Category Archives: Listicles

World Turtle Day | 10 things you didn’t know about Sea Turtles

A tortoise is a turtle but a turtle is not necessarily a tortoise.

Confused? The term “turtle” can refer to any type of reptile with a shell, but when this is broken down into species we have tortoises, terrapins and… turtles. This means that a turtle is technically a type of turtle, and tortoises and terrapins are two other kinds of turtle! Anyway, now that riddle is out of the way, it’s time to celebrate World Turtle Day! We’re treating you today with ten facts about the majestic sea turtle…

1. Sea turtles belong to a group of reptiles called Testudines, which includes turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. This is one of the oldest reptile groups in the world, dating back to the time of the dinosaurs, over 200 million years ago -beating snakes, crocodiles and alligators!

2. Turtles have an incredibly long lifespan – the oldest recorded was a turtle named Tu”i Malila, of Tonga Island, who passed away at an incredible 188 years old!

3. Sea turtles travel thousands of miles over the course of their lifetimes, migrating between foraging grounds and nesting beaches. One female sea turtle was recorded taking a 12,000 mile round-trip across the Pacific Ocean, from Papua in Indonesia to the northwest coast of the United States – that’s a lot of swimming!

4. A leatherback sea turtle, the largest species of turtle, can weigh up to a whopping 900 kilograms!

5. When it’s time for a loggerhead turtle to lay her eggs, she will return to the same beach on which she hatched – an impressive navigational feat! Scientists say their ability to find their way home is a result of the turtles use of the Earth’s magnetic field.  Each part of the coastline has its own magnetic signature, which the animals remember and later use as an internal compass. Forget sat-nav – we’re all about mag-nav.

6. A turtle’s sex is determined by a rather unusual factor – the temperature of the nests. Warmer nests produce female hatchlings, whilst cooler ones result in male hatchlings. This unfortunately leaves turtle eggs vulnerable to climate change; global warming means we are seeing fewer male hatchlings.

7. Baby sea turtles do not have an easy time… Once they’ve emerged from their shell, they have to make it across the beach to the sea, avoiding birds, snakes, crabs and other creatures who’d love to gobble them up. Those that do make it to the water face further threats from other predators, such as sharks and big fish. It’s estimated that survival rates can be as low as 1 in 1000.

8. Green sea turtles are quite the free-divers – they can stay under water for as long as five hours at a time! Their heart rate slows to conserve oxygen: nine minutes can elapse between each heartbeat.

9. Turtles have excellent senses. You might not expect them to be able to feel much through their tough shell – but it’s actually covered in nerve endings, meaning a turtle can easily detect the touch of a predator and retract into it’s shell.

10. Nearly all species of sea turtle are classified as endangered. This is predominantly due to human activity; one of the biggest threats to sea turtles is the fishing industry – turtles get caught up in nets as “by-catch” and ultimately die as result.

Fascinated by sea life? Why not take a look at the Marine Sciences courses Newcastle University offer? Check them out here.

World Bee Day | Bee Facts

It’s World Bee day and we’ve compiled some interesting facts about our flying friends. We’ll try to keep the bee puns to a minimum because bee puns always sting. We really don’t get what all the buzz is about!

Fun facts about Bees:

Honey bees beat their wings around 190 times a second; that’s 11,400 times a minute! The speed of their flapping wings is why we hear the “buzzing” noise when they fly past.

The average worker bee will only make around 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

It would take 1,100 bees to make 1kg of Honey, and they would have to visit 4 million flowers!

Newcastle University research has shown that the initial sweetness a bee tastes when they feed on nectar can last up to 10 seconds – this is much longer than in other insects! Find out why bees have such a sweet tooth here.

In every hive there is a queen bee, the queen bee can live up to five years. The summer is the busiest month for her as she can lay up to 2,500 eggs a day.

Did you know bees are also excellent dancers? When a worker returns to the hive, it will give it’s hair a quick brush with a ‘honeycomb’… and will perform a “waggle dance”. The bee will move itself in a figure of eight motion and will waggle its body to indicate where the best food source is.

Fossil evidence is sparse for these tiny creatures, but scientists believe bees have been around for more than 100 million years!

