From the New Scientist RSS feed:
‘Tenth planet’ may be bigger then expected
A space telescope used to place an upper limit on the object’s size was in fact pointing in the wrong direction
List from Taba Heights (a dive resort in Egypt): House Sparrow, Blackstart, White-crowned Wheatear, Spectacled Bulbul, Laughing Dove, Collared Dove, Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, Rock/Crag Martin (not sure), Swift, Kestrel, Sooty Gull, European Bee-eater, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Little Green Bee-eater, Mangrove Heron.
The Bee-eaters are probably the pick of that list, though I didn’t see any of them very well. The distribution maps in the book were clearly unreliable for the area, and I never managed to decide whether they were Rock Martin or Crag Martin.
One day I spent some time trying to track down a bird I could hear making a loud ‘chk chk’ call – I thought possibly a warbler. Eventually I was looking directly into a bouganvillea, not more than 4-5 feet away, and I couldn’t understand how I couldn’t see the damn bird, and I realised that on the wall directly behind the bouganvillea was… a gecko.
[EDIT: People keep finding this site by Googling ‘the difference between reptiles and amphibians’ This is the basic answer:
Amphibians are frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians.
Reptiles are snakes, tortoises, turtles, lizards, crocodiles, alligators and a few other oddities. Dinosaurs were reptiles.
Reptiles are more fully adapted to life on land than amphibians. The biggest difference is that amphibians typically need to return to the water to breed, because their eggs need to be kept wet. Reptile eggs have a tough outer shell that prevents them from drying up.
Amphibians [with a few minor exceptions] have a larval stage (i.e. tadpoles/polliwogs) when they breathe underwater through gills; when they become adult, they develop lungs and need to come to the air to breathe. Reptiles have lungs from the moment they leave the egg.
As a further adaptation to life on land, reptiles have scales. Amphibians have smooth skins, and many species need a fairly damp environment so they don’t lose too much water through their skin, although some are adapted to much dryer conditions.
Mammals and birds are evolved from reptiles.
Reptiles are evolved from amphibians. correction: amphibians and reptiles evolved separately from an early tetrapod ancestor. Amphibians are evolved from fish.
I hope that helps, Google-people. END OF EDIT]
The first in an occasional series of things which are ‘Something Every Educated Person Should Know’.
When I was at university, as someone interested in science but doing a degree in English, I was frequently annoyed by the wilful ignorance of both academics and students on scientific topics. And I mean wilful – they took a coy, self-deprecating pride in not knowing about ‘those kind of things’. I just think there’s no excuse for taking pride in your ignorance about anything, whether it’s the Britney Spears back-catalogue, Slovakian dialling codes or the second law of thermodynamics.
Anyway, that’s when I started fantasising about writing a book called What Every Educated Person Should Know, which would just lay down the minimum that anyone ought to know who thinks of themselves as educated. Most of the things I thought of then were scientific; I can’t believe it doesn’t bother people that their understanding of how the universe works is often three hundred years out of date. But it would also cover literature, art, geography, politics and general knowledge of all kinds (I don’t claim to know everything, btw – a musician’s list of SEEPSKs would certainly catch me out – this is just a venue for my irritability).
So, SEEPSK #1. One of the presenters on Today this morning had to correct himself after a flood of emails about his reference to a salamander as a reptile. I think it was Edward Stourton, educated at Ampleforth and Trinity College Cambridge, and the man doesn’t know a reptile from an amphibian. Aargh!
I didn’t blog this last week, but before it gets any further into the past – how fabulous that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is still with us. It brightened my morning more than any piece of news I can remember for a long time. And I’m not even American, I just know about the IBW from my US bird guide. Short of them finding a previously unknown colony of Slender-billed Curlews, Great Auks or Moas, it’s hard to imagine a more cheerful thing. So hurrah.
An approximate list, some of the obvious things left out: teal, pintail, shelduck, mallard, heron, little egret, redshank, avocet, oystercatcher, lapwing, sedge warbler, yellowhammer, corn bunting, reed bunting, skylark, swallow, marsh harrier (1F and 1M)… um, that might be it.