While you might be most familiar with “robin’s egg blue”, many species of birds lay blue-colored eggs. Why might this have evolved? Although scientists can’t go back in time to observe the emergence of blue eggs, they can think carefully about which properties might be most different between blue and non-blue eggs… which is what these researchers did. They found that blue eggs absorb just the right amount of light to warm the egg, but not allow it to get too hot. Egg-cellent!
“The vibrant colors of many birds’ eggs, particularly those that are blue to blue-green, are extraordinary in that they are striking traits present in hundreds of species that have nevertheless eluded evolutionary functional explanation. We propose that egg pigmentation mediates a trade-off between two routes by which solar radiation can harm bird embryos: transmittance through the eggshell and overheating through absorbance. Read More
People react very differently to disgusting situations than to other daily life events, and it’s thought that this may have evolved as a way of protecting ourselves from parasites. But such hard-wired responses also have far-reaching effects on modern life. For example, this paper suggests that differences in disgust responses may influence one’s political affiliation and views on gay marriage. Be sure to read the caption for Fig. 1 (left). Gross!
“Disgust has been described as the most primitive and central of emotions. Thus, it is not surprising that it shapes behaviors in a variety of organisms and in a variety of contexts–including homo sapien politics. Read More
Spider sex can be pretty complicated… and kinky. Take wolf spiders, for example. It’s well known that female wolf spiders have a predilection for eating their partners during courtship, a behavior known as sexual cannibalism. Males, in turn, have developed their own tactics to avoid being consumed while still getting it on. This includes offering a “nuptial gift” of a tasty snack–for example, a dead fly or an eggsac from another female. The gift has been thought to help curb the female’s appetite, and/or to function as a physical shield that the male can hide behind. But, the action doesn’t stop there! This study, from 2006, describes a separate behavior adopted by male wolf spiders to avoid sexual cannibalism: playing dead! Known in scientific circles as “thanatosis,” it seems pretty effective for the male wolf spider: 100% of males who played dead were successful at copulating, versus only 58% of those who did not employ thanatosis. And if you are thinking of adding thanatosis to your own courtship ritual, here are some tips on how to go about it:
Females frequently interrupted copulations and could be aggressive towards males while attempting to depart with the gift. In response to interruptions, the male retained hold of the gift with his chelicerae and entered thanatosis (82%, n=28). When the female resumed consumption, the male resumed copulation.
If you need help thinking of a good “nuptial gift” for your own mate, might we suggest an extra large pizza?
“Pre-copulatory sexual cannibalism by females affects male and female reproductive success in profoundly different ways, with the females benefiting from a meal and the male facing the risk of not reproducing at all. Read More
Do you rinse off your fruit before you eat it? Not many animals do, because it requires the capacity to distinguish between foods that do and do not need cleaning, as well as the ability to bring the food to a water source. Here, researchers show that European wild boar in a Swiss zoo have this ability — more specifically, they wash dirty apples (but not clean apples) in a creek before eating them. Only a few other animals, such as monkeys, have been shown to do this. I guess this means my toddler is less fastidious than a pig… at least some pigs.
“Carrying food to water and either dunking or manipulating it before consumption has been observed in various taxa including birds, racoons and primates. Some animals seem to be simply moistening their food. However, true washing aims to remove unpleasant surface substrates such as grit and sand and requires a distinction between items that do and do not need cleaning as well as deliberate transportation of food to a water source. We provide the first evidence for food washing in suids, based on an incidental observation with follow-up experiments on European wild boar (Sus scrofa) kept at Basel Zoo, Switzerland. Read More
Answer: Herring! It’s been known for quite some time that these fish make unusual sounds, but it wasn’t until these scientists captured wild herring and observed them in captivity that they realized these fish produce the sounds by expelling air through their anuses. Herring are more likely to make these “Fast Repetitive Tick Sounds” (abbreviated FRTs… we assume the pun is intended) when other fish are present, suggesting that FRTs are used for social communication. Now if only I could use my farts for communicating anything else besides “Retreat!”
Pacific and Atlantic herring produce burst pulse sounds.
“The commercial importance of Pacific and Atlantic herring (Clupea pallasii and Clupea harengus) has ensured that much of their biology has received attention. However, their sound production remains poorly studied. We describe the sounds made by captive wild-caught herring. Pacific herring produce distinctive bursts of pulses, termed Fast Repetitive Tick (FRT) sounds. Read More
TIL that tiger moths have evolved a clever way to avoid being eaten by their biggest predators, bats. Storing up toxins (cardiac glycosides) from the plants they feed on as larvae make them “highly unpalatable” (read: disgusting). That’s cool in and of itself, but these moths take it a step further. This study shows that the moths use special organs called “tymbals” to broadcast sounds. Tymbals are related to the sound organs of cicadas, but tiger moths use the sounds like other species use bright colors: to warn potential predators to “Stay away, I’m toxic!” Maybe next time, bat!
