Archive for December, 2011

Naked Mole Rat Super Power #12: They Feel No Burn

By Veronique Greenwood | December 16, 2011 3:35 pm

naked moles
Going for a squirm, snacking on poo, living the naked mole rat life.

Oh, naked mole rats, what fresh new weirdness do you have for us today? It wasn’t enough that you look like wee spring rolls with teeth, or that you are nearly blind and navigate your ramifying, oxygen-poor burrows by scent. No, you are also apparently immune to cancer, have terrible, gimpy sperm, and, we learn today, feel no pain from acid burns because your nervous system is defective.

We’d heard things like this before, naked mole rats.

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NCBI ROFL: The cutest little baby face: a hormonal link to sensitivity to cuteness in infant faces.

By ncbi rofl | December 15, 2011 8:38 pm

“We used computer image manipulation to develop a test of perception of subtle gradations in cuteness between infant faces. We found that young women (19-26 years old) were more sensitive to differences in infant cuteness than were men (19-26 and 53-60 years old). Women aged 45 to 51 years performed at the level of the young women, whereas cuteness sensitivity in women aged 53 to 60 years was not different from that of men (19-26 and 53-60 years old). Read More

NCBI ROFL: Chest waxers beware: body hair protects against bedbugs.

By ncbi rofl | December 14, 2011 7:10 pm

Human fine body hair enhances ectoparasite detection

“Although we are relatively naked in comparison with other primates, the human body is covered in a layer of fine hair (vellus and terminal hair) at a relatively high follicular density. There are relatively few explanations for the evolutionary maintenance of this type of human hair. Here, we experimentally test the hypothesis that human fine body hair plays a defensive function against ectoparasites (bed bugs). Read More

Little Spiders Have Huge Brains That Spill Into Their Legs

By Douglas Main | December 14, 2011 5:16 pm

Tiny spiders have enormous brains, so big the neurons spill into their legs, causing the spiderlings of some species to bulge like overstuffed brain-bags (although the bump fades with adulthood). In some small arachnids this extended brain—really just a tangled mass of nerves—takes up almost 80 percent of the animal’s body cavity, and about a quarter the mass of its legs. Talk about thinking on your feet. The percentage of space devoted to cognition dwarfs that of humans, whose brains take up two to three percent of the body. It also trumps the setup of minute beetles and ants, whose brains make up only 15 percent of their weight. These insights come from a study published recently in the journal Arthropod Structure and Development, which set out to explain why small spiders are basically as adept as large spiders when it comes to completing relatively complex tasks like building webs. These massive distributed brains, it turns out, may be the answer.

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MORE ABOUT: spider brains, spiders

Got Wrinkles? Smear on the Hottest New Fashion Toxin…Snake Venom!

By Douglas Main | December 14, 2011 8:54 am

Worried about wrinkles, laugh lines, or crow’s-feet adding years to your wizened countenance? Worry no longer, friend—now you can apply synthetic viper venom to your face… for a price. The product, called  Syn-Ake, contains a peptide that mimics the effects of Waglerin-1, a toxin found in the venom of the temple pit viper. It works by temporarily paralyzing facial muscles, binding to receptors (called nicotinic acetylcholine receptors) on the muscles and preventing them from being stimulated and contracting. This has the effect of reducing certain small wrinkles in the short term, according to the sole available study on Syn-Ake, performed by the company that markets it, Switzerland-based Pentapharm. And now, according to the Daily Mail, you can buy a tiny bottle of it for only $60 to gingerly bless your wrinkly visage.

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NCBI ROFL: Women can identify men with gonorrhea by their smell.

By ncbi rofl | December 13, 2011 7:22 pm

Scent Recognition of Infected Status in Humans.

“Introduction.  There is a body of experimental evidence that mice and rats use chemical signals to avoid sexual contact with infected conspecifics. In contrast to animals, body scent of sick humans is employed only in medical diagnostics. A modification of human body odor, due to an infection, has not been studied as a potential signal for choice of a sexual partner. It might, however, be especially important for sexually transmitted infections (STI) because many such infections have no obvious external manifestations. Aim.  In this study, we have investigated odor pleasantness of young men infected with gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Methods.  We collected armpit sweat and saliva from young men (17-25 years old) belonging to three groups: healthy persons (N = 16), young men infected with gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae (N = 13), and persons recovered due to specific therapy (N = 5). The sweat samples odor was then assessed by healthy young women (17-20 years old). Read More


The Weird Wingless Ant That Glides About Backwards, Leading With Its Rump

By Douglas Main | December 13, 2011 10:19 am

3D rendering of C. atratus guiding itself with its legs as it falls… backward.

Ants do well in rain forest canopies. Edward O. Wilson once catalogued 43 species of ants in a single Peruvian tree, which is “about equal to the entire ant fauna of the British isles.” But what if they fall? Ending up on the ground—far removed in distance and ecosystem niche—could be fatal. So hundreds of species of canopy-dwelling ants evolved the ability to direct their fall in a number of impressive ways, as a post in The Why Files explains. For example, the gliding ant Cephalotes atratus can:

  • Fly backwards, even though backward movement is rare among animals (house cats and hummingbirds being among the exceptions)
  • Control their position with their hind legs, flipping backwards at first, then rotating in the last 3 to 5 milliseconds to smoothly land on its legs, its head pointed down
  • Descend at about 75°, which looks like a controlled crash, but is sufficient to return the ants to the home tree
  • Exceed the expectations of an ant-size nervous system by performing these presto-chango mental manipulations

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NCBI ROFL: Taking your place or matching your face: two paths to empathic embarrassment.

By ncbi rofl | December 12, 2011 7:10 pm

“Empathic responding may be elicited by different processes, depending on the available situational and affective cues. We investigated two such processes, perspective-taking and nonverbal mimicry. In Study 1, participants watched an embarrassed or unembarrassed confederate dancing to music while either remaining objective or engaging in perspective-taking. Read More

NCBI ROFL: Does bestiality cause penile cancer?

By ncbi rofl | December 9, 2011 6:46 pm

Sex with Animals (SWA): Behavioral Characteristics and Possible Association with Penile Cancer. A Multicenter Study

“Introduction.  Zoophilia has been known for a long time but, underreported in the medical literature, is likely a risk factor for human urological diseases. Aim.  To investigate the behavioral characteristics of sex with animals (SWA) and its associations with penile cancer (PC) in a case-control study. Read More

Chocolate Science #539: Taking a Walk Makes You Eat Less Chocolate

By Veronique Greenwood | December 9, 2011 4:42 pm


It should come as no surprise that scientists have spent many hours contemplating new tortures for the chocolate-addicted. After all, how else will science know how much, say, boredom, will affect chocolate intake? Or stress? Or watching a psychologist unwrap a chocolate bar? These are the important things, people.

The latest edition of this research addresses a question close to many a cubicle drone’s heart: will exercise reduce the amount of chocolate you eat while at work? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food, Nutrition, & More Food

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