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How Suckerfish Surf Across Blue Whales Without Falling Off

In 2014, Jeremy Goldbogen, a marine biologist at Stanford University, stuck video cameras on the backs of blue whales, hoping to learn more about their feeding habits. When he retrieved the footage, he realized he had been photobombed. Dozens of Remora australis were treating his research subjects like dance floors, skimming and twisting across them — even as the whales swam at high speeds.They were “cruising all over the surface” of the whales, he said. “We were not expecting that at all.”Remoras — also known as suckerfish or whalesuckers — are strange, even for fish. They hitch rides with cetaceans, sharks and other larger creatures of the deep, attaching to them by means of a “sucking disc” that sits on their head like a flat, sticky hat. They then act as a kind of mobile pit crew, e...

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Why Scientists Made Venus Flytraps That Glow

Provoking a Venus flytrap takes a certain amount of finesse. If you brush just one of the trigger hairs inside of its leaves, the plant likely won’t react. But if you trigger it again quickly enough, it will spring into action, swinging its famous mouth shut.Waiting for a double trip probably keeps the plant from wasting energy on raindrops or other things that aren’t nutritious flies. But despite centuries of interest in the species, no one was quite certain how the plants remember the first trigger in order to act on a second.In a paper published last week in Nature Plants, researchers reported they had found the cause: calcium ions. By inducing the flytraps to glow when calcium entered their cells, a team of scientists was able to show how the ions build up as the hairs are triggered...

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After a Feast, These Sea Anemones Grow More Arms

People have a lot of strategies for dealing with the effects of large meals — constitutionals, antacids, workouts, naps.Starlet sea anemones have found a better way: After they eat a lot, they simply sprout some extra arms.In a paper published Wednesday in Nature Communications, researchers described how an abundance of food spurs these anemones to grow new tentacles, an ability never before seen in animals.Cnidarians — a group that includes sea anemones, jellyfish and corals — diverged evolutionarily from the other animals more than half a billion years ago. Flies, humans and the rest of the animal kingdom tend to stick to the same body structure after they mature. But cnidarians are famously adaptable. Adult anemones switch up their body size, reproductive strategy and even their veno...

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How a Praying Mantis Says ‘Boo!’

From a distance, the dead leaf praying mantis resembles its namesake: brown, crispy and still. Inch a little closer and it looks the same. But go even closer — too close — and a transformation occurs. The mantis whirls around, spreads its black-patterned wings and puts its arms behind its head in a pose reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” showing off shocking red undersides.This performance is called a startle display. Creatures across the animal kingdom use different varieties of this fancy defense to foil would-be predators: Octopuses change colors, lizards puff up their frills and moths unfold to reveal spooky eyespots.But despite their flair, startle displays are “poorly understood,” said Kate Umbers, an evolutionary biologist at Western Sydney University. It’s not clear how...

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When Bugs Crawl Up the Food Chain

Epomis beetle larvae look delicious to frogs. They’re snack-size, like little protein packs. If a frog is nearby, a larva will even wiggle its antennae and mandibles alluringly.But when the frog makes its move, the beetle turns the tables. It jumps onto the amphibian’s head and bites down. Then it drinks its would-be predator’s fluids out like a froggy Capri Sun.We tend to think of food chains moving in one direction: Bigger eats smaller. But nature is often not so neat. All around the world, and maybe even in your backyard, arthropods are bodying vertebrates and gobbling them up.Jose Valdez, soon to be a postdoctoral researcher at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, identified hundreds of examples of this phenomenon in the scientific literature, which he detailed i...

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Dolphins Have Hidden Fingers. So Do Seals. These Sea Creatures Did Not.

Put a dolphin’s front flipper in an X-ray machine, and you’ll see a surprise: an arc of humanlike finger bones. The same goes for a sea turtle, a seal, a manatee and a whale. All of these animals had four-legged ancestors that lived on land. As their various lineages adapted to life in the water, what had been multidigit limbs slowly transformed into flippers.For a paper published Wednesday in Biology Letters, researchers compared the flipper bone structures of 19 marine species with terrestrial ancestors, from species around today, like dolphins and sea turtles, to now-extinct creatures, like mosasaurs and ichthyosaurs that swam the oceans in the dinosaur era.A majority, including most of the still-living animals, stuck close to the original blueprint, the researchers found. But some n...

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