Category | Nature’s Wonders

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Sailing Stone – The Mysterious Nature

Posted on 04 June 2012 by RE Team

The Planet Earth is full of mysteries for the scientists of all specializations. The mysteries of nature seem to be never ending. One of those that has been giving researchers a check for more than six decades is the “Sailing Stones of Death Valley”.  It is a stunning geographical phenomenon where Stones weighing hundreds of pounds move in long tracks along a plain smooth valley without any human or animal intervention. This is observed around the dried lake Playa in Death Valley and also known a Racetrack.  These valleys are filled with dry cracking muddy ground during summer and ice during winter.


Sailing Tones in Racetrack Playa, Death Valley (Pirate_Scott) @wikipedia


Racetrack stones only move every two or three years and most tracks develop over three or four years. With time tracks of each stone varies from the other. Some stones which start next to each other start out traveling parallel, but one may abruptly change direction to the left, right, or even back the direction it came from. Length also varies because two similarly sized and shaped rocks could travel uniformly, then one could burst ahead or stop dead in its track. Some stones make linear turns others make oval turns while others create a wavy shape on their tracks. No one has ever seen them move and nobody knows the speed they move with.

There are many hypothesis proposed for this Sailing Stone phenomenon.  In 1955 George M. Stanley first proposed the theory that the rocks move with the assistance of ice sheets forming after the Playa surface is flooded. Bob Sharp and Dwight Carey started a Racetrack stone movement monitoring program in May 1972. In 1976, they proposed the ice-sheet theory. They analyzed the tracks and concluded because of track characteristics and the geometries of the tracks relative to each other that ice sheets could not have been involved in forming the tracks and moving the rocks. They stated, “It is concluded that wind moves the stones when conditions are just right, that this normally happens at least every one to three years on Racetrack Playa, and that ice sheets are not necessary.” In 1995, John B. Reid, Jr. and other geologists from Hampshire College disagreed with Sharp and Carey’s conclusion. Using data from seven Death Valley visits in the late 1980s through 1994, they support Stanley’s original ice sheet hypothesis. This is however not entirely true because the stones move during the summer when the temperature is too high and even dries the stones themselves.The mysterious sailing stones of Death Valley not only slide on smooth ground but dig and leave shallow track in their wake.

We hope future advanced technology will shed more light no the mystery of the sailing stones at the Racetrack Playa of Death Valley, however no matter how much is determined about the sailing rocks, their beauty and magic will stand as unique creation of Nature.

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Immortality is a gift of nature!

Posted on 04 June 2012 by RE Team

Immortality is one of the fascinations of humans. It may be a science fiction for us, it’s not a wonder for nature. But, nature has gifted immortality to one of the species already. The only known species in Earth with biological immortality is “Turritopsis nutricula“. This species is a type of Jellyfish can be of the size of a human nail (diameter of about 4.5 millimeters) when fully developed.


The immortal Turritopsis Nutricula


Immortality is one of the fascinations of humans. It may be a science fiction for us, it’s not a wonder for nature. But, nature has gifted immortality to one of the species already. The only known species in Earth with biological immortality is “Turritopsis nutricula“. This species is a type of Jellyfish can be of the size of a human nail (diameter of about 4.5 millimeters) when fully developed.

The Jellyfish has achieved the immortality through a biological cell development process, called transdifferentiation. Cell transdifferentiation is when the jellyfish “alters the differentiated state of the cell and transforms it into a new cell. With this process, the species can revert to the polyp stage, a sexually immature, colonial stage, after becoming sexually mature. Theoretically, this process can go on infinitely, effectively rendering the jellyfish biologically immortal. No single specimen of this Jellyfish has been observed for any extended period, so it is impossible to estimate the age of an individual.

This species was first discovered in 1883. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that this unique ability to transform back into younger self once it has become sexually mature and has mated was uncovered. Many marine biologists and geneticists are now studying the jellyfish in order to determine how it is able to reverse its aging process.

Turritopsis is believed to have originated in the Caribbean but has spread all over the world. It is believed to be spreading across the world as ships are discharging ballast water in ports. Since the species is immortal, the number of individuals could be spiking. Are we on the verse of a a worldwide silent invasion??

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Where the birds commit suicide!

Posted on 04 June 2012 by RE Team

It is one of the unresolved mysteries of nature why this place named, Jatinga, in the North-East India region attracts birds from high sky to the ground on special weather conditions and the birds of various species fall prey to hunters and tribal villagers! Jatinga is a small village in the North-Cachar Hills of Assam where few thousands villagers of the Jayantia tribe live.


