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Rare European Dung Beetle Found Living in Cow Poop

A dung beetle is easy enough to picture: a squat, shiny little bug determinedly pushing its smelly treasure homeward. We picture them rolling their balls of dung across burning Egyptian sands, or under a hedge in the grasslands of Kenya. But a European dung beetle? That’s a little harder to imagine. 

It shouldn’t be. Dung beetles live on every continent except Antarctica. They’re literally all over the place, tidying up after larger animals from China to Peru. There are more than 100 species of dung beetle in the UK alone. 

Sally-Ann Spence hopes to find them all. Spence is a researcher with the Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project, or DUMP (probably not an accident). The goal of DUMP is to create an enormous database of information on UK dung beetles. The beetles have enormous value, and not just to scientists; dung beetles save UK cattle ranchers an estimated £367 million ($550 million USD) each year. All their burrowing into the ground aerates the soil, which lets rainwater and nutrients seep in. 

Spence and her colleagues volunteer their own time to conduct the research—research that often involves combing through cow pies. “We have become connoisseurs of fine dung,” Spence told the BBC. “[We’re] not adverse [sic] to feeling the texture or giving it a good sniff—you can tell a lot about an animal’s health by its dung—we will examine it meticulously for beetles." 

It was during one of these examinations that Spence found Aphodius affinis. Spence was on the island of Jersey for another research project and decided to do a little poking around. The reward for her curiosity was a single specimen of A. affinis, a beetle so small it could fit on the tip of a pinky. 

The beetle is the first of its kind ever spotted on the island, a fact that excited local entomologists. Roger Long is chairman of the Société Jersiaise’s entomology section. “Dung beetles are very important to the health of cattle herds and the meadows they feed in,” he told the Jersey Evening Post. “If we had no dung beetles, fields would be knee-deep in cattle dung.” 

Want to learn more? Follow #dungathon on Twitter. 

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technology
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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