A gang of ugly ducklings
"Mute swans have been using their beaks to pull a rope to ask for bread at Bishop's Palace in Wells, Somerset, since the 1800s," says The Daily Telegraph. "The world-famous birds are trained to sound a bell, which prompts their caretakers to throw food from a window. … But the ancient tradition is now under threat after the latest birds to live on the water split up." The young couple, Bertie and Vicky, had been struggling with their bell-ringing training after they were intimidated by a group of resident ducks – who had also learned to ring the bell. Even when the swans were able to ring the bells, the ducks would swim over and chase them off – scoffing all the grub. Caretaker Paul Arblasta said: "The swans were left looking bemused, cocking their heads, amazed at what they were seeing."
The old fake-courtroom trick
American Banker reports: "Unicredit America Inc., the Erie, Pa.-based collection agency that used a fake courtroom to coerce debtors to pay, could have to pay more than $1.2-million [U.S.] in penalties pending a ruling by Senior Erie County Judge John A. Bozza. … State investigators, according to an Erie Times-News report, also said Unicredit used questionable subpoenas and other tactics to pressure debtors into paying. … Erie County Judge Michael E. Dunlavey, who has since retired, ordered the fake courtroom closed in November, 2010, and said Unicredit engaged in unfair trade practices."
Bombs in the sea
"Millions of pounds of unexploded military ordnance dumped decades ago off U.S. coasts could pose a threat to shipping lanes and oil rigs, researchers say," reports United Press International. "Oceanography professors William Bryant and Neil Slowey of Texas A&M University report millions of pounds of bombs and other ordnance are scattered over the Gulf of Mexico and also off the coasts of at least 16 states, from New Jersey to Hawaii. … Military dumping of unused bombs into the Gulf and other offshore sites started in 1946 and continued until 1970 before being banned [Bryant] said. 'The best guess is that at least 31 million pounds of bombs were dumped, but that could be a very conservative estimate.'"
Bombs on the land
"When American and British bombers reduced German cities to smouldering rubble during [the Second World War]," says Der Spiegel, "roughly one-tenth of the bombs did not explode. Some lie only 30 centimetres (12 inches) below the surface, others as much as six metres deep – and nearly all of them represent an enormous hazard."
What's on a bat's mind?
A new study "reveals that bat echolocation calls, primarily used for orientation and foraging, also contain information about sex, which helps the flying mammals to acquire and keep mates," writes Jennifer Viegas of NBCNews.com. "The info is especially helpful to certain male bats with harems of adoring females that are actually huskier than the males. This holds true for the greater sac-winged bat … which was the focus of the study. … Although females of this bat species are significantly larger than males, their echolocation calls turn out to be higher pitched and shorter. When played back to males, such calls led to wooing with courtship vocalizations."
Thought du jour