Tag Archives: south america

High Winds in Peru Expose Previously Undiscovered Nazca Geoglyphs Etched in the Earth

The picture above is of a new set of geoglyphs discovered in the Valley of El Ingenio in the Nazca plains of Peru. The glyphs include a bird, a camel, and a 60-meter (197-foot) long snake.

The new images were discovered after violent winds of up to 60 miles per hour blew through the region last week, creating a number of sandstorms.

The “Nazca lines” come from a time when the Ica region in Peru was transitioning from the ancient Paracas culture (800 BC – 100 BC) to the Nazca culture (100 BC – 800 AD).

Click to enlarge

During this time, the Nazca people created a number of large animal figures on the Peruvian plains, made up of miles and miles of lines in the earth.

We still don’t know for sure what purpose these figures served. There are a number of theories though.

A number of researchers believe the images served spiritual purposes. Some think that the Nazca were trying to create something that their gods could see from above, or that the lines were used to guide important ceremonial processions.

A map of some of the Nazca lines. Click to enlarge

Others have theorized that the figures represent a sort of astronomical almanac that kept track of the days and seasons while also aiding in the planting and harvesting of crops.

But despite the lines being studies by anthropologists, archaeologists, and astronomers, among others, no conclusive evidence has ever been found for a theory.

Check out some images of other Nazca lines below. Click an image to enlarge:

(h/t Ancient Origins)

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Watching Cocoa Bean Farmers Taste Chocolate for Their First Time Really Puts Life In Perspective (Video)

The Ivory Coast is the largest producer of cocoa beans in the world, exporting around 1.6 tons of the beans annually.

After being shipped off to other countries, the dried beans are crushed into cocoa powder and mixed with sugar and other ingredients to produce what we know as chocolate.

However, almost none of the farmers who actually grow and harvest the cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast have ever even tasted the delicious  final product.

So, the Dutch broadcasting company VPRO decided to give that experience to a few cocoa farmers. Check it out in the amazing video below:

Cocoa has been cultivated for centuries in Central America, but it is actually a relative newcomer to the continent of Africa. The plant was first introduced to Africa in the mid-17th century by Europeans who had acquired a taste for cocoa after arriving in South America.

Despite this fact however, Africa now dominates production, producing almost 70% of all the cocoa beans in the world. The bulk of this comes from the Ivory Coast, who produces 40% of the world total.

In Africa, almost 90% of cocoa production happens on small plots of 5 hectares or less (~12.5 acres). Worldwide, more than 20 million people rely on cocoa bean production for their livelihoods.

So next time you’re enjoying that chocolate bar, take a second to think about the unheralded people whose hard work made it possible.

BONUS: If you found it strange that the farmers didn’t know cocoa beans were turned into chocolate, check out this follow-up video that VPRO made showing how few people in the Western world know where chocolate comes from.

Villagers Just Caught the Largest Ever Aquatic Insect And It’s Bigger Than Your Hand

Villagers from a village in the Sichuan province of China just collected the largest ever aquatic insect specimen.

The bug, a massive dobsonfly, has a wingspan of more than 8 inches. The previous record-holder for the world’s largest aquatic insect was a South American helicopter damselfly, which had a wingspan of 7.5 inches.

Helicopter damselfly (Megaloprepus coerulatus)

Though dobsonflies are relatively common (there are over 200 species across Asia, Africa and South America), one of this size had been unheard of until now.

Looking at a dobsonfly can actually be very misleading. For one, those massive, grisly-looking mandibles protruding from its head are actually only used for mating. Males flaunt them to impress the females and hold them in place during the actual mating process.

A male dobsonfly (on the right) courts a female before mating. Click to enlarge

Also, those massive wings are pretty much all for show. The insect almost never flies, preferring to spend the bulk of its time in the water (both underwater and on the surface), or sheltering underneath rocks.

Dobsonflies are also a biological indicator of water quality. They prefer clean water with very low levels of pollution and a relatively neutral pH. If water quality falls below their standards, they will leave and find a new body of water to call home.

The villagers gave the record-setting specimen to the Insect Museum of West China.

(h/t Discovery)

An Aggressive Jumping Ant With Jaws Like A Bear Trap Is Invading Southeastern U.S.

Meet the trap-jaw ant. This gnarly family of ants has massive mandibles which can open up to 180 degrees. These jaws are coated in tiny, extremely sensitive hairs, which allow the ants to snap their jaws closed faster than their brains can even process the movement (some claim they are the fastest jaws in the world).

The Odontomachus trap-jaw  ant

These formidable ants have another amazing (but rather scary) ability: when threatened, they snap their powerful jaws against the ground, creating a massive amount of force which shoots them upwards like a piece of popcorn.

