Observations of a Nerd

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A blog about anything and everything that piques the interest of a biologist, from the latest science news to random nerdy tidbits.

Christie Wilcox
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  • June 13, 2011
  • 10:47 PM

Alien Invasions: Do They Deserve Their Bad Rep?

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Recently, in a post titled "Ecologists: Time to End Invasive-Species Persecution", Brandon Keim discussed a comment published in Nature which argued that the ecological community unfairly vilifies the various plants and animals we've transported around the globe. In some sense, the authors are right, at least as far as saying that not all alien species should be considered bad or needing removal.

Straight from the beginning, though, the authors attack a dichotomy that doesn't exist. They writ........ Read more »

Davis, M., Chew, M., Hobbs, R., Lugo, A., Ewel, J., Vermeij, G., Brown, J., Rosenzweig, M., Gardener, M., Carroll, S.... (2011) Don't judge species on their origins. Nature, 474(7350), 153-154. DOI: 10.1038/474153a  

Kimberly M. Burnett, Brooks A Kaiser, & James Roumasset. (2007) Invasive Species Control over Space and Time: Miconia calvescens on Oahu, Hawaii. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics,. info:/

  • June 9, 2011
  • 04:21 PM

From the Archives: Reflections on the Gulf Oil Spill - Conversations With My Grandpa

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

If you didn't already know because, by chance, you missed my tweets, posts, and facebook updates, there is a science blogging contest going on RIGHT NOW. The 3 Quarks Daily Science Blogging Prize is currently narrowing down the top 20 posts from 87 nominees. To get through the gauntlet, a post has to get enough votes. Rather than remind you again to vote for Observations of a Nerd, I figured I'd show you why you should. Over the next 24 hours, I'll be reposting the three posts in the competition........ Read more »

Jonathan L. Ramseur. (2010) Oil Spills in U.S. Coastal Waters: Background, Governance, and Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service , 7-5700 (RL33705). info:/

Paine, R., Ruesink, J., Sun, A., Soulanille, E., Wonham, M., Harley, C., Brumbaugh, D., & Secord, D. (1996) TROUBLE ON OILED WATERS: Lessons from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 27(1), 197-235. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.27.1.197  

  • May 11, 2011
  • 04:56 PM

Can we overfish the lionfish?

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Lionfish are one of my favorite animals (I study them, after all). They're stunningly beautiful. Of course, they're also a devastating invasive species. Though they've only been in the Atlantic Ocean for some 15 years or so, they've taken over reefs, eating everything in their path. They've been found to reduce the recruitment of native fish by 79% on average, and are occurring in densities 8 times higher than in their native range. To say they're bad is an understatement. The damage is so sever........ Read more »

  • March 28, 2011
  • 01:18 PM

Is Bigger Really Better?

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

I have to confess, when I saw a global map of average penis size flying around twitter, I was like a eighth grade boy finding his first nudie magazine - I couldn't help but take a peek. After a brief heart attack (it's in cm, not inches), my inner scientist started asking silly questions. You know, the kind of things that would only occur to a scientist when looking at a map of penis size like, "is this just a stochastic distribution?" "is there any reason why this pattern would occur?" and of c........ Read more »

Ponchietti R, Mondaini N, Bonafè M, Di Loro F, Biscioni S, & Masieri L. (2001) Penile length and circumference: a study on 3,300 young Italian males. European urology, 39(2), 183-6. PMID: 11223678  

  • February 3, 2011
  • 11:54 AM

So that's why Flipper asked for pineapples...

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Peta recently stirred up quite a lot of controversy with their banned superbowl ad claiming that "studies have shown that vegetarians are better lovers." Of course, no such research exists, but somehow in trying find where that came from (no pun intended) I ended up in a twitter conversation about diet and sex. Anyhow, to make a long story short, after several converstaional tangents I found myself sifting through the scientific literature for anything containing "taste" and "semen."*

Sorry, f........ Read more »

  • January 28, 2011
  • 06:33 AM

Reverse Bestiality: When Animals Commit Sexual Assault

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Sexual assault is no laughing matter - unless, of course, the would-be rapist isn't human. Who doesn't giggle when they see a small dog humping someone's leg? But what many people don't realize is that reverse bestiality - where an animal makes unwanted sexual advances on a person - is a true problem for scientists working in the field where the actions of wild animals are completely unpredictable.... Read more »

Brian Bowen. (2007) Sexual Harassment By A Male Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas). Marine Turtle Newsletter, 10. info:/

  • January 27, 2011
  • 02:28 PM

Citrus call for backup to fight root-destroying pests

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Citrus fruits are delicious. Their delicate balance of sweetness and tartness is a biochemical masterpiece. It's no wonder that they, of all nature's tasty options, are the highest value fruit crop in terms of international trade, with over 105 million tons produced annually. But these tempting produce face a persistant villain that seeks to destroy their roots; a menace known, cleverly, as the citrus root weevil.

