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Feature Articles
Editor's Note
Audubon View
Letters
Field Notes
Audubon Family
Audubon In Action
Incite
Earth Almanac
Reviews
One Picture
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Briefs
Going Ape for Grapes
Small Change
Numbers Game: The Heat Is On
Bathroom Brawl
Hissss-y Fit
Model Plane
Bottle Tops

News Articles
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill; swimming with sharks; an Audubon legend dies; more.

 

Edwin Fotheringham

Going Ape for Grapes
Baboon bacchanals are all the rage in the South African town of Franschhoek. For the past two years the apes have descended in hordes upon the area in search of food, and vineyard grapes are a juicy target. “The combo of sugar and starch—it’s manna from heaven,” says Justin O’Riain, head of the Baboon Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, noting that the animals prefer pinot noir grapes and lapse into hiccups after feasting on fermented grape skins. Baboons hadn’t been a problem in Franschhoek in decades, but brush fires pushed them onto farms, where they “couldn’t believe their luck,” says O’Riain. Shooting baboons is restricted, and electric fences are only marginally effective, so vintners resort to noisemaking. Technology could help head off the assault: O’Riain’s team is testing a GPS collar that, once placed on a troop leader, sends a text message to the cultivator’s computer to alert him that the hirsute marauders are on their way. “It’s possible to coexist,” he says. “You just have to invest some money.” And maybe grow more than pinot noir grapes.—Julie Leibach
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Small Change
At nine ounces, the Kittlitz’s murrelet is among the world’s most diminutive alcids. So it’s fitting that scientists turned to the world’s tiniest transmitters to learn more about the rare seabird, which breeds in Alaska. Kittlitz’s are solo breeders that prefer inaccessible rocky slopes, making them difficult to study. Hence the high-tech solution: Seven birds were equipped with 5.5-gram trackers, lighter than conventional ones that might hinder their mobility, says U.S. Geological Survey biologist John Piatt. Each of the $3,450, solar-powered gadgets eventually stopped relaying data—predators appear to have eaten two birds and the rest of the transmitters likely fell off—but Piatt’s team learned more about murrelets’ foraging activities and where they go after breeding. This year the team hopes to outfit 12 more murrelets, and to study how captive seabirds tolerate dummy devices. Says Piatt, “We’ve got to have a better success rate than all of them falling off.”—Adam Marcus
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Suzannah Skelton/iStock

Numbers Game: The Heat Is On

2,200 Temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, of fresh lava

2,800 Temperature at which sand turns into glass

60,000 Temperature to which lightning can heat the air

212 Temperature of liquid that bombardier beetles shoot from their abdomens in defense

0 Scoville Heat Units of a bell pepper

210,000 Scoville Heat Units of an orange habanero pepper

1,001,304 Scoville Heat Units of the world’s hottest chili pepper, Bhut Jolokia

1,000 The amount, in megawatts, of concentrating solar power systems planned for installation in the Southwest by the end of 2010

10,000 Temperature of the sun’s surface

136 Highest temperature ever recorded, in El Azizia, Libya, in September 1922

0.4 Degrees the earth’s surface temperature has increased every 10 years for the past three decades

1.4 Total degrees average global temperatures have jumped since 1880
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Edwin Fotheringham

Bathroom Brawl
Crayfish urine might seem like an unusual aphrodisiac, but it certainly gets the lobster-like crustaceans all riled up. British researchers have found that female urine catalyzes male mating behavior. When the scientists hindered females from releasing urine, males showed no sexual response. They then artificially introduced lady pee into the tank, and six of 15 males started acting randy. Urine doesn’t have just an amorous effect, though—when released by either sex it also stimulates aggressive behavior. (Talk about mixed signals.) Still, once a couple pairs off, males stop whizzing, which likely increases the chances for successful copulation. Females, the researchers report, continue producing pee, possibly to weed out weaker, less suitable mates. “It could be a way for the female to test the male,” says Fiona Berry, a behavior ecologist. “Only the males which are the strongest will be successful in mating.”—Michael Lowe
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Norm Farmer

Hissss-y Fit
When face-to-face with a venomous snake, evolutionary biologist Rick Shine wants to know whether his opponent is likely to attack or slither away. So his University of Sydney research team tested Australian small-eyed and broad-headed snakes—both elapid family members, the former a common species, the latter threatened—to see how these nocturnal animals react when they sense danger. Measuring the snakes’ speed, thrashing, tongue-flicking, and biting when held revealed that the temperature, time of day, and other conditions influence how the reptiles respond. Both flee more often than they fight. Sounds reassuring, but for one conclusion: If they see no escape, broad-headed snakes often change their minds, turn back toward their foes, and attack. It’s surprisingly complex behavior, says Shine. “People tend to think about snakes as robots with pea-sized brains. We’re learning there’s a sophistication and flexibility there, an adjusting of their responses.”—Michele Wilson
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Model Plane

Pao Lee

Where do airplanes go when they’re retired? Maybe into your kitchen or bathroom. Coverings Etc., INSERT [TEXT LINK: coveringsetc.com] a design company committed to creating ecofriendly products, takes aluminum from old aircraft fuselages and transforms it into tiles. The company melts down the metal into blocks of “Bio-Luminum,” which it slices into attractive, lightweight textured tiles that are 100 percent recycled and 100 percent recyclable. The same alloys that make aircraft aluminum strong make it difficult to recycle as easily as cans or foil, and defunct planes fill aircraft graveyards. Coverings works with organizations that clean up decimated military sites around the globe to obtain fuselages, then produces Bio-Luminum in the United States. “People mainly use Bio-Luminum as backsplashes and wall coverings, and for flooring as well,” says Coverings’ Jennifer Ryan. The tiles, which retail for about $60 per square foot, take aluminum from flight to fancy.—Alisa Opar
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Bottle Tops

This summer South Africa’s World Cup pitch will be filled with 13 million plastic bottles. Not to worry—they’ll be in the form of jerseys made by Nike, not waste. Teams including Brazil, Portugal, and the Netherlands will sport uniforms made entirely from recycled polyester and up to eight plastic bottles per jersey sourced from Japanese and Taiwanese landfills. Placed end to end, all of the bottles used would run more than 1,800 miles and weigh nearly 560,000 pounds. The plastic is melted down and spun into yarn that is woven to create the jersey fabric. The uniforms aren’t only ecofriendly but also highly functional, because the fabrics are 15 percent lighter than Nike’s conventional materials. Plus they’ll keep players cooler and drier by drawing sweat away from the body.—Michael Lowe
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