Jatinga Bird - Courtesy ZAHID AHMED TAPADAR @flickr


Jatinga was first inhabited by a tribe called Zeme Nagas in 1890 under the discretion of the Dimasa king who was the sovereign ruler. They were the first to witness the mystery when their camp fires attracted various birds. They considered this as the act of some evil spirits and the frightened tribes deserted the settlement. The Jaintias, who moved in around 1905 under their leader Lakhanbang Suchiang, tumbled upon the mystery while venturing into the valley at night with lightedtorches to round up stray cattle. The bamboo torches attracted showers of birds which the Jaintias regarded as a “gift of God”. The first mention of this mystery is found in the Wild Life of India (1957) by the British tea planter andorinthologist E.P. Gee. “The whole thing is extraordinary” Gee wrote. He notedthat the bird death took place only at this spot. Even when lights were put up in nearbyplaces, the phenomenon did not occur. He also noted that some conditions are necessary for the phenomenon to take place. In the following years, this phenomenon was referenced as “Birds committing suicide”.

This mysterious phenomenon takes place only in the later days of rainy season from September to November. During moonless and foggy dark nights between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., flying birds come crashing to the ground with no prior warning whatsoever. Curiously, most of the doomed birds do not attempt to fly away after they land near the lights. They look dazed and disheveled, perhaps due to the trauma of the whole shocking experience. This is not confined to a single species but around 50 birds species fall prey to this nature’s mystery. Tiger Bittern, Black Bittern, Little Egret, Pond Heron, Indian Pitta and Kingfishers are some of the species to name.
Another interesting point is that, this phenomenon does not occur in the whole valley but only in a well-defined strip, 1.5 km long and 200 mts. wide. Invariably the birds come in only from the north and attempts at placing the lights on the southern side of the ride to attract the birds have failed. Another fact is that no long distance migratory bird gets attracted to the light traps. Some common resident birds like grouse, hornbills and imperial pigeons do not get caught at Jatinga. The directionless, hapless birds fall prey to the villagers after they land into the ground.


Jatinga Hills - Courtesy ZAHID AHMED TAPADAR @flickr


Various studies have been conducted to unravel the causes behind this phenomenon. But the root cause of this mysterious behaviour of the birds is not yet determined. Conservation groups and wildlife officials in India have taken steps to prevent this wanton killing of the birds, creating awareness in the illiterate villagers. Since then, the amount of birds killed have decreased by about 40 percent. However, there is still need of more research to unravel the real cause behind this un-natural phenomenon.

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Amazing Cave Story

Posted on 19 May 2012 by RE Team

Human race spent thousands of years inside caves in the process of evolution. The caves not only provides shelter to lives, but also home to various unique species till now. There are number of gigantic caves around the earth that have self sustaining ecosystem and create a different world inside themselves. In the modern world, the discovery of such cave is always a thrilling story, as they are normally hidden in the remote jungles or mountains lying unknowingly to humans preserving a world inside it untouched for thousands, may be millions of years.


The gigantic Hang Son Doong Cave - Coutesy NationalGeographic


Almost a year back such a spectecular cave was discovered in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam. This cave is so huge in size that it contains a river, a  complete jungle and even its own thin clouds making the other side of the cave out of sight at times. It is large enough to accomodate a whole city with skyscrapper inside it. In fact we are talking about the largest cave passage in the world here, named as Hang Son Doong.  For decades, geologists have doubted that Vietnam could be home to some of the world’s most spectacular caves. But a large number of them were unexlored. British scientists from the British Cave Research Association, led by Howard and Deb Limbert, are the first to explore the cave. The cave is named as Hang Son Doong, means mountain river cave. Though credit of bringing the largest cave to the outside world goes to Howard and Limbert, yet the actual discovery credit of the cave goes to a local man named Hồ-Khanh.

Ho Khanh’s family lived in a nearby village and he has long story to tell about the discovery of the cave.

“I was born into a poor family. My father died, and my family had no rice fields, so I had to go to the jungle for work to support my family. Over a period of 13 years, I learnt the location of many caves in the areas I passed through.

In the rainy season of 1991, I went with two others to look for the aloe wood, which is very precious and exists deep in the jungle. It is very hard to find. We separated and I went through Hang En. The next day was raining very hard, so I looked for somewhere to stay for the night. Fortunately I found the entrance of an unknown cave. After the trip I returned home, and gradually forgot about this cave.

Mr Khanh - The discoverer of the cave

In 2006 I met the British Caving Expedition and took them to the Doong area, where they explored many caves. In 2007 I took them to the Doong area again for further cave exploration. On this trip we found Ho Nui Cave. Before the end of the trip I talked with Mr. Howard. Although we can’t speak the same language I knew that he was looking for a cave to connect Hang En, with another cave Hang Thoong, in the Tra Anh area.

