A few years ago, employees at Glacier National Park noticed that mountain goats were hanging out with visiting tourists, far from the goats' cliffside habitats. Now researchers have figured out why. First: Where there are people, there are fewer predators like bears. Second: Where there are people, there also is pee.
An acquaintance with people thus affords mountain goats two prized essentials: safety and salt. A mountain goat will lick a urine patch for up to 10 days.
"You can't beat that — it's like a vacation for goats," said Wesley Sarmento, who tracked animals in the Montana park for three years.
To test how mountain goats reacted to predators, Sarmento even dressed up as a bear and presented himself to goats at both tourists and backcountry sites. Mountain goats that stuck around humans were generally not as vigilant as their backcountry counterparts, he found.
After officials closed a popular hiking trail because of a wildfire, the local goats headed for the hills. Bears had returned, Sarmento found, and the promise of leftover urine was not worth the risk.
Steph Yin, New York Times
Terror: available now in three new styles
Scorpions have been around for some 435 million years; still, mysteries remain. There are approximately 2,200 species of scorpions known, but arachnologists estimate that these account for only 60 percent of the species out there.
This summer, researchers reported that they had discovered three new species of club-tailed scorpions in tropical areas of the Americas. Some can make a hiss or rattling sound to warn off potential predators, according to Lauren Esposito, curator of arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences, and her colleagues.
Among Esposito's favorite facts about scorpions: They give birth to live young. And while you may have heard that the smallest are the most venomous, that is a myth. Esposito says a clue that is more helpful is that the scorpions with the biggest claws are often the least venomous.
James Gorman, New York Times
Microwaving a sponge makes bacteria quite happy to stay
Stop. Drop the sponge and step away from the microwave.
That squishy cleaning tool is teeming with countless bacteria. Think that microwaving it will kill these tiny residents? It may nuke the weak ones, a recent study finds — but the strongest, smelliest and potentially pathogenic bacteria will survive. Then, they will reproduce and spread to the vacant real estate left behind by the dead microbes. In the end, your sponge will just be stinkier, and you may regret not just tossing it.
Joanna Klein, New York Times
Invisible gifts from one lover to another
Couples who live together share a lot of things: beds, bathrooms, food, toiletries. And, as it turns out, bacteria. Researchers studied the skin microbiomes of 10 sexually active, heterosexual couples living together. After analyzing 330 skin swabs collected from 17 parts of the body on each participant, the scientists found that each person significantly influenced the microbial communities on a lover's skin. The part of the body most likely to host shared microbial community: the feet. Sexual partners also share bacteria on the torso, navel and eyelids, the researchers found.
Aneri Pattani, New York Times