Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Vanishing dinosaurs, breeding birds, redback spiders and more

Australian redback spider
Tim Wimborne / Reuters / Corbis

Nature's Waterproofing

Water beads
(Cheryl Carlin)
Water beads and rolls off lotus leaves so nicely the phenomenon is called the lotus effect. Duke University scientists failed to get a leaf to repel water condensation in the lab—until they put it on a loudspeaker. The vibrations caused droplets to form, suggesting that wind, falling rain and other disturbances that jostle lotuses help them stay dry.

Dinosaur Species Vanish!

dinosaure species
(Cheryl Carlin)
The dinosaurs above have been considered three species. But a new analysis of fossil skulls led by the University of Montana suggests they're different life stages of P. wyomingensis, whose horns disappear and dome head grows over time. The find fuels speculation that up to a third of recognized dinosaur species are in fact juvenile forms of other species.

Travel Advisory

yellow-billed cuckoo
(Cheryl Carlin)
At least five species of birds that breed in North America in spring or summer breed again, in Mexico, en route to their southern wintering grounds, say University of Washington-led researchers. Such "migratory double breeding" had not been documented in the Americas before. The loss of Mexican nesting grounds may explain some birds' population declines.

Learn more about the Yellow-billed cuckoo at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Planning For Extreme Weather

Sea stars
(Cheryl Carlin)
Sea stars stranded at low tide can be exposed to brutal sunlight for hours. How do they beat the heat? Pisaster ochraceus regulates its body temperature by sucking up water during high tide, say scientists led by the University of South Carolina. And after a hot day, the sea stars take in even more water at the next opportunity. The cooling system lets sea stars stay closer to their preferred prey—mussels—which live higher on shore.

Learn more about the sea star Pisaster ochraceus at the Encyclopedia of Life.


Australian redback spider
(Cheryl Carlin)
Name: The Australian redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti), a cousin of the black widow.
Brave Heart: To mate, a male spider, which is much smaller, must vibrate the strings of a female's web. If he approaches too soon, she eats him.
Wise Guy: But a second male may crash the courtship rite and mate—and walk away without a fang mark on him.
Unfair Lady: It's all in the timing, researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough say. After a courtship of about 100 minutes, they found, the female is ready to mate, but she doesn't distinguish among suitors. The intruder's exploitation of her lack of discrimination, they say, has not been identified in another species.

Learn more about the Australian redback spider at the Encyclopedia of Life.

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