Jen Guyton
Jen Guyton

Scientists Identify the Creators of Namibia’s "Fairy Circles"

Jen Guyton
Jen Guyton

There’s a lot to explore on this planet. For instance, fairy rings, which are weird bald spots that appear in African grasslands. On this front, a team of scientists have made some headway. They wrote about their findings in the journal Nature.

Jen Guyton

 
Scientists define fairy circles as evenly spaced, circular bald spots in areas otherwise covered by vegetation. The spots can be between 2 and 35 meters across and have so far been spotted in the grasslands and deserts in both Africa and Australia. The most famous fairy circles in the world can be found in a stretch of sandy soil in Namibia, where scientists have been trying to nail down a culprit for years.

There are currently two prevailing theories. The first is that the circles essentially make themselves when plants opt out of growing in these spots in order to out-compete other plants nearby. The second is that the circles are the product of underground activity by rodents, ants, or termites. Both theories make sense; plants have to be extra-strategic with their growth in dry regions, and many fairy circles abut termite mounds or anthills.

Ecologist Corina Tornita of Princeton University decided to put both theories to the test. She and her colleagues created computer simulations that incorporated just about every element of fairy circle existence: termite colony growth, mortality, rainfall, vegetation spread, root systems—you name it.

Tyler Coverdale

 
After crunching the numbers and reviewing the simulations, the researchers realized that neither theory was correct—at least on its own. Fairy circles required involvement from both plant and animal mechanisms to form.

The study authors say their results show that “interactions among social-insect colonies and vegetation can explain a diverse global suite of regular spatial patterns,” and that understanding weird natural phenomena will require considering a broad range of elements, including “behaviours and competitive dynamics of cryptic ecosystem-engineer species, the ways in which plants and SDF respond to bioturbation and climatic variability, and the movement of water through soil in different environmental contexts.” 

In other words: Even seemingly simple shapes are the result of complex networks, in which living and non-living things all influence one another. Some "fairies" are six-legged, some have roots, and others are made out of water or dirt, but it takes all of them together to make what looks like magic.

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Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

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Huntsman Marine Science Centre
Fisherman Catches Rare 'Cotton Candy' Lobster, Donates It to Aquarium
Huntsman Marine Science Centre
Huntsman Marine Science Centre

Lucky, a cotton candy-colored lobster, has been turning heads ever since he was caught off the coast of Canada's Grand Manan Island last month. As The Dodo reports, the rare blue-pink crustacean has since been donated to the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in New Brunswick, where he continues to dazzle visitors.

#guardian2011 #evolutionfisheries #rainbowlobster #rarestoftherare

A post shared by Robinson Russell (@robinsonfrankrussell) on

"If all of this attention is making Lucky blush, exactly what color would he turn?" the Marine Centre wrote in a Facebook post about Lucky's newfound fame.

Robinson Russell, the fisherman who caught the crustacean and donated it to the aquarium, said, "I have been fishing for over 20 years and it’s the first one I’ve ever seen of that color."

Researchers with the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine told The Dodo that a lobster of Lucky's pigmentation is roughly one in 100 million, making it just as rare as an albino lobster. By another estimate, lobsters like Lucky turn up once every four to five years.

Researchers says the coloring is caused by a genetic mutation that affects pigments in the lobster's shell. Most lobsters tend to be gray or brown—turning red only when boiled—but yellow, bright orange, and blue lobsters have all been spotted in the past.

Check out National Geographic's video below to see Lucky on the move. 

[h/t The Dodo]

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