Not so fun facts:

Unfortunately the number of bees is declining very fast, in the past 15 years, whole colonies have been disappearing. Billions of bees across the world are dying, this is called ‘colony collapse disorder’ – in some regions 90% of bees have disappeared.

The reasons why bees are declining in numbers are very hard to determine although one known cause is the pesticides farmers are spraying on their crops. These chemicals are entering the hives from the worker bees who are out collecting pollen; if the chemicals are too toxic they will kill the bees.

Another factor leading to bees disappearing is the Vaorra mite. This mite attacks the worker bees and infects it with the varroosis disease. This disease will then kill the bee.

How you can help?

Make sure you are not using pesticides on your plants and you are carefully checking your plants to see if they have been pre-treated with any harsh chemicals.

If you are going to plant flowers in your garden or local area, always use bee friendly plants that bees can use to make more honey. Some examples are Crocuses, hyacinths and English marigolds. Surprisingly no bee-gonias!

You may not have known this but bees are thirsty; so along with all the beautiful flowers you are going to plant, place a small basin of water beside them and allow your busy visitors to have a drink.

Remember bee puns are good for your health, they give you lots of vitamin Bee!

 

 

National Tea Day | The Science of a Perfect Cuppa

This National Tea Day, Hattie explores the science behind a top notch cuppa…

76% of people in Britain drink at least one cup of tea a day, but when it comes to making the perfect brew opinions are divided, arguments ensue, disagreements are rife. How long do you brew? Do you add milk? If so, when? And let’s not even begin to talk about the different shapes of tea bag. Everyone has their perfect method, but we decided the best way to settle the debate was, of course, to use science!

The Water
Firstly, aim to use soft water, that is, water with low concentrations of ions of calcium and magnesium, to avoid that unwanted scum on the top of your tea. Also, try and use water that hasn’t been previously boiled. This is because pre-boiled water has lost some of the oxygen that tea needs to release all those lovely flavours. For black tea in particular, the highest possible temperature is desirable to ensure a lot of oxygen is involved in the brewing process.

                                                                             The mug
In terms of mugs, historically tea should be drunk from a fine porcelain cup, as it can withstand the high temperatures of the boiling water, when in bone china cups this may cause cracks. According to the Institute of Physics however, the temperature problem can be avoided by (controversially) adding the milk to your mug first to cool the tea and prevent the mug cracking. Also, if you have more of a sweet tooth, opt for a red or pink mug as this can bring out the tea’s natural sweetness.

The milk
According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, when milk is poured into hot tea, the overall taste of the drink can be significantly affected. This is because proteins in the milk begin to degrade when heated above 75°, changing their taste. On the other hand, however, University College London claim that adding milk last allows the compounds within a teabag that make your cuppa delicious to be released more effectively as the temperature isn’t reduced by the milk.

The time
Researchers claim that 3 to 4 minutes brew time is optimum to ensure maximum flavour is released and the levels of tannins and antioxidants are just right. Tannins have been proven to hold some health benefits including reducing blood pressure, however they can leave a nasty aftertaste in your tea.

 

There you go, the science behind a good old cup of tea! How will you be drinking yours this National Tea Day?

International Day of Human Space Flight

On this day in 1961 Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet citizen, became the first human to travel into space, leading mankind into an era of space exploration. Hundreds of astronauts have since travelled to the stars, but only a small handful of them have been British. Seven people born in the UK have become astronauts, although all but 2 hold dual nationality or American citizenship’s.

British Astronauts

  1. Helen Sharman

    Born: Sheffield
    Citizenship: British
    First launch: 18th May 1991
    A unique astronaut in many respects, Helen’s route into space wasn’t typical. Having studied Chemistry at university, Helen was working as a chemist for Mars chocolate company when she responded to a radio advertisement saying “Astronaut wanted: no experience necessary.” A scientific background, an ability to learn foreign languages and a high level of fitness helped Helen beat nearly 13,000 other applicants to take part in Project Juno, a collaboration between the Soviet Union and private British companies to send a group of astronauts to the Mir Space Station. At just 27 years old at the time of her flight, Sharman is the sixth youngest person to fly into space and remains the only female British astronaut to date.