The weevil's grubby larvae feed like maggots on the vital roots of citrus plants........ Read more »

  • January 8, 2011
  • 10:59 AM

Why do women cry? Obviously, it's so they don't get laid.

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Photo by Sara LeeAnn Banevedes
I don't think Brian Alexander is a bad guy or a misogynist. He writes the Sexploration column for MSNBC, so sure, his job is all about selling sex stories to the public. He even wrote a book about American sexuality. But I don't personally think he has a burning hatred for women, or views them as objects placed on this Earth for the sexual satisfaction of men. However, I very easily could, given how he chose to report on a recent study published in Science about m........ Read more »

Gelstein, S., Yeshurun, Y., Rozenkrantz, L., Shushan, S., Frumin, I., Roth, Y., & Sobel, N. (2011) Human Tears Contain a Chemosignal. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1198331  

Haga S, Hattori T, Sato T, Sato K, Matsuda S, Kobayakawa R, Sakano H, Yoshihara Y, Kikusui T, & Touhara K. (2010) The male mouse pheromone ESP1 enhances female sexual receptive behaviour through a specific vomeronasal receptor. Nature, 466(7302), 118-22. PMID: 20596023  

Storey AE, Walsh CJ, Quinton RL, & Wynne-Edwards KE. (2000) Hormonal correlates of paternal responsiveness in new and expectant fathers. Evolution and human behavior : official journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, 21(2), 79-95. PMID: 10785345  

Zak, P., Kurzban, R., Ahmadi, S., Swerdloff, R., Park, J., Efremidze, L., Redwine, K., Morgan, K., & Matzner, W. (2009) Testosterone Administration Decreases Generosity in the Ultimatum Game. PLoS ONE, 4(12). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008330  

  • December 9, 2010
  • 04:32 PM

Fish Have Feelings (And They Can Be Seen In Their DNA)

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Most animals reproduce sexually. This means that every individual has to find another individual to mate with - and they have to convince that other that they're worthy of the privilege. More often than not when it comes to picking that special someone, it's the girls that get to be choosy. Females spend a lot more energy per offspring than males from the get-go due to the size of our eggs (let alone most child rearing responsibilities), so as a gender, females want to make sure they don't waste........ Read more »

Desjardins, J., Klausner, J., & Fernald, R. (2010) Female genomic response to mate information. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(49), 21176-21180. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1010442107  

  • November 4, 2010
  • 10:37 AM

The Science of Makeup

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

I couldn't help but be intrigued that my stiffest competition for winning the $10,000 Blogging Scholarship is a makeup blogger. What is it about cosmetics that is so appealing? Why do people wear makeup, and what might have caused early man to play around with blush and lipstick? Well, like everything else in life, a lot can be explained by science. Meanwhile, after you read this post, I encourage you to go vote for me whomever you think is the best blogger in the competition (PS I'm Christie Wi........ Read more »

Zilhao, J., Angelucci, D., Badal-Garcia, E., d'Errico, F., Daniel, F., Dayet, L., Douka, K., Higham, T., Martinez-Sanchez, M., Montes-Bernardez, R.... (2010) Symbolic use of marine shells and mineral pigments by Iberian Neandertals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(3), 1023-1028. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0914088107  

Roberts, S., Havlicek, J., Flegr, J., Hruskova, M., Little, A., Jones, B., Perrett, D., & Petrie, M. (2004) Female facial attractiveness increases during the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 271(Suppl_5). DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2004.0174  

Mulhern, R., Fieldman, G., Hussey, T., Leveque, J., & Pineau, P. (2003) Do cosmetics enhance female Caucasian facial attractiveness?. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 25(4), 199-205. DOI: 10.1046/j.1467-2494.2003.00188.x  

Nash, R., Fieldman, G., Hussey, T., Lévêque, J., & Pineau, P. (2006) Cosmetics: They Influence More Than Caucasian Female Facial Attractiveness. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(2), 493-504. DOI: 10.1111/j.0021-9029.2006.00016.x  

Nicolas Guéguen. (2008) Brief Report: The Effects of Women's Cosmeticson Men's Approach: An Evaluation in a Bar. North American Journal of Psychology, 10(1), 221-228. info:/

  • November 1, 2010
  • 08:46 PM

Evolution: A Game Of Chance?

