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Breathtaking Nature Footage ... Taken from a Drone

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By Chris Gayomali

Drones aren't always the rights-infringing death machines conjured up by news stories. Sometimes they do the world quite a bit of good. Take the above nature footage by Thomas Renck, a hobbyist whose camera-equipped tricopter captured a pack of wild coyotes sweeping across a hillside in Riverside, Calif. The vantage point makes the video look like something straight out of a Discovery Channel documentary.

Remote-controlled aerial cameras aren't exactly new. Anyone with $299 in their pocket and an Android or iPhone can order their own app-controlled Parrot AR Drone off Amazon right now. 

Or take the new DJI Phantom UAV that went on sale for $700 last month. It's designed to be used for photography and can be linked with a GoPro camera, which is a huge hit with the adventure sport set. Here's a sample of the Phantom in action:

Pretty stuff, right? Fast Company's Neal Ungerleider took one for a test spin and loved it. "Users can knock out professional-quality aerial photography in a matter of minutes," says Ungerleider. "Despite the Phantom's relatively limited battery life—about 15 minutes of flight time—that is more than enough time to film stunning aerial video."

Of course, the coming explosion of remote-control photography will undoubtedly freak out folks concerned about their privacy. That's 100 percent understandable. On the other hand, commercialized drones will open up new, creative kinds of photography and filmmaking once reserved for outlandish Hollywood budgets. I'll leave the last word to Brian Anderson at Vice'sMotherboard, who makes a great point:

When it comes to managing natural resources or tracking endangered creatures, advancing drone technology is forcing us, amid fierce debate and uncertainties about how drones are being used in the new theatre of war, to reaffirm the age-old notion that it's not the tool — it's how we use it. [Motherboard]

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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