Posts Tagged ‘giant’
Slow-moving fast food
South Florida is fighting a growing infestation of one of the world’s most destructive invasive species: the giant African land snail, which can grow as big as a rat and gnaw through stucco and plaster.
More than 1,000 of the mollusks are being caught each week in Miami-Dade and 117,000 in total since the first snail was spotted by a homeowner in September 2011, said Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Residents will soon likely begin encountering them more often, crunching them underfoot as the snails emerge from underground hibernation at the start of the state’s rainy season in just seven weeks, Feiber said…
A typical snail can produce about 1,200 eggs a year and the creatures are a particular pest in homes because of their fondness for stucco, devoured for the calcium content they need for their shells…
The last known Florida invasion of the giant mollusks occurred in 1966, when a boy returning to Miami from a vacation in Hawaii brought back three of them, possibly in his jacket pockets. His grandmother eventually released the snails into her garden where the population grew in seven years to 17,000 snails. The state spent $1 million and 10 years eradicating them.
Feiber said many people unfamiliar with the danger viewed the snails as cute pets.
“They’re huge, they move around, they look like they’re looking at you … communicating with you, and people enjoy them for that,” Feiber said. “But they don’t realize the devastation they can create if they are released into the environment where they don’t have any natural enemies and they thrive.”
Though I prefer sea snails/scungilli and conch, many varieties of snails are a taste-tempting treat. Never had a chance to be told they were something not worth eating because – when I was a kid – our family shared a duplex home with our landlady who was French. She kept a terrarium of snails in her kitchen for special occasions.
Second world war papers by the UK’s most famous codebreaker, Alan Turing, have been bought for the nation with an 11th-hour bid by the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Turing’s work was in danger of going to a private buyer abroad but will now stay in its “spiritual home”, Bletchley Park, which was the centre of Britain’s top secret code-breaking effort during the war.
The mathematician, often dubbed “the father of computer science”, helped crack the German Enigma code while stationed at Bletchley Park…
Dame Jenny Abramsky, the chairman of the NHMF, said: “This is such welcome news. Alan Turing was a true war hero and played an absolutely crucial role during the second world war.
“The National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK and this grant will now ensure that this extremely rare collection of his work stands as a permanent memorial to the man and to all those who paid the ultimate price in service to this nation…”
An online campaign by IT journalist Gareth Halfacree managed to raise £28,500 through public donations in just over a week. In addition, Google donated $100,000 (£62,700) to the Bletchley Park bid, but it was not enough to secure the papers…
The papers will go on public display later this year following conservation work by the NHMF.
The Manchester University scientist committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 41, two years after being chemically castrated following a criminal prosecution for having a sexual relationship with a man.
In 2009, the then prime minister Gordon Brown was forced to apologise on behalf of the government for Turing’s “appalling” treatment after an online petition gained thousands of signatures.
Turing was a genius and dedicated his work to the best possible service he could render to humanity in defeating the Nazi codes and aiding the war against Fascism.
That his nation rewarded him with ignominy and bigotry is unforgivable. The afterthought by Brown – is worth as much as it is. The result of a politician pushed into belated action.
Bletchley Park is where his papers should reside for posterity. To be studied in the surroundings where he accomplished so much.
I read a lot of science news. Science has been a preoccupation of mine since I picked up my first copy of Thrilling Wonder Stories at our neighborhood drugstore on the way home from school at the age of 8.
Over at the “big” blog, the boss calls these my “weird science” posts. Which is only a jest because, in fact, he understands them – just hates to admit it when they contradict his politics.
Anyway, I don’t keep up with posting them all and usually delete the majority from storage. Silly. Why not offer a roundup, once in a while – and let you choose what to read and what to skip:
A newly discovered skeleton of an ancient seabird from northern Chile provides evidence that giant birds were soaring the skies there 5-10 million years ago. The wing bones of the animal exceed those of all other birds in length; its wingspan would have been at least 5.2 m (17 ft.).
The ancient stone spheres of Costa Rica were made world-famous by the opening sequence of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when a mockup of one of the mysterious relics nearly crushed Indiana Jones. So perhaps John Hoopes is the closest thing at the University of Kansas to the movie action hero.
Hoopes, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Global Indigenous Nations Studies Program, recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica where he and colleagues evaluated the stone balls for UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization that might grant the spheres World Heritage Status…
Hoopes, who researches ancient cultures of Central and South America, is one of the world’s foremost experts on the Costa Rican spheres. He explained that although the stone spheres are very old, international interest in them is still growing.
“The earliest reports of the stones come from the late 19th century, but they weren’t really reported scientifically until the 1930s — so they’re a relatively recent discovery,” Hoopes said. “They remained unknown until the United Fruit Company began clearing land for banana plantations in southern Costa Rica.”
