This story appears in the July 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Mythical creature found in ancient wood
Researchers exploring Brazil’s Atlantic Forest discovered some five to seven new species of praying mantises. Among the newfound creatures are unicorn mantises, which have mysterious, hornlike structures on their heads, as seen above on a member of the genus Zoolea.
It’s unclear exactly what purpose the protuberances serve. Perhaps they’re “meant to break up the silhouette of the animals,” says team leader Leonardo Lanna, whose Projeto Mantis expedition was funded by the National Geographic Society. Predators may then mistake them for something inedible, such as a leaf bud. Unlike their magical namesake, the praying mantises of the Atlantic Forest are experts in the art of blending in. —Douglas Main
To sleep, perchance to heal
A report in the journal Nature Communications adds to the list of sleep’s benefits. In imaging studies of the brains of zebrafish, scientists saw that cells’ DNA repair systems could not fix a day’s accumulated damage during waking periods—but that they were far more efficient during periods of sleep. Researchers say this find may help illuminate the connections between sleep habits, brain health, and aging. —Catherine Zuckerman
Flight of the dandelion
By studying dandelion seeds as they drift in the air, researchers uncovered a new form of flight. A hovering vortex created by air flowing up through the seed’s pappus, the tuft at its top, helps the seed float. The find could explain how other life-forms move and how filter feeders eat. —Catherine Zuckerman