A construction effort that likely lasted from the 11th to the 15th century, and was also refurbished during Victorian days, the Church of St Edward, Stow-on-the-Wold, in Gloucestershire, was built on the spot of a former Saxon church. The present-day edifice fuses various architectural styles. There are bits of Norman masonry and Early English types of arches and columns. Distinctive as well is the nave clerestory, a testimony to the late Gothic architectural twist.
While all of these authentic features are of interest in their own right, one that might have fueled the imagination of a famous writer is the church’s north door, flanked by two ancient yew trees. Rumor has it that this was the door that sparked J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Doors of Durin,” the west gate of Moria that appears in a scene in the The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Nevertheless, this is still just a rumor, and nobody has so far authenticated it.
St Edward’s Church is a great attraction and place of interest, protected as a Historic England Grade I listed building. The small town of Stow-on-the-Wold can take pride in having such an architectural masterpiece within its boundaries.
Some praise of the church’s earliest features can be found inside, like the ornamental nailheads of the columns. These are among the church’s segments that hint of a church of similar proportions occupying the site before this one was completed.
Other portions of the church testify to it not being an ordinary architectural construction. The aisles of the nave are rather uneven. Different corbels, some plain-looking and some grotesque, can be noticed in the nave, perhaps depicting notables of the day.
The chancel is much restored, and it bears elements from Victorian days. The low part of the nave’s west wall further reveals the earliest masonry in the church, likely Norman style.
A grand picture depicting the Crucifixion scene, the work of Gaspar de Crayer, a Flemish painter active in the early 17th century and noted for his various altarpieces, is seen in the church’s south aisle. The piece was presented as a gift here in 1875. Some of the windows of the church are reputably an early 14th-century effort, distinctive for their pairs of trefoil panels that also embed tinier quatrefoils.
The tower gives an imposing feeling too; erected by 1447, it rises more than 80 feet in the air and contains probably the heaviest bells to be found across the county. While the current clock of the tower was installed by the mid-1920s, there was another clock that chimed the hour before, at least since 1580.
Architectural admirers will certainly enjoy all these various aspects of St Edward’s, and likely they will come across more great details upon visiting the church. Another striking element is the pair of old yew trees hugging the north door that is dated to either the 17th or 18th century.
This door, looking as if it had emerged from a fantasy world, perhaps inspired Tolkien in his writing of the memorable door he described in the first part of his famous The Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, there isn’t any written account proving any connection of the Oxford-based writer with this site.
Tolkien included in his book an illustration of the west door of Moria, crafted by both dwarves and elves according to the books, and this was the entrance to Khazad-dûm. After the Dwarven city was left deserted, the manner of how the door could be opened was forgotten. When someone compares Tolkien’s illustration of the door with the actual door at St. Edward, there is only a slight resemblance between the two. More likely, what has heated the debate is the book’s adaption to the big screen, and how the door was depicted in the film.
St Edward’s Door is also known as the Yew Tree Door. Similar-looking doors, perhaps not as impressive as this one, can be spotted at other places in England. Tolkien could have been inspired by this door, or by several others, or possibly from something entirely different–for that, we can never be sure.
Camouflage is a valuable survival strategy—just ask a chameleon.
Scientists have just discovered a new form of mimicry camouflage: beetles that hide by chewing beetle-shaped holes in a leaf. The holes function like body doubles when predators swoop in.
Since Darwin’s time, only seven types of animal mimicry have been defined by biologists, and none after the 1940s.
This new form of camouflage, discovered by an entomologist working in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and his colleagues, is so subtle that it’s been hiding in plain sight before the eyes of scientists for centuries.
Close analysis of 119 species of flea beetles and the feeding damage they inflict on plants has revealed the shape and color of these beetles’ bodies are strikingly similar to the holes they chew into plant leaves.
“It struck me—why did I not notice this before?” asks Alexander Konstantinov, a Smithsonian and U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist who has been studying flea beetles since 1977. “But nobody did, and people have been collecting these beetles since the 1700s!”
It wasn’t until a collecting trip to China in 2011 that Konstantinov noticed the beetles’ feeding damage closely resembled the insects in shape, size and color. Afterwards, he started looking for more examples.
