September 14th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

Spiders: Creepy but fascinating

Do spiders send shivers down your spine, or do they pique your curiosity? An exhibition in New York will teach you lots about these creatures.

The American Museum of Natural History exhibit about arachnids is called Spiders Alive!

The exclamation is with good reason, since the spiders really are alive. They're safely ensconced behind glass but alive all the same. I'm not one of those people who gets freaked out by spiders, but even so, there's something inherently creepy about them. Maybe it's those wonderfully sinister names that look like they could be splashed across the title sequence of a B-movie from the 1950s: The Black Widow! The Brown Recluse! Tarantula!


When animals light up: Bioluminescence
This is a model of an anglerfish, called that because of the modified spine sticking out of its forehead.
June 19th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

When animals light up: Bioluminescence

I can see them hovering in my Brooklyn yard: tiny balls of yellow light that flicker on and off in the dusk like lighters at a rock concert.

Fireflies are quite a common sight, although for how long we don't know. There have been widespread reports that firefly numbers are dwindling. The reports are all anecdotal, but they were enough of a concern for entomologists and biologists to hold a symposium in Thailand in 2008 entitled, "Diversity and Conservation of Fireflies." If fireflies are under threat, it's a terrible state of affairs.

Fireflies belong to a very exclusive group of land creatures that exhibit a phenomenon known as bioluminescence.


April 6th, 2012
12:49 PM ET

How humans conquered the Earth

How did modern humans take over the planet? It's one of the most intriguing questions in science.

Right now, sitting pretty at the top of the food chain, it's tempting to see our 200,000-year rise to power since the emergence of the first Homo sapiens as a given - as the evolutionary endpoint of a story that got started on the African savannah via two key innovations: bigger brains, and the shift to walking upright.

Yet for our ancestors, things were not so clear-cut. They were not (as we now find ourselves) the only game in town. When the Cro-Magnons (ancestors of modern humans) migrated north from Africa's Rift Valley to settle Europe around 40,000 years ago, the latter continent was already populated by another breed of hominid, the Neanderthals. Within a few thousands years, the Neanderthals were wiped out, and the Cro-Magnon had taken over.


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