Hardcore bee species builds its nest in ash by an active volcano(!)

By Seriously Science | December 1, 2016 1:14 pm
Photo: flickr/Walter Lim

Photo: flickr/Walter Lim

Bees can fly anywhere, so you’d think they’d have their choice of places to live. Well, these ground-nesting bees are so hardcore that they chose to live in the ash next to an active volcano. But why? In this paper, the authors attempt to explain why the bees might pick such a hazardous location, which is exposed to “continuous, strongly acidic gas emissions.” Their conclusion? “Notwithstanding the extreme nature of the site, and the co-occurrence of specialist natural enemies and predators, the possibility exists that the site is selected for its beneficial attributes, such as the loose, well-drained substrate and the absence of vegetation. The converse is that the site is sub-optimal with the population constrained by habitat patchiness and limited dispersal options.” We may never know for sure, but one thing is certain — “Bee Volcano” would be a great horror movie.

Persistent nesting by Anthophora Latreille, 1803 (Hymenoptera: Apidae) bees in ash adjacent to an active volcano

“Ground-nesting bees use a variety of substrates in which to establish cells and complete their reproductive cycles. Here we document the highly aberrant occurrence of a solitary bee species, Anthophora squammulosa Dours, 1870 (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Anthophorini), nesting within meters of an active volcanic crater in Nicaragua, Central America. The nest location is exposed to continuous, strongly acidic gas emissions (>2.7 ppm of SO2), and sporadic vent clearing episodes that blanket the surrounding area with ash and tephra. An assessment of floral resources available within the expected homing distance of the species was cross-referenced with pollen carried by females returning to their nests. At this site, A. squammulosa appears to forage almost exclusively on a single plant, Melanthera nivea (L.) Small, 1903 (Asteraceae), that is adapted to volcanic acidic rain, despite being widely accepted as a generalist bee in the remainder of its range. Notwithstanding the extreme nature of the site, and the co-occurrence of specialist natural enemies and predators, the possibility exists that the site is selected for its beneficial attributes, such as the loose, well-drained substrate and the absence of vegetation. The converse is that the site is sub-optimal with the population constrained by habitat patchiness and limited dispersal options.”

Related content:
Bumblebees detect electric fields with their body hair.
Flashback Friday: Nipple, penis, or nostril — what’s the most painful place to be stung by a bee? (The answer might surprise you.)
Scientists explain the amazing process by which bees make hexagonal honeycombs.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals, WTF?

Flashback Friday: Which sexual fantasies are the most (and least) popular? Science finally weighs in!

By Seriously Science | December 1, 2016 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/grovesa16

Photo: flickr/grovesa16

Sexual fantasies: we all have them, yet many people think they’re in the minority when it comes to their own fantasy of choice. Enter these scientists, who took it upon themselves to catalog the most common sexual fantasies in a population of 1,516 people from Quebec, Canada. Turns out that very few fantasies are truly rare; the rest are primarily ranked as “common”, while a few are so common as to be “typical” (e.g., “receiving oral sex”).  Curious where you rank on the list? See below for the full fantasy tally. 

What Exactly Is an Unusual Sexual Fantasy?

Although several theories and treatment plans use unusual sexual fantasies (SF) as a way to identify deviancy, they seldom describe how the fantasies referred to were determined to be unusual.

The main goal of this study was to determine which SF are rare, unusual, common, or typical from a statistical point of view among a relatively large sample of adults recruited from the general population. A secondary goal was to provide a statistical comparison of the nature and intensity of sexual fantasies for men and women. This study also aims at demonstrating with both quantitative and qualitative analyses that certain fantasies often considered to be unusual are common.
Read More


Scientists finally figure out why whales like to jump out of the water.

By Seriously Science | November 29, 2016 6:00 am

Even if you’ve never gone whale-watching or made it all the way through Moby Dick, you probably know that humpback whales are known for jumping out of the water and slapping the surface with their fins. But why whales engage in these “surface-active behaviors” has long remained a mystery… until now! These scientists watched 94 different groups of whales to discover that loud noises made by jumping and slapping the water may actually play a role in communication between nearby groups of whales. Yet another whale-related mystery solved!

Evidence for the functions of surface-active behaviors in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)

“As part of their social sound repertoire, migrating humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) perform a large variety of surface-active behaviors, such as breaching and repetitive slapping of the pectoral fins and tail flukes; however, little is known about what factors influence these behaviors and what their functions might be. We investigated the potential functions of surface-active behaviors in humpback whale groups by examining the social and environmental contexts in which they occurred. Read More

Sorry parents, study shows you don’t know when your kids are lying.

