How elephant seals use bioluminescence to hunt in the dark


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How elephant seals use bioluminescence to hunt in the dark

 How elephant seals use bioluminescence to hunt in the dark

If you’re an aquatic mammal, how do you hunt in the darkest seas, where light can’t penetrate? Dolphins have it easy with their echolocation, but what about the other animals with much more limited senses? They chase after critters that provide their own light.

In a paper published in the journal PLOS One, researchers describe how they tracked four female southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) as they hunted, recording the time, depth, and light levels. In cases where the light was recorded as brighter than ambient levels, the seals were near sources of bioluminescence — and wouldn’t you know it, that was when they foraged more.

The seals have eyes uniquely tuned to detect light at 485 nm, the same wavelength as the bioluminescence of the lantern fish that make up much of their prey. While it may seem self-evident that a deep sea diving predator would go after prey that glows in the dark, this is some of the first hard evidence showing that this does happen.

It also hints at a whole world of other possibilities — the sensors on the seals were only capable of registering light levels every two seconds, and could only detect the bright flashes that some animals create, rather than soft glows. There was also no way to directly tie the seals’ predation to specific prey species or the many others that can bioluminesce. The researchers also noted that some species of shrimp and squid will eject clouds of bioluminescent materials to distract predators that focus on the glow.

The seals are also perfectly capable of hunting animals that don’t glow, suggesting they have other tools at their disposal, too. It’s a bizarre and glowing world in the depths, and this takes us one step closer to understanding how it functions.

Image by Mirounga_leonina.jpg: Butterfly voyages – Serge Ouachéederivative work: Ilmari Karonen (Mirounga_leonina.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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Chocolate could protect men from strokes


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Chocolate could protect men from strokes

Chocolate could protect men from strokes

Not that anyone needs an excuse to eat chocolate, but a recent study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm is suggesting that eating moderate amounts of chocolate each week may be associated with a lower risk of stroke in men.

The CBC reports:

Those eating the highest amount of chocolate had a 17 per cent lower risk of stroke, or 12 fewer strokes per 100,000 person-years compared with those who ate no chocolate. Person-years is the total number of years that each man was under observation.

“These findings suggest that moderate chocolate consumption may lower the risk of stroke,” Susanna Larsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and her co-authors concluded.

“Because chocolate is high in sugar, saturated fat and calories, it should be consumed in moderation.”

The study included 37,103 men aged 49 to 75 who filled in questionnaires about how often they ate nearly 100 foods and drinks.

Over 10 years, 1,995 cases of stroke occurred but there was no difference in the association by type of stroke…

A review of similar studies that was part of the research also suggested a 19 per cent decrease in risk of stroke with chocolate consumption.

At the same time, before you run to the candy store, be aware that other factors may be coming into play here. The researchers also mention that the men who ate more chocolate were also younger than the men who ate less chocolate. The chocolate-eaters were more likely to have a university education and use Aspirin, but were less likely to be smokers or have a history of hypertension or atrial fibrillation. In other words, chocolate-eating could be just one reason why those men are less prone to strokes.

You can read the entire study at Neurology.

Image: avs/shutterstock.com.

How Self-Sustaining Space Habitats Could Save Humanity from Extinction


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How Self-Sustaining Space Habitats Could Save Humanity from Extinction

By George Dvorsky
How Self-Sustaining Space Habitats Could Save Humanity from Extinction

This planet can’t protect us forever. Sooner or later, there’ll be a catastrophe that renders this world uninhabitable for humans. And when that day comes, we’ll need to know already how to live in space.

Yesterday, we explained why we should reboot the Biosphere 2 projects of the 1990s. There are a lot of scientific and technological benefits from learning to create self-sustaining habitats — but the biggest reason is because we need to know how to live in space, before we have noplace else to live.

There’s little question that this is an important area of inquiry. We clearly want to venture out into space, but if we’re going to do so, we’ll eventually have to lose our dependence on Mother Earth. Colonists won’t always be able to rely on a steady stream of supplies from Earth, which means they’re eventually going to have to figure it on their own.

