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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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  • November 21, 2014
  • 09:58 AM

Termite Queen Clones Herself by Making Eggs Impervious to Sperm

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Even kings and queens that have six legs and live underground aren’t immune to royal machinations. In one Asian termite species, queens choose to shut their mates out of the picture when it’s time to breed a successor. They simply clone themselves to make new queens. To keep the king’s genes away, the queen makes […]The post Termite Queen Clones Herself by Making Eggs Impervious to Sperm appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

Yashiro T, & Matsuura K. (2014) Termite queens close the sperm gates of eggs to switch from sexual to asexual reproduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 25404335  

  • May 15, 2012
  • 12:07 PM

Memory-Improving Gene Tied to PTSD

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

A superior visual memory is the best friend of artists and competitive card memorizers. But to people who've lived through traumatic events, it might be the enemy.

Researchers in Switzerland and Germany guessed that people with a better memory might be more susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder, their minds clinging stubbornly to horrific events in the past. But studying the memories of people living with a mental illness is difficult, since the disorder itself might affect their mem........ Read more »

de Quervain, D., Kolassa, I., Ackermann, S., Aerni, A., Boesiger, P., Demougin, P., Elbert, T., Ertl, V., Gschwind, L., Hadziselimovic, N.... (2012) PKC  is genetically linked to memory capacity in healthy subjects and to risk for posttraumatic stress disorder in genocide survivors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1200857109  

  • September 27, 2013
  • 03:25 PM

Threat of Death Makes People Go Shopping

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Nothing says "Let's hit the outlet mall" like nearly being wiped out by a rocket. A study of both Americans and terrorized Israelis suggests that certain people respond to the threat of death by going shopping. Because if it's your time to go, you may as well be wearing the latest from Forever 21.

Michigan State University marketing professor Ayalla Ruvio and her colleagues performed two studies of potential shoppers. The first took place in Israel. Questionnaires were handed out at a commun........ Read more »

  • August 28, 2015
  • 01:03 PM

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 22, 2014
  • 10:42 AM

These Cave Rocks Are Made out of Bacteria

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Stalactites hold tight to the ceiling, the saying goes, and stalagmites might grow high enough to reach it. But the simple mnemonic doesn’t come close to covering the variety of weird, rocky shapes growing all over a cave. There are even, it turns out, rocks made from bacteria. They’re not putting the “tight” in “stalactite” so […]The post These Cave Rocks Are Made out of Bacteria appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

Sallstedt, T., Ivarsson, M., Lundberg, J., Sjöberg, R., & Vidal Romaní, J. (2014) Speleothem and biofilm formation in a granite/dolerite cave, Northern Sweden. International Journal of Speleology, 43(3), 305-313. DOI: 10.5038/1827-806X.43.3.7  

  • September 5, 2014
  • 11:58 AM

Corals Engineer Their Own Currents

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

There are few more monastic lives in the animal kingdom than a coral’s. In adulthood it gives up swimming to settle on the ocean floor, surround its spineless body with clones, and become a rock. Mouth facing the ocean, it waits passively for whatever drifts by—or maybe not so passively. Taking a closer look at […]The post Corals Engineer Their Own Currents appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

Orr H. Shapiro, Vicente I. Fernandez, Melissa Garren, Jeffrey S. Guasto, François P. Debaillon-Vesque, Esti Kramarsky-Winter, Assaf Vardi, & Roman Stocker. (2014) Vortical ciliary flows actively enhance mass transport in reef corals. PNAS. info:/10.1073/pnas.1323094111

  • December 5, 2013
  • 11:16 AM

Leaping Land Fish Has Perfect Camouflage, Is Not a Hoax

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

You might never spot them if not for the jumping. On the coast of Guam, Pacific leaping blennies blend in perfectly with the rocks they live on, their limbless bodies maintaining a sleek profile. But the creatures give themselves away when they coil their tails to one side and shoot like a spring from rock to rock. These unsettling animals are fish that live on land. How they pull it off could give us hints about the evolution of our first earthbound ancestors.Terry Ord, an evolutionary ecologis........ Read more »

  • April 1, 2013
  • 12:29 PM

Why Fish Raise Foster Kids (and Give Up Their Own)

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

A fish swims along a sandy lake bottom, carrying one of its babies in its mouth. It approaches the nesting cave of another family of fish. With a furtive "ptooey," it leaves the baby behind for adoption. For certain fish, this seems to be a common scene: giving up your young and taking on others' may be the best way to ensure your offspring grow past snack size.

The fish in question is Neolamprologus caudopunctatus, a type of cichlid (pronounced like a compliment for someone's hat).* Ju........ Read more »

Schaedelin, F., van Dongen, W., & Wagner, R. (2012) Nonrandom brood mixing suggests adoption in a colonial cichlid. Behavioral Ecology, 24(2), 540-546. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/ars195  

  • March 24, 2015
  • 11:11 AM

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 13, 2015
  • 11:22 AM

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 »

  • December 4, 2014
  • 11:58 AM

No-Exercise Routine: Squirrels Build Muscle While Hibernating

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

You may be physically fit right now, but if you spent all winter snoozing and starving, you’d emerge looking a lot more “pool noodle” than “beach body.” Yet mammals that hibernate don’t have that problem. Rather than stumbling out of their dens on atrophied legs, they hop right into hunting for food and dodging predators. How they manage this is […]
The post No-Exercise Routine: Squirrels Build Muscle While Hibernating appeared first on Inkfish.
... Read more »

Hindle AG, Otis JP, Epperson LE, Hornberger TA, Goodman CA, Carey HV, & Martin SL. (2014) Prioritization of skeletal muscle growth for emergence from hibernation. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 25452506  

  • July 16, 2012
  • 12:16 PM

How Placebo's Evil Twin Makes You Sicker

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Whenever a pharmaceutical company tests a new migraine prevention drug, nearly 1 in 20 subjects will drop out because they can't stand the drug's side effects. They'd rather deal with the headaches than keep receiving treatment. But those suffering patients might be surprised to learn that the drug they've quit is only a sugar pill: the 5 percent dropout rate is from the placebo side.

