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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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  • April 8, 2014
  • 12:45 PM

Scientists Like Some Animals Better than Others (Hint: Bears)

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

In the fight for attention from researchers, there are winners and there are civets. That’s what researchers found when they analyzed almost 16,500 published papers about animals from walruses to weasels. They saw clear trends in which animals are the most popular to study. And it matters because the most popular animals aren’t necessarily the […]The post Scientists Like Some Animals Better than Others (Hint: Bears) appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

  • November 18, 2013
  • 11:29 AM

You Might Have Outgrown Synesthesia as a Kid

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Feeling smug because your normal brain doesn't insist on coloring all its 2's blue and M's purple? Not so fast: you might have been a child synesthete. Some elementary schoolers have associations between colors and letters or numbers that fade as they age. Others' associations expand to take over the whole alphabet, leading them toward a rainbow-hued adult life.Studying kids with synesthesia is tricky, because first you have to find them—and at a young age, kids don't know the word, or that th........ Read more »

  • May 28, 2013
  • 11:17 AM

Everyone Underestimates Fast-Food Calories (But Especially at Subway)

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

At a McDonald's shareholder meeting last week, a nine-year-old girl accused CEO Don Thompson of sneaky advertising. Stop "tricking kids into eating your food," she demanded, saying that McDonald's ads tell kids to "keep bugging their parents" until they get that Happy Meal. In the world of fast-food chains, though, the golden arches may not be the sneakiest purveyor of excess calories. Diners in all kinds of fast-food restaurants underestimate the calories they're taking in—and the most dra........ Read more »

  • February 16, 2012
  • 01:18 PM

To Kill Parasites, Flies Self-Medicate with Booze

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Everyone negotiates hazards in their lives. Your food is poisonous, say. Everything wants to eat you. Parasitic wasps are laying eggs in your body that will eventually hatch and chew their way out. To balance the difficulties of invertebrate existence, fruit flies have developed a grim strategy. Baby flies that are infected with parasites turn to alcohol, aiming to ingest just enough to kill their invaders without also offing themselves.

Drosophila melanogaster is the fruit fly s........ Read more »

Neil F. Milan, Balint Z. Kacsoh, & Todd A. Schlenke. (2012) Alcohol Consumption As Self-Medication Against Blood-Borne Parasites In The Fruitfly. Current Biology. info:/

  • April 8, 2013
  • 12:23 PM

Squid's Daily Rhythms Are Controlled by Glowing Symbiotic Bacteria

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

At nightfall, the Hawaiian bobtail squid digs itself out of the sand and rises into the ocean water like a spaceship taking off. It switches on its cloaking device: glowing bacteria inside its body light up, disguising the squid's silhouette against the moonlight for any predators swimming below. As sleek a vehicle as it appears, though, the bobtail may not totally outrank its microscopic crewmembers. The bacteria seem to power a clock inside the squid's body that can't function without them........ Read more »

  • December 10, 2012
  • 04:04 PM

Ancient Insect Carried Built-In Trash Basket for Camouflage

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Covering yourself with garbage is a great way to look less delicious to predators. More than a hundred million years ago, one insect species took this strategy to the extreme by growing a kind of giant trash can on its back. Scientists could identify the new species thanks to a remarkable specimen that was preserved—along with an informative topping of trash—in amber.

The insect that kindly died in a blob of tree resin in early-Cretaceous Spain was a young green lacewing. Modern-day gree........ Read more »

Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, Xavier Delclòs, Enrique Peñalver, Mariela Speranza, Jacek Wierzchos, Carmen Ascaso, & Michael S. Engel. (2012) Early evolution and ecology of camouflage in insects. PNAS. info:/10.1073/pnas.1213775110

  • July 19, 2012
  • 12:45 PM

How We Changed Penguins Just by Watching

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If a penguin falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, I don't know what kind of forest that is—but everyone who's interested in penguins is probably hanging out a lot closer to the South Pole. The charismatic birds let scientists and tourists alike get a close look without too much trouble. And all that familiarity has the potential to change penguins, and other closely watched animals, for good.