How Self-Sustaining Space Habitats Could Save Humanity from Extinction

Physicist Stephen Hawking suggests that our ongoing efforts to colonize space could ultimately save humanity from extinction. As it stands, Earth is our only biosphere — all our eggs are currently in one basket. If something were to happen to either our planet or our civilization, it would be vital to know that we could sustain a colony somewhere else.

And the threats are real. The possibility of an asteroid impact, nuclear war, a nanotechnological disaster, or severe environmental degradation make the need for off-planet habitation extremely urgent. And given our ambitious future prospects, including the potential for ongoing population growth, we may very well have no choice but to leave the cradle.

We’re obviously not going to get there overnight — but here’s how we could do it.

Baby steps

As already noted, the first thing we need to do is develop a fully functional biosphere for long-term human occupation. We still haven’t figured out how to do this yet, so it should be at the top of our priority list. We especially need to figure out ways to keep CO2 levels in check, maintain a steady internal temperature, avoid water acidification, and find a way to keep our sanity in check given the close confines.

Once this has been done, we can start to think about going into space. The initial structure or set of building materials could be brought up from Earth (either by rocket or space elevator), or we could make it difficult for the astro-biospherians, by making them pull together all their materials from local sources such as asteroids (call it the ‘teach a man to fish approach’).

How Self-Sustaining Space Habitats Could Save Humanity from Extinction

But life in an orbital biosphere will present unique challenges. Growing plants in a zero gravity environment is possible, but difficult (they tend to sprout in bizarre orientations). There’s also the problem of prolonged exposure to zero gravity on humans, and the long-term effects of solar radiation.

That said, there are potential solutions to these issues. Back in 1974, physicist Gerard O’Neill outlined a freestanding orbital habitat consisting of large cylinders that would spin along an axis at a rate of one rotation per minute. This would result in a simulation of gravity along its inner surfaces.

Initially, these self-sufficient space stations should be kept simple — pilot projects to prove that humans can live off-planet and independent of Earth — an important precedent for any subsequent missions to space, or for colonization efforts to other terrestrial bodies.

And indeed, as time passes, these projects will have to assess the viability of more complex and long-term missions. As Ben Austen has warned, we could run into problems such as inbreeding. His solution, however, is to stock our habitats with DNA to expand upon the existing gene pool. More radically, colonists could take advantage of cybernetics, advanced genetic engineering practices, and life extension technologies to overcome these issues as they arise.

What’s not known, however, is how long a human offshoot could live in Earth’s orbit alone. It’s conceivable that a self-sustaining base could function for generations, but that doesn’t seem like a reasonable long-term solution for the future of human civilization — particularly if the home planet is inaccessible for whatever reason.

But this is why we should also focus our efforts on building closed-loop systems on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Extraterrestrial but planetary biospheres

Back in 2000, NASA completed a $200 million study called the “Roadmap to Settlement” in which they described the potential for a moon-based colony in which habitats could be constructed several feet beneath the lunar surface (or covered within an existing crater) to protect colonists from high-energy cosmic radiation. They also outlined the construction of an onsite nuclear power plant, solar panel arrays, and a number of methods for extracting carbon, silicon, aluminium and other materials from the surface.

How Self-Sustaining Space Habitats Could Save Humanity from Extinction

More recently, NASA has also confirmed the presence of water ice on the Moon — a critical ingredient for any self-sustaining colony. Most of it resides at the Moon’s north pole, but it’s a fair amount — about 600 million tons worth.

Assuming that the radiation problem could be addressed, it might also be possible to set up solar-powered farming enclosures. If we could start farming at the lunar North Pole, experts estimate that a 0.5 hectare space farm could feed upwards of 100 people.

At the same time, however, there will be some considerable challenges. The Moon features a long lunar night, which could limit solar power and require a colony to withstand temperature extremes. The Moon is also low in light elements, namely carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen. Low gravity (at ⅙ of Earth’s) could prove to be a long-term problem. The Moon is also completely devoid of an atmosphere, and it has virtually no potential as a future terraforming project. At best, the Moon could serve as a good proof-of-concept station for future projects, or for a short-term stay in the event of a catastrophe on Earth.