“Now I can’t unsee it. They all do it, everywhere,” says Konstantinov, lead author of a recent paper on the discovery in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, with co-authors K. D. Prathapan of Kerala Agricultural University in India and Fredric V. Vencl of Stony Brook University in New York.
Ranging from a dark, shiny black to a pale grayish-brown, most species of flea beetles lack bright stripes and patterns.
They aren’t nature’s flashiest characters—but they are among the most successful and diverse insect tribes. Found on every continent except Antarctica, the world’s 9,900 species of flea beetles make-up one of the largest individual insect groups.
Scientists have long assumed the beetles’ evolutionary success was due to their incredible jumping ability. Some are able to spring nearly 100 times their body length in a single bound.
Now, researchers must take into account that the insects spend their lives on leaves covered with beetle-shaped chew holes. When a predator lunges for a hole rather than a beetle, it gives the insect a razor-thin window to escape.
For each of the species of flea beetle examined in the study, Konstantinov, Prathapan and Vencl observed that the feeding damage caused to plant leaves was roughly the same width and length as the beetle that created it. Light-colored beetles also make shallower holes for lighter-colored leaf damage, while dark-bodied beetles chew the leaf through, resulting in darker holes.
Scientists believe beetle bodies evolved to resemble the feeding damage at the same time as they evolved to chew beetle-sized holes in leaves.
Konstantinov and Vencl also suggest that the small size of the holes gives beetles another important protection: avoiding chemical plant defenses. Because the beetles’ feeding habits cause constellations of small, stippled holes in a leaf instead of a single large chewed-up territory, it may prevent a plant from protecting itself by unleashing toxins or other ways to repel insects.
And as they rely on the surface of the leaves during their entire life cycle—for food, for mating, for laying eggs—this feeding strategy has turned out to be a winning tactic on both sides of the survival equation.
“If the beetles don’t look like leaf damage, birds do eat them up, so the ones that can conceal themselves survive to reproduce,” Konstantinov says. “They have no choice but to be on the surface of the leaves, so they better come with some kind of strategy. This one is simple and ingenious.”
Vencl says that while he was initially skeptical the beetles were creating masquerade decoys, the study revealed the same patterns happening even in different genera of flea beetles, indicating an independent origin of the strategy. That means the decoy strategy may have aided in the huge diversification of species of this type of beetle.
“It could be that once a pretty good, broadly effective defense has evolved, it gets codified genetically,” Vencl says. “This defense allows the species to escape enemies, increase populations and spread to different habitats and geographic areas.”
The new work could also be useful from a pest-control standpoint: flea beetles are considered significant pests to many agricultural crops. Konstantinov suggests that perhaps plants could be manipulated to respond differently to the beetles’ feeding damage, resulting in holes that don’t resemble beetle bodies as closely. Predators could discern them more easily, and growers could use fewer chemical controls.
As for officially naming this new camouflage type, Konstantinov says it is an ongoing discussion among the authors and colleagues in the National Museum of Natural History. He says this totally new form of disguise demands a distinct, descriptive name.
“Self-portrait masquerade” has been suggested, as has “Shakespearean masquerade”—a reference to the playwright’s frequent use of character deception in his works.
“There’s no consensus yet,” Konstantinov adds. “But it needs to be named because it’s such a unique case—creatures making things that look like themselves.”
Just as new species are named when they are discovered, he says, naming new biological phenomena also makes them available for further study by others.
In the past 50 years, the amount of water in the open ocean with zero oxygen has increased more than fourfold. In coastal water bodies, including estuaries and seas, low-oxygen sites have increased more than 10-fold since 1950. Scientists expect oxygen to continue dropping even outside these zones as Earth warms. To halt the decline, the world needs to rein in both climate change and nutrient pollution an international team of scientists asserted in a new paper published Jan. 4 in Science.
“Oxygen is fundamental to life in the oceans,” says Denise Breitburg, a marine ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and lead author of the paper. “The decline in ocean oxygen ranks among the most serious effects of human activities on the Earth’s environment.”
