Monday, 30 April 2012


Hummingbirds in Flight
By RJ Evans, 
The Ark In Space, 28 April 2012.

Nothing can quite prepare you for the exquisite sight of a hummingbird on the wing. Nature has truly spoiled us with this astonishing spectacle. Take a look as the different species take flight in their search for food and marvel at the aerodynamics of one of the world's truly astonishing species.

1. Anna’s Hummingbird

This beautiful specimen is known as an Anna’s Hummingbird and was named after Anna Messina, the Duchess of Rivoli. It is found along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to Arizona. Males perform remarkable display dives during the courtship season. The male, when his territory is threatened, rises up around a hundred feet before diving on to his rival. The dive is so fast it produces an “explosive squeak” as the wind rushes through the tail feathers.

2. Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

With his iridescent green back, this male Broad-tailed Hummingbird is spectacular enough. However, he also has a brilliant red gorget (a throat patch) which really makes him stand out from the crowd. This species is found across the forests and meadows of the Western United States but do range as gar as Mexico and Guatemala.

The bird is somewhat vagrant and can be seen even in El Salvador, although it will not breed there. The bird is recognized by the trilling sound that the male’s wings make during flight. A gorgeous species.

3. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

The beautiful and fascinated Ruby-throated hummingbird has many flight muscle and skeletal adaptations which allow it great agility in flight. They have, for example, long blade-like wings which connect to the body only from the shoulder joint. This is unlike most other birds and this adaptation allows the wing to rotate almost through one hundred and eighty degrees.

Amazingly, this then allows the bird to not only fly forwards but straight up and down, backwards and sideways. Their phenomenal wings beat 55 times a second when hovering!

4. Costa’s Hummingbird

Does the camera ever lie? Perhaps, but in this case it is not intentional. The Costa’s Hummingbird is tiny and grows to only three inches in length.

This male of the species shows of his most distinguishing feature - his purple cap, with his throat feathers flaring out and back behind his head.

This species is fairly common in the Southwestern United States and in the Baja California Peninsula of Mexico. Many people believe that hummingbirds survive only on the nectar of flowers. The Costa’s, like all other hummingbird species, also eats any tiny insects it finds among the petals when it is collecting the nectar.

5. Swallow-Tailed Hummingbird

This species of hummingbird has a forked tail and as such is known as the Swallow-tailed variety. It is one of the largest “city” hummingbirds and can be very aggressive.

It will attack any other hummingbirds that dare encroach on its particular territory. They occur from the Amazon River up to Paraguay and South Eastern Peru. Unfortunately, although they can get along in partially deforested zones they may well disappear because of intensive agriculture and the development of treeless cities.

6. Green Violet-Ear Hummingbird

The Green Violet-Ear is one of the more magnificent of hummingbirds and it is a resident of South America, mostly. Although it breeds in Mexico and the Andes it has been known to wander in to the United States, even as far as Canada.

It is known, as well as its supreme colourings, for it vigorous song that is repeated ad infinitum all day long. The song goes CHEEP-chut-chut, chip CHEET and would probably drive you mad if this particular species decided to make its home next to yours.

7. Collared Inca Hummingbird

The Collared Inca Hummingbird is found in the humid forest of the Andes. It is common throughout Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.

It is known for its darker looks - and has a clear white chest patch which distinguishes it further, giving him something of the look of a flying catholic priest.

8. Giant Hummingbird

A Giant Hummingbird takes a rest. This one is as large as it looks! This is the largest member of the hummingbird family and can measure up to eight and a half inches in length. That is approximately the length of a European Starling, which should give you a good idea about its size.

It is not as attractive as many of its smaller cousins and as such is known locally as the “burro q’enti” - the burro refers to its dull plumage. It is found in the Andes.

9. Sword-Billed Hummingbird

The Sword-billed Hummingbird is the only bird in the world which has a bill that is actually longer than its body. As such it is unable to preen itself and has to use its feet.

This is universally acknowledged as one of nature’s stranger, funnier sights. The length of its bill is so it can feed on plants with long corollas. As you might expect its tongue is also unusually long.

[Source: The Ark In Space. Edited.]



Best Space Photos of the Week - April 29, 2012
By, 29 April 2012.

