Elizabeth Preston

444 posts · 494,025 views

Inkfish
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  • December 2, 2016
  • 01:40 PM
  • 134 views

Parkour Athletes Teach Scientists about Swinging Apes

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



"I was at a conference, and a colleague was talking about the locomotion of great apes in the trees," says Lewis Halsey, a physiologist at the University of Roehampton in London. The colleague mentioned that it's tough to measure how these animals use energy. That's when Halsey had an epiphany. "I was working with parkour athletes on another project," he says, studying how much energy the athletes used while jumping and climbing around a city. Why not use these human athletes to stand in........ Read more »

  • November 25, 2016
  • 03:48 PM
  • 116 views

When Facing Predators, Male Monkeys Do Whatever Females Tell Them

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



In the forests of West Africa, bands of handsome primates called Diana monkeys roam the tree branches. Each group has just one male and several females with their babies. The tradeoff for his apparently cushy living situation is that the male has to chase off predators. His female companions use specific calls to tell him what kinds of threats are nearby. And he responds to whatever they tell him—even if it goes against his own judgment.



Diana monkeys (Cercopithecus diana) of both sex... Read more »

  • November 17, 2016
  • 06:06 PM
  • 229 views

Breeding Made Dogs Less Athletic

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Is your dog a natural athlete or a couch pup-tato? The answer might depend on how far removed it is from its wild ancestors. Dogs that are more similar to wolves have kept more of their natural athleticism, while breeding has rendered other types of dogs a little...less impressive.

Caleb Bryce, a PhD candidate at UC Santa Cruz, says his study of canine athletes came about serendipitously. "We were just hoping to calibrate a new wildlife collar we’ve developed," he says; he planned to te........ Read more »

  • November 7, 2016
  • 02:39 PM
  • 82 views

Snakes Defend Themselves with Shape-Shifting Eyes

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Superman donned glasses to disguise himself and blend in with other people. One snake hides its identity using a similar trick: when threatened, it changes the shape of its pupils. This makes it resemble a much more dangerous animal.

The mock viper (Psammodynastes pulverulentus) is mild-mannered, not superpowered. It's common across much of Asia, and—as you might have guessed from its name—looks a lot like a viper. Actual vipers are a widespread family of venomous snakes. Like true v........ Read more »

Silva, I., Crane, M., Artchawakom, T., Suwanwaree, P., & Strine, C. (2016) More than meets the eye: change in pupil shape by a mock viper. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(8), 453-454. DOI: 10.1002/fee.1420  

  • October 27, 2016
  • 10:08 PM
  • 191 views

Dogs Do as You Do, Not as You Say

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Italy's school for water rescue dogs, the Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio, has trained hundreds of animals in canine heroics. The dogs work on Italian police and coast guard boats, and with fire departments and the navy. They can even jump into the ocean from a hovering helicopter to save a person.

They're pros at taking commands from humans. So researchers wondered if the dogs could help them understand what kind of command works best: Words? Or gestures?

Biagio D'Aniello, a biologis... Read more »

  • September 1, 2016
  • 10:22 AM
  • 345 views

Cuttlefish Can Count to Five

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Don't look now, but this spineless sea creature may be able to count better than your toddler.

Cuttlefish need to be savvy if they want to eat. They're always on the lookout for shrimp, fish or crabs. When a cuttlefish spots a potential victim, it shoots out two specialized, sucker-bearing tentacles and nabs it. Since these hunters have to make constant judgments about which prey are worth targeting, it would make sense for them to have advanced cognitive skills—say, the ability to cou........ Read more »

Yang TI, & Chiao CC. (2016) Number sense and state-dependent valuation in cuttlefish. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 283(1837). PMID: 27559063  

  • August 25, 2016
  • 03:48 PM
  • 372 views

Polar Bears Stubbornly Stick to Habitats, Even as Ice Melts

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



"I don't know what you're talking about," said the polar bear. "Everything seems normal to me! Watch out for that puddle."

