BBC Focus Magazine Nigeria
BBC Focus Magazine
Boxing Weevil scoops top Bug Photography Prize - BBC Focus Magazine
The best bug photography from this year's Luminar Bug Photographer of the Year
Yet another amazing photography prize was announced this week, this time it was the turn of the Luminar Bug Photography Awards 2020 (in association with Europes leading invertebrate charity Buglife) was won by a rather fighty-looking weevil. The judging panel included Buglife President Germaine Greer; TV presenter and naturalist Nick Baker; and ground-breaking invertebrates photographer Levon Biss. We are big fans of bug photography here at Science Focus HQ, and these expertly-crafted images really caught our attention. Pay close attention to the doting ant parents, who turn out to be anything but Check out some of our other image galleries The palm weevil, a rusty red colour Weevil larvae, can excavate holes in the trunk of a palm trees up to a metre long thereby weakening and eventually killing the host plant Mofeed Abu Shalwa/Luminar Bug Photographer of the Year The flower crab spider is one of 27 species of crab spider. The flower crab spider can alter the colour of its body to match its surroundings and to hide from prey. It is not as common as other types of crab spider Mofeed Abu Shalwa/Luminar Bug Photography Awards A 41 image stack of a common carder bee in the UK Jamie Spensley/Luminar Bug Photography Awards Diamond squid during a blackwater dive Galice Hoarau/Luminar Bug Photography Awards Larval wonderpuss, during a blackwater dive in in Lembeh, Indonesia Galice Hoarau/Luminar Bug Photography Awards Two different species of bees emerging from the bug hotel, Willughbys leaf cutter Bee & Andrena mining Bee Lee Frost/Luminar Bug Photography Awards A lynx spider (Oxyopidae) with its young, shot in the mountains of Taiwan Lung-Tsai Wang/Luminar Bug Photography Awards Not a couple of doting parents, but in fact two weaver ants pulling apart a smaller one, possibly a fire ant. How lovely Reynante Martinez/Luminar Bug Photography Awards A garden snail (Cornu aspersum) photographed in the UK David Lain/Luminar Bug Photography Awards A male Phidippus insignarius performs his courtship dance for a female, or in this case, the photographer Raed Ammari/Luminar Bug Photography Awards Acorn weevil (Curculio glandium) taking off from a leaf, or perhaps a diving board Christian Brockes/Luminar Bug Photography Awards A newly-hatched swallowtail butterfly getting ready to take flight Sara Jazbar/Luminar Bug Photography Awards A stag beetle hides behind a leaf, and tries to scare us with his shadow-puppet skills Martijn Nugteren/Luminar Bug Photography Awards A large hatch of mayflies on the River Kennet near Kintbury UK Peter Orr/Luminar Bug Photography Awards Potter wasp (Eumeninae) photographed using 173 photos stacked and combined together to make a stunning final image Riyad Hamzi/Luminar Bug Photography Awards
Key language ability 'existed in ancient primate ancestors' - BBC Focus Magazine
Researchers say understanding relationships between words in a sentence is a trait that evolved at least 30 million years ago.
