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Beetle Juice
Jelly Jam
Hook, Line, and Dinner
Flipper the Frat Guy
Minting the Eagle
Teen Wolf
Leave It to Beavers

Beetle Juice
One of the world’s weirdest bugs, infamous for its method of self-defense, may soon be helping asthma sufferers, car owners, and firefighters. When threatened, the bombardier beetle produces a powerful blast of boiling toxic chemicals from its posterior. This super flatulence can stun small opponents and force others, even humans, to back away. Recently, Andy McIntosh, professor of thermodynamics and combustion theory at England’s University of Leeds, announced that he and his research associates had discovered a way to harness this power. Initially the team focused on the physics of bombardier beetles, becoming the first to unlock the secrets of the bug’s formidable rear end. They then enlarged the system, building a mechanism that mimicked the beetle’s insides on a human-size scale. The result is a new, improved spray technology called μMist, which McIntosh says could be used to produce more reliable vaporizers for asthma medications, more efficient fire extinguishers, and an energy-efficient fuel-injection system for greener cars. “I would never have thought of this without the beetle’s example,” he admits.—Maggie Koerth-Baker
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Jelly Jam
A bizarre event at a salmon farm in Ireland last winter brought business to a standstill. A large bloom of jellyfish, 10 miles square and 35 feet deep, invaded pens in both Glenarm and Red Bay, wiping out the farm’s entire stock, worth $2 million. More than 100,000 fish died from stings and suffocation while flabbergasted workers looked on helplessly, unable to maneuver their boats through the thick mass of jellyfish. The invaders were mauve stingers, a species that is uncommon in the Irish Sea’s cold waters and more typically found farther south, where Mediterranean beaches are occasionally closed when these jellyfish bloom in huge quantities. Some scientists attribute this episode to global warming, as higher temperatures extend the jellyfish’s natural range. But others consider the attack a fluke, since jellyfish are unable to coordinate their own movements and are instead swept along by ocean currents. Says Martin Moore, a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, “The farm is situated in a strong tidal flow, which had the effect of moving the jellyfish into the cages.”—Hilda J. Brucker
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Hook, Line, and Dinner
You’re scanning the fresh red snapper at your local fishmonger’s, your mouth watering at the thought of a dish that would be perfect for tonight’s dinner. But before ordering a couple of fillets, you whip out your phone, log on to the Internet, and check out the newly launched International Seafood Guide. The guide provides consumers with up-to-the-minute information on 4,000 seafoods—whether they make good purchase choices, from both health and sustainability standpoints. It is navigable in 17 countries and can be searched by looking at pictures or by typing in a scientific or common name. “We combined every seafood guide we could find that is sustainability-based into one interface that’s easy to use,” explains Amanda Stern-Pirlot, who helped develop the guide as part of European Union–funded INCOFISH. Don’t have a fancy phone or don’t want to pay those download charges? The Blue Ocean Institute’s FishPhone gives you another option: Text “FISH” to 30644 with the name of the species on tonight’s menu and within seconds you will be texted back with a recommendation. For example, orange roughy comes back as a “red light” fish because of both health (mercury content) and sustainability (a depleted fishery) concerns. Now there’s no excuse for eating the wrong fish. And no, it’s not okay to buy that red snapper: This species is overfished, and shrimp trawlers decimate the juveniles. For more information, see the Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood and the International Seafood Guide. —Kristin Elise Phillips
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Flipper the Frat Guy
Macho men aren’t the only animals to strut their stuff in front of the fairer sex. A new study shows that male Amazon River dolphins in Brazil, Venezuela, and Bolivia wave branches, punch their friends, and toss turtles into the air to make an impression. This complex behavior is the first of its kind to be seen in aquatic mammals—only humans show similar courting rituals, the researchers say. “It is actually, in mammalian terms, a really rare thing,” says Anthony Martin, an ecologist and biologist at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, who conducted the study. “It’s a behavior that we as humans share with river dolphins and apparently not with anything else.” The males spin out of the water with various items in their mouths that they retrieve from the river bottom or the water’s surface, sometimes even throwing the rocks, boughs, or wildlife. They also tend to fight with one another when this behavior is going on. Because the endangered freshwater dolphins can’t see through the murky water they live in, Martin thinks that the showoffs are probably also making noises to attract attention. To test his theory, he will try to use hydrophones to listen in as the dolphins attempt to woo their partners. “Let’s not beat around the bush here,” he says. “It’s about sex.”—Susan Cosier
