JEB in the News



How fire ant architects connect to build balls

Fire ants are an infamous pest in the US, but for David Hu they are the prefect example of self assembling objects that form structures such as rafts, towers and spheres. Hu and his team from the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, have discovered how the ants self assemble by forming complex networks of connections between their limbs and, aligning their bodies perpendicularly and pushing against each other with their limbs.

National Geographic     TIME     Scientific American     LA Times    




Parasitic fig wasps bore with zinc tipped drill bits

Parasitic fig wasps have to bore into tough unripe fruit with their slender ovipositors to lay their eggs, but how do they penetrate hard figs? Laksminath Kundanati and Namrata Gundiah from the Indian Institute of Science have discovered that the insects are equipped with a zinc tipped drill bit to bore through the woody fruit.

ScienceNOW     National Geographic     Popular Mechanics     BBC News Online    



New fluid fats fuel frozen flies

When goldenrod gall flies embark on their winter hibernation, they freeze sold and have only the fats that they carry on board to sustain them. However, scientists from Western University, Canada, have discovered that the insects produce a new and extremely novel low calorie fat that remains fluid at the super cold temperatures experienced by the larvae to sustain them through to spring.

Quirks and Quarks                   



Elephant seals’ carbon monoxide levels are as high as heavy human smokers’

Carbon monoxide is a silent killer, but now scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, have discovered that elephant seals have natural blood carbon monoxide levels that are as high as those of heavy human smokers. The scientists suggest that these unexpectedly high carbon monoxide levels could help to protect the animals from injuries caused by diving.

Science News     Scientific American     Science Alert Australia         



Manmade artificial shark skin boosts swimming

People have thought for decades that the rough skin of sharks may give them a swimming boost and now scientists from Harvard University, USA, have made the first ever realistic simulated shark skin. They also measured that the fish’s sharp scales boost swimming by up to 6.6% while reducing the energy cost.

BBC News Online     Chemistry World     livescience.com     Huffington Post    



Stag beetle males give nasty nips despite massive jaws

Stag beetles are equipped with a ferocious pair of mandibles used for battling other males, but the massive jaws should not be able to bite hard because of their length. Jana Goyens, Joris Dirckx and Peter Aerts from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, investigated the beetle’s bite force and discovered that the males’ bite is six times harder than the female’s bite because they have enlarged heads and mandible muscles.

BBC News Online     De Standaard     Science NOW     de Redactie.be    



UFO cross-section gives snakes a lift

Snakes aren’t usually renowned for their ability to fly, but Chrysopelea snakes from southeast Asia regularly launch themselves from trees into the air gliding for 10s of metres before touch down. In a bid to understand how these animals remain airborne, Jake Socha and colleagues from Virginia Tech and Purdue University made a model of the snake’s unusual body shape and measured the forces created by the animals to discover how they glide.

BBC News Online     Quirks and Quarks     Reuters     NY Times    



Camera-carrying falcons reveal mystery of raptor pursuit

Raptors are the masters of the aerial dogfight. Intercepting prey on the wing, falcons lock their victims in their gaze before engaging in battle. Intrigued by the raptor’s attack strategy, Suzanne Amador Kane recruited falconers from around the planet to mount spy cameras on their birds and discovered that falcons head off their prey by flying so that the target appears stationary in the falcon’s visual field.

The Guardian     Scientific American     New Scientist     Quirks and Quarks    



All the better to see you with: Snakes alter blood flow dynamics to aid vision

Snakes don't have eyelids, instead they have 'spectacles', transparent skin that covers the eye and Kevin van Doorn, working in Jacob Sivak's lab at the University of Waterloo, Canada, has discovered that coachwhip snakes alter the blood flow in the transparent eye covering to optimize their vision.

BBC News Online     NY Times     Toronto News FIX         



No fuel required, albatrosses fly for free

Gottfried Sachs and colleagues from the Technische Universität München, Germany, have discovered that albatrosses have adopted a nifty manoeuver to hitch a free ride on the wind during their 15,200 km long odysseys.

