Goblin Shark Gives a Lesson in Dismantling Your Face to Eat

By Elizabeth Preston | August 17, 2016 10:02 am

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The goblin shark is a weird deep-sea creature first discovered off the coast of Japan in 1898. It has a ghoulish appearance, thanks to jaws that can stretch well away from the rest of its head. Scientists have assumed the goblin shark uses this trick to eat—but until recently, no one had actually watched one catching prey in the wild.

In 2008 and 2011, divers working with the Japanese television broadcaster NHK managed to capture two goblin sharks (Mitsukurina owstoni). Before rereleasing the animals, they made five video recordings of the sharks striking and eating—in one case, a shark was taking a swipe at a diver’s arm. Now Kazuhiro Nakaya, of Japan’s Hokkaido University, and others have analyzed that footage frame-by-frame to try to understand how a goblin shark does its thing. Read More

These Baby Fish Are Born Knowing How to Kill

By Elizabeth Preston | August 4, 2016 9:15 am


Some babies are born totally useless (I’m looking at you, Homo sapiens). Others can wobble upright shortly after birth and start teetering around. And still other animals are almost frighteningly precocious.

For example, the metallic livebearer, a little golden fish native to Cuba, hatches from an egg while still inside its mother. That means the mom gives birth to live young. The more traditional fish-y way is to lay eggs. But some other fish also bear live young, including guppies and most kinds of sharks.

Metallic livebearers (Girardinus metallicus) are hunters very with precocious babies. As soon as a newborn G. metallicus swims into the world, it’s ready to murder. Read More

Deer Line Up North-South, Whether Relaxing or Running

By Elizabeth Preston | July 27, 2016 1:38 pm


If you’re ever lost in a remote European forest, you might be able to get your bearings by finding a herd of roe deer. These animals like to align themselves roughly north-south, whether they’re standing still or fleeing danger.

Roe deer are small, reddish or grayish grazers common in Europe and Asia. Petr Obleser, of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, and his coauthors studied the behavior of these skittish herbivores to look for evidence that they can sense the earth’s magnetic field.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: earth, friends, navigation, top posts

Video of Evaporating Booze Droplet Looks Like a Tiny Planet

By Elizabeth Preston | July 22, 2016 11:25 am

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Most of us don’t give much thought to drops of liquid that end up outside our drinking glasses. But physicists care a lot about liquid droplets, and study their whole lifespans—from the first splash or drip to the moment a drop disappears.

Liquids that contain three different substances, though, haven’t been studied as much. Detlef Lohse, a physicist at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, and his colleagues took a deep dive into one such liquid: ouzo. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: physics, pretty pictures, top posts

With Robotic Rectum, Doctors Practicing Prostate Exams Are No Longer In the Dark

By Elizabeth Preston | July 19, 2016 11:11 am

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The rectal exam is a delicate art to learn. Doctors perform this procedure entirely by feel, with just one finger. Students who are learning how to do such an exam have no way of showing their work to their teachers. And volunteer subjects are—unsurprisingly—rare. In the entire United Kingdom there’s only one person registered as a test subject for rectal exams, says Fernando Bello, who works on surgical computing and simulations at Imperial College London.

Rectum models made of plastic exist to help train new doctors. But these are limited in how much they feel like the real thing. That’s why Bello and his colleagues built a robotic rectum. Read More

A New Tool for Studying Gorilla Health: Half-Chewed Food

By Elizabeth Preston | July 13, 2016 2:59 pm


In the mountains of Central Africa, scientists who study critically endangered gorillas have a new tool. They’ve discovered that they can learn what viruses gorillas are carrying by stealthily collecting half-chewed plants the apes leave behind.

If this sounds reminiscent of that class clown at the third-grade lunch table who would ask if you liked seafood and then say “See? Food!” and open his mouth wide to display his sloppy Joe slurry, don’t worry—mountain gorillas are vegetarians. And researchers aren’t looking inside the animals’ mouths. They decided to search gorillas’ plant scraps for viruses exactly because they don’t want to get too close. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: apes, disease, genes, medicine, poo, top posts

Fish May Lose Their Jelly Friends in a Changing Ocean

By Elizabeth Preston | July 6, 2016 10:29 am

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In the open ocean, it’s good to have friends. Some young fish like to buddy up with stinging jellies to stay safe from predators. Hiding under the shelter of a jellyfish’s bell, they can grow up unharmed (as long as they dodge its tentacles). These fish include some species that humans rely on for food. But in a warming ocean, that buddy system may fall apart.

Many types of fish take advantage of hop-on jelly trolleys. Ivan Nagelkerken, a marine biologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, and his colleagues focused their new study on the fish living with one jelly in particular: the delightfully named blue blubber jellyfish, or Catostylus mosaicus. Read More

Honeybees Have Personalities (Sort Of)

By Elizabeth Preston | June 30, 2016 5:29 pm


Honeybees may seem like nature’s perfect little automatons: organized, efficient, self-sacrificing. But in reality the insects are imperfect individuals. Their dance language is sloppy and imprecise. They lose self-control when they’re hungry. And, a new study has found, worker bees have distinct personalities.

Iowa State University ecologists Alexander Walton and Amy Toth explain that animals need to meet three requirements before you can say they have “personalities.” First, individuals have to behave differently from each other in a way that’s consistent over time. Second, those behavioral differences also have to show up across different contexts. Finally, there should be sets of behaviors that tend to clump together, like personality types. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: aging, bees, smell, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ecology, Psychology

Prey Can’t Resist a Spider in White Socks

By Elizabeth Preston | June 22, 2016 10:16 am

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Maybe you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but if you’re trying to catch grasshoppers, the best method is bright white socks. The white patches on the front legs of certain Asian spiders make prey willingly flock to them—and scientists don’t really understand why.

Dolomedes raptor is known as a fishing spider. It lives near streams in the forests and cities of East Asia. Females are a little bigger than males—up to about an inch across—and the two sexes have different hunting strategies. Males actively pursue prey. But females hunt by perching on rocks at the edges of streams. They splay their legs out, often just touching the water’s surface. Then they remain frozen this way for hours. If any tasty prey approach (semi-aquatic insects, or tiny fish or amphibians), the spiders nab them.

Female D. raptor spiders are dark brown, with patches of bright white hairs on their front legs. Male spiders don’t have these patches. The white hairs don’t seem to be decorative—male spiders are indifferent to them. So scientists wondered whether the patches help female spiders with their particular hunting strategy. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: bugs, evolution, screwups, top posts, vision
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Evolution, Senses

Sheep on Valium Teach Scientists about Anxiety

By Elizabeth Preston | June 14, 2016 2:22 pm


How do you know when a farm animal is unhappy? Animal welfare researchers wish they had easy ways to measure malaise in pigs, or stress in cows. But those tools are lacking—which is why scientists in Australia studied sheep they’d dosed with Valium.

“Animals are not able to talk to express their emotions,” says Caroline Lee, an animal welfare scientist at CSIRO in New South Wales. “We need to use other ways of understanding how they are feeling.”

One such way is to look for changes in behavior that give away an animal’s mood.  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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