Up in the Arctic, things are getting slushy. But some polar bears are refusing to change their ways. Instead of compromising on where they spend their time, they're clinging to the icy habitats they've always loved. As those habitats keep shrinking, though, the bears will eventually find things too crowded and uncomfortable to ignore. 

Researchers divide polar bear... Read more »

Wilson RR, Regehr EV, Rode KD, & St Martin M. (2016) Invariant polar bear habitat selection during a period of sea ice loss. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 283(1836). PMID: 27534959  

  • August 17, 2016
  • 11:02 AM
  • 418 views

Goblin Shark Gives a Lesson in Dismantling Your Face to Eat

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



The goblin shark is a weird deep-sea creature first discovered off the coast of Japan in 1898. It has a ghoulish appearance, thanks to jaws that can stretch well away from the rest of its head. Scientists have assumed the goblin shark uses this trick to eat—but until recently, no one had actually watched one catching prey in the wild.

In 2008 and 2011, divers working with the Japanese television broadcaster NHK managed to capture two goblin sharks (Mitsukurina owstoni). Before rerele........ Read more »

Nakaya, K., Tomita, T., Suda, K., Sato, K., Ogimoto, K., Chappell, A., Sato, T., Takano, K., & Yuki, Y. (2016) Slingshot feeding of the goblin shark Mitsukurina owstoni (Pisces: Lamniformes: Mitsukurinidae). Scientific Reports, 27786. DOI: 10.1038/srep27786  

  • August 4, 2016
  • 10:15 AM
  • 381 views

These Baby Fish Are Born Knowing How to Kill

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Some babies are born totally useless (I'm looking at you, Homo sapiens). Others can wobble upright shortly after birth and start teetering around. And still other animals are almost frighteningly precocious.

For example, the metallic livebearer, a little golden fish native to Cuba, hatches from an egg while still inside its mother. That means the mom gives birth to live young. The more traditional fish-y way is to lay eggs. But some other fish also bear live young, including guppies a........ Read more »

Lankheet, M., Stoffers, T., van Leeuwen, J., & Pollux, B. (2016) Acquired versus innate prey capturing skills in super-precocial live-bearing fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1834), 20160972. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0972  

  • July 27, 2016
  • 02:38 PM
  • 470 views

Deer Line Up North-South, Whether Relaxing or Running

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



If you're ever lost in a remote European forest, you might be able to get your bearings by finding a herd of roe deer. These animals like to align themselves roughly north-south, whether they're standing still or fleeing danger.

Roe deer are small, reddish or grayish grazers common in Europe and Asia. Petr Obleser, of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, and his coauthors studied the behavior of these skittish herbivores to look for evidence that they can sense the earth's ma........ Read more »

Obleser, P., Hart, V., Malkemper, E., Begall, S., Holá, M., Painter, M., Červený, J., & Burda, H. (2016) Compass-controlled escape behavior in roe deer. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 70(8), 1345-1355. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-016-2142-y  

  • July 22, 2016
  • 12:25 PM
  • 547 views

Video of Evaporating Booze Droplet Looks Like a Tiny Planet

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Most of us don't give much thought to drops of liquid that end up outside our drinking glasses. But physicists care a lot about liquid droplets, and study their whole lifespans—from the first splash or drip to the moment a drop disappears.

Liquids that contain three different substances, though, haven't been studied as much. Detlef Lohse, a physicist at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, and his colleagues took a deep dive into one such liquid: ouzo.

Ouzo is a mixture of wate... Read more »

Tan H, Diddens C, Lv P, Kuerten JG, Zhang X, & Lohse D. (2016) Evaporation-triggered microdroplet nucleation and the four life phases of an evaporating Ouzo drop. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 27418601  

  • July 13, 2016
  • 03:59 PM
  • 535 views

A New Tool for Studying Gorilla Health: Half-Chewed Food

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



In the mountains of Central Africa, scientists who study critically endangered gorillas have a new tool. They've discovered that they can learn what viruses gorillas are carrying by stealthily collecting half-chewed plants the apes leave behind.