  2. Michael Foale

    Born: Louth
    Citizenship: Dual – British/American
    First launch: 24th March 1992
    Born in Louth to a British father and an American mother, Michael considers Cambridge to be his home town. It was at Cambridge University that he studied, achieving both an undergraduate degree and a doctorate before moving to Texas to pursue a career in the U.S Space Program. Throughout his career at NASA, Michael became the most experienced British-born astronaut in the history of human space flight as a crew member of a total of 6 missions, totalling 375 days in space.

  3. Piers Sellers

    Born: Crowborough
    Citizenship: Naturalized citizen of the United States
    First launch: 7th October 2002
    During his school years Piers trained as a Royal Air Force cadet to pilot gliders and powered aircraft. After studying an undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, Piers earned a doctorate in biometeorology from the University of Leeds before moving to the United States to begin a NASA career as a research meteorologist. In 1984 he began applying to become an astronaut, but this was hindered by his lack of US citizenship. In 1991 he became a citizen of the United States and in 1996 he was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA. Throughout his career Piers spent over 35 days in space.

  4. Nicholas Patrick

    Born: Saltburn-by-the-Sea
    Citizenship: Dual – British/American
    First launch: 9th December 2006
    Born in Yorkshire, Nicholas studied an undergraduate and masters degree in engineering at Cambridge University, during this time he learned to fly as a member of the Royal Air Force’s Cambridge University Air Squadron. After a move to Massachusetts, where he initially worked as an aircraft engineer, he pursued Mechanical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In June 1998 Patrick was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA. Before his retirement from NASA in June 2012, Nicholas clocked up just over 26 days in space.

  5. Gregory H. Johnson

    Born: South Ruislip
    Citizenship: American
    First launch: 11th March 2008
    Although born in England, Gregory grew up in America. He earned an undergraduate degree in aeronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy in 1984, before going on to complete a Masters in flight structures engineering at Columbia University. Johnson was a pilot in the United States Air Force before being selected by NASA for astronaut training in 1988. During his career at NASA, Gregory spent a total of one month in space, in this time he orbited the earth nearly 500 times and travelled over 12 million miles.

  6. Richard Garriot

    Born: Cambridge
    Citizenship: Dual – British/American
    First launch: 12th October 2008
    Born in Cambridge to American parents, Richard’s life in the UK was short-lived as he was raised in the United States from 2 months old. Nevertheless we shall still claim him as our own, in which case he is the only British “space tourist”. Richard earned his fortune as a video games developer. Keen to follow in the footsteps of his astronaut father, Owen Garriot, in 2007 Richard used his fortune to buy a $30 million ticket to space. Richard’s space “holiday” lasted 12 days. He spent his time on the International Space Station conducting a variety of experiments. These included studying the effects of space flight on the human body for NASA and the European Space Agency.

  7. Tim Peake

    Born: Chicester
    Citizenship: British
    First launch: 15th December 2015
    Finally, our most recent astronaut and only the second, after Helen Sharman, to travel under the British flag. Tim began his career as an Officer in the British Army Air Corps. After many successful years as a helicopter flight instructor and test-pilot, Tim retired from the army in 2009 – the year he was selected as an ESA astronaut. Years of training and various missions on earth culminated in a six month trip to the International Space station throughout the start of 2016. Whilst aboard the ISS, Tim ran a virtual version of the London Marathon, completing it in 3 hours 35 minutes and becoming the second person ever to complete a marathon in space.

    The sky isn’t the limit when you choose to pursue a career in STEM. Find out about Newcastle University’s UK Space Agency funded research here.

Inspiring Women in STEM | #PressForProgress

Today is International Women’s Day. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report tells us that at the current rate, true gender parity is still over 200 years away. This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #PressForProgress, reminds us of how important it is to keep pushing forward and to “motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.

Looking at statistics, it can be easy to feel frustrated at the imbalance in representation within the STEM industries. Women make up less than one quarter of all people employed in the STEM industries, and whilst there are nearly 22,000 more women working as science and engineering technicians now than in 2016, women still only make up 27% of the total. However, instead of being disheartened, we can #PressForProgress by celebrating the successful women that we do have in STEM who’s achievements can inspire the next generation of young women to follow in their footsteps.

Newcastle University are hosting a number of International Women’s Day events including two screenings of Great Unsung Women of Computing today, as well as a Maths, Stats and Physics Afternoon Tea tomorrow afternoon, to provide female staff and students with a networking opportunity.