I had a memory of a cave in this area, which maybe had a wind, and fog blowing from the entrance, but I couldn’t remember the location. I went off for an extra day searching for this cave, but unfortunately failed.
I didn’t want to give in. Because of my great admiration for the explorers’ abilities and their friendship, I wanted to show them this cave. In January 2008, I spent my own time and money to return to the Doong area to look for the entrance. Relying on my memory and experience, I followed the stream from Hang En, and fortunately found the big cave entrance in about half a day. I cut down some wild saplings to reach the entrance. Finally using my knowledge of the jungle, I found the best path to take the cavers to the entrance, and made it as easy as possible. It was now 2pm on the third day, so I returned to Phong Nha and waited for the expedition to return.
In March 2009 the expedition returned to Son Trach. On the first trip I really wanted to take Mr. Howard to the new cave, but another team came. At that time I was worried in case the cave was dry and not very long. But thank god, in this trip the cave length was measured at about 5k, and there was a large subterranean river. The explorers realized that this could be the largest cave passage in the world.

I believe that I have made them all especially Mr. Howard very pleased, because this is an important cave which connects the Doong area with the Tra Anh area.”

So is the story of discovery of the largest cave passage in the world. The Son Doong cave measures 262 feet by 262 feet (80 meters by 80 meters) and at least 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) deep. The biggest chamber of Son Doong is over five kilometers in length, 200 meters high and 150 meters wide. This discovery overtook the size of Deer Cave, which held the record of the largest cave passage previously. Deer Cave in Malaysia, is 300 feet by 300 feet (91 m by 91 m) in parts, but is only about a mile (1.6 km) long.


Hang Son Doong - Couresy NationaGeographic


The Son Doong cave is located in in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park of Vietnam, near the Laos-Vietnam border. Phong Nha-Ke Bang area is noted for its cave and grotto systems as it is composed of 300 caves and grottos with a total length of about 70 km, of which only 20 have been surveyed by Vietnamese and British scientists. It is currently a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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When Predator and Prey Become Friends

Posted on 13 May 2012 by RE Team

Nature is designed in a way to keep the balance of the eco-system properly.It has created Predator and Prey to keep the balance only. The Predator never hunts for just fun, it makes a kill only when needed. The exception is only human beings. They kill for just fun and the balance is completely lost now.  In this article we are putting some wonderful examples captured by photographers where predator is not harming the prey at all when the predator is not in need.

Photographer Michel Denis-Huot captured some amazing pictures on safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara in 2009. These pictures depict how three cheetah examined, licked and played around a young oryx and finally let it go. Cheetahs were not hungry and they simply didn’t harm the prey at their hands!


Cheetah and Oryx - Predator friendship with Prey


Cheetahs didn't harm the Oryx when not needed


Another example is of a Shoebill, a known predator bird. Photographer Mark Kay captured an unusual event in the Diego Wild Animal Park in the U.S. A small duck straying around a water hole suddenly picked up by a giant Shoebill. The Shoebill took the duck between its beak and surprisingly it just took the duck away from that area and released it. The bill didn’t harm the duck too. Probably the duck moved into the bill’s personal space and he didn’t like it. So just moved it. As it was necessary, he didn’t kill the duck and released to the nature!


In the mouth of death


Duck released without any harm


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Fish That Walks on Land

Posted on 13 May 2012 by RE Team

When we refer to ‘Fish’, we always mean a aquatic living being. It’s difficult to imagine fish without water. But in reality, there are significant number of fish, that are considered as amphibian than aquatic. These fish spend considerable amount of their lifetime without water.


Lung Fish can burrow in land upto two years


Mudskipper  is a very well known example of amphibian fish which can spend days out of water in wet mud. They are found in tropical, subtropical and temperate regions, mostly in the mangrove swamps of Indo-Pacific and the Atlantic coast of Africa. The modskipper has the ability to breathe through skin, lining of the mouth and throat in wet conditions. They also another special way that enhance their breathing outside water.  They have a special cavity behind their ears where sea water is stored. As they rotate their eyes, pressure is applied to that cavity and this reoxygenates the stored water, lubricates the gill flaps and restores the gills to their normal function. The mudskippers can survive upto 4 days out of water! While outside water, they can walk with their pectoral fins, eat food and also fight for their territory.

Another expert amphibian fish is called Lungfish. It is a fresh water fish found in Africa, South America and Australia.  Currently there are six surviving species of Lungfishes found around the world. The Lungfishes have limb like fins. They can breathe air with their lungs.  African and South American lungfish are capable of surviving seasonal drying out of their habitats by burrowing into mud throughout the dry season upto two years.

