There were Greek and Roman naturalists who were intrigued by what they saw in the living world, but their observational tools were limited to their five senses. Modern science has expanded our senses far beyond the capabilities known just a century ago. We are privileged to live in an age of discovery that is revealing even more wonders beneath the surface of living things, wonders worth knowing about. Here are just a few.
1. Walking cells: First observations of amoebas under simple microscopes showed them moving in an apparently primitive manner, sending out “pseudopods” (false feet) in the direction they wanted to go. A new paper in PLoS ONE explains that they use their protusions for walking, gliding and swimming. “Cells move probably most of the time on 2D surfaces of soil particles, but may also experience clefts and obstacles,” Peter van Haastert wrote.1 “Cells have the ability to walk on these complicated surfaces with stronger adhesion, and to swim in water, all using essentially the same cycle of pseudopod formation with conversion to sideway extensions. This may allow the cells to effectively move optimally in its physically complex habitat.”
2. Master of deep-sea disguise: Aren’t squids and octopi simpler than mammals? They can do things we could only dream of in science fiction, like becoming invisible. Live Science reported on work by Sarah Zylinski of Duke University, who with colleagues captured deep-sea octopi and squid from 2,000 to 3,000 feet below the surface. In the lab she found that the creatures can switch from opaque to transparent “in the blink of an eye.” The BBC News included a short video clip where readers can watch the magical transformation occur.
3. Hummingbird sings “How dry I am”: How does a hummingbird cope with rain? Unlike many other birds, hummingbirds stay active in wet weather. Their trick is so quick it would be invisible without the tools of science. High speed videos made by UC Berkeley show that they shake their little heads and wings somewhat like dogs coming out of a pool….
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