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Brains, behaviour, and evolution.

Zen Faulkes
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  • July 11, 2013
  • 09:00 AM

The cat frog came back, the very next day

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

Given how often we can’t find our car in a parking lot, it’s no wonder that the wayfinding abilities of animals impress and amaze us. We’ve all heard the stories of pets that find their way back to their homes, how salmon find their way back to the particular they were hatched in years after roaming around in the open oceans, and how pigeons can find their roost, even when taken to places that they have never been before.

A new paper adds another animal to the list of pathfinders, and i........ Read more »

Pašukonis Andrius, Ringler Max, Brandl Hanja B., Mangione Rosanna, Ringler Eva, Hödl Walter, & Tregenza T. (2013) The Homing Frog: High Homing Performance in a Territorial Dendrobatid Frog (Dendrobatidae) . Ethology. DOI: 10.1111/eth.12116  

  • July 3, 2013
  • 09:00 AM

Everything is connected: How a snail in a lake helps a crab in the sea

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

Many people who have epiphanies often boil their realization down to, “Everything is connected.” Some may have achieved this through meditation, dreamquests, spirit walks, or illicit substances.

They could just study some biology instead.

Perhaps, like van Oosterhout and colleagues, you could study this on the western Atlantic island of Tobago off the coast of Venezuela:

Where van Oosterhout and company found this snail:

This snail, Melanoides tuberculata, is one of a couple of f........ Read more »

van Oosterhout Cock, Mohammed Ryan, Xavier Raquel, Stephenson Jessica, Archard Gabrielle, Hockley Fran, Perkins Sarah, & Cable Joanne. (2013) Invasive freshwater snails provide resource for native marine hermit crabs. Aquatic Invasions, 8(2), 185-191. DOI: 10.3391/ai.2013.8.2.06  

  • June 24, 2013
  • 06:33 PM

Pleasure and procreation

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

“Lie back and think of England.”

Queen Victoria, by most accounts, did not enjoy sex. And yet, she had nine children. It’s a reminder that pleasure and procreation may not be closely correlated.

Yet there is an hypothesis that is (dare I say) seductive in its simplicity. Orgasms make sex feel nice for women, causing women to have more sex, and therefore more babies. Therefore, female orgasms provide a fitness advantage, and are adaptive.

Whether female orgasm is adaptive or not has b........ Read more »

  • June 22, 2013
  • 12:47 PM

Squished squid, or: noci-ceph-tion

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

If you’re hurt, a physician doesn’t give you an IQ test to figure out how painkiller to prescribe. (“Oh, you knew the meaning of ‘lugubrious’ and solved this trigonometry question? Take another aspirin for that sprain before you go to bed.”) But this is sometimes the approach to determine if we should be worried about caring for animals like this:

This is a squid (Doryteuthis pealeii, formerly known as Loligo pealeii). It’s a cephalopod, related to cuttlefish and octopuses. An........ Read more »

  • June 10, 2013
  • 05:00 PM

Back room science

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

We now return to our regular features, “Let’s impugn all the bloggers.” Let’s start with Geoffrey North, using a pulpit of Current Biology.

But there is also, I think, a danger here, which lies in the very speed of response, and the way that blogs are essentially “vanity publications” which lack the constraints of more conventional publishing — they are not reviewed, and do not even have to pass the critical eye of any editor.

North is not alone. Fred Schram, the Journal of Cru........ Read more »

North Geoffrey. (2013) Social Media Likes and Dislikes. Current Biology, 23(11). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.04.073  

  • May 23, 2013
  • 05:24 PM

All lobsters are mortal

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

This appeared earlier today on the Facebook feed I Fucking Love Science:


I remember seeing a shark documentary as a kid, hosted by Burgess Meredith, if I remember correctly. It made the same basic claim about great white sharks: too big to have predators, nobody had ever seen them die except by accident or by human hands, blah blah blah, therefore “some have suggested” they are immortal.

That I can remember the end of the show all these years later shows you what a terrific close........ Read more »

Klapper Wolfram, Kühne Karen, Singh Kumud K, Heidorn Klaus, Parwaresch Reza, & Krupp Guido. (1998) Longevity of lobsters is linked to ubiquitous telomerase expression. FEBS Letters, 439(1-2), 143-146. DOI: 10.1016/S0014-5793(98)01357-X  

  • May 22, 2013
  • 09:00 AM

Down in the underground, scuds lose eyes but keep genes

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

When animals live caves full time, their descendents often lose their eyes. It has happened over and over and over and over again, in all different kinds of animals. But how this happens is not obvious. Stephen Jay Gould wrote that some people would use cave fish as an argument that “Lamarck must have been on to something” with his idea that acquired characteristics can be inherited. Well, no, that’s not that case, but it is a good example of how tricky thinking about losses can be.

