Inkfish

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Like the clever and many-armed cephalopod, Inkfish reaches into all areas of science and brings you interpretations of the newest stories.

Elizabeth Preston
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  • August 17, 2016
  • 11:02 AM
  • 99 views

Goblin Shark Gives a Lesson in Dismantling Your Face to Eat

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



The goblin shark is a weird deep-sea creature first discovered off the coast of Japan in 1898. It has a ghoulish appearance, thanks to jaws that can stretch well away from the rest of its head. Scientists have assumed the goblin shark uses this trick to eat—but until recently, no one had actually watched one catching prey in the wild.

In 2008 and 2011, divers working with the Japanese television broadcaster NHK managed to capture two goblin sharks (Mitsukurina owstoni). Before rerele........ Read more »

Nakaya, K., Tomita, T., Suda, K., Sato, K., Ogimoto, K., Chappell, A., Sato, T., Takano, K., & Yuki, Y. (2016) Slingshot feeding of the goblin shark Mitsukurina owstoni (Pisces: Lamniformes: Mitsukurinidae). Scientific Reports, 27786. DOI: 10.1038/srep27786  

  • August 4, 2016
  • 10:15 AM
  • 186 views

These Baby Fish Are Born Knowing How to Kill

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Some babies are born totally useless (I'm looking at you, Homo sapiens). Others can wobble upright shortly after birth and start teetering around. And still other animals are almost frighteningly precocious.

For example, the metallic livebearer, a little golden fish native to Cuba, hatches from an egg while still inside its mother. That means the mom gives birth to live young. The more traditional fish-y way is to lay eggs. But some other fish also bear live young, including guppies a........ Read more »

Lankheet, M., Stoffers, T., van Leeuwen, J., & Pollux, B. (2016) Acquired versus innate prey capturing skills in super-precocial live-bearing fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1834), 20160972. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0972  

  • July 27, 2016
  • 02:38 PM
  • 240 views

Deer Line Up North-South, Whether Relaxing or Running

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



If you're ever lost in a remote European forest, you might be able to get your bearings by finding a herd of roe deer. These animals like to align themselves roughly north-south, whether they're standing still or fleeing danger.

Roe deer are small, reddish or grayish grazers common in Europe and Asia. Petr Obleser, of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, and his coauthors studied the behavior of these skittish herbivores to look for evidence that they can sense the earth's ma........ Read more »

Obleser, P., Hart, V., Malkemper, E., Begall, S., Holá, M., Painter, M., Červený, J., & Burda, H. (2016) Compass-controlled escape behavior in roe deer. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 70(8), 1345-1355. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-016-2142-y  

  • July 22, 2016
  • 12:25 PM
  • 267 views

Video of Evaporating Booze Droplet Looks Like a Tiny Planet

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Most of us don't give much thought to drops of liquid that end up outside our drinking glasses. But physicists care a lot about liquid droplets, and study their whole lifespans—from the first splash or drip to the moment a drop disappears.

Liquids that contain three different substances, though, haven't been studied as much. Detlef Lohse, a physicist at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, and his colleagues took a deep dive into one such liquid: ouzo.

Ouzo is a mixture of wate... Read more »

Tan H, Diddens C, Lv P, Kuerten JG, Zhang X, & Lohse D. (2016) Evaporation-triggered microdroplet nucleation and the four life phases of an evaporating Ouzo drop. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 27418601  

  • July 13, 2016
  • 03:59 PM
  • 301 views

A New Tool for Studying Gorilla Health: Half-Chewed Food

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



In the mountains of Central Africa, scientists who study critically endangered gorillas have a new tool. They've discovered that they can learn what viruses gorillas are carrying by stealthily collecting half-chewed plants the apes leave behind.

If this sounds reminiscent of that class clown at the third-grade lunch table who would ask if you liked seafood and then say "See? Food!" and open his mouth wide to display his sloppy Joe slurry, don't worry—mountain gorillas are vegetarians. ........ Read more »

Smiley Evans T, Gilardi KV, Barry PA, Ssebide BJ, Kinani JF, Nizeyimana F, Noheri JB, Byarugaba DK, Mudakikwa A, Cranfield MR.... (2016) Detection of viruses using discarded plants from wild mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. American journal of primatology. PMID: 27331804  

  • July 6, 2016
  • 11:29 AM
  • 332 views

Fish May Lose Their Jelly Friends in a Changing Ocean

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



In the open ocean, it's good to have friends. Some young fish like to buddy up with stinging jellies to stay safe from predators. Hiding under the shelter of a jellyfish's bell, they can grow up unharmed (as long as they dodge its tentacles). These fish include some species that humans rely on for food. But in a warming ocean, that buddy system may fall apart.