With painful stingers attached to their abdomens, being surrounded by a bunch of these jumping ants could be a very unpleasant experience.

“They look like little hammerhead sharks walking around,”

said D. Magdalena Sorger, a scientist who has been studying these insects as part of her PhD research at North Carolina State University.

There are four species of trap-jaw ants native to the U.S., but Sorger’s research has focused on a particularly aggressive species of trap-jaw ants that originated in South America.

This invasive species of trap-jaw ant, known as Odontomachus haematodus, has actually been living in the States for around 50 years now, but studies have shown that the ant has been rapidly spreading along the Gulf Coast in recent years.

The invasive trap-jaw ant species Odontomachus haematodus (Courtesy of Alexander Wild)

Why are they only spreading now? Sorger isn’t sure yet, but suggests that they were either building up their numbers before spreading, or that changes in climate have allowed them to inhabit a wider range.

So, should we be worried about a trap-jaw ant takeover? That’s pretty unlikely, according to invasive ant specialist Andrew Suarez. He points out that unlike other invasive ants (like fire ants, for example), these South American trap-jaw ants,

”don’t have colonies with tens to hundreds of thousands of workers that can overwhelm the local fauna.”

He does point out that their sting is particularly painful however, and that some people may be allergic to the venom.

Read the original story from National Geographic here.

Feature image courtesy of Alexander Wild.

Scientists Just Discovered a “Chameleon” Vine That Can Make Itself Look Like Any Tree It’s Growing On

The practice of mimicry is pretty popular in nature. Whether its a harmless king snake posing as a venomous coral snake or a cuckoo bee pretending to be its much more dangerous cousin the yellow jacket, animals often use mimicry as one of their tools for protection.

Moths often have large eye-like spots on their wings to mimic owls and scare away potential predators

Before now, scientists had only found a handful of plant species that exhibited mimicry (which is known as crypsis when referring to plants), and all of these species mimicked only one other type of plant.

The recently-discovered Boquila trifoliolata tree vine is in a class of its own when it comes to crypsis, however. The vine, native to Chile and Argentina, exhibits a quality known as mimetic polymorphism which allows it to change its appearance in a number of different ways, depending on its environment. Before the discovery of the vine, butterflies were the only known species to exhibit this quality.

As the B. trifoliolata vine climbs a tree and spreads to its branches, the vine is able to change the size, shape, color, orientation and even the vein patterns of its leaves to match the foliage of the branch it’s growing on.

These leaves, which have totally different sizes and shapes, came from the same vine

If it happens to cross over to a nearby tree, it adapts to match the leaves of the new tree as well, even if they’re many times larger and shaped differently than the leaves of the first tree.

This mind-bowing ability provides the vine with protection by camouflaging it from plant-eating bugs like weevils and leaf beetles.

Scientists still don’t know how the vine figures out what its host tree looks like to be able to mimic it, but they hypothesize that it could be reading subtle cues from the odors or chemical secretions of the host tree.

Read more from Science Mag here.

Ecuador Volcano Erupts and Emits Beautiful Ash Plume

A volcano in Ecuador, known as Tungurahua, erupted Friday, leaving behind a very beautiful ash plume.

In the local Quechua language “Tungurahua” means “Throat of Fire”. This is a suitable name for Tungurahua, a volcano located south of Ecuador’s capital Quito.

According to BBC,

“The volcano has been erupting since 1999, but has been particularly active in the last two months.Tungurahua is one of eight active volcanoes in Ecuador, which lies in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire.”

The eruption fortunately did no major damage and also created a spectacular ash plume that was estimated to be up to 6 miles high. Check Out some great pictures below of the eruption in action.

 

Is Forcing Parents to Vaccinate Their Children A Good Thing or A Government Overstep? (Poll)

Earlier this week, Croatia became the first country to mandate that all children be vaccinated for for measles, hepatitis, pertussis, diphtheria and a number of other diseases. After carefully weighing the pros and cons, the Croatian government decided that,

“The child’s right to health is more than the rights of parents to the (wrong) choice.”

Back in late January, The Higher Learning reported on how the anti-vaccination movement has led to a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases in recent years, with measles and pertussis being at the top of that list. The movement has also aided the comeback of polio, which was almost completely eradicated just a decade ago.

Child being given a dose of the oral polio vaccine (Photo: CNN)

I understand that many parents are suspicious of the government as well as the health industry, and a parent is totally justified in being very cautious when it comes to injecting their children with various chemicals and substances that the parents tend to have little knowledge on.

But I also understand that this suspicion is often unfounded or taken to the extreme, resulting in children contracting serious, often life-threatening diseases that are easily preventable with a vaccine.

So what’s your take?