Are birds using quantum entanglement to navigate?

Sounds wild, but it may well be so.

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  • Birds' navigation using Earth's very faint magnetic fields suggests an incredible level of sensitivity.
  • There's reason to think that sensitivity may be based on quantum entanglement in cryptochrome in their eyes.
  • Identifying the role of quantum physics in biology could lead, well, who knows where?
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Famous fossil is not an Archaeopteryx feather after all

Lasers solve the mystery of the missing quill.

(Daniel Eskriidge/Shutterstock)
  • The famous fossilized feather found in the 1860s is from some unknown animal.
  • The fossil's missing quill has long kept its identity unknown.
  • We're just at the beginning of our awareness of feathered dinosaurs.
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Dinosaurs are alive! Here’s how we know, and why it matters

Feathery dinosaurs are the perfect case study of how scientific revolutions happen.

  • For most of the 20th century, figuring out the origin of birds was a great challenge of evolutionary biology — they didn't seem to fit anywhere. Then, in the late 20th century, a group of scientists discovered that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs, which were large, bipedal meat-eaters like the Velociraptor or the T-Rex.
  • The bird-from-dinosaur theory was considered to be a crackpot idea but after three decades of research, the evidence became irrefutable. Finally, the discovery of feathers on a theropod ended the fiery 30-year debate. "[Birds] didn't just come from dinosaurs, they are dinosaurs living amongst us — 10,000 species found on all continents around the world," says Richard Prum.
  • This piece of science history is a perfect case study of how scientific revolutions happen. The scientific method is a self-repairing system that improves under scrutiny — good science, done with an open mind and not a foregone conclusion, leads to greater knowledge.
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How extreme beauty might defy survival of the fittest

Is beauty always a proxy for genetic health and fitness? Charles Darwin didn't think so.

  • The Great Argus Pheasant is a six-foot-long bird with elaborate ornamentation on its wings, including golden orbs that create a 3D optical illusion. It fans its feathers in a full hemisphere above the female hen as part of its mating display. Is all that beauty just a signal of fit and healthy genes?
  • Perhaps not, says Yale ornithologist Richard Prum. The 'beauty happens' hypothesis, or aesthetic evolution by mate choice, was an idea first proposed by Charles Darwin—but it is still not accepted as part of standard evolutionary theory.
  • Prum reasons that the kind of extreme, impractical beauty seen in animals like the Great Argus Pheasant is a result of aesthetic mate choice rather than survival of the fittest. Perhaps some species evolved such beauty because it pleases the animals themselves.
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Why birds fly south for the winter—and more about bird migration

What do we see from watching birds move across the country?

E. Fleischer
  • A total of eight billion birds migrate across the U.S. in the fall.
  • The birds who migrate to the tropics fair better than the birds who winter in the U.S.
  • Conservationists can arguably use these numbers to encourage the development of better habitats in the U.S., especially if temperatures begin to vary in the south.
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