Livestock Infected with Worms Belch and Fart 33% More Methane

By Christie Wilcox | August 14, 2018 8:00 am
Scientists find that parasites dramatically alter how much methane a sheep emits.

Scientists find that parasites dramatically alter how much methane a sheep emits.

It’s estimated that 40% of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and a substantial portion of that is directly ’emitted’ by livestock. And just last year, climate scientists reported that we’ve actually been underestimating the extent to which the combined belches and flatulence of farmed animals contributes to climate change by 11%. Unsurprisingly, there’s been renewed interest in reducing those emissions, especially considering the demand for livestock is only growing. Now, scientist from the UK report one thing that will help: keep the animals parasite-free.

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Little Dogs Pee Higher To Make Themselves Seem More Intimidating, Study Suggests

By Christie Wilcox | August 3, 2018 9:00 pm
Scientists have discovered smaller dogs aim higher, most likely to appear larger. Photo Credit: Mike Finkelstein

Scientists have discovered smaller dogs aim higher, most likely to appear larger. Photo Credit: Mike Finkelstein

You know how people say you should aim high? Well, small male dogs have taken that advice to heart. A new study has found that they lift their legs higher when urinating than larger dogs, apparently attempting to appear bigger than they are.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, More Science, select, Top Posts

Chinese Medicinal Plant Tricks Predatory Wasps Into Dispersing Its Seeds By Smelling Like Prey

By Christie Wilcox | July 31, 2018 8:00 am
Chinese scientists have discovered how a plant tricks wasps into carrying its seeds great distances. Photo Credit: Gao Chen

Chinese scientists have discovered how a plant tricks wasps into carrying its seeds great distances. Photo Credit: adapted from Chen et al. 2017 Figure S1; used with permission from Gao Chen

Stemona tuberosa is well known for its use in Chinese traditional medicine, but it’s got a much more intriguing claim to fame. It’s one of less than a handful of plants known to science that engages in vespicochory—that is, it gets predatory wasps to disperse its seeds. It was a strange enough discovery that Gao Chen and his colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing wondered how the plants manage to convince the hornets to haul their offspring around. All it takes is the right scent, the team discovered: parts of the plant smell and taste like the insects the hornets normally hunt. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, More Science, select, Top Posts

Centipedes Can Carry Rat Lungworm—Just In Case You Needed A Reason Not To Eat Them Raw

By Christie Wilcox | July 30, 2018 4:00 pm
Doctors recently discovered rat lungworm in Chinese red-headed centipedes after two people became ill from eating them raw. Centipede Photo: Yasunori Koide

Doctors recently discovered rat lungworm in Chinese red-headed centipedes after two people became ill from eating them raw. Centipede Photo: Yasunori Koide

When the 78 year old woman arrived at the hospital, it was clear something was wrong. She’d been suffering from headaches and been in a drowsy fog for weeks. So doctors checked her cerebral spinal fluid, and found it was cloudy and yellow instead of clear. It was brimming with white blood cells, indicating an infection. This, alongside a positive antibody test, led to a diagnosis of angiostrongyliasis—an infestation of the parasite rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis).

As the name implies, rat lungworms usually set up shop in rat pulmonary arteries. But their complex lifecycle involves spending time in an intermediate host like a snail before making a home inside a rodent. If we happen to eat that infected host before a rat does, they can end up inside us instead, where they can get lost and cause serious infections in other places. The parasites are most dangerous when they make their way into the brain, causing swelling and inflammation—like the woman was experiencing. But the woman hadn’t been eating snails.

A few weeks later, her 46 year old son was also admitted, and he, too, was diagnosed with angiostrongyliasis. Both were cured after a few weeks on an antiparasitic and steroid. But the question remained as to how they became infected—he wasn’t eating snails, either. But, it turned out, both he and his mother had been consuming raw centipedes from a local market. And that led the doctors to question: could centipedes also carry rat lungworm? Read More

Red, White and Blue Crabs: These Tree-Climbing, Bird-Killing Crabs Come in Multiple Colors and No One Knows Why

By Christie Wilcox | July 4, 2018 8:00 am
Scientists are trying to solve the mystery of these big crabs' colorful differences. Photo Credit: John Tann

Scientists are trying to solve the mystery of these big crabs’ colorful differences. Photo Credit: John Tann

Coconut crabs (Birgus latro) are gigantic land-dwelling crabs found on islands throughout the Indo-Pacific. They can live for decades, and can grow to be more than 3 feet wide (legs outstretched) and weigh in at more than 6 pounds. So that name isn’t because they’re the size of a coconut—it’s because they can actually tear open coconuts to eat their tender meat.

