Coconut crabs, which can grow up to 3 feet, now proven to prey on birds

Our regular readers will know that I’ve long been fascinated by coconut crabs. The world’s largest

Via wikimedia.
Coconut crabs scale palm trees.

terrestrial arthropod (and thought to represent the upper size limit for land-dwelling creatures supported by exoskeletons), coconut crabs can grow to more than 3 feet in length. They can climb trees and crack coconuts. Their claws are as strong as a lion’s jaws. They can live for up to 60 years. And now, researchers have evidence that their diet isn’t limited to fruits, nuts, and scavenged carrion: they sometimes engage in predation, as well.

It has long been known that the crabs will feed on meat, when they encounter it; in a 2007 experiment, coconut crabs made short work of a small pig carcass, quickly stripping its flesh and scattering the bones. Persistent rumors suggest that a dead or wounded Amelia Earhart may have suffered a similar fate. Researchers now have direct evidence, though, that coconut crabs will not only consume dead animals they come across, they will sometimes go on the hunt themselves.

This Washington Post article describes researchers’ encounters with coconut crabs that have hunted (and fed on) seabirds:

[N]ow, finally, we have video evidence that the crabs — thousands strong on one island — can scale trees and hunt full-grown birds in their nests.

[…] After about a month on the island [in the Chagos archipelago], in February of 2016, [Dartmouth biologist Mark Laidre] investigated a giant crab’s underground lair. “Deep inside the crab’s burrow was the carcass of a nearly full-grown red-footed booby,” he wrote. This was Laidre’s first sign that the stories might be true, that giant crabs really were hunting birds. He had his proof a month later.

“In the middle of the night,” Laidre wrote, “I observed a coconut crab attack and kill an adult red-footed booby.”

You can see some footage from this encounter in the video below.

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Huge, mysterious hole opens up in Antarctica

Image: MODIS-Aqua via NASA Worldview; sea ice contours from AMSR2 ASI via University of Bremen
An image of the hole in the ice (the blue outline within the icy area).

A massive, 30,000 square mile hole has just opened up in the Antarctic ice. (For reference, that’s roughly the size of the state of Maine, the surface of Lake Superior, or the entire nation of Belgium.) A hole such as this — an area of open water surrounded by sea ice — is called a polynya. This particular polynya is located in the Weddell Sea, and while its appearance is puzzling, it is not unprecedented: a similar hole was observed in the region in the 1970s. Precisely what led to the formation of the Weddell Sea polynya is unknown. A typical polynya forms close to open water; this one, however, is “deep in the ice pack” and thus “must have formed through other processes that aren’t understood.”1

 

While scientific data on the 1970s Weddell Sea polynya is limited to a few photographs taken by early satellites, technological advances since that time offer researchers greater ability to study — and perhaps understand — the hole’s recurrence. As to precisely what caused this hole to open up, I have my own theory:

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An eery dark region is growing on the sun’s surface

An enormous black blotch known as a “coronal hole” has been spotted spreading across the sun. Coronal holes, according to Wikipedia, are “areas where the Sun’s corona is darker, and colder, and has lower-density plasma than average because there is lower energy and gas levels.” These holes can allow high-density plasma to escape to space, which can disrupt satellite communications here on Earth.

The size and number of coronal holes peak and wane with the solar cycle, which spans 11 years.

The most recent coronal hole of a similar size opened in 2012, and was the “precursor to an extremely powerful solar storm, the most powerful one in 150 years.” That storm was considered a near-miss for Earth: according to Daniel Baker, from the University of Colorado’s Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics, “If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces.”

We’ll see what happens with this one. You can read more at UniverseToday.com.

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World’s deepest “blue hole” discovered

It’s located near the Xisha Islands (also known as the Paracel Islands) in the South China Sea.

(Blue holes are underwater caverns or sinkholes, typically formed in shallow seabeds made of carbonate rock such as limestone. They can be hundreds of feet deep, and much deeper than surrounding waters, leading to dramatic photographs as seen here.)

From CBS:Great_Blue_Hole

A new exploration of a legendary blue hole in the South China Sea has found that the underwater feature is the deepest known on Earth.

According to Xinhua News, Dragon Hole, or Longdong, is 987 feet (300.89 meters) deep, far deeper than the previous record holder, Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas.

Read more here!

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Bizarre 307-million-year-old “monster” fossil identified

One of the weirdest-looking creatures ever to have existed has finally been analyzed and categorized. The “Tully Monster” (named after its discoverer Francis Tully, who found the fossils in Illinois nearly sixty years ago) has long puzzled scientists. But a team of researchers recently used scanning electronic microscopes to explore its internal structure, and their findings have allowed them to explain the animal’s lineage. From arstechnicabizarre-monster-fossil

The “Tully monster,” a mysterious animal that swam in the inland oceans of Illinois more than 300 million years ago, left behind a tantalizingly detailed map of its body in a well-preserved package of fossils. Unfortunately, nobody could figure out what the creature was for half a century—until now.

[W]here did Tullimonstrum fit into the history of life in the seas? A team of researchers has just […] analyzed the fossils using scanning electron microscopes, which allowed them to explore the anatomy of the Tully monster inside and out.
[…] “The buccal apparatus of Tullimonstrum suggests that it grasped food with its bifurcate anterior projection and rasped pieces off with the lingual apparatus,” the authors conclude. Which is to say, the Tully monster used that long, toothy protrusion from the front of its body to grab food, and then it ripped bites off using a long, powerful tongue. And it needed that weird-ass eye arrangement to see what it was doing at the end of its mouth proboscis.