As NASA’s roadmap suggests, a colony on the Moon could help us prepare for a mission to Mars. It would probably be wise to set up, test, and train a self-sustaining colony a little closer to home before we take that massive leap to Mars.

And indeed, Mars holds considerably more potential than the Moon. It features a solar day of 24 hours and 39 minutes, and a surface area 28.4% less than Earth’s. The Red Planet also has an axial tilt of 25 degrees (compared to the Earth’s 29%) resulting in similar seasonal shifts (though they’re twice as long given that Mars’s year is 1.88 Earth years). And most importantly, Mars has an existing atmosphere, significant mineral diversity (such as ore and nickel-iron), and water. Actually, it has a lot of water. Recent analysis shows that Mars could have as much water underground as Earth.

How Self-Sustaining Space Habitats Could Save Humanity from Extinction

So Mars could provide an excellent place for humanity to test a closed-loop habitat — or to reboot its civilization, in the event of a catastrophe on Earth. Given all that Mars has to offer, it could conceivably support a colony living in enclosed habitats for an indefinitely long period of time. And depending on the technological sophistication of the society in question, it could also go about the long and arduous process of terraforming the planet. Assuming a no-Earth scenario, the colonists would have little choice but to plug away and be patient.

Looker deeper into this scenario, the colonists would eventually have to weigh the pros and cons of their efforts. It might make more sense for them to return to Earth in hopes of salvaging things there — terraforming a broken Earth could prove considerably easier than terraforming Mars. Ultimately, it would depend on the condition of Earth, which could meet a grim fate in any number of ways, including a runaway greenhouse gas effect that could turn it into a Venus-like planet (which could make it much worse than Mars), nanotechnological ecophagy (a grey goo scenario in which self-replicating nanobots have converted virtually everything into useless mush), or an asteroid impact (which would only be a temporary problem).

That said, Mars may not be the only terrestrial body in our solar system worth colonizing. Saturn and Jupiter feature a number of moons that could also be considered, though their proximity from the Sun could pose some problems.

Finally, there’s also the possibility that colonists will want to venture into deep space and find entirely new planets to inhabit — including Earth-like planets that are ready for immediate occupancy. Self-sustainability would have to be a key feature of the expedition, as the colonists would not be able to depend on the Earth for any resources.

And as for knowing where to go, it would be akin to the Pacific Islander colonization campaigns of the past; just pick a direction and hope for the best.

Timelines

https://i0.wp.com/img.gawkerassets.com/img/17xkmhnpz42i2jpg/original.jpg

Predicting timelines for sustainable and permanent off-planet habitability is not easy — mostly because no one is really working on the problem. Most of our efforts assume that Earth will always be there, ready to jump in and support any colony that needs help.

But assuming that we could focus our efforts, it’s not unreasonable to assume that we could develop our first self-sufficient biosphere right here on Earth by the end of the 2020s — if not a lot sooner. It’s been nearly 20 years since the last Biosphere 2 project, and there’s a good chance that today’s science and technology can solve many of the problems we experienced during those missions.

Once that has (finally) been done, it’s entirely possible that self-reliant orbital habitats could be constructed during the 2030s. By that point, our technologies will be advanced enough that any unsolved problem could be addressed by A.I. or sophisticated modeling techniques. At the same time, advanced 3D printers and molecular assemblers (aka “fabs”) will make life appreciably easier for colonists working in space.

After this stage, the technologies required for setting up closed-loop colonies on the Moon, Mars, or elsewhere would largely be in place. So, assuming no social upheavals or other unpredictable events, we could be capable of living permanently and independently off-planet any time after 2030 or so, and certainly no later than the 2050s.

There is another, albeit more radical, way for us to ensure our ongoing existence in the event of civilizational catastrophe. Assuming that uploads will someday be possible, it would be wise to “backup” human civilization off-planet. This idea was initially proposed by author Vernor Vinge, who suggested that we bury a supercomputer on the moon (or elsewhere) that could house an entire civilization. Alternately, this uploaded civilization could be sent on a mission into deep space in hopes of reviving a new society elsewhere. But given the highly speculative nature of this possibility — and knowing that a disaster can strike at any time — we should continue to work on viable solutions for purely biological humans.

