Science, to a Student

Biology student and natural history museum paleontology laboratory volunteer. Career goal is dinosaur paleontology. Blog comprised of any and all things science.

Bony body tube for a bizarre marine reptile - The Integrative Paleontologists by Andrew Farke

lythronax-argestes-the-gore-king:

sciencetoastudent:

As I left my local library today….

In my experience, when pressed ants are more interested in self-preservation than food when it comes down to it.  This is perfectly understandable.  So, like I did so many thousands of times as a boy, I blew on the ants, expecting them to scatter and reveal whatever food source they were on and go running.  Nope.  I also noticed there were no trails of ants going off to or from a nest.

Anyone seen this before?

Weird…

Fire ants by any chance?

Or are they all gone from the US?

Nope, not fire ants, but I’m afraid my myrmecological skills end just about there without hitting a good research library to grab some formicid books for ident purposes.

sr-ricos said: when I’ve seen something similar, they were transporting their larvae to a new location. At least I saw some of them carrying larvae, but I’m no entomologist

I’ve seen that before, too, but they weren’t traveling from one location to another, and I found no objects in any of their mandibles whatsoever.  Interesting.

gryffinthesnake said: THAT IS TERRIFYING WHY WOULD YOU GET THAT CLOSE TO IT

If you get to know them a little bit ants are really fun, charming little creatures.  At least fascinating, if you don’t look at them the same way I do.  I personally am biased and have quite the affinity for them.  They’re old childhood friends of mine, really.  I can’t even begin to calculate how many blissful hours were spent just watching ants.

Where have all the mammoths gone? And why do we care?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Africa? Probably a lot of big animals, right? Elephants and lions, zebras and cheetahs, hippos and rhinos, giraffes, and enormous herds of wildebeest moving across the savannah.

African animals

A selection of modern African animals, including megafauna. Image in the public domain.

Well, what a lot of people don’t realize is that for most of the past 50 million years, most of the world looked a lot like Africa! Not that long ago, Europe, Asia, and North and South America all hosted relatives of elephants, zebras, and lions inhabiting ecosystems that looked a lot like today’s African savannah. There were rhinos roaming the Riviera, wooly mammoths wandering Wyoming, and Glyptodons (a kind of giant armadillo) gallivanting in Guyana. Here in California we had mammoths and mastodons (another elephant relative), horses and tapirs, oxen and antelopes, jaguars and lions, saber-toothed cats (our state fossil!), giant wolves, giant bears, giant bison, and (my favorite) giant sloths. South America had rodents the size of cows. Australia had wombats the size of hippos. Even relatively small islands had giant mammals, although not quite as giant as on the continents, because big animals tend to get smaller (and small animals bigger) on islands. There were giant lemurs on Madagascar, pygmy hippos in the Mediterranean, dwarf giant sloths in the Caribbean, and pygmy mammoths on California’s Channel Islands.

South American megafauna

South American megafauna 15,000 years ago during the Pleistocene. Photo jqjacobs.net.

Scientists call these giant animals “megafauna” (mega = big, and fauna = animals). We still have megafauna in the world, but there used to be a whole lot more of it. In fact, it appears that having a large number of large-bodied animals in an ecosystem is actually the normal state for our planet, at least for the geologic era we are living in today, the Cenozoic (or “Age of Mammals”) . But sometime in the past 50,000 years (very recent geologically), everywhere except for Africa, most of those large animals became extinct. And we still aren’t sure why!

People often ask me, “Why was everything bigger in the past?” But I think the question should really be the other way around — “Why is everything so small now?” As a paleontologist studying the extinction of the megafauna, this is a question I ask on a daily basis.

Basically, there are two main ideas about why these large animals went extinct. One hypothesis is that the extinctions were actually due to us — to humans. The scientists who peg people as the culprits point to several lines of evidence: For one thing, in most of the places where the extinctions happened, large animals tend to disappear from ecosystems right about the same time that humans arrive for the first time (we know this from radioisotopic dating, scientific techniques that allow us to determine the exact age of fossils and the sediments they are found in). Also, in a few places, we actually have evidence of humans hunting extinct megafauna, such as mammoths. Finally, we know from modern situations that humans can have a major impact on animals, both directly (like hunting) and indirectly (like burning forests, fragmenting habitats, and causing erosion) .

The second hypothesis for why the megafauna went extinct is that the climate changed too much (or too fast), and the animals could not adapt to their new environments. We know that climate was changing at the time that the megafauna disappeared in many parts of the world, and in some places (including Ireland and northern Europe and Asia) the extinctions seem to be correlated with changes in vegetation and stress that can be directly linked to climate. Scientists who favor this hypothesis also point out that given all the fossils we have of extinct megafauna, only a handful show any evidence of hunting by humans.