King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) appeal to zoo visitors and cold-resistant t........ Read more »

  • January 13, 2015
  • 12:30 PM

Bees Drink with Expandable Mop Tongues

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

A perennially fascinating question to scientists is how animals get liquids into their faces without cups, straws or hands. In recent years they've cracked the puzzle in dogs and cats, two creatures that often do their noisy drinking near us. Bees, too, sip nectar in plain sight of humans. But their methods are more subtle and mysterious.

Shaoze Yan, a mechanical engineering professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, and his colleagues took a very close look at Italian honeybees ... Read more »

  • December 30, 2011
  • 01:13 PM

Be Fear Free

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

(This post first appeared in April 2011. See you all next year!)

If you have a fear of heights, called acrophobia, you probably consider activities such as standing on a glass ledge 103 stories high to be stressful. But a scientist in Switzerland says that cortisol, the stress hormone, can actually help banish your fear.

A team of researchers led by Dominique de Quervain at the University of Basel recruited 40 patients with serious acrophobia. All the patients received a se........ Read more »

de Quervain, D., Bentz, D., Michael, T., Bolt, O., Wiederhold, B., Margraf, J., & Wilhelm, F. (2011) From the Cover: Glucocorticoids enhance extinction-based psychotherapy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(16), 6621-6625. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1018214108  

  • May 16, 2013
  • 12:17 PM

"Fool Me Twice, Shame on ME," Says Sea Slug

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

"Simple" is often a compliment in the human world, used to describe low-fuss dinners or closet solutions. When scientists use "simple" to describe an animal, they mean something more like, "That sac of goo has no business acting clever." An especially simple creature—a sea slug—recently demonstrated that despite its humble resources, it can learn from experience and form new hunting strategies. Smaller goo sacs, beware.

Despite its squishy stature, the sea slug Pleurobranchaea calif........ Read more »

  • December 23, 2013
  • 09:29 AM

Why It’s Nearly Impossible to Castrate a Hippo

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Chances are you’ve never wondered how difficult it is to remove the testes of a hippopotamus. Other people have been thinking hard about it, though, because in fact it’s almost impossible. Before sitting down to emasculate a common hippopotamus, Hippopotamus amphibius, it would be reasonable to ask why. They’re a threatened species, so usually conservationists […]The post Why It’s Nearly Impossible to Castrate a Hippo appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

  • December 21, 2012
  • 01:57 PM

Fossil Scan Reveals Ghost of Lizard Past

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Peering into the past life of this fossil took an x-ray scanner powered by a particle accelerator. What scientists saw there was mysterious: an ancient lizard had left behind its skin and teeth, but none of its bones. To tell the ghost's tale, they relied on some very modern equipment.

At Stanford University, an accelerator called a synchrotron sends electrons zipping around a track fast enough that x-rays spin off of them. These x-rays are collected into an extremely bright x-ray beam that........ Read more »

Edwards, N., Wogelius, R., Bergmann, U., Larson, P., Sellers, W., & Manning, P. (2012) Mapping prehistoric ghosts in the synchrotron. Applied Physics A. DOI: 10.1007/s00339-012-7484-3  

  • July 30, 2012
  • 04:09 PM

Enjoy Wine? Thank a Wasp

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Where would we be without yeast? Sober, for one thing. And stuck assembling our sandwiches between two crackers. Humans have relied on the hardworking microorganism for millennia to keep us fed and festive. Without realizing it, we may also have been relying on yeast's insect helpers: wasps that escort it around, store it during winter, and regurgitate it up for the next generation.

Yeast—avert your eyes now if you're squeamish about fungus—is a fungus. Just by going about its regular bu........ Read more »

Irene Stefanini, Leonardo Dapporto, Jean-Luc Legras, Antonio Calabretta, Monica Di Paola, Carlotta De Filippo, Roberto Viola, Paolo Capretti, Mario Polsinelli, Stefano Turillazzi.... (2012) Role of social wasps in Saccharomyces cerevisiae ecology and evolution. PNAS. info:/

  • May 2, 2014
  • 11:09 AM

Inventory of Crap on the Ocean Floor

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Going the bottom of the ocean isn’t such a big deal. Sure, James Cameron generated a lot of fuss last year with his record-breaking descent into the Mariana Trench—but Uncle Ben has been to the deep sea without even using a sub. Yes, that picture shows a packet of Uncle Ben’s microwaveable rice a kilometer deep […]The post Inventory of Crap on the Ocean Floor appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