By Seriously Science | November 22, 2016 3:20 pm
Image: Flickr/tiffany terry

Image: Flickr/tiffany terry

Like all parents, I like to believe I know my daughter better than anyone on earth. But, at least according to this study, that doesn’t mean I know her well enough to tell when she’s lying. Here, researchers filmed groups of children lying or telling the truth, and had various groups of adults judge whether they were fibbing. It turns out that no group of adults, even the children’s parents, were able to do better than they would by random guessing. Kids poker tournament, anyone?

Can parents detect 8- to 16-year-olds’ lies? Parental biases, confidence, and accuracy.

“Honesty is a crucial aspect of a trusting parent-child relationship. Given that close relationships often impair our ability to detect lies and are related to a truth bias, parents may have difficulty with detecting their own children’s lies. The current investigation examined the lie detection abilities (accuracy, biases, and confidence) of three groups of participants: non-parent group (undergraduates), parent-other group (parents who evaluated other peoples’ children’s statements), and parent-own group (parents who evaluated their own children’s statements). Read More

Flashback Friday: Why is sitting by a fire so relaxing? Evolution may hold the key.

By Seriously Science | November 18, 2016 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/aloha75

Photo: flickr/aloha75

When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing quite like sitting by a cozy fire. But why do we find this experience so comforting? According to the author of this study, this relaxation response to fire is actually an evolutionary adaptation. The author argues that early humans who were more prone to relaxation at a campfire would be more likely to “benefit in the social milieu via fireside interactions”, thereby giving them a survival advantage. He then goes on to experimentally demonstrate that sitting by a fire (well, in this case a video of a fire), especially if you can hear that distinctive crackling sound, causes a reduction in subjects’ blood pressure. Although this study doesn’t prove that the fire response is an evolved adaptation (it could also be cultural conditioning, for example), it does show that sitting by the fire really can help you relax. A glass of mulled wine probably wouldn’t hurt either!

Hearth and campfire influences on arterial blood pressure: Defraying the costs of the social brain through fireside relaxation.

“The importance of fire in human evolutionary history is widely acknowledged but the extent not fully explored. Fires involve flickering light, crackling sounds, warmth, and a distinctive smell. For early humans, fire likely extended the day, provided heat, helped with hunting, warded off predators and insects, illuminated dark places, and facilitated cooking. Campfires also may have provided social nexus and relaxation effects that could have enhanced prosocial behavior. According to this hypothesis, calmer, more tolerant people would have benefited in the social milieu via fireside interactions relative to individuals less susceptible to relaxation response. Read More

Scientists discover the fastest bats ever recorded, and they are faster than any bird.

By Seriously Science | November 16, 2016 6:00 am
Image:USFWS/Ann Froschauer

Image:USFWS/Ann Froschauer

When it comes to fast flying animals, our minds naturally turn to the birds. But it turns out that, just like birds, some bats fly quickly while others mosey about. Here, scientists employed planes to track the flights of 7 bats (T. brasiliensis), and came away with a new flight record for speed:

We tracked a total of seven bats, one bat per night, from the air between 8 July and 15 July 2009. For this, one person (M.W.) flew with a Cessna 172 from Garner Field Airport, Uvalde, Texas, towards the Frio Bat Cave while another person (T.H.K.) was stationed at the entrance of Frio Cave to await the nightly emergence of the bats. With the airplane in place, T.H.K. caught one bat with a hand net out of the column of emerging bats. We only tracked post-lactating females weighing 11–12 g. A 0.45 g radio transmitter was attached to the back of the bats using surgical glue (Skin Bond, Canada). Transmitters emitted a continuous signal to allow for the detection of wingbeat frequency as well as the position of the bat [21]. The glue was allowed to dry for a few minutes, and the bat was released back into the column of emerging bats.

Although certain species of birds are very fast (the previous record was 69 miles per hour), these Brazilian bats are faster… a LOT faster. The scientists were able to track individual bats flying at 100 miles an hour (44.5 m/s). Hey, it may not be as fast as Superman, but it’s certainly faster than Batman!

Airplane tracking documents the fastest flight speeds recorded for bats.

“The performance capabilities of flying animals reflect the interplay of biomechanical and physiological constraints and evolutionary innovation. Of the two extant groups of vertebrates that are capable of powered flight, birds are thought to fly more efficiently and faster than bats. Read More

The longer you’re on Reddit, the worse your comments get.

