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High-Speed Video Shows Sea Butterflies 'Flying' Like Insects Through the Water

Snails aren't exactly known for being graceful creatures, but the way this species of sea snail gets around is unique. Where a land-based snail’s foot would be, the aptly nicknamed “sea butterfly” has a pair of wing-like structures it uses to flutter through the water. According to New Scientist, video has been recorded for the first time of the snail in motion that shows it moving in water similarly to how an insect flies in the air.

In their new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology [PDF], scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology detail how they were able to capture this phenomenon on tape. The team released 20 sea snail specimens into a tank of salt water, hoping that the 3-millimeter creatures would pass in front of one of the four high-speed cameras inside.

The movements they were lucky enough to capture revealed something surprising about the snails. Instead of using their appendages like paddles to drag them through the ocean, like most zooplankton do, the sea butterflies flapped their wings to produce lift. The familiar figure-eight pattern the snails demonstrated is remarkably similar to what’s seen in fruit flies and other insects, even though the species are separated by 550 million years of evolution.

Because sea snail wings flap at a much slower pace than the wings of insects like fruit flies—about five beats per second compared to 200 beats per second—further studying this behavior could help scientists better understand how insects fly. Brad Gemmell, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida who studies swimming in sea creatures, believes the mechanism could be used to design new micro flying vehicles. 

[h/t New Scientist]

Header/Banner images courtesy of New Scientist via YouTube

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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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