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Chocolate Hills of Phillippines

Posted on 30 April 2012 by RE Team

The Bohol Province of Phillipines is home a true natural wonder, popularly known as Chocolate Hills. The name may sound delicious, but this name is given due to the unique color and shape of the hills found in the region.

Nature's Wonder - Chocolate Hills of Philippines

Chocolate Hills are groups hills spread across an area of around 50 square kilometer. These are perfectly shaped domes of short height, the highest being around 400 feet and the average is at 160 feet. It is hard to believe that these are natural structures but not man made landscape. The hills are beautifully covered with green grass during the rainy season and during dry season the grass get a brown color. These brown color hills look like cookies of chocolate and hence the name.

There is no unanimous geological explanation on these wonderful hills. The most widely accepted theory explains these conical karst hills as formations created ages ago by the uplift of coral deposits and the action of rain water and erosion. A recent theory explains that an ancient sub-oceanic volcano self-destructed and chunks of it were dispersed over the region.

The vegetation of the Chocolate Hills are is unique, covered with various hard grass species, ferns and compositae. It is also home to the unique primate species Tarsier. Unfortunately the flora and fauna of the Chocolate Hills are recently threatened by local querying.

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Hybrid Whale Surprises Scientists

Posted on 26 January 2011 by RE Team

Principal Scientists Kevin Glover at Institute of Marine Research, Norway has revealed a hybrid whale DNA hunted in the northeastern Atlantic in 2007. The whale had the genetic blueprint of a hybrid, with an Antarctic minke mother and Northern minke whale father, Mr Glover came across this surprise while analyzing whale DNA recently.

Soon after Norwegians resumed commercial whale hunting in 1993—following a brief moratorium—the country established a DNA registry to analyze whale kills and help ensure that whale products come from legal sources.


Northern Minke Whale


After the first analysis, Glover came to know about another similar strange looking whale hunted in 1996 from one of his colleague. It didn’t have the white patch on its pectoral flippers like the northern minke whales do. He suspected this 15 year old whale to be of the same hybrid.

So Glover analyzed the DNA of the 1996 whale captured in the North Atlantic, and found a shocker: It was a pure Antarctic whale. The sample had been overlooked because the DNA archive was in its infancy when the whale was captured.


Antarctic Minke Whale


This Antarctic whale in the Arctic provided further evidence that Antarctic minkes can migrate to the home waters of their northern relatives and—as the hybrid shows—even mate with them.

Normally the two whale species, Antarctic minke whale and  Northern minke whale, both of which can reach 35 feet (11 meters) in length—undertake seasonal migrations that separate them by many miles of ocean.

Northern minkes head toward the North Pole in spring and ply waters up to the edge of Arctic ice during the summer. In autumn these whales head south, nearly as far as the Equator, to spend the winter.

Antarctic whales follow a similar pattern, moving between Antarctic ice and warmer mid-latitudes with the seasons.

But because the two hemispheres’ seasons are opposite, the minke species don’t share near-equatorial waters at the same time. Thus, they were never thought to meet—until now.

The discovery has now opened new questions to the scientists.  Is the hybrid whale a fluke, or the beginning of a trend? No one knows, but Glover said that his whale biologist colleague Nils Øien has an interesting theory.

Japanese studies showed that the numbers of Antarctic minke in the Southern Hemisphere appeared to drop significantly between the 1980s and 1990s. Other studies show that supplies of the krill—tiny marine crustaceans—that fuel the Antarctic food chain also dropped during this period.

“Japanese research has even shown that the fat layer on whales down there has decreased—not to the point of malnutrition, but suggesting a decreased access to food,” Glover said.

“So we speculate that the amount of krill and available food has decreased, and maybe as a result the whales are starting to go scouting for food.

“It could be that these individuals are straying away from their territory in the search for food, and a few of them may have found their way to the Arctic Circle.”

We hope Scientists will soon come to a conclusion!

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The Mystery of Hoan Kiem Turtle

Posted on 11 January 2011 by RE Team

This is a story of a giant turtle species that is more than 200 Kg in weight and more than 2 meter in length could keep itself unknown to human eyes for more centuries. Even in 21st century, this species is a mystery and viewed by humans a few number of times only. This could even be the largest fresh water turtle in the world. 

