What do a dead blue snake that was green when it lived, a modified, hardened beetle forewing that is still vibrant after 50 million years (PDF), the shiny blue Pollia condensata berries (previously), and a wide variety of blue-colored birds have in common? Structural coloration, specifically the structural designs of a variety of reflective prism structures that overcome the natural difficulty to create blue (and green) colors.
"In October 2013, Drs. Tim Perkins and Abby van Den Berg of the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center, revealed the findings of a study at a maple syrup conference in New Brunswick, Canada that sent waves through the industry. In 2010, they were studying vacuum systems in sap collection operations. Based on the observation that one of the mature trees in the study that was missing most of its top was still yielding high volumes of sap, they hypothesized that the maples were possibly drawing moisture from the soil and not the crown. Previously, they had presumed that the sap dripping from tap holes was coming from the upper portion of the tree. But, if the tree was missing most of its crown then, they surmised, it must be drawing moisture from the roots. ... They realized that their discovery meant sugarmakers could use saplings, densely planted in open fields, to harvest sap. In other words, it is possible that maple syrup could now be produced as a row crop like every other commercial crop in North America." [more inside]
Bowerbirds, a family of 20 species in eight genera, are a fascinating bunch of birds who range from New Guinea and Australia. Some are flashy, others drab, but all are named for the "bowers" (avenues, huts, or towers of sticks; source) that the males craft and decorate to attract a mate. There are regional styles (PDF) in the design of the bowers, and the male Greater Bowerbirds even employ optical illusions. Some, like the Vogelkop Bowerbird, add mimicry vocal to their repertoire of courting methods. Add accidental cultivation to the list of fascinating features of the bowerbirds. [more inside]
Apparently big in Japan but gaining interest in other countries, raising and keeping giant beetles is a lucrative pet industry. If keeping the strongest creature on Earth for its size isn't your cup of tea, you could instead keep a tank of predatory diving beetles. Just make sure there aren't any escape routes.
The life and times of Tom Eisner, father of chemical ecology, photographer, musician and champion of environmental and human rights
Thomas Eisner, a Cornell biologist best known for his extensive work (PDF) with chemical ecology, passed away on Friday, March 25th, 2011. Eisner was more than a "bug guy," he was one of the "original guiding lights" in the study of chemical interactions of organisms, most often focusing on insects. He also was a photographer, pianist and occasional conductor (PDF), and conservation activist. More on his fascinating life inside. [more inside]
Cyborg Spy Beetles are no longer a thing of the future. UC Berkeley (funded by DARPA) has created cyborg beetles guided wirelessly via laptop. These spy beetles were created with the intent of bugging actual conversations, literally acting as the "fly on the wall". [more inside]
Canadian expatriate (and Metafilter member) stavrosthewonderchicken has a detailed and depressing look at the impact of the mountain pine beetle in Northern British Columbia, where a perfect storm of "forest fire suppression, clearcutting (and subsequent replanting), [and] global warming" has led to the destruction of over 130,000 square kilometers of forest.
VW Beetle days coming to end. I had a '68 as my college car in the 70's. Girls loved it. Got me where I wanted to go (most of the time). The cute car of the 50's and 60's. Have one? Had one?
Best. Transformers. Video. Ever. CGI render of a new VW Beetle transforming into a transformer with live background [1.5 meg mpg video]. Makes me wonder if a live-action Transformers TV show would work, with real actors and CGI rendered robots. I'd certainly watch it.
VW New Beetle Grand Prix...that's just dope.