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Exercise scientist Conrad Earnest was dodging some oblivious pedestrians in England when inspiration struck. He was trying to walk down the sidewalk, but all around him people were weaving back and forth as they focused on their smartphone screens. Earnest suggested to two of his students that they study the dangers of texting while walking. Specifically, they could ask whether texters are more likely to trip and fall—perhaps wishful thinking on Earnest's part as he walked among them.
The... Read more »
Licence S, Smith R, McGuigan MP, & Earnest CP. (2015) Gait Pattern Alterations during Walking, Texting and Walking and Texting during Cognitively Distractive Tasks while Negotiating Common Pedestrian Obstacles. PloS one, 10(7). PMID: 26222430
Bats are indifferent to whether we're playing soccer, baseball, or beach volleyball under our stadium lights. They only care about the game of catch they're playing with all the bugs attracted to the glow. As bats stuff themselves on swarms of sports-adjacent insects, though, our stadiums may be aiding certain bat species and wiping others out.
Any bat that's willing to visit a lit-up sports stadium will find a bug bonanza there, says Corrie Schoeman, an ecologist at the University of........ Read more »
Schoeman, M. (2015) Light pollution at stadiums favors urban exploiter bats. Animal Conservation. DOI: 10.1111/acv.12220
Whether you're a person biting her nails during a phone interview or a polar bear pacing its cage, anxious animals often do the same thing over and over. Extreme cases of repetitive behavior show up in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder or autism. Now researchers have shown that even a simple, anxiety-inducing experiment can make an average person act in a repetitive and ritualized way.
"A lot of social theorists have talked about the link between anxiety and ritualization," says M........ Read more »
Lang M, Krátký J, Shaver JH, Jerotijević D, & Xygalatas D. (2015) Effects of Anxiety on Spontaneous Ritualized Behavior. Current biology : CB, 25(14), 1892-7. PMID: 26096971
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 »
LoPresti, E., Pearse, I., & Charles, G. (2015) The siren song of a sticky plant: columbines provision mutualist arthropods by attracting and killing passerby insects. Ecology, 2147483647. DOI: 10.1890/15-0342.1
Doesn't look a day over 40 million, right? This fossilized sperm and its compatriots turned up in a 50-million-year-old worm cocoon in Antarctica. And it has some pretty exciting implications for scientists—aside from the obvious news that we're looking at a loser of an eons-old swimming race.
Ordinarily, squishy worms don't wriggle into the fossil record. Their boneless bodies tend to disappear from history, just like the soft parts of animals with skeletons. That's why scientists don........ Read more »
Bomfleur, B., Mörs, T., Ferraguti, M., Reguero, M., & McLoughlin, S. (2015) Fossilized spermatozoa preserved in a 50-Myr-old annelid cocoon from Antarctica. Biology Letters, 11(7), 20150431. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0431
As much as you think your tastes are unique, psychologists say they can guess your favorite color. It's likely to be blue. And it's especially unlikely to be yellow—unless you're colorblind. Men with red-green colorblindness have preferences that are essentially opposite from everyone else's. The finding could help scientists understand why humans like what they like, and how colorblind people see the world differently.
Some researchers have claimed that the human love of blue is universa........ Read more »
What's a tree worth to you? According to a large study in Toronto, trees may increase both how healthy you feel and how healthy you really are. Having some extra foliage on your block could be as good for your health as a pay raise–or an anti-aging machine.
It's a complicated relationship to figure out, because variables that affect how many trees you see each day could also affect your health. The population of a concrete, inner-city apartment complex may have socioeconomic differen........ Read more »
Kardan, O., Gozdyra, P., Misic, B., Moola, F., Palmer, L., Paus, T., & Berman, M. (2015) Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Scientific Reports, 11610. DOI: 10.1038/srep11610
If you already think everything at the bottom of the ocean is slightly terrifying, Iosactis vagabunda won't change your mind. It's transparent, can tunnel underground, and hunts animals 15 times its size. And scientists are now realizing that there might be way, way more of these roaming killers than they'd previously thought.
