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When a naked mole-rat encounters a stealthy sea worm


What do naked mole rats and ancient sea worms have in common? Pretty much, that’s why they share real estate in this number.

One of my favorite parts of the Science News edition is reading page tests, one of the last steps in the long process of producing the journal. Although I know what’s going on in the magazine and I’ve read the articles before, it’s still like opening a surprise gift to watch the pages come together. It’s the work of dozens of people, a process that begins when writers launch ideas for news and articles. The news is first published on the Science News website and there are many more that we can fit in a journal. So it's up to publisher Erin Wayman to choose which ones to print. It seeks out the most important or intriguing science of the previous two weeks and aims to report in all fields of science, from artificial intelligence to zoology.

Articles that make the cut often help answer a question that scientists have been working on solving for a long time or warn of something surprising and counterintuitive.

For one page, Wayman chose a report on how naked mole rats use distinctive dialects to communicate with mole rats within their social group. “It may sound amazing, but they are very social animals, so they would need a way to communicate,” he says. I was amazed and loved the notion of these mostly blind critters chirping in their burrows.

Wayman then paired the rats with naked moles and talks with a story of fossils suggesting that giant worms may have dug tunnels on the seabed millions of years ago, sprouting from them to catch unsuspecting prey. Although current hairless rodents and former predatory worms may seem to have little in common, Wayman says he sees a pattern. "You're seeing behavior today and in the past, which gives information about animal behavior."

And for more connections between the present and the past, another story suggests that hominids may develop a specialized thumb muscle fairly early on, which helps give humans our firm grip and uniquely adaptable hands. “It’s amazing that the manual dexterity we rely on has been around for almost 2 million years, even before we were human,” says Wayman. Perhaps we are to blame for that muscle of the newly acquired text message talent for humanity.

Whether it’s the trail of our readers like naked mammals and gossip or old thumb muscles, we take great care in choosing articles that not only tell you something interesting or fun about the world, but also something relevant to today’s life. This includes our ongoing in-depth coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with a fascinating article explaining how a common antidepressant can help cope with serious COVID-19 diseases. I hope you enjoy reading the magazine as much as we love creating it for you. And if you need more science journalism waiting for the next issue, we have much more for you at www.sciencenews.org.



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