You might have missed: L. voldemort ant; hip strength prevents falls; sinking meteorites; touch benefits

Harry Potter and the… new ant!

A study has unearthed a new species of subterranean ant, which has been named Leptanilla voldemort for its pale colouration, slender build, spindly legs, and long, sharp mandibles.

The name, L. voldemort for short, pays homage to the dark wizard Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series.

“The fearsome antagonist in Harry Potter and the ant both have a ghostly and slender appearance, and live in the shadows,” says Dr Mark Wong, a researcher at the University of Western Australia and lead author of a paper describing the species in the journal Zookeys.

“Adapting to life in darkness, Leptanilla workers are blind, devoid of pigmentation and measure between just one to two millimetres allowing them to move effortlessly through the soil.”

The ant was discovered in an ecological survey that documented animals living below ground in the arid Pilbara region in the north of Western Australia.

Working on hip strength could prevent falls in older people

Improving hip strength could help prevent falls in older age, according to a new longitudinal study in PLOS ONE.

Researchers investigated the impact of knee, ankle, and hip muscle strength and power on falls in 94 community-dwelling older adults aged 64-74 years of age. They measured the strength and power of specific muscles in the lower limbs and followed up for one year with monthly telephone contact to monitor fall occurrences.

Comparative analysis revealed that non-fallers (54.3% of participants) had significantly better muscle strength in the hip abductors and adductors, and greater muscle power in the hip abductors, hip flexors, and knee flexors, compared to fallers (45.7%).

The researchers say “the findings indicate that hip abductor strength and hip flexor power can be considered protective factors against falls in independent older adults in the community. These findings may contribute to developing effective fall-prevention strategies for this population.”

Undiscovered meteorites are sinking in soft Antarctic ice

More than 60% of all known meteorites have been discovered in Antarctica because they’re so easy to spot – standing out against the frozen white background of the continent.

It’s estimated that up to 850,000 meteorites have yet to be collected from the ice sheet. But warming temperatures are threatening this archive of extraterrestrial bodies by melting the ice they sit on, allowing them to sink below the surface.

Now, researchers have combined a machine learning method that estimates the distribution of meteorites in Antarctica with regional model simulations of climate change to project the loss of meteorites under different climate change scenarios. 

The results are presented in a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, which says approximately 5,000 meteorites become inaccessible per year, while only approximately 1,000 are found.

“Independent of the emissions scenario, about 24% will be lost by 2050, potentially rising to about 76% by 2100 under a high-emissions scenario,” they write.

Photograph of a black meteorite on a frozen landscape
A meteorite on the blue ice field in the Miller Range, Antarctica. Credit: Nina Lanza

Yet another reason to hug your loved-ones

Physical touch from both humans and animals can reduce pain, feelings of depression, and anxiety, according to a new paper in Nature Human Behaviour.

To explore the health benefits of touch researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of data from 212 studies involving a total of 12,966 individuals. They found strong evidence of health benefits in adults that engaged in touch with other humans or objects – including robots and weighted blankets.

However, larger benefits to mental health were found when people touched other humans as opposed to an object.

“Furthermore, we found a significantly increased physical health benefit when the head was touched as opposed to the torso,” the authors write.

“Thus, head touch such as a face or scalp massage could be especially beneficial.”

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