Visit Blog Website

384 posts · 329,039 views

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

Elizabeth Preston
384 posts

Sort by: Latest Post, Most Popular

View by: Condensed, Full

  • October 2, 2015
  • 12:35 PM

Poop on a Stick Tests Penguins' Sense of Smell

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Who doesn't enjoy waking to a pleasant smell wafting past? Unfortunately for them, the penguins in a recent study woke up not to pancakes frying nearby, but to less appetizing aromas—for example, feces on a stick. But scientists promise the experiment taught them valuable lessons about a penguin's capabilities. Besides, they let the birds go right back to sleep.

"Research into the sense of smell in birds has a bit of a dubious history," says Gregory Cunningham, a biologist at St. John F........ Read more »

  • September 29, 2015
  • 01:40 PM

How Sheep Are like an Avalanche

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Sheep are rarely dangerous to skiers, but otherwise they have a lot in common with avalanches. That's what physicists say after mathematically modeling the ungulates' behavior (and staying well out of their path).

Francesco Ginelli, who researches complex systems at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, had already studied flocks of birds and schools of fish. But he was curious to learn what was different about the movement of sheep or other grazers. Animals like these have a simple goa... Read more »

Ginelli, F., Peruani, F., Pillot, M., Chaté, H., Theraulaz, G., & Bon, R. (2015) Intermittent collective dynamics emerge from conflicting imperatives in sheep herds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201503749. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1503749112  

  • September 22, 2015
  • 04:02 PM

Taste Mutation Helps Monkeys Enjoy Human Food

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

It's hard to be a primate who lives in northern climes and doesn't wear clothes. Resources are scarce, and you have to seize every advantage you can to stay alive and swinging. That may be why one group of monkeys has evolved an impaired tasting gene. Their worse sense of taste means they can better take advantage of the foods around them—especially the crops their human neighbors grow.

Japanese macaques, or Macaca fuscata, are also called snow monkeys. They live farther north than any........ Read more »

Suzuki-Hashido N, Hayakawa T, Matsui A, Go Y, Ishimaru Y, Misaka T, Abe K, Hirai H, Satta Y, & Imai H. (2015) Rapid Expansion of Phenylthiocarbamide Non-Tasters among Japanese Macaques. PloS one, 10(7). PMID: 26201026  

  • September 16, 2015
  • 11:26 AM

Penguins Find Each Other's Beaks Sexy

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If Tinder for penguins existed, birds with the best beak spots would get swiped right. King penguins are attracted to the colors on each other's beaks, scientists have found—including colors we clueless humans can't see.

King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) live near the bottom of the world and are monogamous for about a year at a time. They're a little smaller than emperor penguins, the ones you saw in March of the Penguins, and have a less arduous lifestyle. In the spring, they gath........ Read more »

Keddar, I., Altmeyer, S., Couchoux, C., Jouventin, P., & Dobson, F. (2015) Mate Choice and Colored Beak Spots of King Penguins. Ethology. DOI: 10.1111/eth.12419  

  • September 11, 2015
  • 10:04 AM

You Are an Expert Tweeter

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Do you tweet formally for a wide audience (and use abbrevs 4 ur peeps)? You may not realize you're doing it. But a study of  hundreds of thousands of tweets showed that Twitter users subtly tailor their language based on who's reading.

Twitter "is a single platform that serves a huge range of communicative functions," says Jacob Eisenstein, who leads a computational linguistics lab at Georgia Tech. With the same 140-character messages, a user can participate in a mass social movement or........ Read more »

Pavalanathan, U., & Eisenstein, J. (2015) AUDIENCE-MODULATED VARIATION IN ONLINE SOCIAL MEDIA. American Speech, 90(2), 187-213. DOI: 10.1215/00031283-3130324  

  • September 4, 2015
  • 11:57 AM

It's Easy to Be Fearless When You Have a Good Shell

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Aesop never penned a fable about a snail. If he had written about a certain freshwater mollusk, the moral might have been Boldness comes from a strong shell or maybe Careless snails get chomped. But because the snail and its variable shell are real, their lesson has more to do with the the weird workings of evolution.

