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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 4, 2013
  • 03:05 PM

Male Frogs Grip Mates with Pheromone-Injecting Thumb Spikes

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

There's nothing subtle about the wooing of European common frogs. Males grow spiny pads on their thumbs during the breeding season, the better to grip their mates. As if that weren't enough, the pads also seem to channel pheromones out of a frog's hands and straight into his female partner's body.

Frogs fertilize their eggs out in the open, so you might think there'd be no need for all this effort. Yet males of most frog species can be seen during the mating season "taking a piggyback ride" ........ Read more »

Bert Willaert, Franky Bossuyt, Sunita Janssenswillen, Dominique Adriaens, Geert Baggerman, Severine Matthijs, Elin Pauwels, Paul Proost, Arent Raepsaet, Liliane Schoofs.... (2013) Frog nuptial pads secrete mating season-specific proteins related to salamander pheromones. Journal of Experimental Biology. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.086363  

  • August 23, 2013
  • 11:51 AM

Fish Grow Big Fake Eyes When Predators Are Near

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If you're a young, edible animal, a little flexibility about how you develop can save your behind. Or, if you're a damselfish, it can get a few bites taken out of your behind but ultimately save your life.

The damselfish Pomacentrus amboinensis lives on coral reefs in the western Pacific, where it spends its days nibbling algae and trying to avoid being swallowed. As juveniles, these small fish have a pronounced eyespot toward the back of their bodies—a cartoonish false eye drawn on t........ Read more »

  • August 20, 2013
  • 12:04 PM

Multitaskers Make the Best Lovers, Say Tree Frogs

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

It's not an impossible demand. It's just that a male tree frog can choose to spend his energy doing one thing or another thing, and females prefer that he does more of both. The best multitasker might be allowed to fertilize her eggs.

"The males gather in ponds in the evening and begin to call," says University of Minnesota ecologist Jessica Ward, setting the scene. The species in question is called Cope's gray tree frog. Next, she says, females come to the pond and spend a few minutes ........ Read more »

  • August 16, 2013
  • 11:46 AM

12 Things I Found on the California Seafloor (and You Can Too)

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If for some reason you haven't been invited on a submersible ride-along, the next best thing is probably 340 miles' worth of raw video footage from the ocean floor.

The U.S. Geological Survey just released a whole mess of data from its California Seafloor Mapping Program. Together with many partners, it's working on building maps of the California coast that include seafloor depth, habitat type, and other geological features. There's also video footage from cameras towed a few feet above the........ Read more »

Golden, Nadine E., & Cochrane, Guy R. (2013) California Seafloor Mapping Program video and photograph portal. U.S. Geological Survey data set. info:/10.5066F7J1015K

  • 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 »

  • August 9, 2013
  • 04:03 PM

Why Yellowstone's Grizzlies Should Be Grateful for Wolves

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

There's only one time a giant domino chain isn't fun: when you're a domino. Humans are great knockers-down of ecosystem domino chains, and sometimes we don't even know which species we've felled until we start propping things back up. When we knocked every last wolf out of Yellowstone National Park, for example, we didn't know how we were hitting bears at the other end of the chain.

When Yellowstone was first created, visitors were free to kill the animals. Then in the early 20th century, go........ Read more »

William J. Ripple, Robert L. Beschta, Jennifer K. Fortin, & Charles T. Robbins. (2013) Trophic cascades from wolves to grizzly bears in Yellowstone. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12123  

  • August 6, 2013
  • 12:01 PM

Fish Fear Robotic Predators, Unless They're Drunk

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Scientists swear they had a really good reason for building a robotic fish, getting some other fish drunk, and then chasing them around with it.

The robotic bird head, too.

Researchers at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University and the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome were interested in zebrafish. These thumb-sized, striped fish are laboratory favorites because their genome is well understood, they reproduce quickly, and their embryos are totally transparent.

One area of rese........ Read more »

  • August 2, 2013
  • 11:37 AM

Man Develops Synesthesia after Stroke, Finds James Bond Theme "Orgasmic"

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

It wasn't only James Bond. Nine months after suffering a stroke, a 45-year-old happened to notice that the wailing horns in a Bond movie's opening credits gave him strange, ecstatic feelings. But any high-pitched brass instrumentals would do the trick. A musical segment during the Beijing Olympics gave him the same feelings. The man's doctors came to realize that when his brain rebuilt itself after the stroke, he had developed synesthesia.

Associating letters or numbers with specif........ Read more »

Tom A. Schweizer, PhD, Zeyu Li, BSc, Corinne E. Fischer, MD, Michael P. Alexander, MD, Stephen D. Smith, PhD, Simon J. Graham, PhD, & Luis Fornazarri, MD. (2013) From the thalamus with love: A rare window into the locus of emotional synesthesia. Neurology. DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31829d86cc  

  • July 26, 2013
  • 01:07 PM

Why a Lost Baby Seal May Soon Be at Your Doorstep

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Every host knows when you run out of ice, the party's over. For young seals surviving on ice floes, the festivities are breaking up sooner than they used to. That sends vulnerable youngsters into the ocean before they're ready—maybe to end up stranded on a beach near you.

To keep their young from becoming drifting bait in a predator-filled ocean, female harp seals give birth on top of winter sea ice. The pups stay on the ice, undercover in a coat of white fur, until they're old enough to s........ Read more »

  • July 23, 2013
  • 01:24 PM

Uncoordinated Eyeballs Keep Kids from Reading like Adults

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Before new readers can move from Dr. Seuss to Doctor Zhivago, it's not only their vocabulary and appreciation of the Russian aesthetic that have to mature. Young eyes just don't move across words as easily as older eyes do. Like Thing One and Thing Two, the eyes bounce around independently and cause disorder.

