Life with the most dangerous bird on the planet

“Imagine an ostrich as described by H.P. Lovecraft, or maybe a turkey fused with a velociraptor” excellent words to describe the Cassowary. Alternatively: six-foot-tall murdermachines.

These birds are glaringly representatives of their dinosaur heritage, and they couple stunning beauty with murderous intent. Read about taking care of these birds over at National Geographic.


Side note: I was at the Evolution meetings this summer, and spoke to a few biologist who have in the past studied birds. I asked them, given that we now know that birds and dinosaurs are the same group, should we change the names of ornithologists to neo-ornithologists and paleo-ornithologists. This sparked a discussion about what to call people who study the evolution of birds. The conclusion we came to? You call them “Evolutionary Biologists”.

The indestructible tardigrade

“Water bears” or tardigrades are the most resilient animals ever. Slight hyperbole, but really not that far off.

They are able to withstand extreme radiation, temperature changes and even the vacuum of space.

So it’s no surprise that people were fascinated by the tardigrade genome, and how they manage to survive no matter what.

In a new study in nature communications shows the unique arsenal of strategies to cope with stressful conditions that tardigrades may face.

Read about it over at Gizmodo!

Or enjoy this quote:

“Tardigrades are strangely adorable microscopic creatures that are capable of withstanding some of the worst that nature can throw at them.”


A (tardigrade) face that only a mother could love. (Credit: Takekazu Kunieda)

The trees are dying

In Hawaii trees are dying at an alarming rate due to an unknown and uncharacterised disease.

Since 2010 66 million trees have been killed in the Sierra Nevadas due to an invasive pathogen called Sudden Oak Death.

In Montana Bark beetles and mountain pine beetles are killing trees at a rate 10 times higher than normal.

These are a few but not exhaustive examples. Want a better summary of the trials facing our american forests? Read about it over at the Guardian.


Snails are going extinct

Given that I studied an abundant snail during my PhD (actually, Potamopyrgus antipodarum is invasive throughout most of the world), this headline was alarming to me.

But like many uncharismatic microfauna, snails are declining in record number across a number of different habitats.

Read about it over at Scientific America, and save the snails!

The endangered Powelliphanta augusta snail of New Zealand Credit: Alan Liefting

The endangered Powelliphanta augusta snail of New Zealand Credit: Alan Liefting

Beware of the snail

Have you recently flown into the US from abroad? On the landing card it asks if you’ve been in contact with things should not be brought into the US.

Have you encountered agriculture or been on a farm?

Have you been exposed to people coughing ebola?

And then one slightly odd question that gets overlooked:

Are you carrying snails? (paraphrasing here)

This is because snails are actuallly really deadly. Or more specifically they are a vector for some really deadly parasites. Read about it, and how to control the snail/parasite spread over at Science FridayLymnea-snail.

Discovering a new species of whale

We discover new species of insects often. We’re discovering new bacteria at such an alarming rate, it’s getting difficult to count and name them all.

But it’s odd when we find new charismatic megafauna. And yet, researchers think they have identified a new species of whale.

You don’t get much more megafaunal or charismatic than that.

Read about it over at National Geographic!

New species of whale, making a splash!

New species of whale, making a splash!