Individual Radix balthica snails can have differently shaped shells. They also have varying "personalities," at least as far as you can measure such a thing in a mollusk......... Read more »

Ahlgren J, Chapman BB, Nilsson PA, & Brönmark C. (2015) Individual boldness is linked to protective shell shape in aquatic snails. Biology letters, 11(4), 20150029. PMID: 25904320  

  • September 1, 2015
  • 12:06 PM

Parasitized Bees May Self-Medicate with Nectar

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Mary Poppins taught us that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. A bumblebee's favorite sugary drink may already be laced with medicine. And bees seem to dose themselves with medicinal nectar when they're suffering from a gut full of parasites.

Plants manufacture many chemical compounds to defend against attackers. Some of these are familiar to humans—like capsaicin, the potent weapon made by chili pepper plants. But not every animal enjoys painful food experiences like we do........ Read more »

  • August 28, 2015
  • 12:03 PM

Chickens Help Scientists Study Dinosaur Death Pose

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

To address a long-standing mystery in paleontology, scientists went to the grocery store.

Many dinosaur fossils appear in the same pose, not so much "terrible lizard" as "terrible limbo accident." Their tails are stretched out and their necks thrown back grotesquely. But it's not clear why this is. Researchers from the University of Calgary in Canada got a fresh take on the puzzle—or, at least, a recently killed and frozen take—by using dead chickens.

"Chickens are living dinosaurs, a........ Read more »

  • August 25, 2015
  • 03:06 PM

Why Carefree Lady Fish Grow Larger Genitals

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

The history of Bahamas mosquitofish is written in their genitals. Though you'd have a hard time locating a female fish's reproductive parts, they tell a story of predators, suitors, and finding a way to regain control.

Gambusia hubbsi arrived at Andros Island, in the Bahamas, about 15,000 years ago. The little fish live in vertical, water-filled caves called blue holes. Populations separated from each other by these caves are in the process of evolving into different species, pushed by ........ Read more »

  • August 21, 2015
  • 12:49 PM

To Avoid Mosquitoes, Stop Breathing and Be Invisible

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Hungry mosquitoes use an arsenal of sensory tools to hunt you down. They sniff out the carbon dioxide you exhale; they home in on your heat signature. But a previously under-appreciated tool in the mosquito's kit is the same one you use just before slapping at it in horror: vision.

At Caltech, Floris van Breugel put mosquitoes in a wind tunnel to tease apart how they find their meals. He used Aedes aegypti, a tropical species that spreads yellow fever and other diseases. The insects wer........ Read more »

van Breugel, F., Riffell, J., Fairhall, A., & Dickinson, M. (2015) Mosquitoes Use Vision to Associate Odor Plumes with Thermal Targets. Current Biology, 25(16), 2123-2129. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.046  

  • August 18, 2015
  • 11:19 AM

Blood-Sucking Bugs Are Smart at Night, Dumb by Day

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Any college student can tell you that overstudying is a waste of energy. When your resources are limited, you should learn the material that's going to be on the test and ignore everything else. Certain blood-sucking bugs use the same strategy—unfortunately for the humans who catch diseases from them.

Kissing bugs live all around the Americas and drink the blood of other animals, including humans. They prefer to bite their hosts on the face—hence "kissing." The species that live in t........ Read more »

  • August 11, 2015
  • 12:12 PM

How Bees Carry Their Baggage

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Think your airline's bag fees are burdensome? Try flying after swallowing part of your luggage and strapping the rest to your legs. That's how bees do it. And depending on how a bumblebee loads herself up with nectar and pollen, her flight back to the hive might be less of a beeline than usual.

Like honeybees, bumblebees gather both nectar and pollen, bringing them back to the hive for food. They collect nectar simply by drinking it. After being slurped up a bee's long tongue, nectar is s........ Read more »

  • August 7, 2015
  • 10:32 AM

Scientists Want Your Slips of the Tongue

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

You know that feeling when you're halfway through a sentence and can't think of the next word you need? It's a word you know, but you can't quite bring it to mind. There's a name for that phenomenon...what is it, again?

Oh right, the "tip of the tongue."

Everyday failures in our speech, like forgetting a word or saying the wrong one, are great fodder for scientists who want to understand language. But they're hard to study in the lab, because you can't force someone to make a mistake. ... Read more »

Michael S. Vitevitch. (2015) Speech error and tip-of-the-tongue diary for mobile devices. Frontiers in Psychology. info:/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01190

  • August 4, 2015
  • 10:21 AM

Monkeys Try to Hide Illicit Hookups

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Just how much monkey business is there in monkey sex? In groups with alpha males, monkeys lower on the totem pole may have to sneak around to mate. How well they conceal their activities can shed light on the cognitive powers of primates.

