Photograph By Tim Laman
Photograph By Tim Laman
MagazineBreakthroughs

New Bird Dances to Its Own Beat, and More Amazing Discoveries

See stunning developments spanning the world of science from biology to genetics to sustainability.

This story appears in the October 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Prance Discovery

A fallen tree in a forest may seem unremarkable—but to some birds of paradise, it’s the ideal stage for a mating dance. Edwin Scholes, who runs Cornell’s Birds-of-Paradise Project, and Tim Laman, a biologist and National Geographic photographer, were doing research in the Arfak Mountains of western New Guinea when they found a downed log and set up a camera in hopes of catching a courtship display. The bird that appeared was different from others of its species, says Scholes: Its feathers fanned into a unique crescent shape, and it had distinctive moves, “like a Latin dance where all the motion is below the hips.” What he and Laman observed confirmed a previous discovery of genetic variation. Last year they announced a new species: the Vogelkop superb bird of paradise. Such sightings may benefit the region, says Scholes, by encouraging ecotourism that provides a “new economic incentive to keep the forest intact.”

Rare Footage of New Bird of Paradise Species Shows Odd Courtship Dance By observing its courtship appearance and dance, researchers were able to confirm the rare Vogelkop superb bird of paradise as a new species.
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High-Tech Chocolate

Scientists at the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) have teamed up with candymaker Mars to use the Crispr gene-editing technology to protect one of the world’s favorite treats. The goal: give the cacao plant an immune system that can resist a virus ravaging West Africa’s crops. That could avert losses on two levels, says IGI’s Susan Jenkins: “The self-centered side is ‘Oh my gosh, no more chocolate’”—and for cacao-growing regions “the socioeconomic impact is huge as well.”

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Grow Your Words

There’s no erasing mistakes with Sprout, a Danish brand of pencil. Instead of the rubber nub that’s typically on the end of such writing utensils, this one has a biodegradable capsule that holds a collection of seeds. After it’s worn to a stub, the pencil can be planted and watered until it blooms into a handful of daisies, a sprig of basil, or one of eight other plants.