It’s Raining Lamprey!

A weekly roundup of the best in science journalism, doodled.

June 18, 2015

A jawless bloodsucker is falling from the sky. Seriously.

Alaskans have found four Arctic lampreys that have fallen from the sky in Fairbanks over the last few weeks. Lampreys are jawless, toothy, blood-sucking fish that are all around kind of terrifying. Science writer Sarah Keartes explains that it’s likely that gulls are dropping them around town as they fly.

Scientists from Lamprey Conservation Management reported that they’ve seen similar incidents recently in Limerick City, Ireland, where a lamprey fell on a car with a boy inside. The fish was still alive and soon attached itself to the window.  

Juvenile lampreys hang out in muddy rivers and filter feed for three to seven years while they wait for their teeth to grow in. As adults, they use these chompers like a suction cup to attach to other animals and become parasites.

Unlike most of these bloodsuckers in the United States, Arctic lampreys are native, and they have more teeth. Little else is known about these lampreys from up north, so some scientists are excited they’re making themselves so available right now. 

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Hey wind turbine, be more like an owl.

Bruna Fogacci/Tumblr

Owls are notoriously silent predators. On the leading edge of their wings, these raptors have comb-like bristles on their feathers. The bristles are evenly spaced across the width of the wing, which breaks up sound waves and prevents the telltale swoosh of an incoming strike. Meanwhile, the downy feathers on the underside of the wing and the owl’s legs soften air pressure, adding to the quiet. End result: Mouse did not see it coming. 

Wind turbines are not so stealth—they disturb their neighbors, be they human or animal. Scientist Nigel Peake, who studies fluid mechanics, might have the answer: Make turbine blades more like owl wings.

Peake’s team added evenly spaced fins across an airfoil and put the imitation owl wing in a wind tunnel. It worked, cutting noise down by a factor of 10. It turns out that adding fins to blades might also help generate more energy, because the wind farm could spin the turbines faster without worrying about making more noise. The scientists are now working with a wind turbine manufacturer to test their idea out. So owl wings result in more rodent snacks, fewer stressed fish, fewer edgy squirrels, fewer complaining humans, and less coal burned—they’re quite the invention.

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What will we call Joshua Tree National Park if all the Joshua trees die?


Joshua trees stand to lose 90 percent of their number in its namesake national park in California, thanks to drought and rising temperatures. And as climate change continues to heat up the Southwest, it will really come down to survival of the fittest for these twisty, iconic trees. Some Joshua trees can withstand lethal insects and extreme heat better than others, and Tom Whitham from Northern Arizona University thinks conservationists should focus on these reserves of genetic resilience. If scientists can figure out what genes help the plants survive in hotter temperatures, we might have a fighting chance at saving important and unique ecosystems in the West for years to come. 

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The microbiome craze comes to farming.

Microbiomes are so hot right now—and scientists are never ones to be off-trend. These communities of very tiny organisms are quickly becoming a huge area of scientific research. Now, under increasing pressure to replace toxic chemicals with less harmful options, pesticide companies are looking at soil microbes as miniature farmhands. Entomologist Pam Marrone and her team at Marrone Bio Innovations are trying to make microbial pesticides that can kill weeds and crop-eating insects like corn rootworms, spider mites, and green peach aphids. In a California lab, Marrone and company are growing a microbial colony collected from the garden soil of a Buddhist temple in Japan in the hope that this microorganism might eventually be used as an organic weed killer. Marrone recently told NPR that she intends to seek approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to sell such an herbicide to farmers.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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T. Lawrence/Great Lakes Fishery Commission
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