When This Sea Slug Eats, It Prefers the Turducken of the Sea

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about this for a few weeks. There is a new type of predation, practiced by sea slugs called “kleptopredation”.

These psychedelic slugs eat hyrdroids, and will pop polyps off the hydroid as one might pick flowers off a stalk. But a new paper suggests that sea slugs prefer to eat hydroids that have just caught plankton.

Think of it like a bear. You (a human) just caught some salmon while fishing in Alaska (I hear it’s the thing to do there). And said bear sees this and waits for you to eat your fish before swooping in to eat you both. It’s two meals for the price of one. A little human-salmon combo meal.

These sea slugs are doing the same thing. So as you head home for Thanksgiving, potentially to eat a turducken, think about how you might be practicing some kleptopredation your self. And if you want to know more, read about it here.

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Birds Beware: Of the Praying Mantis?

“Tom Vaughan, a photographer then living in Colorado’s Mancos Valley, kept a hummingbird feeder outside his house. One morning, he stepped through the portico door and noticed a black-chinned hummingbird dangling from the side of the red plastic feeder like a stray Christmas ornament.

At first, Mr. Vaughan thought he knew what was going on. “I’d previously seen a hummingbird in a state of torpor,” he said, “when it was hanging straight down by its feet, regenerating its batteries, before dropping down and flying off.”

On closer inspection, Mr. Vaughan saw that the hummingbird was hanging not by its feet but by its head. And forget about jumping its batteries: the bird was in the grip of a three-inch-long green praying mantis.

The mantis was clinging with its back legs to the rim of the feeder, holding its feathered catch in its powerful, seemingly reverent front legs, and methodically chewing through the hummingbird’s skull to get at the nutritious brain tissue within.

“It was staring at me as it fed,” Mr. Vaughan said. “Of course, I took a picture of it.” Startled by the clicking shutter, the mantis dropped its partially decapitated meal, crawled under the feeder — and began menacing two hummingbirds on the other side.”

Curious? Read more here. It’s disturbing. You’ve been warned.

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Tree-Eating Beetles March Northward, Lured by Milder Winters

For lovers of the stately pine forests of the Northeast, sightings of a destructive tree-eating beetle in recent years have been nothing short of alarming.

Now, new research from climatologists at Columbia University confirms what ecologists feared: Warmer winters mean the southern pine beetle is here to stay, and is set to march ever northward as temperatures rise.

Historically, the tiny beetles, which starve evergreens to death, were largely unheard-of north of Delaware. The Northeast’s cold winters killed off any intruders.

The winters are no longer cold enough.

Want to know more? Read about it here!

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Sea Stars Are More Brutal Than They Look

Ever look into a tide pool and become filled with the wonder of sea stars? Think they look so peaceful, chilling in their cute little pool, watching the world go by…

THINK AGAIN! These monsters are aggressive af, and one of the most brutal predators of the shore.

Want to know more? Read about it here!

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All the trees will die, and so will you

The title of this post is not my own, but it kind of has a point. Not “everything dies” but rather, a lot more apocalyptic.

A brown-black beetle (the polyphagous shot hole borer) breeds inside trees. It drills networks of tunnels, which then get infected by a fungus it carries to feed it’s young. Eventually the tree dies, the beetle moves on and the whole cycle starts again.

This would be a cute horror story, if the beetle wasn’t on track to kill 26.8 million trees across Southern California. Which is going to directly link to the death of humans. Interested? Find out why here.

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The Case of the Poisoned Hunters

Back in the sixties, a group of hunters in Oregon were found dead at their campsite, and the only clue to what had killed them was – there was a newt that was boiled in their coffee pot.

Want to know how this is related to coevolution, or learn about the awesome work being done by rockstar evolutionary biologist Joel McGlothlin from Virginia Tech?

Check out the Pulse of the Planet audio program. 

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Coevolution is cool

Arguably one of the best studied systems for coevolution resides in the mountains of Oregon: a very toxic newt and the very resistant snakes that eat them.

How did it become the best studied system for coevolution? The story starts when a young undergraduate student heard a story about three hunters who were found dead at their campsite, with no sign of theft, struggle or foul play. The only explanation of their mortality was a newt, that had accidentally been boiled in their coffee pots. Curious as to how a newt could take down three grown men, our undergraduate, Edmund Brodie Jr.

He dedicated years to studying these newts, while his son, Edmund Brodie III, focused on the snakes.

Read an excellent article from one of my favorite science writers (Ed Young) all about the decades long saga, and how cool these newts and snakes really are.

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