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Tiny world conqueror?

"The New Zealand mudsnail is tiny, about the size of a pencil point, but it is colonizing the planet," says "The snail has spread far from its home throughout rivers, lakes and streams in Europe, Australia, Asia and America. In the United States, where it has no natural predators or parasites, it outcompetes native snails and insects for food and is considered an invasive species. What makes this mudsnail, Potamopyrgrus antipodarum, such a good invader? The answer lies partly in the species' ability to reproduce quickly and amass in high densities. (Females can produce offspring – up to 230 per year – without males.) Now, research has found the New Zealand mudsnail can also survive without water for up to two days, meaning it could latch on to birds, fishing tools or land animals to hitch a ride to a new home."

Gibbons and sopranos

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"What does a soprano have in common with an ape? … Their vocal techniques are virtually identical," says Pacific Standard magazine. "New research from Japan reveals the same technique it took Renée Fleming years to master comes quite naturally to a gibbon. An ability we thought of as uniquely human is, in fact, something we share with at least one other species. 'Our speech was thought to have evolved through specific modifications to our vocal anatomy,' said Dr. Takeshi Nishimura of Kyoto University's primate research institute. 'However, we've shown how the gibbons' distinctive song uses the same vocal mechanics as soprano singers.'" Gibbons – small, slender, tree-dwelling apes – are "known for their beautiful song," according to the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoo. "Their loud vocalizations can be heard up to one mile away. … The adult pair, sometimes joined by practising juveniles, sing duets. Each individual can be identified by his or her song."

Robot gets self-awareness

"Nico spends a lot of time looking in the mirror," reports the New Scientist. "But it's not mere vanity – Nico is a humanoid robot that can recognize its reflection – a step on the path towards true self-awareness." Nico, designed by Yale University researchers, "is the centrepiece of a unique experiment to see whether a robot can tackle a classic test of self-awareness called the mirror test. What does it take to pass the test? An animal (usually) has to recognize that a mark on the body it sees in the mirror is in fact on its own body. Only dolphins, orcas, elephants, magpies, humans and a few other apes have passed the test so far. … Mary-Anne Williams of the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, points out that robot self-awareness is crucial if robots are ever going to work safely alongside humans." Also, self-awareness is a basic social skill and without it robots will struggle to interact with people effectively.

Man bites snake

"A Nepali farmer who was bitten by a cobra in his rice paddy field has killed the snake by repeatedly biting it in return," BBC News reports. "'A snake charmer told me that if a snake bites you, bite it until it is dead and nothing will happen to you,' Mohammed Salmodin [said]. He has now been discharged from hospital where he was being treated for the snake bite. Officials say he will not be charged because the reptile was not endangered. … After he bit the snake to death, Mr. Salmodin said that he went about his daily business as if nothing had happened. He says he finally agreed to go to hospital after pressure from family, neighbours and police. The incident took place on Tuesday in a village 200 kilometres southeast of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu."

The sort who borrow pens

"Police in Florida said a man who robbed a Dunkin' Donuts store first had to borrow a pen to write his holdup note," says United Press International. "DeLand police said the man, described as about six feet tall with short blond hair and sideburns, borrowed a pen at the store shortly before 8:30 a.m. last Thursday and used it to write the note."

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Thought du jour

"Nonconformity is an empty goal, and rebellion against prevailing opinion merely because it is prevailing should no more be praised than acquiescence to it. Indeed, it is often a mask for cowardice, and few are more pathetic than those who flaunt outer differences to expiate their inner surrender."

– William H. Whyte, American author (1917-99)

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