It is thought that the earliest forms of language began to take shape with the arrival of anatomically modern Homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. However, the capacity for language evolved somewhere between 30 and 40 million years ago, scientists believe. Researchers say the ability to understand relationships between words in a sentence a key foundation in language processing may have come from the last common ancestor of monkeys, apes and humans. This indicates that this critical feature of language already existed in our ancient primate ancestors, predating the evolution of language itself by at least 30 40 million years, said Professor Simon Townsend at the University of Warwick, who led the study published in Science Advances. Read more about the origin of language: Prof Townsend and his colleagues examined language processing abilities in chimpanzees, humans and common marmosets a Brazilian monkey. The researchers wanted to see how primates process relationships between individual tones in a string of sounds much like words in a sentence. They did so by looking at words which are next to one another known as an adjacent dependency as well as words that are distant to one another known as a non-adjacent dependency. The team said that being able to process relationships between words in a sentence is one of the key cognitive abilities underpinning language. Chimpanzees Tina and Martin, at the National Center for Chimpanzee Care, who were involved in the language experiments © National Center for Chimpanzee Care in Bastrop, Texas One example they gave which highlighted this phenomena was the sentence: The dog who bit the cat ran away. In this sentence, it is understood that is it the dog who ran away rather than the cat, a result of being able to process the relationship between the first and last phrases. Most animals do not produce non-adjacent dependencies in their own natural communication systems, but we wanted to know whether they might nevertheless be able to understand them, said Dr Stuart Watson, from the University of Zurich. For this study, the researchers created artificial grammars where sequences made up of meaningless sounds instead of words were used to examine the abilities of the test subjects to process the relationships between sounds. Read more about language: They found that all three species were readily able to process the relationships between both adjacent and non-adjacent sound elements. That is, they could learn that certain sounds were always followed by others, even if they were separated by a different sound. This meant apes and monkeys were able to track relationships between sounds the same way as humans, showing that this ability predates the evolution of language itself by millions of years. These notable similarities between monkeys, apes, and humans indicate that nonadjacent dependency processing, a crucial cognitive facilitator of language, is an ancestral trait that evolved at least (around) 40 million years before language itself, the study authors wrote. Reader Q&A: Do deaf people do sign language in their sleep? Asked by: Heidi Nelson, London Anecdotally, some people whove learned sign language do occasionally use it in their sleep. Theres not a lot of scientific data, but one 2017 case study describes a 71-year-old man with a severe hearing impairment, who also had rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behaviour disorder. This involves a loss of paralysis during REM sleep, and the man was observed signing fluently. The researchers could even get an idea of what he was dreaming about by decoding his signs. Read more:
Andromeda galaxy has a humongous halo of gas - BBC Focus Magazine
Andromeda's halo extends approximately halfway to the Milky Way.
Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have mapped the enormous halo of gas surrounding the Andromeda galaxy the closest large galaxy to our Milky Way. The map the most detailed of its kind shows that the halo of plasma (electrically charged gas) surrounding this spiral galaxy extends about 1.3 million light-years towards the Milky Way (about half of the distance), and as much as 2 million light-years in some directions. The halo is invisible, but the researchers say that if it could be seen, itd be about three times the width of the Plough, making it the biggest feature in the night sky. Read more about galaxies Understanding the huge halos of gas surrounding galaxies is immensely important, said team member Samantha Berek at Yale University in Connecticut, US. This reservoir of gas contains fuel for future star formation within the galaxy, as well as outflows from events such as supernovae. Its full of clues regarding the past and future evolution of the galaxy, and were finally able to study it in great detail in our closest galactic neighbour. The team found that Andromedas halo is composed of two distinct layers. The inner shell has a more complex structure than the outer shell, which is likely the result of supernovae in the galaxys disk. These violent explosions the death throes of giant stars also eject heavy elements into space, which were detected in high amounts in the halo. Illustration showing the halo, with quasars marked in orange © NASA, ESA, and E. Wheatley (STScI) The halo was mapped by studying the ultraviolet light from 43 distant quasars extremely luminous galactic cores that are powered by black holes located behind the halo. The researchers used Hubbles Cosmic Origins Spectrograph to analyse how this background light was absorbed by the halos gas in different regions, revealing variations in the gass structure. Andromeda is thought to be similar in size and shape to our Milky Way, so these findings also provide insights into our own galactic halo, which is much trickier to map from inside the galaxy. Reader Q&A: If the Universe is expanding, why is the Andromeda galaxy on course to collide with the Milky Way? Asked by: Bazrry Cull, Taumarunui, New Zealand The expansion of the Universe is a large-scale phenomenon: in general, the further away a galaxy is, the faster it recedes from us. But over small regions of space, this expansion is negligible compared to the motion of individual galaxies. The Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies are sufficiently large and sufficiently close together to create a gravitational force that overcomes the general expansion and pulls them together. But dont worry, the collision wont happen for another four billion years. Read more:
Ancient reptile ‘well-preserved’ in stomach of slightly larger reptile - BBC Focus Magazine
A five-metre-long ichthyosaur ate a four-metre-long thalattosaur around 240 million years ago.
