PHOTO: MUHAMMED MUHEISEN, AP IMAGES
Democratic Republic of the Congo
PHOTO: RICHARD MOSSE, INSTITUTE
PHOTO: MATTHEW NIEDERHAUSER, INSTITUTE
Xavier Coll SolaBarcelona, Spain
Richard W. J. KohSingapore
Spiders in Focus
Spiders in Focus Jumping spiders are ornamental and agile, widespread and harmless. Yet like many spiders, they're often overlooked. Since 2007 I've been trying to change that. By creating high-magnification portraits of the ones I find in my native Oklahoma, I aim to open human eyes to these amazing arachnids.
Since I first noticed one in my Tulsa backyard, I've been smitten. I began learning about their names and ways, then looking for them in local parks and reserves like the Oxley Nature Center, where I spied a thumbnail-size Phidippus putnami (see next slide). Now that I know where they are—their silhouettes are often visible through the leaves they perch upon—I can spot them quickly. I try to photograph them where I find them, but I will sometimes gently escort one inside for a shoot before releasing it again.
The Salticidae family has hardly changed over millions of years. I think that's because they're perfectly evolved, with color vision, the ability to blend into their surroundings, and elaborate courtship and hunting techniques. Introducing people to their charm and beauty is what drives me.
Thomas Shahan is a student at the University of Oklahoma. More of his work can be seen at thomasshahan.com.
Ape Anglers Orangutans are clearly clever. They can saw wood, open locked doors, and drink from cups. But the fiery-haired "person of the forest" spends most of its time in trees, eating fruits and insects. So York University's Anne Russon, who studies great ape intelligence, was surprised by the new skill she observed in several formerly captive orangutans in central Indonesian Borneo: fishing.
These enterprising apes—six among some three dozen now being reacquainted with the wild on a river island—use sticks to catch slower fish by hand, or simply steal lines laid by humans (at right). After examining their catch, most decide it's food. Some scientists think human brain evolution depended on the fatty acids in fish and shellfish rather than on a diet of meat, and Russon says her research may support that theory. "This indicates that the earliest hominins could have figured out how to catch fish with tools." —Amanda Fiegl
In a Borneo sanctuary, ex-captive orangutans display a knack for fishing.
Photo: Alain Compost, Biosphoto
Some 500 years ago a family of nine was strangled in the Gobi desert. The killers left the dead in the open, ropes dangling from broken necks. The corpses, mummified by desert air, were eventually placed in a cave, where herders discovered them in 1974.
Now these victims, ranging from infants to a man in his 40s (at left), are helping scientists reconstruct the harsh lives—and deaths—of early Ming dynasty nomads. A full analysis will take years, but DNA and other tests offer clues.
This may have been a case of punishment, not crime, speculates Smithsonian Institution physical anthropologist Bruno Frohlich, who's studied the mummies since 2004. One person's wrongdoing may have led to retribution against his relatives—especially if a criminal's execution would leave his dependents without support. —Hannah Bloch
Probing a Gobi Murder
Photo: James Di Loreto, Smithsonian Institution
Raising Anchor It lay on the ocean floor for almost 300 years. Now archaeologists have lifted a 2,000-pound iron anchor—the largest object yet—from the wreck of the pirate ship Queen Anne's Revenge. Its notorious captain, Blackbeard (real name Edward Teach), and his crew plied the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean to the Carolinas until they ran the ship aground off North Carolina in 1718.
Since its discovery in 1996, the site has yielded archaeological treasures that include sword bits, swivel guns, and buckles. A team first tried to recover an even larger anchor but found it had fused to cannon in the wreck. The smaller anchor, the kind used on missions to plunder and ransom, now awaits cleaning by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. Its mission: to draw salt from the iron and remove the heavy crust of sand and shell built up over centuries. —Thomas Pierce
A giant anchor from Blackbeard's ship is kept wet at a lab in Greenville, North Carolina, until the next conservation step.
Photo: Bartosz Dajnowski, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
Amphibian skins are tiny chemical caches with huge potential. Scientists at Queen's University in Northern Ireland report that peptides secreted by the waxy monkey frog (at left) can hinder blood vessel growth—a promising find for cancer treatment. Secretions from the giant fire-bellied toad (whose brain contains germ-killing substances) do the opposite, making them potentially useful in transplants and wound care. Other amphibians exude an antibiotic slime. "Nature knows best," says Queen's biological chemist Chris Shaw. "It's been developing drugs a lot longer than we have." —Jennifer S. Holland
Only about one percent of corn harvested in the U.S.
is made to be eaten fresh, frozen, or canned. The rest
is used for livestock feed, ethanol, and other goods.
Photo: Joel Sartore, Getty Images/National Geographic Stock. Graphic: Kelly McHugh
Imported beavers have proliferated across the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego and crossed over to the mainland.
Bumper Beavers Seen from above, the vast forests flanking streams and lakes in South America's Tierra del Fuego show big gaps, as though they had been bombed. In fact these scars reveal the damage inflicted by imported beavers, which have officials in Argentina and Chile trying to control their numbers.
In 1946 Argentina introduced 25 pairs of beavers from Canada to develop a fur trade. The business fizzled, but the beavers flourished. They chewed their way across to the Chilean side and onto the mainland. By felling trees for dams and food, the beavers have changed riparian ecosystems and altered water flow and quality. Lacking natural predators, they now number around 100,000.