Finally, there are some scientists — including myself and many of my colleagues — who think that most of the global megafauna extinctions probably resulted from a combination of both climate and human impacts. While there appear to be some places where extinctions may have been caused by climate change alone, and others where humans were the sole culprit, it seems that more species went extinct faster in regions where both of these factors came into play simultaneously. Whatever the answer, scientists all over the world are working to learn more about why our world looks so different today than it did in the past.

Why do we care about what caused the megafauna extinctions? Aside from the “wow” factor of reimagining these past ecosystems, large mammals constitute many of the world’s most currently endangered species, and so understanding how these animals are affected by climate changes and human activities might help us prevent the megafauna that are still alive today from disappearing too. This is important not only because it would be sad to have a world with no elephants, tigers, or polar bears, but also because losing these big animals could spell trouble for a lot of other species, including humans. Megafauna have major impacts on Earth’s ecosystems: they affect what plants grow where, how often and long forest fires burn, and how rich the soil is. They are important transporters of nutrients and seeds, and they can create and destroy habitat for smaller species. Megafauna are so important, in fact, that some scientists have proposed reintroducing them to habitats where they once lived — either by actually cloning extinct species, or by bringing in their closest living relatives from (where else?) Africa.

While these measures may help restore some natural areas, they are no substitute for maintaining healthy ecosystems in the first place. Hopefully, the research being done by scientists like me and my colleagues today can be used in conservation efforts, to help prevent the next big megafauna extinction.

• South American megafauna image from jqjacobs.net.

There are two great mysteries that overshadow all other mysteries in science. One is the origin of the universe. That’s my day job. However, there is also the other great mystery of inner space. And that is what sits on your shoulders, which believe it or not, is the most complex object in the known universe. But the brain only uses 20 watts of power. It would require a nuclear power plant to energise a computer the size of a city block to mimic your brain, and your brain does it with just 20 watts. So if someone calls you a dim bulb, that’s a compliment.

Really Bad Science Jokes | Coma Niddy University

goodstuffhappenedtoday:

Sixth-Grader’s Science Fair Finding Shocks Ecologists

When 12-year-old Lauren Arrington heard about her sixth-grade science project, she knew she wanted to study lionfish. Growing up in Jupiter, Fla., she saw them in the ocean while snorkeling and fishing with her dad.
Her project showed that the lionfish can survive in nearly fresh water. The results blew away professional ecologists. The invasive species has no predators on the Florida coast, so if they were to migrate upstream in rivers, they could pose a threat to the ecosystem.
"Scientists were doing plenty of tests on them, but they just always assumed they were in the ocean," Lauren, now 13, tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers. "So I was like, ‘Well, hey guys, what about the river?’ "In the beginning, she wanted to conduct her test by placing the lionfish in cages at different points in the river, but she had to simplify the project.
"It was just a small, sixth-grade project, and I really didn’t have all the tools necessary," she says. Her dad, who has a Ph.D. in fish ecology, suggested that she put the fish in tanks instead.
Lauren then put six different lionfish in six different tanks where she could watch her subjects closely. Lauren was given a strict set of rules by the science fair organizers. The most important one: Her fish could not die.
Lionfish had been found to live in water with salt levels of 20 parts per thousand. But no one knew that they could live in water salinity below that.
One of the six lionfish was her control fish, and the rest were the experimental fish. Every night for eight days, she would lower the salinity 5 parts per thousand in the experimental tanks. On the eighth day of her experiment, she found her experimental fish were living at 6 parts per thousand. She was amazed.
Her research did not stop there. Craig Layman, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, confirmed Lauren’s results. “He credited a sixth-grader for coming up with his idea,” Lauren says ecstatically. Layman’s findings were published this year in the science journal Environmental Biology of Fishes. Lauren is mentioned in the acknowledgments.
Lauren’s father says he talks about science with her a lot. “We’re a science bunch of dorks in our family,” he tells McEvers.

goodstuffhappenedtoday:

Sixth-Grader’s Science Fair Finding Shocks Ecologists

When 12-year-old Lauren Arrington heard about her sixth-grade science project, she knew she wanted to study lionfish. Growing up in Jupiter, Fla., she saw them in the ocean while snorkeling and fishing with her dad.

Her project showed that the lionfish can survive in nearly fresh water. The results blew away professional ecologists. The invasive species has no predators on the Florida coast, so if they were to migrate upstream in rivers, they could pose a threat to the ecosystem.

