THE AZHDARCHID: A study of azhdarchid anatomy, footprints and the distribution of their fossils shows these flying reptiles,which could grow as big as a giraffe and have a wingspan of up to 33 feet (10 meters), probably preferred to hunt on foot. Image: Courtesy of Mark Witton
Flying dinosaur preferred to hoof it while hunting
Why fly when you can walk? That's what the winged azhdarchid dinosaur apparently figured while on the hunt back in the day—65 million to 230 million years ago. Researchers at the University of Portsmouth in England report in PLoS ONE that the dinos were more likely to stalk prey on foot than by flying over and swooping in for the kill. Paleontologists generally believe that pterosaurs (the larger category of dinosaur to which the azhdarchid belongs) lived as gull- or pelican-like predators that flew over lakes and oceans, plucking fish from the water. But a study of azhdarchid anatomy, footprints and the distribution of their fossils indicates one size does not fit all in the case of flying reptiles. In fact, azhdarchids—which could grow as tall as giraffes, with wingspans of up to 33 feet (10 meters)—were probably better at walking than any other pterosaurs, because they had long limbs and skulls well suited for picking up small animals and other food from the ground. Azhdarchids' closest relatives today: large ground-feeding birds such as ground-hornbills and storks.
Coming to an airport near you?: Spray-on security
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have designed a new spray-on explosive detector sensitive enough to detect even miniscule amounts of nitrogen-containing explosives, according to a report this week in Royal Society of Chemistry's Journal of Materials Chemistry. The spray is actually a polymer that can detect explosives at much lower levels than existing systems because it distinguishes particles instead of explosive vapors. The polymer is able to show the difference between trinitroglycerin and nitroaromatic explosives, such as TNT. Initially, polymer-treated spots of both compounds appear blue under UV light, but after further exposure the trinitroglycerin blotch fluoresces green-yellow, whereas the TNT smear remains blue. The technology is now being commercially produced by RedXDefense, a security company based in Rockville, Md.
Does lead exposure lead to crime?
A new study shows that exposure to lead during infancy or childhood kills brain cells and boosts the chances of that child committing a crime later in life. Researchers, who tracked 250 lead-exposed children for three decades from their birth in 1979, found that levels of lead in the blood correlated with the risk of committing crimes. Study author Kim Dietrich, an environmental health scientist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, reports in PLoS Medicine, that the odds of committing a crime as an adult jumped by 50 percent for every additional 10 millionths of an ounce (five micrograms) of lead per 3.3 fluid ounces (one deciliter) of blood at age six. Related research by Kim Cecil of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center published with this study in PLoS Medicine found that 157 of the subjects with the highest lead levels had the smallest brain sizes compared with normal adults, providing a possible mechanism for lead's effect on behavior.
Bug off: the next generation of insect repellants
Consumers may soon have other options when it comes to repelling pesky (and sometimes disease carrying) mosquitoes than potentially toxic DEET, the most common chemical repellant now used. Scientists funded by the U.S. Department of Defense have found seven new chemicals that repel mosquitoes up to three times longer than DEET, which, at full strength, can keep them away for more than 17 days. One potential candidate sprayed on cloth kept the skeeters away for a full 73 days. Full human safety tests are set to begin this summer on the potential anti-bug sprays that hail from a family of chemicals known as N-acylpiperidines, which are similar to piperine, the ingredient that gives black pepper its kick.