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The Butter Bell

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What grabbed my attention this week is a low-tech, possibly even ancient gadget called a butter bell. You could call it a method for finding that happy medium between hard-to-spread butter in the refrigerator and ruined butter left too long on the kitchen counter. The butter bell is a small crock with a bell-shaped lid. You add some cool water to the bottom of the crock, then put your butter in the bell, turn it upside down and place it into the crock. The water forms a seal around the exposed butter to keep bacteria, insects, dust, and odors out. And you can forget ever putting cold butter in the microwave again, which leaves you with butter that's more pourable than spreadable. Butter Through the Ages explains how the bell works. With a bell you can supposedly keep your butter out of the refrigerator for up to a month before it starts to go rancid. It's always soft enough to spread and ready to serve at the dinner table.

Some experts are a little skeptical of the claim that the bell will keep butter fresh for a month. Maybe you should use your butter up faster than that to be on the safe side. Martha Stewart says that salted butter will keep longer than unsalted butter, but if you leave the bell in direct sunlight or if the house gets very hot, it will probably go bad sooner. A commenter with experience says butter in a bell will melt and make a mess if the house is hot. You should wash the bell thoroughly before reloading it with fresh butter. Also keep in mind this will NOT work with margarine or the abomination they call "spread" (which is already soft because it is made of soybean oil and water).

You can buy a Butter Bell brand crock for about $20. I also found bells from Norpro and Pinzon for about half as much. Of course, you can pay more. If you've used one of these, please leave your opinion for the rest of us.

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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