Officials in both nations want to eradicate the rodents and restore the forests. But the beavers have already made indelible marks on the slow-growing forests, often leaving grassy meadows in their wake. Says Leonel Sierralta of Chile's Environmental Ministry: "Even if we proceed with active restoration with an infinite amount of money, the landscape will never be the same." —Murray Carpenter
Photo: Leonard Lee Rue III, Photo Researchers, Inc. Map Sources: Nicolás Soto; Adrián Schiavini
How does a word get into the venerable Oxford English Dictionary? Wide, long use is key. New-words editor Fiona McPherson enlists a small army of readers to comb through books, magazines, newspapers, and various online sources. Fresh words or meanings (such as those on the next slide) are added to a database; their usages are tracked for up to ten years. If "cankle," for instance, pops up often enough, it may be one of the 4,000 words—out of 6,000 considered—that make the cut each year. Then it will be there to stay. "The OED is unique," says McPherson, "in that we never remove a word once it has been included." —Megan Cassidy
Brave New Words
Photo: Rebecca Hale, NGM Staff
Art: Joe McKendry
Cholera Redux An ancient scourge keeps defying modern efforts to defeat it. Months after Haiti's 2010 earthquake, cholera appeared in the island nation for the first time in more than a century. Despite intensive containment attempts, the epidemic has now killed more than 6,000 people there. Recurrent outbreaks are plaguing sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia as well.
The bacterium, which causes severe diarrhea and can kill a person within hours, originated in the Ganges River Delta. In the 19th century Vibrio cholerae began to move around the world, spread by travelers. According to the World Health Organization, the current global pandemic started in 1961. Infectious-disease experts suspect peacekeeping troops brought cholera to Haiti last year; DNA tests link it to strains in Southeast Asia.
People get cholera from contaminated food or water. But new research shows many environmental factors—including water temperature, flow, and pH—affect outbreaks. That makes them difficult to predict. And climate change may be having an impact. "We're now seeing protracted epidemics," says Peter Hotez of Houston's National School of Tropical Medicine. To contain them, new predictors and a live vaccine are needed. —Nancy Shute
In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a man suffering from cholera lies in an improvised hospital.
Photo: Walter Astrada, Getty Images
Need a swifter, safer way to mop up toxic waste? Blue goo may do.
Scouring radioactive waste usually means just that. Scrub with soap and water, pails and brushes. Repeat. If it sounds messy, it is—and dangerous too for those exposed to dust and contaminated wastewater.
Hawaii-based CBI Polymers says it's come up with a better way to clean up nuclear waste. The firm's blue goo may not look high-tech; all you do is pour it. But as the superabsorbent goo gels, its molecules act as a sponge, binding and encapsulating radioactive molecules. Peel the film off and you've got lightweight waste that can be rolled up and disposed of more cheaply and easily than vats of toxic water.
"It's the same concept as Silly Putty. It gets into every pore, nook, and cranny," says the Department of Energy's Hector Rodriguez, who used it to sop up beryllium, a hazardous metal, left over from weapons research at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Oregon. The yearlong project cut the labor used in such efforts by 70 percent.
This year CBI donated 500 gallons to the nuclear cleanup in Japan, where it decontaminated 25,000 square feet of walls, sidewalks, and playgrounds. It's also good on toxic PCBs, asbestos, and heavy metals like mercury—on everything from battleships to power plants—as well as nonindustrial messes. That's heavy-duty work for such humble-looking goo. —Gretchen Parker
Blue goo is mostly for big toxic surfaces but works on germy keyboards too. The more porous the object, the more you need.
Gel Cast: Oliver R. Uberti, NGM Staff. Photo: Mark Thiessen, NGM Staff
Signs of life tend to be, well, vital. So how did a man from Texas, told he was 12 hours from death due to cardiac amyloidosis, survive for five weeks this spring without a pulse?
The answer is pictured on this page. Still in development by Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier at the Texas Heart Institute, the "beatless heart" uses two spinning rotors to circulate blood nonstop. Few moving parts mean it won't wear out like a larger, traditional implant, which has to pulse 100,000 times a day. Cohn calls his creation "arts and crafts": For animal trials, he cobbled together two ventricular assist devices using sterilized hardware-store materials. For the human test, he substituted FDA-approved ones.
Cohn says 42 years after the first artificialheart implant, it's time to look past biomimicry. Wings that flap didn't help mankind fly, so why must a substitute heart beat like a natural one? "Mother Nature," he adds, "did the best she could." —Jeremy Berlin
Skipping a Beat
The first beatless heart (prototype above) is run by external batteries and a computer.
Photo: Rebecca Hale, NGM Staff. Graphic: Bona Kim
On Earth veggies need sunlight, rain, and nutrient-rich soil, not to mention gravity to keep dirt and water from floating away. But none of these basics are easy to come by on the International Space Station, where Russian and American astronauts have been raising crops to test whether their brethren can grow food on deep space missions.
So scientists devised a shoe-box-size growth chamber sown with arcillite, grains of clay enriched with time-release nutrients and capable of holding water via surface tension instead of gravity. For safety reasons U.S. astronauts haven't yet been allowed to sample the bounty. But in 2008 a few lucky Japanese citizens got to taste beer made from space-flown barley seeds. The verdict: It was surprisingly similar to earthly brews. —Victoria Jaggard
Photos: NASA. Graphic: Kelly McHugh. Source: Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute
Mizuna, a mustard green, sprouts in a special growing chamber aboard the International Space Station. Peas and tomatoes also grew.
Scientists have discovered a fourth moon orbiting
Pluto. Temporarily designated P4, the moon is only
about 8 to 21 miles in diameter. (Moons not to scale)