness

    The Expose-R module attaches to the ISS and holds samples in the harsh conditions of space.NASA In the 1800s, scientists imagined that life was brought to Earth by a rock that had been knocked off of a distant, life-filled planet. Now, over 100 years later, we are able to test this idea of “panspermia”—by sending […]

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    If Half of All Species Go Extinct, Will One of Them Be Us?

    Biodiversity JengaMartin Sharman How many animal species do you think go extinct every year? Last week I conducted a highly unscientific polling of around 20 of my Facebook and Google Chat contacts, asking that same question. I’m not trying to brag, but I have some really smart friends, many of them with degrees in biology. […]

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    The Pufferfish’s Lethal Poison Shows Up Right Under Our Feet

    A flatworm that lives in soil and uses TTX to hunt down much larger earthwormsPeter Ducey Lurking in the soil, even under a most peaceful and well-nurtured garden, is a surprisingly fierce predator: Bipalium adventitium, an invasive flatworm that began appearing in the United States about 100 years ago, likely hitching a ride in potted […]

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    Searching for Disappearing Species in the US’ Deepest Wilds

    Michael Lucid photographs samples found during the Multispecies Baseline Initiative (MBI).Ben Goldfarb In 2010, Michael Lucid, a biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish & Game, captured a surprise in a beer-baited gastropod trap—a slug that didn’t genetically resemble any of the ones he’d caught before. On a hunch, Lucid sent the mysterious invertebrate to […]

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    99 Problems, and a Wild Gecko Space Orgy Is Just One

    By the time of this launch of the space shuttle Discovery in 2009, NASA knew well the dangers of lightning to spacecraft. At the launch of Apollo 12, in 1969, they were in the dark.NASA On July 19, Russia launched a satellite designed to study the effects of microgravity on, among other living beings, geckos. […]

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    Loyalty Nearly Killed My Beehive

    My queen was a dud, and her replacement had been murdered.

  • Bee-2_HERO

    Loyalty Nearly Killed My Beehive

    My queen was a dud, and her replacement had been murdered.

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    Zombie Sponge Reefs Are Lurking at the Bottom of the Sea

    The resurrection of glass sponge reefs proves extinction doesn’t have to be eternal.

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    Food Vibrations—Spiders Are Total Virtuosos With Their Webs

    A single thread of spider silk flexes deforms under impact from a plastic bullet traveling around 400 meters per second, or 900 miles per hour.OxfordSilkGroup Few materials are as fascinating as spider silk. It’s stronger than steel, flexible rather than brittle, and light enough to float on the breeze. And vibrations in webs tell spiders, […]

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    What’s Worse: Unwanted Mutations or Unwanted Humans?

    Three of the rare Przewalski’s horses that now roam the area near the Chernobyl nuclear plant.Sergey Gaschak After a fatal series of errors and malfunctions in the early morning of April 26, 1986, the core of the Chernobyl nuclear facility melted down and then exploded, killing 31 workers at the plant. The accident spewed massive […]

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    Toad Orgies, Underwater AC, and Other Stories From the Storm

    Most creatures flee storms, but some thrive because of them.

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    Fish School Us on Wind Power

    Record-efficiency turbine farms are being inspired by sealife.

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    Fish School Us on Wind Power

    Record-efficiency turbine farms are being inspired by sealife.

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    Why I Traveled the World Hunting for Mutant Bugs

    A researcher who works through painting tells her story.

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    Why I Traveled the World Hunting for Mutant Bugs

    A researcher who works through painting tells her story.

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    Can You Spot the Real Animal Hybrid?

    Take our quiz on nature’s mutant offspring.

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    The Natural World Is an Elephant World

    Elephant dung perfumes the air, a fresh, sweet smell, with undertones of sour vegetation. These balls of waste, scattered across the Kenyan savanna, carry the aroma of the bush, an open sea of acacia trees, aloe vera, Sansevieria, and drapes of elephant pudding, a succulent vine that tastes like salty snap beans but smells like […]

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    Tantalizing Creatures with Male and Female Genes

    Gyandromorphs overturn traditional theories of sexual development.

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    What Do Animals See in a Mirror?

    A controversial test for self-awareness is dividing the animal kingdom.

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    Speak, Butterfly

    Butterflies tied together Vladimir Nabokov’s home, science, and writing.

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    How to Build a Better Bat Cave

    Paul Kingsbury/The Nature Conservancy In the winter of 1975, a biologist named Merlin Tuttle bought himself a state-of-the-art digital thermometer and set out on a road trip from Wisconsin down to Florida. Tuttle, who was in his mid-30s and sporting a brown, push-broom mustache, was trying to measure something that no one had really measured […]

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    Animals’ Wildly Varying Reactions to the Smell of Death

    The stinkhorn fungus (officially known as Phallus impudicus—“impudent penis”—for obvious reasons) draws in flies with the rotting-flesh smell of putrescine.ƒred via Flickr To us humans, the scent of a rotting corpse is universally abhorrent, the very definition of disgusting. But as strong as that reaction is, many other animals don’t share our unalloyed revulsion. Goldfish […]

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    Cats Are Not the Best Defenders of Ecological Health

    A feral cat prowling among baby penguins on Macquarie Island, south of mainland Australia.Geoff Copson / Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service After a cat loses its last aesthetic and behavioral traits characteristic of a kitten, it also loses much of its appeal as a companion to some people. At the same time, this cat […]

