Wednesday, January 4, 2012

This Year in Pictures

I've been absent for a few weeks. You know how it goes: travel, family, holidays, family, travel. But I'm back to the blog for the new year and would like to share with you The Year in Pictures from Science. These are pictures from ScienceSHOTS that accompany published papers/studies that are equally as fascinating as their pictures. Here are a few of the amazing pictures that caught my eye, and I'll link to the rest at the end of the post.

This photo accompanied a story about detecting tiny amounts of gasses, toxic gases in particular. Scientists have improved the sensitivity of gas detection 1000 times over, not to mention being much cheaper and simpler in it's methodology. The applications of this improvement range from better security operations to carbon dating. The article will appear later this month in Physical Review Letters.

Meet Metridia longa, a copepod of the northern seas. This creature was part of a study the feeding habits of tiny marine crustaceans. They were originally thought to collide with their food rather than seeking it out. This study showed that copepods exhibited an "attack response" when algae floated close to it, creating suction to draw in its prey. This newly described behavior could help explain how copepods survive in the ocean, particularly when food is scarce. You can find the report online in Biology Letters.

We don't typically think of wasps having different faces, they sort of all look the same to us. But a picture like this shows us our mistake. Scientists taught paper wasps (Polistes fuscatus) to associate certain wasp mugshots with safety and others with danger in an electrified maze. They found that wasps recognized the faces and applied associated knowledge to get through the maze, with the antennae of the reference wasp being particularly important. The report is published online in Science.

The fairy wasp (Megaphragma mymaripenne) is one of the world's smallest creatures at only 200 micrometers in length. This picture compares the minuscule wasp to a paramecium and an amoeba. As it turns out, you can't evolve down that small without losing some parts of yourself. Scientists compared the neurons of adult and pupae fairy wasps and found that more than 95% of the adult neurons lacked a nucleus. This shed some light on brain and neuron development itself in that a complete set of neurons need to grow but far fewer are required to live. The article can be found in this month's Arthropod Structure & Development.

Researchers looked into the mating habits of female mouse lemurs (Microcebus murinus) and why they chose to mate with multiple males. The assumption was that the females were being sexually harassed causing them to breed with several partners. After raising some females on fattening diets, making them larger than males and able to defend themselves better, they found that the ladies kept to their multiple partner strategy, even increasing the number of male partners. They concluded that this is of some as yet unknown evolutionary advantage to the females or that maybe these girls are just having some fun. Read more about it published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

How do geckos stick to surfaces? It was thought that molecular interactions between microscopic branching hairs on the footpads and the surface were the reason. Then some scientists noticed that geckos leave footprints. This residue consists of phospholipids (fats) that help protect these little hairs from wear and provide a liquid-like layer that makes the toes cling better. This paper is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

At the end of last year, scientists found three Bornean rainbow toads, a species only known from a few sightings, in the trees between  Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo. The Sambas Stream Toad (Ansonia latidisca) is listed as endangered but the area in which it is found is not currently protected. This toad joins the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios) of Ecuador as the only two of Conservation Internationals "Top 10 Most Wanted" frogs to be found.

If you known anything about dinosaurs then you know that meat-eating dinosaurs were prone to evolving away their fingers. The earliest carnivorous dinosaurs had 5 fingers, 4 of which were functional, then later ones had only three, and later meat-eaters (like T. rex) only had two. Researchers have now found the first known dinosaur with only one finger. Linhenykus monodactylus was found in ~80 million year old rock in Inner Mongolia. It was about a meter tall and belonged to the family of dinosaurs called alvarezsauroids. The paper can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This beautiful picture of M51 was taken by Hubble's Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) and shows the two dusty spiral arms that swirl around the core of the galaxy. The small, bright specs in the photograph are newborn stars that have never been seen before because their light is too obscured by the surrounding dust. Discrete dust clouds can also be seen which is amazing for a galaxy that is 37 million light-years from Earth!

You can find many more wonderful images by going to the ScienceNOW This Year in Pictures webpage. Along with each picture you can find information on the study and links to the articles.

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