This “living rock” is one of the weirdest creatures out there.

Pyura_chilensis_living_rock.jpegKnown among the scientific community as Pyura chilensis, this critter filters nutrients from the water, much like a barnacle or sponge. Stranger still:

it[ has] clear blood[, which] mysteriously secretes a rare element called vanadium. Also, it’s born male, becomes hermaphroditic at puberty, and reproduces by tossing clouds of sperm and eggs into the surrounding water and hoping they knock together.

According to Scientific AmericanP. chilensis “belongs to the Ascidiacea class of non-moving, sac-like marine invertebrate filter feeders that are otherwise known as sea squirts.”

Credit for this critter goes to grist.

Newly-discovered plant species “eats metal”

A bit of a sensationalist headline, I’m afraid — I had hoped for giant Venus Fly Traps going around munching on cars and discarded rebar. This is still pretty interesting, though: 

A new plant species with an unusual lifestyle – it eats nickel for a living – has been discovered, according to a recent study.

Scientists from the University of the Philippines, Los Baños have discovered Rinorea niccolifera, a plant species that accumulates up to 18,000 ppm of the metal in its leaves without poisoning itself, according to Edwino Fernando, lead author of the report and professor, said in a statement.

Nickel hyperaccumulation is such a rare phenomenon with only about 0.5 to 1 percent of plant species native to nickel-rich soils having been recorded to exhibit the ability. 

In addition to just being plain interesting, this could be helpful for humans, too: plants that accumulate heavy metals can be used to clean up contaminated sites. 

Check out the original article here.

The curious case of Chicago’s wild parrots

Chicago is probably the last place you’d expect to find a population of wild parrots. But they’re there. 
While the birds are native to South America, they’ve survived in Chicago since at least the 1960s. Locals have a number of theories (bordering on urban legends) about their origins: 
  • A University of Chicago experiment went awry and the birds escaped
  • The birds escaped from a holding pen at O’Hare
  • A truck on its way to a pet store overturned and let the parrots loose
  • The government put them here
  • etc.
According to University of Chicago ornithologist Dr. Stephen Pruett-Jones, however, the answer is straightforward: “They got here through the pet trade and the pet trade really peaked in the mid to late 1960s.” How do the birds survive Chicago’s harsh winters? Backyard bird feeders! (They also tend to build nests atop electrical transformers for warmth.) 
You can read much more here, or check out WBIZ’s podcast on the subject below:


MERS virus appears in Indiana

MERS, also known as the Middle East Respiratory syndrome, had previously been confined to a handful of nations in that region. To date, the virus has sickened more than 8,000 and killed nearly 800. Now, it appears to be on the move. 

On Friday, the CDC confirmed the first case of the MERS virus in the United States:


MERS-CoV (Photo credit: NIAID)

On May 2, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first confirmed U.S. case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).  Public health officials are assuring citizens that there is very low risk to the general public.  Still, the Daily Herald reports that CDC officials are contacting individuals that may be at risk and will respond if others are showing symptoms.

On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Chicago, IL, via London, England.  The patient then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana.  On the April 27, the patient began to experience respiratory symptoms and went to an emergency department in an Indiana hospital the next day and was admitted that same day. 

More information available here. The media, of course, tends to blow these stories out of proportion. Even so, I like to keep my eye on potential pandemics. Call it a survival instinct. (Especially since this patient passed through Chicago, where I live…)


Florida judge surprised by defendant’s last name — “Cocaine”

Fittingly, and amusingly, the gentleman was arraigned on drug charges:

The judge did a double-take and there were giggles aplenty in bond court Wednesday when a bailiff announced the name of a man arrested for drug possession: Edward Cocaine.

“What?” uttered a stunned County Judge John “Jay” Hurley.

“My last name is Cocaine,” proudly stated the man at the podium. His name was indeed legal and inscribed on his driver’s license.

“You know, I’d thought I’d seen it all,” Hurley laughed, shaking his head. “How many times have the police told you to step out of the car during your life?”

“Just about every time I get pulled over,” a chuckling Cocaine admitted.
Sounds like a good-natured judge. I trust him to deliver justice, despite this man’s unfortunate surname.  You can read the original article here

Fashions of the future, as imagined in 1893

1975-fashion-future-imagined-in-1893.pngWe all long to know what the future will bring, whether we’re thinking about tomorrow, next month, or one hundred years from now. (Okay, perhaps we typically concern ourselves the least with the far-future.) The longer the timescale, of course, the trickier things are to predict — and this is especially so for matters of aesthetics.

Case in point: check out these wacky fashion sketches from 1893. These pictures come from an article entitled “Future Dictates of Fashion,” penned by one W. Cade Gall and published in The Strand. Gall had a vision, certainly, but of what world, I’m not sure.

The Public Domain Review writes:

The designs themselves have a somewhat unaccountable leaning toward the medieval, or as John Ptak astutely notes, “a weird alien/Buck Rogers/Dr. Seuss/Wizard of Oz quality” to them. If indeed this was a genuine attempt by the author Gall to imagine what the future of fashion might look like, it’s fascinating to see how far off the mark he was, proving yet again how difficult it is to predict future aesthetics. It is also fascinating to see how Gall envisaged the progression of fashions across the decades – considering that, from our perspective now, his vision of 1970 doesn’t much look much different to 1920 – and to see which aspects of his present he wasn’t even able to consider losing to the march of time (e.g. the long length of women’s skirts and the seemingly ubiquitous frill).

Mr. W. Cade Gall seems to have had a strange fixation on umbrellas, tobacco pipes, and pointy shoes.
You can check out the rest of the drawings here.