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    1-Trick Chameleon: Predators Learn to See Through Camouflage

    Probably the worst thing to happen to you, if you’re an animal playing the game of life, is to be eaten by some bigger beast. If you’ve already managed to successfully reproduce by then, as far as evolution is concerned, maybe it’s OK for you to shuffle off that mortal coil. Still, I imagine it’s […]

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    The Beetle That Eavesdrops on an Ant’s Secret Language

    Before noon in the Soconusco region of southern Chiapas, down by the border where Mexico meets Guatemala, the lush, green terrain is rife with bodies in motion. It is an area abutting the Pacific, a vast collection of plantations, most of them growing coffee. Hsun-Yi Hsieh, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, has […]

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    How Unicorns Evolved Into Rhinos, Goblin Sharks & Olinguitos

    Earlier this month there was a rare announcement, promoted widely by the press: a new mammal species had been discovered, the first carnivorous mammal identified in the Americas for 35 years. But the olinguito, as the raccoon-like carnivore is now known, was not spotted for its surprising looks or remarkable behaviors that set it apart […]

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    Unlikely Story: The Swordfish With a Nose Ring

    A few weeks we asked you for your most unlikely stories—the kinds of things that make you scratch your head and think, “What are the chances?” Last week we published a birthday coincidence. Here’s another one of our favorite stories, this one submitted by Dan Clem. For seven weeks in the winter of 2003 I […]

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    Songbirds in the Suburbs

    House finches, Costco, and remaking the American wild.

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    The Decisive Moment

    A photographer's quest for the unexpected.

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    The Decisive Moment

    A photographer’s quest for the unexpected.

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    An Eel Swims in the Bronx

    George Jackman scales the Bronx River’s 182nd Street dam while working with the eel ladder (at top-right).John Waldman In the annals of natural history, there is perhaps no fish so singularly unusual, even mysterious, as Anguilla, the eels. Unlike every other migratory fish on Earth, they spawn in the open ocean and mature inland, in […]

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    In Changeable Times, Inventiveness Could Save Your Species

    There’s no doubt that the climate in many parts of the planet is changing quickly. The planet is getting hotter, sea levels are rising, storms are intensifying, many lands are drying up—and there are going to be more changes that will test organisms’ ability to adapt and survive. While many species on the planet are […]

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    The New Flight of the Ibis

    How a determined scientist taught an ancient species to migrate again.

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    The New Flight of the Ibis

    How a determined scientist taught an ancient species to migrate again.

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    Ants Go Marching

    More than an expert traveler, the fire ant is the ultimate invader.

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    Ants Go Marching

    More than an expert traveler, the fire ant is the ultimate invader.

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    Do Other Animals Make Music, or Just Sounds?

    The question in the title of this post involves not one but two enigmas: Artistic merit is an abstract and slippery concept, and assigning intention to the actions of other species is a perpetual challenge. Thus, the question invites various, contradictory answers. Still, I find myself inspired by the activities of other animals, and believe […]

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    You Didn’t Build That: The Best Animal Engineers

    If an intelligent alien species landed on the small bit of galactic rock that we call home, they might get out of their spaceships, have a look around, and decide that we—that is, our species—are the master builders on our planet. There would be plenty of reasons to think so. We build bridges spanning enormous […]

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    You Didn’t Build That FONT WEIGHT BUSTED

    If an intelligent alien species landed on the small bit of galactic rock that we call home, they might get out of their spaceships, have a look around, and decide that we—that is, our species—are the master builders on our planet. There would be plenty of reasons to think so. We build bridges spanning enormous […]

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    Jeepers, Creepers. Where the Heck Did You Get Those Peepers?

    Last week, we asked you to pick out human eyes from animal eyes that look similar. It was probably harder than you expected. This week’s eyeball challenge, again courtesy of some great photographs by Suren Manvelyan, might be even harder. Can you tell which very inhuman-looking eyes (bigger images below) belong to which animals?  Here’s […]

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    A Moment When Animals Started to Seem More Like People

    Any self-respecting pet owner will confidently claim that their dog or cat (or rabbit, or gerbil) seems sentient, exhibiting a distinct temperament and emotional responses. I know my many beloved pets over the years could feel pain, and fear, as well as love and trust. But are our pets truly conscious creatures? Or are we […]

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    Humanizing Animals With the Most Human Eyes

    People place incredible importance on their eyes. They’re arguably our default tool for perceiving the world, and one of the primary ways we remember and describe one another. Your eye color is on your birth certificate, driver’s license, and online dating profile. Those who make eye contact are considered more competent, friendlier, and more professional. Online […]

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    Dr. Frankenstein Needs His Own Hippocratic Oath

    In the next war, instead of a soldier going on a reconnaissance mission into enemy territory, consider this possibility: a cloud of “micro air vehicles,” flying cyborgs, with built-in cameras and microphones, that could be guided by remote control. What military commander wouldn’t want that? DARPA, the research wing of the Department of Defense, has […]

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    Human Tendencies

    Some of our most cherished traits are shared by other animals—and even plants.

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    Empathy, Morality, Community, Culture—Apes Have It All

    Primatologist Frans de Waal takes exception with human exceptionalism.

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    Ingenious: Nautilus and Me

    My wonderful, dangerous life with the amazing nautilus.