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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
451 posts

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  • March 1, 2016
  • 12:39 PM
  • 836 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
  • 01:30 PM
  • 822 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
  • 03:39 PM
  • 868 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
  • 12:09 PM
  • 628 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  

  • February 10, 2016
  • 10:35 AM
  • 596 views

Does 3D Make You Queasy? You Might Have Superior Vision

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Between the rise of 3D movies and virtual reality, more and more people are getting a chance to don goofy glasses or headsets and experience media in three dimensions. And many of those people are discovering something about themselves: 3D makes them ill. Sitting in the theater or on their own couch, they get a sensation like motion sickness. They might feel nausea, dizziness, or disorientation.

A new study suggests that these symptoms aren't weakness on the part of the viewer. People who... Read more »

  • February 5, 2016
  • 04:00 PM
  • 990 views

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better for Hurdling Obstacles

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Although lizards mostly scurry on all fours, certain species can run on two legs when the mood strikes. What's the benefit to this human-like running style? For one thing, it seems to let lizards get over obstacles without slowing down. They just have to make sure not to tip over.

Georgia Southern University biologist Lance McBrayer and graduate student Seth Parker studied running in a handsome little reptile called Sceloporus woodi, or the Florida scrub lizard. McBrayer says there's been... Read more »

  • February 2, 2016
  • 06:20 PM
  • 979 views

How Not to Get Killed by a Cow

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Between 1993 and 2015, cattle killed 13 people who were out for walks in the United Kingdom. Dozens more walkers received broken bones or other injuries from the animals.

Murderous cattle are an understudied phenomenon, say veterinarian Angharad Fraser-Williams and other researchers at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. So they scoured news articles and scientific literature to learn about cattle attacks over two decades. They turned up some advice for people wishing to av........ Read more »

Fraser-Williams, A., McIntyre, K., & Westgarth, C. (2016) Are cattle dangerous to walkers? A scoping review. Injury Prevention. DOI: 10.1136/injuryprev-2015-041784  

  • January 29, 2016
  • 01:29 PM
  • 960 views

Lizards Overcome Lack of Mirrors to Find Rocks That Match Their Colors

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Think about the last time you stood squinting in front of a full-length mirror, trying to decide whether the colors in your outfit went together. Now imagine you're a reptile, and you wouldn't even understand a mirror if you saw one, but somehow you need to find a rock that matches your skin color. Otherwise you might get eaten by a bird today. Oh, and the skin color you need to match is on your back.

Certain lizards in Greece manage to pull this off every day, though how they do it is a ... Read more »

  • January 26, 2016
  • 07:38 PM
  • 652 views

Tardigrades Are One Giant Head

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



No one would argue that tardigrades got stiffed in the weirdness department. These teensy animals, also called water bears, look roly-poly under a microscope. Less than a millimeter long, they can survive extremes of heat, cold, pressure, and radiation that are deadly to most other lifeforms. Under duress, a tardigrade may curl itself into a dried-up ball called a tun, then stay in a state of suspended animation for years before returning to life. Now, researchers poring over the animal's g........ Read more »

Smith, F., Boothby, T., Giovannini, I., Rebecchi, L., Jockusch, E., & Goldstein, B. (2016) The Compact Body Plan of Tardigrades Evolved by the Loss of a Large Body Region. Current Biology, 26(2), 224-229. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.11.059  

  • January 19, 2016
  • 01:20 PM
  • 659 views

What Is Citizen Science Good For? Birds, Butterflies, Big Data

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



No matter how unhip you feel wearing waders or hauling a butterfly net, citizen science is cool. That's obvious from the boom in online projects that let you count penguins, hunt planets, or identify animals in the Serengeti, as well as the scientific papers using these data. Now researchers in Sweden have looked into the science of citizen science itself. How much of this volunteer research is really happening, they asked—and what is it producing?

Christopher Kullenberg and Dick Kaspe........ Read more »

  • January 13, 2016
  • 12:39 AM
  • 744 views

We Don't Trust People Who Withhold Personal Information

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



You're creating a profile for an online dating site when you come to a question you're not sure you want to answer—say, "Do you smoke?" You might be more comfortable leaving it blank than sharing the truth with all your potential dates. But a series of experiments says that we tend to judge people harshly when they withhold personal information. Even someone who shares an unpleasant truth is more appealing, trustworthy, and hirable than someone who'd rather not say.

Harvard Business ........ Read more »

John, L., Barasz, K., & Norton, M. (2016) Hiding personal information reveals the worst. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201516868. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1516868113  

  • January 5, 2016
  • 02:50 PM
  • 654 views

Female Finches Get Stressed Just Hearing the Voice of a Stressed-Out Mate

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Humans aren't the only animals who know when something's the matter. The chirps of a stressed-out zebra finch may make his mate feel stressed too—even when she can't see him. It's a hint that a kind of empathy exists in birds.

Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) mate for life. They work together to find food, guard their nests, and raise their young. When they're apart, they call to each other to check in.