“Tiger moths (Erebidae: Arctiinae) have experienced intense selective pressure from echolocating, insectivorous bats for over 65 million years. One outcome has been the evolution of acoustic signals that advertise the presence of toxins sequestered from the moths’ larval host plants, i.e. acoustic aposematism. Little is known about the effectiveness of tiger moth anti-bat sounds in their natural environments. We used multiple infrared cameras to reconstruct bat-moth interactions in three-dimensional (3-D) space to examine how functional sound-producing organs called tymbals affect predation of two chemically defended tiger moth species: Pygarctia roseicapitis (Arctiini) and Cisthene martini (Lithosiini). Read More
There are probably as many ideas about what makes for a good marriage as there are, well, marriages. But most of us can agree that on thing usually makes a marriage worse: adultery. But how common is infidelity, and does it matter who in the relationship cheats? These researchers dug through decades of survey results and found that although husbands are three times more likely to cheat, the marriage was equally doomed if either partner got some on the side. So much for “boys will be boys”!
“This study examines several aspects of the association between engaging in extramarital sex and the disruption of one’s marriage. In particular: is there a differential effect on disruption depending on the gender of the perpetrator? Read More
Octopus arms are truly amazing. They can move in all directions, and they are covered in suction cups that stick to virtually every surface they come into contact with. So how do these incredibly adhesive octopus arms avoid getting all tangled up together? The research presented in this paper suggests that octopus suckers do not spontaneously stick to octopus skin (unlike other surfaces) due to a chemical embedded within the skin itself. However, this natural barrier that prevents sticking can apparently be overcome, because living octopi can grab and eat severed octopus arms. In fact, octopi are able to sense their own ex-arms and are less likely to eat those than the arms of other octopi. Which is good, because eating your own arms is completely disgusting. Seriously.
Self-Recognition Mechanism between Skin and Suckers Prevents Octopus Arms from Interfering with Each Other
“Controlling movements of flexible arms is a challenging task for the octopus because of the virtually infinite number of degrees of freedom (DOFs). Octopuses simplify this control by using stereotypical motion patterns that reduce the DOFs, in the control space, to a workable few. Read More
According to these scientists, there’s something different between cats and dogs, and it’s not how much they love their owners! Previously, these authors tracked the nursing behavior of 52 kittens (11 litters) and found that each kitten decides on a favorite nipple within three days of birth. In contrast, they refer to the behavior of nursing puppies as simply “chaos”. Here, they wondered if the nursing behavior of puppies has something to do with domestication. To test this idea, they observed the suckling behaviors of four litters of captive dingos, and the result was… chaos! The scientists suggest that the differences between kitten and puppy nursing behaviors predates domestication. Perhaps they should focus their future efforts on filming nursing behaviors of wild felines… say, nursing cheetah kittens? I’m sure if they put the (super cute) data online, they would have plenty of volunteers to “analyze” it!
“Surprisingly little information is available about the behavior of newborn mammals in the functionally vital context of suckling. We have previously reported notable differences in the pattern of nipple use by kittens of the domestic cat and puppies of the domestic dog. Whereas kittens rapidly develop a “teat order,” with each individual using principally 1 or 2 particular nipples, puppies show no such pattern. Read More
Are there certain words that really get under your skin? If those words are “moist,” “crevice,” “slacks,” or “luggage” then you’re not alone. In fact, People magazine voted “moist” as the “most cringeworthy word” in English and actually made a video of their “sexiest men alive” saying the word. But why is “moist” so objectionable to 10-20% of the population? Is it the sound of the word, or is it the meaning? This author set out to answer that question, and he found that the meaning is the key. People associate “moist” with sexual connotations, which explains the recent rise in aversion to the word. Be sure to check out the table below: it’s not every day we see a scientific paper that includes the words “fuck” and “pussy.”
“Why do people self-report an aversion to words like “moist”? The present studies represent an initial scientific exploration into the phenomenon of word aversion by investigating its prevalence and cause. Results of five experiments indicate that about 10–20% of the population is averse to the word “moist.” This population often speculates that phonological properties of the word are the cause of their displeasure. Read More