The l........ Read more »

  • May 20, 2013
  • 09:00 AM

Baby geniuses: young guppies show number skills

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

I have vague memories of the first time I counted to a hundred. It felt like one of those landmarks like tying your shoes for yourself the first time, or riding the bicycle more than a few feet without the training wheels or dad holding you up.

Of course, I don't come anywhere near Adam Spencer:

Once when I was about 7, I counted to 10,000 just to check the numbers didn't run out before then #NerdConfessions
Counting large numbers is not something that comes easily for us humans. A new paper c........ Read more »

Piffer Laura, Miletto Petrazzini Maria Elena, & Agrillo Christian. (2013) Large number discrimination in newborn fish. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062466  

  • May 17, 2013
  • 09:00 AM

Colour costs crickets

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

You probably don’t feel tired when you get a tan.

You probably think your friends feel more or less fatigued depending on whether they are dark skinned or fair skinned (like myself).

We know that differences in colour are important lots of other species besides humans. They can play a big part in an animal’s ability to blend into the surrounding environment, for instance. What might be less appreciated is that being a certain colour might take energy. After all, many colours in animals are........ Read more »

  • May 8, 2013
  • 11:43 AM

“Can you hear me now?” The new record holder for hearing

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

This is our new winner, ladies and gentlemen.

This unassuming moth is a greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella). Don’t let its drab appearance fool you, friends. This is a record-setting animal, with one of the most extreme sensory systems yet found. Its speciality? Hearing.

When you listen to anything, there are two main properties inherent in the sound: loudness and tone. The volume is determined by the size of sound waves; the tone is set by the frequency of sound waves. Humans hear t........ Read more »

Moir H. M., Jackson J. C., & Windmill J. F. C. (2013) Extremely high frequency sensitivity in a 'simple' ear. Biology Letters, 9(4), 20130241-20130241. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0241  

  • April 24, 2013
  • 03:06 PM

A true paleo diet: dinosaurs eating fish

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

There’s been a lot of talk about “paleo diets”, but here we have the real deal. A meal caught in the middle of digestion in a dinosaur.

Microraptor gui was introduced back in 2003, and immediately attracted attention because of the its feathers, particularly lots of long, prominent feathers on its hind legs, so unlike any bird or other flying beast we know of. There is good evidence (though disputed) that it was a glossy, black animal, rather like the grackles that hang around my campus.
........ Read more »

Xing Lida, Persons W. Scott, Bell Phil R., Xu Xing, Zhang Jianping, Miyashita Tetsuto, Wang Fengping, & Currie Philip J. (2013) Piscivory in the feathered dinosaur Microraptor . Evolution. DOI: 10.1111/evo.12119  

  • April 16, 2013
  • 09:00 AM

Tuesday Crustie: Clarity

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

Last week, the science news world was all a-flutter about a new technique to clear brains described in the paper, “Structural and molecular interrogation of intact biological systems.” (Argh, what a title. Would you have guessed what they did from that title?)

We in the invertebrate neuroscience community have been clearing brains for decades. Here are some examples from my own work.

Assembled in the dying days of straight edges and Letraset and photographing photographs, here are leg moto........ Read more »

Chung Kwanghun, Wallace Jenelle, Kim Sung-Yon, Kalyanasundaram Sandhiya, Andalman Aaron S., Davidson Thomas J., Mirzabekov Julie J., Zalocusky Kelly A., Mattis Joanna, & Denisin Aleksandra K. (2013) Structural and molecular interrogation of intact biological systems. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature12107  

  • April 1, 2013
  • 09:00 AM

Better off blind

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

Eyes are good things to have in the light. But if you lived in the dark... all the time... would those eyes become so much a nuisance that you might lose them?

Animals that live in caves are often blind. People sometimes mistake this as evidence that features can be lost just by a “Use it or lose it” rule. That would be an example of inheriting an acquired character, which doesn’t happen in evolution. Instead, the typical explanation is that because there is no advantage to maintaining ey........ Read more »

  • March 28, 2013
  • 01:22 PM

A short tale about a very short tail

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

As I’ve mentioned before, scientists are so conservative that when you see an adjective like “extraordinary” in the title, you should at least open up the paper if you can and have a peek.

