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Paleontologists Discovered a Salamander Trapped in Amber

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Oregon State University via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Anyone who’s slightly familiar with paleontology (read: has watched Jurassic Park) knows that the things getting stuck in sap millions of years ago were usually bug-sized. That’s why paleontologists were shocked to discover a whole salamander preserved in amber during an excavation in the Caribbean.

The creature appears to have lost a leg to a predator before it stumbled into the gooey resin more than 20 million years ago. Little else can be guessed about it, partly because salamanders previously hadn’t been known to exist in the Caribbean at any point in history. 

Very few salamander fossils have ever been discovered, and this is the first to be found fossilized in amber. The discovery was made in an amber mine in the northern mountain range of the Dominican Republic. Scientists have dubbed the species Palaeoplethodon hispaniolae, a member of the Plethodontidae family more commonly found 1,400 miles north in the Appalachian Mountains. 

Experts suspect that the species first reached the island by crossing a land bridge while sea levels were low, or even by sailing in on a log like pint-sized pirates. And while we're not entirely certain how they met their demise, it looks like they weren’t very good at avoiding slow-moving goop.  

[h/t: io9]

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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