Science Links of the Week

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

Vultures prevent carbon emissions: Vultures prey on the carcasses of other animals, and many see these birds in a negative light.

In reality, vultures play a crucial role in many ecosystems. Their scavenging maintains nutrient cycling and controls the spread of pathogens from dead animals to living ones. The birds often reach the remains before decay begins. By eliminating decay, they prevent the emission of many greenhouse gasses. A single vulture can prevent almost a kilo of greenhouse emissions each day. When you apply that to the 140 million vultures on the planet, it adds up to tens of millions of metric tons each year.

Glen Canyon re-emerges

Glen Canyon reveals its secrets: Lake Powell is the second largest reservoir in America. Once popular for water sports, it now illustrates drought in the West.

The lake is part of the Colorado River system that supplies water for 40 million people. At first, the amount of water allocated to the seven states it serves was overestimated. The drought over the last two decades has also ravaged the area.

One positive aspect of this has been the reappearance of the Glen Canyon. The canyon has been underwater ever since damming the Colorado River created this reservoir. As the canyon re-emerges, the animals that once called it home are returning.

A red fox squints in the sun

Red fox. Photo: Shutterstock


A fox that fishes for food: A new paper details the first record of a red fox fishing for food. The video was taken in 2016, but the details of the study only appeared this year.

In the video, a male red fox stalks and catches several carp over a couple of hours. No one had ever seen this behavior before. It makes the red foxes one of just two canids that hunt fish. The other is wolves on the Pacific coast of North America.

“We have been studying this species for years, but we never expected something like this,” said ecologist Jorge Tobajas.

The discovery was accidental. Researchers were on another project when they saw the fox fishing. Most surprising was its accuracy.

“The fox hunted many carp without making any mistakes,” said Tobajas. “This made us realize that it was surely not the first time he had done it.”

The moons and rings of Neptune

James Webb telescope captures the rings of Neptune: The James Webb telescope has sent back images of Neptune, showing the planet’s rings and dust bands as never before.

“It’s incredible to see those rings, and we’re accessing wavelengths that no one has seen before,” said planetary scientist Leigh Fletcher.

The longer wavelengths give researchers insight into global circulation patterns. Seven of Neptune’s 14 moons also appear in the images. These are the best photos of the icy planet since Voyager 2’s in 1989. 

How whales avoid dementia

Why whales don’t get brain damage when they swim: When mammals run, the motion forces blood to move. This causes ‘pulses’ in the brain, causing the pressure to spike.

These pulses can eventually lead to dementia. Some mammals alleviate this by breathing in and out throughout the locomotion, but cetaceans have to hold their breath as they dive.

Around a whale’s brain and spine, there is a network of blood vessels. Their function has puzzled scientists. Now they think the retina uses a ‘pulse-transfer’ mechanism to maintain the same pressure in the blood entering and leaving the brain. 

Ants clamber form leaf to leaf

Four ants, among 20 quadrillion. Photo: Shutterstock


An unimaginable number of ants: Scientists from the University of Hong Kong have estimated that there are 20 quadrillion ants on Earth. Their total mass is more than that of all birds and mammals combined. It also means that for every human, there are approximately 2.5 million ants.

“It’s unimaginable,” said lead author of the study, Patrick Schultheiss. “We simply cannot imagine 20 quadrillion ants in one pile. It just doesn’t work.”

Ants have a significant role in many ecosystems. They aerate the soil through constant tunneling, help with the movement of seeds, and are a source of food. 

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.