Random Samples

Science  05 Oct 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5847, pp. 25

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    Collecting stag beetles is a long-established hobby for Japanese boys. But things are now getting out of hand: Thanks to an arcade game called Mushi (insect) King, the beetles are all over Japan, and one subspecies is becoming endangered in its native habitat in Turkey.

    In Mushi King, players collect cards with the picture and vital statistics of one of various beetle species. By inserting the card into the game machine, players control their bug in virtual fights. The game has spurred interest in exotic beetles, leading to imports of more than a million a year, according to Koichi Goka, an entomologist at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba. Prize bugs sell over the Internet for $400 or more.


    This year's hottest beetle is Lucanus cervus akbesianus, a rare subspecies found only in the Amanos Mountains of southern Turkey. The Amanos Environmental Protection Association has warned that overharvesting is pushing this beetle toward extinction.

    In Japan, meanwhile, Goka worries that the beetle battle might move into the real world if the aliens escape and breed, with the big foreign bugs muscling out their weaker domestic rivals. “It is not an actual problem yet, but there is a big risk,” Goka says. But, he says, the Environment Ministry hesitates to designate stag beetles as an invasive species because “the market has already become too large to control.”

  2. NETWATCH: Posthumous Peer Review

    Remembrances of deceased members written since 1995 have been available at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs Web site. Now the site is adding more than 900 accounts dating back to 1877. They aren't your typical sketchy Web bios but are hefty appreciations of the subject's work and life, typically written shortly after the person's death by colleagues or friends.

    The former chief engineer at AT&T offers his take on Alexander Graham Bell, for example, and physics heavyweight Hans Bethe recalls J. Robert Oppenheimer, who headed the Manhattan Project.



    Evolutionary psychologists have come up with a new piece of evidence that we are still operating with our old hunter-gatherer brains: We notice animals more than we notice objects.

    Graduate student Joshua New, along with John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, both of the University of California, Santa Barbara, theorized that human beings have evolved a “category-specific” attention system that pays especially close heed to other animals. To test the idea, they showed volunteers scenes for a fraction of a second and then the same scenes with changes in the position of an animal or an object, including a car. Even when the animals were smaller than or not contrasted as much as the objects, the viewers spotted changes in their position more quickly and accurately than they did changes in inanimate targets.

    The authors, in a paper published online last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, say animals are detected faster not simply because they are more interesting. “Even dull animals like pigeons … recruit a surprising amount of attention—as do turtles resembling rocks,” Tooby says.

    Viewers notice changes in the elephant (circled, above) more often than in the van (below).


    David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Texas, Austin, says the work bolsters the theory that humans evolved “specialized psychological mechanisms … for solving distinct adaptive problems.” The alternative view is that human information-processing machinery is “domain-general” and did not evolve to process specific types of information.



    Replicas of distinctive towers that rise from California's extremely salty Mono Lake will be featured at a major exhibit on water at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The massive pillars, of a type of limestone called tufa, form underwater from an interaction of calcium from freshwater springs with carbonates in the lake water. Up to 10 meters high, they now poke out because of water diversions.

    The exhibit, called Water: H2O = Life, is designed to explore water from every angle, from its various cultural and spiritual aspects to the shortage of clean water facing most of the world's poor. It opens on 3 November and leaves for a world tour next June.