This Flower May Make Multicolored Pollen Just to Please Bugs

By Elizabeth Preston | April 16, 2018 11:45 am

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The trout lily is a North American spring wildflower that’s cuter than its name suggests. Dappled leaves frame a little yellow blossom that keeps its face shyly toward the ground. Inside the bloom, the flower’s anthers and pollen vary from bright yellow to dark red. Researchers could find no purpose for the different colors—except, maybe, to satisfy the whims of pollinating insects.

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MORE ABOUT: Ecology, Evolution, Plants

Hagfish Take Weeks to Recover from Sliming Someone

By Elizabeth Preston | March 29, 2018 12:22 pm


If you see this animal, don’t anger it. A hagfish under attack releases thick, clear slime in astonishing quantities. Now scientists have learned that this mucus is a precious resource for a hagfish. After sliming a predator, the fish can take nearly a month to refill its slime glands.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: magic, the ocean, top posts, weird animals
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Evolution, Ocean

To Scare Off Predators, Caterpillar Whistles like a Kettle

By Elizabeth Preston | March 23, 2018 12:53 pm

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It’s hard to yell “BACK OFF!” when you have no lungs, but this caterpillar has figured out a way. Under attack, the Nessus sphinx moth caterpillar emits a sort of crackling buzz from its mouth. Scientists compare the unusual mechanism to a whistling teakettle. Or a rocket.

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MORE ABOUT: Animals, Evolution, Physics

Worn-Down Tusks Show Most African Elephants Are Righties

By Elizabeth Preston | March 16, 2018 12:57 pm


You don’t need hands to be right- or left-handed. Many kinds of animals have shown a preference for using one side of their body or the other. They include apes, whales, dogs, cats, cows, toads, fish and even honeybees. Now, with data from a rather unsavory source, researchers have found evidence for “tuskedness” in elephants.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: aging, brains, evolution, screwups, top posts

Three Years Later, Coauthor of “Blinded with Science” Paper Has Made Some Ironic Retractions

By Elizabeth Preston | February 28, 2018 7:46 pm

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EVEN MORE IRONIC UPDATE, 3/2/18: Despite what Aner Tal told me below, other researchers have tried to replicate this study—and failed. Thanks to those of you who pointed it out to me on Twitter. The 2014 post will be updated to reflect this.

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed published a detailed investigation of a prominent food psychologist who massaged and manipulated data to produce media-friendly results. You’ve probably heard of some of Cornell University professor Brian Wansink’s studies. There was the one with the “bottomless” soup bowl that refilled itself while subjects ate, to study portion control; the one about characters on cereal boxes making eye contact with kids from grocery-store shelves; and so on. Several of Wansink’s papers have been retracted for issues like duplicated material or unreliable data. More of them have been corrected after publication.

Reading about Wansink, I felt a sinking familiarity at the title of one of his papers: “Blinded with science: Trivial graphs and formulas increase ad persuasiveness and belief in product efficacy.” I wrote about it back in October 2014. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Nutrition, Psychology

From Painters to Potters, Scientists Stage an Online Art Show

By Elizabeth Preston | February 23, 2018 10:03 am

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On January 24, University of British Columbia geneticist Dave Ng tweeted, “It’s always interesting to me how kids react when they find out I’m a scientist who also does artistic things (like they can’t co-exist or something). Would love to start a thread where other scientists share their artistic tendencies. #scienceartmix.”

Ng posted some of his own visual art and writing, and invited others to chime in. Musicians, painters, dancers and more eagerly joined the dataset.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: brains, pretty pictures, top posts

When Hummingbirds Visit, This Flower Pops Open like a Jack-in-the-Box

By Elizabeth Preston | February 9, 2018 11:48 am

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Most plants are sneaky. You think they’re staying put, until one morning when you wake up to find your houseplant bent toward the window, or a vine that’s clambered up your fence. But other plants operate more quickly. They close up their leaves at a touch, or fling their pollen onto a bee. Researchers discovered a previously unknown bit of plant acrobatics in Costa Rica. There, a flower works like a jack-in-the-box to shove its stamens into a hummingbird’s face.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: bees, top posts, weird plants
MORE ABOUT: Ecology, Physics, Plants

Chameleons, Already Dealt Unfair Share of Cool Traits, Also Have Fluorescent Heads

By Elizabeth Preston | January 30, 2018 10:00 am

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Maybe their moms told them nobody likes a showoff. That would explain why many species of chameleon are hiding fluorescent bone bumps on their heads that scientists only just discovered. Chameleons also have independently moving eyeballs, superlative tongues and sophisticated color-changing skills. The animals might use their glowing head bumps as signals to each other. These patterns of dots are invisible to a human eye, but may light up deep blue to the eye of another chameleon in a shaded forest. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Animals, Evolution, Physics

Crawling Robot Baby Bravely Explores Carpet Gunk

By Elizabeth Preston | January 18, 2018 8:43 am

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To find out just how your relaxed vacuuming schedule is affecting your baby’s airway, researchers built a slightly frightening robotic infant.

This legless, metallic baby crawled across five wool rugs from real people’s homes in Finland. (The grounded aluminum tape covering the robot helped to minimize static during its 25 crawling sessions of 20 minutes each.) Researchers had asked the people sharing their rugs not to vacuum for two weeks beforehand. As the robot crawled, advanced instruments measured what was in the dust it stirred up. Specifically, what biological tidbits—bacteria, fungi, pollen grains—would a real baby breathe in? Read More

Like to Hold Your Baby on Your Left? So Do Walruses

By Elizabeth Preston | January 12, 2018 1:19 pm

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Human moms prefer to hold their babies on their left sides. Although this does make it easier for right-handed parents to feed themselves and do other necessary tasks, scientists think the true explanation is deeper. Now, a study of walruses and bats has shown that mothers and babies in these species also cuddle on the left—even when the baby is the one choosing the side. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Animals, Evolution


Like the wily and many-armed cephalopod, Inkfish reaches into the far corners of science news and brings you back surprises (and the occasional sea creature). The ink is virtual but the research is real.

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@Inkfish on Twitter


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