What can We Learn from Autumn?

The October air is raw and filled with goodbyes.

Goodbye green leaves and warm summer evenings.

Reluctantly I say welcome to spicy scent of colourful leaves and the shy October light.

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The forest is coming to a standstill and animals are preparing for the colder weather.

Autumn is a busy time for many animals as they prepare for winter weather. Some animals such as swallows and martins, warblers,  nightingales, and cuckoos migrate to warmer parts of the world.  Hedgehogs and toads have another approach and they decide that it is better to sleep through the winter.

So maybe the real lesson that autumn teaches us is to let go and to rest to load our batteries for Spring.

Jonna Jinton is an inspiring blogger who lives in Northern Sweden in a village with 11 citizens – what a dream!  Her blog is brimming with beautiful photos and videos. Warmly recommended.

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Compassion for All Living “Conscious?” Creatures

” We must stop ignoring their gaze and closing our heart to their pleas.
We can easily do what they ask – to stop causing them unnecessary pain, suffering, loneliness, sadness, and death, even extinction. “

Mark Bekoff

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Imagine that you are suggesting at a dinner party that bees have feelings and that you are considering ideas to improve their life.

What would the reaction be?

Would people at the party look at you with deep admiration?

Or would they quickly try to change the subject and just stare at you like you were mad?

This is the sort of question that often whizz around in my head but I rarely dare to raise the question. Why? Well, sometimes it feels like it is a too big provocation and people simply are not ready for these kinds of ideas.

So I was delighted when I read the article “Insects may have feelings, so do we need more humane fly spray?” by Peter Singer. He is famous for his book Animal Liberation and he works with bioethics. In the article, he discusses ethical questions related to the way we treat insects.

Scientists are increasingly more willing to draw parallels between mammals and insects. Some of these areas where they have found parallels raise ethical questions about the way we treat insects. For example, the main part of the nervous system of insects operates in a similar way as a mammalian midbrain. The central ganglion in insects may provide them with a most basic form of consciousness. Bees have recently been found to show positive emotion-like states. The term emotion-like state is not necessarily the same as saying that they do indeed feel happy or sad, and the bees may not be conscious. Yet, they could be. For an ethical and moral point of view, the presence or absence of consciousness is crucial. Consciousness opens the room to the ability to suffer.

Laws related to the protection of animals used in research are limited to vertebrates. There is little doubt about the capacity for suffering. But if bees can suffer, should they be included too. What about mosquitoes? Are bees special because of their way of communicating? Honey bees perform an intricate waggle-dance. But so far they are the only insects that have been found to use such a complex way of communicating, so maybe not all insects are conscious.  . .

And of course, being conscious does not necessarily give a living creature the right to life. But at least, it is a good argument to start demanding for a human treatment. Or, what do you think?

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Shape Matters

Shape Matters!

What if we could transform our thinking and use less material and more clever shapes?
What if we could build things of whatever flies around like a spider ?

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Photo Greenstone Girl

All spiders produce silk but not all spiders use it to produce webs. Different spices of web-building spiders spin different patterns. So you can identify the type of spider by looking and the intricate web they spin.

Animals do not spend time trying to create a wonderful material. They use the material that is available and the results are often mindblowing. A spider squirt the liquid silk out of their spinneret glands and this material is in liquid form until it hits the air where it hardens into a sticky substance.  Making the web is energetically costly process that requires a large amount of protein, the silk. A spider-web can use a fly to produce more webs to help them catch more flies. Spiders also eat their own web to reuse some of the energy that was used to spin it. They recycle the silk proteins.

Gecko’s feet are sticky something that has spark several ideas from climbing robots to surgical bandage. Yet, the feet are not sticky because of some special material, rather the shape of the hairs on the feet makes them sticky. The answer is molecular attractions that operate over small distances – van der Waals forces. The tiny hairs help to maximise contact with the surface.

Material is nature is expensive while shape is cheap.

This is a great lesson that humans perhaps should consider more often when designing things and solving problems.

In the video below, an exciting  research project,  ‘Metamaterial Mechanisms’ , at the Hasso Plattner Institute shows a new way that shape is used to create a material that can be used for a range or purposes. Different types of performances based on the shape. Exciting!


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Emblems of Devoted Love is Facing GLobal Extinction – Turtle Doves

How devoted are politicians to saving the bird that has become emblem of devoted love?

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Photo Yuvalr

European turtle doves form strong bonds and the rather small dove with the wedge-shaped tail with a dark centre and white borders and tips is a threatened species. The UK turtle dove population is halving every six years – down 93% since 1994.

In Spring, turtle doves arrive on the Brittish shore after a long migration fromWest Africa.  And often they find that their breeding grounds have been lost to modern farming methods. The birds are struggling to find food to raise their chicks.

In Autumn, the birds are flying to Africa.

Think about what it would feel like if they never returned?

No purring would be heard in the summer.

Do better understand why the numbers are declining so rapidly, six turtle doves are being satellite tracked. Last year, turtle dove named Titan was tracked and this year this project which is a cooperation between RSPB and the Operation Turtle Dove is adding more doves. Sadly Titan’s satellite signal was lost earlier this year. Yet important information about the migratory route and stopover sites were collected.

A picture of the threats that the birds face can help to identify strategies to support local conservation groups. But when you look at the migratory route, it is clear that to save the birds requires more than the engagement of one nation.

