Science Links of the Week

A passion for the natural world drives many of our adventures. And when we’re not actually outside, we love delving into the discoveries about the places where we live and travel. Here are some of the best natural history links we’ve found this week.

Sea snake attacks on divers could be ‘misdirected courtship’: Sea snakes are attacking divers as a “result of mistaken identity during sexual interactions”, researchers now believe. During attacks, they flick their tongues and coil themselves around a limb, behaviors usually linked to courtship. When divers flee, “they inadvertently mimic the responses of female snakes”, encouraging male sea snakes to chase the diver. Scientists advise divers to stay still if approached.

New species of boa discovered in the Dominican Republic: The Hispaniolan vineboa is the first boa species discovered in the Dominican Republic for over a century. Less than one metre long, it is one of the smallest species of boas in the world. It has protruding eyes, a square snout, and dark, zigzag-patterned scales. The new species occurs on the southwestern border with Haiti. “The fact that an animal could have gone undetected for so long…is pretty remarkable,” said herpetologist R. Graham Reynolds.

The newly discovered Hispaniolan vineboa. Photo: Miguel A. Landestoy


More droplets, less rain

Clouds affected by wildfire smoke may produce less rain: Tiny particles of smoke from wildfires in the U.S. turn up in the clouds where wildfires have occurred. The affected clouds have five times as many water droplets as unaffected clouds, much more than expected. The smoke particles act as tiny nuclei for forming droplets. Despite this, rainfall is less likely because the droplets are only half the size of normal droplets. The reduced rainfall worsens drought and increases the risk of future wildfires.

Female octopuses throw shells at males: Female octopuses throw shells, silt, and algae at males during unwanted mating advances. They do not throw in the same way as humans; the arms impart no force. Instead, they coordinate their arms, web, and jets of water to forcibly project the material they have gathered. Males hit by the flying shells do not retaliate. Only females throw. This puts octopuses in the short list of animals that throw objects, and in the even shorter list of those that throw at other animals, said the research team.

Smoke particles infiltrate cumulus clouds above wildfires. Photo: Shutterstock


Adapting to climate change

Warming climate causes animals to ‘shape shift’: Warm-blooded animals are adapting to increasing temperatures by getting larger beaks, legs, and ears. The adaptations make it easier for them to regulate their body temperature. These changes have occurred in many regions and species. These creatures have little in common other than climate change to explain the similar changes. Shape-shifting is most prevalent in birds. Multiple Australian parrot species have increased their bill size by 4 to 10 percent over the last century. “Shape-shifting does not mean that animals are coping with climate change…They are evolving to survive it,” said Sara Ryding from Deakin University, Australia. 

New species of giant meat-eating dinosaur identified in Uzbekistan: A new species of dinosaur has been identified from a fossilized jawbone in Uzbekistan. The new species dates from 90 to 92 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous epoch. Measurements suggest “that this individual of Ulughbegsaurus uzbekistanensis was at least seven metres [long] and over one ton in body mass,” said the study’s lead author. The discovery shows that carcharodontosaurians were widespread from Europe to East Asia. 

Left maxilla of Ulughbegsaurus uzbekistanensis. Image credit: Kohei et al., doi: 10.1098/rsos.210923