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Saving Gorgeous Butterflies, One Egg at a Time

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Tim Wong really, really loves animals. The biologist spends his weekdays caring for, and studying, sea creatures at the California Academy of Sciences, while his days off are spent hand-rearing thousands of butterflies in his backyard. Currently, Wong is working to restore San Francisco’s pipevine swallowtail butterflies. 

With a velvety blue body and wings like swatches of night sky, the California pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor hirsuta) is a breathtaking sight indeed. But that sight has become more and more rare in San Francisco as the butterflies’ preferred food (Aristolochia californica, the California pipevine) disappears from the city. 

Piece by piece, Wong is bringing it back. When the long-time lover of lepidoptera learned of the butterflies’ plight, he vowed to do whatever he could to keep them going. 

The first step was finding something for the bugs to eat. Given the pipevine’s growing scarcity, this was, unsurprisingly, something of a challenge. Wong eventually spotted a specimen growing in a botanic garden in Golden Gate Park and got permission to take a clipping.

Next, using a lifetime of accumulated knowledge about butterflies, Wong constructed a custom corral that could provide the swallowtails with their accustomed climate and conditions while keeping them safe from predators. The enclosure’s design also encourages the butterflies to mate and allows Wong to unobtrusively study the goings-on within.  

When the enclosure was finished, Wong collected 20 swallowtail caterpillars from local residences and placed them gently upon the pipevine inside. He watched, transfixed, as the hungry caterpillars munched their way en masse from plant to plant, like guests at a progressive dinner party. Eventually, they were satiated and settled down to begin the long, strange process of metamorphosis. 

The resulting butterflies were luminous and healthy. Before too long, they had laid their bright red eggs, which Wong painstakingly collected and incubated indoors, away from egg-gobbling spiders and earwigs. When the eggs hatched, Wong ferried the newborn caterpillars back to their ancestral homeland in Golden Gate Park. Each year he reintroduces more caterpillars; last year, he says, there were thousands. But there’s more to it than just dropping off the kids. By reinvigorating the park’s pipevine growth, Wong has also ensured that they have something to eat. 

While an intensive and thoroughly researched DIY species conservation program may be a bit more than most people can manage, Wong told Vox, anyone can pitch in and make a difference. "Conservation and stewardship can start in your very own backyard."  

[h/t Vox]

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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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