Emilie Perez, a researcher at the University of Saint-Etienne in France, and her........ Read more »

  • December 28, 2015
  • 05:30 PM
  • 852 views

Scientists Recruit Crows as Filmmakers to Study Tool Use

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



New Caledonian crows are some of the world's most famous non-human tool users. The crows employ sticks, leaves, and even bits of wire in the lab to probe holes in branches or logs, fishing out tasty bugs. But scientists are usually stuck studying these behaviors in artificial environments. To get a better perspective on how these birds make and use tools in nature, researchers in the United Kingdom tried something new: they turned wild crows into documentary filmmakers.

Jolyon Troscianko........ Read more »

  • December 21, 2015
  • 12:43 PM
  • 917 views

Unsmellable Snake Camouflages Its Scent

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish





If your favorite activity is lying motionless on the ground, you'd better make sure hungry animals can't find you. Snakes and other creatures that hunt by ambush, waiting for their prey to wander past, often have impressive visual camouflage. But at least one type of viper seems to disguise itself in another way, too: its smell is undetectable to predators.

Puff adders (Bitis arietans) are big, fat vipers that move around very little while they wait for prey. They're widespread in Af... Read more »

Miller AK, Maritz B, McKay S, Glaudas X, & Alexander GJ. (2015) An ambusher's arsenal: chemical crypsis in the puff adder (Bitis arietans). Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 282(1821). PMID: 26674950  

  • December 11, 2015
  • 04:39 PM
  • 760 views

To Study OCD, Scientists Get Their (Rubber) Hands Dirty

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



The rubber hand illusion is a classic experiment that reveals how our brains build a sense of our bodies. For the latest twist on the illusion, researchers simulated OCD-like feelings of disgust in subjects by starting with rubber hands and adding fake blood, vomit and feces.

The basic rubber hand experiment is simple to set up. It requires a fake hand, two paintbrushes, a table, and something to use as a little wall. A subject sits with both hands flat on the table, one of them farther o... Read more »

  • December 4, 2015
  • 05:02 PM
  • 886 views

A Camera That Sees Methane

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Swedish scientists have built a camera that makes methane gas visible. The tool could help researchers study greenhouses gases and answer tricky questions about climate change. It's also good for visualizing cow farts.

Magnus Gålfalk of Linköping University explains that the camera works using infrared spectroscopy. Called "hyperspectral imaging," the method simultaneously captures a spectrum of infrared light for every pixel in a photo. Many gases absorb infrared light, Gålfalk says, ........ Read more »

Gålfalk, M., Olofsson, G., Crill, P., & Bastviken, D. (2015) Making methane visible. Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2877  

  • December 1, 2015
  • 09:26 PM
  • 597 views

More Evidence That Scenic Environments Keep People Healthy

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



If the view outside your home is picture-perfect, you're more likely to be the picture of health. A study in Great Britain found that even taking into account poverty and a host of other factors, people in prettier locations report being healthier.

Chanuki Seresinhe, a graduate student at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, explains that the question of whether living in picturesque surroundings is good for your health "seems to come up again and again." A study in Toronto, f... Read more »

Seresinhe CI, Preis T, & Moat HS. (2015) Quantifying the Impact of Scenic Environments on Health. Scientific reports, 16899. PMID: 26603464  

  • November 27, 2015
  • 04:43 PM
  • 885 views

How to Build an Ant Bridge: Start Small

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



You know when you're out walking with a big horde of your friends and you come to a chasm you can't step across, so a bunch of you clasp each other's limbs and make yourselves into a bridge for the rest to walk on?

...No?

Eciton army ants do this. And they're not the only ants that build incredible structures out of their strong, near-weightless bodies. Weaver ants make chains between leaves by holding onto each other's waists. Fire ants cling together to form rafts and survive floodin........ Read more »

Reid CR, Lutz MJ, Powell S, Kao AB, Couzin ID, & Garnier S. (2015) Army ants dynamically adjust living bridges in response to a cost-benefit trade-off. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 26598673  

  • November 24, 2015
  • 01:10 PM
  • 751 views

How Spider Personalities Affect Pest Control

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



They say you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But what about with lazy spiders versus lively ones? When it comes to keeping pests at bay, the personalities of the spiders hunting them are important.

That's what two behavioral ecologists reported after watching bug dramas play out in a sunny hilltop alfalfa patch. Raphaël Royauté of North Dakota State University and Jonathan Pruitt of the University of Pittsburgh were studying the personalities of wolf spiders (Pardosa mi........ Read more »

  • November 20, 2015
  • 04:45 PM
  • 726 views

Horrible Gulls Are Eating Baby Whales Alive

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Yes, it's important not to anthropomorphize other species or impose our values on them—but sometimes animals are just horrible. For example, kelp gulls. A few decades ago the birds in one part of Argentina realized that for a tasty snack, they could tear flesh from the backs of whales when they came up for air. Eventually the whales learned to protect themselves somewhat from the gulls. But now the gulls have shifted their attention to the whales' babies, and might be killing them.

Kelp........ Read more »

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