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Minting the Eagle
While bald eagles have long adorned U.S. coins, a famous 19-year-old member of the species named Challenger now has his name and beak on 750,000 U.S. half-dollars, too, thanks to legislation he helped pass in 2004. At the time, Challenger and one of his caretakers, American Eagle Foundation founder and president Al Cecere, went door-to-door to congressional offices, seeking support for a bill that would celebrate 35 years of the Endangered Species Act and the recovery of the bald eagle by issuing three commemorative coins, each with different eagle images (see “NASCAR Conservationist,” January-February 2006). The legislation passed unanimously, and the coins were minted this year. Today a portion of the proceeds goes to recovery efforts across the country for the recently delisted bird of prey. So far the U.S. mint has sold about a third of the half-dollar coins and about half of the five-dollar gold and one-dollar silver coins, which have images of other, unnamed—and considerably less famous—eagles. Sales of the coins, which are available only until December, have already raised more than $6 million for the foundation’s endowment fund. “There has never been any specific named animal on a U.S. mint coin, and from what the mint has told us, it’s one of the most successful programs they’ve had in a while,” Cecere says. Challenger is the perfect ambassador for his species, having had his picture taken with hundreds of luminaries, including Dolly Parton and Muhammad Ali. He flies at the World Series and other major sporting events, and he even has his own children’s book, Challenger: America’s Favorite Eagle. Next the celebrity raptor will star in an animated movie of his life. For more information on the eagle coins, click here. —Shawn Query
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Teen Wolf
It’s a common lament: Kids spend more time playing video games than they spend outdoors. Well, maybe there’s a compromise of sorts. A new video game called WolfQuest, developed by the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, Minnesota, is targeted to children 10 to 15 years old who want to become a virtual wild wolf living in Yellowstone National Park. Players who hit “H” on the keyboard can hear an actual wolf cry taken from a real one recorded at the International Wolf Center. In the game, which was released last December, players rely on their eyes and their sense of smell, too, to hunt for prey. With the “scent vision” feature, players can see where other animals have left their odoriferous marks, and these “scent trails” light up in different colors for various animals. “We want to target the kids already online,” says Grant Spickelmier, the zoo’s assistant program director, who is also the game’s project director, and “reach the kids not going outdoors.” He also hopes to interest young people in biology and wolf conservation. The newest version of WolfQuest features advanced technology that allows players to establish a territory and find a mate. To download the game, click here. —Kerri Fivecoat Campbell
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Leave It to Beavers
Who knew that a hairy, flat-tailed rodent might be the answer to our water woes? According to new research from Canada’s University of Alberta, the animal long considered a pest can create an up to nine-fold increase in the amount of open water by manipulating local hydrological systems with deep channels and dams. “Beavers were spending more time keeping water in their wetlands than they were actually foraging for food,” says Glynnis Hood, an ecologist and one of the lead authors of the study, which examined data going back 54 years. Researchers concluded that beavers have an “overwhelming influence on wetland creation.” For example, during the 2002 drought in Alberta, the area’s worst on record, almost all beaver ponds held their water, while other ponds (without beavers) dried up. “If we’re going to be experiencing more frequent and more severe droughts, which is the prediction of all the global climate models, we need to start looking at the positive aspects of what beavers do,” says Hood. At least it’s something to chew on.—Frank Bures
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