I came across a paper titled, “An extraordinary tail – integrative review of the agamid genus Xenagama” in Google Reader *. I was a bit curious (and miffed) because I had no idea from the title what kind of organism this paper would be about. All kinds of animals have tails.

I love me spikes........ Read more »

Wagner Philipp, Mazuch Tomas, & Bauer Aaron M. (2013) An extraordinary tail - integrative review of the agamid genus Xenagama . Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research. DOI: 10.1111/jzs.12016  

  • March 25, 2013
  • 09:00 AM

Steering into the skid: what can we fix with formal training in grad school?

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

A couple of years ago, I got into a car wreck. A tire blew out on a truck to my right. It swerved and hit me. I skidded across the road. You know what you’re supposed to do in that situation, right?

You’re supposed to steer into the skid.

I did not. I was unable to correct the skid, and wound up crossing a couple of lanes of the highway. There was no oncoming traffic, and I was fine.

I was trained to do the correct thing and steer into the skid. I took driving lessons. Steering into the s........ Read more »

Fang F. C., Steen R. G., & Casadevall A. (2012) Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(42), 17028-17033. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1212247109  

  • March 18, 2013
  • 05:27 PM

Today in cognitive dissonance: celebrating “landmark” openness in a closed journal

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

A new editorial in The Journal of Comparative Neurology celebrates a paper that goes the extra mile in making its anatomical data available:

(The authors) provide an unprecedented level of access to their supporting data by publishing their full set of experimental outcomes in the form of virtual slides, or whole‐slide images.

The editorial nicely summarizes why archiving data from brain slices is particularly important. Brains are complex structures, and there is necessarily a lot of inter........ Read more »

Karten Harvey J., Glaser Jack R., & Hof Patrick R. (2013) A landmark in scientific publishing. Journal of Comparative Neurology. DOI: 10.1002/cne.23329  

  • March 18, 2013
  • 09:00 AM

The costs of being tall: lessons from giraffes

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

True facts about giraffes!

They’re tall. And I use the word precisely. They’re not just big; their legs are about half again as long as you’d predict based on their mass and bodies of other mammals.

Being tall has distinct consequences for the nervous system. The distances that signals have to travel might mean there is lots of lag between something happening out in the world, the signal getting to the brain, and the appropriate response going all the way back down to the muscles the........ Read more »

More H. L., O'Connor S. M., Brondum E., Wang T., Bertelsen M. F., Grondahl C., Kastberg K., Horlyck A., Funder J., & Donelan J. M. (2013) Sensorimotor responsiveness and resolution in the giraffe. Journal of Experimental Biology, 216(6), 1003-1011. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.067231  

  • February 15, 2013
  • 02:44 PM

Sea cucumbers, the original “buttchuggers”?

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

A while ago, there were some reports of young men at universities who came up with an interesting way of imbibing alcohol. It was nicknamed “buttchugging.”


This method of alcohol delivery is, from a certain very twisted point of view, quite clever. The gut is a tube. This means that regardless of which orifice alcohol enters your gut,you can still uptake the alcohol into your system and enjoy the intoxicating effects.

Now, a new paper from Jaeckle and Strathmann looks whether sea ........ Read more »

  • January 28, 2013
  • 11:00 AM

Whales: big enough, too big, or bigger than big?

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

This picture can’t do them justice. No picture can.

That’s because this is a picture of a blue whale, the largest animal to live on this planet. Ever.

Goodness knows, people try to show you the size. They put up mounts of blue whale skeletons in museums, or life sized models. There’s a very cool online animation that shows images from the blue whale full sized, on your computer screen, as has it drift by lazily. But I suspect that even these clever things do the trick of conveying what ........ Read more »

  • January 18, 2013
  • 09:00 AM

What we know and don’t know about crustacean pain

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo


What we know about crustacean pain?

Crabs, and probably other big decapod crustaceans, avoid electric shock in the short term.
They can learn to avoid places where they were shocked over slightly longer terms.
There may be substantial variation across individuals in their ability to learn.
The evidence is consistent with pain.
Pain is hard to prove, even in humans.

What don’t we know?

Whether electric shock is normally relevant to crustaceans.
Whether electric shock processed ........ Read more »

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