February 2012 Archives

Giant flees of the Jurassic era

By Daniel Smith on Feb 29, 12 11:06 PM

Giant Jurassic fleas measuring more than two centimetres (about an inch) may have fed on feathered dinosaurs, say scientists.

Fossils of several of the blood-sucking insects were unearthed at two sites in China.
The largest females were 20.6 millimetres (0.81in) long, while males grew to 14.7 millimetres (0.58in).

Besides being much larger than modern fleas, they lacked their characteristic jumping hind legs.

One group of fleas from Ningcheng County, Inner Mongolia, dated back to the Middle Jurassic period 165 million years ago.

Tyrannosaurus rex, Palais de la Découverte, Paris

Image via Wikipedia

When it comes to biting power, Tyrannosaurus rex was the undisputed king, a study has shown.

No living or extinct creature that ever walked the earth has been able to match the chomping force of the iconic dinosaur's jaws, researchers believe.

The findings, based on computer simulations, suggest that T. rex hunted large prey which it despatched with bone-crushing bites.

From the Nasa archives

By Daniel Smith on Feb 29, 12 12:00 PM


STS-120 mission specialist Scott Parazynski participated in the second of five scheduled spacewalks as construction continues on the International Space Station.

During the 6-hour, 33-minute spacewalk Parazynski and Daniel Tani, Expedition 16 flight engineer, worked in tandem to upgrade the space station.


Like a butterfly, a white dwarf star begins its life by casting off a cocoon that enclosed its former self. In this analogy, however, the Sun would be a caterpillar and the ejected shell of gas would become the prettiest of all!

The above cocoon, the planetary nebula designated NGC 2440, contains one of the hottest white dwarf stars known.

The white dwarf can be seen as the bright dot near the photo's center.

Our Sun will eventually become a "white dwarf butterfly", but not for another 5 billion years. The above false color image and was post-processed by Forrest Hamilton.

Robot ice hockey

By Daniel Smith on Feb 28, 12 11:29 PM

Canadian boffins have created the first autonomous humanoid robot ice hockey player.

PM1975298@SCIENCE Hawking 1.jpg

Professor Stephen Hawking signalled his return to health lasty weekend by visiting a museum to see an exhibit celebrating his birthday.

Last month illness forced the Cambridge University cosmologist to miss a VIP reception at the Science Museum in London in honour of his birthday and the opening of the new exhibit, Stephen Hawking: A 70th Birthday Celebration.

That was the second major birthday party he had missed due to ill health. Prof Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, turned 70 on January 8 but was unable to attend a birthday symposium and celebration in Cambridge on that day.

Free runners ape orang-utans

By Daniel Smith on Feb 28, 12 11:59 AM
English: wild orang utans, Gunung Leuser NP, S...

Image via Wikipedia

Free runner athletes are aping orang-utans to help researchers investigate how the primates move through trees.

In a simulated forest habitat, the athletes are mimicking the primate's skills at leaping, vertical climbing, and "tree swaying".

Scientists hope the findings will help them understand how orang-utans and other tree-dwelling apes maximise energy efficiency.

Araniella cucurbitina 2011-06-09 at 09-21-50 1 of 2.jpg

New for 2012! In a regular column on the blog, we've got a proper scientist in to talk about the insect world.

The scientist in question is my sister Bee, who, as well being a trained zoologist, also takes some very nice shots of things with lots of legs.

This colourful and charismatic spider is a member of the family Araneidae otherwise known as the orb-weavers.

These are the spiders that typically spin the large rounded webs used to catch passing insects in the sticky silk.


A tall and elegant race of penguins inhabited what is now New Zealand 25 million years ago, scientists have learned.

The bird stood over four feet tall and was slimmer than modern penguins, with a long beak and flippers.

Researchers gave it the Maori name Kariuku, which loosely translated means "diver who returns with food".


This transparent cranchiid, or cockatoo squid, retains ammonia solutions inside its body - giving it a balloon-like shape and helping it float.

It has large eyes and pigment-filled cells that look like polka dots and serve as camouflage - all adaptations to life in the deep ocean.

Click on the image to embiggen.

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Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith - a long time ago, in a galaxy far away just north of Watford, Daniel fancied himself as a scientist but turned out to be the worst scientist since that bloke who mapped out all those canals on Mars that turned out to be scratches on his telescope's lens. Luckily, he is now not working on the Large Hadron Collider inadvertently creating a black hole that would swallow the world but is safely behind a desk writing this blog, bringing you the fantastical underbelly of nature... weird science.

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