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Sea Snakes Thought to Be Extinct Spotted Off Australian Coast

A decade and a half had passed since this rare species of sea snake was last spotted, and conservationists were just about to give up hope. Now a recent sighting, reported in the latest issue of Biological Conservation, confirms that the snakes haven't left for good.

Researchers found the pair of Australian short-nosed sea snakes (Aipysurus apraefrontalis) swimming over Ningaloo Reef off Australia’s western coast. To further add to the excitement, they appeared to be courting. This suggests that the specimens are part of a larger breeding population of Australian sea snakes in the area.

The snakes are originally thought to have been native only to Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea, but they mysteriously vanished from their natural habitat between 1998 and 2002. The species was officially categorized as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List in 2010, but so much time had passed since they were last seen that conservationists began to fear the worst. These new photographs, validated by the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, have sparked new hope for the species’ survival.

Australian short-nosed sea snakes are considered marine hydrophiines, which means they are “true” sea snakes that live exclusively in water. The cause of the species’ decline is still uncertain, but some researchers suspect commercial fishing may be to blame. Sea snakes have been shown to be vulnerable to the nets used for trawling, but this still doesn’t explain why the sea snakes disappeared from Ashmore Reef specifically. For conservationists looking to save the species, identifying their biggest threats will be a major priority moving forward. You can read the full report in the February 2016 edition of Biological Conservation.

[h/t: Gizmodo]

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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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