Almost 500 years from now, a King of Vietnam found a giagantic holy turtle during a cruise on a lake called Luc Thuy(Green Lake) near Hanoi. There is a mythical believe that the turtle told the King to return the sacred sword that he had gotten from Kim Qui, the Golden Turtle God and had helped him defeat the northern Ming aggressors returing peace to the region. The king unsheathed his sword and threw it to the turtle. The turtle took it and dove away. The king was none other than  Le Loi, also known as Le Thai To, the founder of the Le Dynasty in Vietnam, under whom the Chinese had accepted Vietnam’s independence. Later the king renmaed the lake as Hoan Kiem” (Lake of Returned Sword). For hundreds of years, people couldn’t discover any turtle like reptile in that lake, until when a giant turtle was actually captured late 20th century. The giant turtles mysteriously kept themselves away from the human eyes for centuries!

The story of the king Le Loi has been passed down from generation to generation and recorded in history books, and there were no real evidence of what the giant reptile may have looked like until 1967. It was the year when Vietnam war was on its peak. Ha Noi Food company caught a giant turtle from the lake. The turtle weighed about 200 kilos and was about 2 metres(6 ft 3in)[ long. The company was going to sell the meat, but someone alerted the Ha Noi People’s Committee and the then mayor Dr Tran Duy Hung ordered them to stop the sale. Unfortunately the turtle died on June 2, the same year because of mishandling. It was later stuffed and is now on display at the Ngoc Son Temple which is situate on the northern shore of the lake.


Rare photo of the Hoan kiem Turtle


But after the single catch, the turtle was hardly ever viewed by the common people. Mysteriously the giant turtle shy away from revealing itself inthe small shallow lake, measuring 200 meters wide, 600 meters long, and only two meters deep.  But on March 24, 1998 an amateur cameraman caught the creature on video, conclusively proving the elusive creatures still survived in the lake. Apart from this photography, few local researchers done extensive study of the turtle too.
Ha Dinh Duc, one of the best known local biologists who has done extensive research on the turtle for decades. He  teaches in the Biology Department of the School of Natural Sciences in Vietnam. He gave the Hoan Kiem turtle its scientific name, Rafetus leloii, after the King Le Loi’s name.

Duc believes that the species could be related to the trionychidae species, Rafetus swinhoei, also known as the Shanghai soft-shell turtle, a critically endangered species found in China. There are only two known turtle of this species in captivity in China. Another one is believed to be in Dong Mo Lake near Hanoi. He has studied and preserved anything related to soft-shell turtles. He also studies the aquatic conditions and life forms in Hoan Kiem Lake which may affect the rare species.

“I believe the turtle living in the lake now is the very one that took away King Le Loi’s sword, as this species can live as long as 500 or even 700 years,” Duc says. According to him this species is near to extinction. He also explains that the turtle that lives in Hoan Kiem Lake can be recognised by the white spot on his head and a tendency to turn left when he swims.

Duc , who also keeps around 300 -400 collected photographs of the turtle, says  “The problem is we do not know how to test Rafetus Leloii’s sex. Moreover, he is too old and fragile for any testing.”

Vietnamese belive that over the last two millennia, the turtle deity is said to have helped design fortifications, thwart enemy armies and produce a number of enchanted weapons.

In 1995, the Ha Noi People’s Committee turned down an offer from Peter Pritchard, a researcher from the Archie Carr Centre for Sea Turtle Research, University of Florida to study the lake’s turtle . The authorities declined the request for joint-research efforts on the grounds that it is a sacred creature closely related to the soul of the Vietnamese people.  Similarly The World Wildlife Fund for Nature, agrees and does not finance any programs to study the species.

Similar to Duc, another local researcher, Ngo believes that there are actually five turtles living in Hoan Kiem Lake. Ngo started paying attention to the turtle when he first glimpsed of a sighting in 2002. His new theory has shocked local people, but like others he also believes the turtles in the lake are supernatural creatures. Ngo said he has been lucky to witness 40 of the 60 recorded times the Great Turtle has surfaced since 2003.

Though, very little bit of research is going on this turtles, one thing is sure that the turtle is threatened to extinct and Lake’s conditions are getting worse day by day. Pollution and illegal fishing  in the lake is threatening the life of the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle. Another threat is coming from a notorious invasive species – red-eared slider turtle in the lake.

Duc said he has warned against the invasion of red eared sliders in Hoan Kiem Lake since 2004 but local authorities have taken no action against the problem.


Red Eared Turtle beside the rare Hoan Kiem Turtle


“City leaders should discuss the issue thoroughly before launching a long-term plan to protect the giant turtle,” he said.

Many Vietnamese people have the habit of releasing animals, including red eared sliders, into the wild to pray for good luck, an action that has been severely criticized by conservationists.  The  red eared slider turtles are outcome of the same activity only.

We hope the turtles will be reseached well and also preserved. None knows it could be last one who is representing an unique species of  the planet.

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Photos of Nature