According to Hoopes, around 300 balls are known to exist, with the largest weighing 16 tons and measuring eight feet in diameter. Many of these are clustered in Costa Rica’s Diquis Delta region. Some remain pristine in the original places of discovery, but many others have been relocated or damaged due to erosion, fires and vandalism.
The KU researcher said that scientists believe the stones were first created around 600 A.D., with most dating to after 1,000 A.D. but before the Spanish conquest…
Speculation and pseudoscience have plagued general understanding of the stone spheres. For instance, publications have claimed that the balls are associated with the “lost” continent of Atlantis. Others have asserted that the balls are navigational aids or relics related to Stonehenge or the massive heads on Easter Island.
“Myths are really based on a lot of very rampant speculation about imaginary ancient civilizations or visits from extraterrestrials,” Hoopes said.
John Hoopes maintains a website to disseminate the realities of the stone balls – and to dispel some of the myths. As well as he can.
Giant jellyfish descend on the Sea of Japan, causing untold devastation to coastal villages and leaving a trail of destruction and human misery behind.
Sounds like a great sci-fi flick. But it’s not. It’s real and it’s a nightmare for Japanese fishermen.
The massive sea creatures, called Nomura’s jellyfish, can grow 6 feet in diameter and weigh more than 450 pounds. Scientists think they originate in the Yellow Sea and in Chinese waters. For the third year since 2005, ocean currents are transporting them into the Sea of Japan.
Monty Williams, a marine biologist at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said the jellyfish grow to an enormous size as they are transported by ocean currents. He said they stay together in packs and as they drift northward, they get caught in fishermen’s nets…
The jellyfish destroy fishermen’s nets, getting trapped in them, tearing holes and ruining catches.
Fishermen often use expensive mazelike nets that stretch for hundreds of kilometers. When swarms of giant jellyfish tear them, the result is devastating. “Communities of fishermen and these fishing villages own these nets,” Williams said. “When these nets get wiped out, it actually has this economic devastation for an entire community.”
I know it doesn’t feel like anything termed “short-term phenomenon” to the fishermen. But, in terms of oceanography, unless someone knows of radical changes taking place in the region, that’s exactly what’s described. That’s why I never would be a farmer, regardless of how many times my agricultural kin offer that avenue. And a decade or so of subsistence fishing as a youth was sufficient, thank you.
Surely, there must be a lame and leftover Cold Warrior in Japan’s Parliament who can blame China – or Greenpeace – for this? I probably could find a dozen or so in Congress.
Scuba divers off the Californian city of San Diego are being menaced by large numbers of jumbo squid.
The beaked Humboldt squid, which grow up to 5ft (1.5 metres) long, arrived off the city’s shores last week.
Divers have reported unnerving encounters with the creatures, which are carnivorous and can be aggressive…
The creatures – also known as jumbo flying squid – do not affect swimmers because they remain deeper in the water…
“The ones that we are getting right now have a big beak on them, like a large parrot beak,” San Diego’s Union-Tribune quoted John Hyde of the National Marine Fisheries Service as saying earlier in the week.
Scientists say they do not know why the squid – which usually live in deep waters further south off Mexico and Central America – have come so close in.
But one expert, Nigella Hillgarth of the San Diego-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told AP it was possible that the squid had established a year-round population off California.
Maybe we should return to polluting the water?
Physicists…have shown…that the size of giant dunes is controlled by the depth of the atmospheric convective boundary layer. More specifically, the physicists have shown that such dunes grow through the accumulation of small superimposed dunes, and that their growth is limited by interaction with a part of the atmosphere called the inversion layer, which confines wind flow around the dunes.
The dynamics of dunes are the result of the interaction between the wind, which by transporting sand grains remodels their shape, and the shape of the dune which, in return, controls atmospheric flow. Dunes can take the form of crescents, stars or parallel waves. The smallest dunes appear spontaneously in the form of waves on the sand’s surface, with a distance between their crests of a few tens of meters.
Physicists have previously shown that this basic size is controlled by the inertia of the grain, which itself depends on the size and density of the grain as well as the density of the fluid sand.
This time, the aim of the researchers was to understand what determines the size of the biggest dunes. They first measured the distance between giant dunes in all the world’s deserts by means of satellite images. This distance varies from an average of 300 meters for coastal deserts (along the coasts of Namibia or Peru, for example) to 3,500 meters in the interior of continents (in central China or in the two Great Ergs in Algeria).
This difference in size is linked to the vertical structure of the atmosphere. The lowest layer is the convective boundary layer, which is directly in contact with the Earth’s surface: at this level, warming of the ground by the Sun gives rise to thermal convection. Above this, a thin layer called the inversion layer separates the convective layer from the stable part of the atmosphere, located at higher altitude.
The researchers showed that giant dunes form by gradual accumulation of smaller wind-driven structures. This growth process would be unlimited but for the fact that the dunes end up interacting with the inversion layer. This is because the inversion layer confines wind flow around the dunes. As a result, the dunes stabilize at a size that corresponds to the altitude of the inversion layer (or the depth of the convective layer).