Iosactis vagabunda lives on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, a seabed southwest of Ireland that ranges from 4,000 to nearly 5,000 meters deep. The species was alread........ Read more »
Durden, J., Bett, B., & Ruhl, H. (2015) The hemisessile lifestyle and feeding strategies of Iosactis vagabunda (Actiniaria, Iosactiidae), a dominant megafaunal species of the Porcupine Abyssal Plain. Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, 72-77. DOI: 10.1016/j.dsr.2015.04.010
When you look at a kangaroo or a wallaby, it's obvious the animal is well built for bouncing around the outback. What may be less obvious is that its arms are built for fighting—if it's male, that is. Males of these species have disproportionately long arm bones. And the more brawling a species does, the more exaggerated the difference between the beefy-armed males and their normal-limbed mates.
To understand this evolutionary quirk, we'll need to review the rules of fighting in wallabie........ Read more »
Richards, H., Grueter, C., & Milne, N. (2015) Strong arm tactics: sexual dimorphism in macropodid limb proportions. Journal of Zoology. DOI: 10.1111/jzo.12264
We may call someone gutless who's acting afraid. But certain coral-reef dwellers take gutless to a whole other level: they shoot their digestive tracts out of their bodies when they feel threatened. This seems to deter nearby fish from taking a bite. Even more amazing, though, is how quickly the gutless animals grow back their organs.
Polycarpa mytiligera is a little tube-shaped creature called an ascidian, or sea squirt. It resides in tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. Wit... Read more »
Shenkar N, & Gordon T. (2015) Gut-spilling in chordates: evisceration in the tropical ascidian Polycarpa mytiligera. Scientific reports, 9614. PMID: 25880620
There's good news for scientists who study animals that are too small to carry a GPS monitor, or that spit ID tags back out through their arms. A setup using an off-the-shelf camera can precisely capture an animal's path in three dimensions—without anyone touching the animal.
Emmanuel de Margerie, who studies animal behavior at the University of Rennes 1 in France, says there are several reasons to seek new animal-tracking technologies. To put a GPS or other kind of tag on an animal, yo........ Read more »
de Margerie E, Simonneau M, Caudal JP, Houdelier C, & Lumineau S. (2015) 3D tracking of animals in the field, using rotational stereo videography. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 26056245
Scientists already knew starfish have superpowers. They can regenerate entire lost limbs or organs; some can even regrow a whole body from one arm. And these animals have just revealed another bizarre ability. To two Danish students, it first appeared as the power to really wreck an experiment.
At the University of Southern Denmark, students Frederik Ekholm Gaardsted Christensen and Trine Bottos Olsen were asked to tag some starfish. The task was simple: inject the Asterias rubens with ........ Read more »
Olsen TB, Christensen FE, Lundgreen K, Dunn PH, & Levitis DA. (2015) Coelomic Transport and Clearance of Durable Foreign Bodies by Starfish (Asterias rubens). The Biological bulletin, 228(2), 156-62. PMID: 25920718
You snooze, you lose paternity. That's the message of a new study on wild birds in Germany. Males that wake up the earliest are able to sneakily mate with other birds' partners. Males that sleep in, meanwhile, get stuck raising young that aren't their own.
Great tits (Parus major) appear monogamous at first glance. They stick with one partner and cooperate to raise their young. But, like many other birds that scientists call "socially monogamous," they sleep around. Great tit nests often ........ Read more »
Greives, T., Kingma, S., Kranstauber, B., Mortega, K., Wikelski, M., van Oers, K., Mateman, A., Ferguson, G., Beltrami, G., & Hau, M. (2015) Costs of sleeping in: circadian rhythms influence cuckoldry risk in a songbird. Functional Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.12440
What's a scientist to do with 1.2 million photos, most of grass but some containing valuable data about endangered animals? Turn the whole thing over to the public, if you're the creators of Snapshot Serengeti. This project caught the attention of tens of thousands of volunteers. Now their work has produced a massive dataset that's already helping scientists in a range of fields.
