Butterflies Sip Crocodile Tears

Science, May 2014

Never smile at a crocodile—or sit on its face and drink its tears. Yet that’s exactly what ecologist Carlos de la Rosa spotted a butterfly and a bee doing this past December as he boated down Costa Rica’s Puerto Viejo River.

Some Birds Thrive in Chernobyl’s Radioactive Glow

Science, April 2014

Nearly 28 years after the worst nuclear accident in history, several bird species are doing the seemingly impossible: flourishing inside the radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine. Due to lingering radiation from the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, humans aren’t allowed to live there—but the region has become an accidental ecological testing ground for scientists interested in studying the effects of radiation on wild animals.

Bird Flocks Shatter on Impact

Science, April 2014

A flock of birds flows like a liquid, but in one respect it acts more like a solid, according to a new computer simulation (above). Flocking birds can fly together as an impressive fluidlike mass, and a team of physicists wanted to know whether a flock possesses a cohesion similar to surface tension in a real liquid.

New Shape Born From Rubber Bands

Science, April 2014

A simple experiment using rubber bands and cups of water is putting a new twist on helical geometry. Traditional telephone cords are coiled into helixes that spiral clockwise or counterclockwise. By securing one end of the cord while twisting the other in the opposite direction of the spiral, a rainbow-shaped boundary called a perversion forms at the intersection of the opposing twists. A helix with one or more of these perversions is known as a hemihelix. Although hemihelixes with a single perversion are commonly found in meandering plant roots and wool fibers, hemihelixes with multiple perversions have never been seen until now.

Sailfish Star in Slasher Film

Science, April 2014

If sardines produced a horror film, the vicious serial killer would be a sailfish. Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus), named for their sail-like dorsal fins, brandish elongated knifelike bills and swim at speeds up to 110 kilometers per hour—12 times faster than Michael Phelps. The function of the pointy bill eluded scientists, though some argued sailfish wield the appendages as a weapon when hunting schooling fish.

Did Lead Poisoning Bring Down Ancient Rome?

Science, April 2014

When in ancient Rome, don’t drink as the Romans do. High-born Romans sipped beverages cooked in lead vessels and channeled spring water into their homes through lead pipes (pictured). Some historians argue that lead poisoning plagued the Roman elite with diseases such as gout and hastened the empire’s fall. Now, a team of archaeologists and scientists has discovered just how contaminated Roman tap water was.

Females Sport Penises in Genital-Swapped Insects

Science, April 2014

Ecologists spelunking in a Brazilian cave have found a new variety of insect with an unusual sex life. Females of the newly discovered genus Neotrogla, 3-mm-long flylike insects, boast large, penislike structures called gynosomes. Although other animals such as seahorses take on reversed gender roles, species in the new genus are the first to be found with swapped genital structures.

Dino Delivery: T. rex Arrives in Washington, D.C.

Science, April 2014

A Tyrannosaurus rex baring banana-sized teeth is taking over Washington, D.C.—and it came via FedEx. The 12-meter “Nation’s T. rex” arrived this morning at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History accompanied by a police escort and was greeted by a packed hall of reporters and dinosaur lovers.

Fleeing Fruit Flies Perform Fancy Flying

Science, April 2014

If you’ve ever taken a swipe at a buzzing fly, you know how frustratingly fast the winged menaces can zip out of swatting range. Now, scientists have discovered the aerial maneuvers the common fruit fly (Drosophila hydei) utilizes in its speedy escape plan.

Plan to Allow Libyan Nuclear Scientists to Study in U.S. Draws Fire in Congress

Science, April 2014

Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are raising objections to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plan to lift a 1983 ban on Libyan nationals receiving pilot training or studying nuclear science in the United States. At a hearing last week, supporters of lifting the ban said the move is needed to help Libya rebuild global ties after decades of international sanctions during the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi. Critics, however, worried it could help train potential terrorists.