Friday, 31 May 2013


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Top 10 Weirdest Mars Illusions and Pareidolia
By Ian O'Neill,
Discovery News, 30 May 2013.

Ever since Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli described his discovery of canals on Mars in 1877 and American astronomer Percival Lowell started to map them, we humans have been fascinated with the Red Planet. Although our technology has come a long way since Schiaparelli and Lowell's telescopes, Mars continues to serve up its fair share of illusions, hoaxes and misunderstandings.

For the most part, these illusions are triggered by a psychological quirk of our brains that creates familiar objects from apparently random shapes. This phenomenon is known as "pareidolia" - the same phenomenon that makes some people see the face of Jesus in burnt toast and bunnies in clouds. In the case of Mars, pareidolia makes us see bigfoot, parrots, flowers and faces in the otherwise barren orange landscape. Most recently, the case of the "Mars rat" captivated the mainstream media, but how does it measure up against other examples?

10. A Volcanic Elephant

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"The Mars Elephant" - NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (HiRISE), 2012.

Pictured here, an ancient lava flow Elysium Planitia was imaged by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). To the HiRISE mission scientists, far from it being a barren landscape, the head of an elephant etched into the surface jumped out at them.

9. Rolling Stones Logo

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Rolling Stones Logo - NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (HiRISE), 2011.

In another landscape shot captured by the HiRISE team, an odd-looking crater appears to be sticking its tongue out. In reality, this isn't a crude scribble of the famous Rolling Stones logo, it's actually material flowing out of an old impact crater down a slope.

8. The "Morchid"

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'The Mars Flower' - NASA Mars Science Laboratory, 2012.

During operations at 'Yellowknife Bay' inside Gale Crater, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity spotted something quite peculiar embedded in a rock. The robot's arm-mounted Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) zoomed in to show what looked like the petals of a flower. Alas, those spoilsport scientists explained the object away, saying that it was most likely a concentration of light-coloured minerals, and not a Mars orchid (or "Morchid"). Bummer.

7. The Smiling Crater

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"The Smiling Crater" - NASA Mars Global Surveyor, 1999.

Galle Crater was first imaged by the Viking 1 Orbiter in the 1970s and then, in 1999, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor took this shot. Although the two 'eyes' and 'mouth' are known to be raised features and mountains, it's hard to shake the image of a 230 kilometre-wide smiley face. [NASA’s "Happy Face" Crater] [More: Galle (Martian crater)]

6. A Dead Parrot

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"The Mars Parrot" - NASA Mars Global Surveyor, 2002.

"... that's what I call a dead parrot." - Dead Parrot Sketch, Monty Python.

Is this proof of intelligent life on Mars? So intelligent that, in order to send a message into space, Martians built a huge mound that resembles a belly-up parrot? According to some conspiracy theorists, this makes perfect logical sense. To the rest of the world, that parrot theory is well and truly dead.

5. Alien Artefacts

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Alien artefacts? - NASA Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, 2008.

The Mars rovers have taken thousands of photos of the Mars surface, each one presenting a veritable feast of science and discovery. But, there's also evidence of alien technology and, possibly, artiness.

This photo snapped by rover Opportunity in 2008 of a rocky outcrop at Victoria Crater [Cape St. Vincent] appears to have a Martian sculpture of some kind of pharaoh (exhibit A) and a spaceship component half buried in the sand (exhibit B). Sadly, both are just angular rock shapes. [NASA’s image of Victoria Crater’s Cape St. Vincent] [Video]

4. Bigfoot! (Littlefoot?)

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"Mars Bigfoot" (a.k.a. "Mars Yeti") - NASA Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, 2008.

If there really are alien artefacts on Mars, who the heck is making them? According to some, this photo by NASA's Spirit rover is an eerie example of one of those humanoids. Either that, or it's Bigfoot seeing out his retirement on Mars. But there's a problem. This "Mars Bigfoot" isn't very big at all - it's about 6 centimetres tall. And guess what? It's made of rock. [NASA’s image] [More: Teeny little Bigfoot on Mars]

3. The Tree-Lined Hills of Mars

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Trees on Mars? - NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (HiRISE), 2011.

