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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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  • June 4, 2012
  • 04:03 PM

Why You Can't Kill a Mosquito with a Raindrop

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Compared to a spindly mosquito, the mass of a raindrop is like a bus bearing down on a human. Yet the delicate insects thrive in wet, rainy climates. To find out how mosquitos live through rain showers, researchers pelted them with water drops while filming them at high speed. They saw that the insects' light weight, rather than being a liability, might be the key to their survival.

David Hu is a professor in both the biology and mechanical engineering departments at Georgia Tech. He's pre........ Read more »

Andrew K. Dickerson, Peter G. Shankles, Nihar M. Madhavan, & David L. Hu. (2012) Mosquitoes survive raindrop collisions by virtue of their low mass. PNAS. info:/10.1073/pnas.1205446109

  • August 30, 2012
  • 11:49 AM

Long-Suffering Snail Dads Carry Illegitimate Babies

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If you can't find the snail in the photo above, it's because he's loaded down with thousands of cannibalistic babies—and most of them aren't even his. Dads in this marine species do all the egg-sitting, while moms scoot off to mate with other males. The males' willingness to care for the eggs of their rivals isn't just unusual: it's opposite to the standard rules of evolution.

Rather than laying their eggs on, say, a rock, female Solenosteira macrospira snails glue egg-stuffed capsule........ Read more »

  • July 15, 2011
  • 04:16 PM

Cold-Blooded but Not Dumb

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Just because an animal has a base-model brain and can't regulate its own body temperature doesn't mean it's unintelligent. Recent news shows two cold-blooded animals, a fish and a lizard, cleverly solving problems--and giving us brainier animals reason to question our superiority.Swimming back from a 60-foot dive in the Great Barrier Reef, a diver "heard a cracking noise" and turned to see a fish exhibiting a surprising behavior. The fish was a black spot tuskfish, also called a green wrasse, an........ Read more »

  • May 25, 2012
  • 12:02 PM

Octopuses Host a Masterclass on Hiding

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

When you're surrounded by an ocean full of potential predators, the best way to avoid seeing the inside of one's stomach is to make sure none of them see you in the first place. Octopuses and some other cephalopods are experts at camouflage, manipulating the colors and textures of their skin to hide in plain sight. But their strategy, it turns out, has nothing to do with disappearing into the background.

To learn the camouflaging secrets of the masters, researchers led by Noam Josef at Ben-........ Read more »

  • April 3, 2012
  • 12:26 PM

Dinosaur Age Not Dramatic Enough? Add Fire

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

As if a world dominated by hungry, house-sized lizards weren't sufficiently exciting, scientists have added another set piece to our image of the Cretaceous: raging wildfires.

The Cretaceous period, which ended about 65 million years ago with the extinction of the dinosaurs, was hot. That's thanks to volcanos that pumped carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and created a greenhouse effect. Researchers from London and Chicago now say it was also a "high-fire" world. Frequent blazes may have ke........ Read more »

  • August 24, 2011
  • 05:18 PM

Climate Change Creates Ambidextrous Animals

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Even animals without hands can display handedness--or, at least, a preference to do things with one side of the body rather than the other. Animals ranging from primates to birds to invertebrates have been shown to favor their left or right side. Fish might reveal that preference by choosing to swim right, for example, when avoiding a predator. Don't get too charmed by the idea of left-handed and right-handed fish, though: In a warming world, they may disappear.A new study by researchers in Ital........ Read more »

  • August 17, 2011
  • 04:26 PM

The Sniff Test for Mental Illness

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Imagine a patient goes to see his general practitioner, complaining of exhaustion. He can't sleep, and he'd like a referral to a sleep clinic so he can get some answers. First, his doctor wants to administer a quick test. She holds a device like a felt-tipped pen just under her patient's nose and has him sniff. "Sure, I can smell that," he says. She gives him three pens and asks which one smells different from the other two. "They all smell like peppermint to me," the patient says. "Okay," the d........ Read more »

  • August 13, 2013
  • 01:32 PM

Gibbon Moms Help Daughters Practice Their Singing for Future Mates

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Before their daughters grow up and leave home, mothers may impart some lessons in the womanly arts—for example, the proper way to whoop and hoot with your mate while sitting in a tree branch. As an adult, a female gibbon sings elaborate duets with her male partner. But before she leaves the family, her mother seems to take responsibility for the daughter's vocal lessons.

