Sunday, January 25, 2015

Monumental error

Tourist Jacqueline Rodriguez, who snapped the photograph above, was one of many who were privvy to a sight that the Egyptian Museum in Cairo has just confirmed. In August of last year, the blue and gold beard on the mask of King Tutankhamun broke off during the cleaning of its display case. Rather then removing the precious artifact to the conservation lab, staff – on orders from above – simply glued it back on with epoxy. What has been done cannot be undone, so the mask now exhibits a yellow layer at the site of the break and scratches where misplaced epoxy was scraped away with a spatula. "The mask should have been taken to the conservation lab but they were in a rush to get it displayed quickly again and used this quick drying, irreversible material," said a museum conservator who was not consulted prior to the botched repair.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Scorched scrolls

A technique used in mammography and other medical applications to distinguish details from a similarly composed background has been used to decipher scrolls of a classical library destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The scrolls were excavated from Herculaneum (sometimes called "the other Pompeii") In the 18th c. and attempts to unroll them were abandoned because of the destruction it caused. "X-ray phase-contrast tomography" has now been shown to work when even infrared cameras and CT scans have failed. A team led by physicist Vito Mocella from the National Research Council's Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems in Naples, Italy, has identified a handful of Greek letters within a rolled-up scroll for the first time and explains that the technique (VIDEO HERE) works because the carbon-based ink never penetrated the now carbonized papyrus: "So the letters are there in relief, because the ink is still on the top."

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tarrare tucks in

To satisfy his unnatural hunger, 17th c. French showman and soldier Tarrare would eat anything – and I mean anything. In addition to vast amounts of meat, he had been known to down corks, stones, live animals (cats, snakes, lizards, puppies, and even a whole eel without chewing), a basketful of apples at a time, and a meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting. Nothing was enough and he scavenged in gutters, through refuse piles, and outside butcher shops. Doctors tried to help him, but he attempted to drink the blood of other patients and to eat the corpses in the hospital morgue. When Tarrare fell under suspicion of eating a toddler, they kicked him out and a few years later he died and was autopsied (READ MORE HERE).


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Toothy trawling

Australian fisherman hauled aboard a very rare frilled shark from waters near Lakes Entrance in the Victoria's Gippsland region. The species dates back 80 million years and has apparently no need to evolve, having perfected its predatory technique long ago. Says Simon Boag of the South East Trawl Fishing Association, "It has 300 teeth over 25 rows, so once you're in that mouth, you're not coming out."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Rhinos on the run

Today, something lighter than the usual bad news about rhinos. Rihanna, Keren Peles, and Karnabella took the opportunity to sneak by a sleeping security guard – since terminated – at an open side gate at an Israeli safari zoo. This delightful CCTV footage shows the girls being chased back into the zoo by the manager.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Parturition in progress

British biologist Simon Oliver of the University of Chester and his team were doing a survey at a seamount in the Philippines, where vulnerable thresher sharks often congregate to have smaller fish clean them of parasites. There was an added bonus in an image of one of the sharks (ABOVE) captured by photographer Attila Kaszo. Oliver remembers, "He took the picture of the shark, and when he processed the image and showed it to me, I freaked out." it was the first photographic record of a pelagic shark giving birth. While the scientists were excited, the shark was apparently unconcerned. The thresher was not thrashing and there were no signs of a midwife!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Beaver bombardier

Elmo Heter was an Idaho Fish and Game officers tasked with relocating beavers from an area of the state that was growing in population. He soon learned that horses and mules are easily spooked when loaded with live beavers. He conceived, tested, and implemented a plan to drop 76 beavers in the backcountry using surplus World War II parachutes and boxes that broke open when they landed. "The savings in man hours, and in the mortality of animals, is quite evident. Sex ratios are maintained. The beavers are healthier, and in better condition to establish a colony," Heter boasted in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Thus, the great 1948 Idaho beaver airlift went down in state history.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Finch fashion

Researchers at the University of St Andrews in Scotland did an experiment to determine whether bird nests are camouflaged because they are made of materials that are part of the local environment, or whether they blend in because of deliberate actions on the part of the birds. As test subjects, they used zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), tiny songbirds native to Australia and popular as pets (IMAGE ABOVE). In this species, the male builds the nest, so one was placed in each of 21 enclosures wallpapered in pastel blue, pink, or yellow. Each bird was provided with 2 colors of paper strips – one that matched and one that didn't – and the results recorded on video. Biologist Ida Bailey comments, “Like us they don’t choose just any coloured material to build their homes. [T]hey avoid colours that would clash with their surroundings.”

