Tag Archives: nat-geo

Ninja bugs

National Geographic has a photo gallery showing off some of nature’s clever disguises. Well worth a look.

There are two bugs in this picture. Seriously.


“Leaf knockoffs down to brown spots and notched edges, two Mimetica katydids with twiglike legs can rest or feed without drawing attention”.

In case you’re still not sure, here they are:


The gallery is well worth looking at. Below are a few more of by favorites.

Not a snake…


Finally, this is a great mantis. Nature is awesome.


National Geographic’s Infinite Photo

National Geographic have put together this cool “infinite photograph”. They’ve used hundreds of user submitted photos to create an infinitely zoomable photo mosaic.

To see what I mean let’s go through an example. You start off with this image. Use the yellow border to choose an area to zoom into:

Example from National Geographic's Infinite Photo

The app will zoom in to show the selected area made up of hundreds of small photos:

Example from National Geographic's Infinite Photo

You can carry on zooming in forever. Eventually you’ll zoom in to a single image and the whole process starts again – hence the infinite…

Example from National Geographic's Infinite Photo

National Geographic visions of the Earth

Each edition of National Geographic Magazine has a section called Visions of the Earth – basically a collection of great photos from around the world.

I was looking over some of the older ones and was blown away by some of them. Here are a handful of the best.

This one was taken with the lens half submerged. If it wasn’t from National Geographic I wouldn’t believe it was real. I’m still skeptical…
National Geographic picture of a fisherman

This is one of the best photos I’ve seen. I had to read the explanation to understand what was going on. It’s taken near sunset in the deserts of South Africa. There is a massive sand dune rising in the sunlight in the background.

Alligator claw. Awesome.

There are many other excellent pictures, but I restricted this post to three that I really liked.

Cave of Crystals

National Geographic has this article on the “Cave of Crystals” in Mexico. Very interesting and with the usual great photos.

Quick summary:

  • The cave which is about 280m underground was discovered in 2000 during mining operations.
  • It takes 20 minutes to get to the cave entrance driving a van along a winding mine shaft (see photo below)
  • The cave is above a magma intrusion (a spot where magma comes close to the surface) and temperatures are about 45 Celsius!
  • Because of the heat researchers must wear ice-cooled suits and use respirators blowing ice-cooled air. Even so they can only handle about 20 to 40 minutes.
  • The crystals have been growing for the last 600,000 years in the cave which was originally water filled. The miners lowered the water table by pumping out the water and halted that growth.

This photo gives an idea of the size of the cave and the enormous crystals in it. Awesome stuff.

Getting to the entrance of the cave involves a 20 minute drive along the mine shaft

It is so hot in the cave that researchers must wear special ‘ice-suits’ in order to operate in the cave. They breath ice-cooled air through breathing packs and even so can only spend short periods in the cave.

You can view the rest of the photos here.

PS. National Geographic Magazine is an awesome publication – their articles are often fascinating and the photography is stunning. Their subscriptions are cheap and easy – I recommend subscribing.

Sabertooths were probably pack animals

As if they weren’t mean enough, now it emerges that sabertooths were probably pack animals

Sabertooths were frightening beasts. About the size of tigers (huge) and with enormous 20cm fangs these guys were mean. And if that isn’t enough, new research suggests that they were pack animals like modern lions (the Ice Age movies had it right).

How they worked that out is a little complex:

  • Tar pits are spots where tar literally rises from the ground. They make excellent spots to find fossils because animals got stuck and were then well preserved
  • Sabertooths are very common in tar pits. Probably because they responded to the distress calls of prey animals and themselves became stuck
  • The researchers did a comparative study in Africa by playing the sounds of prey animals in distress
  • They found that only pack animals (lions and hyenas) responded in any numbers

So basically, by comparing the ratios of sabertooth remains in the tar pits with the study in Africa the researchers could take an educated guess that sabertooths lived in packs.

National Geographic: Aerial photos of China

China is an amazing place – massive, beautiful, and so different to what we Westerners are used to. It is a wonderfully beautiful country and I have blogged about it before.

National Geographic has this short photo essay of aerial photographs of China – “China From Above“. Below are some of the better images.

This one shows limestone pinnacles along the Li River

Blooming fields of rapeseed weaving through the hills. I like the way these steep hills look as if they regularly pop out of a flat landscape.

This one is interesting. They have planted rows of vegetation alongside the roads to keep the desert sands back. The buildings dotting the roadside every few miles house the workers who maintain the greenbelt.