Lurking in the shadows around any discussion of the placebo effect is its nefarious and lesser-known twin, t........ Read more »

Winfried Häuser, Ernil Hansen, & Paul Enck. (2012) Nocebo phenomena in medicine: Their relevance in everyday clinical practice. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. info:/10.3238/arztebl.2012.0459

  • September 24, 2012
  • 04:15 PM

The Case of the Hollering Koala

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

During mating season, a sound like an asthmatic pig on a trampoline echoes from the canopy of the eucalyptus forest. It's the mysterious koala bellow, a sound that (when it comes from males) may mean "Come and get me, ladies!" or "Don't start a fight with this guy if you know what's good for you"—or something else entirely. Scientists aren't sure. But they've come a step closer to deciphering this marsupial's dialect by finding out how far its messages can travel through the trees........ Read more »

Benjamin D. Charlton, David Reby, William A. H. Ellis, Jacqui Brumm, & W. Tecumseh Fitch. (2012) Estimating the Active Space of Male Koala Bellows: Propagation of Cues to Size and Identity in a Eucalyptus Forest. PLOS ONE. info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0045420

  • July 9, 2013
  • 11:58 AM

Decapitated Worms Regrow Heads with Memories Still Inside

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

How good are you at remembering something you learned two weeks earlier? What if during the intervening 14 days, your head was removed? One flatworm isn't bothered by this scenario. After growing back its entire head and brain, it picks off pretty much where it left off.

The planarian is a modest little flatworm, the kind of common microscope denizen you might find in a Gary Larson cartoon. What's remarkable about it is its ability to regenerate. The whole body can regrow, head to eyespots t........ Read more »

Tal Shomrat, & Michael Levin. (2013) An automated training paradigm reveals long-term memory in planaria and its persistence through head regeneration. The Journal of Experimental Biology. info:/10.1242/​jeb.087809

  • July 21, 2015
  • 01:17 PM

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 »

  • January 31, 2012
  • 04:08 PM

Who Was Horse Eve?

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Her story doesn't involve any borrowed ribs or knowledge-bestowing apples, but she was the female forbear of all horses alive today. Researchers say the Eve of horses lived about 140,000 years ago. Her family tree contains some revealing gossip about when, and where, horses began their relationship with humans.

To understand the story of Horse Eve, you'll have first convince yourself that any group of living organisms has a most recent common ancestor. Think of yourself and a friend. Unless ........ Read more »

Achilli, A., Olivieri, A., Soares, P., Lancioni, H., Kashani, B., Perego, U., Nergadze, S., Carossa, V., Santagostino, M., Capomaccio, S.... (2012) Mitochondrial genomes from modern horses reveal the major haplogroups that underwent domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1111637109  

  • March 17, 2015
  • 11:53 AM

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 »

  • June 5, 2013
  • 11:25 AM

Better IQ Testing for Animals: There's an App for That

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

It's 2013, and laboratory pigeons are demanding an upgrade. Well, maybe they aren't demanding so much as continuing to do whatever tasks get them their pigeon pellets. Nevertheless, switching from analog to digital testing could mean more rigorous studies, better statistics, and a chance for previously ignored animals to try their paws at cognition research.

One of the classic cognitive tests that psychologists like to give animals involves two or more strings. At the far end of one string, ........ Read more »

  • September 10, 2012
  • 05:11 PM

Subliminal Placebo: You Didn't See It, but It's Working

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

The latest additions to the placebo effect family might be the rudest. First there was placebo, which uses your body's own tools to make you feel better after you try a treatment you imagine will help you. Then there was nocebo, placebo's evil twin: it makes you feel worse only because you think you will. Now researchers have discovered that placebo and nocebo effects can be triggered subliminally, which is like finding out that the good and evil twins have both been living in your basement w........ Read more »

Karin B. Jensen, Ted J. Kaptchuk, Irving Kirsch, Jacqueline Raicek, Kara M. Lindstrom, Chantal Berna, Randy L. Gollub, Martin Ingvar, & and Jian Kong. (2012) Nonconscious activation of placebo and nocebo pain responses. PNAS. info:/10.1073/pnas.1202056109

  • March 29, 2016
  • 01:38 PM

These Birds Learn to Recognize Humans They Hate

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Antarctic seabirds called skuas are so clever that they can recognize individual humans after seeing them only a few times. Some Korean researchers discovered this by messing with the birds' nests and then waiting to get attacked. They're either very brave or have never watched The Birds.

The study took place on Antarctica's King George Island. The animals here didn't evolve around humans. People have only been making appearances on the island since the 1950s or so. Today 10 countr........ Read more »

Lee, W., Han, Y., Lee, S., Jablonski, P., Jung, J., & Kim, J. (2016) Antarctic skuas recognize individual humans. Animal Cognition. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-016-0970-9  

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