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Briefs
Man vs. Sheep
Armed to the Hilt
Editor’s Choice: K-Light Solar Lantern
Beak Speak
Flip the Switch
Peeling Out
Cicada Sirens
Pecking Order
Numbers Game
The Greenest Profession

News Articles
Update on greenhouse gas policy; managing wild horses; getting high off nature; more.

 

Edwin Fotheringham

Man vs. Sheep
Marco Festa-Bianchet risks life and limb to tussle with bighorn sheep on the aptly named Ram Mountain in Alberta. He and his colleagues weigh, measure, and assess the personality of each animal, but their first task is to capture it. So they use salt licks to lure the nimble creatures into a wood corral and then wrestle them to the ground—without the aid of tranquilizers or stun guns, which allows the sheep to recover faster. Mountain bighorns can reach six feet from horn to tail, weigh nearly 300 pounds, and run 20 miles an hour. “Most rams are calm because they have been caught before, but a select few, including new rogue males who just recently immigrated to the group, always seem to have a nasty temperament,” says Festa-Bianchet, a bighorn researcher at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. The research has identified a gradient of personality types: On one end are aggressive males that “live fast and die,” passing on their genes early, and on the other are the more passive, “slow and steady” males that mate later in life. “Field workers have been hit, but that is the risk we take to do this kind of study,” says Festa-Bianchet. “With practice, they eventually perfect their take-down method.”—Katherine Bagley
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Armed to the Hilt
When it comes to hauling and assembling precious cargo, octopuses put professional movers to shame. On video, researchers have caught veined octopuses off Indonesia’s coast excavating partially buried coconut shell halves and stacking them in pairs. The cephalopods spread their bodies over the stack, and, by making all eight arms rigid, lifted the load and scuttled across the seafloor, a process dubbed stilt-walking. Scientists found that octopuses use the bounty as portable armor: If danger arises, the creatures move the two shells around their bodies and hide inside, holding the halves in place with their suckers. Birds, apes, and a few other mammals engage in tool use, but this is the first documented instance of invertebrates displaying the behavior. “Complex behaviors are not the exclusive realm of ‘higher’ vertebrates,” says Julian Finn, a biologist at Australia’s Museum Victoria. “Even the soft-bodied octopus, a relative of the snail, is capable of amazing tricks.”—Sarah Parsons
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Courtesy of PIsat Solar

Editor’s Choice
I’ve seen the future and it’s the K-Light Solar Lantern, a small gadget with big potential. The detachable, shatterproof solar panel, which can be charged even when it’s snowing or cloudy, provides up to 10 hours at full LED brightness (or twice that long at half brightness). This past summer, looking for nocturnal creatures while walking my dog in rural New England’s pitch darkness, I found that either strength shines a high beam—especially when you screw the top off to convert the lantern into a flashlight. About the size and weight of a soda can, you can practically kick this device, thanks to its hardy construction. PiSAT Solar, the manufacturer, donates a portion of its proceeds from sales to solar projects and helps provide the lights to African villagers, thus allowing them to replace dangerous and toxic kerosene lanterns. Price: $49.95.—David Seideman
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Beak Speak
If you want to know if a place is polluted, get the answer straight from the gull’s beak. Researchers from Spain’s University of Vigo found that gulls sickened by oil exposure showed significantly smaller red dots on their beaks than healthy birds. The colorful pigments of many reptiles, birds, and fish come from carotenoids, compounds that serve as sources of color or act as antioxidants, whichever the animal needs more. In the gulls’ case, when hydrocarbons from the oil stress them, carotenoids move from beaks to body tissues in order to flush toxins from the birds’ systems. Cristóbal Pérez, who co-directed the study, says that the same concept holds true for other animals that use carotenoids for skin coloring. Some birds, fish, and reptiles should show fading pigments when exposed to any number of contaminants like hydrocarbons and PCBs, providing obvious warning signs of environmental toxins.—Sarah Parsons
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Courtesy of WWF-Australia

