Elizabeth Preston

353 posts · 294,039 views

Inkfish
353 posts

Sort by Latest Post, Most Popular

View by Condensed, Full

  • May 20, 2015
  • 10:18 AM
  • 70 views

Why Some Bugs Are Attracted to the Wrong Species

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



The squash bug mating orgies that biologist Christine Miller began noticing in gardens around Gainesville were nothing unusual. Dozens of insects were crowded together, the petite males along with the bulkier females, to search for partners. The unusual thing was that some males were copulating with females of the wrong species—apparently, they found them irresistible.

When Jen Hamel arrived at Miller's University of Florida lab to do her postdoctoral research, she took up the mystery o........ Read more »

  • May 15, 2015
  • 11:36 AM
  • 93 views

Which Baby Animals Look Cute? It May Be No Accident

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Sure, there are faces only a mother could love. And then there are faces no mother loves, because they belong to animals that fend for themselves from birth. The babies we find cutest—no matter what species they are—may have evolved to look that way because they need a parent's attention. That means even a crocodile can tug on our heartstrings.

Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian zoologist, proposed in the mid-20th century that human infants are cute for a reason. He said evolution has created ad........ Read more »

  • May 8, 2015
  • 04:01 PM
  • 101 views

To Zoom In, Bats Say "Ahh!"

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



In the future when touch screens are obsolete and we control our devices by facial gesture, maybe we'll zoom in and out the same way a bat does it. We'll open our mouths wide to narrow our field of focus. To see the bigger picture, we'll purse our lips tightly. But while we'll only be reading the news or shopping online, bats are operating one of the coolest sensory systems owned by a mammal.

An Italian priest, Lazzaro Spallanzani, sent blindfolded bats through obstacle courses in the lat... Read more »

Kounitsky P, Rydell J, Amichai E, Boonman A, Eitan O, Weiss AJ, & Yovel Y. (2015) Bats adjust their mouth gape to zoom their biosonar field of view. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 25941395  

  • May 5, 2015
  • 12:38 PM
  • 122 views

3 Reasons Octopus Locomotion Is the Weirdest

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Of course there's nothing ordinary about an octopus. It's the animal that showed us spinelessness doesn't have to mean a lack of smarts. But when researchers brought some octopuses into the lab to study exactly how the animals move, their findings were bizarre—both predictably and unpredictably.

Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem studied nine common octopuses (Octopus vulgaris) that fishers had scooped out of the ocean for them. Once the animals got comfortable in the lab, t........ Read more »

  • May 1, 2015
  • 10:56 AM
  • 154 views

Lizards in Long-Term Relationships Can Skip the Foreplay

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Why would two stubby-legged, blue-tongued Australian reptiles want to stay together not just for a mating season, but for decades? A 31-year study of the reptiles has suggested an answer. While newly formed couples are still getting to know each other, lizards in long-term relationships can start mating earlier in the season. And dispensing with the foreplay might give them a reproductive advantage over their casually dating neighbors.

Tiliqua rugosa is a species of blue-tongued skink tha... Read more »

  • April 28, 2015
  • 11:35 AM
  • 127 views

Snowshoe Hares Pass Down Stress to Multiple Future Generations

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



It's hard to be a showshoe hare. The northern animals are in a constant race for survival with their predators, always cycling between population booms and busts. In hard years, hares are understandably stressed. And that stress can leave its signature not just on those animals, but on several future generations.

When life is good, populations of showshoe hares (Lepus americanus) can roughly double every year. But the hare's predators—lynx, foxes, coyotes—also increase in numbers as ........ Read more »

  • April 24, 2015
  • 09:51 AM
  • 139 views

Marmoset Parents Teach Their Kids Not to Interrupt

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



No one expects a human infant to slide into the world with a good grasp of grammar. Marmosets, another kind of chatty primate, are also poor conversationalists when they're young. But their parents seem to teach them how it's done. Young marmosets learn the cardinal rule of having a conversation: don't interrupt. And if they mess up, their parents give them the silent treatment.

