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Katie’s Webscience Update for Friday, May 6th

Good morning readers! Before we get into this week’s news, I should apologize for leaving you high and dry last week. Life has a habit of getting in the way sometimes, but I shall endeavor not to let that happen again. And on we go…

Top Story

I can’t ignore the fact that since Sunday the news has been dominated by the death of Osama bin Laden. US Navy SEAL team 6 conducted the successful operation, and I was surprised to learn that they counted a dog amongst their members. Dogs have long been used in the military the world over, but these SEAL dogs are particularly insane. Not only can they capture and hold a target until a human team member arrives, they can deploy from underwater or jump out of a plane!

The Intelligence Debate

This week the debate continued over the ethical implications of studying dolphins in captivity. Various studies have demonstrated the intelligence of these animals: Notably they have been shown to recognize themselves in a mirror, a trait believed unique to primates. Indeed their brain-to-body ratio is second only to ours, and their communication skills are thought to be greater than those of chimps. Lori Morino of Emory University in Atlanta is a strong proponent for ending research on captive dolphins, however other scientists argue that many dolphins are actually pretty happy in captivity. For example, dolphins kept by the military in pens from which they could easily escape into the open ocean do not. However this debate plays out, it is clear from this video that dolphins like cats. Yet another human-like trait!

Mad Tongue Skills

Below is an amazing high-speed video of a hummingbird drinking. Until this footage was taken it was thought that hummingbirds drank nectar through capillary action up their tube-like tongues. But it is now clear that their tongues are able to uncurl and actively trap nectar within them. From the perspective of an inquisitive nature-lover, this is really cool, but from the perspective of an entrepreneur this discovery could well be exploited in the manufacture of super-absorbent materials. Sham-wow eat your heart out…

Arachnophobia

If you’re an ant, arachnophobia is apparently totally justified. If you’re a spider, it has to be very confusing:

Spider attack from Ahmet Ozkan on Vimeo.

And Finally

Researchers studying the fish population of the Cuyuni River in Guyana turned to THE social network for help. With less than 24 hours to identify and catalog over 5,000 different species of fish to satisfy boarder control requirements, the team decided to post mugshots of the fish on Facebook. Thanks to the help of their friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends, ichthyologists around the world helped identify more than 90 percent of the samples collected. Incroyable!

Thanks for reading, and as always, suggestions for these updates are greatly appreciated! Have a lovely weekend, and American readers, don’t forget it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday!

Katie

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