Flip the Switch
If the Vegas Strip suddenly goes dark, don’t start snatching up poker chips just yet—it may only be the fourth annual Earth Hour. During this international 60-minute event, people and businesses shut off their lights to conserve energy and rally world leaders to fight climate change. Organized by the World Wildlife Fund, participation has skyrocketed, from 2.2 million in 2007 to nearly a billion people, including more than 80 million Americans, last year. Join the visual cause from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time on March 27.—Michael Lowe
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Peeling Out
After race car engineers at Yokohama, the tire maker, were told to go green, they went orange instead. Most tires contain petroleum-based rubber rather than the natural stuff, which lacks grip. “Our company has been interested in providing a more eco-friendly product,” says Mark Chung, Yokohama’s director of corporate strategy and planning. “So these race engineers were given the challenge of using a more natural tire.” Their solution was to use real rubber and add orange oil, squeezed from rinds discarded at a juicing factory, to soften the rubber so the tires better hug the road. Not only does the dB Super E-spec contain 80 percent natural components, it also has about a quarter less rolling resistance than regular tires, which translates into better gas mileage. Best of all, the tires are available off the speedway, for hybrids and a few other models. The company plans to expand the sizes to fit other vehicles. And what about an orange-fresh scent? Chung says, “Only if you peel out.”—Katherine Tweed
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Cicada Sirens
Like many serenading songbirds, male cicadas chirp to females at mating time. But these insects should be careful of who they hit on, and fear more than rejection. In Australia, predatory spotted katydids can play the female part in the cicada duet. “The cicada female signal is very simple. It’s just a click or a snap,” says University of Connecticut biologist David Marshall. “She’ll make that click after exactly the right note in the male cicada song.” Katydids have learned to lure the unsuspecting males with clicks that are right on cue. The music—and the suitor’s life—end abruptly. This behavior, Marshall says, may be the first known case of aggressive acoustic mimicry. The phenomenon may explain why the cicadas’ repertoire evolves quickly and is so varied. After all, these copycatting killers are good. When Marshall recorded katydids interacting with cicadas from different continents singing unfamiliar songs, the insectivores didn’t miss a beat or, rarely, a meal.—Melissa Mahony
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Edwin Fotheringham

Pecking Order
Not sure which paintings to hang on your wall? Ask a pigeon. By looking at color and pattern cues, these head bobbers can actually differentiate between your nine-year-old niece’s doodles and her masterworks, according to researcher Shigeru Watanabe of Japan’s Keio University. Using elementary school art deemed beautiful or ugly by 10 non-artist adults, Watanabe trained four pigeons to distinguish the “good” from the “bad,” offering kudos (and some chow) for pecking the former, and nada for pecking the latter. The birds picked the high-quality art more frequently. “These studies suggest that humans and pigeons may use similar visual cues to identify ‘good’ paintings,” Watanabe says. Even so, curators can likely keep their day jobs.—Michele Wilson
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Numbers Game

235 The population, in millions, of egg-laying birds in the U.S.

50 Number of times per day a hen turns over an egg so the yolk won’t stick to the shell’s sides

26 Hours it takes a hen to produce an egg

17,000 The number of pores on an egg’s surface, through which the egg absorbs smells

13 The number of essential nutrients in one egg, including
protein, iron, and zinc 0.00125 The weight, in pounds, of a ruby-throated hummingbird’s egg

18 The weight, in pounds, of the heaviest egg ever recorded, which was laid by the extinct elephant bird

19 Average clutch size of gray partridge, the largest of any bird

1,633 The price, in dollars, paid for a fossilized elephant bird egg

5.6 The price, in millions, of the most expensive Fabergé egg ever sold, in 1994
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Edwin Fotheringham

The Greenest Profession
To battle the economic blues, one brothel in Berlin, Germany’s red-light district is going green. The house, run by Regina and Thomas Goetz, now offers a five-euro discount—about $7—to any client who arrives via bike or public transport and can prove it with a helmet, lock, or valid ticket. The move was both eco- and financially driven, an attempt to boost business in an industry hit hard by a faltering world economy. The incentive seems to be doing the trick; it’s bringing in three to five new clients daily, Thomas told Reuters, and decreasing traffic congestion in the area.—Michele Wilson

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