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The sting of jellyfish; kitty cams reveal the secret lives of our pets

Sea Creatures
Jellyfish are 500 million years old and still stinging beachgoers
“Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean” by Lisa-ann Gershwin

Floating through water, jellyfish look ethereal and delicate. But anyone who’s been stung by these creatures knows they’re not as defenseless as they appear, and now research is showing that jellyfish are much hardier than many realize.

According to “Stung!,” by biologist Lisa-ann Gershwin, jellyfish have few predators and thrive in warm water, making the rising ocean temperatures a perfect environment for these fast-reproducing invertebrates. Jellyfish are an indicator of the oceans’ overall health, or lack thereof, the book says. Water environments that are more favorable to jellies — warm and acidic, due in large part to pollution, overfishing, coastal construction and other man-made influences — are toxic to other sea life.

The growing jellyfish population should be taken as a warning of trouble ahead, Gershwin writes, displacing penguins in Antarctica, crashing the world’s fisheries, outcompeting tuna and swordfish and starving whales. If these changes go on unchecked, jellyfish may once again rule the oceans just as they did half a billion years ago, she says.

“Stung!” isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Gershwin combines science and humor to detail the history of these “living fossils.” The book sheds light on their startling looks — they can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a fridge, and come in a variety of colors with the ability to flash, sparkle and glow — as well as their evolutionary adaptations.

“Yes, you can laugh about them being spineless and brainless with no visible means of support, but you’ve got to admit, these multimillennial survivors are doing something right,” Gershwin writes.

Kitty Cam
Cute and crazy cat videos!
“The Secret Life of the Cat,” BBC

So you love science and cat videos? Now you can enjoy both at once, thanks to a project that tries to solve the mystery of what our feline friends are up to when humans aren’t around.

“In many ways, scientists know more about the roaming behavior of big cats in Africa than they do about our own pets,” the BBC said in a news release about “The Secret Life of the Cat,” a joint effort by the BBC and the UK’s Royal Veterinary College to learn more about the behavior of domesticated cats.

For the study, researchers outfitted 50 cats in the village of Shamley Green in southern England with GPS-enabled collars and micro-cameras that were strapped beneath their chins. The surveillance project has generated some priceless images.

In one instance, cameras captured a 7-year-old cat named Claude sneaking out of his house in the middle of the night, then creeping into a neighbor cat’s house and stealing its food. In another, Hermie, so named for being a rare hermaphroditic cat, is seen chasing off a rival. Chip climbs a tree and leaps into a bird’s nest. Orlando, an avid hunter, vomits in some mulch. These and other videos are displayed in an interactive graphic alongside maps that outline where the cats have gone.

While the antics aren’t all that surprising to cat lovers, researchers say they illustrate some interesting patterns. The footage shows that the cats sometimes squabble, but for the most part they appear to “time share” territory to avoid confrontation. The cats also often visited each other’s homes and spent less time hunting than expected, suggesting increasing domestication.

“Cats are still evolving and probably will still evolve into the future,” said cat expert John Bradshaw. “They are becoming much more petlike animals and will lose some of the wild instincts.”

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