Pham, C., Ramirez-Llodra, E., Alt, C., Amaro, T., Bergmann, M., Canals, M., Company, J., Davies, J., Duineveld, G., Galgani, F.... (2014) Marine Litter Distribution and Density in European Seas, from the Shelves to Deep Basins. PLoS ONE, 9(4). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0095839  

  • August 13, 2012
  • 04:29 PM

Hyenas Show It's Better to Be Creative than Try, Try Again

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

It's not a sentiment you'll see on an inspirational poster anytime soon: When facing a problem, sheer persistence is not enough. At least, not if you're a hyena. Presented with a latched box holding a hunk of meat, wild hyenas tried hard to extract the food. Their success depended on their fearlessness and the number of different strategies they tried, but not on hard work.

Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) are hardy and adaptable animals. They're resourceful hunters, takin........ Read more »

Benson-Amram S, & Holekamp KE. (2012) Innovative problem solving by wild spotted hyenas. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society. PMID: 22874748  

  • March 26, 2013
  • 12:32 PM

Good Coot Parents Let Kids Starve, Make It Up to Them Later

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Too many mouths to feed? Just make your babies fight each other to the death! That's a strategy some bird parents have been using since even before The Hunger Games was popular. It means the strongest chicks get stronger while the weakest ones conveniently stop showing up to the table.

One type of bird takes this family drama a step further: after letting the biggest chicks bully their siblings for a while, parents suddenly decide the runts are their favorites and begin beating up ........ Read more »

  • November 6, 2013
  • 02:00 PM

Schrödinger's Turtle: How Observing Ocean Animals Can Harm Them

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

We rely on roving ocean creatures to fetch us all kinds of data we couldn't get otherwise. Carrying cameras or GPS units or sensors glued to their bodies, marine animals collect data for human scientists about the health of ocean ecosystems or how their own species migrate. Yet lugging our equipment through the sea may be harder for these creatures than we realize. By tagging them, we might be slowing down or even harming the same species we're trying to preserve.

When scientists tag birds, ........ Read more »

T. Todd Jones, Kyle S. Van Houtan, Brian L. Bostrom, Peter Ostafichuk, JonMikkelsen, EmreTezcan, Michael Carey, Brittany Imlach, & Jeffrey A. Seminoff. (2013) Calculating the ecological impacts of animal-borne instruments on aquatic organisms. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12109  

  • January 30, 2014
  • 11:18 AM

Homing Pigeons Like to Live on the Edge

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If homing pigeons wonder why humans are always driving them to faraway spots and leaving them behind, they don’t hold it against us. They just keep coming back, providing prize money for pigeon racers and new data for scientists studying the navigational powers of an avian brain. Now those scientists have discovered a new trick […]The post Homing Pigeons Like to Live on the Edge appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

Mann RP, Armstrong C, Meade J, Freeman R, Biro D, & Guilford T. (2014) Landscape complexity influences route-memory formation in navigating pigeons. Biology letters, 10(1), 20130885. PMID: 24451267  

  • October 31, 2013
  • 03:53 PM

What Left-Handed Ultimate Fighters Tell Us (or Not) About Evolution

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Don't despair, left-handers who have just smeared the ink across your paper yet again. You have a true purpose in life, some scientists say—and it's walloping other people in the head. A flying elbow drop would work too. Researchers recently pored over video of hundreds of UFC fights to test the idea that lefties evolved with an edge in hand-to-hand combat.

Various other animals show a preference for one paw, or one swimming direction, over the other. But humans are notable for almost alwa........ Read more »

  • December 9, 2011
  • 02:50 PM

Why Good Time Estimators Are Better at Math

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Since most of us were never called on in class to answer a tough time-estimation question, or quizzed on the lengths of tones in milliseconds, we don't have a good grasp of our skill in this area. It's kind of exciting. You could be a prodigy and not know it! But a cold dose of reality comes from new research saying skill in time estimation is tied to mathematical intelligence. If you're not amazing at math, your temporal abilities probably aren't A-plus either.

Writing in PLos ONE, a group ........ Read more »

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