Global warming is changing polar bear diet. (CC-BY-SA: Ansgar Walk)


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


July 2015

In the News:

Polar Bears Snack on Dolphin - Global warming may be responsible for a new item on the polar bear's diet: dolphin. As the seas warm new species are finding their way north and getting on the bear's diet, which previously consisted mostly of seal. Norwegian scientists have photographed the white bears eating dolphins several times in the Arctic since April of 2014, but never before. The researchers blame the change on a strong retreat of ice during the summer and two nearly ice-free winters in recent years.

When the Tortoises Return to Santa Fe Island - In an attempt to restore ecological balance the Galapagos archipelago, Ecuador has released tortoises similar to the giant tortoise which died out there years ago. "We released in Santa Fe 201 tortoises from the Chelonoidis hoodensis subspecies, which are from Espanola Island, and which have morphological and genetic similarities to the extinct subspecies on the (Santa Fe) island," rangers from Galapagos National Park said in a statement. The animals were raised in captivity and 30 carry radio transmitters that allow rangers to track them. The last member of the extinct subspecies that used to populate the island, Chelonoidis abigdoni , was named "Lonesome George" and died three years ago at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, Ecuador.

Contrails do Change Weather - Conspiracy theorists have long argued that contrails left by jets impact the weather. Now there is some actual proof that this may be the case. A new study published in the International Journal of Climatology shows that in areas otherwise very similar, the presence contrails can decrease the maximum and raise the minimum temperatures. The researchers counted the number of contrails by using satellite imagery. The scientists studied two regions in their tests. In the South, the decrease in the temperature range was 6 degrees Fahrenheit, while in the Midwest region it was only five degrees.

More Evidence of Warm Blooded Dinos - A recent study published in the journal Science suggests that dinosaurs were more warm-blooded, like mammals and birds, than had been previously thought. A century ago most researchers thought that dinosaurs were very reptilian in nature: mostly dependent on the environment to warm up for activity. Newer studies however have suggested they were somewhere in between the cold and warm blooded. This latest study indicates that they were much more warm blooded than had been was suspected. "Upon re-analysis, it was apparent that dinosaurs weren't just somewhat like living mammals in their physiology - they fit right within our understanding of what it means to be a 'warm-blooded' mammal," said author Michael D'Emic, a Stony Brook University paleontologist. D'Emic took previous studies that looked at dinosaur rates of growth based on annual rings in the bones and then adjusted them for stressful or seasonal environments. He believes that the original research underestimated the growth because of these missing factors. His conclusion is that dinosaurs had similar metabolic rates as birds.

DARPA Looks into Terraforming Planets - Terraforming Mars to turn it into a habitable planet has always been the stuff of science fiction, but according to one report, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is already working on micro-organisms that can help so such a job. Though officially DARAPA denies its intensions to make the red planet green, comments made by Alicia Jackson, deputy director of DARPA's Biological Technologies Office, suggest otherwise. "For the first time, we have the technological toolkit to transform not just hostile places here on Earth, but to go into space not just to visit, but to stay," Jackson said. DARPA scientists would cut and splice DNA for the little animals giving them preferred traits that would allow them to live on Mars and change its attributes (for example transforming the carbon-dioxide to oxygen). Most likely these engineered animals will first be deployed on Earth to do jobs like rehabilitating tracts of land damaged by man-made or natural disasters.

Science Quote of the Month - “Never memorize something that you can look up.” - Albert Einstein


What's New at the Museum:

Wonders of the Age of Steam: Building The Bell Rock Lighthouse - Dozens of ships and thousands of lives had been lost when vessels went down on the treacherous Bell Rock reef. Could a Lighthouse be built on this impossible ocean swept outcrop? - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Poisonous Dinos - I've seen and read in the Jurassic Park movies and books that some dinosaurs like Dilophosaurus and Procompsognathus were poisonous. My teacher says that they weren't, but were some dinosaurs really venomous?

There is no real hard evidence that any dinosaur killed or injured its victims with poison. On the other hand there is no real evidence that all the dinosaurs were non-poisonous, either. The problem is that most of structures of the dinosaurs that would tell this story, like a gland that would make and store the poison, are soft tissue. Soft tissue is not preserved well in the fossil record, however. Only hard tissue like bones usually survive. So we just don't know one way or another.

Because we don't know for sure Michael Crichton, who wrote the original Jurassic Park books decided to make his story a little more exciting by giving Dilophosaurus the ability to project poison like a spitting cobra snake can today. (In the movie version they also added the frill around the creature's neck which does not appear in the fossil record for Dilophosaurus either, but as the frill is also soft tissue we can't positively say it didn't have a this characteristic either).

In 2000, Mexican paleontologist Rubin A. Rodriguez de la Rosa of the Museum of the Desert in Saltillo showed his fellow scientists at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology a tooth he had found. It was from an unknown species of carnivorous dinosaur and it had a groove running down it like those found on modern poisonous snakes. (The groove provides a channel for the poison to enter the body of the victim). Rodriguez de la Rosa thinks that his maybe evidence that some dinosaurs were verminous.

Not all scientists are convinced of his interpretation of this fossil, however. So we just don't know for sure. Hopefully, some paleontologist will find more of this odd creature and maybe then we will be certain.

Despite the lack of evidence it isn't unreasonable that there might have been poisonous dinosaurs. The Komodo Dragon, the world's largest lizard alive today has a poisonous and septic bite. Why not some dinosaurs?

Have a question? Click here to send it to us.


In History:

Aviator Amy Johnson - Though we think of Amelia Earhart as the pioneering woman aviator, she wasn't the only female who took to the skies in that era to break records. Amy Johnson, born on July 1st 1903, became qualitied as a British pilot and ground engineer in 1930. That same year she attempted set a record for solo flight from London to Darwin, Australia, but missed it by 3 days. However, she was still the first woman to make the flight. Unfortunately, like Earhart, she disappeared. Her plane went missing over the Thames estuary in 1941.

In the Sky:

Watch Some Shooting Stars - On July 12th through August 23rd you may be able to catch a glimpse of the Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The shooting stars will appear to come from the constellation Aquarius. The peak of activity will occur on the evening July 28th and on into the morning of the 29th.


Downing a Drone My Cost You - A court in Modesto, California, has ruled that shooting down a drone is illegal. On November 28, 2014, Brett McBray ordered his son to use a shotgun to shoot down a drone hovering in the vicinity of his house. McBray claimed it was watching his family. His neighbor, Eric Joe, who owned the drone, counter-claimed that the remotely piloted craft was over his own land and was not fitted with a camera. He demanded $700 in damages from McBray who refused to pay. Joe took the case to small claims court, which ruled McBray owed Joe $850.


Zeep and Meep are on a well deserved vacation. In their place we feature highlights from their past adventures.

Science over the Edge Archives

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Copyright Lee Krystek 2015. All Rights Reserved.


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