The difference is in saccades, the little horizontal or vertical hops that ratchet our eyes through sentences. French researchers Magali Seassau of e(ye)BRAIN and Maria-Pia Bucci of Hô........ Read more »

  • July 19, 2013
  • 01:00 PM

Swapping Bodies with a Child Makes Everything Seem Bigger

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Remember revisiting your preschool or kindergarten classroom once you were older, and realizing all those tables and sinks that are normal-sized in your memory were actually miniature? And that the giant hill you used to struggle up is more of a mound? Adults can regain that feeling of living in an oversize world just by putting on a virtual-reality headset. (Large kid who used to budge you in line for the slide not included.)

This is the latest spinoff of the rubber-hand illusion, a phenome........ Read more »

  • July 16, 2013
  • 12:11 PM

Loons Choose Homes That Remind Them of Where They Grew Up

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Before settling down to have chicks of its own, a young adult loon shops around. It visits different lakes, swimming in them to test the water. Finally it chooses a home. Rather than selecting the best neighborhood in which to raise its young, though, the loon seems to pick a place that feels comfortably like where it grew up. If it's not the best place to raise kids, too bad.

Walter Piper, a biologist at Chapman University in California, has been chasing loons in Wisconsin for more than two........ Read more »

Piper WH, Palmer MW, Banfield N, & Meyer MW. (2013) Can settlement in natal-like habitat explain maladaptive habitat selection?. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 280(1765), 20130979. PMID: 23804619  

  • July 12, 2013
  • 12:37 PM

Hack Your Workout: These Songs Make People Take Bigger Steps

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Do you have a workout playlist? You may find yourself matching the stride of your power walk to the beat in your earbuds—but tempo isn't the only thing affecting how fast you go. Certain musical pieces seem to make people take longer strides, even while walking to the same beat. (Spoiler alert: Aqua.)

Marc Leman is a musicologist at Ghent University in Belgium. With his colleagues, he created a list of 52 songs with a tempo of 130 beats per minute, a speed they chose based on previous rese........ Read more »

Marc Leman, Dirk Moelants, Matthias Varewyck, Frederik Styns, Leon van Noorden, & Jean-Pierre Martens. (2013) Activating and Relaxing Music Entrains the Speed of Beat Synchronized Walking. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067932  

  • 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

  • June 27, 2013
  • 11:48 AM

Your Bird Feeder Could Be Bad for Birds

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

A free meal might seem like just the thing for your bird friends in winter, especially if that meal takes place in front of your picture window. But your feeder could be harming some bird species more than it's helping them. Even if it's a squirrel-proof seed tube or a pinecone rolled in peanut butter, there's still no such thing as a free lunch.

"We are really only in the early stages of understanding exactly what effects bird feeding is having on our wild bird populations," says Kate P........ Read more »

K. E. Plummer, S. Bearhop, D. I. Leech, D. E. Chamberlain, & J. D. Blount. (2013) Winter food provisioning reduces future breeding performance in a wild bird. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/srep02002  

  • June 24, 2013
  • 12:17 PM

Runners: Stop the Pronation Panic

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If you walk into a sporting goods store and ask for shoes, you're likely to be thrown on a treadmill and have your strides dissected on video as if you were crossing an Olympic finish line. Salespeople will give you a thorough analysis of your gait. They may break the news that you "over-pronate," rolling your foot inward to some degree at the end of each step. Don't worry! It's common—and they sell a shoe made for your specific flaw. It's all very scientific, except that it isn't.

Rasmus ........ Read more »

  • June 21, 2013
  • 01:06 PM

How to Detune Someone with Perfect Pitch

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Granted, it's a prank you can play on only 1 in 10,000 people. But if you find one of those rare individuals who can name any note they hear, with just a brief manipulation you can set that power awry. You can later console your subject with a reminder that, after all, nobody's perfect.

A children's choir that I used to sing in always performed the carol "Once in Royal David's City" at a certain concert, and the boy soprano who sang the opening solo would be sent up to a high chapel balcony ........ Read more »

Hedger, S., Heald, S., & Nusbaum, H. (2013) Absolute Pitch May Not Be So Absolute. Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0956797612473310  

  • June 19, 2013
  • 12:01 PM

Compost Program Could Bring Dangerous Fungus into NYC Homes

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If Mayor Bloomberg's wildest decay-related fantasies are realized, New Yorkers will soon be sparing their food scraps from the garbage. A new composting program would encourage (or possibly require) people in the city to collect their food waste in a separate container. Yet Bloomberg may want to consider whether a Manhattan apartment has the square footage to fit both its residents and their potentially harmful compost fungi.

The New York City recycling plan, as described in the New York Tim........ Read more »

  • June 11, 2013
  • 11:26 AM

Moths Wait until Bats Lock On, Then Jam Their Sonar

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If you are a human reader, you've probably never seen your lunch put up an invisibility shield and perform an evasive maneuver just as you reached for it. But spare a thought for the bats. If your peanut-butter sandwich were anything like a tiger moth, you'd have a hard time finding a meal.

Several kinds of insects are able to detect the echolocation calls of a bat that's approaching like an enemy submarine. Moths may fly in another direction if they hear a bat nearby, or even drop into an e........ 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 »

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