Sea Stars See!

By Christie Wilcox | January 7, 2014 10:13 pm

All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight” – Aristotle

I see you! A starfish compound eye (red spot). Image credit Dan-Erik Nilsson, Lund University

I see you! A sea star’s compound eye (red spot). Image credit Dan-Eric Nilsson, Lund University

Human beings are very visual animals. We rely on our sight more than any of our other senses to interpret the world around us, which is why over the centuries many have argued (and many still do) that sight is our most important sense. But, of course, we aren’t the only species that can see. Arthropods are particularly known for their acute vision, as are squid, octopus and other cephalopods. Yet although we’ve known about sea star eye spots for hundreds of years, no one knew whether they, too, are able to see images. That is, no one knew until Drs. Anders Garm and Dan-Eric Nilsson decided to investigate.

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

PBS’ Poisoner’s Handbook is killer

By Christie Wilcox | January 3, 2014 8:00 am

urlIt has been three years since Penguin Press published The Poisoner’s Handbook, the NYT-bestseller from none other than the indescribably incredible Deborah Blum. Three years. You really have no excuse if you haven’t read it. But, if you are one of those unfortunate souls who has missed out, you’re in luck: The Poisoner’s Handbook has been adapted for TV, and will be premiering as a part of PBS’ American Experience next Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 8/7c. Read More


Science Sushi: 2013 in Review

By Christie Wilcox | December 31, 2013 3:19 pm

Wfc_pyrotechnic_displayIt’s that time of the year again where I look back and see what has happened over the past 365 days in the life of this blog. So far in 2013…

…I have posted 65 posts

…that received over five hundred thousand views

…from 207 countries/territories

…with 755 comments

The most popular post of the year was my open letter to Discovery Channel for their terrible Megalodon fauxmentary that kicked off shark week, with its follow up not far behind. Second most popular was The Mythic Bite of the Komodo, explaining the venomous nature of these dangerous reptiles. Seaward posts fared well, with some of the top slots going to my critique of a BuzzFeed article,  why dolphin-assisted births are a really, really bad idea, and yesterday’s post on how dolphins might not be getting high on tetrodotoxin. Also on the list were posts about the evolutionary origins of allergies, how parasites violate Dollo’s Lawthe addictive taste of beer, and the difference between concern and denialism. Elsewhere on the internet, I wrote about obese lionfish, and Slate liked it so much it they put  it on their list of their favorite animal posts of 2013. And last but certainly not least, my post Are Lower Pesticide Residues A Good Reason To Buy Organic? Probably Not was chosen to be included in the Open Laboratory 2013, an anthology of the best science writing online!

I’m thankful for the wonderful year that I have had here at Discover, and look forward to an even more amazing year to come. Thank you to all of you who read this blog: let’s keep this bio-nerdy party going all through 2014!


Fireworks image (c) Mark Wooding, from Wikipedia


Do Stoned Dolphins Give ‘Puff Puff Pass’ A Whole New Meaning?

By Christie Wilcox | December 30, 2013 8:00 am

You would always be smiling, too, if you were high as a kite.
Photo by Flickr user jeffk42

The BBC will be airing a cool new underwater documentary on Thursday called Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, where carefully disguised cameras were used to film the daily lives of everyone’s favorite marine mammals. But the most interesting detail seems to have been leaked on Sunday: during the documentary, some of the dolphins reportedly used a pufferfish to get stoned.

“Even the brightest humans have succumbed to the lure of drugs and, it seems, dolphins are no different,” said The Sunday Times. The article goes on to describe how the team got footage of dolphins gently harassing a pufferfish, which led to the dolphins entering “a trance-like state after apparently getting “high” on the toxin.”

“After chewing the puffer and gently passing it round, they began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection,” said Rob Pilley, zoologist and one of the producers of the documentary. “This was a case of young dolphins purposefully experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating.” And so it would seem that we can add drug use to the long list of dolphin bad behaviors, (a list which includes bullying, rape and murder, for the record; illicit drug use seems a minor offense in comparison).

