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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
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  • September 1, 2015
  • 12:06 PM
  • 33 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
  • 12:03 PM
  • 95 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
  • 03:06 PM
  • 71 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
  • 12:49 PM
  • 120 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
  • 11:19 AM
  • 123 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
  • 12:12 PM
  • 124 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
  • 10:32 AM
  • 154 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

  • August 4, 2015
  • 10:21 AM
  • 143 views

Monkeys Try to Hide Illicit Hookups

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



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  

  • July 31, 2015
  • 10:40 AM
  • 178 views

What Happens When People Text on an Obstacle Course

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



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 »

  • July 28, 2015
  • 12:05 PM
  • 177 views

Sports Stadiums Make Bats into Winners and Losers

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



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 »

  • July 24, 2015
  • 12:26 PM
  • 199 views

An Anxious Moment Makes People Clean Obsessively

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



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  

  • July 21, 2015
  • 12:17 PM
  • 170 views

Plants Murder Bugs to Pay Their Bodyguards

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



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 »

  • July 17, 2015
  • 09:26 AM
  • 191 views

Here It Is: The World's Oldest Sperm

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



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  

  • July 15, 2015
  • 12:22 PM
  • 171 views

What's a Colorblind Person's Favorite Color? Yellow

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



As much as you think your tastes are unique, psychologists say they can guess your favorite color. It's likely to be blue. And it's especially unlikely to be yellow—unless you're colorblind. Men with red-green colorblindness have preferences that are essentially opposite from everyone else's. The finding could help scientists understand why humans like what they like, and how colorblind people see the world differently.

Some researchers have claimed that the human love of blue is universa........ Read more »

Álvaro, L., Moreira, H., Lillo, J., & Franklin, A. (2015) Color preference in red–green dichromats. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201502104. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1502104112  

  • July 10, 2015
  • 11:47 AM
  • 173 views

Trees Make Canadians Feel Healthier

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



What's a tree worth to you? According to a large study in Toronto, trees may increase both how healthy you feel and how healthy you really are. Having some extra foliage on your block could be as good for your health as a pay raise–or an anti-aging machine.

It's a complicated relationship to figure out, because variables that affect how many trees you see each day could also affect your health. The population of a concrete, inner-city apartment complex may have socioeconomic differen........ Read more »

Kardan, O., Gozdyra, P., Misic, B., Moola, F., Palmer, L., Paus, T., & Berman, M. (2015) Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Scientific Reports, 11610. DOI: 10.1038/srep11610  

  • July 7, 2015
  • 11:31 AM
  • 175 views

Weirdo Deep-Sea Anemone Kills a Giant Worm, Goes for a Walk

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



If you already think everything at the bottom of the ocean is slightly terrifying, Iosactis vagabunda won't change your mind. It's transparent, can tunnel underground, and hunts animals 15 times its size. And scientists are now realizing that there might be way, way more of these roaming killers than they'd previously thought.

Iosactis vagabunda lives on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, a seabed southwest of Ireland that ranges from 4,000 to nearly 5,000 meters deep. The species was alread........ Read more »

  • July 3, 2015
  • 08:15 AM
  • 173 views

Male Kangaroos' Arms Evolved to Pound the Crap out of Each Other

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



When you look at a kangaroo or a wallaby, it's obvious the animal is well built for bouncing around the outback. What may be less obvious is that its arms are built for fighting—if it's male, that is. Males of these species have disproportionately long arm bones. And the more brawling a species does, the more exaggerated the difference between the beefy-armed males and their normal-limbed mates.

To understand this evolutionary quirk, we'll need to review the rules of fighting in wallabie........ Read more »

  • June 26, 2015
  • 12:33 PM
  • 193 views

Nervous Sea Squirts Squirt Out Their Stomachs and Grow New Ones

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



We may call someone gutless who's acting afraid. But certain coral-reef dwellers take gutless to a whole other level: they shoot their digestive tracts out of their bodies when they feel threatened. This seems to deter nearby fish from taking a bite. Even more amazing, though, is how quickly the gutless animals grow back their organs.

Polycarpa mytiligera is a little tube-shaped creature called an ascidian, or sea squirt. It resides in tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. Wit... Read more »

  • June 23, 2015
  • 12:43 PM
  • 244 views

The New Way to Track Animals Is Tagless

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



There's good news for scientists who study animals that are too small to carry a GPS monitor, or that spit ID tags back out through their arms. A setup using an off-the-shelf camera can precisely capture an animal's path in three dimensions—without anyone touching the animal.

Emmanuel de Margerie, who studies animal behavior at the University of Rennes 1 in France, says there are several reasons to seek new animal-tracking technologies. To put a GPS or other kind of tag on an animal, yo........ Read more »

de Margerie E, Simonneau M, Caudal JP, Houdelier C, & Lumineau S. (2015) 3D tracking of animals in the field, using rotational stereo videography. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 26056245  

  • June 19, 2015
  • 11:19 AM
  • 212 views

Starfish Ruin an Experiment and Reveal a Superpower

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Scientists already knew starfish have superpowers. They can regenerate entire lost limbs or organs; some can even regrow a whole body from one arm. And these animals have just revealed another bizarre ability. To two Danish students, it first appeared as the power to really wreck an experiment.

At the University of Southern Denmark, students Frederik Ekholm Gaardsted Christensen and Trine Bottos Olsen were asked to tag some starfish. The task was simple: inject the Asterias rubens with ........ Read more »

Olsen TB, Christensen FE, Lundgreen K, Dunn PH, & Levitis DA. (2015) Coelomic Transport and Clearance of Durable Foreign Bodies by Starfish (Asterias rubens). The Biological bulletin, 228(2), 156-62. PMID: 25920718  

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