Most online citizen science involves a degree of tedium—counting craters, tracing kelp mats. But Snapshot ... Read more »
Swanson, A., Kosmala, M., Lintott, C., Simpson, R., Smith, A., & Packer, C. (2015) Snapshot Serengeti, high-frequency annotated camera trap images of 40 mammalian species in an African savanna. Scientific Data, 150026. DOI: 10.1038/sdata.2015.26
Amputees often feel eerie sensations from their missing limbs. These "phantom limb" feelings can include pain, itching, tingling, or even a sense of trying to pick something up. Patients who lose an eye may have similar symptoms—with the addition of actual phantoms.
Phantom eye syndrome (PES) had been studied in the past, but University of Liverpool psychologist Laura Hope-Stone and her colleagues recently conducted the largest study of PES specifically in patients who'd lost an eye to c........ Read more »
Hope-Stone L, Brown SL, Heimann H, Damato B, & Salmon P. (2015) Phantom Eye Syndrome: Patient Experiences after Enucleation for Uveal Melanoma. Ophthalmology. PMID: 26004080
Let's say you're clever enough to build and use tools, but your species hasn't learned how to manufacture pants. So you can't store your hard-won tools in your pocket, or in a belt or box. What to do? One species of crow is showing scientists how it answers that question—and how it changes its strategy based on how likely its tools are to go missing.
New Caledonian crows, native to islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, are renowned tool makers and users. They prey on bugs that live ........ Read more »
Klump BC, van der Wal JE, St Clair JJ, & Rutz C. (2015) Context-dependent 'safekeeping' of foraging tools in New Caledonian crows. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 282(1808). PMID: 25994674
One thing you won't find in the story of the Very Hungry Caterpillar is the part where after transforming into a butterfly, he mates with a female who has a Very Hungry Reproductive Tract waiting to devour his sperm. She has a special digestive organ just for this purpose. It's so powerful that it could even compete with the gut that let the caterpillar, in his more innocent days, chew through those five oranges.
This sperm-hungry organ is called the bursa copulatrix. In female butterflie... Read more »
Plakke, M., Deutsch, A., Meslin, C., Clark, N., & Morehouse, N. (2015) Dynamic digestive physiology of a female reproductive organ in a polyandrous butterfly. Journal of Experimental Biology, 218(10), 1548-1555. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.118323
The squash bug mating orgies that biologist Christine Miller began noticing in gardens around Gainesville were nothing unusual. Dozens of insects were crowded together, the petite males along with the bulkier females, to search for partners. The unusual thing was that some males were copulating with females of the wrong species—apparently, they found them irresistible.
When Jen Hamel arrived at Miller's University of Florida lab to do her postdoctoral research, she took up the mystery o........ Read more »
Hamel, J., Nease, S., & Miller, C. (2015) Male mate choice and female receptivity lead to reproductive interference. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 69(6), 951-956. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-015-1907-z
Sure, there are faces only a mother could love. And then there are faces no mother loves, because they belong to animals that fend for themselves from birth. The babies we find cutest—no matter what species they are—may have evolved to look that way because they need a parent's attention. That means even a crocodile can tug on our heartstrings.
Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian zoologist, proposed in the mid-20th century that human infants are cute for a reason. He said evolution has created ad........ Read more »
Kruger, D. (2015) Non-Mammalian Infants Requiring Parental Care Elicit Greater Human Caregiving Reactions Than Superprecocial Infants Do. Ethology. DOI: 10.1111/eth.12391
In the future when touch screens are obsolete and we control our devices by facial gesture, maybe we'll zoom in and out the same way a bat does it. We'll open our mouths wide to narrow our field of focus. To see the bigger picture, we'll purse our lips tightly. But while we'll only be reading the news or shopping online, bats are operating one of the coolest sensory systems owned by a mammal.
An Italian priest, Lazzaro Spallanzani, sent blindfolded bats through obstacle courses in the lat... Read more »
Kounitsky P, Rydell J, Amichai E, Boonman A, Eitan O, Weiss AJ, & Yovel Y. (2015) Bats adjust their mouth gape to zoom their biosonar field of view. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 25941395
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