While we like to think we’re pretty rational beings, we end up doing irrational things all the time. From believing in superstitions to spending too much on eBay, our quirky brains often lead us to suboptimal results. In this study, researchers asked participants to do a seemingly simple thing: pick up either of two buckets, one of which was closer to them than the other, and carry it to a designated end point. They expected the students to pick the bucket that was closer to the finish line since it would require less physical effort to carry to the end. Surprisingly, however, most people picked the closest bucket, even though they had to carry it for a longer distance. After talking to the participants, the scientists realized they were witnessing a phenomenon they term “pre-crastination”: “our participants said that they chose the closer bucket to get the task done sooner. Apparently, hastening completion of the subgoal of grabbing a bucket made completion of the main goal seem closer at hand.” Pre-crastination also pops up in other contexts – for example, if you are driving a route that has a long stretch and a short turn, many people will choose to do the short turn before the long stretch, rather than saving the short turn till the end. Can you think of examples of pre-crastination in your own life? If so, please share them in the comments!
“In this article, we describe a phenomenon we discovered while conducting experiments on walking and reaching. We asked university students to pick up either of two buckets, one to the left of an alley and one to the right, and to carry the selected bucket to the alley’s end. In most trials, one of the buckets was closer to the end point. We emphasized choosing the easier task, expecting participants to prefer the bucket that would be carried a shorter distance. Read More
The males of many animal species will “coerce” females into mating by force. But according to this study, male fiddler crabs take it a step further. They lure females into their burrows, allow the ladies to enter first…and then block their escape. As the researchers in this study (delicately) put it, “upon entry 79% females that enter will become trapped and almost all of these females (90%) produce a clutch of eggs. Our observations suggest that males are able to gain fertilisations from females that may not have remained in the burrow by trapping them and coercing them to mate.” Are male fiddler crabs the Ramsay Boltons of the animal world, or is there a more despicable animal rapist out there? Tell us in the comments below!
“In some species males increase their reproductive success by forcing females to copulate with them, usually by grasping the female or pinning her to the ground to prevent her from escaping. Here we report an example of males coercing copulation by trapping a female in a confined space. Read More
It seems that everyone (and every animal) is getting on the kinky bandwagon. First it was whales having a ménage à trois, then it was cunnilingus in bats, and now we have fellating bears. This article reports the behaviors of two healthy male bears that were raised together at a sanctuary for brown bears in Kuterevo, Croatia. The authors speculate that the oral sex started as a nursing behavior, and the bears kept doing it because, well, it felt good. Can you blame them? See below for photos of the bears in action [NSFBW].
“Sexually stimulating behaviors that are not linked to reproduction are rare among non-human (especially non-primate) mammals. Such behaviors may have a function in the hierarchy of social species. Read More
What’s cooler than watching a chick hatch out of an egg? Watching the embryo develop under clear plastic, of course! These Japanese scientists report a method to do just that, using plastic wrap in place of an eggshell (and some other equipment to make sure conditions were just right for hatching). Check out the video below for a great explanation… and hilarious reaction shots!
“The development of shell-less culture methods for bird embryos with high hatchability would be useful for the efficient generation of transgenic chickens, embryo manipulations, tissue engineering, and basic studies in regenerative medicine. To date, studies of culture methods for bird embryos include the whole embryo culture using narrow windowed eggshells, surrogate eggshells, and an artificial vessel using a gas-permeable membrane. However, there are no reports achieving high hatchability of ＞50% using completely artificial vessels. To establish a simple method for culturing chick embryos with high hatchability, we examined various culture conditions, including methods for calcium supplementation and oxygen aeration. In the embryo cultures where the embryos were transferred to the culture vessel after 55-56 h incubation, more than 90% of embryos survived until day 17 when a polymethylpentene film was used as a culture vessel with calcium lactate and distilled water supplementations. The aeration of pure oxygen to the surviving embryos from day 17 yielded a hatchability of 57.1% (8out of 14). Thus, we successfully achieved a high hatchability with this method in chicken embryo culture using an artificial vessel.”
We here at Seriously, Science? have a soft spot for disgusting medical case studies… and this one’s a doozy! It’s a story of a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer. But the plot twists when a biopsy revealed that it was not just a tumor… it was pork tapeworm larvae! The authors point out that this an excellent example of why diagnoses should always be followed up by confirmation by a pathologist. Because every bedtime story should have a moral.
BACKGROUND: Human cystericosis is the infection caused by the larvae of pork tapeworm Taeniasolium. The infection commonly affects the muscle, the central nervous system and subcutaneous tissues. The involvement of the breast is unusual.