“If a coconut falls out of a tree, they’ll clamp onto it on the top and then drag it back to their husking ground,” explained Victoria Morgan, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at University of California, Davis. You can always tell where a crab hides out by the piles of coconut husks lying around.

And it just so happens that out these massive, tree-climbing crabs come in multiple colors. They start out white as juveniles, when they act like other hermit crabs and don a protective shell. Then, as they mature and grow, they turn either red or blue. Really, really red, and really, really blue. “It’s weird that the colors are so distinctive,” Morgan explained. Stark color differences within a species, or color polymorphisms as scientists call them, are found in other crab species, but they’re generally in young animals. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, More Science, select, Top Posts

Butterflies Really Seem To Like Drinking Cougar Pee

By Christie Wilcox | June 30, 2018 8:00 am
Butterflies prefer drinking urine from mountain lions over that of cows or humans—though scientists aren't quite sure why. Photo Credit:Geoff Gallice

Butterflies prefer drinking urine from mountain lions over that of cows or humans—though scientists aren’t quite sure why. Photo Credit:Geoff Gallice

The sight of dozens of butterflies congregated in one spot might be beautiful, but if you know what they’re actually doing, you might not want to get too close. When butterflies get together like this, it’s usually to slurp up some nutritional goodies from an unexpected source—like, oh I don’t know, animal pee. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, More Science, select, Top Posts

Becoming Fearless: Study Finds Major Changes to Domesticated Bunny Brains

By Christie Wilcox | June 27, 2018 1:23 am
Researchers have found changes to rabbit brains that may explain why your pet bunny is so snuggly. Photo Credit: Alex

Researchers have found changes to rabbit brains that may explain why your pet bunny is so snuggly.
Photo Credit: Alex

The process of domestication fundamentally changes an animal’s looks and behavior. Floppier ears and a loss of fear of humans, for example, are nearly universal in domesticated species. Now, researchers have learned what domestication looks  like in the brain—at least, for rabbits.  Read More

This Poisonous Frogs’ Bright Colors Weirdly Help Camouflage It

By Christie Wilcox | June 4, 2018 4:00 pm

A dyeing poison frog showing off its bright colors. Photo by Bernard DUPONT

The conspicuous colors of poison frogs are presumed to be a warning. Indeed, vibrant patterns so often signal toxicity that biologists even have a special term for them: aposematic coloration. But, weird as it might sound, new research suggests that radiant skin patterns might help these frogs stay hidden, too. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, More Science, select, Top Posts

Man’s Best Friends Don’t Share Our Fear Of Snakes

By Christie Wilcox | April 30, 2018 8:00 pm
Dogs' lack of fear might explain why they're so at risk of life-threatening snakebites. Photo Credit: Nantawit Chuchue/Shutterstock

Dogs’ lack of fear might explain why they’re so at risk of life-threatening snakebites. Photo Credit: Nantawit Chuchue/Shutterstock

If you feel your stomach flutter uncomfortably at the mere image of a slithering serpent, you’re not alone. It’s thought that snakes make about half of us anxious, and 2-3% of people are Ophidiophobic—that is, they’re deeply afraid of snakes. Such fear is thought to have deep roots; over the course of our evolutionary history, snakes are thought to have had such an influence on our risk of dying that we’ve evolved an innate fear of them, which has even influenced our visual acuity—an idea known as the Snake Detection Hypothesis.

Whether we all really share an innate terror of snakes is still somewhat controversial, but the case is much clearer in dogs: our beloved canine companions simply aren’t afraid of snakes, and that’s probably part of the reason so dang many of them wind up in veterinary ERs for envenomations. Read More

With Parasites, Nothing is Sacred: Study Finds Lungworms Alter How Their Host Toads Poop

By Christie Wilcox | April 28, 2018 8:00 am
Researchers from the University of Sydney had to get creative to see how a toad lungworm alters its host's behavior. Photo Credit: Patt Finnerty

Researchers from the University of Sydney had to get creative to see how a toad lungworm alters its host’s behavior. Photo Credit: Patt Finnerty

Parasites are nature’s master puppeteers. Jewel wasps can make cockroaches into docile, edible nannies for their young with just a sting, for example. Some nematodes convince the insects they infect to commit watery suicide because their larvae are aquatic. It’s even thought that Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that usually infects rats and cats, can alter our brains when we accidentally host them instead, subtly altering our personalities and maybe even making us more likely to commit suicide.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that scientists recently discovered lungworms alter the behavior of their cane toad hosts to ensure things are most comfortable for them. But what is surprising, or at least a little unnerving, is what they actually do: the worms makes their hosts poop differently.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, More Science, select, Top Posts
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