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National Geographic Magazine

National Geographic Magazine July 2013

The latest news in science, exploration, and culture will open your eyes to the world’s many wonders. Get a National Geographic digital magazine subscription today and experience the same high-quality articles and breathtaking photography contained in the print edit.

United States
National Geographic Society
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a flying shame

The European bee-eater is nature at her gaudy best. It’s a tiny bird, with a scimitar beak and feathers the colors of a crazy quilt: saffron throat, turquoise breast, chestnut crown. I first really spent time watching bee-eaters while on a boat on the Zambezi River. The birds had dug nests into the sandy banks along the river. They were darting around, chasing dragonflies to feed their chicks, iridescent in the sunlight. Most bee-eaters run a gantlet to get to Africa, having flown—as they do every year—from southern Europe, across the Mediterranean, over the Sahara, and finally to southern Africa. Many don’t survive the trip. The stress of migration claims some, raptors get others. But there is another predator: man. “Last Song,” this month’s story reported by Jonathan Franzen and photographed by…

new oil landscape

When Edwin Drake made his first well in 1859, he could be forgiven the waste of his first gusher. He didn’t know what was going to happen. The second well taught us that this phenomenon might be repeated. By the third well the oil industry should have been prepared to catch this early petroleum spurt so it wouldn’t be wasted. Here we are 150 years later still performing the same stupidity on an almost ceremonial level. Idiots stand around getting drenched with oil in puddles of polluting petroleum. Arguably, a home could be heated for years with the waste. ROBERT W. POLLACK Valhalla, New York Do they truly believe they can play roulette with nature and win? Fatten the coffers now, because they will be needed to pay for the cleanup. ELISABETH SMITH Omaha, Nebraska Edwin…

grave sights

Christine Lee National Geographic Emerging Explorer EXPERTISEBioarchaeologist LOCATIONMongolia My team drove four days west from Ulaanbaatar toward the western border, near Kazakhstan, to work at an ancient burial site—almost a thousand miles through Mongolia’s central steppes, the Gobi, and the Altay Mountains. When we stopped in a village to ask for directions, we were told the site was cursed. It was a cemetery for royals from the Xiongnu Empire. The Great Wall of China had been built to keep the Xiongnu out. As we drove up to the site, we had a feeling something was wrong. It was eerily quiet. Usually after a day of excavation, everyone is sitting around a bonfire socializing. Not here. The site was in the middle of the desert, yet it was swarming with mosquitoes. Some of the local…


Armenia Beauty is in the beheld eye of a 16-year-old boy in Yerevan. In this highly magnified view of his iris’s surface architecture, the central black pool is the pupil, and his lashes are reflected by the cornea. His eyelids appear as pink rims at top and bottom. Iran Visitors inspect a ruined dakhma, or tower of silence, near Yazd. In the Zoroastrian tradition, dead bodies—believed to be in danger of contamination— were left on these raised, circular structures, to be purified by vultures and the elements. Germany A color-enhanced electron microscope photo reveals a half-millimeter-long tardigrade in moss. Called water bears, these eight-legged, alien-looking invertebrates can survive extreme pressure, radiation, and temperatures—and years without food. Order prints of National Geographic photos online at PrintsNGS.com.…

your shot

A Brand-new Your Shot We’ve reimagined Your Shot, our online photo community. Check out more readers’ pictures, get assignments, and find feedback from National Geographic photo editors at yourshot.nationalgeographic.com. EDITORS’ CHOICE Kyle Ueckermann Oulu, Finland Layers of ice had grown on windows in Molkoköngäs, where Ueckermann and his wife, Tiialotta, stopped during a midwinter road trip. While exploring an abandoned cabin, he saw her image through a window, distorted by the ice. READERS’ CHOICE Ance Yogyakarta, Indonesia To build the scene for this photo, Ance created a small puddle of water, then placed an ant atop a pile of moss that he had found in his yard. As the ant started moving, Ance, a macrophotographer, captured the moment right before it jumped from the moss. Tatyana Druz Hadera, Israel At a cat exhibition near her hometown, Druz took portraits of many…

quill power

North American porcupine quills are clingy types—once one is lodged in flesh, it takes twice the force of insertion to pull it out, because of a series of barbs along its tip. This discovery led a team of medical researchers to a pointed conversation: Why not replicate a quill’s barbs to make drug-delivery and internal patches hold fast, even when wet? Hypodermic needle architecture could also benefit. The less push needed to pierce flesh, the less chance of overshooting. Barbed quills take about half the pressure a needle does to insert, which may make synthetic versions better for procedures like spinal taps. To avoid tearing tissue on removal, Harvard’s Jeffrey Karp and MIT’s Robert Langer are testing timed degradability, so barbs lose grip. In some cases, a difficult-to-remove needle might be…