Revealed – Truth Is, Zebras Don’t Have Stripes on Skin – is that Weird or Not? #nature #biology #animals #genetics


Taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim

This may not be the most important piece of news, but zebras are solid black under their striped coat.

 Skin color and hair color are controlled by different genes, hormones, and other factors, says Barsh, who studies the genetics of animal color patterns… citing domestic cats, domestic dogs, horses, zebras, and cheetahs as examples. nationalgeographic

I know that’s true with my llamas. Now, tell the truth. You’re about to go brush the hair backwards on your dog or cat to check, aren’t you? Go ahead! Be a citizen scientist.


Scientific Discovery in Bathtub #science #beetle #bugs #nature

If you’d love to make a scientific discovery, it pays to keep your eyes open.

In 1984, a couple outside of Salem, Oregon, discovered tiny beetles floating in the [bathtub]


Great Diving Beetle, free-swimming and a giant by comparison

water… a species completely new to science.

It also pays to remember Isaac Asimov’s words that “the most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not, ‘Eureka! I’ve found it,’ but, ‘That’s funny!'”

After sending a sample to Oregon State University the couple cleaned the beetles out of their well with chlorine, and I can’t blame them. But Oregon State entomologist Richard Van Driesche read about the beetles and wanted to find more. His parents’ farm is near Salem and when he checked their well water filter, he found several deceased beetles that yielded usable DNA. Oddly enough, the closest relatives to Oregon’s beetles live in a Texas aquifer – a long way for a tiny diving beetle that spends its entire life underground. I’ve seen no word on what they eat down there.

It’s a Scottish Loch – it’s a monster – no, not that one #monster #Scotland #fossil #biology

I understand why we hate to say such a creature no longer swims in Earth’s waters.

Scientists have unveiled a monster that would make Nessie blush: a 13-foot-long reptile that

Various ichthyosaurs

Various ichthyosaurs

ruled the seas 170 million years ago… the Storr Lochs Monster.”

The ichthyosaur was a predator, a fast marine reptilian that excites our imaginations – and hopes. Sort of a Jurassic dolphin, though not a mammal. Suppose you could discover such a creature – even as a fossil.

An amateur fossil collector … noticed something strange jutting out of the rocks: strings of vertebrae that looked like stacks of chocolate-brown ashtrays.”

Sadly the discoverer died before the fossil was extracted from the very-hard rock matrix that held it. I wonder what he saw when he closed his eyes and imagined his fossil swimming through ancient seas?

I usually think of the cryptid Nessie as more of a serpent – long and thin – that decades of searching has failed to find. Better a fossil in the hand.

Thanks to

Mars-ward Ho #space #science #explore #Mars #tech @MarsOneProject #SpaceX

in the 1990s, Biosphere 2 studied a closed system similar to what Mars colonists may need to create

in the 1990s, Biosphere 2 studied a closed system similar to what Mars colonists may need to create

Orbiting the planet,
above Viking’s bones,
Odyssey’s a switchboard
that seeks new landing zones.
Global Mars Surveyor
measures gravity,
Magnetosphere, minerals,
and topography.
MAVEN and Mangalyaan
sniff at the Martian air,

Japan will gather samples
and bring them back from there.
Joining Opportunity
in studying the rocks,
Rover Curiosity
seeks life’s building blocks.

UAE will gather data
on the frigid dry climate.
China’s rover should be very good
at biotech.

Yup, that's me at Biosphere 2

Yup, that’s me at Biosphere 2

Sands of a planet solely occupied
by robots,
Soon will carry boot-prints from
eager astronauts.
Far beyond horizons
where ancestors have roamed,
Mars One and SpaceX
want to claim Mars as a home.

By Kate Rauner

The list of missions to Mars – failed and successful – is long, but the list of planned missions is growing longer. Thanks to for the update. You can visit Biosphere 2 in Arizona where environmental studies are ongoing.

Visit Mars yourself, in my science fiction series On Mars.

On Mars 3 covers over planet (298x300)


Light and Dark Play Role in Life #science #nature #tree #GreatBritian

European Ash flowers

European Ash flowers

Humans are diurnal creatures and we carry light into darkness. In my area of New Mexico, where astronomers can still find dark skies, the fight against badly-designed artificial lights is on-going. But, while artificial light can disturb human sleep cycles, it’s generally a good thing for us. That’s not true for all animals. And now a study shows it affects plants, too.

You may know that artificial lights change the behavior of bats and sea turtles, but trees in cities are leafing out earlier thanks to night-time light. Scientists in the UK collected citizen observations of nearly 42,000 individual trees of four species, and satellite data on light intensity. After controlling for temperature and urban heat-trapping, they found three of the tree species budded earlier when exposed to nighttime lights.

It’s not clear whether this change hurts or helps other creatures, but it’s a fascinating study.

Thanks to researcher Richard ffrench-Constant, an etymologist at the University of Exeter, and

Ballooning Spiders – who knew the weird little guys can fly? #nature #Australian #flood #creepy #science

Wrong kind of ballooning!

Wrong kind of ballooning!

Record rains have fueled major floods around Launceston, the second-largest city in Tasmania, Australian. I’d expect people to evacuate.

But I didn’t expect spiders to take to the air. In a “mass ballooning event,” millions of small black spiders climbed as high as they could and spun out enough silk to catch the wind and transport them away. Thanks to weather patterns, they tend to land in the same place.

Local resident Ken Puccetti, who photographed the webs, [said] the silk was so dense, that his attempts to photograph it ended with his shoes, legs, and arms covered with silk—and the occasional spider.

“Sheets” and a “tangled mat” of webbing covers trees in flooded Launceston, which may indicate that the spiders were blown back to their starting points many times, to abandon the old webbing and start again, before escaping – since there don’t seem to be many spiders among the silk.

Pretty darn impressive for a bug.

Quick reminder: My new poetry collection will be available in July. Join my Readers’ Club now to receive a Receive flash scifi / fantasy stories every so often for a free digital copy from Smashwords.

Thanks to for the quotations above. For more, see

Just Saw Mercury #mercurytransit #space

sun porjected - sorry, but the dots of sunspots and Mercury too small to show up in the photo

sun projected – sorry, but the dots of sunspots and Mercury too small to show up in the photo

Mercury is transiting the sun – right now! With our small telescope projecting onto a piece of white paper (never look directly at the sun!) I can see a sunspot group and a dot of shadow. Had to check twice over an hour to see that dot had moved relative to the sunspots – to be sure it’s Mercury. Cool.