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Considered an icon of conservation science, researchers at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) headquarters in Washington, D.C.,...
The new atlas, which shows the distribution of important trace metals and other substances, is the first product of...
Early in April, the first of a fleet of environmental monitoring satellites will lift off from Europe's spaceport in...
Since 2000, U.S. government health research agencies have spent almost $1 billion on an effort to churn out thousands...
Magdalena Koziol, a former postdoc at Yale University, was the victim of scientific sabotage. Now, she is suing the...
Antiretroviral drugs can protect people from becoming infected by HIV. But so-called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP...
Two studies show that eating a diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates is linked to a longer, healthier life, and...
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ScienceShot: The Unbalanced Sloth
31 July 2012 7:01 pm
Most creatures need a good sense of balance—especially tree-dwellers that swing among high branches. In mammals, the ability largely comes from three loop-shaped structures in the inner ear called semicircular canals; in most species, the size, shape, and arrangement of those loops (inset) is extremely consistent from one individual to another. But in three-toed sloths (such as Bradypus variegatus, the brown-throated three-toed sloth, pictured), many proportions of the semicircular canals are surprisingly variable from one sloth to another. The overall variability is at least twice that seen in other species of mammals the team analyzed, researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. That high degree of variation stems from the sloths' languid lifestyle, the researchers suggest. Sloths, which move extremely slowly when they move at all, don't require the sense of balance that a swift, agile creature such as a primate needs. The finding supports one of Charles Darwin's notions about evolution: If an organ isn't crucial, variations in its structure or performance aren't lost over time, keeping the potpourri in the population.