A 240 million-year-old fossil has revealed that dolphin-like ichthyosaurs could gobble up animals almost as big as themselves. Its the first direct evidence of megapredation one large animal eating another in the ancient world. Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. The fossilised ichthyosaur in this new study was uncovered in a quarry in southwestern China. Its an almost complete skeleton, around five metres long, with the bones of another marine reptile called a thalattosaur preserved inside its stomach. Read more about ichthyosaurs: The thalattosaur was around four metres long and more lizard-like than the ichthyosaur, with four paddling limbs. The bones found in the ichthyosaurs belly correspond to the thalattosaurs middle section, from its front to back limbs. Our ichthyosaurs stomach contents werent etched by stomach acid, so it must have died quite soon after ingesting this food item, said study co-author Dr Ryosuke Motani, a paleobiologist at the University of California, Davis. The stomach of the ichthyosaur contains the mid-section of another marine reptile that in life would have been only slight smaller © Da-Yong Jiang et al/ iScience The researchers dont know for sure whether the ichthyosaur killed the animal itself, or whether it was scavenging following another animals kill. But several pieces of evidence suggest that it was a direct kill, including the fact that the nutritious torso and legs were still intact this probably wouldnt have been the case if another predator had got there first. The quarry where the ichthyosaur was uncovered, now part of the Xingyi Geopark Museum © Ryosuke Motani/University of California The ichthyosaur had relatively small, peg-like teeth, which suggest that, rather than neatly slicing through its victim, it would have gripped it before ripping or tearing it apart. Present-day apex predators such as orcas, leopard seals and crocodiles use a similar technique. The ichthyosaurs teeth, with the broken white line indicating the approximate gum line of the upper jaw © Jiang et al/iScience Now, we can say for sure that [ichthyosaurs] did eat large animals, said Motani. This also suggests that megapredation was probably more common than we previously thought. Reader Q&A: Why were dinosaurs so big? Asked by: David Paylor, Oxford Dinosaurs lived during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. During these periods, the climate was much warmer, with CO levels over four times higher than today. This produced abundant plant life, and herbivorous dinosaurs may have evolved large bodies partly because there was enough food to support them. But being large also helps to protect against predators. The giant sauropods had to eat plants as fast as they could, to grow big enough to be safe from carnivores like T. rex and Spinosaurus. Meanwhile, the carnivores were becoming larger just so they could tackle their enormous prey. Another possibility is that the herbivorous dinosaurs were ectothermic (cold blooded), and being huge helped them regulate their temperature. This theory is problematic though because evidence increasingly suggests that the large carnivores were endothermic (warm blooded), which means that dinosaurs would have evolved two different metabolic systems, side by side. Read more:
99-million-year-old fight between ‘hell ant’ and its prey preserved in amber - BBC Focus Magazine
Researchers say the only way prey could be captured in this position is for the ant's mouthparts to move in a direction "unlike that of all living ants".
A stunning, 99-million-year-old fossil has captured a hell ant in the act of attacking its prey. It provides rare evidence for how these extinct insects hunted with their scythe-like mandibles and horn-like headgear. The hell ant belongs to a previously identified species called Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri. It was preserved in amber found in Myanmar (formerly Burma) along with its insect prey, an extinct relative of the cockroach. Read more fossil findings: Like other species of hell ant, Ceratomyrmex sports a pair of deadly mandibles that snap upwards in a vertical motion, unlike the mandibles of modern ants, which move horizontally. Also unlike modern ants, the hell ants have horns protruding from their heads. The new fossil provides direct evidence that hell ants, which are believed to have become extinct along with the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, used their headgear to hunt, snapping their mandibles to pin their prey against the horn. The hell ant, belonging to a species called Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri, and its prey were found in Myanmar preserved in amber © Current Biology/2020 Elsevier Inc/NJIT, Chinese Academy of Sciences and University of Rennes, France To see an extinct predator caught in the act of capturing its prey is invaluable, said study leader Dr Phillip Barden at New Jersey Institute of Technology in the US. This fossilised predation confirms our hypothesis for how hell ant mouthparts worked. The only way for prey to be captured in such an arrangement is for the ant mouthparts to move up and downward in a direction unlike that of all living ants and nearly all insects. I had a great time working with @NJIT design students Oliver Budd, Jackson Fordham, and Victor Nzegwu on recreating hell ants in sculpture. Thank