All this said, these timelines and predictions assume, of course, that we actually care about building self-sustaining habitats. As history has repeatedly shown, our ability to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that we will. But given what’s at stake, it’s a prospect that needs to be taken a bit more seriously.

Images via here, here, here, here, here.

10 States That Spend More on Prisons Than Education


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10 States That Spend More on Prisons Than Education

Education spending is vital to the livelihood and well-being of every state, and so is prison spending. But in some states, prisons seem to be more important, taking up more funding in state budgets than K-12 and college education spending. Often, the money for both comes out of the same general fund, so money spent on prisons is money that’s taken from education, trading prisoner comfort for student education. Experts point out that this is a dangerous situation, as failing to effectively educate students may very well have those same students turning to crime later in life, putting further financial burden on the budget of state prisons, and impairing their lives. Which states are in the highly dangerous situation of spending more on prisons than education? Read on to find out.

  1. California:

    California is often cited as the worst offender when it comes to spending more on corrections than education, and it’s no wonder why: the state spent $9.6 billion on prisons in 2011, but just $5.7 billion on higher education. Overall, the state spends $8,667 for each student, but about $50,000 per inmate, per year. And in the last 30 years, California has built one new college campus, but 20 new prisons. In the high-crime neighborhoods of LA, things are especially bad. More than a billion dollars are spent each year to keep residents from high-crime neighborhoods in LA, but the LA Unified School District had a deficit of $640 million in the 2010 to 2011 school year, resulting in layoffs and larger class sizes.

  2. Vermont:

    Vermont has been called out for spending more on prisons than education, to the tune of $1.37 per inmate for every $1 spent on students in the state. In 2011, the state spent roughly $92 billion on education, overshadowed by the $111.3 million spent on prisons. In Vermont, each inmate costs nearly $50,000 annually. The state’s prison population has doubled in size over the past decade and is expected to increase three times as fast as the general resident population over the next decade.

  3. Pennsylvania:

    In 2009, the School District of Philadelphia fell $147 million short of its budget after losing $160 million in state funding, but at the same time, Philly taxpayers spent almost $290 million on prisons for residents from 11 of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. The balance of money for prisons vs. education is bad in Philadelphia, but it’s not great in the rest of the state, either. Prisons in Pennsylvania edged out education by a million dollars, with $2.1 billion going to corrections and $2 billion for education. It costs more than $42,000 per year to keep a Pennsylvanian inmate in prison.

  4. Delaware:

    For such a small state, Delaware spends quite a bit of money on its inmates: $32,967 per year, per inmate. So much so, that the expense not only matches, but exceeds what the state spends on education. In 2011, Delaware spent $212.5 in state monies for education, and $215.2 million on prisons. However, if you take away the $3.5 million spent on inmate education and training that could have been used for schoolkids and higher education, they’re just about even.

  5. Rhode Island:

    Another tiny state with a huge prison budget, Rhode Island spent $172.1 million on prisons in 2010. That’s over $10 million more than the state contributed to education, with $161.9 billion of Rhode Island’s education budget coming from the state. The small state spends more than $49,000 for each inmate every year.

  6. New York:

    In New York State, it seems that inmates have it pretty good. The state spends a whopping average of $56,000 per year, per inmate. But students don’t enjoy the same luxuries, with $40,000 less per person as their education is funded with just $16,000 per year from the state. New York has the honor of being the state that spends the least on education. On average, states spend 36% of their budget on education, but New York spends just 28%.

  7. Michigan:

    Michigan keeps inmate costs lower than other states, with $28,570 spent on each prisoner per year. But at the same time, students aren’t getting much financial help from the state, either, with just $9,575 per year in average spending for each student. In fact, prisoners are able to take advantage of amenities like free health care, cable TV, access to a library, free sports programs, and even funding to earn a degree. Yes, you read that right: Michigan won’t dish out enough money to help regular students, but they’ll help foot the bill for inmates to get a college education.

  8. Georgia:

    Amid talks of education funding cuts, Georgia’s students are already suffering financially compared to the funding that inmates get. Georgia has the fourth largest prison system in the US, and inmate spending far outstrips that of student spending. The state spends $18,000 per year to house just one inmate, but only $3,800 for K-12 students. College students are allotted $6,300, but that’s still just over a third of what the state has to spend for each Georgia inmate.

