Male Flies Do More Harm Than Good in Seeking ‘Hot’ Mates
We all know the “It” girl – the one woman every man wants, no matter how much money or status he has to gain to get her. “It” girls often develop a repertoire of skills to dissuade and even repel their many suitors. Apparently, female fruit flies need to get some of these skills, too.
In the case of some fly species, the male harassment of the hot female flies is not an evolutionary advantage. The superior genes in the females are what causes male attention, but this behavior ultimately puts Drosophilia serrata at evolutionary disadvantage.
Experimenters observed the flies over 13 generations, allowing groups to adapt to a new environment. They found through careful study, and by manipulating the potential number of mates for females, that too much attractiveness backfired.
When the experiment was finished, researchers sequenced the genomes of all flies and compared those harassed to the non-harassed. When the male attention was allowed to occur at high rates and without intervention, the offspring were increasingly less adaptive over generations.
Associate professor Steve Chenoweth at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences noted that the results clearly showed a lack of adaptive ability in species where harassment of attractive females was common.
The Stuff That Rat Dreams Are Made Of
Researchers know that rats dream, and even what they dream about. But do the rats themselves experience their dreams? One researcher says, “you’d have to ask them.”
The new research on rats involved electrodes strapped to the heads of rats as they wandered around trying to find food. The experiments set up a chamber filled with foods that the rats could see, but not get to.
After monitoring waking activity in the search for a meal, the observers then attached electrodes during rat sleep. When they awoke, and were allowed to get at the food.
The data from all three phases (searching, sleeping, and finding) showed that two activities – dreaming and going toward the available food – were the most alike.
Lead researcher Hugo Spiers, a professor of experimental psychology at University College London, explained the conclusions. “During exploration, mammals rapidly form a map of the environment in their hippocampus,” “During sleep or rest, the hippocampus replays journeys through this map which may help strengthen the memory.”
The replay of images is considered to be the stuff of dreams, but there is no way to confirm whether the rats remember this information. It’s the brains way of helping mammals solve pressing problems.
Space Mice Launched Where No Man Has Gone Before
Conditions in space look quiet and peaceful, but the lack of gravity takes a toll on human bodies. With ambitious plans to man a mission to Mars, the effects of time in deep space need to be further explored before human explorers leave the earth.
Enter space mice, creatures on a mission. They’ve been (involuntarily) working to help humans understand how long-term exposure to space conditions, with a seminal experiment of 91 days aboard the International Space Station.
Six astromice were housed there and the results of their mission produced fascinating data about the threats to human for prolonged space travel. These included anemia, skin thinning, osteoporosis, and muscle wasting. Immune and heart function were also studied.
Dermal atrophy is a concern based on some data from humans. The main result from the mice trials showed significant reproductive organ decline, with mice losing almost all sperm due to degeneration of testicles.
Microgravity conditions have similar effects on mice and humans, and more tests are underway.
SpaceX, a private company launched by Elon Musk, has sent 20 mice into space to live for a month, while being monitored for physical responses to microgravity. They will be housed in a state-of-the-art NASA habitat.
Caterpillar Feud Behind Some Spicy Plants
Strong flavors from plant life range from mustard seed to the sharp, bitter taste of kale, and they came about as a result an evolutionary “arms race” between butterflies and certain plants.
To survive and reproduce, a species of plants called Brassicales (which includes cabbage) produced a chemical defense to repel the hungry caterpillar – and the chemical is what provides us with a variety of bitter and spicy flavors.
Brassicales developed compounds called glucosinolates over millions of years.
“Seeing the variation in the detoxification mechanisms among species and their gene copies gave us important evolutionary insights,” said Hanna Heidel-Fischer, one of the lead authors, who worked on the study at the Max Plank Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany.
The team was able to examine genetic differences from nine Brassicales genomes across 14 families, enabling them to create a detailed map of the “family tree” of this species evolution. The map pointed the way to where changes in defense mechanisms occurred. In parallel, scientists examined the evolutionary “family tree” of several species of butterflies.
Comparisons between evolutionary benchmarks for Brassicales and butterflies revealed three significant evolutionary signposts over 80 million years, showing where plants developed chemical defenses and butterflies responded with adaptations and counter defenses.
Sahara-Dwelling Ants Have Secret Heat Shield
The silver ant stands out as it marches across the desert sands, appearing as a flash of metal. They are only able to make forays outside their burrows lasting for ten minutes at a time in the midday heat, but that is enough to survive in this harsh environment.
Scientists have long wondered how this creature can withstand temperatures beyond 150 degrees, and thrive. Recent research shows that it’s the ants coating of hairs that protect its body from both sun and heat.
Nature’s engineering has created a system of tubular hairs with a triangular shape, the bottom or flat part of the triangle facing down against the ant’s body. Between that flat bottom is an air pocket.
The hairs have two functions that work to protect the creature from overheating. Their triangular shape and color are anti-reflective, reducing the penetration of sunlight and therefore heat into the body. At the same time, the hairs grow straight up but run parallel to the surface of the ants’ bodies, with an important air pocket that allows for cooling. The two features work together in efficient combination.
The study’s conclusions have been published in the journal Science. The researchers are now on the path to copying this amazing system to create a “metasurface” that could withstand very high temperatures.
Gross But Absolutely Necessary Truths About Fruit Flies: Prevention And Cure
Don’t you just love the sights and smells that spring and summer bring? All that colorful foliage, all that sweet-smelling air, the sound of waves crashing on the beach, the presence of sun-tanned skin and fresh, fresh fruits once more. But with the abundance of fresh produce pouring back into the market, the gross reality of fruit flies also follow; and that’s something you probably, like most other decent homeowners, don’t love.
