Algal blooms menace Pacific, Channel coasts

August 18, 2009

Recent news confirms the suspicions of hydrophobics everywhere: the oceans are revolting. Last month, the Anchorage Daily News reported a vast flotilla of marine gunk, the likes of which had never before been seen by residents. A “thick, dark, and gooey” mass drifted across the Arctic ocean, indiscriminately sullying pristine snowbound coasts and emerald icebergs alike in its inexorable advance toward Anchorage.

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Mashed-up wallabies create crop circles

July 2, 2009

The mystery of the crop circles that have recently appeared in Australian poppy fields has finally been resolved, the BBC reports.

Hungry wallabies in search of a meal have burgled fields of opium poppy, scoffed a few heads, and hopped around in circles “as high as a kite”, creating the arable formations beloved of stoners and New Age mystics the world over.

Speaking to a parliamentary hearing on poppy crop security, Tasmania’s attourney general Laura Giddings said: “We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles. Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high.”

Australia supplies half of the world’s legally-grown opium poppies, essential for the manufacture of morphine and methadone, used for pain relief and cleaning up smackheads respectively.

The cycle (or circle) of addiction is not confined to Australia’s indigenous marsupial population, according to Tasmanian Alkaloids spokesman Rick Rockliff: “There have been many stories about sheep that have eaten some of the poppies after harvesting, and they all walk around in circles.”

The antipodean junkie mammals join a proud line of non-human hedonists. New Scientist gleefully reports stories of psychedelic elephants, pissed-up Malaysian tree shrews and ganja-crazed chimpanzees.

Readers interested in the usual source of crop-circles, i.e. bored cider guzzlers from Hampshire, are directed to this handy resource.

TVM Tim, who is alive to such stories.

Life in the shadows

March 14, 2009

Not as we know it

Last week saw the successful launch of the Kepler Space Telescope, designed to search our region of the Milky Way for extrasolar planets. One of the goals of the mission is to discover the frequency of “terrestrial” planets, rocky worlds between half and twice the size of Earth, and especially those in the habitable zone where life might arise. What would such life look like, were we able to visit?

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“No parking” sign is new species of tree

March 6, 2009

A previously unknown species of tree discovered in Devon has been named the No Parking Whitebeam.

Long known to Watersmeet residents as the “No Parking Tree” because of the sign affixed to its trunk, botanists have given it the Linnaean binomial Sorbus admonitor. Classically-educated readers may now indulge in a knowing chuckle.

The tree is one of fourteen newly-discovered species of rowan and whitebeam classified by botanists from the Universities of Wales, Bristol, Exeter and Oxford, and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Novel plants don’t ordinarily get the coverage afforded newly-discovered species of animals, but are of course no less important in a biodiversity assessment. The IUCN Red List puts the total number of described plant species at around 299,000 (compared with 61,000 vertebrates and 1.2 million invertebrates). 3% of plants are classed as “threatened”.

In 2007, the BBC reported the discovery of a new species of tree in Scotland. It too is a Rowan-Whitebeam hybrid, though Sorbus seems particularly susceptible to hybridisation, and debate continues over whether they can be classed separate species.

The present study used genetic evidence to tease apart the trees’ heritage.