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National Geographic Magazine March 2021

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
12 Issues

in this issue

2 min
the costs of wrongful convictions

SINCE 1972, 180 MEN AND TWO WOMEN in the United States have been freed from death row after being found innocent of the crimes for which they were sentenced to die. Martin Schoeller, a longtime National Geographic contributor known for his haunting, close-up portraits, has photographed, filmed, and interviewed 17 of them. Schoeller brought these photos to us and our colleagues at ABC News (both organizations are owned by The Walt Disney Company). His goal: He wants people to reconsider their support for the death penalty, which today in America can be imposed by 28 states, the federal government, and the military. Schoeller hopes that people who see his photos “feel like ‘This could have been me—and they were sentenced to death for something they didn’t do.’ That’s the reason I…

1 min
ukraine’s ‘train ladies’


1 min
the backstory

MANY OF SASHA MASLOV’S best childhood memories are connected to trains. Every vacation, every trip to another city, he’d stare out the window to see the texture of his country in the apartment buildings and shops and cars waiting for the train to pass. And every so often, he’d see a tiny house with a woman standing by it, holding a yellow flag. “Ukrainian railroad ladies,” as Maslov calls them in his portrait series, are a cultural tradition that feels as old as rail travel in Ukraine. The workers are tasked with sending flag-based signals to conductors of approaching trains. A folded yellow flag means all clear ahead. An unfolded flag means reduce speed and proceed with caution. A red flag—or a flare shot into the air—means to stop moving entirely,…

7 min
when ‘natural’ disasters aren’t

IN THIS SECTION Woodpeckers and Fire Moonlit Rope Walk Artworks From Snares History in Their Words ILLUMINATING THE MYSTERIES—AND WONDERS—ALL AROUND US EVERY DAY AT A NEWS CONFERENCE in mid-August of last year, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, announced that there were 367 “known” wildfires burning in the state. “I say ‘known’ fires,” Newsom said, “but the prospect of that number going up is very real.” A couple of days later the number did, in fact, increase, to 560. A few weeks after that, many of the blazes were still burning, and one—the Doe fire, north of Santa Rosa—had grown into the largest conflagration in California history. The smoke from the state was so bad that it veiled the sun in New England. By the time most of California’s flames had been put…

1 min
ancient bug zapper

AN AMBER-ENTOMBED FOSSIL with an exquisitely preserved skull (left)—even some muscles intact—is the oldest known example of a slingshot tongue, found in amphibians called albanerpetontids. Details about “albies” have been elusive; another albie fossil previously was misidentified as its distant cousin the chameleon. But new analysis by Sam Houston State University researcher Juan Daza and his colleagues identified this fossil, above,* from Myanmar, as a new albie species that lived 99 million years ago. Writing in Science, Daza’s team added to albies’ profile: Lizardlike, with scales and claws, likely living in or around trees, these sit-and-wait predators used their long, powerful tongues to nab small invertebrates. —DINA FINE MARON DISPATCHES FROM THE FRONT LINES OF SCIENCE AND INNOVATION Sniffing out the deadly virus Scientists are training working dogs to detect COVID-19–related compounds in…

2 min
life after fire

1 BEETLES SENSE HEAT Hours after fire Wood-boring fire beetles use heat sensors to find burned trees miles away, where they lay their eggs. 2 FEASTING Months after fire Woodpeckers hunt for wood-boring beetle larvae, their main food source. The birds have usually colonized an area by the first spring after a fire. 3 HOMESTEADING Annually They excavate cavities to make new nests every year; chicks hatch in spring. Old nests shelter many small mammals and other birds. 4 MOVING AWAY 4-8 years Black-backed woodpeckers leave for newly burned forests when fire-killed trees deteriorate and beetle populations diminish. SOURCES: RODNEY B. SIEGEL, INSTITUTE FOR BIRD POPULATIONS; VICTORIA A. SAAB, FOREST SERVICE; DANIEL YOUNG AND JACKI WHISENANT, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON; CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY; EBIRD…