In the Spotlight: Women in STEM

We’re proud to support many fantastic women throughout their studies and careers within our STEM subject areas here at Newcastle University. Today we’re putting a spotlight a small selection of these women and the vital research they conduct.

Hayley Fowler, Professor of Climate Change Impacts

Hayley Fowler’s research specialises in “the analysis of the impacts of climate change and variability on hydrological and water resources systems”. She teaches on Civil Engineering and Geosciences modules at Newcastle University.

Hayley highlights the challenges engineers face in the future:

“I think that the greatest engineering challenge is around climate adaptation – building low carbon cities and adapting to heat and weather extremes.

Engineering is crucial for everyone, we need to build infrastructure systems and buildings for the modern world, and design new systems to cope with our ever changing climate and extreme weather events. We need young people with bright ideas. Don’t believe that it’s only men who can do engineering, some of the best and most inventive engineers out there are women.”

 

Ann Daly, Professor of Pharmacogenetics

Ann Daly, a Professor of Pharmacogenetics, teaches on Newcastle University’s Pharmacology and Biomedical Sciences degrees. She was recently awarded the International Society for the Study of Xenobiotics (ISSX) European Scientific Achievement award. This award celebrates Professor Daly’s “substantial and sustained scientific contributions to the field of xenobiotic disposition spanning more than four decades”. She is the first woman to ever receive this award.

Ann explains that she was inspired to pursue a career in STEM having been fascinated by the sciences at school:

“I was originally interested in chemistry, however, I found human biology and biochemistry fascinating at University and have been an active researcher in this general area now for many years.

 I enjoy my job because it’s so varied – no two days are the same. There are great opportunities to train young scientists and also to work with other researchers world-wide.

If you’re interested in a career in STEM, go for it. There are a large number of different opportunities. The subjects you will need to study are not easy but there is plenty of help available and few barriers now to rewarding careers in STEM for women.”

 

Dr Marion Pfeifer, Lecturer in Ecology, Conservation & Management

Working within the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Marion Pfeifer’s research focuses on ecology and conservation, exploring how different species may react to climate change and human-modified landscapes.

Marion’s current research investigates the resilience of ecosystems and human /wildlife conflicts. Marion explains:

“There are a lot of arguments about how authorities should approach protected areas, whether they should be fenced or not.

Fencing, for example, can interfere with the natural territories and habitat of the wildlife. The counter argument is that people have to live with these animals, which may pose a danger to life, ruin crops or create hazards on the roads and so on. It’s an interesting topic for our research group.”

 

Emma Stevenson, Professor of Sport & Exercise Science

Emma Stevenson joined Newcastle University in 2015 to lead the developments in Sport and Exercise Science in the Faculty of Medical Sciences.

Emma’s work concentrates on the role of nutrition in exercise performance:

“Initially I got into sport and exercise science through my love of sport and wanting to further understand how the body responds to exercise training and activity.

My research focuses on nutritional interventions to maximise exercise recovery and the effects of exercise and nutritional interventions on appetite regulation and metabolism.

I really enjoy the diversity of my job. It is fantastic to be involved in the development of students and seeing individuals progress through their careers from undergraduate students.

If you’re looking to pursue a career in STEM, talk to as many different people working in the industry as possible. There are some many exciting career opportunities in STEM and many female role models to take inspiration from.”

Top 5 Tips for Looking after your Mental Health at University

Today is University Mental Health Day so Psychology Graduate Maria McConville, has put together her top 5 tips for looking after your mental health whilst studying at university.

Going to university can (at times) be very challenging… students are faced with pressures of their degrees, living away from home and learning to become independent. It’s normal to go through periods of stress and uncertainty, but there are some small steps you can take when you feel like you are struggling.

1. Talk to someone.

It’s very easy to bottle up our emotions and keep problems to ourselves, but speaking to someone is one of the most useful ways to help yourself feel better. Most universities offer student well-being and counselling services for students, allowing you to open up about what is bothering you and find ways to remedy this. If you don’t want to talk to a stranger, chat to a friend or family member you trust – you can bet you aren’t alone in feeling this way and speaking about how you feel can really help.

