28 May 2010

Science online, no layovers edition

The latest word on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, as of the time at which I set the timer for this post to publish (circa 2230, 27 May), seems to be: that BP's "top kill" maneuver, which would have plugged the gushing wellhead with mud, is not quite working as it ought. Meanwhile, the spill is now officially the worst in U.S. history, and poised to get even messier if it's not contained by the start of what is projected to be a busier than usual hurricane season. Ugh. In non-oil-related science news:
Migrating bar-tailed godwits can fly 7,100 miles without a break. Photo by jvverde.
  • The small and squeaky shall inherit the Earth. Fossil evidence from a more gradual episode of warming 12,000 years ago suggests that some rodents, like deer mice, will become more abundant as the globe warms. (Not Exactly Rocket Science)
  • Got it made in the shade. Coffee farms practicing shade-growing techniques host more bee species, which may mean better pollination of the crop. (Coffee and Conservation)
  • ... and boy are my wings tired! The advent of lightweight GPS and more sophisticated tracking methods has allowed ornithologists to directly monitor migrating birds—revealing nonstop flights of thousands of miles. (NY Times)
  • One more reason not to stand right behind a mammoth. A new study tracks ancient levels of atmospheric methane, and suggests that human overhunting of North America's methane-farting megafauna caused the last ice age. (io9)
  • I know what you're thinking, punk—only one of those critters is a true bug. Bombardier beetles, cabbage aphids, and velvet worms all employ explosive chemical weaponry as defenses, making them the "ballistics experts of the bug world." (Ecotone)
  • No evidence of fossilized tartar sauce. Paleontologists have discovered a fossil frog with a fossil fish in its stomach. (Laelaps)
And finally, there's a new version of the totally creepy Big Dog walking robot—it's now cat-sized, and somehow more adorable than creepy. Until a pack of them show up to take me away as a slave to our new robot overlords, anyway. (via Anthony Hecht at Slog, who declares it "still creepy")

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