World's Rarest Dog Could Soon Go Extinct; Backstabbing Hermit Crabs

Discovered: Population of man's rarest best friend dwindles; hermit crabs are terrible friends; the song of the sand; candy corn is social media's favorite candy. 

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Discovered: Population of man's rarest best friend dwindles; hermit crabs are terrible friends; the song of the sand; candy corn is social media's favorite candy. 

Ethiopian wolves not long for this world. With fewer than 500 of these majestic animals left (and only 72 running free in the wild), the Ethiopian wolf has the dubious honor of being the world's rarest dog. And the breed is becoming ever more diluted, according to the results from a 12-year study carried out by European conservationists in the Ethiopian highlands. Gene flow between the remaining groups is weak, and these lone-wolfs aren't keen on mixing their genetics with other canine groups. The Ethiopian wolf branched off from its wolf ancestors 100,000 years ago and has since evolved to live 3,000 meters above sea level and feed on rodents. They're very susceptible to rabies, which decimated some populations by up to 75 percent recently. "It may be necessary in the near future to artificially increase population size and restore gene flow between nearby populations," write researchers from Zoological Society of London. [BBC News]

Never trust a hermit crab. Hermit crabs seem pretty cute at first. They're a popular pet, because who doesn't like a critter that wears its home on its back? But really, the terrestrials types of hermit crab are scheming like backstabbers, according to biologist Mark Laidre from the University of California, Berkeley. They don't want just any old abandoned shell on their backs—they trick out their shells by digging everything out of them and incorporating other remodeling work. So when they see another hermit crab with a better shell, they get jealous. And when they get jealous, they get deceptively friendly. When they all congregate in a hermit crab, they typically gang up on the crab with the best shell, prying his home away from him and competing over it. "The one that gets yanked out of its shell is often left with the smallest shell, which it can’t really protect itself with" says Professor Laidre. "Then it’s liable to be eaten by anything. For hermit crabs, it’s really their sociality that drives predation." [UC Berkeley]

Why sand dunes sound so cool. If you've ever stood in the valley of a sand dune while the wind picks up, you may have heard a haunting buzz whipping through the desert air. Scientists have been perplexed by the quality of these sounds, but a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters presents a possible answer. The size of the individual grains of sand in a dune could be responsible for shaping these songs. The researchers behind the findings studied sand from Morocco, comparing samples from various dunes, some of which sang a consistent G-sharp (105 Hz) and others which oscillated between F-sharp and D (90 Hz to 150 Hz). The form of the sand grains was found to be the operative variable in why they sounded different. Here examples of the sand dune song below: [ScienceNow]

Candy corn's divisiveness makes it eminently Tweetable. Research news you can use to maximize your impact on social media. If you're going to tweet about candy, tweet about candy corn. It might not be the most popular candy in real life, but it's the trendiest sweet treat on Twitter, according to NetBase researchers, who track brand popularity on social media platforms. This popularity seems to be specific not only to Halloween, but also to 2012. Candy corn-related Tweets only made up one percent of online buzz last year, according to NetBase's findings. Reese's, M&M's, Tootsie Rolls, Skittles and Sweetarts are among the other controversial candies that get the most play on social media. [Huffington Post]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.