The Week In Science: Flying Snakes, Climate Change Crime Wave, Voynich Manuscript Decoded (A Bit)

 @rpalmerscience
on February 21 2014 12:01 PM
flysnake
Chrysopelea ornata, one of the flying snakes of Southeast Asia. Wikimedia Commons/ LA Dawson

This week in science, we looked for a lost asteroid, tried to see behind the smile of the Mona Lisa, and examined some of the evidence that the “meth epidemic” might be overblown. But there’s still a lot more science news that broke this week; here’s a roundup:

Snakes might not need to go on a plane to fly. Turns out that in southeast Asia, there are at least five species that can glide from tree to tree. Coupled with the recent news that crocodiles can climb trees, science is making a really good case for staying inside. But actually, the critters don't pose a harm to humans -- as far as we know. (And if they do, we can always make a call to Samuel L. Jackson). [Houston Chronicle]

An English linguistics professor says he’s deciphered some of the coded messages in the Voynich manuscript, a medieval tome that’s full of elaborate drawings of figures, animals, plants, and symbols, accompanied by writing in an unknown alphabet. University of Bedfordshire researcher Stephen Bax now says he’s deciphered 14 letters of the text and can read a few of the words, including labels for drawings of plants that turn out to be identifications of hellebore, juniper and coriander. [LiveScience]

Last year, the rodent-like marsupial antechinus grabbed headlines with its unusual sex moves, where the males actually killed themselves through marathon intercourse sessions. Now researchers have found three more species in Australia that have suicidal sex. [The Verge]

Part of the pleasure of sport, for athletes, is the pain; a good weekend longread on the neuroscience and psychology of pushing oneself to physical limits. [Aeon]

Where do galaxies come from? A nice explainer on some of the lingering cosmic mysteries at the heart of the Milky Way and the rest of its starry brethren. [Slate]

Ants have a unique strategy to weather floods -- they can build rafts out of their own bodies. At first glance, it doesn’t look like a “women and children first” type of situation -- the baby ants, either in cocoons or out of them, are often placed near the bottom. They’re the most-buoyant members of the hive, and make for the best rafts. But, surprisingly, scientists found that the survival rate for young ants used as buoys is pretty high, making the rafting strategy beneficial for all. [Christian Science Monitor]

Will climate change lead to a new crime wave? A new study finds that periods of higher temperatures roil the blood of ne’er-do-wells, and estimates that between 2010 and 2099, the world will see an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 rapes, and 260,000 robberies thanks to global warming (a 2.2 percent, 3.1 percent, and a 1 percent increase, respectively). [Los Angeles Times]

What will it take to save the lemur? The most-threatened group of mammals in the world is facing threats from habitat destruction and hunting in Madagascar, aided by a breakdown in law enforcement thanks to a protracted political crisis that began in 2009. But there’s hope: scientists think that a mere $7.6 million would be enough to preserve a significant enough habitat to keep the lemur around for generations to come. [Reuters]

South Carolina: future capital of alligator farming? [Modern Farmer]

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