Many types of fish take advantage of hop-on jelly trolleys. Ivan Nagelkerken, a marine biologist at the University of Adelaide in ... Read more »

Nagelkerken I, Pitt KA, Rutte MD, & Geertsma RC. (2016) Ocean acidification alters fish-jellyfish symbiosis. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 283(1833). PMID: 27358374  

  • June 14, 2016
  • 03:22 PM
  • 268 views

Sheep on Valium Teach Scientists about Anxiety

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



How do you know when a farm animal is unhappy? Animal welfare researchers wish they had easy ways to measure malaise in pigs, or stress in cows. But those tools are lacking—which is why scientists in Australia studied sheep they'd dosed with Valium.

"Animals are not able to talk to express their emotions," says Caroline Lee, an animal welfare scientist at CSIRO in New South Wales. "We need to use other ways of understanding how they are feeling."

One such way is to look for changes in ... Read more »

  • June 10, 2016
  • 11:50 AM
  • 271 views

Beetle Moms Make Anti-Aphrodisiac to Keep Dads Focused on Parenting

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



"Not tonight, honey," says the female burying beetle, chewing up a mouthful of mouse carcass before spitting it into the mouth of a begging larva.

For the first few days of their babies' lives, burying beetles co-parent. They devote themselves to keeping their squirming larvae alive. That means mating and laying more eggs would be a waste of energy. And to make sure males get that message, females emit a pheromone that turns them off.

"It is quite surprising," says University of Ulm be... Read more »

  • June 8, 2016
  • 11:17 AM
  • 273 views

Dolphins Cooperate by Talking It Out

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



How do you know when animals are working together? Just because two animals got something done jointly doesn't mean they cooperated. They might have succeeded by dumb luck, or trial and error. Scientists who study animal minds, though, would really like to know when cooperation happens on purpose—and how animal partners manage to communicate with each other.

Studies in capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees hinted that the primates coordinated their actions by glancing at each other. (But this ........ Read more »

  • June 1, 2016
  • 06:50 PM
  • 301 views

You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks (if the Dog Is a Parrot)

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Like Snapchat abstainers or reluctant Slack users, adult parrots have a hard time learning new tricks. Older birds stay set in their ways while young birds innovate and try new things. Researchers say that's just as it should be—even if it means the grownups miss out on a treat now and then.

Young animals might be better at creative problem-solving because they're fearless and like to explore. On the other hand (or paw, or claw), older animals might do better because they have more knowle... Read more »

Loepelt, J., Shaw, R., & Burns, K. (2016) Can you teach an old parrot new tricks? Cognitive development in wild kaka ( ) . Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1832), 20153056. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.3056  

  • May 24, 2016
  • 02:31 PM
  • 337 views

Hatching Sea Turtles Get a Hand from Their Siblings

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Smashing out of its egg is only the first step in a baby sea turtle's grueling early days. The turtle fights free of its eggshell only to find itself buried underground. It has to intuit which way is up, then dig out of the packed sand. As soon as it breaks onto the surface of the beach, it begins a mad sprint to the ocean. All around are its brothers and sisters, flailing toward the water as fast as their own flippers will carry them. In the sea they'll keep swimming frantically, trying ........ Read more »

  • May 19, 2016
  • 11:53 AM
  • 371 views

To Beat Sleep Apnea, Try the Didgeridoo

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



People with sleep apnea are at war with their windpipes. But they might be able to get some help from a different kind of wind pipe—namely, the Australian Aboriginal instrument called the didgeridoo.

In sleep apnea, obstructed airways stop a person's breathing over and over at night. It's normal for the throat muscles to relax during sleep, but for sleep apnea sufferers this relaxation combines with other factors to make breathing impossible. Apnea leads to broken sleep, snoring, and exh........ Read more »

  • May 13, 2016
  • 09:08 AM
  • 409 views

The Dance Language of Honeybees Is Sloppy

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



"Dance like nobody's watching" is fine advice, unless somebody is watching, and she needs to translate your dance steps into instructions to find food. That's the case for honeybees. But even though the rest of the colony must interpret their dance moves carefully, it turns out honeybees are pretty sloppy dancers.

