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©C.Guiguand/Tara/Oceans
©C.Guiguand/Tara/Oceans

Stunning Photos of Some of The World's Smallest and Most Important Organisms

©C.Guiguand/Tara/Oceans
©C.Guiguand/Tara/Oceans

Somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of every breath you take comes from oxygen produced by microorganisms in the ocean. These tiny creatures at the bottom of the food chain are the basis for so much life on this planet, and yet we know very little about them. In an effort to rectify this, a team of scientists set sail for three years on a 110-foot schooner named Tara to collect and study samples of these microorganisms. They especially wanted to better understand how climate change affects these tiny creatures.


Click to Enlarge. © Wedodata/ Tara Expéditions

They ended up writing five papers for the journal Science about the 35,000 samples of plankton, bacteria, krill, viruses, and the mostly unicellular protists and archaea they collected from the world's oceans.

While the details are highly technical, the insights are important to everyone. "How can we save the whales if we can't save the krill?" Science editor Marcia McNutt told NPR. "There's something about the tragedy of the commons here."

Check out some of the photos of the creatures collected during this massive project involving 250 people.

©M.Ormestad/Kahikai/Tara

These parasitoid crustaceans called hyperiid amphipod eat sea salps, then use the empty gelatinous husks as protective shells.

© Christian Sardet/ CNRS/ Sharif Mirshak/ Parafilms/ Tara Expeditions

This male Sapphirina copepod collected in the Mediterranean Sea reflects and diffracts light through tiny plates in its epidermal cells.

©Christian Sardet/CNRS/Tara Expéditions

This Lauderia annulata, collected and photographed in the Indian Ocean, is one of the largest known diatoms (200 microns). Clumps of chloroplasts, which conduct photosynthesis, are visible as green and yellow particles within this cylindrical single cell creature encased in a light­-reflecting glass shell. 

©Christian Sardet/CNRS/Tara Expéditions

This is a mixture of multicellular plankton collected in the Pacific Ocean with a mesh net just 0.1mm wide. The group includes small zooplanktonic animals, larvae, and single-cell protists.

©Christian Sardet/CNRS/Tara Expéditions

The Tara  expedition collected these small zooplanktonic animals in the Indian Ocean: A molluscan pteropod on the right, and two crustacean copepods. That fleck of orange on the left is paint from Tara's hull.

©Christian Sardet/CNRS/Tara Expéditions

This small medusa collected in the Mediterranean Sea is a close relative of Turritopsis, thought to be a so-called "immortal" jellyfish.

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
iStock
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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Tessa Angus
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Art
Surprising Sculptures Made From Fallen Feathers
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire is a British sculptor with an unusual medium: feathers. Her surreal, undulating works often take the form of installations—the feathers spilling out of a drain, a stove, a crypt wall—or stand-alone sculptures in which antique bell jars, cabinets, or trunks contain otherworldly shapes.

MccGwire developed her obsession with feathers after moving to a studio barge on the Thames in 2006, as she explains in a video from Crane.tv recently spotlighted by Boing Boing. The barge was near a large shed full of feral pigeons, whose feathers she would spot on her way to work. "I started picking them up and laying them out, collecting them," she remembers. "And after about two weeks I had like 300 feathers." At the time, concerns about bird flu were rife, which made the feathers seem "dangerous as well as beautiful."

When not supplied by her own next-door menagerie, the feathers for her artwork come from a network of racing pigeon societies all over the UK, who send her envelopes full every time the birds molt. Farmers and gamekeepers also send her fallen feathers from birds such as magpies, pheasants, and roosters.

The cultural associations around birds are a big part of what inspires MccGwire. “The dove is the symbol of peace, purity, and fertility," she told ArtNews in 2013, "but it’s exactly the same species as a pigeon—which everyone regards as being dirty, foul, a pest.”

The same duality is present in her own work, which she frequently shares on her Instagram account. “I want to seduce by what I do—but revolt in equal measure. It’s really important to me that you’ve got that rejection of things you think you know for sure.”

You can see some pictures of MccGwire's work, and watch the video from Crane.tv, below.

Kate MccGwire's installation "Evacuate"
Evacuate, 2010
J Wilde

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Convolous"
Convolous, 2015
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's installation "Gyre"
Gyre, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Gag"
Gag, 2009
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Writhe"
Writhe, 2010
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Quell"
Quell, 2011
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Taunt"
Taunt, 2012
Tessa Angus

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