Featured Stories

April 2009
  • Rational Fear
    As human populations expand and lions’ prey dwindles in eastern Africa, the poorest people—and hungriest lions—pay the price. By Craig Packer
  • April 2009
  • Meet the Alloparents
    Shared child care may be the secret of human evolutionary success. By Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
  • March 2009
  • To Kill a Cormorant
    Are double-crested cormorants overrunning their niche—or simply recovering from centuries of suppression? By Richard J. King
  • February 2009
  • Seeing Corals with the Eye of Reason
    A rediscovered painting celebrates Charles Darwin’s view of life. By Richard Milner
  • December 2008–January 2009
  • The Art of Bones
    British artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, who sparked dinosaur mania in the nineteenth century, still influences how natural history museums represent prehistoric life today. By Robert McCracken Peck
  • November 2008
  • The Curious, Bloody Lives of Vampire Bats
    Among the most highly specialized mammals on the planet, vampire bats display a host of fascinating adaptations to their blood diet. By Bill Schutt
  • October 2008
  • Shades of Glory
    My whirlwind tour to the North Pole and back for 175 seconds of totality. By Joe Rao
  • September 2008
  • Lethal Fuzz
    Toxic hairs enable some caterpillars to venture forth in conspicuous processions. Story and photos by Terrence D. Fitzgerald
  • July-August 2008
  • How Dogs Came to Run the World
    During the past 40 million years, three great lineages arose in the dog family. Two are now extinct, but diversity thrives in the array of living species. Story by Xiaoming Wang and Richard H. Tedford ~ Illustrations by Mauricio Antón
  • June 2008
  • Burmese Motorcycle Diaries
    Following the trail of an adventurous scientist to its—and his—end. Story and photos by Jamie James
  • May 2008
  • Mental Mirrors
    Special cells in the brain mimic the actions and intentions of others, forming the basis of empathy and social connections. By Marco Iacoboni
  • April 2008
  • Invisibility
    A device that renders objects truly invisible may be commonplace within the next few decades. By Michio Kaku
  • Around Their Necks
    Albatrosses are diverse in form and range, but they share a common problem: people. By Mark Jones ~ Photographs by Tui De Roy
  • March 2008
  • No Taming the Shrew
    Good thing for us it’s small, because this predator gives no quarter to its quarry. Story by Kenneth C. Catania
  • February 2008
  • Fish Out of Water
    Human ailments as varied as hernias, hiccups, and choking are a legacy of our “fishy” ancestry. By Neil Shubin
  • Far from the Forests of the Night
    In spite of their staggering liabilities as pets, tigers and other “exotics” have become hefty commodities in the United States, in part because of inconsistent state laws. By Josie Glausiusz
  • December 2007–January 2008
  • At a Loss for Words
    The Native-American language Salish–Pend d’Oreille is on the brink of disappearing.
    More than half the world’s 6,000 languages will be gone by the end of the century. By Sarah Grey Thomason
  • November 2007
  • Sold Down the River
    Dried up, dammed, polluted, overfished—freshwater habitats around the world are becoming less and less hospitable to wildlife. By Eleanor J. Sterling and Merry D. Camhi
  • October 2007
  • Deep Trouble
    Fishermen have been casting their nets into the deep sea after exhausting shallow-water stocks. But adaptations to deepwater living make the fishes there particularly vulnerable to overfishing—and many are now endangered. By Richard L. Haedrich
  • September 2007
  • Dark Matter
    Most of the matter of the universe is neither bound up in stars or planets nor dispersed in clouds of “ordinary” particles. Experimenters are racing to answer the question, What is it made of? Story by Donald Goldsmith
  • July-August 2007:
  • Space, Time, and Timbuktu
    The legendary city on the Sahara’s southern fringe can look back on a history of commercial, intellectual, and religious wealth. Today as in the past, however, political power eludes it. By Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle
  • How Now, Little Cow?
