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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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  • May 24, 2016
  • 02:31 PM
  • 45 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
  • 144 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
  • 157 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
  • 30 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
  • 187 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
  • 206 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
  • 215 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
  • 270 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
  • 253 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
  • 298 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 »

  • April 1, 2016
  • 11:26 AM
  • 252 views

What's In a Snout?

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



It may sound superficial, but you can judge a lot about an animal from its schnoz. Plant-eaters have evolved the perfect snout shapes to nibble, chomp, or tear up the foods they love. And by decoding those shapes, scientists hope they can learn more about plant-eaters that are more mysterious—namely, dinosaurs.

"When you see cows in a field, their faces almost look like they're glued to the ground as they nibble away," says Jon Tennant, a PhD student at Imperial College London. Cows are ........ Read more »

Tennant, J., & MacLeod, N. (2014) Snout Shape in Extant Ruminants. PLoS ONE, 9(11). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112035  

  • March 29, 2016
  • 12:38 PM
  • 287 views

These Birds Learn to Recognize Humans They Hate

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish





Antarctic seabirds called skuas are so clever that they can recognize individual humans after seeing them only a few times. Some Korean researchers discovered this by messing with the birds' nests and then waiting to get attacked. They're either very brave or have never watched The Birds.

The study took place on Antarctica's King George Island. The animals here didn't evolve around humans. People have only been making appearances on the island since the 1950s or so. Today 10 countr........ Read more »

Lee, W., Han, Y., Lee, S., Jablonski, P., Jung, J., & Kim, J. (2016) Antarctic skuas recognize individual humans. Animal Cognition. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-016-0970-9  

  • March 23, 2016
  • 03:00 PM
  • 309 views

Prozac in the Water Makes Fighting Fish More Mellow

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Had Teresa Dzieweczynski chosen to publish her recent findings as an updated children's classic, rather than as a research paper, she could have titled it If You Give a Fish an Antidepressant. The book would probably be less charming than If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. But it would also be, unfortunately, more realistic. Our pharmaceuticals are steadily trickling into the homes of fish and other animals. And—as the hero of the original book could have told us, his house in disarray aft........ Read more »

Dzieweczynski, T., Campbell, B., & Kane, J. (2016) Dose-dependent fluoxetine effects on boldness in male Siamese fighting fish. Journal of Experimental Biology, 219(6), 797-804. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.132761  

  • March 18, 2016
  • 11:34 AM
  • 362 views

Even Harmless Snakes Strike at Deadly Speed

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Just because a snake can't kill you doesn't mean it's slow on the draw. New research shows that harmless snakes strike just as quickly as venomous vipers do. The snakes hurl themselves at their targets so quickly, in fact, that a lesser animal would black out from the acceleration.

Vipers have long been the presumed titleholders for strike speed, explains David Penning, a graduate student in biology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. These snakes strike to kill, plunging their v... Read more »

  • March 15, 2016
  • 03:49 PM
  • 336 views

Birds Give Up Colorful Feathers for Carefree Island Lifestyle

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Island living may call to mind vivid flowering vines and colorful plumage. But in reality, birds on islands around the world have evolved less-colorful feathers than their mainland relatives. Their drab, simple patterns are only the latest evidence that island evolution is kind of weird.

Claire Doutrelant, an ecologist at France's Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, and her coauthors studied 116 pairs of bird species, or 232 species in all. Each pair included an island bird and ... Read more »

Doutrelant, C., Paquet, M., Renoult, J., Grégoire, A., Crochet, P., & Covas, R. (2016) Worldwide patterns of bird colouration on islands. Ecology Letters. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12588  

  • March 4, 2016
  • 10:10 AM
  • 322 views

Plants Build Sand Armor to Fight Hungry Animals

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



No one likes a mouthful of sand. Even that single speck of grit that crunches in your molars after a day at the beach is maddening. It turns out non-human animals aren't fans of eating sand either. That's why certain plants use sticky hairs to coat themselves in layers of grit. For keeping hungry animals away, it works like a charm.

Eric LoPresti, a graduate student in ecology at the University of California, Davis, and his advisor Richard Karban have listed over 200 species of plants tha... Read more »

Eric F. LoPresti, & Richard Karban. (2016) Chewing sandpaper: grit, plant apparency and plant defense in sand-entrapping plants. Ecology. info:/10.1890/15-1696

  • March 1, 2016
  • 11:39 AM
  • 314 views

Kids Want Friends Who Know the Same Songs

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



"I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you," Mister Rogers used to sing from millions of television sets while changing his shoes. But even if Fred Rogers wanted to be everyone's neighbor, most people are more selective. Whether they choose to hang out with each other may depend on their gender, race, political affiliation, or even favorite sports teams. A new study shows that these preferences start early: kids as young as 4 years old want to be friends with other kids who kn........ Read more »

  • February 26, 2016
  • 12:30 PM
  • 304 views

5 Things Matt Damon Has in Common with the New Mark Watney Plant

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



The hero of The Martian, one of the films up for Best Picture at this weekend's Academy Awards, isn't unusual because he's a scientist—he's unusual because he's a plant scientist. Books and movies rarely even try to make botany seem cool. Yet Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is definitely meant to be cool. "I am the greatest botanist on this planet!" he declares after being abandoned on Mars.

Real plant scientists are thrilled to see a cool botanist on the big screen. Chris Martine........ Read more »

  • February 22, 2016
  • 02:39 PM
  • 343 views

Barnacles Plus Plastic Trash Make Rafts for Ocean Animals

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If you wanted to travel from Japan to California, you could do worse than to hitch a ride on a barnacle-covered buoy. Or maybe a barnacle-covered refrigerator or chunk of foam. Barnacles are turning all kinds of ocean trash into cozy habitats for animals at sea. They might even help some of those animals reach distant shores and become dangerous invasive species.

Flora and fauna have always sailed the sea on rafts such as pieces of wood or pumice, or matted plants. Without flotation devices, ........ Read more »

  • February 17, 2016
  • 11:09 AM
  • 279 views

Octopus Colors Predict the Winners of Fights

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



There's not much of a betting market for octopus fights. But if you wanted to wager on the outcome of a face-off between octopuses, you could get some insider information by looking at their colors.

Octopuses, like their relatives the squid and cuttlefish, are famously adept at changing the colors and patterns on their skin. Most of the time, researchers have interpreted octopus color-shifting as a way to hide, says Alaska Pacific University marine biologist David Scheel. By adjusting the... Read more »

Scheel, D., Godfrey-Smith, P., & Lawrence, M. (2016) Signal Use by Octopuses in Agonistic Interactions. Current Biology, 26(3), 377-382. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.12.033  

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