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Bizarre Adaptations

On this week’s newsdesk: a bird with a powerful bite, a robot gets back on its feet, and 15 years of the Mars Express.

A fearsome bite

Which do you think has the most fearsome jaws? A Tyrannosaurus Rex or the Galápagos ground finch–a bird that stands at 12.5 cm tall?

Well yes, probably the T-Rex. However, scientists have discovered that if the two animals were the same size, the bird’s bite would be much more powerful than the dinosaur’s—320 times stronger, in fact! While it’s true that T-Rex had powerful jaws, scientists say this was simply due to its massive size. In contrast, the finch’s beak is incredibly strong for a bird that’s so small. But the finches need their powerful beaks to break open nuts and seeds.

Let’s just hope they don’t get bigger any time soon!

Robots learn resilience

Walking robots can look impressive, until they fall over! Now, a robot called ANYmal has learnt to get back on its feet thanks to a computer simulation.

The robot’s designers created over 2000 virtual ANYmals and simulated knocking them over – again and again. The computer studied what happened, and worked out by itself how to get the virtual ANYmals up again – a process called machine learning. Then, ANYmal’s designers transferred what the computer had learnt to the real robot, so now it knows how to get up, as well!

It’s a bit like programming a computer to practise kung fu for you, then downloading that skill right into your brain!

Happy birthday, Mars Express!

Fifteen years ago, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express satellite went into orbit around Mars.

Since then, it’s gathered a huge amount of data and sent back thousands of images of the planet’s surface. Thanks to the Mars Express, we can now look at pictures of the ice-filled Korolev crater, huge frozen clouds in the sky, and the planet’s ice-covered south pole.

Scientists think that knowing more about the past and present of Mars will help us to better understand our own planet. For example, working out why liquid water disappeared from the surface of Mars could help us to predict whether that might ever happen on Earth!

Learn more…

The ground finch’s incredibly strong bite has evolved to help it survive in its environment. It may seem strange that such a small bird is so powerful – but it's nowhere near/not nearly as strange as some of the ways that evolution has shaped life on Earth. Watch the Twig film, Bizarre Adaptations, to discover all kinds of weird and wonderful creature abilities.