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

One of the toughest concepts to grasp about evolution is its lack of direction. Take the classic image of the evolution of man, from knuckle-walking ape to strong, smart hunter:

We view this as the natural progression of life. Truth is, there was no guarantee that some big brained apes in Africa would end up like we are now. It wasn't inevitable that we grew taller, less hairy, and smarter than our relatives. And it certainly wasn't guaranteed that single celled bacteria-like critters ended up ........ Read more »


Perrichot, V., Marion, L., Neraudeau, D., Vullo, R., & Tafforeau, P. (2008) The early evolution of feathers: fossil evidence from Cretaceous amber of France. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275(1639), 1197-1202. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0003  

  • October 1, 2010
  • 04:03 PM

The Ig Nobels have been announced!

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Every year, the crew behind the Annals of Improbable Research honor research that "first makes people laugh, then makes them think." These awards, known as the Ig Nobels, honor some of the most entertaining research published in the past year. The competition is fierce, and the prizes highly coveted. But without further ado! This year, the winners are... Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Tero, A., Takagi, S., Saigusa, T., Ito, K., Bebber, D., Fricker, M., Yumiki, K., Kobayashi, R., & Nakagaki, T. (2010) Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design. Science, 327(5964), 439-442. DOI: 10.1126/science.1177894  

Lianne Parkin, Sheila M Williams, Patricia Priest. (2009) Preventing winter falls: a randomised controlled trial of a novel intervention . Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 122(1298). info:/

Stephens, R., Atkins, J., & Kingston, A. (2009) Swearing as a response to pain. NeuroReport, 1. DOI: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e32832e64b1  

Pluchino, A., Rapisarda, A., & Garofalo, C. (2010) The Peter principle revisited: A computational study. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, 389(3), 467-472. DOI: 10.1016/j.physa.2009.09.045  

Tan, M., Jones, G., Zhu, G., Ye, J., Hong, T., Zhou, S., Zhang, S., & Zhang, L. (2009) Fellatio by Fruit Bats Prolongs Copulation Time. PLoS ONE, 4(10). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007595  

  • September 30, 2010
  • 12:13 PM

I get e-mail, too.

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Recently, I got this e-mail forwarded to me. It started out with the header
World shame coast in COSTA RICA
Followed by images like these:
and it concluded with the message:
Please distribute widely.
The Turtle eggs are stolen to be sold.
The planet is thankful for the forwarding of this email.

The e-mail isn't an isolated incident. A quick internet search will immediately bring up sites like this one, heralding the extinction of sea turtles in Costa Rica due to the illegal harvest of thei........ Read more »

Cornelius, S.E., M. Alvarado U., J. Carlos C., M. Mata D.V., and D.C. Robinson. (1991) Management of olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) nesting at Playas Nancite and Ostional, Costa Rica. in J.G. Robinson and K.H. Redford (eds.), Neotropical Wildlife Use and Conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago., 111-135. info:/

  • September 17, 2010
  • 04:59 PM

So, yeah, cheers!

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Scientists worry way too much about the impacts of our work. We want our papers to mean something, for people to really want to read them. Of course, the true test of whether your paper is important is that future papers cite you as a reference.

What makes one paper cited by everyone and another fall into obscurity? Well, there are all kinds of theories. Maybe it's how high-impact the journal is - after all, a Science paper is better than obscure journal, right? Some have even suggested it's a........ Read more »

  • September 10, 2010
  • 11:19 AM

Testosterone Levels In Carcharhinus leucas: Is It All Bull?

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

So, Shark Diver set out a challenge for Ocean of Pseudoscience Week that I simply had to look into. He wanted to know whether there's any science backing the notion that Bull Sharks, Carcharhinus leucas, have extraordinarily high testosterone levels and might thus be usable as a source for legally obtainable steroids - an idea, apparently, started by some video game.

The rumor, as I'd heard it, is that the fierce attitudes of these large and aggressive sharks is due to unfathomably high circul........ Read more »

Harold L. Pratt, Jr., Samuel H. Gruber, & Toru Taniuchi (editors). (1990) Elasmobranchs as Living Resources: Advances in the Biology, Ecology, Systematics, and the Status of the Fisheries. NOAA Technical Report NMFS 90, 143-155. info:/

  • September 6, 2010
  • 09:29 AM

Ocean of Pseudoscience: Sharks DO get cancer!

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

The sea is a dark and often mysterious place, and it's no wonder that the fear and fascination with the marine world has led to more than a few inaccurate claims. The crew over at Southern Fried Science have decided that this week is all about busting pseudoscience and the myths that surround our ocean realm. As it turns out, I'd posted about one of these before. So here, in honor of Ocean of Pseudoscience week, is a repost busting the myth that sharks don't get cancer.