  9. Arizona:

    In Arizona, prisons are a higher priority than education. In fact, they’re a 40% higher priority. About 10 years ago, the state spent 40% more on universities than on prisons, but these days, the tables have turned: Arizona now spends 40% more on prisons than universities. How did this happen? Prison funding has gone up by 75% in the last 10 years, while university funding has declined 11%. Experts say that this spending imbalance is largely related to who’s in prison, and how long they stay. All non-violent offenders in Arizona are required to serve at least 85% of their sentence. They’re the only state in the country to do so, and it’s a major factor in driving up prison costs.

  10. Washington:

    Washington State spends a pretty generous amount on public school students, with a $1.5 billion budget and a per-student expenditure of about $6,500. But compared to what the state spends on inmates, it’s just a drop in the bucket. The state spends $34,500 per year, per inmate, five times as much money on prisons than schools. Experts in the state (and nationwide) are concerned that there’s a “schools to prison pipeline,” with an emerging trend of lower rates of graduation and higher rates of incarceration.

The Mantle Site: Photos of Ancient City


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The Mantle Site: Photos of Ancient City

Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Human pipe effigy

Human pipe effigy

Credit: Owen JarusA human pipe effigy, it appears to offer a tantalizing glimpse at the faces of the people of the site. At the Mantle site archaeologists have discovered 200,000 artifacts, LiveScience takes a look at a selection of them in this photo gallery.

Another human face

Another human face

Credit: Owen JarusThis selection also offers a tantalizing glimpse at the faces of the people of the site.

Close up of a human face

Close up of a human face

Credit: Photo courtesy Archaeological Services Inc.This selection also offers a tantalizing glimpse at the faces of the people of the site.

An effigy face

An effigy face

Credit: Owen JarusAn effigy face imprinted in pottery. This practice is associated with the Iroqouis of New York state, its presence at Mantle suggests that the inhabitants had extensive contact with them.

Attention to detail

Attention to detail

Credit: Owen JarusThis pipe effigy shows a tattooed man. Despite its small size the artist paid careful attention to detail.

Facial tattoos

Facial tattoos

Credit: Owen JarusThe tattooed man’s face.

Woodpecker pipe

Woodpecker pipe

Credit: Archaeological Services Inc. A woodpecker pipe effigy, about 5 cm across. When you smoke the pipe do you become the woodpecker? That’s one idea behind artifacts like this.

Owl artifact

Owl artifact

Credit: Owen JarusAn owl effigy that would have been part of a pipe. The people of Mantle, and indeed all First Nations, held these effigies in high regard. When a pipe broke care was taken to maintain the effigy until it could be carefully deposited.

Pottery artifact

Pottery artifact

Credit: Owen JarusA complete pot, with line decoration, discovered on site.

Mysterious artifact

Mysterious artifact

Credit: Owen JarusHeld together by an unknown substance, this tiny artifact has archaeologists puzzled as to its use and the meaning of the notching.

Antler comb

Antler comb

Credit: Owne JarusAn antler comb found at the Mantle site.

Stone axe

Stone axe

Credit: Owen JarusA stone axe, made of chloride schist. The people of Mantle would have cleared the land using axes like these.

Ceramic coronet

Ceramic coronet

Credit: Owen JarusA ceramic coronet pipe with metal insert found on site.

Mantle site

Mantle site

Credit: Photo courtesy Archaeological Services Inc. The black pigments used to decorate these sherds are a type of bone black pigment which has a high calcium content (~10-12% for both sherds).

Bustling Mantle

Bustling Mantle

Credit: Owen JarusA model of a longhouse at the Royal Ontario Museum. The Mantle site has 98 of them. Built of wood, a material that does not preserve well archaeologically, the houses at Mantle were between 80 to 100 feet long and were as wide as they were tall. At Mantle two of the longhouses are substantially larger than 100 feet and would likely have been used for public ceremonies.

Cosmopolitan Village

Cosmopolitan Village

Credit: Owen JarusThe inside of the longhouse, goods were kept and fires made. An extended family would have lived in them. When a man married a woman he moved in with her family.