When honeybees return to the hive after finding nectar or other food, they famously do a "waggle dance" to tell their sisters where the food was. The waggle is a shimmying ........ Read more »

  • May 9, 2016
  • 11:14 AM
  • 291 views

All-Female Salamanders Have Superior Powers of Regeneration

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



The Amazons were a mythical race of warrior women who, in one version of the story, removed their right breasts to be more hardcore. But an all-female race of salamanders doesn't suffer from missing body parts. In fact, these animals have super-powered regeneration: when they lose an appendage, they can grow it back much more quickly than other salamanders do.

The secret lies somewhere in the salamanders' bizarre genetics. "They sort of defy definition," says Rob Denton, a graduate studen... Read more »

  • May 4, 2016
  • 03:32 PM
  • 374 views

Where to Snuggle a Hedgehoglet

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Did you know this is Hedgehog Awareness Week? The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has dedicated May 1 through 7 to the spiny garden animal. The society won't go so far as to call it Hedgehog Appreciation Week—perhaps that would be too much of an imposition?—but it does want to highlight some of the problems faced by hedgehogs. For example, weed whackers, which apparently in the U.K. are called "strimmers."

The society suggests posting pro-hedgehog leaflets around your neighborho........ Read more »

  • April 27, 2016
  • 02:23 PM
  • 443 views

Rafting Ants Have Designated Stations

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Sometimes at the climax of a Star Trek episode, the captain would yell out "Battle stations!" and send the crew scurrying frantically through the corridors. It wasn't really clear what those battle stations were. Presumably, crew members headed to posts they'd been previously assigned, and this let the whole ship react to the crisis efficiently.

Certain ants respond to a crisis by binding their bodies together into floating rafts. And like the Star Trek crew, they seem to have designat........ Read more »

  • April 20, 2016
  • 10:58 PM
  • 373 views

Echidnas Are Too Cool to Be Bothered by Fires

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



If you can't stand the heat, you're not an echidna, as the saying (almost) goes. These egg-laying mammals are unusual for several reasons. One of those reasons, it turns out, is that their ability to lower their body temperatures makes them largely indifferent to their homes burning down around them.

The short-beaked echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus, is one of four living species of echidna. Like the platypus, echidnas are Australian mammals that lay eggs instead of bearing live young. The........ Read more »

Nowack, J., Cooper, C., & Geiser, F. (2016) Cool echidnas survive the fire. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1828), 20160382. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0382  

  • April 13, 2016
  • 11:30 AM
  • 500 views

Hunting Bats Plan Two Bugs Ahead

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



A flying insect that's suddenly swallowed by a bat probably doesn't have a lot of time to reflect on its fate. If it did, though, it might wonder how on Earth the swooping mammal managed to grab it with so little warning. The answer is that bats don't hunt just one bug at a time. While scanning the air with echoes, they manage to plan two victims ahead.

Bats aren't blind, despite what you may have read on Twitter. But bats that hunt at night rely on sound, not vision. They send out very h... Read more »

Fujioka, E., Aihara, I., Sumiya, M., Aihara, K., & Hiryu, S. (2016) Echolocating bats use future-target information for optimal foraging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201515091. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1515091113  

  • April 8, 2016
  • 12:00 PM
  • 418 views

Why Old Dads Are Bad for Albatrosses

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



If birds fretted about their biological clocks like humans do, it would be the dads of some species doing the worrying, not the moms. When male albatrosses have chicks later in life, those chicks grow up to fare worse. It's because albatrosses of both sexes are such good parents to begin with.

Wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) share parenting duties "quite equitably," explains Rémi Fay, a graduate student in biology at France's CNRS. The giant seabirds mate for life. Every other y........ Read more »

Fay, R., Barbraud, C., Delord, K., & Weimerskirch, H. (2016) Paternal but not maternal age influences early-life performance of offspring in a long-lived seabird. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1828), 20152318. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.2318  

  • April 6, 2016
  • 12:03 PM
  • 524 views

Words We Say to Dogs (and Other Things Scientists Learned Watching People Play with Pets)

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



"Who wants to generate some DATA??" are probably not words you've ever said while taking your dog's leash and tennis ball from the closet. But thanks to videos of people playing with their dogs, scientists now know what words you are likely to use. They also discovered how women's tussling and tug-of-war are different from men's—and what the professionals do better.

The scientists are Alexandra Horowitz and Julie Hecht of Barnard College's Dog Cognition Lab. They asked members of the p........ Read more »

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