National Geographic     The Independent              



Rules of attraction: Catching a peahen's eye

It's not always easy attracting a female mate and peacocks have resorted to colorful displays to catch a peahen's eye. But what is a peahen looking at in a potential suitor? In a collaborative project between the University of California Davis and Duke University, USA, Jessica Yorzinski finds out using an eye-tracking technique that it's the bottom edge of a peacocks train that catches a peahen's attention most

BBC News     WIRED     New Scientist     LA Times    



Some like it hot: The role of heat in sea lampreys' sex lives

How do you attract a mate? Male sea lampreys resort to an intricate dance to lure in females where they rub a small bump -- rope tissue -- on their backs onto the underbelly of the female. But what does this bump do? Yu-Wen Chung-Davidson from Michigan State University, USA, found out it's actually a heat generating tissue. So hotness is attractive!

BBC Nature     LiveScience     Science          



'Seeing' and communication: Electric fish style

Weakly electric fish are intriguing animals. They perceive their environment and communicate through a sense that we can barely imagine: They "feel" self-generated electric fields. Ever since the discovery, scientists have been fascinated by this ability and in a collection of review articles compiled by Rudiger Krahe and Eric Fortune, The Journal of Experimental Biology brings together all of the most recent and intriguing breakthroughs in our understanding of these exotic animals.

Süd Deutsche     Voice of America              



Blind tadpoles get the gift of sight

What if you could see from the back of your head? For some blind tadpoles this became a reality when Douglas Blackiston and Michael Levin from Tufts University, USA transplanted donor eyes onto their backs. Using donor eyes expressing fluorescent proteins the duo showed that functioning eyes didn’t need to connect directly with the optical nerve – connecting through the spine was sufficient.

Science     The Boston Globe     Discovery News     National Geographic    



Nemo helps anemone partner breath by fanning with his fins

Nestled amongst the tentacles of their anemone sanctuary, clownfish have reached an amicable arrangement with their deadly hosts. But what does the anemone get in return? Joe Szczebak and colleagues from Auburn University, USA, have discovered that the helpful fish increase the flow of water through their anemone-haven at night improving the anemone’s oxygen supply when it is scarce

The Economist     BBC Nature      WIRED     Ed Yong    



Disappearing homing pigeon mystery solved

Homing pigeons are remarkable navigators. Although they are able to find their loft from almost any location, they do get lost occasionally. The reason why had been a mystery until Jon Hagstrum wondered if the birds use the loft’s infrasound signature as a homing beacon to get their bearings. He discovered that the atmosphere misdirected the loft’s infrasound signal on days when pigeons were lost, preventing them from finding the correct bearing home

Science     National Geographic     The Economist         



Painful feelings in crabs

We’ve all experienced pain at some point in our lives, but whether crustaceans – such as crabs or lobsters – also experience pain was unknown. Robert Elwood and Barry Magee from Queen’s University Belfast, Ireland, decided to find out. They devised a test to see whether crabs would be prepared to give up a valuable resource to avoid feeling pain and found that the crustaceans do.

Huffington Post     Belfast Telegraph     Le Figaro     Smithsonian     



Fighting shaped human hands

We’re all used to the idea that humans evolved their distinctive hand proportions for enhanced dexterity, but now David Carrier and Michael Morgan from the University of Utah, USA, have come up with an alternative theory: that human hands evolved for combat. The duo provide evidence that the long thumb that wraps across the fingers in a fist packs the curled digits tightly together to make a compact club for use in combat.

The Economist     BBC News Online              



Tactile croc jaws more sensitive than human fingertips

Crocodile bodies are peppered in thousands of minute pigmented bumps, which are restricted to the head of alligators. Although some of the bumps were proposed to respond to ripples in water, no one knew what the rest were for or how sensitive they are until Duncan Leitch and Ken Catania from Vanderbilt University, USA took a closer look. The duo discovered that the bumps are exquisitely touch sensitive: even more sensitive than human fingertips.

