CLOSE
Original image

William S Bruce via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Time a Scotsman Played Bagpipes for a Penguin in Antarctica

Original image

William S Bruce via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1902, Scotland sent explorers on an official national expedition to Antarctica, headed up by polar scientist and naturalist William S. Bruce. In a uniquely Scottish twist, the two-year-long Scottish National Antarctic Expedition included a position that probably no other country found necessary: an official piper.

Gilbert Kerr, the official piper of the Scotia crew, was tasked with maintaining morale—but he became a postcard icon by posing for the photo above, in which he played the bagpipes in full Highland dress next to an Emperor penguin. The bird, according to the Royal Scottish Geographic Society, “was tethered to a large cooking-pot packed full of snow.” The photograph was taken by Bruce in March 1904 while the Scotia was stuck in the ice on the Weddell Sea.

The idea of Kerr bringing out the bagpipes for a bunch of penguins was apparently also intended to test the effect of music on them, according to the 1906 record of the voyage by Bruce and other members of the expedition, The Voyage of the ‘Scotia’: Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration in Antarctic Seas. The penguins were not impressed. The explorers wrote that “there was no excitement, no sign of appreciation or disapproval, only sleepy indifference.” They further noted that “it was just all that one man could do to lead one up to the ship: with their beaks they bit fairly hard, and with their long flipper-like wings could hit out decidedly hard.” Kerr's bagpipes were later donated to a Scottish battalion during World War I and lost at the Battle of the Somme.

These days, of course, polar explorers would not be allowed to tie a penguin to a pot for a photo op. All Antarctic wildlife is protected, and the continent is a nature preserve. However, in Antarctic weather, it’s possible that the man in a kilt (it’s hard to tell in black and white, but those look like bare legs above his socks) was almost as uncomfortable as the wild penguin tied to a kitchen pot. And who knows which poor crew member got bitten in the process.

Original image
iStock
arrow
technology
This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
Original image
iStock

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]

Original image
iStock
arrow
Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
Original image
iStock

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.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios