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Animal Kingdom Kleptos: 7 Species That Steal

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Humanity, you’re not alone in harboring a criminal element. Some animals have developed kleptoparasitic tendencies, which means they’re willing to steal food that’s been collected by another animal. Other animals are just outright sneaky, and will take anything that’s there for the snatching. Here are seven animal kleptos.

1. Bumblebee

It’s a tenet of nature that the typical bee feeds off the nectar of a plant for pollinating that plant, but some bees are too rude to play by the rules. Bees who’ve evolved with short tongues and thus can’t reach for the sweet nectar have learned to carve holes into the side of a flower in order to reach their reward. This phenomenon, first observed by Charles Darwin, gets a bee nectar without the bee pollinating the plant. More cannily, there’s evidence suggesting that bees aren’t born behaving this way—they learn how to thieve from other bees, a sad sign that bee society is being overrun by hoodlums.

2. Sperm whale

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Grace is not a word instinctively associated with the sperm whale, given its hulking size. But fishermen complaining about their depleted hauls were shocked to record video of a sperm whale nimbly plucking a savory sablefish off the end of a line with its tongue, leaving barely a trace of evidence. Whales will use their sonar to track a fishing boat so they can slip in when the line is heaviest, and are advanced enough to differentiate between the tastiest catches. Of course, there’s a school of thought stating that it’s really the fishermen who are stealing from the ocean, and that the spermwhale is just correcting the balance of nature. Fight the power, whale!

3. Skua

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A moniker like “avian pirate” has a heavy reputation, and the skua’s plundering tactic isn’t quite as charming as Johnny Depp’s. The skua will gang up on smaller seabirds such as the guillemot and kittiwake, forcing them to give up a recently acquired kill. Sometimes, that means scaring a mark into vomiting up the contents of its stomach; other times, that means spearing another bird out of the air over and over until it drops its catch. It’s not very nice, but no skua ever claimed it was here to make friends.

4. Hyena

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Despite their depiction in The Lion King as skeevy flea-bags all too excited to endorse a false king, hyenas are wily hunters who can survive on anything and travel in large matriarchally organized clans. And they're savvy enough to snatch a fresh kill from animals who haven't learned to do their hunting when the hyena is asleep. It's payback from when larger cats stole their own spoils, a natural part of the animal kingdom's adaptive ecosystem. Don't believe everything you see, even if it's a Disney classic.

5. Magpie

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Type “magpie stealing” into YouTube and a number of videos will pop up showing a string of eclectic thefts: tea light candles, coathangers, lighters, cigarettes, cookies, dog food, raccoon bait, and more. An Englishwoman even thought she’d lost her engagement ring until it turned up three years later in a magpie’s nest. Though superstition states that magpies prefer shiny objects, they’re willing to take whatever—a characteristic that’s perhaps enabled by a prodigious intelligence rating amongst the highest of all animals. Hence the taken tea light candles—clearly, that magpie was smart enough to recognize how much they would improve the mood lighting for a party.

6. Burrowing owl

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Pity the poor prairie dog, which does so much work building a habitat only to see it taken over by a stranger proclaiming a very simple edict: your home or your life. The burrowing owl prefers to occupy a burrow that’s already been dug out by a prairie dog, and is willing to eat those who aren’t naturally submissive to its bullying. It’s a truly parasitic relationship, as there’s evidence showing that burrowing owl populations are drastically depleted in areas where prairie dogs have been targeted for extermination. “I can’t quit you” isn’t the greatest consolation during the eviction process, but it’s better than nothing.

7. Bdelloid rotifers

A lack of sex will lead a person toward some pretty erratic behavior; still, the the bdelloid rotifer takes asexuality to another level. The microscopic animal has been a female-only species for 80 million years, but they’ve nevertheless diversified into hundreds of other subspecies by absorbing the DNA of fungi, bacteria, algae, and whatever else is small enough to consume at the planktonic level. That allows them to develop different traits to help survive in varied environments, since monastic perseverance is at least something in lieu of a hot date.