Scientific American     National Geographic     BBC News Online     Ed Yong    



Soft-shelled turtles urinate through mouth

Turtles spend most of their lives in water, but why do these air breathing animals immerse their heads in puddles for hours at a time when their watery homes dry up? Y. K. Ip and colleagues from the National University of Singapore have discovered that the animals have to rinse their mouths with water in order to excrete urea: the animals are effectively urinating through their mouths.

The Economist     Scientific American     BBC Nature News     Huffington Post    



Hummingbirds make flying backward look easy

Animals that move backwards usually require a lot of energy, so Nir Sapir from the University of California Berkeley, USA, was surprised when he realised that hummingbirds execute this manoeuvre routinely. Wondering how hummingbirds perform the feat, he analysed their flight and the amount of oxygen they consume and found that reversing is much cheaper than hovering flight and no more costly than flying forward.

BBC Nature News     the Epoch Times     Discover Magazine     Spiegel    



Chocolate makes snails smarter

Chocolate isn’t usually on the diet for snails, but when Lee Fruson and Ken Lukowiak from the University of Calgary, became curious about the effects of diet on memory, they decided to try a flavonoid from chocolate, ( )epicatechin (epi) on the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis to see if it improved the animals’ memories. After a dose of epi, the pond snails were able to remember a training protocol for longer and the memories were stronger.

LA Times     the Daily Mail     CBC's Quirks and Quarks     Le Monde    



Bright life on the ocean bed: predators may even colour code food

Bioluminescence is a common feature of life in the open ocean, but what about on the ocean bed? Scientists from the USA have made the perilous 700m descent off the Bahamas’ coast and discovered that the ocean bed is awash with flashes of light. Also, the animals down there have impressive colour vision, which is perfectly tuned to the dim conditions. The team suggests that these creatures may even colour code their food.

BBC News     Smithsonian.com     Le Monde     Wissenschaft aktuell    



Vampire jumping spiders identify victims by their antennae

Ravenous Evarcha culicivora jumping spiders – vampire spiders – have very specific tastes: they prefer to dine on blood engorged female Anopheles mosquitoes. So how do they pick out female Anopheles from all other insects? Ximena Nelson and colleagues from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, have discovered that the spiders identify their victims by their antennae alone, even though the details of the antennae are too tiny to be seen by humans.

BBC News Online     Ed Yong     Scientific American     Huffington Post    



Runner’s high motivated the evolution of exercise

Runners often extol the virtues of the runner’s high, but now a team of researchers lead by David Raichlen from the University of Arizona, USA, suggest that the runner’s high could have evolved to motivate us to exercise as part of our early long-distance nomadic lifestyle.

Huffington Post     Scientific American     Gizmodo Australia         



False killer whales use acoustic squint to target prey

Toothed whales and dolphins are remarkable accurate hunters, considering that they locate prey using echolocation alone, so how do they pull this off? Laura Kloepper and colleagues from the University of Hawaii, USA, tested the echolocation skills of a false killer whale called Kina and discovered that she focuses her echolocation beam on targets, effectively ‘squinting’ to locate far off objects or objects that are hard to differentiate.

BBC News Online     MSNBC     National Geographic         



How the zebra got its stripes

Horseflies are unpleasant insects that deliver powerful bites and now it seems that zebras evolved their stripes to avoid attracting the unpleasant pests. Gábor Horváth from Eötvös University, Hungary, and Susanne Åkesson from Lund University, Sweden, show that zebras have the least attractive hides for horseflies.

National Geographic     BBC News Online     The Economist     Science    



Amazing skin gives sharks a push

Shark skin has long been known to improve the fish’s swimming performance by reducing drag, but now George Lauder and Johannes Oeffner from Harvard University show that in addition, the skin generates thrust, giving the fish an extra boost. The duo also discovered that Speedo’s shark skin-inspired Fastskin® FS II fabric surface does not improve swimming speed, although they point out that the figure hugging costumes probably enhance performance in other ways.

