Nature news roundup July 12 2013

Monarch butterfly macro

Monday’s storms broke Toronto’s record for 24-hour record rainfall, leaving cars stranded, basements flooded and thousands of people without power overnight. Downstream, Lake Ontario will be dealing with the fallout for a while to come. In the Torontoist, Tyler Irving explains how this will affect lake ecology, and what infrastructure upgrades are required to handle an increase in extreme weather events.

Do you ever get a weak feeling in your loins when you are scared? Maybe that is what happens to hawkmoths when they are about to get eaten. But their squeaky genitals actually make sounds that can save their lives. A study of hawkmoths in Biology Letters explains that they evolved sexual squeaking to communicate with their mates (see and hear a video of noisy moth bits). However, the sound also comes in handy whenever a bat flies in for the kill. A little genital squeak confuses the bat’s echolocation (or appetite?).

Staying with lepidoptera, have you missed the arrival of monarch butterflies this summer in Ontario and other parts of the northeast? Their numbers are at an all-time low, CBC News reports. A cold spring in the Texas corn belt and failure of the milkweed crop, on which monarch caterpillars feed, may be to blame for the failure of a butterfly generation moving north. As if these amazing continental migrants needed any more problems. Is this a shadow of Flight Behavior?

It is not news that global warming is expected to increase hurricane intensity and frequency ( and create bigger, fiercer wildfires (Huffington Post). But desert greening? According to a report in Geophysical Research Letters, satellite images from 1982 to 2010 showed an 11 percent increase in green foliage cover across the world’s arid environments as a result of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. While this might seem like a good thing, scientists are concerned about negative secondary effects, such as loss of desert species (see

Meanwhile, the oceans are under siege:

  • A study in Proceedings of the Royal Society shows how blue whales react to simulated military sonar: they stop feeding and swim quickly away. Duh!
  • Rod Fujita in LiveScience argues that the harvest of fish and invertebrates for aquariums needs to be managed as a commercial fishery before coral reef biodiversity is ruined.
  • Which may be moot without aggressive reduction in CO2 emissions. A new study in Environmental Research Papers supports the argument that carbonic acid could kill all existing coral reefs by the end of this century.
  • Nature Geoscience warns that climate change may also disrupt marine food webs by selecting against nitrogen-fixing bacteria that form the base of the food chain.

Speaking of water hazards, golf courses are seldom considered environment-friendly. However, a well-managed course can help conserve critical habitat. According to a study quoted in National Geographic news, golf course ponds may support an even higher diversity of turtle species than is found in farm ponds or city parks. Fore!


Nature news roundup July 12 2013 — 2 Comments

  1. “Noisy moth bits.” *snicker* Sounds like the name of some weird backyard band. Levity aside, I’ve seen few bees and fewer butterflies, let alone monarchs. A few days ago, in the downtown zone of the other Twin City, around midnight, some panicked fool called emergency/911 because a swarm of bees was observed in a tree. Cops came, looked, and called the fire department, who then doused the swarm with fire retardant chemicals, killing 25-30,000 honeybees. *facepalm* And get this: this is Standard Operating Procedure!

    What can be said of such stupidity?

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