Go here to read about how old traditions are creating a problem for robins.

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Image: Operation Turtle Dove

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Biodesign – Intersection between Art, Design and Biology

Creating a closed loop economy for the fashion industry!
An industry where the textiles are biodegradable and also serve as nutrients for future textiles and products.

Biodesign is an exciting approach to design and fabrication. The term refers to the incorporation of living organism as essential components in design. The underlying idea is that the incorporation enhances the function of the finished work. This approach is different from biomimicry, there the idea is to use nature as inspiration for new ideas and ways to solve a problem. It is a brave step away from imitation and mimicry to use and integration. Boundaries are dissolved and new hybrids of living objects are created.

“biodesign is not about merely taking cues from organic structures and operations. It’s about harnessing the machinery of the natural world to perform as nature does: storing and converting energy, producing oxygen, neutralizing poisons and disposing wastes in life-sustaining ways… In the wonderland of biotechnology, bacteria is beautiful, moss is electric and decorative tiles are animated.” New York Times

The overall winner of the Biodesign Challenge this year was taken home by artist Luke Jerram. His Glass Microbe is a symbol of mixing art, design, and biology.

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His sculptures have been shown in museums all over the world and you can buy limited editions print of his sculptures here.

Book Tips

Bio Design: Nature Science Creativity

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“It’s Hot Outside!” – Zebra Finch Parents tells their chicks

How do animals respond to climate change?

Well, birds may tell their offsprings that it is hot outside the egg.

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Photo: A male Zebra Finch, Jim Bendon

Beep, meep, oi! or a-ha!.

Zebra finches are loud singers who are native to central Australia, Indonesia and East Timor. They inhabit grasslands as well as forests usually close to  water. This little songbird is preparing its offsprings for a warming world. A study has found that the zebra finches are making special calls to the embryos inside their eggs. The embryos can hear the sounds. The zebra finches are using sounds to influence the growth and development of their chicks.  So do birds learn as embryos? Well, another

This little songbird is preparing its offsprings for a warming world. A study has found that the zebra finches are making special calls to the embryos inside their eggs. The embryos can hear the sounds. The zebra finches are using sounds to influence the growth and development of their chicks.  So do birds learn as embryos? Well, another

So do birds learn as embryos? Well, another

Well, another study recently found that fairy-wrens learn, just like humans, as embryos. The embryos lowered their heart-rate when they heard calls from their own species but they did not respond to a white noise, which was a call from another species. The fairy-wren parents teach their embryos a special “password” to help them get food from their parents after hatching,

The idea that zebra finch parents would talk to their eggs and tell them important things about the world outside occurred to Mylene Mariette and Katherine Buchanan, when they noticed that parents would sometimes make a rapid, high-pitched series of calls while sitting on the eggs. They saw that the parents would only make these calls towards the end of the incubation period and when the maximum daily temperature rose above 26°C  (78.8°F).

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Photo: Zebra finch chicks, Martin Pot

To test the idea that the calls would prepare the chicks they incubated 166 eggs and exposed them to the standard temperature of 37.7°C (99.9°F). Then they either exposed the chicks to the recorded incubation calls or the parents’ normal contact calls. The chicks that had listened to the incubation calls weighed less which is an advantage when the environment is hot. A smaller body is better at losing heat.

Vocal communication seems to have persistent effects on the birds. The lower weight chicks produced more fledglings than the control birds. Yet the control birds were more successful in a cooler environment. Zebra finches live in arid conditions so they availability of water is important. The birds only breed when the conditions are good so the change in calls make sense.

It is a comforting thought that birds as tiny as zebra finches can tell their offspring that the world is heating up. Yet I cannot help to wonder why humans are so slow to react. . .

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Nostalgic Fondness and the New Frontier

How far would you travel to see a cloud?

And what would you see?

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Gavin Pretor-Pinney  travelled halfway across the world to the middle of nowhere to see the morning glory. From the English countryside to the Australian outback. Morning glory is a spectacular cloud that looks like elongated cotton tubes. The cloud stretches horizontally across the sky – hundreds of miles.  A joke inspired Gavin to start the Cloud Appreciation Society, which now has members from all over the world.

The reputation of clouds is not always the best – clouds are getting in the way of the sun. Many sayings associated clouds to something bad, for example, the there is a cloud having over my head refers to something bad that is going to happen or that I am feeling depressed and sad.

Clouds look like objects swirling over the sky but they are only droplet or ice  crystals. Many of us have fond childhood memories of searching for shapes in clouds. Cloudspotting is a wonderful activity that remains an interest with some people, like Gavin.

Most clouds are formed in the troposphere (0-12 km), just above this layer of the Earth’s atmosphere is the stratosphere (12 to 50 km). This layer is very dry and dry but occasionally clouds are formed here.

In the mindblowing video below the question of how high the Earth’s biosphere extends are explored. Microbes have been found as far as 32 km into the atmosphere. Visit this extreme place by watching this animated documentary. Follow the microbes as they ride on air currents around the globe.

And next time you see a polar stratospheric cloud also called nacreous clouds or mother of pearl cloud, imagine different microbes that might swirl around high above your head. 

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Photo: By Alan Light from Charlotte, USA. At Commons: Alan R Light (talk · contribs) – Nacreous Clouds over the NASA Radome -4-Uploaded by Hike395, CC BY 2.0