Young gibbons spend many years learning to vocalize like adults. By age six or so, "sub-adult" apes can match the vocal ........ Read more »

  • March 13, 2012
  • 12:40 PM

Accounting for Taste: Why a Bear, but Not an Otter, Will Steal Your Cupcake

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Humans aren't the only mammals with a sweet tooth. Omnivores from beagles to grizzlies can detect a wide range of flavors and enjoy the taste of sugar. But other mammals with narrow carnivorous diets have been subjected to evolution's "use it or lose it" decree. These meat-eaters are genetic mutants without working taste receptors for sweets. Not only do they not want your cupcake, but they can't even taste it.

Researchers led by Peihua Jiang at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphi........ Read more »

Jiang, P., Josue, J., Li, X., Glaser, D., Li, W., Brand, J., Margolskee, R., Reed, D., & Beauchamp, G. (2012) Major taste loss in carnivorous mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1118360109  

  • May 21, 2012
  • 04:09 PM

Having a Water Bottle for a Mom Not Ideal

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

In the wild, young rhesus macaques can reasonably expect not to have their mothers replaced by kitchen props. The monkeys depend on their moms to nurse them and tote them through tree branches while they're small, just like other primates. But a laboratory experiment in Maryland took these babies from their mothers and had them raised alone or in groups of their peers. The monkeys' strange infancies had physical and mental effects that lasted into adulthood.

At the National Institute of Chil........ Read more »

Gabriella Conti, Christopher Hansman, James J. Heckman, Matthew F. X. Novak, Angela Ruggiero, & Stephen J. Suomi. (2012) Primate evidence on the late health effects of early-life adversity. PNAS. info:/10.1073/pnas.1205340109

  • May 31, 2013
  • 11:40 AM

How Science Education Changes Your Drawing Style

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Take a look at these neurons. Ignore the fact that several of the brain cells look like snowflakes and at least one looks like an avocado. Can you pick out the drawings done by experienced, professional neuroscientists? What about the ones made by undergraduate science students?

Researchers at King's College London gave a simple task to 232 people: "Draw a neuron." (Actually, being British, they said "Please draw a neuron.") Some of the subjects were undergraduates in a neurobiology lecture......... Read more »

  • September 13, 2011
  • 04:29 PM

How Much Exercise Harms Your Immune System?

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

I'm looking at you, marathoners and triathletes. While you're out there building superhuman endurance and making the rest of us feel bad, are you also beefing up your immune systems? Or does becoming an Ironwoman actually weaken your body's defenses?

It may depend on how you're exercising. Researchers in Taiwan compared two types of exercise, the names of which might reveal the researchers' own feelings toward hitting the gym: "Acute Severe Exercise" (ASE) and "Chronic Moderate Exercise" (CME)......... Read more »

  • September 21, 2011
  • 12:12 PM

Are You Yawning Because Your Brain's Hot?

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Everyone knows yawning is the pinkeye of social cues: powerfully contagious and not that attractive. Yet scientists aren't sure what the point of it is. Is yawning a form of communication that evolved to send some message to our companions? Or is the basis of yawning physiological, and its social contagiousness unrelated? A new paper suggests that yawning--even when triggered by seeing another person yawn--is meant to cool down overheated brains.

We're not the only species that feels compell........ Read more »

Andrew C. Gallup, & Omar Tonsi Eldakar. (2011) Contagious yawning and seasonal climate variation. Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience. info:/

  • June 15, 2012
  • 12:06 PM

Why We (Accidentally) Name Babies for Hurricanes

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

In the year after Hurricane Katrina made a toilet bowl out of New Orleans, baby names starting with "K" went up by nine percent. Why would new parents want to commemorate the costliest natural disaster in American history? It wasn't their fault, researchers say: The sounds we hear most often stick with us, and we end up bestowing them on our children.

Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, led a study of baby name popularity that will be pu........ Read more »

Jonah Berger, Eric Bradlow, Alex Braunstein, & Yao Zhang. (2012) From Karen to Katie: Using Baby Names to Understand Cultural Evolution. Psychological Science. info:/

  • December 2, 2011
  • 02:03 PM

Crab Eats Bacteria Grown on Hairy Arm Farms

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

When you live in near-blackness at the bottom of the ocean, you can't rely on plants to turn sunlight into food for you. The yeti crab, a pallid creature with woolly arms like an ill-conceived Muppet, eats bacteria that subsist on chemicals leaking from the seafloor. To keep things close to home, it gardens those bacteria in the lush fields of its own hairy forelegs.

Yeti crabs were first discovered in 2005, when a single representative of the species Kiwa hirsuta was dragged up fr........ Read more »

  • August 1, 2011
  • 03:51 PM

Superheroes Who Share a Power with Dolphins

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If only for reasons of terrestrial mobility, you probably shouldn't populate your whole superhero squad with cetaceans. Evil lairs on land would be difficult for you to infiltrate, to say the least. But you'd do well to consider including a dolphin or two in your next hero league. Dolphins were all over science journals last week, displaying powers that could put certain superheroes out of business.WolverineA letter published in Nature's Journal of Investigative Dermatology pointed out that bott........ Read more »

  • March 2, 2012
  • 02:00 PM

Your Sense of Sight Helps You Smell

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Imagine the smell of an orange. Have you got it? Are you also picturing the orange, even though I didn't ask you to? Try fish. Or mown grass. You'll find it's difficult to bring a scent to mind without also calling up an image. It's no coincidence, scientists say: Your brain's visual processing center is doing double duty in the smell department.

Since previous studies had shown that the brain's visual center lights up with activity when someone does a purely smell-related task, a group of r........ Read more »

Jadauji, J., Djordjevic, J., Lundstrom, J., & Pack, C. (2012) Modulation of Olfactory Perception by Visual Cortex Stimulation. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(9), 3095-3100. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6022-11.2012  

  • August 15, 2011
  • 06:28 PM

The Hidden Advantage of Twins

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

For humans and other animals that traditionally have just one baby at a time, twins are a gamble. Pregnancy is riskier for the mother and the fetuses. If the twins make it to birth, they're likely to be undersized. And even if she has two healthy babies, a mother must find twice as much food as usual to keep them that way--and must keep twice as many helpless, chubby morsels away from the lions. But if both kids survive to adulthood, the parents will have doubled their genetic contribution to th........ Read more »

  • July 8, 2011
  • 04:10 PM

Is Your Stress Affecting Your Future Grandkids?

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

In case you weren't worried yet about inadvertently damaging your children's and grandchildren's DNA, scientists in Japan have demonstrated precisely how that might be possible by stressing out some fruit flies.You might think that once you've contributed sperm or egg to your offspring, its genetic destiny is set: you're free to mess up the kid psychologically or raise it exclusively on gluten-free Cheetos, but you can't do any harm to its DNA. You'd be wrong, though. Scientists have learne........ Read more »

Seong, K., Li, D., Shimizu, H., Nakamura, R., & Ishii, S. (2011) Inheritance of Stress-Induced, ATF-2-Dependent Epigenetic Change. Cell, 145(7), 1049-1061. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.05.029  

  • May 3, 2012
  • 12:07 PM

Hearing: Your Other Sense of Touch

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Those of us without prehensile ears tend to think of our senses of hearing and touch as separate. But our sensory abilities overlap with each other more often than our kindergarten teachers let on. Our sense of smell gets help from our vision centers. Tasting food is mostly done with our noses. And a new study says hearing is just another sense of touch. The same genes can make you good--or deficient--at both.

Hearing a bird chirp and picking up a pencil from your desk, though th........ Read more »

Frenzel, H., Bohlender, J., Pinsker, K., Wohlleben, B., Tank, J., Lechner, S., Schiska, D., Jaijo, T., Rüschendorf, F., Saar, K.... (2012) A Genetic Basis for Mechanosensory Traits in Humans. PLoS Biology, 10(5). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001318  

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