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When Your Lover Could Just Eat You Up

Spider mating is like two serial killers making out. Sure, they’d like to hook up, but each one is also likely to kill the other. Because male and female spiders both walk around with venom-packed fangs and a penchant for the arthropod buffet, many species have come up with some cool behaviors to form a truce and get busy.

The Hopeless Romantic
To let their girlfriends know they’re available for love and not supper, male Argiope writing spiders strum out a love song on the females’ webs. Responsive females invite their boyfriends in for “coffee” and they go at it. But male writing spiders aren’t taking any chances with paternity.

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Once they mate, they die with their sex organs still clinging inside the female, using their whole bodies as mating plugs that remain there until someone eats them or they fall out.

The Cosby

To let females know they’re into them, Grass spiders, Agelenopsis aperta, flex females’ webs and then sway their abdomens from side to side in a hypnotic spider-love dance. Once females seem down to party, males release “spider roofies,” an airborne chemical that makes females pass out cold.

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The Emotional Abuser

When they’re ready to roll, black widow (Latrodectus) females release a “come and get me” pheromone that draws males from all around. To reduce competition, an early arriving male quickly wraps up some of his potential girlfriend’s web, decreasing her pheromones’ attractiveness to other males.

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The Gigi

Spotted orb weaver (Neoscona crucifera) males find a good thing and take no chances. If one finds a web with an immature female living in it, he’ll […]

By |February 11th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Waterfall-Climbing Fish

If swimming against the flow was a fish-world Olympic event, climbing gigantic waterfalls would be an X-treme sport. 

In tropical island rivers, it’s feast or famine. Yearly rainfall fluctuates between gushing flash floods and desolate patchy pools. You might think such extreme conditions too inhospitable for fish.

Not for the thrill-seeking amphidromous fish! Their adventures start upstream, where adult amphidromous organisms live and reproduce.

On their upriver journey to reproduce, fish often encounter impassable migration barriers, like waterfalls. However, for  amphidromous gobies of the subfamily Sicydiinae, waterfalls are simply a conquerable challenge.

Whereas most fish have a pair of pelvic fins on their underside used for steering and stabilization, gobies (Gobiidae) have a single fused pelvic fin that holds onto rocks, like a suction cup, in turbulent waters. Sicydiinae gobies uniquely use their sucker fins in tandem with their mouths to slowly and methodically climb the faces of massive waterfalls.

Waterfall climbing has its benefits. Not only can these gobies access unoccupied upstream habitats, they can also evade voracious non-climbing predatory amphidromous fish lurking below.

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Written by Patrick Cooney, a certified fisheries scientist who is unable to climb gigantic waterfalls. However, he is a leading expert in sampling and researching waterfall-climbing gobies in Puerto Rico and Hawaii. For his day job, Patrick trains fisheries scientists how to use electricity in water to safely sample fish for scientific purposes, and for fun, he co-founded The Fisheries Blog in 2012 with the purpose of sharing awesomeness about fish.  Patrick is known to media agencies as the guy who spoils […]

By |January 27th, 2016|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Are we human? Or are we microbe?

Microbes. EEK!!!

We spend a lot of time and money on antibacterial products. But despite our desperate scrubbing, we will never be free of microbes.

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In fact, our bodies’ microbial cells outnumber our human cells 10 to one! Which makes you wonder: If you have more microbial cells than human cells, are you human?

Of course! Humans play host to microscopic microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiome, that reside in the small and large intestine.

These microbial symbionts perform vital functions, especially during digestion.

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Many of these genes encode enzymes that digest food, such as CAZymes, which break carbohydrates into compounds that the body can absorb or excrete.
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If the composition of the gut microbiome changes, the body may lose the ability to perform certain functions, which could result in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Even from the deep regions of our intestines, our gut occupants can influence much more than our bowel health.

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Studies report colonization of certain species of bacteria is more likely to be associated with depression and anxiety. Many researchers believe adjusting the composition of the gut microbiome may be a viable treatment for these disorders.

We may be human, but we are run by microbes, no matter how many times we wash our hands.

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Check our facts!

