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Why Do Cicadas Emerge at Prime Intervals of 13 and 17 Years?

Mathematicians are fond of prime numbers. Infinitely numerous yet utterly unique, they play an integral role in number theory and a baffling one in such longstanding mysteries as Goldbach’s conjecture. Nature is partial to primes, as well, as demonstrated by the dramatic 13- and 17-year life cycles of periodic cicadas. » 7/22/15 2:32pm Wednesday 2:32pm

Australia's Most Infamous Invasive Species Has a Problem with Breeding

Cane toads were first released in Australia in 1935 as part of a government program to control the insects attacking the Queensland cane crop. It didn’t work. Ever since, the toads have been spreading across the country, as fast as they can breed. Which would be even faster, if it weren’t for an odd quirk in their… » 7/14/15 7:15pm 7/14/15 7:15pm

The Biggest Kangaroos Evolved Long Arms to Fight Over Females

Male kangaroos and wallabies, like a lot of seemingly quiet grazing animals, get into knock-down drag-out fights over females. They obviously don’t have antlers or horns to spar with, but they’re perfectly willing to grapple rivals with their forelimbs and kick the crap out of each other with their big hind feet. » 7/01/15 9:00pm 7/01/15 9:00pm

555 Million Years Ago, There Were Creatures That Looked Like You

Nothing looked exactly like you 555 million years ago, but that’s when life emerged that looked like you in one crucial respect. What’s the most basic thing that you share with some creatures and not others? Brains? Lungs? Red blood cells? Nope. It’s that you’re bilateral. You have the ability to be cut into two… » 6/18/15 9:53am 6/18/15 9:53am

Far From Sterile, Some Hybrids May Start New Species

Your schoolteachers probably told you most species wouldn’t (or maybe couldn’t) successfully interbreed with one another. If some did, their hybrid offspring, like mules, couldn’t have babies of their own. That explanation was a bit oversimplified. Hybridization happens, and it may be one way new species arise. » 6/09/15 6:30pm 6/09/15 6:30pm

Darwin Predicted This Animal's Existence Decades Before Its Discovery

Here’s a great Charles Darwin story you may not have heard before: In 1862, the famed naturalist foretold the discovery of an unusual animal, based on his observations of a species of orchid endemic to Madagascar. The creature was ultimately discovered in 1903—some 20 years after Darwin’s death. » 5/13/15 12:00pm 5/13/15 12:00pm

What Made the Y Chromosome So Tiny?

The Y chromosome, a chunk of genetic code that is unique to male mammals, isn’t just physically smaller than the X. It also contains far fewer genes. The X has more than 1000 genes, while the Y has fewer than 200 —and most of them don’t even work. Why do men have this odd, stunted chromosome in their genomes? » 5/07/15 7:40pm 5/07/15 7:40pm

Big Whales Have Nerves Like Bungee Cords

This nerve can stretch to twice its resting length. Did you just squirm? If you did, you probably know that the nerves of vertebrates are notoriously inelastic things, and that stretching them even a little bit can result in painful injury. But the nerve in this image is special. In fact, it’s evolved to stretch this… » 5/05/15 1:03pm 5/05/15 1:03pm

This Bird's Freaky Mating Display Comes Out Of Nowhere

Most of the time, the male Superb Bird of Paradise is a fairly nondescript black bird. But when it tries to attract a mate, it flips its feathers around to create a fluorescent kabuki mask that you’ll never forget. In this video, ornithologist Ed Scholes explains how the bird creates the illusion.
» 4/30/15 1:30pm 4/30/15 1:30pm