From: Kathleen M. Wong, California Academy of Sciences
Published November 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Water Striders Walk On Air, Nature's Nose Job, and Roman Beauty Secrets

In the year 1776, Captain James Cook left Plymouth, England, on his third and final voyage of discovery. His primary objective: to find the fabled Northwest Passage, a oceangoing route across the top of the world. To find a link between the Atlantic and the Pacific would give England direct shipping access to the riches of China. He failed, of course, blocked by treacherous walls of ice in the Bering Sea. A future Captain Cook might fare much better, according to new studies; the accelerating pace of arctic warming may well open a Northwest Passage in our lifetimes.

Years before that chilly boondoggle, Cook touched down briefly in tropical New Guinea to refuel his ship. Little did he know that the island's dense forests hid birds with toxic feathers. Now scientists have unmasked the toxin supplier. The discovery implies dietary links between the noxious pitohui bird and the fabled poison dart frog.

Also in this week's This Week: ancient fish explains cleft palate problems; top-notch cosmetics in Caesar's day; and the hairy legs of water striders ensure smooth sailing.

Special thanks to research librarian Laura Burkhart.

See these stories and more in This Week in California Wild.


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Source: California Academy of Sciences

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