When the HiRISE team first released this image to the world, we were all entranced by the beautiful tree-lined landscape - wait. Trees on Mars? Actually, this is a lovely optical illusion. The "trees" are in fact flow channels of dark material slipping off the tops of sand dunes a couple of hundred miles south of the planet's north pole. The slides were caused by the melting and sublimation of carbon dioxide frost as the northern hemisphere entered summer. [NASA’s image]

2. Mars Rat, Possibly a Gopher

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"The Mars Rat" - NASA Mars Science Laboratory, 2012.

Once you see it, you can't un-see it. Yep, that looks like a rat alright. Or a gopher. Still, it looks like a small rodent hiding in the rocks near Mars rover Curiosity. And who can blame the poor little guy? I'd be hiding from that car-sized, nuclear-powered, laser-toting, rock-drilling alien robot too! Sadly, the little furball isn't a Martian rodent, it's a rock with an uncanny resemblance of one.

1. The Face of Mars

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'The Face of Mars' - NASA Viking 1 Orbiter, 1976. NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Although the Face of Mars has been debunked more times than I've had hot dinners, it's hard not to be impressed by this classic trick of the light. This observation was taken by the Viking 1 Orbiter in 1976. As follow-up observations have since shown us, the "face" is in fact a Mars mesa (a hill) in the Cydonia region. But this original low-resolution, lucky photo launched countless theories of intelligent life on Mars, inspiring numerous sci-fi books and movies.

This is, without doubt, the most enduring case of Martian pariedolia, and although it is just an illusion, it's a reminder of the beautiful mystery the Red Planet still holds over us. [More: Unmasking the Face on Mars]

[Source: Discovery News. Edited. Some links added.]


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Video: This Will Be the World’s Tallest Skyscraper In a Few Months
By Jesus Diaz,
Gizmodo, 28 May 2013.

This impressive video [shown below] shows how the tallest building in the world will look when it's completed - just 90 days after construction begins next month.

While work didn't start in March as originally planned, China is still going ahead with its 2,749 feet (838 meters) Sky City. From our previous coverage:
According to the construction company, the skyscraper will be built in just 90 days at the unbelievable rate of five floors per day. According to its engineers, this will be the tallest skyscraper in the world by the end of March of 2013. Its name is Sky City, and its 2,749 feet (838 meters) distributed in 220 floors will grow in just 90 days in Changsha city, by the Xiangjiang river. Ninety days!
Some experts people estimate that Sky City will be completed - interiors and all - by January 2014. This is the same firm that built a full 30-story hotel in 15 days - which is still standing and in perfect working condition. Whatever time it is at the end, it will still be a phenomenal achievement.

Top image: Artist conception of the proposed Sky City, Changsha, China. Credit: Broad Sustainable Building.

[Source: Gizmodo. Edited. Top image added.]


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9 Predators With The Most Brutal Hunting Techniques
By George Dvorsky,
io9, 28 May 2013.

We've said it before, but it bears repeating: Nature can be pretty damn scary. And at times, utterly merciless. Here are nine of the most unfortunate ways to die at the hands - or teeth - of a predator.

Before we proceed, it’s worth mentioning that some of these are quite disturbing, so proceed with caution.

1. Being eaten alive by insect larvae

Strike one up for the little guy - in this case the worm-like larvae of the predatory Epomis ground beetles. These larvae entice amphibians, like frogs and toads, and then latch onto parts of their bodies. The larvae refuse to let go, feeding off the animal until it dies.

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Dave Mosher from Wired explains:
The closer an amphibian moved toward a beetle larva, the more wildly the larva moved its antennae up and down or from side to side. Some larvae opened and closed their thorny mandibles while waving their antennae.
The dance of mouth parts seemed to lure amphibians into attacking.
“Amphibians hunt by movement,” Wizen said. “They’ll generally go after anything that’s small, moving, and within their reach.”
When an amphibian shot out its lightning-fast tongue to eat a larva, the larva quickly bobbed its head to dodge the attack. Moments later, the larva latched onto its prey’s skin and began to suck it dry.
Watch the larvae in action:

Interestingly, only 10% of predator-prey relationships result in a smaller animal eating a bigger one, but they are all active attacks - not a small creature luring its prey.

2. Getting thrown off a cliff by a golden eagle

Watch as this eagle drags a mountain goat off the side of a cliff.

Simple, effective - and awful.

3. Chased to exhaustion by an orca whale

Orca whales prey on many different types of animals, including fish, seals, penguins, squid, sea turtles - and even sharks. But they also like to feast on their fellow cetaceans.

Normally, orca whales hunt in packs and ambush a pod of whales, including grey and sperm whales. In order to incapacitate their prey, orcas will ram their massive bodies at high speeds into the whales, causing significant injury. They’ve also been known to chase a mother and calf for hours until the mother is exhausted and the calf can no longer be protected. Orcas like to feast on the calves’ nutritious tongues and soft flesh.

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Orcas can also be brutal when hunting dolphins. Swimming at 30 knots, they ram into dolphins, throwing their bodies out of the water, breaking their spines.

4. Ripped apart by chimps

The way chimpanzees hunt monkeys is particularly stomach-turning. Once caught, the poor things are literally ripped apart and eaten.

This video is disturbing, so be warned.

Chimps have also been observed to attack each other in this way.

5. Being paralyzed and slowly devoured by a shrew

The humble shrew, a mouse-like animal with a long snout, doesn’t look like much of a threat, but it’s a total bastard.

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Credit: Patrick Coin/Wikimedia Commons

The North American short-tailed shrew, Blarina brevicauda, secretes venom from salivary glands in its lower jaw to paralyze prey. But the point of the paralysis is not to kill the prey, but to keep it alive for an extended period of time to allow for prolonged feeding. A tiny shrew can infect a mouse, for example, and then graze on it for days and days until it eventually succumbs to its physical injuries. They’ve also been observed to munch on immobilized mealworms for up to 15 days. Shrews can eat their own body weight in earthworms, insects, nuts, and mice on a daily basis.

The shrew venom, which has been synthesized into a compound called soricidin, is harmless to humans - but its paralytic properties could be used to treat migraines, myofacial pain, neuromuscular diseases, and even wrinkles.

6. Crushed in the jaws of a saltwater crocodile

The saltwater croc is the largest of all living reptiles and is the largest terrestrial apex predator in the world. It also has the strongest bite of any living species - about 3,700 psi! Once caught, an animal is hopelessly locked in and killed by virtue of an underwater death roll.

The croc’s teeth are not designed to rip flesh, but to hold onto prey and prevent its escape. It has to be among the most brutal ways to go - like getting caught in an undertow, but by waves adorned with teeth.

7. Devoured by a bear

Bears are notorious, not just for their tremendous strength and predatory versatility, but for their dispassionate approach to killing. They often begin to feed immediately, without waiting for the prey to die - an event that’s merely incidental.

Some grizzlies have been known to grow as large as 1,500 lbs (680 kg), and exhibit strength equal to five humans. There’s very little an animal can do to shake that thing off - particularly if the bear is determined.

8. Caught at the bottom of a pitcher plant

It's kind of like the Star Wars Sarlacc pit come to life.

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The pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant that uses a deep cavity filled with liquid. It lures its prey - typically foraging, crawling, or flying insects like flies - into the cupped leaf with visual and nectar lures. When an insect gets too close, it slips on the smooth surface and falls to the bottom of the trap. Escape is virtually impossible; the pitcher plant has several means of preventing the prey from escaping, including waxy scales and downward facing hairs. Eventually the prey drowns, and the plant extracts nutrients by various means, including bacteria, enzymes - and mutualistic insect larvae that helps itself to the pickings, but nourishes the plant with its excreta.

9. Lured by the sound of a baby monkey in distress

This one’s more psychologically brutal than anything else.

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Credit: Malene Thyssen/Wikimedia Commons

Imagine being a pied tamarin monkey living in the Brazilian rainforest and suddenly a baby’s voice cries out in distress; the urge to go out and help would be overwhelming. But in reality it’s a lure set by a margay, a jungle-dwelling wild cat with remarkable mimicry skills.

The Wildlife Conservation Society reports:
Researchers from WCS and Federal University of Amazonas first saw this amazing case of vocal mimicry in 2005. Eight pied tamarins, which are about the size of squirrels, were feeding in a ficus tree. Suddenly, the sounds of tamarin babies rang out from a group of tangled vines, or lianas. The researchers pinpointed the cries to a margay, trying to lure in lunch. First, the group's “sentinel” dropped down from the tree to investigate. Then four more of the curious monkeys followed.
The spotted cat sprang to action.
Kudos to the sentinel that realized the mistake in the nick of time. Quickly sounding the predator alarm call, the tamarin thwarted the margay’s attack, saving its troop-mates.
Though the cunning cat missed out on its monkey meal on this particular occasion, the researchers watching nearby were heartily impressed with its hunting strategy. The sightings, which took place in the Reserva Florestal Adolpho Ducke, confirmed anecdotal reports from people living within the Amazon of wild cat species - including jaguars and pumas - mimicking primates, agoutis (a type of rodent), and other animals to draw them into striking range.
[Source: io9. Edited. Some links added.]

Thursday, 30 May 2013


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Rogue Queens, Sex-Changing Fish, and Rain-Making Bacteria: Nature’s Weirdest Life Cycles
By Brandon Keim,
Wired, 29 May 2013.

The word 'unnatural' is often used to describe what's considered weird or unusual. But is anything weirder than nature?

Just look at 17-year cicadas, poised to flood the U.S. East Coast after having stayed underground since Bill Clinton was President. And cicadas are just the start: Biology abounds with creatures that change shape, change sex, change locations and in some cases cause other creatures to do these things.

It's a strange, marvellous world out there. On the following pages are gathered some of life's oddest, most extraordinary journeys.

1. A Long Wait

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Everyone's wondered what it would be like to step outside time for a while, to disappear one day and return, years later, to the same spot in a changed world. That's what cicadas of the Magicada genus have evolved to do.

The Magicada species are known as 13-year and 17-year cicadas, the latter of which will in coming weeks emerge from East Coast soils. In keeping with their name, they last visited 17 years ago, when they hatched from eggs laid on trees and plants and burrowed into the soil below.

Since then they've lived underground, drinking tree sap and slowly assuming adult form. After emerging, they'll live for just one more month, devoting their final days to finding mates. In a few months, the next generation will hatch and begin the cycle anew.

Except for their 13-year cousins, it's a life cycle unprecedented in the natural world. Scientists think it evolved as a defense mechanism: The time lag makes it difficult for predators to specialize in eating them, and when they do emerge, their overwhelming numbers make any losses insignificant.

2. Parasites and Rogue Wasps

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Parasites alter host behaviour in all sorts of bizarre, self-serving ways, the most infamous example being Toxoplasma gondii that alter rodent brains - by, say, making them attracted to cat urine - so as to increase their chances of being eaten, thus transferring T. gondii to the predator intestines where they reproduce. Perhaps the strangest of all parasite-induced life cycles, though, is that produced by Xenos sparum fly larvae that each spring infects European paper wasps.

A parasitized wasp worker becomes withdrawn and selfish, shirking its colony duties, a behaviour unknown in the society-first, caste-programmed world of wasps. Eventually the worker leaves its colony and flies to some predetermined gathering place for parasitized wasps. At this point male X. sparum wriggle out from their hosts and mate with females, which remain inside.

Wasps originally infected by males die shortly after this morbid bacchanal, but wasps infected by females survive, gathering food and fattening themselves - an indulgence typically experienced only by queens. Come autumn, fattened and strong, the rogue wasps fly to places where queens gather to hibernate through winter. They don't engage in any queen-like reproductive behaviour; they're just living the life.

When next spring arrives, infected wasps wander through the countryside, depositing X. sparum eggs under leaves as traps for the next generation of unwary victims. They even sneak back into wasp colonies, where soldier wasps haven't yet matured, and in one final act of rebellion, spread X. sparum inside them.

3. When Nemo Grows Up

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Image: Joshua Nguyen/Flickr

Clownfish are far from the only sequential hermaphrodites, but they're one of the few species in which males change into females, rather than vice versa. (They're also the most adorable.)

Each anemone-dwelling clownfish colony contains one dominant female, several adult males, and adolescents of both sexes. If if the dominant female dies, one of the adult males will undergo hormonal changes that transform it into the colony's new matriarch.

4. Eels Go the Other Way

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Migratory fish the world over follow a single rule: They're born in fresh water, swim to the sea, and return as adults to spawn. Migratory eels do the opposite. They hatch at sea, thousands of miles from the nearest shore, and are carried by currents to land. Just a finger-length long and still sexually indeterminate, they swim up streams and rivers, along the way becoming male or female and eventually reaching the waters where they'll spend their adult lives. Years later, they swim back to sea, gathering thousands of miles away to mate.

How do they find their way back? What determines if an eel becomes male or female? Nobody knows. In fact, there's a whole lot that's not known about eels.

5. The Symbiotic Salamander

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Each of our cells contain structures descended from organisms that, billions of years ago, found a mutually beneficial niche inside primeval multicellular organisms. We're also full of bacteria, to the point where the microbes in our bodies vastly outnumber human cells. But these symbioses don't involve organisms that can actually be seen by the naked eye and would on their own be considered high-level forms of life, as is the case with spotted salamanders and algae.

After spotted salamanders lay their eggs, algae drift inside, thriving in the nitrogen-rich environment. As the embryo develops, algae actually migrate inside its cells, where they may nourish development by processing key nutrients. If that salamander turns out to be a female, she may pass on the algae to her own offspring.

6. Small Fish, Big Fish, Flatworm

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Prosorhynchoides borealis flatworms hatch inside clams buried in seafloor mud off the coast of Iceland. When the larvae finish eating the clams, they wriggle outside, drifting in currents until landing on the scales of a passing cod. Into the cod they burrow, passing through its body and congregating in its nervous system, where they reach the next stage of their lives.

The flukes still aren't ready to reproduce, though. That requires the intestines of monkfish, a large, toothy predator of cod. Only after a cod is eaten - something that, if other parasites are a guide, Prosorhynchoides might encourage by altering the cod's behaviour - do the flatworms finish their life cycle, laying eggs that are excreted in faeces and come eventually to rest on the seafloor, infecting the next generation of clams.

7. Tricking the Trickster

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It's an ecological dance so complicated that it deserves a flow chart. Alcon blue butterfly caterpillars secrete ant pheromone-mimicking chemicals that trick local ants into picking up their eggs. The ants raise the larvae (above), feeding and protecting them while ignoring their own offspring. Meanwhile, Ichneumon eumerus wasps have evolved to exploit this deceit: when they detect an Alcon caterpillar inside an ant colony, they rush inside, spray a chemical that makes the ants attack each other, and amidst the confusion lay eggs inside the Alcon. When it forms a chrysalis, the larvae hatch and eat it. [More here and here]

8. A Very Singular Purpose

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Adactylidium are a genus of parasitic mites that live on the eggs of tiny, fringe-winged insects and were once objects of puzzlement to scientists, who noticed that male Adactylidium inevitably died within a few hours of emerging from their mothers' bodies. They accomplished nothing, not even reproduction, in that brief time.

What was going on with the males? Microscope studies showed that, inside each impregnated female, her own eggs hatch a brood consisting of some half-dozen sisters and a single male. As the brood develops, the lone male copulates with his sisters; by this time, mom has died. By the time the sisters are old enough to chew through her body and reproduce anew, the male's job is done, and he dies soon afterwards. Sometimes he never even crawls outside, spending the entirety of life inside mom.

9. Duck-Billed Oddness

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Image: Alan Couch/Flickr

The only mammal on the list, duck-billed platypi are one of just five mammal species to lay eggs. (The others are spiny anteaters.) This is thought to be an ancient trait, something that was common hundreds of millions of years ago in ancestral mammals but has been almost entirely lost to evolutionary time.

In a trait that's simultaneously endearing and icky, female platypi secrete milk that is licked off their stomachs by their offspring. Since platypi wriggle belly-down on land, the offspring get generous serving of dirt, too, which may help strengthen their immune systems.

10. Slime Mould

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Is a slime mould an animal? Or not? The answer is: sometimes.

When you encounter a slug-like slime mould under a forest log or rock, it actually contains millions of formerly single-celled protists gathered in one giant protoplasmic broth. If you watch the mould long enough, or make a film and watch it sped up, you'll see it wander in search of food. After finding food, it forms a stalk topped by a spore-filled sac. The spores contain a fortunate few of the original single-celled protists' nuclei; when the sac bursts, the rest are left behind.

The spores land and again become single-celled organisms. When they're done eating, they converge, forming a slug with a fresh appetite.

11. Ant Berry Surprise

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Berry-loving birds abound in the South and Central American forest homes of giant Cephalotes atracus ants, offering possibilities that Myrmeconema neotropicum roundworms neatly exploit. They make the giant Cephalotes atracus ants they parasitize physically resemble berries, with swollen, bright-red abdomens that the ants feel an urge to shake in the air, drawing the attention of those berry-eating birds in whose droppings M. neotropicum will spread. [More here and here]

12. Bacteria Make it Rain

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The only bacteria on this list, Pseudomonas syringae are sheathed in proteins that allow ice crystals to form around them at above-freezing temperatures. (In the image above, P. syringae bacterium are seen in a cross-section of ice.) When this happens on the surface of leaves, the plants wither, giving P. syringae something to eat. Then, after the plant has decomposed, they're swept by winds into the atmosphere, where they once again seed an ice crystal that falls as rain onto the next leaf.

13. Who Needs Men?

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Female-only, self-cloning species were once considered evolutionary oddities, reproductive dead-ends doomed to early extinctions. There's dozens of them, though, and there are benefits to reproducing parthenogenetically, as the ability to hatch an unfertilized egg is technically known. To continue your lineage, you don't need any help.

The whiptail lizard above is actually a member of a newly-created parthenogenetic species that arose from the hybridization of two sexually-reproducing lizard species. Though their parents had sex, these lizards never will.

[Source: Wired. Edited. Some links added.]


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7 Incredible Amphibious Cars
By Yohani Kamarudin,
Tech Graffiti, 29 May 2013.

Cars that can do more than run on roads are a popular idea, and here at TG we’ve covered both historical flying cars and their more contemporary counterparts. However, if you’re afraid of heights or simply adore being on the water, these seven incredible amphibious vehicles may be more to your liking.

James Bond drove one in the 1977 movie The Spy Who Loved Me, and in 2004, Virgin founder Richard Branson made a record-breaking trip across the English Channel in one. If you’re still not convinced, perhaps one of the other fantastic water cars on our list will whet, or even “wet,” your appetite.

7. Gibbs Aquada

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The Gibbs Aquada is neither a modified land car nor a boat with wheels. Instead, it’s a specially designed vehicle that is equally at home in the water as it is on dry terrain. Developed in New Zealand by Gibbs Sports Amphibians, the Aquada made history in March 2004 when Richard Branson piloted one across the English Channel in one hour, 40 minutes and six seconds, a new record.

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The Gibbs Aquada is capable of speeds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h) on land and 30 mph (50 km/h) on water. A 175-horsepower, V6, 24-valve, 2.5-litre engine powers the vehicle, propelling it across land and water. Once in the water, the Aquada utilizes a jet, which is designed to expel a ton of thrust. According to company chairman Neil G. Jenkins, the jet is only half the size of normal one-ton thrust models. Since the Aquada, Gibbs Sports Amphibians has gone on to produce the Humdinga and the Quadski.

6. Rinspeed Splash

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Photo: Rinspeed

Unleashed in 2004, the Rinspeed Splash moves over, as well as through, the water. Thanks to the vehicle’s complicated hydrofoil design, it can hover about 24 inches (60 centimetres) above the surface of the water, traveling up to 49 mph (79 km/h) in optimal conditions. As a standard amphibious craft, it reaches speeds of up to 31 mph (50 km/h) - which is still pretty fast. On land it’s even quicker, boasting a top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h).

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Photo: Rinspeed

This amazing hydro car is powered by natural gas, and it’s the first amphibious vehicle to be fuelled by this environmentally friendly resource. It has a 750cc two-cylinder turbo-charged engine and its integrated hydrofoil design can be deployed at water depths over four feet (1.3 meters). The body is constructed of the same multi-layered carbon composite used in racing cars, which means its futuristic good looks are combined with aerodynamic performance.

5. SeaRoader Amphibious Lamborghini Countach

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Photo: SeaRoader

You may think Lamborghini Countachs are pretty awesome exactly as they are, but just imagine one that can run on both land and water. SeaRoader’s Mike Ryan converted this Lamborghini Countach into an amphibious car worthy of James Bond himself. “If it’s got wheels, I’ll make it float!” boasts Ryan, who has also converted jeeps, motorcycles, a London taxi cab and even an ice-cream van into water-going vehicles.

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Photo: SeaRoader

As you might imagine, converting a luxury sports car into an amphibious vehicle isn’t a cheap undertaking. According to Ryan, the glass alone cost US$3,007. In the water, a hydrofoil at the front of the car lifts the nose of the Countach, while hydraulic activators compress its Formula 1 style suspension system. The amphibious controls have been artfully incorporated into the dashboard. Imagine the looks this car’s likely to get zipping around the local lake or harbour.

