Summer months usually portend a dip in research paper publications.  Despite a reduction in volume, there doesn’t seem to be a lack of intriguing findings.  Here is a sample from the recent announcements.

Spectacled Bear
Spectacled Bear Image by Jake Heckey from Pixabay

News from Peru about the Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) appears to be promising.  A team of researchers from Gothenburg University in Sweden, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, and Stony Brook University studied the population of this endangered species.  Using facial recognition tools, they determined that the population of these incredibly shy bears may be larger than originally estimated.  Good news, indeed.

The report then introduced a second surprise.  While conducting their fieldwork, some of the team spotted the first “golden” bear.  This bear’s fur was blonde, in contrast to the typically black fur of the spectacled bear.  The golden bear has been dubbed Paddington Bear, based on its resemblance to the children’s book character.  

You can see a picture of the golden bear here:  https://pressemitteilungen.pr.uni-halle.de/index.php?modus=pmanzeige&pm_id=5278

To learn more about the spectacled bear population research, check out this paper: https://bioone.org/journals/ursus/volume-2021/issue-32e12/URSUS-D-20-00005.3/An-Andean-bear-population-hotspot-in-Northern-Peru/10.2192/URSUS-D-20-00005.3.short

Remember seeing (or having) an ant farm when you were young?  Those ants tunneled into the medium to create and connect their chambers.  

Scientists from four international universities have taken their fascination with ant farms to a whole new level.  The team wanted to understand how the ants knew where to dig and what areas to leave alone.  The researchers compared the ants’ method to playing the game Jenga.   

Ants
Ants Image © Carmen Craig | Dreamstime.com

If you haven’t played, the idea is to remove a block from a precarious stack of wood without causing the entire structure to fall.  Experienced players know to test various blocks to see if they are loose and therefore not load-bearing before removing them.  

The team hypothesized that the ants were doing something similar with the soil they were choosing to move.  Keep in mind that these ant structures can extend many feet down and you will begin to realize that they are an engineering marvel. 

Researchers discovered some ant-building principles.  First, ants like to build in straight lines.  That makes sense since it is the shortest distance between two points.  Next, they prefer to dig at the steepest angle possible and still maintain the stability of loose material, also known as the angle of repose.   

Finally, the ants’ progress takes advantage of force chains.  Wiki describes force chains as “…a set of particles within a compressed granular material that are held together and jammed into place by a network of mutual compressive forces.”  In other words, the ants have an understanding of the physics of their surroundings and the dynamics of their building material.   

CalTech has a reader-friendly overview here:  https://www.caltech.edu/about/news/the-science-of-underground-kingdoms

If you want to get into the scientific details of this fascinating 3-D modeling, check out the PNAS paper here: https://www.pnas.org/content/118/36/e2102267118

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