    The vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, lives only in the northern Gulf of California. It often drowns in fishing nets as bycatch, and just 200 individuals remain. Can the species survive? By Robert L. Pitman and Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho
  • June 2007:
  • Bones from the Tar Pits
    La Brea continues to bubble over with new clues about life that flourished 40,000 years ago, where Los Angeles is today. By John M. Harris
  • May 2007:
  • Hidden Tombs of Ancient Syria
    Evidence of animal and possibly human sacrifice suggests that burials at Tell Umm el-Marra were those of Bronze Age royalty. By Glenn M. Schwartz
  • April 2007:
  • Meerkats At Play
    Evolution demands that activities costing a lot of energy provide survival value in return. But what do these rambunctious little mammals gain from having so much fun? By Lynda L. Sharpe ~ Photographs by Andrew J. Young

  • Universe: The Cosmic Perspective
    For this month’s special anniversary of his “Universe”’column, Neil deGrasse Tyson explains how embracing cosmic realities can give us a more enlightened view of human life.
  • March 2007:
  • Bar Coding for Botany
    A system modeled on commercial bar codes may soon enable anyone to identify any plant from a small fragment of its DNA. By Kenneth M. Cameron
  • Bad News for Bears
    For thirty years the wild Alaskan bears that visit McNeil sanctuary have learned to trust the people who watch them. But this fall, despite a public outcry, those bears may be hunted. By Bill Sherwonit
  • February 2007:
  • Faces of the Human Past
    Science and art combine to create a new portrait gallery of our hominid heritage. By Richard Milner and Ian Tattersall
  • December 2006-January 2007:
  • Dig It!
    An air-lubber surveys the pleasures and perils of the burrowing life. By Robert R. Dunn
  • November 2006:
  • The Ritual World of Pocahontas
    As Jamestown celebrates its 400th anniversary, the dramatic rescue of John Smith turns out to have been part of an elaborate piece of statecraft, misunderstood by the English colonists. By Frederic W. Gleach
  • Times of Our Lives
    Gravity, along with dark energy, plays a key role in the timing of our cosmic appearance and sets strict limits on the span of life anywhere in the universe. By Robert L. Jaffe
  • October 2006:
  • Sociable Killers
    New studies of the white shark (aka great white) show that its social life and hunting strategies are surprisingly complex. By R. Aidan Martin and Anne Martin
  • As Time Goes By
    Comparing the human experience of time with the fundamental tempos of nature yields a startling new outlook on our place in the universe. By Robert L. Jaffe
  • September 2006:
  • Wildebeests of the Serengeti
    Migrating in great numbers, the signature antelope of the African savanna must dodge predators, drought, and human development. On the side, it shapes its own habitat. By Richard D. Estes
  • July-August 2006:
  • The Scaly Ones
    Squamata—lizards and snakes—have spread to almost every landmass and branched into more than 7,200 species. Ecological and molecular studies are bringing their family tree more clearly into focus. By Laurie J. Vitt and Eric R. Pianka
  • June 2006:
  • This Old House
    At Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic site in Turkey, families packed their mud-brick houses close together and traipsed over roofs to climb into their rooms from above. By Ian Hodder
  • May 2006:
  • Cooking the Climate with Coal
    In the U.S., China, and elsewhere coal is booming. But the boom may lead to environmental disaster. By Jeff Goodell
  • April 2006:
  • The Biggest Fish
    Unraveling the mysteries of the whale shark. By Steven G. Wilson
  • March 2006:
  • Smart Weapons
    With an arsenal of quills and chemicals, the porcupine mounts one of nature’s most robust defenses against predators. By Uldis Roze
  • February 2006:
  • The Origins of Life
    Have too many cooks spoiled the prebiotic soup? By Antonio Lazcano
  • A Shell with a View
    It takes a cool blood to feel the earth’s warmth. By Verlyn Klinkenborg
  • December 2005–January 2006:
  • Land of Plenty
