Category: Form and Function

Chasing Glowworms

We donned our striped thermals, rubber boots, and helmets and tramped down a muddy hillside to the entrance to Mangarongapu Cave. If we wanted to see glowworms in their natural environment, we were going to have to work for it. Most bioluminescent organisms live in the sea, particularly in the deep. On land, bioluminescent species include glowworms, a catch-all term that refers to luminescent insects like fireflies (winged beetles) and the fungus gnat of New Zealand, among others.

A Colossal Deep-Sea Find

Ten years ago, the crew of the San Aspiring fishing vessel, which was on the hunt for Antarctic toothfish, pulled in a longline and discovered they had caught something unexpected. It was a huge, red blob—a deep-sea-dwelling colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) that had also been hunting for toothfish more than a mile below the surface. Recognizing they had something unique on their hands, the crew hauled the now-deceased squid onboard and froze its body.

Penguin Fun Facts for Penguin Awareness Day

Penguins are flightless seabirds that get around by swimming and diving, waddling around on land, and, sometimes, slipping and sliding on their bellies. Scientists have identified more than a dozen penguin species, and each one has an outer layer of waterproof feathers, webbed feet, and flippers for swimming. Penguins frequently preen (groom) and spread an oil-like substance on their feathers, which helps keep their bodies dry and insulated against water and wind.

‘Tis the Season: Wonderfully Wintery Creatures

‘Tis the season for freshly fallen snow, warm blankets, and holiday cheer (and scraping ice from car windshields). For humans in the northern hemisphere, it’s the time of year for sledding and ice skating, cookie baking and ugly sweater parties, and cuddling up by the fireplace to watch classic movies. Unlike humans, many animal species—particularly in Arctic regions—are simply built for wintery conditions. Some of them even seem to embody the season itself (ahem, reindeer). Grab a cup of hot cocoa, and let’s take a look at just a few of these wonderfully wintery creatures.

A ‘Fantastic Beast’ & Where We Found It

In the newly released film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a new beloved character, a bowtruckle named Pickett, captures the hearts of the audience. In the wizarding world of J.K. Rowling, who wrote the Fantastic Beasts screenplay, Bowtruckles are small, twig-like creatures that guard wand-wood trees. Bowtruckles’ most notable physical characteristic is their natural camouflage, which helps them blend in with their forested natural habitats.

Seeing Stripes

Along with pandas, penguins, orcas, and skunks, zebras are well-known for their striking black-and-white coloration. But why do they have stripes in the first place? The short answer from the scientific community is: We don’t really know. But by asking questions and seeking answers through research, the scientific community is getting closer to the truth and learning more about zebras in the process.

Celebrating Election Day Animals

Back in the 1800s, a cartoonist named Thomas Nast helped popularize the use of a donkey and an elephant to symbolize the two major political parties in America—Democrats and Republicans. Tomorrow is Election Day, and, to celebrate, we’re completely ignoring presidential candidates, political platforms, and scandals. Instead, we’re highlighting the animals that front the Democratic and Republican parties. Enjoy this break from the mayhem!

Expecto Patronum! Patronus Spotlight: Hedgehog

In the book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, a young wizard attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, conjures a powerful defensive charm called a Patronus to save the life of his godfather. In Rowling’s fictional world, a Patronus charm takes the form of an animal that in some way or another reflects the witch or wizard who cast it.

Creatures in Disguise

Some creatures make a living by pretending to be something they’re not. (Like Halloween, every day!) In one high-flying example, zone-tailed hawks fool prey down on the ground by mimicking the way turkey vultures fly, and sometimes even disguising themselves by flying among turkey vultures.