Macaques are monkeys that live in troops with complex social hierarchies. High-ranking males may have dibs on mating with all the females in the group. But females give non-alpha males a chance too, and some studies have found that these hookups happen m........ Read more »

Overduin-de Vries, A., Spruijt, B., de Vries, H., & Sterck, E. (2015) Tactical deception to hide sexual behaviour: macaques use distance, not visibility. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 69(8), 1333-1342. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-015-1946-5  

  • July 31, 2015
  • 10:40 AM

What Happens When People Text on an Obstacle Course

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Exercise scientist Conrad Earnest was dodging some oblivious pedestrians in England when inspiration struck. He was trying to walk down the sidewalk, but all around him people were weaving back and forth as they focused on their smartphone screens. Earnest suggested to two of his students that they study the dangers of texting while walking. Specifically, they could ask whether texters are more likely to trip and fall—perhaps wishful thinking on Earnest's part as he walked among them.

The... Read more »

  • July 28, 2015
  • 12:05 PM

Sports Stadiums Make Bats into Winners and Losers

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Bats are indifferent to whether we're playing soccer, baseball, or beach volleyball under our stadium lights. They only care about the game of catch they're playing with all the bugs attracted to the glow. As bats stuff themselves on swarms of sports-adjacent insects, though, our stadiums may be aiding certain bat species and wiping others out.

Any bat that's willing to visit a lit-up sports stadium will find a bug bonanza there, says Corrie Schoeman, an ecologist at the University of........ Read more »

  • July 24, 2015
  • 12:26 PM

An Anxious Moment Makes People Clean Obsessively

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Whether you're a person biting her nails during a phone interview or a polar bear pacing its cage, anxious animals often do the same thing over and over. Extreme cases of repetitive behavior show up in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder or autism. Now researchers have shown that even a simple, anxiety-inducing experiment can make an average person act in a repetitive and ritualized way.

"A lot of social theorists have talked about the link between anxiety and ritualization," says M........ Read more »

Lang M, Krátký J, Shaver JH, Jerotijević D, & Xygalatas D. (2015) Effects of Anxiety on Spontaneous Ritualized Behavior. Current biology : CB, 25(14), 1892-7. PMID: 26096971  

  • July 21, 2015
  • 12:17 PM

Plants Murder Bugs to Pay Their Bodyguards

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

It's not only carnivorous plants that bugs have to watch out for. Sure, if an ant tumbles into a pitcher plant or a spider stands in the open maw of a Venus flytrap, we know what's coming next. But certain innocent-looking plants—perhaps very many of them, even including ones in your own yard—murder hosts of insects that they have no plans to eat. They lure passing bugs into a slow death, then exchange their corpses with other insects for protection.

One of these plants is the serp........ Read more »

  • July 17, 2015
  • 09:26 AM

Here It Is: The World's Oldest Sperm

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Doesn't look a day over 40 million, right? This fossilized sperm and its compatriots turned up in a 50-million-year-old worm cocoon in Antarctica. And it has some pretty exciting implications for scientists—aside from the obvious news that we're looking at a loser of an eons-old swimming race.

Ordinarily, squishy worms don't wriggle into the fossil record. Their boneless bodies tend to disappear from history, just like the soft parts of animals with skeletons. That's why scientists don........ Read more »

Bomfleur, B., Mörs, T., Ferraguti, M., Reguero, M., & McLoughlin, S. (2015) Fossilized spermatozoa preserved in a 50-Myr-old annelid cocoon from Antarctica. Biology Letters, 11(7), 20150431. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0431  

  • July 15, 2015
  • 12:22 PM

What's a Colorblind Person's Favorite Color? Yellow

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

As much as you think your tastes are unique, psychologists say they can guess your favorite color. It's likely to be blue. And it's especially unlikely to be yellow—unless you're colorblind. Men with red-green colorblindness have preferences that are essentially opposite from everyone else's. The finding could help scientists understand why humans like what they like, and how colorblind people see the world differently.

Some researchers have claimed that the human love of blue is universa........ Read more »

Álvaro, L., Moreira, H., Lillo, J., & Franklin, A. (2015) Color preference in red–green dichromats. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201502104. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1502104112  

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SMG Technology.

To learn more, visit