Exploding Sea Cucumber Butt Threads Are a New Material

By Elizabeth Preston | April 21, 2017 11:38 am


Whoever named the sea cucumber after a vegetable didn’t give it enough credit. Yes, sea cucumbers are soft, warty tubes that scoot eyelessly along the seafloor. But they aren’t helpless. Some secrete a poison that’s deadly to other animals. And some, when threatened, shoot sticky threads out of their anuses to tangle up predators. When researchers collected these bizarre weapons and tested them in the lab, they discovered a material that’s unique among sea creatures. Read More

Dolphin’s-Eye Video Is Breathtaking, Barfy

By Elizabeth Preston | April 14, 2017 2:31 pm

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It’s surprisingly hard to stick a camera to a dolphin. Surprising, anyway, when you consider the other animals that have carried monitoring devices down into the ocean for human scientists: sharks, sea turtles, birds, manatees, even whales. When a group of researchers recently overcame the challenges and created a camera that dolphins can wear, they were inducted into a dizzying underwater world.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: pretty pictures, tech, the ocean, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Gadgets, Ocean

The Snail That Only Lives in a Hole inside Another Hole under a Sea Urchin

By Elizabeth Preston | March 31, 2017 9:16 am

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If you think house hunting is hard, consider the plight of this snail. It lives only in tide pools in southern Japan. Within those tide pools, it only lives in holes carved out of rock—specifically, holes dug by sea urchins. But it can only move into one of those holes after the hole-digging urchin has moved out. When a second, differently shaped sea urchin moves into the hole, it leaves a gap between its spiny body and the wall of the burrow. It’s this nook that the snail snuggles into. Read More

Caterpillars Recruit Friends with Anal Scraping

By Elizabeth Preston | March 28, 2017 11:42 am

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Newly hatched caterpillars look helpless: they’re teensy, soft and juicy, with no parent around for protection. But certain young insects, the masked birch caterpillars, are more capable than they seem. They gather in groups to keep themselves safe. To form those groups, they use a previously undiscovered language of buzzes, vibrations, head banging and butt scraping.

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MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ecology, Senses

An Elephant Never Forgets…to Be Awake

By Elizabeth Preston | March 9, 2017 9:45 am


They say an elephant never forgets. But a more accurate adage would be that an elephant never sleeps—or, hardly ever. Tracking two wild elephant matriarchs for a month revealed that they averaged only a couple of hours a night. On some nights they surprised researchers by never going to sleep at all. This might make them the most wakeful mammals in the world. Read More

A Weekend Camping Trip Is Enough to Reset Your Internal Clock

By Elizabeth Preston | February 28, 2017 1:00 pm


Humans have been fighting our internal clocks ever since we invented sitting around a campfire. We have powerful natural rhythms that keep us on a 24-hour cycle; if you’ve ever been steamrollered by jet lag after an intercontinental flight, you know how powerful those rhythms are. But we muffle them with caffeine, alarm clocks, and electric lights. It’s easy to undo the damage, though. One weekend of camping can do the trick—and it’ll even cure your case of the Mondays.

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This Squid Gives Better Side-Eye Than You

By Elizabeth Preston | February 20, 2017 1:30 pm

cockeyed squid

Yes, this cephalopod is looking at you funny. It’s a kind of cockeyed squid—an animal that looks like some jokester misassembled a Mr. Potato Head. One of the cockeyed squid’s eyes is big, bulging and yellow. The other is flat and beady. After studying more than 25 years’ worth of undersea video footage, scientists think they know why. Read More

Snakes Use Their Tongues and Tails as Lures for Prey

By Elizabeth Preston | February 7, 2017 11:13 am

puff adder

The African puff adder is one of the most dangerous venomous snakes on the continent. To find prey, it doesn’t need to go hunting; the snake simply lies in wait and attacks small animals that wander past. An ambushing puff adder is both camouflaged and unsmellable to predators. This snake is not goofing around—but it does like to stick its tongue out. Researchers discovered that puff adders in the wild waggle both their tongues and their tails to lure prey, like a prolonged and high-stakes hokey-pokey dance.

Xavier Glaudas, a postdoc at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and herpetology lab director Graham Alexander didn’t set out to study any bizarre new snake behaviors. They simply wanted to watch puff adders hunting in the wild, Glaudas says. They used a simple strategy no one had tried before: pointing videocameras at puff adders and watching for a long, long time. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: evolution, smell, top posts

Three Candidates to Be Your New Personal Mascot

By Elizabeth Preston | January 31, 2017 10:57 am


Maybe you’re feeling like the animal you most identified with in previous years (panda bear in snow, puggle, Betty White) just isn’t adequate for 2017. If that’s the case, here are three creatures that would like to apply for the job. Only one is venomous. Read More

Whip Spiders Use Their Feet to Smell Their Way Home

By Elizabeth Preston | January 24, 2017 9:44 am

6-Whip spider re-located at night with transmitter

After a late dinner, a jungle-dwelling whip spider can’t rely on an Uber driver to get her home. She has to find the way herself, in the pitch-black, picking her way over thick undergrowth to reach the tree she lives on. It’s a trick she can even manage when plucked from her home tree and tossed into the forest at random, up to 10 meters away. Now scientists think whip spiders don’t use her eyes for this homing feat—they use their feet. Read More



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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