The platypus has puzzled researchers for centuries. From its venom-filled spurs, milk-secreting skin, and ability to eat a quarter of its body weight every day, the egg-laying mammal even had European zoologists believing it was a hoax well throughout the 19th Century.
A recent study published in the journal Mammalia adds to the duck-billed creature’s lengthy list of peculiarities. Apparently, when illuminated with ultraviolet light, the platypus’s dull, brown coat glows. The discovery happened after Jonathan Martin, an associate professor of forestry at Wisconsin’s Northland College, shined a UV flashlight on a flying squirrel in his backyard, which he found emitted a candy-colored pink hue. He then joined a few colleagues to visit Chicago’s Field Museum, where they replicated the process on the institution’s platypus collection, revealing the animals’ bright green and purple coat.
According to one study, the fluorescent substances are found embedded within mammals’ hair follicles, although scientists aren’t sure why. Sensory biologist Sönke Johnsen told The New York Times that “just finding fluorescence doesn’t mean it has any particular purpose.” Similar radiating colors exist in coral reefs and sea turtles, among other organisms, although the phenomena are less common in mammals.
Overall, the discovery has prompted further questions about whether the platypus can see UV light—most humans cannot, except for on certain items like white T-shirts—and even more interest in what we’ll discover about the curious creature next.
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Caring for pets has a lengthy list of physical and mental health benefits, and studies show that folks who aren’t quite ready to commit to a rambunctious pup can find similar solace in a marine pal. The aquatic enthusiast behind Foo the Flowerhorn recently released a video series documenting the DIY building process for a home ecosystem, in addition to capturing the organisms’ intrepid natures. Conveying thoughtful methods for balancing inter-species relationships, the tutorial is also an example of aquascaping, or the art of aquarium design (dive into the world of competitive aquascaping here).
Beginning with a 7.6-gallon aquarium, the video chronicles the assembly of a volcano-shaped rock formation, which serves as a filter despite being enveloped by algae, and a custom-built cover to keep the adventurous creatures inside. Every species is introduced to the ecosystem in a specific order to ensure their chances of survival. The plants, snails, Amano shrimp, and tetras are added early on, with the territorial Siamese Fighting Fish following after ten days. “Adding a betta into this mix is risky. He is a chirpy little fellow, and I’m a little worried about the shrimp, especially. He has tried to catch the tetras here and there but soon realized that there is absolutely no chance of him catching one,” the designer said. (via The Kids Should See This)
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Enhance! Explore the Orion Constellation in Astounding Detail with This 2.5 Gigapixel Image That Took Five Years to Complete
For the past five years, Chattanooga-based astrophotographer Matt Harbison has poured more than 500 hours into capturing the minute details of the Orion constellation, an immense undertaking that’s culminated in a stunning 2.5 gigapixel image. In its entirety, “Project Orion” is composed of 2,508 individual shots meticulously stitched together into a fiery, star-studded mosaic.
In a statement about the monumental project, Harbison writes that his fascination with the neblua began in childhood during camping trips and Boy Scout excursions and later, as he drove to high school and college. Orion “was always there, seemingly inconspicuous. I have always felt a connection to this cosmic way-finder. Big decisions and events in my life came and went, yet those stars seemed to always find their way into my consciousness,” he says.
Harbison began by photographing Andromeda in 2011 before shifting his focus to Orion in 2013. He traveled from Tennessee to Texas to capture the nebula at various points and often camped out with a group of astrophotographers in ice fishing tents. He explains the lengthy process:
The image posed many problems from the start—balancing differing sky conditions per night, aligning to the same star position each and every night, and meticulously returning to a position just a few thousand pixels North, South, East, or West. Aside from the challenge of software, there were also the continual hardware problems and challenging weather conditions in East Tennessee. Sure, there are some good nights, but there are some not so good nights as well.
After gathering hundreds of individual shots, Harbison realized he needed to update his equipment as the scope of the image grew—for specifics on the telescopes, cameras, and software used, check out this statement. “The project amasses a total of 44 TB across 21 hard drives, 7 laptops, and 3 desktops, with my 4th and final desktop recently completed,” he says.