2. Take care of yourself.

Making sure your body is well-rested, fuelled and active can have a really positive impact on well-being. Aim to limit stimulant drinks like alcohol, coffee and energy drinks as these can spike anxiety levels. Instead, increase your water consumption and try to get active! Even little changes like walking to university instead of using public transport can boost your mood and release endorphins. Maybe consider joining a gym or taking part in some group exercise classes; these can be good stress-busters and a great way to meet new people!

3. Sleep, sleep, sleep

Those late nights and lack of shut-eye wreak havoc for your body and mind! Adults should be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and although this isn’t always possible, having a bedtime routine makes it easier to get enough sleep. Also, try not to use phones/laptops/other tech just before you go to bed… instead opt for a book or some relaxing music to aid sleep.

4. Don’t compare yourself to others

At times we are so focused on other people’s successes that we fail to realise how well we are doing and this can be detrimental to our self-esteem.  Don’t dwell on the fact that your friend got a higher grade than you in the last exam… instead set your own academic goals and work towards them!

5. Balance

Do not:

  • Spend every waking hour in the library revising
  • Spend every waking hour socialising and neglecting work

Balance is key! Keep on top of your studies but make sure you give yourself time every day to do something that makes you happy (especially during exam periods). Having short breaks during periods of studying also improves productivity and retention of information!

If you feel like you need help with your mental health, there are a number of UK support services you can contact including Mind, The Samaritans and Student Minds.

 

The Science of the Winter Olympics

As the Winter Olympics draws to a close this weekend, scientist and Newcastle Graduate Ambassador, Ashleigh, takes us through some of the most interesting sports science stories of the games.

Science is becoming more and more important in sport as our understanding of sport and technology improves. The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics have highlighted the importance and more evident involvement of science in sport, Brian Cox even narrated the opening montage of the BBC’s sports coverage.

Here’s 10 of our favourite sport and exercise science stories from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic games…

  1. One big story recently has been the Russian doping scandal, banning the Russian team from competing. Scientific America look at how doping is carried out in the Olympics.

https://aws.scientificamerican.com/article/the-scientific-american-guide-to-cheating-in-the-olympics/

Some Russian athletes have been able to compete representing Olympic Athletes from Russia rather than The Russian team.

  1. Although after bans are completed most athletes usually return to competing, this blog post describes how drugs such as steroids can have a lasting effect on athletes even after athletes stop using them.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-olympic-motto-cellular-memories-and-the-epigenetic-effects-of-doping/


  1. Why are so many people game to throw themselves off the side of a mountain standing on couple of skinny planks of wood? This blog dives into the attraction of the adrenaline pumping winter sports.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/absolutely-maybe/no-guts-no-glory-the-fear-and-attraction-of-risky-winter-sports/

Eddie the Eagle became an unlikely British hero after signing up to the 1988 Winter Olympics to compete in the Ski Jump (without much success) despite his limited experience!

  1. Winter Olympics are seen as some of the more dangerous sports but statistics show that the fairly leisurely sport of curling has more recorded injuries at the Olympics than Ski Jumping!

https://aws.scientificamerican.com/article/leg-head-injuries-frequent-at-olympics/


  1. Protective helmets are a common feature in the games but the high levels of injury also mean that more time and money is being spent on athlete safety. We could even see some athletes sporting airbags at the games!

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jan/21/pyeongchang-2018-technology-innovations-winter-olympics-5g-mips-helmets-smartsuit

  1. Meteorologists predicted this was going to be the coldest Olympics yet! The new technology even stretched to the outfits the teams would be wearing, with electric blanket style coats to stay warm!

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/olympic-clothing-designers-try-to-beat-the-cold-with-technology/

  1. Great Britain’s clothing even caused a bit of a “cheating” scandal. Their suits had been designed to reduce drag by adding ridges, giving similar aerodynamics to a golf ball. Luckily it was decided that the suit was allowed and Team GB went on to win a Gold and Bronze medal in the women’s Skeleton event.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/winter-olympics/2018/02/14/team-gb-defend-winter-olympics-skeleton-suits-amid-questions/

  1. If you’ve ever been ice skating and had to cling onto the side of the wall, you may think figure skating looks impossible. This article describes how practicing figure skating can rewire the brain to overcome that fear of falling flat on your face.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/go-figure-why-olympic-ice-skaters-dont-fall-flat-on-their-faces/

  1. The US winter Olympic team have also been training their brains, using brain stimulation and virtual reality equipment. Sports scientists believe this will optimise the training gains.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/winter-olympics/42572433


  1. And finally, it turns out everyone’s favourite winter Olympic sport is also a marvel of physics!

https://www.inverse.com/article/41383-winter-olympics-2018-researchers-answered-curling-question

Found this interesting? Check out Newcastle University’s Sport and Exercise Science degree here.

