Hummingbird Sweet Tooth

A photo of a male ruby-throated hummingbird.
A ruby-throated hummingbird feeds on mimosa flowers. Photograph by George Grall, National Geographic Creative

Hummingbirds feel the sweet lure of nectar, but they taste it in the most unexpected of ways.

This group of feathered friends doesn’t have a sweet taste receptor, which means they shouldn’t be able to taste sweet at all. But a new study published Thursday in Science reveals that hummingbirds have repurposed their umami receptor (which recognizes meaty and savory flavors) to be able to taste nectar’s sweetness.

“There are not many cases of such a complicated function being regained over the course of evolution,” which makes it a unique example to study, said Maude Baldwin, a doctoral student at Harvard University and lead author of the new study. read more

When Will the Big One Hit?

Next year residents of Los Angeles will flock to cinemas to see a blockbuster called San Andreas in which their city will be wiped out by an apocalyptic earthquake.

Kylie Minogue and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, one of Hollywood’s current most bankable stars, will be seen roaming the wreckage after the City of Angels is mercilessly flattened by the “Big One”.

As skyscrapers collapse, thousands die and chaos ensues, most of those in the audience will be wondering how long before it happens for real.

The southern section of the San Andreas fault that runs near the city has not had a “mega-quake” of more than magnitude-7.5 since 1680 and it is, according to seismologists, more than a century overdue.

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Disco Clams

Picture of a disco clam.
A pair of disco clams share a crevice on a reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Photograph by Lindsey Dougherty, University of California, Berkeley

 

Nestled in cracks and crevices in coral reefs off the Indonesian coast, so-called disco clams are busy putting on a light show. But unlike many animals in the ocean that produce their own light, a new study finds that these flashy mollusks catch and reflect ambient light for their displays. read more