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Stork with GPS backpack.

Storks Give Up Migration to Eat ‘Junk Food’

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Stork with GPS backpack.

We don’t think too much about our garbage. Once we throw our orange peels and moldy bread in the trash, they vanish. That’s it, as far as we’re concerned. But landfills in Spain and Portugal have taken on second careers as stork buffets, and researchers believe the “junk food” is disrupting the storks' lives. Their report was published in the journal Movement Ecology.

White storks (Ciconia ciconia) are big birds, with wingspans reaching up to 165 centimeters (64 inches). They’re quite common, and their numbers are growing.

“Portugal’s stork population has grown tenfold over the last 20 years,” lead researcher Aldina Franco said in a press statement. “The country is now home to around 14,000 wintering birds, and numbers continue to grow.”

Stork wearing its GPS backpack.

The storks’ range is divided between breeding zones in Europe and Asia and wintering zones in Africa—or at least it used to be. Part of the reason for migration was the absence of available nourishment up north. But with free food just sitting around in landfills, the storks have found no reason to leave.

Storks at the buffet.

In Portugal, the researchers attached GPS transmitters to 48 storks. Five times a day, the devices collected information about the birds’ whereabouts and behavior. With this data, the researchers could tell not only where the storks were flying but what they did when they got there, whether that meant foraging, tending eggs, or standing up to preen. As the researchers expected, the storks were spending a lot of time at the landfill.

Franco says the storks’ switch from part-year to full-time residents has a ripple effect on their lives as a whole.

“We found that the landfill sites enable year-round nest use, which is an entirely new behaviour that has developed very recently," she said. "This strategy enables the resident birds to select the best nest sites and to start breeding earlier." 

Once they've got dibs on good nest sites, according to Franco, the storks are also less likely to leave.

“But we also show that as well as those nesting close to the landfill sites, others are willing to travel up to 48.2km to visit landfill sites during the non-breeding season and up to 28.1km during the breeding season," she said. "This is much further than previous estimates.”

For better or for worse, the storks have shaped their lives around the new food supply. But that supply may not be long for this world.

“Under new EU Landfill Directives, rubbish dump sites in Portugal are scheduled to be gradually replaced by new facilities where food waste is handled under cover," Franco explained. “This will cause a problem for the storks as they will have to find an alternative winter food supply. It may well impact on their distribution, breeding location, chick fledging success and migratory decisions."

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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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