Sci-Fi vs Sci-Fact

It’s World Space Week, so naturally, we seized the opportunity to stick on our favourite sci-fi blockbusters. However, with our scientific minds always at work, we couldn’t rest easy without sharing with you those space movies that are more fiction than science…

Star Wars

Okay, so we appreciate this galactic fantasy series isn’t ever going to be exactly scientifically accurate, what with all the aliens, droids, space travel and the mystical “Force”. But those space battles that Star Wars is known for, featuring all kinds of explosions and blasts? Well, in reality, they would actually be silent. Sound waves travel via the vibration of atoms and molecules in a medium such as air. Space is a vacuum, devoid of all matter – including gases – meaning the sound vibrations wouldn’t work.

Armageddon

Even if it were feasible to land on an asteroid and drill into the centre of it (just in case you were wondering, it isn’t), the energy required to destroy this huge, Texas-sized, asteroid would amount to a LOT more than one nuclear bomb. The most powerful nuclear bomb ever detonated on earth, Big Ivan, has a total energy output of 418,000 terajoules. Leicester post-graduate students found that in order to split this asteroid in two, Bruce Willis would have had to detonate a bomb with 800 trillion terajoules of energy output.

The Martian

Ahh, a little respite from the scientific disaster that is Armageddon, The Martian is actually hailed as one of the most scientifically accurate sci-fi movies of all time. The main plot line (humans visiting Mars) looks to be scientifically feasible at some point in the future, and growing potatoes with a combination of your own excretion and Martian soil? Possible, apparently. However, whilst we’re willing to give credit where it’s due, this film is not without its inaccuracies.

The main scientific issue with this film is actually the driving force behind the whole plot – the sand storm that leaves Matt Damon’s character, Mark Watney, stranded on Mars. Whilst sand storms definitely do occur on Mars, the atmosphere is so thin compared to Earth’s that a 100mph wind on Mars would feel more like an 11mph wind does on Earth – making it unlikely to cause the destruction that sees Watney separated from his crew.

Interstellar

The astronauts in Interstellar make use of a wormhole next to Saturn, which enables them to travel from our galaxy to an entirely different galaxy in a short amount of time. According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, wormholes are a possibility.

A wormhole is created by warping the fabric of space-time. If you think of space as a flat piece of paper, the distance is great between one end of the paper and the other. Bend the paper in half and the opposite ends of the paper are now much closer – punch a hole between the two ends of paper and you now have a tunnel which grants you instantaneous access between both ends, instead of travelling the long way from one end of the flat sheet of paper to the other.

However, astrophysicist Kip Thorne points out that in reality, there is a strong indication that wormholes through which humans could travel are forbidden by the laws of physics. Should we ever come across one, a wormhole is likely to be so unstable that the walls of it will collapse so fast that nothing is able to make it through.

Gravity

A central plot point in this film depends on Clooney’s character, Matt Kowalski, whizzing from the Hubble Space Telescope to the International Space Station using his jet pack. However, Hubble orbits at an altitude of 559 kilometres whilst the ISS sits at 423 kilometres; the distance in orbit between the two makes travelling between them completely unfeasible (especially in a jet pack).

World Animal Day

Today is World Animal Day, a day to celebrate and raise the status of animals. Humans are often thought to be the animals with the highest status and intelligence due to our effortless ability to use tools, develop language and dominate the globe. However there are millions of species that have evolved traits and talents that humans could only ever dream of. Here is our list of some of the most amazing animal adaptations.

1. Bioluminescence


Bioluminescence is the ability to emit light. Fire flies and glow worms are well known for their ability to light up but they are not alone, lots of insects and even a species of snail (Quantula striata) hold the protein Luciferin, allowing them to emit light. The protein reacts with oxygen using a specific type of enzyme – luciferase. The chemical reaction gives off the bright glowing colours.