you to Martina Decker for leading the team! More models, digital and physical, on the way! pic.twitter.com/vKTBOkYjpZ Phil Barden (@Haidomyrmex) August 6, 2020 Bardens team thinks that the early ancestors of hell ants would have first gained the ability to move their mouthparts vertically, while the diverse horns evolved later. Some hell ant species had horns with serrated teeth, while one species is believed to have impaled its victims on a horn that was reinforced with metal. The team now hopes to find more ancient ant fossils, with the aim of understanding why hell ants went extinct, while their modern-day equivalents thrived. Reader Q&A: Could we bring back an extinct species using DNA, Jurassic Park style? Asked by: Alec Maddocks, via email To de-extinct an animal, you need a source of the animals DNA, which provides the blueprint for making it. DNA is sometimes preserved in fossils, and the oldest DNA extracted to date comes from a 700,000-year-old horse bone found in the Canadian permafrost. However, DNA breaks down over time, and scientists think that its unlikely to be found in any specimen older than a million years. Dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. No dinosaur DNA, no dinosaurs. Sorry! Some other species, however, are fair game. In 2003, scientists briefly de-extincted a type of goat, called the bucardo. DNA-laden cells, taken from the last living female before she died, were used to create a clone, and the resulting embryo was transplanted into the womb of a living domestic goat. The bucardo was delivered by Caesarean section, but died shortly after birth due to lung defects. The bucardo was therefore the first animal to be de-extincted, but also the first animal to go extinct twice! Other de-extinction projects include attempts to revive an Australian amphibian called the gastric-brooding frog, a North American bird called the passenger pigeon and the one and only woolly mammoth. These use a combination of cloning, gene-editing and stem cell methods, but dont hold your breath waiting for the pitter-patter of tiny feet. De-extinction is still very much in its infancy, so for now, take solace in the fact that dinosaurs never really left us. Birds are their direct descendants, and theyre everywhere. Read more:
Ultra-black deep-sea fish have skin that can absorb 99.9 per cent of light - BBC Focus Magazine
This intense black colour improves their chances of survival.
You might be able to apply black make-up, dye your hair a dusky tone and drape yourself in black leather, but youll never be as goth as some species of deep-sea fish. A team of scientists from Duke University and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History have found that the skin of some deep-sea fish absorbs more than 99.95 per cent of the light that hits them, making them appear ultra-black. In the dark environment in which they live, where even a tiny bit of reflected light can attract unwanted attention, this intense black colour improves their chances of survival. Read more about fish: Duke Universitys Dr Karen Osborn, who co-led the research, first discovered the incredible properties of the fish when she tried to photograph some of the specimens that shed brought up from the deep sea. Despite high-tech equipment, she could not see any detail in the images. It didnt matter how you set up the camera or lighting they [the fish] just sucked up all the light, she said. The researchers found that the secret to the ultra-black colour is melanin the same pigment that gives human skin and hair its colour and its distribution within the fish skin. The melanin is located inside structures called melanosomes, which are densely packed into cells on the fish skin. Thanks to the shape and arrangement of the melanosomes, any light that reaches a melanosome will be redirected towards another in the cell, to absorb it. The ultra-black Pacific blackdragon (Idiacanthus antrostomus), the second-blackest fish studied by the research team © Karen Osborn, Smithsonian These pigment-containing structures are packed into the skin cells like a tiny gumball machine, where all of the gumballs are of just the right size and shape to trap light within the machine, said Alexander Davis, a co-author of the study and doctoral student at Duke University. So far, the team have found 16 species of fish that use this method to appear ultra-black in the deep sea. As the species are not closely related, it could be a relatively common strategy. It is thought that engineers could take inspiration from the fish to create ultra-black substances for sensitive optical equipment, which is currently expensive and fiddly to produce. Reader Q&A: What is the darkest human-made substance? Asked by: Kate Clegg, Exeter In 2014, researchers at UK-based Surrey NanoSystems unveiled Vantablack, a coating that absorbs up to 99.96 percent of light that falls onto it. Vantablack is made up of millions of carbon nanotubes barely 200 atoms across, and it can be used to absorb stray light in the sensitive instruments of satellite observatories. When it is applied to ordinary objects, however, it creates the illusion of making them look totally flat. This is because no light reflects off an object coated with Vantablack so its impossible for our eyes to make out any three-dimensional features. You can even buy a watch with a Vantablack dial! Read more: