Unearthing tension: Sand runs the world, but most don’t realize the conflict it generates

As William Blake famously wrote, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower” is to “Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.” But as innocuous, ubiquitous and just plain mundane sand can be, it can also be the source of significant conflict and violence while often being extracted to the detriment of our planet....

Originally posted on salon.com

Not clowning around: Clown fish can count each other’s stripes and will fight enemies they recognize

Even before the Disney Pixar vehicle “Finding Nemo” turned a pair of clown fish into popular ocean-dwelling protagonists, these distinctive orange and white fish were adored for their charismatic coloring and habit of turning venomous sea anemones into their apartments. These qualities have made clown fish (Amphiprion ocellaris) some of the jewels of home aquariums but these flashy bars serve a purpose beyond looking festive....

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Stewards of the kelp forests: New research reveals how sea otters dramatically influence the climate

With their roly-poly bodies, child-like eyes, long whiskers and tiny padded paws, otters are some of the most charismatic animals in nature. But while being cute doesn’t serve much purpose in the wild, new research suggests these little furballs have been helping mitigate climate change.

A recent study in the journal PLOS Climate, led by researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, details how southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris) off the coast of California have helped kelp forests remain resilient to the impacts of climate change....

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Weather underground: What caves can reveal about climate change, both past and future

During the so-called Little Ice Age, medieval European were afflicted with bitterly cold winters and unusually mild summers. Extreme weather disasters became more common, bringing with them the scourges of disease and famine. Because we didn’t entirely understand climate science back then, many blamed evil or magic for the prolonged cold snap....

Originally posted on salon.com

Constantly on the nod, chinstrap penguins catch seconds-long bursts of sleep 10,000 times per day

Nearly all animals need some form of sleep to survive, but not all of them sleep in the same ways as humans. Take chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus), the adorable two-foot-plus waddling birds named for the distinctive and dignified black stripes at the bottoms of their heads, which are indigenous to the islands and shores of the Southern Pacific and Antarctic Oceans....

Originally posted on salon.com