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The Caterpillar That Makes Its Own Camouflage

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Plenty of caterpillars use camouflage to protect them against predators until they pupate, but the Camouflaged Looper remains unique. While other caterpillars are naturally camouflaged to match the types of plants their parents laid their eggs on or change their colors based on diet or location, the looper makes its own disguise.

It will actually pluck petals from the flower of the plant it's munching on, then affix those petals to its back with silk. As the petals start to wilt and discolor, the critter will replace them with new petals. After their pupal stage, the caterpillar emerges as a gorgeous Wavy-lined Emerald Moth.

[Image courtesy of Hopefoote Ambassador of the Wow''s Flickr stream]

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Scientists Think They Know What Causes Trypophobia
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Picture a boat hull covered with barnacles, a dried lotus seed pod, milk bubbles on a latte, or a honeycomb. Images of these objects are harmless—unless you're one of the millions of people suffering from trypophobia. Then they're likely to induce intense disgust, nausea, and fear, and make your skin crawl.

Coined fairly recently, the term trypophobia describes the fear of clusters of holes. The phobia isn’t recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but its visibility on the internet suggests that for many, it’s very real. Now, scientists in the UK think they've pinpointed the evolutionary mechanism behind the reaction.

Tom Kupfer of the University of Kent and An T. D. Le of the University of Essex shared their findings in the journal Cognition and Emotion. According to their research, trypophobia evolved as a way to avoid infectious disease. Thousands of years ago, if you saw a person covered in boils or a body covered in flies, a natural aversion to the sight would have helped you avoid catching whatever they had.

But being disgusted by skin riddled with pathogens or parasites alone doesn't mean you're trypophobic; after all, keeping your distance from potential infection is smart. But trypophobia seems to misplace that reaction, as the authors write: "Trypophobia may be an exaggerated and overgeneralized version of this normally adaptive response."

Lotus pod.
Lotus seed pods are a common trigger of trypophobia.

This explanation is not entirely new, but until now little research has been done into whether it's accurate. To test their hypothesis, the scientists recruited 376 self-described trypophobes from online forums, and another 304 college students who didn't claim to have the affliction. Both groups were shown two sets of images: The first depicted clusters of circle-shaped marks on animals and human body parts (the "disease-relevant cluster images"); the second showed clusters of holes on inanimate objects like bricks and flower pods ("disease-irrelevant cluster images"). While both groups reported feeling repulsed by the first collection of photographs, only the trypophobes felt the same about the pictures that had nothing to do with infection.

Another takeaway from the study is that trypophobia is more related to sensations of disgust than fear. This sets it apart from more common phobias like arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or acrophobia (fear of heights). And you don't have to be trypophobic to be disgusted by a video of Suriname toadlets being born through holes in their mother's back. We can all be grossed out by that.

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What's Going On in This Pilot's Spectacular Storm Photo?
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This thunderstorm bubbling over the Pacific Ocean was captured in an image by a pilot. Image credit: Santiago Borja via Twitter

The weather gives us some pretty spectacular sights from the ground, but it’s breathtaking when you get to experience the best scenes nature can produce when you’re flying among the clouds. An airline pilot recently caught a beautiful photograph of a thunderstorm illuminating the nighttime sky over the Pacific Ocean. Not only is it visually stunning, but it gives us a textbook view of an intense thunderstorm.

As he described to the Washington Post's deputy weather editor Angela Fritz, Santiago Borja was first officer on a flight to South America when he snapped the photograph from the cockpit of his LATAM Ecuador Airlines Boeing 767-300 as it swerved to avoid flying through the storm pulsing over the ocean off the coast of Panama. He tweeted the image on June 16 with the phrase, "CB anyone?"

Borja knows his clouds. "CB" stands for cumulonimbus clouds, which in the photo tower high above the deck of clouds that blankets the sky closer to the ocean surface. Thunderstorms are common over the ocean at night, especially within a few dozen miles of shore when the land breeze (where the wind blows out toward the ocean—the opposite of a sea breeze) starts to take hold. Borja's photo gives us an excellent profile view of an intense thunderstorm, showing us features that are sometimes hard to see from the ground. 

A thunderstorm’s updraft starts when a pocket of air becomes warmer and less buoyant than the surrounding air, so it begins to rise. The updraft will blow faster the more unstable the air becomes, often reaching highway speeds in the most intense storms. The air in an updraft continues to rise until it reaches the level of the atmosphere where the rising air is finally cooler and more stable than the air around it. This point, known as the equilibrium level, is where a thunderstorm’s anvil forms. An anvil is the thin layer of clouds that spreads out from the thunderstorm as the updraft reaches the equilibrium level, which acts like a ceiling. The anvil, which gets its name by resembling a blacksmith’s steel forging tool, is clearly visible in Borja’s photograph, stretching the entire width of the image at roughly flight level.

As is the case with Borja’s thunderstorm, the updraft doesn’t always stop at the equilibrium level. The violent nature of severe thunderstorms can allow the updraft to literally blow past this point of neutral buoyancy, allowing the top of the thunderstorm to bubble up and over the anvil. This is known as an overshooting top, and it's a common feature of storms strong enough to cause destructive wind and hail.

You wouldn’t want to be in a boat beneath that thunderstorm. Given what we can see in the photo—the anvil, the overshooting top, the beefy cumulonimbus clouds, and the sharp bursts of lightning within—we can surmise that the seas were pretty rough in the torrent. Not only would they have encountered frequent lightning and blinding rainfall, but severe wind gusts may have occurred as well. Hail wasn’t likely in this case due to lack of necessary cold air at the latitude at which the thunderstorm formed. As you can imagine, it’s a good thing that Borja’s flight avoided the storm—flying through thunderstorms that intense can compromise even the largest aircraft. 


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