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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
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 »
Cunningham GB, & Bonadonna F. (2015) King penguins can detect two odours associated with conspecifics. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 26385329
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
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
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
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
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
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 »
Richardson, L., Bowers, M., & Irwin, R. (2015) Nectar chemistry mediates the behavior of parasitized bees: consequences for plant fitness. Ecology, 2147483647. DOI: 10.1890/15-0263.1
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 »
Russell, A., & Bentley, A. (2015) Opisthotonic head displacement in the domestic chicken and its bearing on the ‘dead bird’ posture of non-avialan dinosaurs. Journal of Zoology. DOI: 10.1111/jzo.12287
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 »
Anderson CM, & Langerhans RB. (2015) Origins of female genital diversity: Predation risk and lock-and-key explain rapid divergence during an adaptive radiation. Evolution; international journal of organic evolution. PMID: 26259062
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
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 »
Vinauger, C., & Lazzari, C. (2015) Circadian modulation of learning abilities in a disease vector insect, Rhodnius prolixus. Journal of Experimental Biology. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.119057
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 »
Mountcastle AM, Ravi S, & Combes SA. (2015) Nectar vs. pollen loading affects the tradeoff between flight stability and maneuverability in bumblebees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 26240364
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
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
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 »
Licence S, Smith R, McGuigan MP, & Earnest CP. (2015) Gait Pattern Alterations during Walking, Texting and Walking and Texting during Cognitively Distractive Tasks while Negotiating Common Pedestrian Obstacles. PloS one, 10(7). PMID: 26222430
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 »
Schoeman, M. (2015) Light pollution at stadiums favors urban exploiter bats. Animal Conservation. DOI: 10.1111/acv.12220
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
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 »
LoPresti, E., Pearse, I., & Charles, G. (2015) The siren song of a sticky plant: columbines provision mutualist arthropods by attracting and killing passerby insects. Ecology, 2147483647. DOI: 10.1890/15-0342.1
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
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