This post originally appeared last year.

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Pop Culture
Neil deGrasse Tyson Recruits George R.R. Martin to Work on His New Video Game
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George R.R. Martin has been keeping busy with the latest installment of his Song of Ice and Fire series, but that doesn’t mean he has no time for side projects. As The Daily Beast reports, the fantasy author is taking a departure from novel-writing to work on a video game helmed by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

DeGrasse Tyson’s game, titled Space Odyssey, is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. He envisions an interactive, desktop experience that will allow players to create and explore their own planets while learning about physics at the same time. To do this correctly, he and his team are working with some of the brightest minds in science like Bill Nye, former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, and astrophysicist Charles Liu. The list of collaborators also includes a few unexpected names—like Martin, the man who gave us Game of Thrones.

Though Martin has more experience writing about dragons in Westeros than robots in outer space, deGrasse Tyson believes his world-building skills will be essential to the project. “For me [with] Game of Thrones ... I like that they’re creating a world that needs to be self-consistent,” deGrasse Tyson told The Daily Beast. “Create any world you want, just make it self-consistent, and base it on something accessible. I’m a big fan of Mark Twain’s quote: ‘First get your facts straight. Then distort them at your leisure.’”

Other giants from the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, including Neil Gaiman and Len Wein (co-creator of Marvel's Wolverine character), have signed on to help with that same part of the process. The campaign for Space Odyssey has until Saturday, July 29 to reach its $314,159 funding goal—of which it has already raised more than $278,000. If the video game gets completed, you can expect it to be the nerdiest Neil deGrasse Tyson project since his audiobook with LeVar Burton.

[h/t The Daily Beast]

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Space
Flying Telescopes Will Watch the Total Solar Eclipse from the Air

If you've ever stood on the tips of your toes to reach something on a high shelf, you get it: Sometimes a little extra height makes all the difference. Although in this case, we're talking miles, not inches, as scientists are sending telescopes up on airplanes to monitor conditions on the Sun and Mercury during the upcoming total eclipse.

Weather permitting, the Great American Eclipse (as some are calling it) will be at least partially visible from anywhere in the continental U.S. on August 21. It will be the first time an eclipse has been so widely visible in the U.S. since 1918 and represents an incredible opportunity not only for amateur sky-watchers but also for scientists from coast to coast.

But why settle for gawking from the ground when there's an even better view up in the sky?

Scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have announced plans to mount monitoring equipment on NASA research planes. The telescopes, which contain super-sensitive, high-speed, and infrared cameras, will rise 50,000 feet (about 9.5 miles) above the Earth's surface to sneak a very special peek at the goings-on in our Sun and its nearest planetary buddy.

Gaining altitude will not only bring the instruments closer to their targets but should also help them avoid the meteorological chaos down below.

"Being above the weather guarantees perfect observing conditions, while being above more than 90 percent of Earth's atmosphere gives us much better image quality than on the ground," SwRI co-investigator Constantine Tsang said in a statement. "This mobile platform also allows us to chase the eclipse shadow, giving us over seven minutes of totality between the two planes, compared to just two minutes and 40 seconds for a stationary observer on the ground."

The darkness of that shadow will blot out much of the Sun's overpowering daily brightness, giving researchers a glimpse at rarely seen solar emissions.

"By looking for high-speed motion in the solar corona, we hope to understand what makes it so hot," senior investigator Amir Caspi said. "It's millions of degrees Celsius—hundreds of times hotter than the visible surface below. In addition, the corona is one of the major sources of electromagnetic storms here at Earth. These phenomena damage satellites, cause power grid blackouts, and disrupt communication and GPS signals, so it's important to better understand them."

The temporary blackout will also create fine conditions for peeping at Mercury's night side. Tsang says, "How the temperature changes across the surface gives us information about the thermophysical properties of Mercury's soil, down to depths of about a few centimeters—something that has never been measured before."

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