If this sounds reminiscent of that class clown at the third-grade lunch table who would ask if you liked seafood and then say "See? Food!" and open his mouth wide to display his sloppy Joe slurry, don't worry—mountain gorillas are vegetarians. ........ Read more »

Smiley Evans T, Gilardi KV, Barry PA, Ssebide BJ, Kinani JF, Nizeyimana F, Noheri JB, Byarugaba DK, Mudakikwa A, Cranfield MR.... (2016) Detection of viruses using discarded plants from wild mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. American journal of primatology. PMID: 27331804  

  • July 6, 2016
  • 11:29 AM
  • 620 views

Fish May Lose Their Jelly Friends in a Changing Ocean

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



In the open ocean, it's good to have friends. Some young fish like to buddy up with stinging jellies to stay safe from predators. Hiding under the shelter of a jellyfish's bell, they can grow up unharmed (as long as they dodge its tentacles). These fish include some species that humans rely on for food. But in a warming ocean, that buddy system may fall apart.

Many types of fish take advantage of hop-on jelly trolleys. Ivan Nagelkerken, a marine biologist at the University of Adelaide in ... Read more »

Nagelkerken I, Pitt KA, Rutte MD, & Geertsma RC. (2016) Ocean acidification alters fish-jellyfish symbiosis. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 283(1833). PMID: 27358374  

  • June 14, 2016
  • 03:22 PM
  • 493 views

Sheep on Valium Teach Scientists about Anxiety

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



How do you know when a farm animal is unhappy? Animal welfare researchers wish they had easy ways to measure malaise in pigs, or stress in cows. But those tools are lacking—which is why scientists in Australia studied sheep they'd dosed with Valium.

"Animals are not able to talk to express their emotions," says Caroline Lee, an animal welfare scientist at CSIRO in New South Wales. "We need to use other ways of understanding how they are feeling."

One such way is to look for changes in ... Read more »

  • June 10, 2016
  • 11:50 AM
  • 501 views

Beetle Moms Make Anti-Aphrodisiac to Keep Dads Focused on Parenting

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



"Not tonight, honey," says the female burying beetle, chewing up a mouthful of mouse carcass before spitting it into the mouth of a begging larva.

For the first few days of their babies' lives, burying beetles co-parent. They devote themselves to keeping their squirming larvae alive. That means mating and laying more eggs would be a waste of energy. And to make sure males get that message, females emit a pheromone that turns them off.

"It is quite surprising," says University of Ulm be... Read more »

  • June 8, 2016
  • 11:17 AM
  • 430 views

Dolphins Cooperate by Talking It Out

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



How do you know when animals are working together? Just because two animals got something done jointly doesn't mean they cooperated. They might have succeeded by dumb luck, or trial and error. Scientists who study animal minds, though, would really like to know when cooperation happens on purpose—and how animal partners manage to communicate with each other.

Studies in capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees hinted that the primates coordinated their actions by glancing at each other. (But this ........ Read more »

  • June 1, 2016
  • 06:50 PM
  • 466 views

You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks (if the Dog Is a Parrot)

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Like Snapchat abstainers or reluctant Slack users, adult parrots have a hard time learning new tricks. Older birds stay set in their ways while young birds innovate and try new things. Researchers say that's just as it should be—even if it means the grownups miss out on a treat now and then.

Young animals might be better at creative problem-solving because they're fearless and like to explore. On the other hand (or paw, or claw), older animals might do better because they have more knowle... Read more »

Loepelt, J., Shaw, R., & Burns, K. (2016) Can you teach an old parrot new tricks? Cognitive development in wild kaka ( ) . Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1832), 20153056. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.3056  

  • May 24, 2016
  • 02:31 PM
  • 533 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
  • 570 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
  • 569 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 »

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