Deep down in the ocean, there is little light from the sun so many marine animals have evolved bioluminence. Others, such as the Sea Goosberry above don’t emit their own light but can refract light to give this dazzling rainbow effect. Even if it’s not technically bioluminescent – we’re still very jealous!

2. Camouflage

In contrast to flashy bioluminescent animals that stand out, some creatures prefer to blend in…

When you think of a camouflaged animal, most people would think of the classic colour–changing chameleon but octopus and squids are the real masters of disguise. They have thousands of cells known as chromotaphores across their skin, these contain pigments and can expand and shrink to change the colour of the skin. These animals can also change the appearance of their skin’s texture and use their soft body and tentacles to morph into a different shape.

The Mimic Octopus takes this a step further and manipulates its body into the shape of other animals to fool its predators into thinking it’s a different marine species – now that would be a fun superpower to have!

3. Mimicry

All the most famous superheroes have a disguise! Like the mimic octopus, some relatively harmless animals have found a clever way to avoid predators by copying the colours, body shape and even behaviour of harmful species. This is known as Batesian Mimicry, and can be seen in animals such as the caterpillar Hemeroplanes triptolemus above, which cleverly disguises itself as a poisonous snake by blowing air into its head!

Mimicry can also happen when two harmful species that have a common predator evolve separately to have similar warning signals such as bright colours or patterns, that show the predators that they are poisonous or taste unpleasant.  This is known as Mullerian Mimicry and can often be seen in butterflies and snakes. So two entirely different (and possibly poisonous!) species of butterflies may look identical.

4. Invisibility

Glass Squid

If camoflauge doesn’t work, how about being invisible? Maybe not completely invisible, but many species have come close by evolving to become transparent. The glasswing butterfly has evolved to have transparent panes in its wings, making it more difficult for predators to spot.

The glass squid and some species of jellyfish have evolved transparent bodies making them extremely difficult for predators to spot them in the depths of the ocean.

5. Regrowing limbs

Image result for axolotl

If all these adaptations for hiding fail and you’re caught by a predator – what next? Well some species such as the Mexican salamander, the axolotl, have evolved the ability to regrow parts of the body so it’s not a big deal if something does take a bite out of them.

When an axolotl loses a limb, the cells at the cut off point lose their identity; they are no long skins cells or muscle cells and they become generic cells that are able to develop into whatever the axolotl needs them to be to regrow whatever was lost. Whilst humans have come a long way in developing amazing prosthetic and even bionic limbs, we’re unlikely to evolve the ability to completely regrow body parts anytime soon.

If you want to see some amazing axolotls yourself, take a trip to Newcastle University’s Natural History Museum, the Great North Museum: Hancock.

6. Outside Digestion

Speaking of regrowing limbs – starfish can also happily regrow spines but that’s not their only talent – they can also digest their food in a very interesting way. Instead of taking food in through the mouth, instead they take their stomach out of their body and put it on the food. Their stomach then digests the food into a mushy soup which the starfish can then draw into it’s body along with it’s stomach.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be top priority for a superpower but it is impressive! You can see the starfish in action in our aquarium at the Dove Marine Lab in Cullercoats.

7. Flight

Image result for bar tailed godwit

Moving from the seas to the skies, I’m sure many of us would love to have the ability to fly. Of course many creatures have mastered this, mainly birds and insects but some reptiles, fish and mammals, such as the flying squirrel, have evolved flaps of skin that allow them to glide through the air.

One of the most impressive flyers of the animal world is the bar-tailed godwit. This little bird weighs around 500g but is capable of flying immense distances. The longest recorded migration of this species was from Alaska to New Zealand – a distance of 11,680km! The journey took nine days and the bar-tailed godwit didn’t stop once. Very impressive considering most of us couldn’t even stay awake for nine days!

8. Echolocation

Onto another famous flyer – the bat. Flight isn’t this mammal’s only superpower as it can also navigate in the dark without sight. It does this by using echolocation. Bats send out a high frequency sound and listen for the echos coming back. By comparing the outgoing sound with the returning sound, bats tell how far away obstacles are, how big they are and even if they are moving. They are able to build up a picture of the world around them using sound, just as we are able to using sight.

