Upgraded toilet, natural repellents, and kicking up dirt

These novel phenomena include a space-age commode, a moth wing’s rain armor, an anti-predator paint job, and a bird that aerates soil.

In space, properly depositing human waste can be tricky. The lack of gravity can result in excretory anomalies, as ground control overheard during NASA’s 1969 Apollo 10 mission: “Give me a napkin quick,” Tom Stafford implored fellow astronauts. “There’s a turd floating through the air.” Now, for the first time since 1993, NASA has sent a brand-new, redesigned toilet to the International Space Station. Like its predecessor, the fancier throne uses suction to whisk away waste. Astronauts urinate into a handheld funnel and hose, and deposit the solid stuff exactly as you’d expect. But with more women visiting space, the new loo’s seat was fashioned with female anatomy in mind. It allows women to more easily multitask—or perform what NASA refers to as “dual ops”—and the seat plus handrails provides options on approach. “Some of the crew like to hover over the seat, some crew like to firmly dock,” says NASA’s Melissa McKinley. “The main thing is you want the [seat] shape to guide you into the proper location.” A bonus of the new design: Lifting the lid automatically turns on the toilet’s suction, the better to prevent rogue floaters. —Nadia Drake

(These new toilets could solve a global problem.)

The superb lyrebird can crush scorpions with its rakelike feet. It can mimic sounds, from car alarms to human speech. And, a new study suggests, the multitalented bird turns over more soil than any other animal on land, even earthworms and gophers. Scouring the forest floor for insects, each bird can kick up a whopping 388 tons of leaf litter and earth a year across its range in eastern Australia. That beneficially aerates soils and reduces fire risk. 
—Annie Roth

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