GZA and the genius of science.
Absorbing all but 0.035 percent of visual light, Vantablack is a coating made of carbon nanotubes that is “so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing.”
Save the date, we’re 365 days away from being 6,000 miles from Pluto
The Average Human Sheds 40,000 Skin Cells Per Hour, Which Makes You Wonder: How Are Tattoos Permanent?
This video answers everything.
Odd Creatures is a recurring column about the World’s Weirdest Animals written by award-winning science writer and author Bec Crew, and illustrated by the super-talented Aiyana Udesen
Dinosaurs are birds and birds are dinosaurs, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Hoatzin, a mighty bird with claws on its wings, stomachs in its oesophagus, and the lingering scent of freshly laid cow manure.
Found in the swamps, marshy forests, and mangroves of South America, the Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) cuts a striking figure as it hops through the canopy. Its smoky black, chestnut, and gold plumage is capped off by an elaborate black-tipped crest, and its face is a featherless smear of bright blue flesh.
Growing to around 70 cm long and weighing half a kilo, these birds are about the size of an Archaeopteryx. But unlike their long-dead doppelgänger, Hoatzins are staunch vegetarians. They’ll occasionally eat flowers and fruit, but what they really love is leaves. More than eighty percent of their diet is made up of them, which means they’ve had to evolve a specialized digestive system to cope with all that noxious ruffage.
No vertebrate can produce the amount of enzymes needed to break down and digest large amounts of vegetation on their own. So heavy-duty herbivores like cows, sheep, sloths, and kangaroos house enlarged and highly modified chambers in their guts where scores of microbes accumulate and produce these enzymes for them. This form of digestion is known as ‘foregut fermentation’ and the Hoatzin is the only bird on Earth that can do it. It’s even got structures in its oesophagus that act as extra fermentation chambers.
Life in the wild is a relentless and all-consuming struggle to keep yourself safe and fed, so the ability to live off something as abundant and easily obtained as vegetation is a real boon for the Hoatzin. But it comes at a price. Because the Hoatzin’s chest area is filled with digestive organs, there’s little room for their wing muscles to develop, which means they’re pretty useless at flying. Plus all that fermenting activity makes them emit a strong, musky stench, which is how they got their nickname – the Stinkbird. It’s not very dignified by our standards, but being stinky has ended up being a blessing in disguise for these near-flightless birds – locals assume they taste as bad as they smell, so for the most part they leave them well alone.
Like many of the world’s herbivores, Hoatzins are highly social and tend to congregate in large groups. They can often be found in tight, noisy groups of up to 100 individuals, these breaking off into smaller family groups when it’s time to breed.
The Hoatzin might look badass as an adult, but it’s even more badass as a baby. Hoatzins breed during the rainy season, which means there’s a good chance their nests will be sitting directly above flooded rivers and creeks. To give them the best chance at survival, young Hoatzins hatch from their eggs with a pair of claws on each wing, which they use to keep a tight grip on their surroundings. Not that they can’t swim though – if Hoatzin nests are attacked, often by larger hawks and vultures, the chicks will drop into the water below and submerge themselves while their parents create a flappy diversion. Once the coast is clear the chicks will use their hooked wing-claws to climb back up to the safety of the nest.
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
The NY Times takes a look at this baseball pitch on the verge of extinction
Zoo Animals and Their Discontents by Alex Halberstadt
Do donkeys get depressed? Are some aoudads anxious? And what can a zoo’s shrink do to help ease their minds?
Photo by Robin Schwartz for The New York Times
These little insects are complex!
This summer, with the help of Project Pressure and you, Danish Photographer Peter Funch will travel to Washington State’s Mt. Baker for a project that blends both art and science. By recreating famous pictures and postcards from the often photographed mountain, Funch will be documenting climate change and illustrating glacial movement through contemporary photography. Here, we talk to Peter about Expedition: Mt. Baker.
How did this project come about?
It started in 2010 when I was on a job in Greenland. I had to take several low altitude flights over glaciers. It was amazingly beautiful, but underneath my awe was the wrenching notion that these monuments of ice are so fragile – that they may one day flood everything I once knew. This paradoxical feeling led me to photograph them as much as I could and is now driving me to Mt. Baker.
Were you previously aware of Project Pressure?
I met the founder, Klaus Thymann, in London over a decade ago. We Danes tend to stick together so it wasn’t long after I moved to London that I met Klaus. We remained friends and kept in touch after I moved to Brooklyn. I heard about it through him and saw it gain momentum with articles by the BBC, the Guardian, and NASA by supporting Project Pressure with scientific data.
What type of work will you be producing?
I will be producing two types of work: one is scientific and the other is artistic. For the scientific work we need to replicate different points of view around the glacier from historical photographs. We chose Mt. Baker because it has a very long and rich history of photographic documentation. These replicated photographs of the glaciers are linked with GPS coordinates so people can go back and reshoot the image again and again. These images form what we call a “comparative timeline”, which is what we use to see how the glaciers will change over time. The more data points, or photographs, we can put in the timeline the more accurately we can extrapolate climatic predictions. This is why this work is invaluable to climatological research… and everyone for that matter.
The other part of the project is for me to create artwork that hopefully gives a more relatable perspective on Climate Change. It didn’t make sense for me to replicate some photographs, pack my bags, and leave. I am an artist and this subject deeply affects me. So not all the images I take will be for research. These images will be based on the collected references such as postcards and the work of Ansel Adams, which I will more or less recreate, but for the purpose of evocative visuals and inspiring a narrative in the viewer. In tandem, I will also be creating RGB Tricolor separation images to evoke changes over time: trees growing, landscapes changing, and, of course, glacial retreat.
Things previously hidden or unknown
Between nothing and nowhere.
The dolphin who loved me: the Nasa-funded project that went wrong by Christopher Riley
In the 1960s, Margaret Lovatt was part of a Nasa-funded project to communicate with dolphins. Soon she was living with ‘Peter’ 24 hours a day in a converted house
The colossal consequences of supervolcanoes.
“In 1816, Europe and North America were plagued by heavy rains, odd-colored snow, famines, strange fogs and very cold weather well into June. Though many people believed it to be the apocalypse, this “year without a summer” was actually the result of a supervolcano eruption that happened one year earlier over 1,000 miles away.”
The social and neurological roots of laughter
So many people on this tiny planet.
Inside the Strange New World of DIY Brain Stimulation by Greg Miller
Inspired by scientific studies, ordinary people are buying and building devices to send electrical current into their brains. Some say it has improved their memory and focus. Others have found relief from depression and chronic pain. But are they getting ahead of the science?