Centuries Ago, New Zealand’s Giant Black Swans Were Repealed and Replaced

By Elizabeth Preston | July 28, 2017 12:53 pm


The all-black swans that glide across New Zealand’s wetlands today are only a lame replacement for the bulky beasts that lived there in the past, scientists have discovered.

When humans first arrived in New Zealand in the thirteenth century, they found it swimming in black swans. But quickly, it seems, they hunted the birds to extinction. By the time Europeans arrived in the late eighteenth century, the swans were gone. But black swans had lived in Australia all along, and these birds were eventually reintroduced to New Zealand—either intentionally, by humans, or by flying themselves over.

Researchers have assumed that the black swans of the past were the same species that lives there today. Their period of extinction was just a blip in their long-term residency of New Zealand, the story went. But analysis by Nicolas Rawlence of the University of Otago and his colleagues uncovered a different tale. Read More

There’s Nothing Squirrely about a Squirrel’s Memory for Puzzles

By Elizabeth Preston | July 24, 2017 9:39 pm


While you’re writing down yet another password on the notepad hidden in your desk drawer, a squirrel is retrieving nuts it buried months earlier. It’s no secret these animals have good memories. But they don’t only remember where they stuck stuff: squirrels can remember how to solve a puzzle almost two years after they last saw it. And they can use that knowledge to tackle a problem they haven’t seen before. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: brains, top posts, Uncategorized

This Spider Really Commits to Its Ant Impression

By Elizabeth Preston | July 15, 2017 7:11 pm

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 1.32.56 PM

It’s a good thing field sobriety tests don’t exist for bugs, because the jumping spider Myrmarachne formicaria would fail for doing what keeps it alive: walking in a wobbly line. The spider fools predators by imitating an ant. The act is so thorough that it includes how the spider looks, stands and even moves. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: ants, bugs, evolution, top posts, walking
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ecology, Evolution

Dogs Notice When People (or Other Dogs) Sound Sad

By Elizabeth Preston | June 27, 2017 2:11 pm


Your dog may act like a good listener—but does she really notice when you’re feeling down? Or does she just know how to deploy a wet nose and a tail-wag to earn treats? A new study says negative emotions are contagious for dogs. They’ll pick up a companion’s bad feelings just by sound, whether that companion is human or canine.

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Meerkats Can Thank Bacteria for Their Signature Butt Scents

By Elizabeth Preston | June 19, 2017 9:30 am

meerkat scent

When Disney’s animators were creating Timon, the energetic meerkat sidekick in The Lion King, the part where he turns his anal pouch inside-out and marks his territory must have been left on the cutting room floor. Not once does Timon smear scented butt paste on a branch. But real meerkats use their anal scent glands to communicate with each other. And each animal’s distinctive scent seems to come from its personal community of bacteria. Read More

Don’t Drain That Swamp! Accidental Wetlands Are Good for Cities

By Elizabeth Preston | June 8, 2017 2:32 pm

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 10.33.50 AMWhat’s so bad about wetlands? These mucky, sometimes mosquito-ridden landscapes have a bad reputation, but they offer benefits to their neighborhoods too. Researchers say “accidental” wetlands—pockets of cities that have turned into swamps through flooding and neglect—might be a valuable resource to both the environment and the humans around them. Read More


Cities Are Bad for Bumblebees—Except Detroit

By Elizabeth Preston | May 31, 2017 8:34 pm


For bumblebees, big cities are a bummer. Layers of asphalt, concrete, brick and metal add up to fewer places for the insects to nest. But one big city—Detroit—reverses that trend. That means shrinking cities might be a growing opportunity for at-risk pollinators. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ecology

Agar Art Contest Winners Grow Masterpieces with Microbes

By Elizabeth Preston | May 22, 2017 9:16 pm
agarart 2

Finding Pneumo, by Linh Ngo of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (2nd place)

No matter how flamboyant your shower curtain mold is, it couldn’t have competed with the fungus that won this year’s Agar Art contest.

This is the third year the American Society for Microbiology has run the contest, asking for “works that are at their core an organism(s) growing on agar.” The artwork can be any kind of microbe colonizing any size or shape of petri dish. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Microbes & viruses

Tadpoles Seek Piggyback Rides to Escape Cannibal Siblings

By Elizabeth Preston | May 12, 2017 1:41 pm


Swimming in a pool of cannibals after being abandoned by one’s parents is a pretty grim situation. But a tadpole that finds itself here doesn’t passively await its fate. Instead, it tries to jump onto the back of any visiting frog and hitch a ride to safety. Even if the frog has no interest in a rescue, the tadpole is ready to rescue itself. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: evolution, parenting, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ecology, Evolution

Recluse Spiders Have the Only Self-Powered Silk Spinners

By Elizabeth Preston | April 28, 2017 12:22 pm


Even if you detest spiders—even if a photo of one makes you recoil from your screen—pause for a moment and consider the sheer machinery of these creatures. They coordinate the movement of eight legs and up to eight eyes at once. They are their own miniature textile factories, pumping out silk thread from an intricate set of appendages. And while most spiders use their legs to help spin the thread, or glue one end to a surface to pull it out, recluse spiders don’t need the help. They have the first known spinners that are entirely self-powered.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: bugs, evolution, magic, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Evolution, Gadgets


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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