A passion for the outdoors drives many of our adventures. And when we’re not outside, we love to immerse ourselves in discoveries about the places we live and travel. Here are some of the best natural history links we found this week.
Vultures prevent carbon emissions: Vultures prey on the carcasses of other animals, and many view these birds in a negative light.
In fact, vultures play a crucial role in many ecosystems. Their capture maintains the nutrient cycle and controls the spread of pathogens from dead animals to live ones. The birds often reach the remains before the decay begins. By eliminating decay, they prevent the emission of many greenhouse gases. A single vulture can avoid almost a kilo of greenhouse gas emissions every day. Applying that to the 140 million vultures on the planet adds up to tens of millions of tons a year.
Glen Canyon reappears
Glen Canyon reveals its secrets: Lake Powell is the second largest reservoir in America. Once popular for water sports, it now exemplifies the drought in the west.
The lake is part of the Colorado River System, which provides water for 40 million people. First, the amount of water allocated to the seven states was overestimated. The drought of the last two decades has also devastated the area.
One positive aspect of this was the reappearance of Glen Canyon. The canyon has been under water since the Colorado River dam created this reservoir. As the canyon reappears, the animals that once called it home return.
A fox fishing for food: A new paper describes the first record of a red fox fishing for food. The video was recorded in 2016, but the details of the study only appeared this year.
In the video, a male red fox stalks and catches several carp over a few hours. Nobody had ever seen this behavior before. It makes the red fox one of only two canids that hunt fish. The other is wolves on the Pacific coast of North America.
“We’ve been studying this species for years, but we never expected anything like this,” said ecologist Jorge Tobajas.
The discovery was accidental. The researchers were on another project when they saw the fox fishing. Most surprising was its accuracy.
“The fox hunted many carp without making any mistakes,” said Tobajas. “That made us realize that it certainly wasn’t the first time he’d done it.”
The moons and rings of Neptune
The James Webb Telescope captures Neptune’s rings: The James Webb Telescope has returned images of Neptune showing the planet’s rings and dust bands like never before.
“It’s incredible to see these rings, and we’re accessing wavelengths that no one has seen before,” said planetary scientist Leigh Fletcher.
The longer wavelengths give researchers insight into global circulation patterns. Seven of Neptune’s 14 moons also appear in the images. These are the best photos of the icy planet since Voyager 2 in 1989.
How whales avoid dementia
Why Whales Don’t Get Brain Damage While Swimming: When mammals run, the movement forces the blood to move. This causes “pulses” in the brain, increasing pressure.
These impulses can eventually lead to dementia. Some mammals alleviate this by inhaling and exhaling during locomotion, but whales need to hold their breath when diving.
Surrounding the brain and spine of a whale is a network of blood vessels. Their function has puzzled scientists. Now they believe the retina uses a “pulse transmission” mechanism to maintain the same pressure in blood entering and leaving the brain.
An unimaginable number of ants: Scientists from the University of Hong Kong have estimated that there are 20 trillion ants on earth. Their total mass is greater than that of all birds and mammals combined. This also means that there are about 2.5 million ants for every human being.
“It’s unimaginable,” said study lead author Patrick Schultheiss. “We just can’t imagine 20 quadrillion ants in one heap. It just doesn’t work.”
Ants play an important role in many ecosystems. They aerate the soil through constant tunneling, help move seeds, and are a source of food.