4. CAMI Hydra Spyder

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Photo: CAMI

Now we go from a stylish, retro-looking sports car to an ultra-modern open-top vehicle: the Hydra Spyder. Produced by Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International (CAMI), the Hydra Spyder is part sports car, part speedboat. On land it can reach speeds of at least 125 mph (201 km/h), while in the water it can attain 53 mph (85 km/h).

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Photo: CAMI

The Corvette LS2 6.0 litre V-8 engine that powers the Hydra Spyder runs on gasoline, but it can be altered to use an ethanol mix instead. When switching from land to water, the driver presses a button that causes the wheels to slide into the body of the car. The vehicle is made from a lightweight fiberglass on top and has a 5052 aluminium alloy lower hull, which is filled with floatation foam in all cavities - making it, according to the company, “unsinkable.”

3. Dobbertin HydroCar

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The Dobbertin HydroCar is like a Transformer, changing from a sports car to a watercraft with the touch of a switch. The fenders that run the length of the car are lowered to form pontoons when the car is in “water mode.” The only downside is that the car isn’t quite finished yet. When maker Rick Dobbertin sold it on eBay earlier this year, the product description read, “Still needs some additional water testing and ‘dialling-in’ to achieve its full potential.” Clearly, someone was happy to continue working on the car as it sold for US$130,000 on February 24, 2013.

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The HydroCar’s main body is made of type 304 stainless steel, so rust will not be a problem. Under the hood it has a fully dyno-tuned Chevrolet engine that produces 762 horsepower at 5,800 rpm. Originally, the car used a six-bladed propeller. However, according to Dobbertin, that didn’t create enough “bite in the water,” so he replaced it with a four-bladed Rolla stainless steel propeller that was yet to be tested in the water before the HydroCar was sold. Despite required tweaking, it is still an incredible amphibious vehicle.

2. Sea Lion

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Photo: YouTube/CNN

When inventor Marc Witt decided to build himself an amphibious car, he started with a 174 horsepower Mazda rotary engine. Witt then designed an aluminium and stainless steel body around it that was both road and seaworthy. Today, it is one of the fastest amphibious cars around - at least on land, where it travels up to 125 mph (201 km/h). In the water it can reach respectable speeds of up to 60 mph (96 km/h).

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Photo: YouTube/CNN

The body of the Sea Lion was created and built by Witt himself using TIG-welded 5052 aluminium and CNC-milled components. Once the car hits the water, the front wheels retract into the wheel wells and a modified Berkeley 12 JC pump propels the craft forwards. Witt recently sold the car through - we don’t know what the new owner paid for it, but the initial asking price for this amazing water car was a cool US$259,500.

1. WaterCar Panther

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Photo: WaterCar

When WaterCar founder Dave March began building amphibious cars in the late ‘90s, his dream was to build vehicles that would perform equally well on water as they did on land. In fact, he wanted his cars to reach “freeway”-type speeds in the water. The result was the WaterCar Python, which became the fastest amphibious car in the world, reaching road speeds of over 125 mph (201 km/h) and water speeds of 60 mph (96 km/h). WaterCar’s latest offering is the Panther (pictured above).

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Photo: WaterCar

On its website, WaterCar calls the Panther the “ultimate vehicle.” Whereas the Python is an amphibious sports car, the Panther is more of an amphibious SUV, as WaterCar claims that it can be driven on all sorts of surfaces, including sand and mud. The Panther can reach water speeds of 44 mph (70 km/h) and land speeds of over 80 mph (128 km/h). Powering all this is a Honda 3.7 litre VTEC engine on the ground, and a Panther Jet while it’s in the water.

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Like flying cars, water cars aren’t for everybody. At this stage, they’re more like millionaires’ (or inventors’) playthings than a practical mode of transport. Unfortunately, the closest most of us are likely to come to driving our cars on water is crossing a bridge or riding a car ferry. Still, who knows what new developments are just around the corner. Perhaps one day soon we’ll be able to motor our way across rivers and harbours in our own private, affordable amphibious cars. It’s worth dreaming about, anyway…

Article Sources:
Branson sets cross-Channel record
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3. How the Gibbs Aquada Works
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Amphibious Dobbertin HydroCar goes under the hammer
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15. Someone Needs to Buy the ‘World’s Fastest’ Amphibious Car
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18. Ultra Cool WaterCar runs Mendeola by Rancho
19. WaterCar Panther

Top image: CAMI Hydra Spyder. Photo: CAMI.

[Post Source: Tech Graffiti. Edited.]