I haven’t found the whole study, yet. In English or free. But, it sounds fascinating.
OK. It sounds fascinating to me.
I’ve spent a bit of time in beach dunes, high desert dunes, dunes in deserts closer to sea level. I have an abiding interest in what grows on dunes – especially grasses. They are beautiful portions of the natural world.
A sculpture of a giant white horse taller than the Statue of Liberty is set to tower over the countryside as part of an unusual scheme to help revive the fortunes of a depressed region of England.
The 50-meter equine artwork was Tuesday announced as the winner of a competition to design a landmark to dominate the skyline of the Ebbsfleet Valley, set to be a new stop on the Eurostar London-to-Paris rail link.
Designed by artist Mark Wallinger — whose previous work has included dressing in a bear suit and wandering around a gallery in Berlin — the £2 million horse will be one of the largest artworks in the UK.
Wallinger’s horse — which echoes ancient white horse symbols carved into hillsides around Britain — beat a shortlist of designs that included a tower of stacked cubes and giant steel nest.
Ancient chalk horses was the first thing that struck my mind when I saw this headline. This critter fits perfectly into the history of the region.
Of course, it wil be controversial. But, art controversy is truly a great deal of fun. Aside from the ignorant who get to chime in – the educated and involved can be just as silly as anyone else who’s convinced that only their own opinion matters.
It’s a favorite local sport in my neck of the prairie.
Pterosaurs have long suffered an identity crisis. Pop culture heedlessly — and wrongly — lumps these extinct flying lizards in with dinosaurs. Even paleontologists assumed that because the creatures flew, they were birdlike in many ways, such as using only two legs to take flight.
Now comes what is believed to be first-time evidence that launching some 500 pounds of reptilian heft into flight required pterosaurs to use four limbs: two were ultra-strong wings which, when folded and balanced on a knuckle, served as front “legs” that helped the creature to walk — and leap.
Publishing in Zitteliana, Michael B. Habib, M.S…reports his comparison of bone strength in the limbs of pterosaurs to that of birds and concludes that pterosaurs had much stronger “arms” than legs. The reverse is true of birds.
“We’ve all seen birds take off, so that’s what’s most familiar,” says Habib. “But with pterosaurs, extinct 65 million years and with a fossil history that goes back 250 million years, what’s familiar isn’t relevant.”
A supersized glitch is inherent in the traditional bipedal launch model, Habib notes: “If a creature takes off like a bird, it should only be able to get as big as the biggest bird.”
Birds use legs to launch, wings to flap. They don’t get launch power from wings or flight power from legs. In fact, when a bird is aloft, its legs become payload, or cargo. The muscle on the two back limbs that provides the power to launch must be carried and therefore limits size. Released of that handicap by employing all four legs to launch, giant pterosaurs could fly despite the fact that they were roughly the same size and shape as modern-day giraffes.
Habib’s study is a delight – worth reading in depth – if I could find it in English. Now, we just need to straighten out all the science fiction movies for the next 80 years or so.
Dude is carrying a small one!
The Amazon and its tributaries are home to almost one tenth of the world’s freshwater fish biodiversity, 2500 species being recorded. The giant fish Arapaima gigas is one of the most emblematic of these.
Catches in the wild have been declining substantially and fish farming is gradually being developed in the Brazilian and Colombian Amazon to alleviate this. Captive reproduction is one of the main problems hampering aquaculture of Arapaima notably because it is almost impossible to distinguish the sex of the reproductive adults. A new, practically non-invasive, method based on testing of a straightforward blood sample, enabled an IRD team and its Peruvian partner to determine accurately the sex of 100% of nearly 30 specimens. The technique should help improve breeding programmes of this species and at the same time facilitate study and monitoring of wild populations to improve conservation and management strategies.
Arapaima gigas is a giant air-breathing fish, emblematic in the rivers of South America. Known to Brazilians as pirarucu, it inhabits natural lagoons and low-current reaches of Amazonian rivers and is the largest freshwater fish of the South American continent. At adult stage, some specimens can reach several hundred kilograms for a length that sometimes exceeds four metres. This fish with tasty bone-free meat has been the target of intensive fishing since the early XVIIIth Century. One century ago, over 1 200 tonnes of Arapaima was landed each year in the Brazilian port of Belém alone. In 2006, declared catches for the whole of the Amazon Basin reached only 380 tonnes.
Today, it is estimated that the natural population of Arapaima gigas ranges between 50 000 and 100 000 individuals. The species has been put on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, and fishing is now strictly regulated. Yet commercial demand is constantly on the increase and, in order to meet this, aquaculture stations for the species are starting up in the Peruvian and the Brazilian Amazon.
I should think that aquaculture of bottom-feeders is less demanding than salt-water and fast-water species. And I’d love to try a slice of one of these delicious critters. Never can have too much fish – as long as they’re not threatened.