Science News     Huffington Post     Toronto Star     LiveScience    



Pregnancy is a drag

Every mum knows pregnancy is a drag, but how much harder is it for pregnant dolphins pulling themselves through water? This is the question that puzzled Shawn Noren from the University of California Santa Cruz. Filming and analysing the movements of pregnant dolphins before and after delivery, Noren discovered that pregnant dolphins experience 51% more drag than after delivery and even change swimming style (gait) to overcome the inconvenience of swimming with a bump.

NY Times     BBC News Online              



Rudolph the red nosed reindeer’s cooling strategy revealed

Usain Bolt wouldn’t sprint 100m in a fur coat, but that is what winter reindeer do when they run, so how do they loose heat under their insulation? Arnoldus Blix, Lars Walløe and Lars Folkow from Norway analysed the blood flow in reindeers’ heads and found that the animals initially pant through the nose, then pant with their tongues out like dogs before activating a heat exchanger to cool their brains at dangerously high temperatures.

New York Times     BBC Nature     Daily Mail (UK)     Sueddeutsche.de    



Aggressive piranhas bark to say buzz off

Piranhas are best known for their bite, but did you know they bark too? Sandie Millot, Pierre Vandewalle and Eric Parmentier from the University of Liège knew that piranhas could produce at least one sound, but they didn’t know when and why the fish become vocal. Filming and recording sounds produced by piranhas competing for food, they found that the fearsome fish have a repertoire of three sounds to threaten competitors.

     BBC News Online     The Guardian     The Huffington Post    



Boastful koalas bellow about size

Koalas are usually slothful until the mating season when they begin bellowing. Intrigued by the marsupial’s strange sound, Benjamin Charlton and colleagues decided to find out what messages the koalas’ bellows may send and discovered that they are boasting about their size. The largest koalas produce deeper resonances than smaller males, and even the smallest males produce resonances that make them sound larger than a bison, which are 100 times their size.

BBC News Online     Australian Broadcasting Corporation     Brisbane Times     The Telegraph    



Colugos glide to save time, not energy

Everyone has always assumed that animals glide to save energy, but when Greg Byrnes, Andrew Spence and colleagues from the University of California attached acclerometer/radio transmitter back packs to colugos in the Singapore rainforest, they discovered that colugos use 1.5 times more energy gliding than they use scampering over the same distance. Instead of saving energy, the animals saved time, which they could use for foraging.

Nature     BBC Nature     Discover Magazine     Scientific American    



The diving bell and the water spider: how spiders breathe under water

Water spiders spend their entire lives under water, only venturing to the surface to replenish their diving bell air supply. Yet no one knew how long the spiders could remain submerged until Roger Seymour and Stefan Hetz measured the bubble’s oxygen level. They found that the diving bell behaves like a gill sucking oxygen from the water and the spiders only need to dash to the surface once a day to supplement their air supply.

BBC News Online     New Scientist     ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corp)     New York Times    



Seals sense shapes through wakes using their whiskers

Seals whiskers are remarkably sensitive. They can even pick up a fish’s trail up to 35 seconds after it passed. Now a team of scientists at the University of Rostock, Germany have discovered that seals can tell differently shaped objects apart by sensing the objects’ wake structures with their whiskers. This ability could help seals to identify prey before investing in a costly pursuit.

The Economist     BBC News Online     The New York Times         



44 year old mystery of how fleas jump solved

Fleas are incredible jumpers and in 1967 scientists discovered that the insect powers the leap with energy stored in a spring. However, their movies weren’t sharp enough to show how the insect pushes off. 44 years after the debate began, scientists from the University of Cambridge have resolved the mystery with high-speed movies showing that fleas push off with their tarsus rather than the trochanter.

New York Times     NPR's Morning Edition     Discovery Channel     BBC World Service's Science in Action    



Blue whales gulp almost half a million calories in one mouthful

How much can a blue whale eat in a single mouthful and how much energy do they burn while foraging? These are the questions that Bob Shadwick from the University of British Columbia, Canada, and his colleagues have asked and discovered that blue whales can swallow almost 2,000,000kJ (almost 480,000kcalories) in a single mouthful of krill, and eat 90 times as much energy as they burn during a dive.

BBC     The Toronto Star     CBS     Terra