"Scientists were doing plenty of tests on them, but they just always assumed they were in the ocean," Lauren, now 13, tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers. "So I was like, ‘Well, hey guys, what about the river?’ "

In the beginning, she wanted to conduct her test by placing the lionfish in cages at different points in the river, but she had to simplify the project.

"It was just a small, sixth-grade project, and I really didn’t have all the tools necessary," she says. Her dad, who has a Ph.D. in fish ecology, suggested that she put the fish in tanks instead.

Lauren then put six different lionfish in six different tanks where she could watch her subjects closely. Lauren was given a strict set of rules by the science fair organizers. The most important one: Her fish could not die.

Lionfish had been found to live in water with salt levels of 20 parts per thousand. But no one knew that they could live in water salinity below that.

One of the six lionfish was her control fish, and the rest were the experimental fish. Every night for eight days, she would lower the salinity 5 parts per thousand in the experimental tanks. On the eighth day of her experiment, she found her experimental fish were living at 6 parts per thousand. She was amazed.

Her research did not stop there. Craig Layman, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, confirmed Lauren’s results. “He credited a sixth-grader for coming up with his idea,” Lauren says ecstatically. Layman’s findings were published this year in the science journal Environmental Biology of Fishes. Lauren is mentioned in the acknowledgments.

Lauren’s father says he talks about science with her a lot. “We’re a science bunch of dorks in our family,” he tells McEvers.

(Source: NPR, via ajax-daughter-of-telamon)

grimogretricks asked: Superzoom is the name of a category of camera where having a big zoom is the main point. 28-400mm is a good start but many of those have up to 600mm or even 1000mm (getting telescope esque at that level). 600mm is pretty decent! For specific recommendations, other than searching for super zoom comparisons (can't link because this is an ask) my other suggestion would be to search dpreview, their buying guide has a 'big zoom compact cameras' link which will return results of the type you want.

Great advice, once again.  Thank you!  OK guys, maybe I need superzoom.  * researches more *

sixpenceee:

If only everything really complicated was explained this way. 

THE AUTHOR & MORE OF HIS BOOKS

This isn’t for babies, this is epic!  I could’ve had an hour of intense reading done away with in high school with this simple visual explanation.

I need to get my hands on these books!

(via jerisu09)

  • Baby: M-m
  • Mom: Mama?
  • Baby: The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell

As I left my local library today….

In my experience, when pressed ants are more interested in self-preservation than food when it comes down to it.  This is perfectly understandable.  So, like I did so many thousands of times as a boy, I blew on the ants, expecting them to scatter and reveal whatever food source they were on and go running.  Nope.  I also noticed there were no trails of ants going off to or from a nest.

Anyone seen this before?

The Horse | Natural History Museum of Utah

The Horse

July 21, 2014 - January 4, 2015

Opens to members Saturday, July 19 and all guests on July 21. 

Explore the Enduring Bond between Humans and Horses

The Natural History Museum of Utah is excited to host The Horse.
 
Over time, humans have preyed upon horses, domesticated them, bred them for work and play, and forged deep emotional and spiritual connections with them. Come discover the fascinating story of how humans have shaped the horse, and how the horse, in turn has shaped us.
 
This special exhibition includes cultural objects from around the world, a hand-painted diorama depicting the evolution of the horse, and interactives that invite you to test your strength in horsepower, identify different breeds, and peek inside a life-size, moving horse. 
 
Explore one of Utah’s most important horse stories – the connection of the Ute people to horses. The Ute were among the first North American tribes to acquire horses from the Spanish in the 1600s. Discover how horses transformed Ute life in ways that continue to reverberate today.
 
Horses are integral to our history and touch us as individuals. Celebrate our bond with these magnificent creatures!
 

The Horse is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and heritage, United Arab Emirates; the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau-Ottawa; The Field Museum, Chicago; and the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Presenting Sponsor: George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation 

Major Sponsors: The ALSAM Foundation and R. Harold Burton Foundation

Opens tomorrow, in twelve hours!

(Source: sciencetoastudent)

furiouskitten asked: Specifically, it's at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, SD. It's a phenomenal museum; I was there during the last week of June. They've got an excellent prep lab there as well that I was able to tour.

Sounds amazing!  Thanks for the info.

jtotheizzoe:

Forty-five years ago today, two human beings first set foot on the moon. On July 20, 1969, the lunar module of Apollo 11 touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, and forever changed how we view our place in the universe. When I think about the fact that four and a half decades ago, at the very moment I am writing this, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were walking on the freakin’ moon, I am humbled and inspired.

I’ve combined some of my favorite photos from Apollo 11 with some of the actual words spoken by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

If you’d like to relive the historic mission moment by moment, word by word, and photo by photo, head over to SpaceLog

(via megacosms)