Scientists Share Their Most Adorable Animal Photos With #Cuteoff

If there’s anything Twitter hashtags are good for it’s sharing cute animal pictures. Over a week ago, the scientists of Twitter started an informal competition to see who could post the most impressive photos of animal junk. #Junkoff was followed by the much less alarming #cuteoff, which encouraged scientists to share their most squee-worthy animal images. As was the case with #junkoff, the hashtag yielded a diverse group of creatures, from huge rodents to lichen-loving micro-organisms. One thing these pictures show is that cuteness knows no bounds.

Infant Sooty Mangabey // Erin Kane, Ohio State

Breviceps // Ambika Kamath, Jonathan B. Losos Lab at Harvard

Eastern Red-Backed Salamander // Rosemary Mosco, Bird and Moon

Mouse Lemurs // James Pitt, Harvard HEB Graduate

Nudibranch // Milana Featherbottom, UT Austin

Pteromys Momonga // Benjamin Burger, Utah State University 

Eoperipatus Totoros // Gwen Pearson, WIRED Science

Gray Bee Fly // Erica McAllister, Natural History Museum (London)

Brown Antechinus // Parks Australia

Least Tern Chick // Kelsi Hunt, VT Shorebird Program 

Tardigrade // American Museum of Natural History

Coast Horned Lizard // U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit // Oregon Zoo

Watch How a Bioluminescence Expert Catches a Giant Squid

Giant squid have been the object of fascination for millennia; they may have even provided the origin for the legendary Nordic sea monsters known as the Kraken. But no one had captured them in their natural environment on video until 2012, when marine biologist and bioluminescence expert Edith Widder snagged the first-ever images off Japan's Ogasawara Islands [PDF]. Widder figured out that previous dives—which tended to bring down a ton of gear and bright lights—were scaring all the creatures away. (Slate compares it to "the equivalent of coming into a darkened theater and shining a spotlight at the audience.")

In this clip from BBC Earth Unplugged, Widder explains how the innovative camera-and-lure combo she devised, known as the Eye-in-the-Sea, finally accomplished the job by using red lights (which most deep-sea creatures can't see) and an electronic jellyfish (called the e-jelly) with a flashy light show just right to lure in predators like Architeuthis dux. "I've tried a bunch of different things over the years to try to be able to talk to the animals," Widder says in the video, "and with the e-jelly, I feel like I'm finally making some progress."

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

Big Questions
Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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