    Austria’s red deer feast on handouts and live half the year in fenced enclosures. Can they still fend for themselves?  By Karoline T. Schmidt
  • November 2005:
  • Darwin & Evolution
    Articles on the New Darwinism.  By Richard Dawkins, Richard Milner, Jonathan Weiner, Sean B. Carroll, and Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • October 2005:
  • Toxic Treasure
    Poisons and venoms from deadly animals could become tomorrow’s miracle drugs. And few places on Earth harbor so many deadly animals as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  By Robert George Sprackland
  • September 2005:
  • Magic Flutes
    Nine thousand years ago, Neolithic villagers in China played melodies on instruments fashioned from the hollow bones of birds.  By Zhang Juzhong and Lee Yun Kuen
  • July-August 2005:
  • Cold Fire
    In Antarctica’s Dry Valleys, the deep chambers and conduits that poured hot lava onto the surface are exposed as nowhere else on Earth. By Edmond A. Mathez
  • June 2005:
  • Dance of the Sexes
    A lemur needs some unusual traits to survive in Madagascar’s unpredictable environment. By Sharon T. Pochron and Patricia C. Wright
  • May 2005:
  • The Varieties of Tyrannosaurs
    Knowledge about the most fearsome dinosaurs and their relatives is finally measuring up to the animals’ fame. By Mark A. Norell and Xu Xing
  • April 2005:
  • Fire Down Under
    Bushfire season pays Australia a hellish visit each year. Drought and climate change could be making the infernos worse. By Dan Drollette
  • March 2005:
  • The Flower and the Fly
    Long insect mouthparts and deep floral tubes have become so specialized that each organism has become dependent on the other. By Laura A. Sessions and Steven D. Johnson
  • February 2005:
  • Fat Chance
    Doesn’t “everyone know” that serving supersize meals to a young couch potato is a sure recipe for an obese child? Then why is the current epidemic of childhood obesity such a mystery to science? By Susan Okie
  • Taming the River to Let In the Sea
    Southern Louisiana is sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. The surprising culprit is overambitious flood control. By Shea Penland
  • December 2004–January 2005:
  • Destination: Titan
    This January, a small space probe will parachute to the surface of Saturn’s largest moon. By John C. Zarnecki
  • Sight for Sore Eyes
    A bright spot in an otherwise dismal prognosis for sub-Saharan Africa: Simple measures against trachoma, a bacterial infection that causes deformed eyelids, are saving the vision of millions. By James A. Zingeser
  • November 2004:
  • Ties That Bind
    Hopi gift culture and its first encounter with the United States. By Peter M. Whiteley
  • October 2004:
  • Wherever the Wind May Blow
    Albatrosses and frigatebirds spend most of their long lives soaring over the sea. Miniature electronic trackers and sensors are now showing ornithologists where the birds go. By Henri Weimerskirch
  • September 2004:
  • Secret Survivor
    “Extinct” for 50 million years, an enigmatic fossil species may still live at the bottom of the sea—but it defies capture. By Peter A. Rona
  • July-August 2004:
  • With Hands or Swift Feet
    The ancient Greek city-states were rarely as united as they were at the Olympic Games. By David C. Young
  • June 2004:
  • Where Have All the Frogs Gone?
    Biologists have examined a rogues’ gallery of possible culprits. A leading suspect is an infective fungus. By James P. Collins
  • May 2004:
  • Egypt’s Young and Restless
    Through Islam and the Internet, a new generation seeks its fair share. By Mary Knight
  • April 2004:
  • Virtual Universe
    Centuries of astronomy, plus video-game technology, combine to offer a stunning new perspective on our place in space. By Brian Abbott, Carter Emmart, and Ryan Wyatt
  • March 2004:
  • Saving Nemo
    Aquariums, once water-filled cabinets of curiosities, exert potent economic forces that can foster conservation in the wild. By Melanie L. J. Stiassny
  • February 2004:
  • Headstrong Hominids
    The mysterious skulls of Java man and Peking man may have evolved because males were clubbing each other in fights. By Noel T. Boaz and Russell L. Ciochon
  • December 2003–January 2004:
  • What Became of the Water on Mars?