1. Moon, Milky Way, and ALMA Telescope
This amazing panorama depicts the site of ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimetre/sub-millimetre Array, in the Chilean Andes. When ALMA is complete, it will have 54 of the 12-meter-diameter dishes shown. Above the array, the arc of the Milky Way glistens while the moon bathes the scene in an eerie light. ESO Photo Ambassador St├ęphane Guisard took the shot, released April 23, 2012. Click the picture to see a larger version of the astounding image. [More amazing daily space photos]

2. Lyrid Meteor Shower 2012: Brian Emfinger
Skywatcher and photographer Brian Emfinger captured this magnificent Lyrid fireball with the Milky Way in the background from Ozark, Ark., during the April 21-22 peak of the 2012 Lyrid meteor shower. [See our full gallery of 2012 Lyrid meteor shower]

3. President Obama Spots Venus and the Moon
President Obama eyes Venus and the crescent moon at Colorado's Buckley Air Force Base on April 24, 2012. Venus is at its brightest of the year this week. [Full Story]

4. Lava Coils in Cerberus Palus, Mars
Giant lava spirals on Mars, like these, patterned volcanic crust in Cerberus Palus on the Red Planet, scientists say. [Full Story]

5. Trails in Saturn's F Ring
New Cassini photos show mini jet trails in Saturn's outermost F ring, likely created by snowballs flying through the icy ring. [Full Story]

6. Capturing a Water-Rich Asteroid
Small, water-rich near-Earth asteroids can be captured by spacecraft, allowing their resources to be extracted, officials with the new company Planetary Resources say. [Full Image Gallery]

7. Evaporating Blobs in Carina Nebula
The brownish "blobs" floating at the upper right of this Hubble Space Telescope image are known as dark molecular clouds. The energy of light and winds from nearby stars break apart the dark dust grains that make the forms - reminiscent of painted words by artist Ed Ruscha - opaque, thus making them disappear. The Great Nebula in Carina lies about 7,500 light years away, toward the constellation of Keel (Carina). [More amazing daily space photos]

8. Lake on Saturn Moon Titan Like Namibian Salt Pan
The lake known as Ontario Lacus on Saturn's moon Titan (left) bears a striking similarity to a salt pan in Namibia known as Etosha Pan (right), a new study finds. Ontario Lacus, imaged by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Jan. 12, 2010, covers an area about 140 by 47 miles; Etosha Pan, imaged by a NASA/USGS Landsat satellite on Jan. 21, 2003, covers an area about 75 by 40 miles. [Full Story]

9. Saturn's Rings and Four Moons
This still from the video "Outer Space" shows Saturn's rings and four of the giant planet's moons. [Full Story and Amazing Video]

10. Hubble Space Telescope Sees Cluster of Stars in Large Magellanic Cloud
On the 22nd anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope's launch, NASA released an image captured by the observatory of a young stellar grouping in one of the largest known star formation regions of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. [Full Story]

Top image: Additional views of Large Magellanic Cloud (left) and Near-Earth Asteroid (right)

[Source: Edited. Top image added.]



Best Underwater Pictures: Winners of 2012 Amateur Contest
By National Geographic News, 26 April 2012.

Overall Winner

A head-shield sea slug pauses on a blade of grass in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the winning image of the University of Miami's 2012 amateur Underwater Photography Contest, whose results were announced this month.

"Everybody looked at that photo and said, Wow...Everything is just so appealing to the eye," according to judge Michael Schmale, an amateur underwater photographer and professor of marine biology and fisheries at the university.

The judges - Schmale and two other underwater photographers - were also impressed by how sharply photographer Ximena Olds captured the tiny creature, which is less than an inch (2.5 centimetres) long.

"One of the great things about a contest like this is that it gets people seeing the ocean through other eyes," Schmale said.

"A really good photographer, like a painter or sculptor, doesn't just make a snapshot of something - but they capture something about the environment that strikes them."

First Place: Macro Photography

Two yellow-nose gobies peek out of a brain coral off the Caribbean island of Bonaire (map) in a macro, or close-up, picture.

"There's something really appealing at looking at the macro world," Schmale said. "All three of the [winning] macro photos made a huge impression on me."

Created in 2005 for South Florida photographers, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science's Underwater Photography Contest has surprised organizers by catching on internationally. This year's competition saw 500 entries from around the world, Schmale noted.

First Place: Marine Animal Portrait

Pictures of whales in the open ocean "often take my breath away, because I realize what an incredible encounter that must have been - to be that close to a juvenile sperm whale [pictured], which, by the way, probably has a watchful mother nearly," Schmale said.

