Random Samples

Science  19 May 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5776, pp. 979

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    Madagascar giant hissing cockroaches make fun pets, as some bug aficionados know. But Salt Lake City, Utah-based fashion designer Jared Gold has taken cockroach appreciation to a new level. He recently released a line of live, bejeweled hissing cockroaches, complete with several leashes that can be attached to a pin on a person's clothes. Austrian Swarovski crystals are embedded in the roaches' “hoods.”

    The glittering insects go for $80 online at blackchandelier.com, and Gold reports receiving about 25 orders a week. With proper care—the cockroaches come with instructions, which include cleaning their aquarium regularly, ensuring they receive a fruit-filled diet, and keeping them warm and moist—the insects can live about a year.

    Not everyone is gung ho about the latest trend. Michael McGraw, spokesperson for the animal-rights group PETA, observes that “Mr. Gold is essentially mutilating [the animals] to sell them.” Entomologist Shripat Kamble of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, adds that they may not be the ideal accessory: “Hissing cockroaches secrete certain irritants a lot of people are allergic to.”


    Wily house crow. CREDIT: CHARLIE MOORES

    South Africa's entire population of Indian house crows—immigrants that threaten native birds, attack pets, carry disease, and spread garbage—has been targeted for eradication by an ambitious new program.

    The gregarious and cunning Corvus splendens, which migrated aboard ships from India, have become major pests in several East African and South Asian countries. There are several thousand now around port cities such as Durban and Cape Town.

    Officials want to nip the invasion in the bud. “The nature of invasives is that they start small but grow exponentially,” says Guy Preston of South Africa's Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. Preston is coordinating the eradication project, which involves dozens of scientists, pest-control workers, bird scouts, and observers from an animal-cruelty-prevention society.

    Calling the crows “formidable targets,” Preston says “you have to take a stealth approach.” To prevent harm to native crows and other carrion feeders, scientists are placing poison-laced meat only in areas where the Indian crows roost. The crows aid in their own destruction: “They are aggressive and will chase away other birds,” says Preston. Carcasses are quickly removed and incinerated.

    “For the sake of native birds, these alien invaders have to go,” says Gerhard Verdoorn, director of BirdLife South Africa in Johannesburg. Verdoorn, a University of Johannesburg conservation biologist, predicts that eradication will take 2 or 3 years.


    Organizers of next month's soccer World Cup in Germany plan to offset the event's greenhouse gas emissions with investments in alternative energy.

    Greenhouse gases released by food production, stadium lighting, and travel to and from stadiums in the cup's 12 cities could top 100,000 tons, according to Christian Hochfeld, deputy director of the Institute for Applied Ecology in Berlin. To balance these emissions with savings elsewhere, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, which coordinates the World Cup, is voluntarily funding green power projects. These include a turbine in the South African township of Sebokeng that converts methane from sewage into electrical power; biogas systems for India's Tamil Nadu region, and a sawdust-powered boiler to supply electricity for a fruit farm in South Africa.

    The plan reflects a new push for “climate neutrality” in major sports events from the Superbowl to the Olympics. Ecologist Mark Bain of Cornell University, who calculated expected greenhouse gas emissions for New York's failed bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, says, “It's good these efforts raise awareness about climate change.” But, he cautions, it's “a complex matter; depending on how you define your emissions sources, you can get any kind of answer you want.”


    Advocates of open-access publishing got new fuel for their argument from a study published online this week in the open-access Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology suggesting that free papers get cited more often.

    The analysis, conducted by Gunther Eysenbach of the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation in Toronto, Canada, looked at articles published from June to December 2004 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, after the journal started letting authors pay $1000 to make their papers immediately available for free.

    By April 2005, 78 (37%) of the 212 open-access articles had not been cited versus 627 (49%) of the 1280 regular articles, which are free online after 6 months. By October, 11 open-access articles (5%) were still uncited compared to 172 (14%) of regular articles. After data adjustments for factors such as authors' previous citation rates, the open-access papers were twice as likely to be cited by April and three times as likely by October. They also averaged more citations: 6.4 per paper versus 4.5.

    The PLoS Biology editors admit that they have “a strong and vested interest” in the paper but say that it underwent unusually thorough review.