Common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) live in large family groups in the forests of Brazil. "Because marmosets ... Read more »

Chow, C., Mitchell, J., & Miller, C. (2015) Vocal turn-taking in a non-human primate is learned during ontogeny. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1807), 20150069-20150069. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0069  

  • April 21, 2015
  • 04:17 PM
  • 124 views

These Adorable Rodents Are Democratic Snugglers

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



If you're a small animal in a cold environment, being standoffish is a bad survival strategy. That's why animals of many kinds huddle for warmth. They put their furred or feathered bodies right up against their neighbors' and conserve energy that they would otherwise spend heating themselves.

One especially adorable huddler is the degu (Octodon degus), a rodent that lives in Chile and has a tail like a paintbrush. As temperatures drop, degus clump into cuddling groups to keep warm. A new ... Read more »

  • April 17, 2015
  • 10:44 AM
  • 166 views

Sick Coyotes Are More Likely to Come into Cities

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Run-ins are on the rise between coyotes and city-dwelling humans, and scientists aren't sure why. Now researchers in Alberta think they've found a piece of the puzzle. Coyotes are more likely to creep into human spaces if they're unhealthy.

Conflict between humans and coyotes has increased during the last 20 years, write University of Alberta graduate student Maureen Murray and her coauthors. Yet coyotes were expanding their range for decades before that. They've spread to inhabit nearly ... Read more »

Murray, M., Edwards, M., Abercrombie, B., & St. Clair, C. (2015) Poor health is associated with use of anthropogenic resources in an urban carnivore. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1806), 20150009-20150009. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0009  

  • April 10, 2015
  • 11:13 AM
  • 160 views

Wasp Moms Build Safer Rooms for Their Favorite Offspring

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Even if you think your parents played favorites among you and your siblings, they probably weren't as blatant as a wasp mother. Unless maybe they put your sister in a locked, secure room and fed you to mountain lions.

To be fair, a queen paper wasp (Polistes chinensis antennalis) is a single mom with a lot on her plate. She sets off alone in the spring, after mating, to found a new colony. She mixes her spit with plant fibers to make a pulp that she shapes into a house of delicate, h........ Read more »

  • April 7, 2015
  • 03:17 PM
  • 148 views

Dehydrated Sea Snakes: The Thirst Is Real

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



It's a shame snakes can't appreciate irony. If they could, sea snakes in Australia might find some humor in their situation. Despite living in water, they seem to spend much of their time desperately dehydrated.

The true sea snakes, or Hydrophiini, include more than 60 species of almost frighteningly well-adapted reptiles. They swim with a graceful, ribbon-like motion through coastal waters around the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They have a venomous bite. Like many other snakes, they giv........ Read more »

  • April 3, 2015
  • 11:39 AM
  • 157 views

The Jay Who Came to Dinner (on a Sloth)

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Kelsey Neam was strolling through the trees in Costa Rica and looking for sloths when she spotted something unusual. High on a tree branch, a three-toed sloth was eating leaves at an unhurried pace. It seemed oblivious to three brown jays that perched nearby and were watching it intently. Then one jay scooted closer and plunged its beak into the sloth's fur.

Neam is a graduate student in ecology at Texas A&M University. She was in the Costa Rican cloud forests to study three-toed slot... Read more »

  • March 31, 2015
  • 11:01 AM
  • 194 views

Moths Fondly Remember Plant Species Where They Lost Their Virginity

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Think real estate decisions are hard for humans? Imagine if the house you lived in were also your singles bar, your babies' nursery, and your shelter from large animals trying to eat you. And, while you were growing up, your food source, as you nibbled away its floors and shingles.

Moths face all these pressures each time they settle down on a plant. That may be why at least one type of moth uses pleasant associations to help with its choices. The plant species where an individual loses........ Read more »

  • March 27, 2015
  • 09:06 AM
  • 142 views

The ABCs of Alphabet-Magnet Synesthesia

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Is it cool or existentially disturbing to think that your personal brain quirks might come from the toys you played with as a toddler?