    This January, a cluster of spacecraft will converge on the Red Planet, probing for clues to the mysterious but unmistakable role of water in its past. By Michael H. Carr
  • November 2003:
  • Trashed
    Across the Pacific Ocean, plastics, plastics, everywhere. By Charles Moore
  • October 2003:
  • Promised Land
    Several million years ago tectonic forces began to create an edenic corridor that led early humans out of Africa and into the Near East. By Zvi Ben-Avraham and Susan Hough
  • September 2003:
  • Bolts from Beyond
    Some “shooting stars” come to Earth bearing secrets from other planets, as well as clues about the makeup of the solar system before the planets formed. By Donald Goldsmith
  • July-August 2003:
  • The Birth of War
    An archaeological survey concludes that warfare, despite its malignant hold on modern life, has not always been part of the human condition. By R. Brian Ferguson
  • June 2003:
  • Patterns in Nature
    The new focus on self-organizing processes links such diverse natural phenomena as a zebra’s stripes and a mound of termites. By Scott Camazine
  • The Owl that Hunts by Light
    After years of observing in the Yukon, the author has shown that the North American hawk owl is a more versatile predator than its better known European cousin. By Christoph Rohner
  • May 2003:
  • A Plenitude of Ocean Life
    A new census of the sea is revealing that microbial cells thrive in undreamed-of numbers. They form an essential part of the food web. By Edward F. DeLong
  • April 2003:
  • Date with Extinction
    For a thousand years before people settled in New Zealand, a small alien predator may have been undermining the islands’ seabird populations. By Laura Sessions
  • March 2003:
  • Vietnam’s Secret Life
    Naturalists exploring the country’s mountains and forests are finding that the keys to its extraordinary biodiversity may lie deep in the past. By Eleanor J. Sterling, Martha M. Hurley, and Raoul H. Bain
  • February 2003:
  • Genetic Hoofprints
    The DNA trail leading back to the origins of today’s cattle has taken some surprising turns along the way. By Daniel G. Bradley
  • December 2002–January 2003:
  • Dry, Dry Again
    The desert tortoise, by tolerating immense swings in its body chemistry, can survive a drought by hunkering down for years at a time. By Kenneth A. Nagy
  • November 2002:
  • And Then There Was Light
    Einstein’s universe is subtle, but no longer beyond the reach of ordinary common sense. By Richard Panek
  • October 2002:
  • Trickle-Down Theory, Andean Style
    Irrigation techniques good enough for the Incas make even more sense today. By Paul Trawick
  • September 2002:
  • Their Game Is Mud
    Scientists go underground to get the lowdown on an amphibious fish. By Heather J. Lee and Jeffrey B. Graham
  • July-August 2002:
  • A Superorganism’s Fuzzy Boundaries
    Combine heavy-breathing termites with heavy-breathing mushrooms, and what do you get? By J. Scott Turner
  • June 2002:
  • Avian Quick-Change Artists
    How do house finches thrive in so many environments? By reshaping themselves. Literally. By Alexander V. Badyaev and Geoffrey E. Hill
  • May 2002:
  • Little Loggers Make a Big Difference
    Red maple seedlings don’t stand a chance around meadow voles. By Richard S. Ostfeld
  • April 2002:
  • A Mouse’s Tale
    Inbred for special roles in medical research, the adaptable house mouse remains fittest in the wilds of your pantry. By Steven N. Austad
  • March 2002:
  • Say It With Bowers
    The world’s fanciest avian architecture continues to evolve in the mountains of New Guinea. By J. Albert C. Uy
  • February 2002:
  • The Unsung Ancients
    Some trees have survived for millennia by being in the wrong place at the right time. By David W. Stahle
  • December 2001–January 2002:
  • Face the Music
    Is there a biological basis for our capacity to organize–and respond to–musical sounds? By Susan Milius
  • November 2001:
  • A Superlative Penguin
    The least known, last studied, strangest penguin takes a scientist on a most uncomfortable journey. By Lloyd Spencer Davis
  • October 2001:
  • Glaciers That Speak in Tongues . . . and other tales of global warming.