The study came from a team of scientists from GO2NE (Global Ocean Oxygen Network), a working group created in 2016 by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. The review paper is the first to take such a sweeping look at the causes, consequences and solutions to low oxygen worldwide, in both the open ocean and in coastal waters. The article highlights the biggest dangers to the ocean and society, and what it will take to keep Earth’s waters healthy and productive.
“Approximately half of the oxygen on Earth comes from the ocean,” said Vladimir Ryabinin, executive secretary of the International Oceanographic Commission that formed the GO2NE group. “However, combined effects of nutrient loading and climate change are greatly increasing the number and size of ‘dead zones’ in the open ocean and coastal waters, where oxygen is too low to support most marine life.”
In areas traditionally called “dead zones,” like those in Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, oxygen plummets to levels so low many animals suffocate and die. As fish avoid these zones, their habitats shrink and they become more vulnerable to predators or fishing.
But the problem goes far beyond “dead zones” the authors point out. Even smaller oxygen declines can stunt growth in animals, hinder reproduction and lead to disease or even death. Low oxygen also can trigger the release of dangerous chemicals such as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas up to 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and toxic hydrogen sulfide. While some animals can thrive in dead zones, overall biodiversity falls.
In the open ocean climate change is the key culprit to low oxygen. Warm surface waters make it hard for oxygen to reach the ocean interior. Furthermore, as the ocean as a whole warms, it holds less oxygen. In coastal waters, excess nutrient pollution from land creates algal blooms, which drain oxygen as they die and decompose. In an unfortunate twist, animals also need more oxygen in warmer waters, even as it is disappearing.
People’s livelihoods are also on the line, the scientists reported, especially in developing nations. Smaller, artisanal fisheries may be unable to relocate when low oxygen destroys their harvests or forces fish to move elsewhere. In the Philippines, fish kills in a single town’s aquaculture pens cost more than $10 million. Coral reefs, a key tourism attraction in many countries, also can waste away without enough oxygen.
“It’s a tremendous loss to all the support services that rely on recreation and tourism, hotels and restaurants and taxi drivers and everything else,” said Lisa Levin, a co-author and marine biologist with the University of California, San Diego. “The reverberations of unhealthy ecosystems in the ocean can be extensive.”
Some popular fisheries could benefit, at least in the short term. Nutrient pollution can stimulate production of food for fish. In addition, when fish are forced to crowd to escape low oxygen, they can become easier to catch. But in the long run, this could result in overfishing and damage to the economy.
Winning: A Three-Pronged Approach
To keep low oxygen in check, the scientists said the world needs to take on the issue from three angles:
Address the causes: nutrient pollution and climate change. While neither issue is simple or easy, the steps needed to win can benefit people as well as the environment. Better septic systems and sanitation can protect human health and keep pollution out of the water. Cutting fossil fuel emissions not only cuts greenhouse gases and fights climate change, but also slashes dangerous air pollutants like mercury.
Protect vulnerable marine life. With some low oxygen unavoidable, it is crucial to protect at-risk fisheries from further stress. According to the GO2NE team, this could mean creating marine protected areas or no-catch zones in areas animals use to escape low oxygen, or switching to fish that are not as threatened by falling oxygen levels.
Improve low-oxygen tracking worldwide. Scientists have a decent grasp of how much oxygen the ocean could lose in the future, but they do not know exactly where those low-oxygen zones will be. Enhanced monitoring, especially in developing countries, and numerical models will help pinpoint which places are most at risk and determine the most effective solutions.
“This is a problem we can solve,” Breitburg says. “Halting climate change requires a global effort, but even local actions can help with nutrient-driven oxygen decline.”
As proof Breitburg points to the ongoing recovery of Chesapeake Bay, where nitrogen pollution has dropped 24 percent since its peak thanks to better sewage treatment, better farming practices and successful laws like the Clean Air Act. While some low-oxygen zones persist, the area of the Chesapeake with zero oxygen has almost disappeared.
“Tackling climate change may seem more daunting,” she added, “but doing it is critical for stemming the decline of oxygen in our oceans, and for nearly every aspect of life on our planet.”