By Seriously Science | November 15, 2016 10:34 am
Photo: flickr/Matt Grommes

Photo: flickr/Matt Grommes

How can you turn your Reddit obsession into a legitimate pastime? Well, one way is to conduct a scientific study! These researchers analyzed more than 55 million Reddit comments, segmented by users’ posting activity during a single “session.” The authors conclude that when a user posts a series of comments in a short period of time, the quality of the comments begins to deteriorate – in other words, they become shorter, less complex, and receive lower ratings. The authors conclude that “future studies are needed to identify the mechanisms leading to observed deterioration, whether through the loss of attention, mental fatigue, or simply the onset of boredom.” Any Reddit users out there up for the challenge of a follow-up study?

Evidence of Online Performance Deterioration in User Sessions on Reddit.

“This article presents evidence of performance deterioration in online user sessions quantified by studying a massive dataset containing over 55 million comments posted on Reddit in April 2015. After segmenting the sessions (i.e., periods of activity without a prolonged break) depending on their intensity (i.e., how many posts users produced during sessions), we observe a general decrease in the quality of comments produced by users over the course of sessions. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: duh, the interwebs

Flashback Friday: What are dogs saying by wagging their tails? The language of left and right wags.

By Seriously Science | November 11, 2016 6:00 am

It has already been shown that dogs wag their tails asymmetrically when presented with different stimuli, and other dogs seem to behave differently when viewing left vs. right wags of robot tails . But do dogs actually have different emotional responses to viewing left vs. right-wagging dogs? To investigate this, several Italian scientists hooked dogs up to heart monitors and showed them movies of other dogs, some wagging to the left, and others wagging to the right. Interestingly, viewing dogs with left-wagging tails induced higher heart rates and more anxiety than viewing right-wagging tails, implying that wagging might be a form of communication not only between dogs and owners, but also between dogs themselves.

Seeing Left- or Right-Asymmetric Tail Wagging Produces Different Emotional Responses in Dogs.

“Left-right asymmetries in behavior associated with asymmetries in the brain are widespread in the animal kingdom, and the hypothesis has been put forward that they may be linked to animals’ social behavior. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals

How many notches on your bedpost make you most attractive? The answer might surprise you.

By Seriously Science | November 10, 2016 11:41 am
Photo: flickr/Wyatt Fisher

Photo: flickr/Wyatt Fisher

Can too much sexual experience make someone unattractive? That’s what these scientists set out to determine using an online survey. They asked men and women whether they’d be willing to get involved in relationships with people who had different numbers of past sexual partners. As you can see from the graph below, when it comes to short-term sexual relationships, men had more tolerance than women for an experienced partner: attractiveness levels drop at around 10 partners for men assessing potential mates, versus around 7 partners for women. However, perhaps surprisingly, the two sexes agreed on the “optimal” number of partners for long-term relationships– about 1-3 makes you the most attractive. 

Sexual History and Present Attractiveness: People Want a Mate With a Bit of a Past, But Not Too Much.

“The aim of this study was to explore how people’s sexual history affects their attractiveness. Using an Internet survey, 188 participants rated their willingness to engage in a relationship with a hypothetical individual with a specified number of past sexual partners, ranging from 0 to 60+. The effect of past partner number was very large. Average willingness ratings initially rose as past partner number rose, but then fell dramatically. For short-term relationships, men were more willing than women to get involved (although the difference was not large). Read More

Koalas hug trees to beat the heat.

By Seriously Science | November 7, 2016 6:00 am
Figure 1: Thermal image of a koala hugging the cool lower limb of a tree, illustrating a posture typically observed during hot weather.

Figure 1: Thermal image of a koala hugging the cool lower limb of a tree, illustrating a posture typically observed during hot weather.

Koalas are well known for their fuzzy ears, cute noses, eucalyptus diet, and of course their penchant for hugging trees. According to these scientists, this behavior does more than just keep the koalas from falling out of the tree. By tracking the position of koalas over many days, they found that on the hottest days, koalas snuggle up on trees with low internal temperatures. They calculate that this behavior significantly reduces the koala’s need to cool off by sweating. How cool is that?

Tree-hugging koalas demonstrate a novel thermoregulatory mechanism for arboreal mammals.

“How climate impacts organisms depends not only on their physiology, but also whether they can buffer themselves against climate variability via their behaviour. One of the way species can withstand hot temperatures is by seeking out cool microclimates, but only if their habitat provides such refugia. Here, we describe a novel thermoregulatory strategy in an arboreal mammal, the koala Phascolarctos cinereus. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals

Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.

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