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Horror frog makes claws

"'Amphibian horror' isn't a movie genre, but on this evidence perhaps it should be," says the New Scientist. "Harvard biologists have described a bizarre, hairy frog with cat-like extendable claws. Trichobatrachus robustus actively breaks its own bones to produce claws that puncture their way out of the frog's toe pads, probably when it is threatened. David Blackburn and colleagues … think the gruesome behaviour is a defence mechanism. The researchers say there are salamanders that force their ribs through their skin to produce protective barbs on demand, but nothing quite like this mechanism has been seen before."

Drinking habits of the French

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"In 1980, more than half of adults [in France] were consuming wine on a near-daily basis," reports BBC News. "Today that figure has fallen to 17 per cent. Meanwhile, the proportion of French people who never drink wine at all has doubled to 38 per cent."

Wine from where?

There are dozens of winemakers in New Jersey, many of whom make cheap, sweet wines, reports U.S. National Public Radio. "There's nothing wrong with $10 cheesecake wine. But it creates a challenge for winemakers who want to make the fancy, dry, French-style wine. … [Their] first step has been to start with the label. Even though the fancy winemakers are in New Jersey, they want to separate themselves from Jersey. They petitioned the government for a special geographic designation – like, say, Napa Valley. So now the fancy wines say they're from the Outer Coastal Plain."

Big tortoise theft stopped

"Two smugglers are facing charges in Thailand after authorities caught them attempting to sneak more than 10 per cent of the remaining population of a critically endangered species into the country," reports The Huffington Post. Among the contraband were 54 live ploughshare tortoises of which there are an estimated 200 to 400 left in the wild. Ploughshare tortoises are native only to Madagascar. Because of their unique shell colourations, the animals are vulnerable to frequent disturbance by smugglers, who sell them on the black market as pets, according to The Guardian. "It is the world's most endangered tortoise," tortoise advocate Eric Goode told CBS in 2012. "And it has an incredibly high price on its head … literally, these are like gold bricks that one can pick up and sell."

Warm, cold cities

Cold cities are less sustainable from an energy standpoint than cities in warmer regions, a University of Michigan researcher says. Michael Sivak has calculated that climate control in the coldest large metropolitan area in the U.S. – Minneapolis – is about three-and-a-half times more energy demanding than in Miami, the warmest large metropolitan area.

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Gaming at the game

The Philadelphia Phillies' top minor-league affiliate is set to debut what it calls a "urinal gaming system" at its ballpark in Allentown, Pa., reports Associated Press. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs selected a British company to install the system in men's restrooms at Coca-Cola Park. It consists of a video display mounted above each urinal. When a fan approaches, the video console will sense his presence and switch into gaming mode. The guy aims left or right to control the play on the screen. The system will be ready for opening day this week.

Titanic conditions

Holly Mulcahy, concertmaster of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, has researched the treatment of the musicians that sailed on the Titanic:

Musicians were listed as second-class passengers so that White Star Lines could avoid paying union rate. They were actually given rooms next to the potato peeler/washer.

Some deceased musicians' families were billed for the uniforms lost at sea.

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Thought du jour

You've got to be brave and you've got to be bold. Brave enough to take your chance on your own discrimination – what's right and what's wrong, what's good and what's bad.

Robert Frost, American poet (1874-1963)

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