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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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  • November 11, 2015
  • 11:10 AM
  • 850 views

Monkeys Keep Their Food Clean, Sort Of

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



We all have our standards. For humans, it's the five-second rule. For macaques, it's "think twice before eating food off a pile of poop." The monkeys have several ways of keeping their food (sort of) clean. And the most fastidious macaques, it seems, are rewarded with fewer parasites.

On the Japanese island of Koshima, scientists have been studying Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) for nearly seven decades. The tiny, forested island is overrun with the monkeys, which live there naturally... Read more »

  • November 6, 2015
  • 01:07 PM
  • 865 views

When Does an Android Become a Creepazoid?

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



The uncanny valley is a place no one wants to be. Somewhere between machine and human, the theory goes, robots take a dive into creepiness. But roboticists aren't sure the valley really exists. Now, researchers in California say they have new evidence for this icky zone, and they can even draw a map of it.

Robotics professor Masahiro Mori first proposed the uncanny valley in 1970. The idea feels right—certainly some robots are charming and others, especially androids not quite succeeding ........ Read more »

  • October 30, 2015
  • 12:41 PM
  • 798 views

Who Needs Inner Glow? Female Beetles Shine Bright to Attract Mates

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Don't let the makeup companies find out. Lady glow-worms are setting an unattainable beauty standard by using bright light to show males how fertile they are. It's a rare (in the animal world) example of females decorating themselves while their mates choose between them.

The European glow-worm, or Lampyris noctiluca, is a member of the firefly family in which the females do most of the glowing. Males are ordinary-looking beetles with brown wings. Females are much larger and don't hav........ Read more »

  • October 28, 2015
  • 12:03 AM
  • 769 views

Mysterious Whales Seen Alive for the First Time

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Never heard of an Omura's whale? There's a good reason. Until recently, no one had laid eyes on one in the wild.

Before 2003, the Omura's whale was thought to be simply a dwarf version of another type of whale. Then Japanese scientists studying the whale's DNA and bodily characteristics decided it ought to be its own species, and named it after the late cetologist Hideo Omura. Still, all they had to work with were carcasses caught by whalers or washed up on the beach. They gleaned what........ Read more »

Cerchio, S., Andrianantenaina, B., Lindsay, A., Rekdahl, M., Andrianarivelo, N., & Rasoloarijao, T. (2015) Omura’s whales (Balaenoptera omurai) off northwest Madagascar: ecology, behaviour and conservation needs . Royal Society Open Science, 2(10), 150301. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150301  

  • October 23, 2015
  • 01:53 PM
  • 1,096 views

Finding the Highways for Migrating Birds

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



When birds set out for a long journey, they don't need roads and they certainly don't need road maps. They learn the route from others or intuit it from their DNA, an urge to point their bodies one way at a certain time of year and stop flying a few thousand miles later. To understand these journeys better, researchers mapped the most efficient routes through the world's winds. The highways that emerged weren't the shortest paths—but they did strikingly match the behavior of real bird........ Read more »

Kranstauber B, Weinzierl R, Wikelski M, & Safi K. (2015) Global aerial flyways allow efficient travelling. Ecology letters. PMID: 26477348  

  • October 14, 2015
  • 12:29 PM
  • 996 views

Why More Firstborn Kids Need Glasses

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



It's bad enough for the first kid when a new baby shows up to steal your thunder. But the injustice is compounded when you have to start wearing glasses while your little sibling stays as cute and non-four-eyed as ever. If this sounds familiar, you're not alone: firstborn kids are more likely to be nearsighted. Part of the reason might be that they get more education.

A study in the United Kingdom and Israel found that myopia—that's nearsightedness, if you're one of those lucky people w........ Read more »

Guggenheim JA, Williams C, & UK Biobank Eye and Vision Consortium. (2015) Role of Educational Exposure in the Association Between Myopia and Birth Order. JAMA ophthalmology, 1-7. PMID: 26448589  

  • October 6, 2015
  • 11:11 AM
  • 1,040 views

How Cuttlefish Stay Camouflaged On the Go

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Most camouflaged creatures try to hold still so they won't give away their ruse. But cuttlefish aren't most creatures. These masters of camouflage can change color to seamlessly match their background, and they can keep swimming while they do it.

"Cuttlefish are one of nature's fastest dynamic camouflagers," says Noam Josef, a graduate student at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. The cephalopods can change color in just one tenth of a second. They can also create different........ Read more »

Josef N, Berenshtein I, Fiorito G, Sykes AV, & Shashar N. (2015) Camouflage during movement in the European cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 26385328  

  • October 2, 2015
  • 01:35 PM
  • 950 views

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
  • 02:40 PM
  • 933 views

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
  • 05:02 PM
  • 795 views

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
  • 12:26 PM
  • 1,014 views

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
  • 11:04 AM
  • 729 views

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
  • 12:57 PM
  • 907 views

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
  • 01:06 PM
  • 953 views

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
  • 01:03 PM
  • 1,085 views

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
  • 04:06 PM
  • 847 views

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
  • 01:49 PM
  • 982 views

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
  • 12:19 PM
  • 957 views

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
  • 01:12 PM
  • 845 views

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
  • 11:32 AM
  • 816 views

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

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