In a study published earlier this month, psychologists asked 6,588 American synesthetes what colors they associate with each letter of the alphabet. Then they compared these associations to a certain vintage set of Fisher-Price alphabet magnets. They found that at least 6% of their synesthetes had improbably close matches to the colors of the magnets.

T... Read more »

  • March 24, 2015
  • 10:11 AM
  • 217 views

Global Warming Turns Rainforest Leaves into Junk Food

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Like those breakfast cereals that look healthy on the box but have even more sugar inside than Cocoa Puffs, some rainforest trees engage in false advertising. It's not their fault—it's ours. Climate change has made their leaves less nutritious than they used to be. And the animals who live off of those trees don't exactly have another store to shop at.

Experiments in labs and greenhouses have given scientists mixed answers about what happens to plant tissues in a changing climate. So pr........ Read more »

Rothman, J., Chapman, C., Struhsaker, T., Raubenheimer, D., Twinomugisha, D., & Waterman, P. (2015) Long-term declines in nutritional quality of tropical leaves. Ecology, 96(3), 873-878. DOI: 10.1890/14-0391.1  

  • March 20, 2015
  • 12:08 PM
  • 196 views

Gliding Ant Flies like a Backward Superman

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Travel to the Amazon and flick an ant off a leaf, and you might be surprised what you see. Certain rainforest ant species can control their falls and glide back onto the trunks of the trees they came from. Unlike Superman, though, they're only flying to rescue themselves.

An ant is light enough that a drop to the forest floor might not hurt it. But the other animals cruising the ground for snacks will cause trouble for that ant soon enough. That's why many rainforest ants have evolved to ... Read more »

Munk Y, Yanoviak SP, Koehl MA, & Dudley R. (2015) The descent of ant: field-measured performance of gliding ants. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 25788722  

  • March 17, 2015
  • 10:53 AM
  • 207 views

The Palm Tree That Waters and Fertilizes Itself

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Even the most dismal gardener wouldn't mind taking charge of a plot of Lodoicea maldivica. This palm tree knows how to water itself. It even adds fertilizer. As a result, it rules the forest, turning a bad soil situation into seeds the size of a four-year-old human.

Lodoicea maldivica is commonly called the coco de mer palm. "Commonly" might be the wrong word, though, since the tree grows on exactly two islands in the world, in the Seychelles. It roots itself in soil made from weathered g........ Read more »

  • March 13, 2015
  • 10:22 AM
  • 181 views

Being Stabbed with a Mucus Dagger Is Not Even the Worst Part of Snail Sex

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



If snails used Facebook, all their relationship statuses would say "It's complicated." It's also slimy, violent, and life-shortening.

Most species of snail that live on land are hermaphroditic—that is, they have a complete set of female and male sex organs. When they mate, both partners inseminate each other. The act may come after a courtship period. And in certain land snails, this courtship includes the launching of "love darts," which are much less cute than they sound.

A love dart........ Read more »

  • March 6, 2015
  • 10:06 AM
  • 191 views

The Women Who Stare at Babies

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



A drooling baby face is not equally exciting to everyone around it. A new study says that young women who like the idea of motherhood get more enjoyment than their peers from staring at infants' faces. But they don't love all of those chubby mugs equally. Even more than the baby-neutral, wannabe moms are biased toward the cutest ones.

Amanda Hahn is a researcher at the University of Glasgow's "Face Research Lab," directed by psychologists Lisa DeBruine and Benedict Jones. (On their websit... Read more »

  • March 3, 2015
  • 10:45 AM
  • 178 views

Shy Crabs Make the Most Sperm

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



A fellow who hides in his shell until danger has passed may not seem like the epitome of manliness. Yet among hermit crabs, the shyest males have the most to offer the ladies. It's all part of their evolutionary strategy. Crabs that are long on bravery, meanwhile, are short on sperm.

Mark Briffa, an animal behavior professor at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues found the surprising connection between sperm and shyness while studying "life history" in crabs. To........ Read more »

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use ResearchBlogging.org to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SMG Technology.

To learn more, visit seedmediagroup.com.