It sounds too awesome to be true—which means it probably is.  Read More

GCFI’s 2013 Lionfish Session: A Tale In Tweets (#storify #Lionfish2013 #GCFI)

By Christie Wilcox | November 21, 2013 5:26 pm

GCFI_Logo_finalMissed out on this year’s Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute lionfish session? It’s ok! I got you!

Head over to my storify of the session to learn more!

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Did Allergies Evolve To Save Your Life?

By Christie Wilcox | October 24, 2013 11:00 am
Introduced bee on a native ʻōhiʻa flower

Introduced bee on a native ʻōhiʻa flower.
Photo by Flickr user Zesuri

As most of my friends on the mainland don longer sleeves and more layers, it’s hard not to be a little smug about living in paradise. While, in their neighborhoods, leaves are falling off of trees and icy winds threaten to bring snow, I can throw on a T-shirt and shorts, grab a picnic basket, and hike to a scenic overlook for lunch. But Hawaii’s ever-sunny weather comes with one side-effect that can be deadly serious: year-round, Hawaii has bees.

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GoogleFacts apparently doesn’t google their facts. So, I’ll say it again: SHARKS DO GET CANCER.

By Christie Wilcox | October 22, 2013 3:02 am

Over 1.1 million people follow the twitter account @GoogleFacts, a fun account that spouts off random bits of information. According to their bio:

“You can learn a lot of things everyday. When you doubt our facts, just Google it.”

So you can imagine my surprise when a friend pointed out this little factoid:

If you follow this blog at all, you know that this particularly pernicious “fact” is one of my biggest pet peeves. Why, you ask? Because it’s really not true. Completely, totally, 100%, proven-beyond-a-doubt false. And whoever decided to post this completely untrue statement just misinformed more than A MILLION people. Just look at how many favorites and retweets it got!

Perhaps even more importantly, if you simply take their own advice…

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 9.43.54 PM

Come on, Google Facts! You can do better than this.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: More Science, select, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: #NerdRage, Cancer, Sharks

Some thoughts on harassment and being a good ally

By Christie Wilcox | October 18, 2013 1:06 pm

The science blogging community has been rocked by an intense sexual harassment scandal involving, of all people in the world, the blogfather, Bora. I know a lot of my friends are experiencing a multitude of emotions, from anger to confusion, even remorse. I can’t speak for them, but I can explain why I have stayed fairly quiet about the issue.

I’ve posted my thoughts over on Medium, as a part of The Power of Harassment. Since Medium doesn’t allow comments, feel free to respond to my post here, if you wish.



A Drowned World: Incredible Underwater Images Of Miniature Men And Marine Life

By Christie Wilcox | October 12, 2013 9:08 am

Jason Isley, cofounder and managing director of ScubaZoo, has taken a lot of pictures of marine life. He’s a brilliant photographer, and his incredible images reveal the breathtaking beauty of the underwater world. But after taking thousands of pictures of everything from inverts to fish, Jason wanted a change of perspective. “I was running out of ways to maintain my passion,” he explained on flickr. Even the vibrant nudibranchs had lost their spark. “I’ve shot them from countless angles and under a variety of lighting configurations,” he said. “I really wanted to do something entirely different. Something off-the-wall.”

workers - acidians Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: More Science, select, Top Posts

Tuna | Observations

By Christie Wilcox | October 12, 2013 8:08 am

This week I’m in Miami for the first-ever ScienceOnline Oceans! I’ll be sharing my experience with you all soon, but to tide you over, here is my favorite ocean-themed post from my old blog, Observations of a Nerd

Mouse, my adorable cousin, showing off a bubble

“Christie! Christie!” My four-year old cousin tugs eagerly on my jacket. “I wanna see the fishes.”

“Ok, Tuna, we can go see the fish.”

My little cousin loves the word ‘tuna’. She says it all the time. Tuna, tuna, tuna. Everything is a tuna-face or a tuna-head. She doesn’t even like tuna (she doesn’t eat it), but she loves the sound of the word rolling off her tongue. Finally, her nanny threatened that if she kept saying ‘tuna,’ we’d have to start calling her it. My ever so adorable cousin’s response was, of course, “TUNA!” So now that’s her nickname. She’s Tuna.

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