Friday, January 16, 2015


She may not look like a celebrity, but Tilda is making a name for herself by babbling in human sounds (VIDEO HERE). Born in the wilds of Borneo, she has spent most of her life in captivity – now at the Cologne Zoo in Germany – during which time she has picked up many human-like means of communication. She waves her hands and shakes her head like a person, and came to the attention of founder of the Pongo Foundation Adriano Lameira when he was studying orangutans that whistle. He describes, "We were waiting for the whistles and suddenly she started to do these bizarre calls. She was producing these calls repeatedly and really quick. And this is also what we observe in humans while we are speaking to each other. We are, on average, producing five consonants and five vowels per second." The research suggests that our human ancestors had the ability to produce speech before they developed a modern vocal tract and brain.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


This object had been lodged in the forearm of Arthur Lampitt of Granite City, Illinois, U.S., until it was surgically removed last month. The car accident 51 years ago that caused the injury was so severe it was first reported as a fatality, and resulted in a broken hip that drew attention away from his arm. "We see all kinds of foreign objects like nails or pellets, but usually not this large, usually not a turn signal from a 1963 T- Bird," says hand surgeon Timothy Lang. Asked what he may do with it, Lampitt replied that he may turn it into a keychain.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bao Bao ball

On Tuesday of last week, as the Washington, D.C., area was blanketed with snow, the Smithsonian National Zoo's 16-month-old giant panda cub Bao Bao was romping in it for the very first time. In addition to climbing trees and playing with her mother, she rolled herself up in a ball and somersaulted down a hill (VIDEO HERE). Because their diet of bamboo is low in nutrition, giant pandas don't move much. Panda-keeper Nicole MacCorkle points out the exception, "This is their kind of weather. Their whole way of life is all about conserving energy—but when they see the snow, they can't help it."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Reaching a stage

On March 7th, an exceptional collection of 28 Victorian wrought-iron horse-drawn carriages will be auctioned off for an estimated $2.26 million (£1.5 million). The pristine lot includes an 1835 Traveling Landauer wagon (IMAGE ABOVE, MORE HERE) that was commissioned by the Royal Mews and used to carry King William IV on his royal duties. The man who owned the coaches has reached an age where he can no longer enjoy them – which includes putting them to use. Rob Hubbard of London auctioneers Bonhams explains, "The owner is a Dutch collector but a lot of the carriages he has were made by English coachbuilders. He has spent over 30 years collecting but he is now aged in his 80s and he no longer has any horses left and has decided now to pass it on to somebody else."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Not-so-gross anatomy

General Electric has developed and field-tested a new, superfast scanner called Revolution CT at Florida's West Kendall Baptist Hospital that allows doctors to obtain high-resolution images of blood vessels, soft tissue, organs, and bones. The machine, which exposes patients to only a low dose of radiation, can image the hard within a single heartbeat. Hospital CEO Javier Hernández-Lichtl proclaims, "The advanced design definitely makes for a less intimidating, more comfortable patient experience, while yielding amazingly accurate and detailed images.” (FOLLOW LINK FOR STILL AND MOVING IMAGES)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Paw protectors

"It’s extremely painful what these animals are going through,” says Aaron Machado of the Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organisation. Wildfires in the states of South Australia and Victoria have left the koalas that have survived with singed paws that need to be healed before the animals can be released back into the wild. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has announced on Facebook that they have reached their goal of collecting mittens made of 100% cotton sheets or tea towels to protect the painful paws.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


On the eve of my post about an exploding fireworks factory in Columbia, news of more impromptu fireworks displays on a snowy highway in Galesburg, Michigan, U.S. Hazardous weather conditions yesterday caused a pileup of 123 vehicles, killing one person and injuring 16 others. The series of crashes included a truck carrying 440,000 pounds (200,000 kg) of hazardous materials and another truck hauling fireworks, both of which subsequently caught fire. A haz-mat team determined that the hazardous materials burned off, and the fireworks resulted in a spectacular display captured on video.

HALLOWEEN-Click for captions