OBJECTIVE: To present a 54 years old postmenopausal woman, a petty trader and a Jehovah witness who presented with a painless lump in the right breast which was increasing in size. Read More
There are few day-to-day events that send me into a rage as quickly as a pair of tangled earphones. As soon as I put them down, they somehow thread themselves into an unholy mess. And don’t even think about putting them into your pocket or bag. So how do headphones (and other stringy objects) get so knotted in such a short time? To find out, these physicists started by tumbling strings of different stiffness in a box. They found that “complex knots often form within seconds” (so it’s not just my imagination!), and that stiffer strings are less likely to get knotted up. They then used these data and computer simulations to explain how the knots are likely formed (see figure below); basically, when jostled, the strings tend to form coils, and then the loose end weaves through the other strands, much like braiding or weaving. And voila! Tangled headphones to make your day just that much angrier.
“It is well known that a jostled string tends to become knotted; yet the factors governing the “spontaneous” formation of various knots are unclear. We performed experiments in which a string was tumbled inside a box and found that complex knots often form within seconds. We used mathematical knot theory to analyze the knots. Read More
Professor Kenneth Catania from Vanderbilt University has proven a 200 hundred year-old yarn about electric eels that had long been dismissed as fantasy. In the early 1800s, the Prussian natural historian Alexander von Humboldt traveled through South America, using his experiences there as foundation for the books that brought him fame. One episode that particularly caught the imaginations of his fans described electric eels jumping out of the water to electrocute horses. Since then, this behavior has not been documented, leading many scientists to doubt the historian’s account. Here, Dr. Catania shows that when threatened, electric eels do, in fact, leap out of the water to increase the power of their shock:
The behavior consists of an approach and leap out of the water during which the eel presses its chin against a threatening conductor while discharging high-voltage volleys. The effect is to short-circuit the electric organ through the threat, with increasing power diverted to the threat as the eel attains greater height during the leap.
Dr. Catania included a few shocking videos showing an electric eel leaping out of the water and electrocuting threats–in this case, a human arm and a crocodile head. Good thing they’re fake!
“In March 1800, Alexander von Humboldt observed the extraordinary spectacle of native fisherman collecting electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) by “fishing with horses”. The strategy was to herd horses into a pool containing electric eels, provoking the eels to attack by pressing themselves against the horses while discharging. Once the eels were exhausted, they could be safely collected. Read More
In case you weren’t convinced that wearing deodorant is generally a good idea, here’s another reason to dab on the white stuff: it makes women perceive men as more masculine. In this study, the researchers asked women (and men) to rate the masculinity of men’s faces, and separately to rate the masculinity of their body odor with or without deodorant. Interestingly, the women’s masculinity ratings of the natural body odors tended to match the masculinity of that man’s face; however, deodorant destroyed this association, meaning that men with less masculine faces were still perceived as having a masculine body odor. Sniffing for more BO-related science? Check out the links below!
“Cultural practices may either enhance or interfere with evolved preferences as predicted by culture–gene coevolution theory. Here, we investigated the impact of artificial fragrances on the assessment of biologically relevant information in human body odor. To do this, we examined cross-sensory consistency (across faces and odors) in the perception of masculinity and femininity in men and women, and how consistency is influenced by the use of artificial fragrance. Independent sets of same and opposite-sex participants rated odor samples (with and without a fragrance, n = 239 raters), and photographs (n = 130) of 20 men and 20 women. In female, but not male raters, judgments of masculinity/femininity of non-fragranced odor and faces were correlated. However, the correlation between female ratings of male facial and odor masculinity was not evident when assessing a fragranced body odor. Read More
In the 1960s, sailors in submarines off the coasts of Antarctica and Australia noticed a mysterious noise, which they called the “bio-duck sound” due to its resemblance to a duck quacking (see video below). The source of the sound remained a mystery for decades… until now. In this study, researchers discovered the bio-duck sounds in recordings that also contained sounds already known to be produced by Antarctic Minke whales. The association of the bio-duck sounds with minke whales will help researchers track and study these whales, which is difficult due to the icy seas in which they live — seas that are undergoing rapid changes associated with global warming.
“For decades, the bio-duck sound has been recorded in the Southern Ocean, but the animal producing it has remained a mystery. Read More
We’ve already covered some of the amazing things that bees can do, from making perfectly hexagonal honeycombs to doing “the wave” to scare off predators. And it turns out they even have the power to detect electric fields! Although it was known that bees can detect electric fields around flowers, how they achieve this amazing feat was a mystery… until now! According to these scientists, bees are actually covered with small hairs that respond to electricity. Be sure to check out the video below to see the hairs in action!
“Electroreception in terrestrial animals is poorly understood. In bumblebees, the mechanical response of filiform hairs in the presence of electric fields provides key evidence for electrosensitivity to ecologically relevant electric fields. Mechanosensory hairs in arthropods have been shown to function as fluid flow or sound particle velocity receivers. The present work provides direct evidence for additional, nonexclusive functionality involving electrical Coulomb-force coupling between distant charged objects and mechanosensory hairs. Read More