Worn-Down Tusks Show Most African Elephants Are Righties

By Elizabeth Preston | March 16, 2018 12:57 pm


You don’t need hands to be right- or left-handed. Many kinds of animals have shown a preference for using one side of their body or the other. They include apes, whales, dogs, cats, cows, toads, fish and even honeybees. Now, with data from a rather unsavory source, researchers have found evidence for “tuskedness” in elephants.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: aging, brains, evolution, screwups, top posts

Three Years Later, Coauthor of “Blinded with Science” Paper Has Made Some Ironic Retractions

By Elizabeth Preston | February 28, 2018 7:46 pm

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EVEN MORE IRONIC UPDATE, 3/2/18: Despite what Aner Tal told me below, other researchers have tried to replicate this study—and failed. Thanks to those of you who pointed it out to me on Twitter. The 2014 post will be updated to reflect this.

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed published a detailed investigation of a prominent food psychologist who massaged and manipulated data to produce media-friendly results. You’ve probably heard of some of Cornell University professor Brian Wansink’s studies. There was the one with the “bottomless” soup bowl that refilled itself while subjects ate, to study portion control; the one about characters on cereal boxes making eye contact with kids from grocery-store shelves; and so on. Several of Wansink’s papers have been retracted for issues like duplicated material or unreliable data. More of them have been corrected after publication.

Reading about Wansink, I felt a sinking familiarity at the title of one of his papers: “Blinded with science: Trivial graphs and formulas increase ad persuasiveness and belief in product efficacy.” I wrote about it back in October 2014. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Nutrition, Psychology

From Painters to Potters, Scientists Stage an Online Art Show

By Elizabeth Preston | February 23, 2018 10:03 am

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On January 24, University of British Columbia geneticist Dave Ng tweeted, “It’s always interesting to me how kids react when they find out I’m a scientist who also does artistic things (like they can’t co-exist or something). Would love to start a thread where other scientists share their artistic tendencies. #scienceartmix.”

Ng posted some of his own visual art and writing, and invited others to chime in. Musicians, painters, dancers and more eagerly joined the dataset.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: brains, pretty pictures, top posts

When Hummingbirds Visit, This Flower Pops Open like a Jack-in-the-Box

By Elizabeth Preston | February 9, 2018 11:48 am

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Most plants are sneaky. You think they’re staying put, until one morning when you wake up to find your houseplant bent toward the window, or a vine that’s clambered up your fence. But other plants operate more quickly. They close up their leaves at a touch, or fling their pollen onto a bee. Researchers discovered a previously unknown bit of plant acrobatics in Costa Rica. There, a flower works like a jack-in-the-box to shove its stamens into a hummingbird’s face.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: bees, top posts, weird plants
MORE ABOUT: Ecology, Physics, Plants

Chameleons, Already Dealt Unfair Share of Cool Traits, Also Have Fluorescent Heads

By Elizabeth Preston | January 30, 2018 10:00 am

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Maybe their moms told them nobody likes a showoff. That would explain why many species of chameleon are hiding fluorescent bone bumps on their heads that scientists only just discovered. Chameleons also have independently moving eyeballs, superlative tongues and sophisticated color-changing skills. The animals might use their glowing head bumps as signals to each other. These patterns of dots are invisible to a human eye, but may light up deep blue to the eye of another chameleon in a shaded forest. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Animals, Evolution, Physics

Crawling Robot Baby Bravely Explores Carpet Gunk

By Elizabeth Preston | January 18, 2018 8:43 am

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To find out just how your relaxed vacuuming schedule is affecting your baby’s airway, researchers built a slightly frightening robotic infant.

This legless, metallic baby crawled across five wool rugs from real people’s homes in Finland. (The grounded aluminum tape covering the robot helped to minimize static during its 25 crawling sessions of 20 minutes each.) Researchers had asked the people sharing their rugs not to vacuum for two weeks beforehand. As the robot crawled, advanced instruments measured what was in the dust it stirred up. Specifically, what biological tidbits—bacteria, fungi, pollen grains—would a real baby breathe in? Read More

Like to Hold Your Baby on Your Left? So Do Walruses

By Elizabeth Preston | January 12, 2018 1:19 pm

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Human moms prefer to hold their babies on their left sides. Although this does make it easier for right-handed parents to feed themselves and do other necessary tasks, scientists think the true explanation is deeper. Now, a study of walruses and bats has shown that mothers and babies in these species also cuddle on the left—even when the baby is the one choosing the side. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Animals, Evolution

Twelve Months, Eight Arms, Three Butts

By Elizabeth Preston | December 29, 2017 11:11 am


It’s the end of the year and we’re still swimming! So Inkfish is taking a moment to reflect on 2017 and enumerate some noteworthy posts. Don’t worry—it won’t take long, since octopuses can only count to eight.

Most unexpectedly popular post: Read More

MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ocean

Dead Squid Moms Are a Gift to the Ocean Floor

By Elizabeth Preston | December 22, 2017 11:29 am

Image captured from a video camera mounted on underwater remotely operated vehicle DocRicketts on dive number 344. The original MBARI video tape number is D0344-02HD. This image is from timecode 01:18:55:10 and time Sun Feb 26 14:51:02 2012 GMT. The recorded edited location and environmental measurements at time of capture are Lat= 24.409134 Lon= -109.883450 Depth= 1252.64 m Temp= 3.537 C Sal= 34.575 PSU Oxy= 1.915 ml/l Xmiss= 86.75%. The Video Annotation and Reference system concept: associations for this image is 'Gonatidae: identity-reference 3, life-stage dead, image-quality good'.

Animals living on the ocean floor, where it’s too dark for anything to grow, have to wait for food to fall on them. Mostly this means they eat “marine snow,” a steady drift of tiny life forms and detritus from the ocean’s surface. But robotic expeditions off the coast of Mexico have revealed what might be another major dining option on the ocean floor: dead squid moms.

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Poison Frog’s Homing Skills Baffle Scientists

By Elizabeth Preston | December 11, 2017 11:26 am

frog fanny pack

When researchers deposited the little fanny-pack-wearing amphibians deep in the jungle, they were already planning a rescue mission. The poison frogs were disoriented, half a mile from home, and in dense underbrush they’d never seen before. Yet, impossibly, the frogs turned themselves in the right direction. They hopped straight back to their home turf. And the results would no doubt teach scientists something about animal navigation—if they had any idea how the frogs pulled it off. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: brains, navigation, top posts


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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