In this image captured near the Caribbean island of Dominica, "you see the dappled sunlight on the whale's nose - the whole feeling of that photo conveys just an incredibly dramatic scene."

First Place: Wide-Angle

Lionfish swim among smaller fish in Israel's Red Sea.

"What they'll often do is use their pectoral fins like fans and gently herd a school of little fish in front of them...and then inhale them once the fish is in front of their mouth," Schmale said.

This "beautiful" fish has spread beyond its native environment, however, and is now a threat to other fish species in the Caribbean.

(See related pictures: "Sharks Taught to Hunt Alien Lionfish.")

First Place: Student Photography

A whale shark feeds at the surface near Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

The ocean's biggest fish - reaching lengths of up to 40 feet (12 meters) - whale sharks usually stick to themselves as they cruise tropical waters looking for plankton and other small prey.

But in 2009 aerial and surface surveys spotted a swarm of at least 420 of the sharks rubbing fins as they gorged on fish eggs. (See pictures of the whale shark swarm.)

Second Place: Marine Life Portrait

An Eschmeyer's scorpion fish stares down the camera in Bali, Indonesia.

The "remarkable and very rare fish" has some clever adaptations to blend into its environment, Schmale said.

In addition to its camouflaging colours, the fish has transparent spots in its pectoral fins. The "windows" help break up its outline, making it easier to sneak up on prey.

Lastly, the fish's false eyes (the two white dots) might also help trick prey, Schmale speculated.

Second Place: Student Photography

Harlequin shrimp - such as the one in this winning picture taken in Thailand's Similan Islands - mate for life, and the pairs work together to capture and kill their favourite prey: starfish.

One of the shrimp locates a starfish, flips it over, and drags the prey into the shrimp's lair. The couple then devours the starfish's internal organs, starting from the tips of its arms down to its central disk - keeping their victim alive for as long as possible.

Second Place: Wide-Angle

Schools of fish flash among red mangrove in the Bahamian island of South Bimini.

Mangroves serve as vital, intermediate nurseries as coral reef fish journey from their "cribs" in sea-grass beds to the large coral reef ecosystems where the fish spend their adulthoods.

Second Place: Macro Photography

Perhaps only a half inch (1.3 centimetres) long, according to Schmale, a porcelain crab perches on a feathery sea pen in Komodo National Park, Indonesia.

"The colour palette is almost monochromatic...I thought that was beautiful," Schmale said.

Third Place: Marine Life Portrait

Nudibranchs - such as this Cratena peregrina caught on camera off Greece - are roughly finger-size sea slugs whose 3,000-odd species thrive in seas cold and warm, shallow and deep. Whereas their ancient ancestors slipped across the seafloor in defensive shells, these gastropods come armed with toxic secretions and stinging cells.

(See video of nudibranchs from National Geographic magazine.)

Third Place: Macro Photography

Emperor shrimp hitchhike on the back of a sea cucumber in Ambon, Indonesia.

The tiny shrimp - each eye is only a millimetre wide - use the sea cucumbers as dining cars, eating whatever passes by.

The "picture captures that environment - they're riding on top of the train," Schmale said.

Third Place: Student Photography

A young tiger shark (top) and lemon shark hover near the sea bottom in the Bahamas.

A widespread species, the tiger shark is comfortable in both the open ocean as well as shallow coastal waters, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The less wide-ranging lemon shark inhabits subtropical, shallow waters among coral reefs, mangroves, enclosed bays, sounds, and river mouths.

Third Place: Wide-Angle

Orange anthias fish swim amid soft corals in the Fiji Islands. Coral reefs cover less than one percent of the ocean floor but support about 25 percent of all marine creatures, according to the Coral Reef Alliance.

Fan Favourite

Backlighted by the rising sun, a sea nettle jellyfish pulses across California's Monterey Bay in the Rosenstiel School contest's first "fan favourite" picture, chosen via online poll.

Its trailing appendages covered in stinging cells, a sea nettle typically transfers captured prey from the jelly's slender tentacles to its ruffled mouth-arms to its mouth, hidden inside the sea nettle's bell. (See pictures of giant jellyfish off Japan.)

Top image: Nomura Jellyfish, Japan (left) and Red Lionfish (right)

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited. Top image added.]