Cool stuff! You can read more here.

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What does space really look like?

We’ve all seen gorgeous, colorful images, often courtesy of the Hubble telescope, of faraway galaxies and fantastic nebulae. What most of us probably don’t realize, however, is that these aren’t true-color images — instead, they’ve typically been altered and enhanced for  scientific purposes. So what does space really look like? Check out this interesting and informative video to learn!

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A Meteor Just Exploded Over The Atlantic With More Force Than The Hiroshima Bomb

On February 6, the largest meteor impact since the 2013 Chelyabinsk incident occurred over the southern Atlantic Ocean, yielding a fireball with an explosive force greater than 13,000 tons of TNT (13 kt) — a blast at least as energetic as the Hiroshima bomb. (By comparison, the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded over Russia with a force equal to 440,000 tons of TNT.)

Don’t worry too much, though — this headline is somewhat sensationalist. In fact, NASA keeps track of meteor impacts like this one, and it turns out that they occur on a fairly regular basis, with airbursts of this size happening every five to ten years or so, on average. To put this in a little more context, there have been six impact events during the past ten years equal or greater in size to the February 6 incident. Over this period, NASA has recorded a total of 292 meteor airbursts that have had an explosive force greater than 73 tons of TNT. (The median blast had a force equal to 230 tons of TNT.)

Unfortunately, since the February 6 event occurred in the middle of the ocean, no one was around to capture video footage of what was surely a visually-striking fireball. (Data on the February 6 event, iflscience.com reports, “were given to NASA by the U.S. government. Detecting atmospheric explosions is most likely a high priority of several branches of the U.S. military, so a fireball of such magnitude could have been easily picked up. Satellite imagery and infrasound atmospheric microphones could both be used to detect an impact like this.”)

The Chelyabinsk meteor, on the other hand, exploded over a fairly populated region and consequently was caught on film from multiple angles (you can check out some video footage of that event below). Because the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded so high in the atmosphere (at an altitude of 18.4 miles), it did little damage beyond shattering windows and scaring the bejeezus out of everyone in range.

The last meteor to inflict massive damage on the ground was the Tunguska impacter, which completely flattened 770 square miles of Siberian forest back in 1908. That meteor had a destructive force of at least 15 megatons — 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.

Whenever these events happen, of course, the first question on everyone’s mind is something along the lines of, “would we be ready if a bigger one was headed our way?” The answer to this is “probably not.” However, don’t let it concern you too much — the chances of a life-threatening impact occurring during our lifetimes is infinitesimally small, and we’ve got plenty of eyes on the sky that would spot such an object well in advance.

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Scientists discover a solid-black, bio-luminescent shark

As if the creature’s physical characteristics weren’t interesting enough on their own, researchers gave it one of the coolest names in the animal kingdom: the ninja lanternshark. This shark can be found in the deeps off the Pacific coast of Central America, and grows to about 1.5 feet in length.

The ninja lanternshark, or Etmopterus benchleyi.
The ninja lanternshark, or Etmopterus benchleyi.

Like other lanternsharks, it produces light with special organs in its body, which is likely used to communicate with other sharks, for camouflage and perhaps to attract prey. The scientists who first found the fish, from the Pacific Shark Research Center in California, gave the species the technical name Etmopterus benchleyi. It’s named after Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws. […] The animal lives in the waters off the continental slope, at depths of 0.5 to 0.9 miles deep, where it is very dark. It presumably eats small fish and crustaceans although scientists don’t yet know hardly anything about its diet or behavior.

You can read more about this intriguing creature here!

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Apparently, Earth is sprouting dark matter “hairs”

The great thing about astrophysics is that… it’s all weird. And not much is weirder than dark matter (a “hypothetical kind of matter that cannot be seen with telescopes but accounts for most of the matter in the universe”; “one of the greatest mysteries in modern astrophysics”). Should we be surprised that the Earth is growing a dark matter mullet? Well, maybe.

While dark matter is itself unobservable, scientists can track it based on the trail it leaves. And according to a recent study published in the Astrophysical Journal, “some of those trails might come in the form of “hairy” filaments draped around Earth.” The Washington Post goes on:

If Earth is indeed wearing a dark matter toupee, it could be great news for astrophysicists.

“If we could pinpoint the location of the root of these hairs, we could potentially send a probe there and get a bonanza of data about dark matter,” lead study author Gary Prézeau of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.

Fine-grained streams of dark matter mixed up with matter matter are crisscrossing through our solar system as we speak. Earth’s gravity would bend these streams into dense filaments that Prézeau compares to strands of hair. The densest part of the filament — the “root,” if you will — would have a black matter density a billion times higher than the original stream.

According to the research, these roots might be as close as 600,000 miles away, with the fine tips of the filaments would reach out about twice as far.

Because these roots would boast such a dense trove of dark matter, locating and studying them could give us one of our best ever chances of detecting the mysterious stuff directly.

Strange stuff indeed.

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Bizarre “spaghetti monster” discovered 4000 feet underwater

One never knows what sort of strange life forms the ocean will churn up next.

According to livescience, “workers at the oil and gas company BP videotaped this strange-looking animal while collecting video footage some 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) under the sea with a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV).” Check out the footage below:

The creature, it turns out, is Bathyphysa conifer, a colonial animal similar to jellyfish and corals: “the spaghettilike B. conifer is made up of many different multicellular organisms known as zooids. These organisms are a lot like regular, solitary animals, except that they’re attached to other zooids, forming a more complex organism.”

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