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4 Poisonous Birds

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Toxins: they're not just for snakes and spiders! While no bird currently known to science wields a venomous bite, a fair number do in fact release noxious poisons from their skin, making them dangerous to consume... including one species upon which humans have been precariously dining for centuries. Here's a quartet of toxic avians.

1. Hooded Pitohui (Pitohui dichrous)

Though New Guinea natives have long known that these stunning orange and black songbirds (above) are indeed quite poisonous, the scientific community didn't catch on until relatively recently as explained in this video:

2. The Little Shrikethrush (Colluricincla megarhyncha)

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Back in 2000, a team of researchers collected a pair of these insect-eating Oceania natives and discovered that the feathers of one specimen actually contained secretions of a toxin similar to that used by the notorious poison dart frogs of Central and South America.

3. The Spur-Winged Goose (Plectopterus gambiensis)

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In nature, you are what you eat. Case in point: Just as flamingos acquire their pinkish hue from the crustaceans they gobble up, the Spur-Winged Goose absorbs poisons from toxic beetles it periodically ingests, making its own flesh deadly to consume.

4. The Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix)

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The toxins of these odd-looking yet familiar birds have been affecting human chefs and diners for so long that a new word—“coturnism”—was eventually coined to describe the phenomenon of being poisoned by a quail, resulting in vertigo and spasms; the predicament was even described in the Biblical book of Numbers. In fact, these symptoms became so widespread throughout the Mediterranean that the Roman Empire officially banned the eating of quail in the 1st Century CE.

So what makes these seemingly harmless fowl so dangerous to nibble on? Though many scientists suspect that something in the birds' diets may once again provide an answer, the precise causes remain unknown.

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These Deep-Sea Worms Could Live More Than a Thousand Years

Plunge below the sparkling surface of the Gulf of Mexico, head down into the depths, and there you'll find the ancient ones, growing in clusters of drab tubes like piles of construction equipment. Scientists writing in the journal The Science of Nature report that some of these worms could be more than 1000 years old.

When it comes to marine organisms, the deeper you go, the slower and older life gets. Biologists have found an octopus that guarded her eggs for four and a half years. They've seen clams born during the Ming dynasty and sharks older than the United States. They've seen communities of coral that have been around for millennia.

Previous studies have shown that some species of tube worm can live to be 250 years old. To find out if the same was true for other species—in this case, the Gulf of Mexico's Escarpia laminata—researchers spent years watching them grow. They used a long-lasting dye called Acid Blue to mark six clusters of worms, then let them to go about their wormy business. A year later, they collected all 356 blue-stained tubes and brought them back to the lab to measure their growth.

By calculating the speed of the worms' growth and comparing it to the size of the largest individuals, the scientists could devise a pretty good estimate of the oldest worms' age.

And boy, are they old. The researchers' worm-growth simulation suggested that the most ancient individuals could be more than 9000 years old. This seems incredible, even for tough old tube worms, so the scientists calculated a more conservative maximum age: a mere 1000 years.

A millennium-long lifespan is an extreme and not the average, the paper authors note. "There may indeed be large E. laminata over 1000 years old in nature, but given our research, we are more confident reporting a life span of at least 250 to 300 years," lead author Alanna Durkin of Temple University told New Scientist.

Still, Durkin says, "E. laminata is pushing the bounds of what we thought was possible for longevity."

She's excited by the prospect of finding older creatures yet.

"It's possible that new record-breaking life spans will be discovered in the deep sea,” she says, “since we are finding new species and new habitats almost every time we send down a submersible.”

 

[h/t New Scientist]

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Animals
Watch as Hummingbirds Fly, Drink, and Flap Their Tiny Wings in Slow Motion
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Hummingbirds have more feathers per inch than nearly any other bird, but it’s hard to fully appreciate their luminescent colors when they beat their wings between 70 to 200 times per second.

For the enjoyment of birders everywhere, National Geographic photographer Anand Varma teamed up with bird biologists and used a high-speed, high-resolution camera to capture the tiny creatures in slow motion as they flew through wind tunnels, drank artificial nectar from a glass vessel, and shook water from their magnificent plumage.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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