There are a lot of myths........ Read more »

Luer CA, & Luer WH. (1982) Acute and chronic exposure of nurse sharks to aflatoxin B1. Federal Proceedings, 925. info:/

Miller DR, Anderson GT, Stark JJ, Granick JL, & Richardson D. (1998) Phase I/II trial of the safety and efficacy of shark cartilage in the treatment of advanced cancer. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 16(11), 3649-55. PMID: 9817287  

Loprinzi CL, Levitt R, Barton DL, Sloan JA, Atherton PJ, Smith DJ, Dakhil SR, Moore DF Jr, Krook JE, Rowland KM Jr.... (2005) Evaluation of shark cartilage in patients with advanced cancer: a North Central Cancer Treatment Group trial. Cancer, 104(1), 176-82. PMID: 15912493  

Lu C, Lee JJ, Komaki R, Herbst RS, Feng L, Evans WK, Choy H, Desjardins P, Esparaz BT, Truong MT.... (2010) Chemoradiotherapy with or without AE-941 in stage III non-small cell lung cancer: a randomized phase III trial. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 102(12), 859-65. PMID: 20505152  

Ostrander GK, Cheng KC, Wolf JC, & Wolfe MJ. (2004) Shark cartilage, cancer and the growing threat of pseudoscience. Cancer research, 64(23), 8485-91. PMID: 15574750  

  • June 16, 2010
  • 12:47 AM

Reflections on the Gulf Oil Spill - Conversations With My Grandpa

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Yes, it would be great if we never spilled a drop of oil. No matter how hard we may try, though, the fact is that nobody is perfect, and oil spills are an inevitable consequence of our widespread use of oil. The question is, once the oil is out there, how do we clean it up? Perhaps my grandfather put it best, when I asked him what he thought about how BP and the US is responding to the spill.

"They're friggin' idiots."... Read more »

Jonathan L. Ramseur. (2010) Oil Spills in U.S. Coastal Waters: Background, Governance, and Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service , 7-5700 (RL33705). info:/

Paine, R., Ruesink, J., Sun, A., Soulanille, E., Wonham, M., Harley, C., Brumbaugh, D., & Secord, D. (1996) TROUBLE ON OILED WATERS: Lessons from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 27(1), 197-235. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.27.1.197  

  • May 7, 2010
  • 09:00 AM

Ancient Sex Scandals: Did We Get It On With Neandertals?

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

This week, Science published two papers about the genetics of Neandertals from a team of scientists based at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. The first (which is the only one anyone seems to really care about) gives a draft version of the entire Neandertal genome - a whopping 4 billion base pairs of DNA. They use this information to look for genomic regions that may have been affected by positive selection in ancestral modern humans that led to their separation from Neander........ Read more »

Green, R., Krause, J., Briggs, A., Maricic, T., Stenzel, U., Kircher, M., Patterson, N., Li, H., Zhai, W., Fritz, M.... (2010) A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome. Science, 328(5979), 710-722. DOI: 10.1126/science.1188021  

  • May 1, 2010
  • 12:31 PM

How Red Crabs Get In Shape Without Breaking A Sweat

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

Once a year, Christmas Island experiences a red tide completely unlike any other in the world. The roads are blockaded as a swarm of Christmas Island Red Crabs (Gecarcoidea natalis), one hundred million strong, makes its way from the forests to the sea. This massive migration is fueled by the strongest urge an animal has: to reproduce. They must travel from their forest homes to the sea to spawn. The drive is so strong that the crabs will crawl their way onto, into and over whatever they must to........ Read more »

  • April 24, 2010
  • 01:46 PM

Evolution: Watching Speciation Occur

by Christie Wilcox in Observations of a Nerd

We saw that the littlest differences can lead to dramatic variations when we looked at the wide variety in dogs. But despite their differences, all breeds of dogs are still the same species as each other and their ancestor. How do species split? What causes speciation? And what evidence do we have that speciation has ever occurred?

Critics of evolution often fall back on the maxim that no one has ever seen one species split into two. While that's clearly a straw man, because most speciation tak........ Read more »

Phillip A Morin1, Frederick I Archer, Andrew D Foote, Julie Vilstrup, Eric E Allen, Paul Wade, John Durban, Kim Parsons, Robert Pitman, Lewyn Li.... (2010) Complete mitochondrial genome phylogeographic analysis of killer whales (Orcinus orca) indicates multiple species . Genome Research. info:/

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