Getting rid of fruit flies once they’ve already entered your home and are feasting on your fruit bowl is already a sordid, distasteful issue. But get this: you may be unintentionally bringing those pesky creatures into your own home yourself. The fruits you bought may already have been contaminated by their eggs and larvae. And guess what? Even if you wash them off, fruit flies actually thrive and breed effectively in kitchen sink drains
So what to do? Short of calling your best pest control experts for total, effective extermination, this infographic from Fix.com pretty much covers most of the DIY measures you can take.
In a nutshell:
- Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar of food-safe cleaner to a bowl of water and gently scrub your fruits in this concoction. Rinse with cool water after.
- Create either of two traps: roll a piece of paper into a cone and insert it into a jar filled with ½” of fruit juice; use a fork to puncture holes into the plastic wrap and use this to cover a bowl containing ½” of wine or red wine vinegar.
- Fill your sink ⅓ full with hot water and add ¼ scoop of oxygen bleach. Submerge a dishrag into this mixture for 10 to 20 minutes. Use the dishrag the wipe all kitchen surfaces. Let the mixture in the sink stay for a further 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, drain the sink while running hot water. Thoroughly clean the drain and stopper with the dish rag after.
The Ultimate Sacrifice of Motherhood
The velvet spider gets its name from a soft coat of fur covering its body. But this creature is anything but cuddly. Its method of child-rearing is bone chilling, in fact.
The mother spider undergoes a biological process that causes its abdominal tissue to slowly liquefy, so its young can have a promising start with a protein-rich series of meals.
Scientists have known about matriphagy – or maternal suicide in service to offspring – for many years, but a recent study of the velvet spider is the first in-depth look into the mechanics of the phenomenon.
The mother’s body begins its breakdown process before its young have even hatched, through a process of degradation and liquidation of abdominal tissues. The ovaries, however, remain intact to the very last – probably in order to give birth to a second brood if something goes wrong with the first.
“Our work shows that the process [of abdominal tissue degradation] is gradual, possibly in order to allow the female to produce another clutch of eggs in case something goes wrong with the first one,” said Mor Solomon, a study leader from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
After about two weeks, the spider’s babies pierce the mother’s abdominal wall and begin sucking out her innards.
The velvet spider is native to southern European countries and also found in Africa. Theorists believe the extreme behavior is a by-product of surviving harsh desert environments.
New Spidey Skill Revealed
Although they engender fear, spiders are a class of arthropods that are not only helpful to humans, but also possess a host of amazing skills. The latest research shows that, in addition to web-spinning and poison fangs, these eight-legged wonders have another superpower.
They can, using five different techniques, essentially walk on water.
Having a lot of legs helps in this talent, but mostly it’s body posture and water repellent feet that allow arachnids to negotiate puddles and streams. Their first method is sailing, which entails moving the whole abdomen upside down so it juts straight into the air. This way, their main bulk catches the wind and they glide through across waterways.
The second technique takes advantage of spider threads, extruded from the posterior and used to catch the wind. Research has shown that this method can result in traveling nearly 20 miles in one day.
Anchoring also uses silk, but in this approach the spider uses a strand of web to catch onto the surface of the water.
Speed walking is useful because spider’s feet are water repellent, thus they can scurry over short, watery distances.
Lastly, a spider is able to fake death and go into an absolutely frozen state. Their feet allow them to glide across moving water without sinking.
Man Made Bee Transport Also Risky
Bees are being shipped across country like never before. This is particularly true in Idaho, which is near the drought-stricken mecca of agriculture, California. In areas where local bee colonies have died off, it is necessary to truck in bees to do the work.
Large scale, industrialized bee production has pitfalls of its own. Unfortunately, aside from bees killed in highway accidents, shipping them around can spread one of the types of fungus that leads to “colony collapse disorder.”
In Idaho, two separate beehive accidents have occurred in one week. The first, which happened last week, involved 20 million bees, few of which were saved by beekeepers. On Sunday, a second accident in Idaho, this time on Interstate 90 near Coeur D’Alene, destroyed 400 beehives.
Both trucks in the recent accidents were travelling to Midwestern states to carry the honeybees for crop pollination.
Bees are animals that migrate long distances, but much of their migration has also been curtailed due to smaller populations and loss of habitat, specifically the milkweed plant. This means humans have to “help out” by delivering the bees themselves. With so many bees on the road, accidents are an unfortunate reality.
Bugs a Major Source of Inspiration in Robotics
Robotics is a relatively new science, really gaining traction in the early 1980s. Back then, robots shaped like insects were large enough to carry human passengers on their backs. But scientists have made huge strides in recent years, both in reducing the size of robots and equipping them with all the bells and whistles that our silicon-valley age offers.
Despite progress in creating sensors to help navigation and report data, the challenge remains how to move through – and around – obstacles. Insect movements are a perfect template, because most insects spend their lives crawling, climbing, dangling, and scuttling on every imaginable surface.
One design that continues to be improved is the VelociRoach. Recent upgrades have included spines on its legs and a super svelte ovoid shell. The spiny legs give the robot greater traction, while the rounded shell allows for roll-and-tumble maneuvers that allow that roach to slip between barriers.
“What’s so great about nature is, what we’re trying to do with robotics is solve a lot of really hard problems like how to get around, how to walk on difficult terrain, and nature has already solved it,” said Nick Kohut, chief executive of Dash Robotics, a company that produces little robots for home assembly.