Ancient Animal Figurines Found in Israel


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Ancient Animal Figurines Found in Israel

by LiveScience Staff
Date: 29 August 2012 Time: 01:04 PM ET
This limestone figurine of a ram, found in Israel, is about 9,500 years old.
CREDIT: Yael Yolovitch, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Archaeologists have uncovered two 9,500-year-old cultic figurines in excavations just outside of Jerusalem, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) reported today (Aug. 29).

Found at the Tel Moza site, one of the Neolithic figures is a limestone ram with precisely carved spiral horns. The other is a more abstract sculpture of a wild bovine fashioned from dolomite, according to the IAA. Both are about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long.

Archaeologists believe these objects might have had cultic importance for the people who created them. The animal figurines were found near the remains of an ancient round building, dating back to a dynamic time in the region’s history when humans were transitioning from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one of farming and settling in villages.

“It is known that hunting was the major activity in this period,” Hamoudi Khalaily, co-excavator of the site for the IAA, said in a statement. “Presumably, the figurines served as good-luck statues for ensuring the success of the hunt and might have been the focus of a traditional ceremony the hunters performed before going out into the field to pursue their prey.” However, archaeologist and excavator Anna Eirikh thinks the artifacts may have been associated with the process of animal domestication.

Excavations at Tel Moza are taking place ahead of the expansion of Highway 1, the main road connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Science as Art: Edward Lear’s Zoological Illustrations


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Science as Art: Edward Lear’s Zoological Illustrations

Wynne Parry, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 28 August 2012 Time: 07:02 AM ET
Culmenated Toucan

Culmenated Toucan

Credit: © The Royal SocietyCulmenated Toucan (Raphastos culmenatus) from John Gould FRS, A Monograph of the Ramphastidæ, or Family of Toucans (London, 1834)

Purple Heron

Purple Heron

Credit: © The Royal SocietyPurple Heron (Ardea purpurea) from John Gould FRS, The Birds of Europe (London, 1832–7), vol. 4

Quebec Marmot

Quebec Marmot

Credit: © The Royal SocietyQuebec Marmot (Arctomys empetra) from Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall, ed. John Edward Gray FRS (Knowsley, 1846)

Eagle Owl

Eagle Owl

Credit: © The Royal SocietyEagle Owl (Bubo maximus) from John Gould FRS, The Birds of Europe (London, 1832–7), vol. 1

Drawing for Scientists

Drawing for Scientists

Credit: © The Royal SocietyThe 19th century artist and author Edward Lear was best known for his nonsense poetry, including the children’s classic, The Owl and The Pussycat. However, Lear got his start drawing detailed illustrations of animals for scientists. In honor of the bicentennial of Lear’s birth in 1812, The Royal Society in London is hosting an exhibition of his work, drawn mainly from its library. The exhibition’s centrepiece is a folio containing Lear’s zoological illustrations, which records show Charles Darwin checked out of the library. Above, one of Lear’s toucan illustrations.

Malayan Giant Squirrel

Malayan Giant Squirrel

Credit: © The Royal SocietyMalayan Giant Squirrel (Sciurus javensis) from Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall, ed. John Edward Gray FRS (Knowsley, 1846)

Ancient Molluscs

Ancient Molluscs

Credit: 1Ammonites, plate 37.jpg © The Royal Society 1Colaptes collaris.jpg © The Royal SocietyAmmonites, from William Buckland FRS, Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (London, 1836), plate 40

Green-Winged Teal Duck

Green-Winged Teal Duck

Credit: © The Royal SocietyGreen-winged Teal duck (Anas carolinensis) from The Zoology of Captain Beechey’s Voyage (London, 1839)

Spiny Turtle

Spiny Turtle

Credit: © The Royal SocietySpiny Turtle (formerly Emys spinosa) from Thomas Bell FRS, A Monograph of the Testudinata (London, 1832–6)

Eastern Grey Horned Owl

Eastern Grey Horned Owl

Credit: © The Royal SocietyEastern Great Horned Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) from John Gould FRS, The Birds of Europe (London, 1832–7), vol. 1