This impressive power may not be so out of reach for humans. Several blind people have taught themselves how to navigate using echolocation. They produce sounds either by tapping a cane against the floor, creating clicks with their tongue or snapping their fingers and then listen for the echos, just as echolocating animals do.

9. UV Vision

Image result for uv light reindeer

Whilst some animals, like bats, have relatively poor vision, other see much more than we could imagine. The light that we can see, known as the visible spectrum, covers the wavelengths 380nm – 760nm. Ultraviolet light sits just outside this so our eyes are unable to detect it. Some animals including butterflies, some birds and even reindeer have evolved the ability to see UV.

Reindeer are thought to have evolved this ability as it helps them identify lichens for food, and urine indicating predators in the snow. To us, these would blend in but in ultraviolet light there is much more of a contrast.

10. Mind Control

Our final adaptation may perhaps be the most sought after superpower – mind control. This isn’t just the stuff of science fiction movies and comic books, some animals have actually achieved it. The green-banded broodsac is a parasitic flatworm that infects snails in order to reach birds, their ideal host species. The parasite infects the snails and causes their tentacles to bulge, making them look like a caterpillar. It influences the snail and makes them move from the shade and up to the tops of leaves and branches where they are easily visible to birds. As the tentacles now look like a delicious meal for the birds, they’re prime targets. Once eaten, the parasite is able to continue it’s life inside the bird.

Which of these animal superpowers would you like to have?

Your Questions Answered!

As we have reached the end of the school year, here is a little round up of some of our favourite questions that children have asked us during STEM workshops.

1. Why doesn’t the energy ball give you an electric shock?

The energy ball is a little device we have that looks like a ping pong ball with two metal strips on top. Inside there is a light, a buzzer and a battery. If two people touch one metal strip each and then with their other hands touch each other, the ball lights up and buzzes. This works because we are conductors of electricity – electrons from the battery flow through us and back into the ball to complete the circuit.

The reason you don’t feel a shock when touching the energy ball because there isn’t enough electricity flowing through you to be able to feel it, and certainly not enough to harm you!

2. What do plants poo and wee? – St Wilfrids, Blyth

All living things have seven things in common – movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition. The sixth one, excretion, is a scientific word for producing waste. In humans, and many animals, that is our poo and our wee. They are the leftover waste products that our body doesn’t need so gets rid of.

Plants are living things, just like us, but you may have noticed they don’t poo or wee like we do. Rather than eat food like us, they make their own through photosynthesis. This produces a waste gas called oxygen which we breath in. Plants excrete oxygen rather than poo or wee.

3. Why does the moon control the sea? – Grange First School

Gravity is the force that keeps us close to the Earth, all really big things like planets and stars have a gravitational pull that attracts things near by. Because the moon is so big and so close to Earth it has quite a strong gravitational pull on our planet. The moon causes the water in the oceans facing it to pull towards it, resulting in a high tide. The pull of the sun’s gravity and the Earth’s own gravity also have an effect on the tides.

4. I’m the only one who can touch their nose with their tongue, is that because of my genes? – St Marys, Jarrow

Touching your nose with your tongue is known as Gorlin’s Sign. It is associated with a genetic disorder but not everyone that can do it has the disorder. About 10% of people without the disorder can touch their nose with their tongue and it does not appear to be due to genes you have inherited from your parents.

5. Why do we get goosebumps? – Billingham South Community School

We often get goosebumps when we’re cold, but they don’t do much to help us warm up, so why do we get them? Before we evolved to be modern humans, our ancestors were much hairier, we they got cold, getting goosebumps would cause their hairs to stand on end. As they had much more hair than us, they were able to trap a layer of air in the hair by doing this, providing them with extra insulation to keep them warm.

Although goosebumps are no longer helpful to us, we haven’t lost the trait through evolution because it doesn’t harm us. Therefore if a person was born with a mutation in their genes meaning they didn’t get goosebumps, they wouldn’t be at an advantage because of it so the non-goosebump genes wouldn’t necessarily be passed on more than the goosebump genes.

 

If you have any STEM related questions that you would like us to answer, just leave a comment in the box below!