Ambergris: A Perfume Ingredient with an Unusual Origin

ambergris

Ambergris is a valuable substance that originates in a sperm whale’s digestive system. (Photo credit: Michael Freeman/Corbis)

When a “strange and mysterious” object washed ashore on a public beach in Wellington, New Zealand, rumors began to spread that it was ambergris. Soon after, fortune hunters arrived and tore the mysterious substance apart with shovels, collecting pieces in plastic bags. [Read more…]

Drones Launch Wildlife Research to New Heights

drone launching

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also called drones) can cover more ground and easily access hard-to-reach areas. (Photo credit: Sander van Andel/REX Shutterstock/Associated Press)

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—more familiarly known as drones—are quickly becoming a key piece of equipment for wildlife researchers. UAVs are safer, less costly, more efficient, and more precise than other, more traditional wildlife research methods. [Read more…]

Practice Makes Perfect When It Comes to Birdsong

bird singing

Singing before daybreak helps songbirds to perfect their repertoire. (Photo credit: zakharov aleksey/Shutterstock Images)

It’s pitch black outside, but you can hear a bird trilling its little heart out. Why would a bird start singing before the sun rises? Doesn’t it know you’re still trying to get a little shuteye before the day begins? Scientists at Canada’s University of Lethbridge think they might have found the answer. [Read more…]

A Green Idea: Composting Your Trash

Composting is an easy way to turn the organic waste you make each day–such as vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells, and newsprint into nutrient-rich soil. With only a few simple materials, you can easily make your own composting bin.

compost bin

Organic household wastes such as egg shells and non-meat food leftovers can be composted. (Credit: Andrew Walters/Alamy)

What is Composting?

Composting refers to the process of controlled decomposition of organic materials. In composting, organic material decomposes into a nutrient-rich material called humus. The resulting humus can be added to soils to improve its nutrient and moisture content. [Read more…]

Unraveling the Mystery of Monarch Migration

monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies fly between 50 and 100 miles each day during their migration. (Photo credit: Didier Dorval / Radius Images)

The monarch butterfly is the only butterfly species that makes an annual round-trip migration. Scientists have wondered for quite some time what triggers the monarch’s migration behavior. New research may finally provide an answer to that question.

[Read more…]

Using Stable Isotopes to Identify the Geographic Origin of Food

Consumers are increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from and what exactly is in it. Unfortunately, food labels are not always accurate. In fact, some products are mislabeled intentionally in order to garner a higher price in the marketplace. Can anything be done to determine if a product really is what it says it is? How can you tell if that wedge of Parmesan cheese was really made in Parma, Italy? [Read more…]

52 Environmental Things to Do for Earth Day (and Every Day)

planet Earth

April 22 marks the 46th annual celebration of Earth Day. (Photo credit: Digital Vision/Getty Images)

April 22 marks the 49th annual Earth Day celebration. Earth Day was originally established by Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970 to bring environmental issues to the forefront of the national agenda. Until then, there were little to no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect the environment.

[Read more…]

The Science Behind Maple Syrup Production

tapping maple trees for sap

As winter transitions to spring, the perfect conditions arise for collecting sap from sugar maple trees. (Photo credit: James Pintar/Shutterstock)

As winter turns to spring, syrup producers turn their eye to the weather forecast. They are in search of the perfect conditions to begin tapping sugar maple trees for sap. Have you ever wondered how sap from a maple tree is turned into a delicious topping for pancakes and waffles? [Read more…]

Getting to Know the Groundhog

Punxsutawney Phil

Punxsutawney Phil and his handler. (Photo credit: Corbis)

On February 2nd, all eyes turn to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, home of the groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. Local lore has it that this groundhog can predict the following six weeks of weather. If he sees his shadow, then six more weeks of winter are in order. If he does not see his shadow, then an early spring is on the way.

[Read more…]

A Long Winter’s Nap No More

hibernating bear

Many bears hibernate during the long, cold, and dark winter months. (Photo credit: Ralph A. Clevenger/Corbis)

When temperatures get colder and the days get shorter, many mammals settle into a period of hibernation. But what effect will climate change — and the associated changes in weather patterns — have on this annual behavior? [Read more…]