    By Wallace S. Broecker
  • September 2001:
  • Freshwater Riches of the Amazon
    To find the reasons for a river’s abundance, a scientist goes fishing in deep time. By John Lundberg
  • July-August 2001:
  • The Proof Is in the Plumage
    From China comes the strongest evidence yet of the existence of feathered dinosaurs. By Mark Norell
  • Mussel-Bound Crab
    A naturalist plays hide-and-seek with a tiny crustacean. By Peter J. Marchand
  • June 2001:
  • The Beast with Five Genomes
    Inside a termite’s gut lives Mixotricha paradoxa, an extreme example of how all plants and animals—including ourselves—have evolved to contain multitudes. By Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan
  • May 2001:
  • Mothers and Others
    From queen bees to elephant matriarchs, many animal mothers are assisted by others in rearing offspring. By Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
  • April 2001:
  • Colonies in Space
    An ingenious entomologist retrieves an insect city excavated by Florida’s harvester ants. By Walter R. Tschinkel
  • March 2001:
  • A World Apart
    The larval lifestyle may seem alien to us terrestrial bipeds, but it comes quite naturally to most creatures—especially inhabitants of the world’s oceans. By Gregory A. Wray
  • February 2001:
  • Robbing the Archaeological Cradle
    In the aftermath of the Gulf War, Iraq’s ancient heritage has landed on the endangered list. By John Malcolm Russell
  • December 2000–January 2001:
  • I Have Landed
    In the final essay of this twenty-seven-year series, the author reflects on continuity—from family history to the branching lineage of terrestrial life. By Stephen Jay Gould
  • November 2000:
  • The Road to Ancient Helike
    A Museum astronomer’s scientific journey started with earthquakes and led to a significant archaeological discovery in Greece. By Henry S. F. Cooper Jr.
  • October 2000:
  • Singing in the Brain
    Hummingbirds don’t just hum—they sing. And they learn the tunes from one another. By Annette Heist
  • The Vikings’ Silent Saga
    What went wrong with the Scandinavian westward expansion? By Thomas H. McGovern and Sophia Perdikaris
  • September 2000:
  • A Floral Twist of Fate
    New Zealand mistletoes that bear strange, sealed flowers depend on savvy native pollinators to thrive. By Laura A. Sessions
  • July-August 2000:
  • Is Rattlesnake Venom Evolving?
    Recent reports suggest that the venom of North America’s rattlesnakes is growing increasingly potent, making their bites more difficult to treat. By Steve Grenard
  • June 2000:
  • Inner Beauty
    Remarkable photographs reveal the structure of fossil organisms whose tissues, over eons, have been replaced by minerals. Photographs by Giraud Foster and Norman Barker
  • A Star Is Born
    How a small, blind, mud-dwelling mammal evolved a high-resolution scanning device on its nose. By Kenneth Catania
  • May 2000:
  • Dig It, and They Will Come
    In the underground world of dung beetles, the strong, well-armored males always win the females—or do they? By Douglas Emlen
  • April 2000:
  • The Hidden Unity of Hearts
    Question: How did the heart evolve from a simple tube to a multichambered pump? Answer: Quickly. By Carl Zimmer
  • And the Beat Goes On
    A brief guide to the hearts of vertebrates. By Warren Burggren
  • The Virtual Heart
    A beating heart is not just a biological organ—it’s a puzzle for physicists to solve. By Carl Zimmer
  • March 2000:
  • Duets and Drawls
    When two scientists lent an ear to tropical stripe-backed wrens, they heard more than songs and calls; they heard family histories. Here they describe the unique vocalizing of a very social bird. By Jordan Price and R. Haven Wiley
  • February 2000:
  • The Heart of Matter
    Physicists are still asking, What’s the universe made of? String theorists think they may know, and their discipline is zeroing in on a theory of everything. By Brian Greene
  • A Forgotten Cosmic Designer
    Artist-scientist Howard Russell Butler painted moonscapes and portraits of “Earth’s richest man,” but his plans for a hall of astronomy were eclipsed. By Jenny Lawrence and Richard Milner
  • December 1999–January 2000:
  • Days of the Deinos
    A paleontologist makes a case for the controversial view that a meat-eating theropod dinosaur of the American West hunted in packs. By Desmond Maxwell
  • December 1999–January 2000:
  • Savings in a Snowbank
    Grouse and ptarmigan conserve their body heart under a blanket of snow. By Peter J. Marchand
  • For earlier articles, please see Picks from the Past.

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