Eating local doesn’t help the environment much

Cows are surprisingly bad for the environmentIt’s a good thing that being ‘green’ is becoming fashionable. We are hammering our environment so increased awareness is a good thing. That said, people don’t always think things through so sometimes their efforts don’t make the most sense. For instance in the past I have blogged that organic food is not necessarily good for the environment.

A fashionable way of eating green is to eat local foods – food bought from local producers. The idea is that buying local foods decreases ‘food miles’ – the distances that food must be transported by vehicles emitting greenhouse gasses.

However a study covered in a recent National Geographic article has shown that eating local doesn’t have much of an impact. The fact is that ‘food miles’ only contribute 11% of the total climate impact of foods. Eating beef 1 day a week less would be more effective that buying 100% of your food locally!

The reason for this is that producing cows is really tough on the environment. Cows need lots of grazing, and crucially produce a lot more methane. This impact is so significant that by reducing beef consumption you could easily benefit the environment more than by buying locally produced foods.

Animals showing intelligence we thought was uniquely human

National Geographic Magazine has an interesting article on some of the smart animals that are being used to learn about intelligence and cognition. Most people who have had a pet ‘know’ that animals can think because of the way that they react to us – they sometimes seem almost human.

But for a long time this idea was seriously out of fashion – experts agreed that people were projecting human emotions and thoughts onto animals (known as anthropomorphism). For instance at school I had a friend who claimed that her goldfish was embarrassed – surely a case of anthropomorphism.

However, the view that intelligence and emotions are purely human is simplistic and a little arrogant. Intelligence (and emotions) has obvious evolutionary advantages for social and long-lived animals. Humans are also just animals – we arrived through the same evolutionary processes. Isn’t it more plausible that there are levels of intelligence with some species showing more or less?

Plenty of scientists agree with me and have been working with animals to show that many of the qualities supposedly unique to human intelligence are shared by animals. The article goes into a lot of detail with awesome examples involving dogs, chimps, bonobos, parrots, jays, crows, dolphins and others. I thought that I would extract a few of the stories about clever animals.

Alex the parrot could speak and understood numbers, shapes and colorsAlex the parrot was taught to pronounce English words and could understand several concepts. He was able to count, and distinguish shapes and colors. For instance when shown a group of toys and asked how many yellow ones there were he could tell you – ‘Five’. Alex even got impatient with other parrots who were getting their pronunciation wrong – calling out ‘Talk clearly!’ when they made mistakes.

Betsy understands over 300 wordsBetsy the border collie understands more than 300 words and is able to learn new ones easily. One test involved putting several new toys (which Betsy had not seen before) in the kitchen. Betsy was then shown a picture of a Frisbee and told to fetch it from the kitchen. That she was able to do so shows that not only does she understand words like fetch and kitchen (something the testers already knew) but that she understands that a picture represents something in the real world.

Betty was able to create toolsBetty the New Caledonian crow was able to create and use tools. In one test Betty was shown into a room in which there was a treat in a basket down a tube – out of her reach. There were also two pieces of wire in the room, one with a hook and one straight. The researchers had expected Betty to use the hooked wire to get the basket out, but another crow had already removed it….

“Betty is undeterred. She looks at the meat in the basket, then spots the straight piece of wire. She picks it up with her beak, pushes one end into a crack in the floor, and uses her beak to bend the other end into a hook. Thus armed, she lifts the basket out of the tube.”

Islam overtakes Catholicism in numbers

Massive mosque at the Muslim holy site of Mecca

National Geographic has this article saying that Islam has now overtaken Catholicism as the world’s largest religion. According to the article this is the current breakdown (percentage of world population):

  • Islamic: 19.2%
  • Catholic: 17.4%

That said, Christians as a whole are still by far the largest religious group comprising 33% of the world population.

A chunk of ice the size of a small country has broken off the Antarctic

There is quite a lot of news at the moment about a large piece (a little smaller than Swaziland) of ice shelf that recently broke off Antarctica. You can read about it here: National Geographic, Wired, BBC.

Ice shelves are made of ice already floating on the ocean so this incident won’t raise sea levels, but these shelves are holding back glaciers which will raise see levels. As the floating ice shelves break away there is nothing to hold back the land based glaciers which run faster and do raise sea levels.

These ice shelves are notoriously sensitive to warming (another one broke off during a brief warming period around 1920) so they do act as good early indicators of global warming happening – apparently “average Antarctic temperatures have risen 3 degrees (Celsius) over the past 50 years!”

If you are interested there is an busy debate going on in the comments section of the Wired article. Even if you aren’t that interested, I think you should be worried.
Ice melting in the Antarctic