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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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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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