Now finished, the composite image is available for exploration on Harbison’s site. Follow him on Instagram and YouTube, where he shares his space-centric findings, and check out this video to dive deeper into his process. (via PetaPixel)
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While traditional wood and velvet-lined caskets can take more than a decade to decompose in the earth, a new design by Bob Hendrikx is an environmentally friendly alternative that replenishes the soil. Breaking down in just two to three years, “The Living Cocoon” is composed entirely of mycelium, the thread-like part of the fungi that branches out underground to provide food to the rest of the organism. The decomposed coffins actually contribute to the soil health by neutralizing toxic substances and providing nutrition. Mycelium is “constantly looking for waste materials to convert into nutrients for the environment…For example, mycelium was used in Chernobyl, is utilized in Rotterdam to clean up soil, and some farmers also apply it to make the land healthy again,” Hendrikx says.
Generated without light, heat, or any sort of active energy source, the coffins are grown in one week by mixing a strain of mycelium and a substrate together and placing the combination in a mold. The fungi then absorbs the other substance and forms the box-like shape. Research by two funeral cooperatives, CUVO and De Laatste Eer, already shows that “The Living Cocoon” decomposes in soil within 30 to 45 days, and the design was used in a burial in recent weeks. “We are currently living in nature’s graveyard. Our behaviour is not only parasitic, it’s also short-sighted. We are degrading organisms into dead, polluting materials, but what if we kept them alive?” Hendrikx says.
A researcher at Delft University of Technology, Hendrikx designed a similar living pod last year for Dutch Design Week, which spurred the idea to create another vessel from mycelium. He’s working currently to implement light-emitting spores, which could serve as an above-ground marker of where a body is buried. To follow Hendrikx’s environmentally conscious designs, head to Instagram and YouTube. You also might enjoy this living pavilion made of agricultural waste and sprawling mushrooms. (via Dezeen)
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When Ava Roth adds the last stitch grasping horsehair or porcupine quills to her embroidered artworks, she passes the fibrous material on to her black-and-yellow counterparts. The Toronto-based artist collaborates with bees to encase her mixed-media pieces in waxy honeycomb. What emerges are organic artworks that consider interspecies interactions and the beauty that such meetings can garner.
Since 2019, Roth has been expanding the wooden frames of her works to twice the size as previous projects. She receives help from master beekeeper Mylee Nordin, and together, they vertically stack hive boxes, which are known as supers, and insert large, custom-made structures. The artist also has developed a more detailed practice in recent months. “Because this project has required so much trial and error, I was still experimenting with materials last season, trying to find substances that the bees would consistently respond to positively,” she writes. “I was trying to find organic substances that would not harm the bees but also that the bees would not eat or otherwise destroy.”
When the bees finished wax production in late October, Roth says her understanding of the species and confidence in her choice of raw matter had grown. “I spent the winter weaving and embroidering beeswax, porcupine quills, horsehair, and other organic material into embroidery hoops, and then fixing them onto my new custom made frames,” she notes.
Roth’s projects also have a sense of urgency through their connection to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that’s killing colonies and threatening the species’ population. “Honeybees are often considered a harbinger of the health of our planet, and CCD is interpreted by many environmentalists and scientists as a clear indicator of our current environmental crisis,” the artist says.
I consider the bees to be my co-workers, collaborators in every sense. I take cues from their needs, design the project around their capacities, and work in sync with their seasons. Ultimately, this art that we make together is essentially hopeful at a time when we are overwhelmed with despair at the state of the environment, and our role in its destruction.
During the winter, Roth plans to refine her project further after reflecting on another season of interspecies collaboration. Follow the latest updates on her encaustic works on Instagram.
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Mesmerizing Shots of Distant Galaxies and Aurorae Top the Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest
The 2020 Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest gathers a trove of sublime shots capturing otherwise unseen phenomena and distant fixtures of outer space. With more than 5,000 entries from six continents, the 12th annual competition includes Nicolas Lefaudeux’s photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy two million light-years away, one by Rafael Schmall that frames the lit trails of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites, and another of the Aurora Borealis reflecting on the ice by Kristina Makeeva (previously).
Starting October 23, 2020, the top photographs will be on display at the National Maritime Museum. Until then, pick up a copy of this year’s book that collects all 140 winning and shortlisted shots, and explore some of Colossal’s favorites below.
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Editor's Picks: Science
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