1. Belkaid, Y. and T.W. Hand, Role of the microbiota in immunity and inflammation. Cell, 2014. 157(1): p. 121-41.
2. Cecchini, D.A., et al., Functional metagenomics reveals novel pathways of prebiotic breakdown by human gut bacteria. PLoS One, 2013. 8(9): p. e72766.
3. Forsythe, P., et al., Mood and gut feelings. […]

By |November 18th, 2015|artist in residence, No Backbones, Other Science|1 Comment

Announcing Buzz Hoot Roar’s new Artist in Residence!

We at Buzz Hoot Roar are pleased and proud to announce our newest Artist in Residence! Over the next year, Christin Hardy will use her unique graphic style to explore six science posts. Read on to learn more about Christin, and stay tuned to enjoy her excellent work.

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Who: I’m Christin Hardy, a graphic designer and illustrator living in the city of oaks, Raleigh N.C., and hailing from Seven Springs, a teeny tiny town in rural Eastern North Carolina where the livestock outnumber people.

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I graduated from NC State University with my bachelor’s in graphic design, and after a few odd jobs landed my current job as a graphic designer for the NC Department of Transportation. There, I get to work on projects from all sorts of divisions ranging from aviation and rail to highways and bike/pedestrian. One of my favorite projects was the poster I made for National Train Day in 2014:

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Why: I’ve always loved science and tend to choose extracurricular activities that reflect that, such as volunteering for the Duke Lemur Center (so much fun), working for the entomology lab at NCSU where I counted bee sperm for a summer (not as fun, but cool) and interning at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. (definitely ties with the lemurs).

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So, when I got the email asking if I wanted to be the next artist in residence, I immediately gasped and said “YES!! Of course!!!” While I enjoy my work for the government, Buzz Hoot Roar gives me an outlet where I can […]

By |November 3rd, 2015|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Middle school isn’t so different for animals.

It turns out humans aren’t the only ones with uncomfortable tweens. Animals suffer through their own in-betweener stage. Today on Buzz Hoot Roar, a very talented middle schooler illustrates the ins and outs of animals’ most awkward age.

1. They’re weird looking. Gangly and awkward, pubescent animals have their own pimple-faced, braces-type, please-bury-my-yearbook-photo style. Just take king penguins, moose, cicadas, lions and cardinals, for example.

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2. They start getting fashion advice from their friends. When chimpanzees hit adolescence, they quit getting their mamas to do their hair in favor of a good grooming from friends. This helps form lasting bonds and keeps them from being the kid in class whose mama made his clothes.

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3. Their voices change. Many animals get deeper voices as they get bigger. Red deer (Cervus elaphus) stags start trying to woo with their developing deep tones, but those voice-cracking preteens usually don’t stand a chance.

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4. They start hanging out with their buddies all the time. Instead of hanging at the watering hole with mama, elephants start to hit the mall, or at least pal around with their peers. Together they learn all sorts of things their mamas wouldn’t teach them. It’s the equivalent of a group of boys hiding a Playboy magazine under Billy’s mattress.

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5. They start acting stupid. Youngsters tend to be heedless risk takers. Adolescent mice, for example, often show “unbalanced and extremes-oriented behavior, increased risk taking, […]

By |October 21st, 2015|Backbones|1 Comment

A Win for the Cat

Ah, the classic example of predator versus prey — the cat and mouse. Not only are their stressful encounters played out in cartoons like Tom and Jerry, they’ve also inspired scientists who use cat exposures to stress rodents in the lab.

Finally, it seems as if a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii can give cats the upper hand in this cat-and-mouse game.

 

Mice get infected by ingesting anything contaminated with oocysts (eggs from T. gondii), which can then penetrate the rodent’s nervous system and create cysts within its neurons. These cysts can remain in the mouse for its whole life!

As you can imagine, this does not end well for the mouse, who will likely get devoured by a new cat.

Interestingly, even after T. gondii is cleared from mice, they continue to have no aversion to cats, suggesting a permanent change in their innate behavioural response to cats.

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Written and illustrated by Catherine Lau. Catherine is a graduate student studying science communication at Laurentian University (Canada) with a research background in behavioural neuroscience (MSc). She considers herself an artist/scientist who is trying to merge both art and science together in hopes of better communicating science. Follow her on Twitter: @cat_lauscats

 

By |October 7th, 2015|Backbones, No Backbones|1 Comment

The malodorous mysteries of asparagus pee

Everyone’s pee smells. But you may have noticed it takes on a more pungent, kind of rotten-egg quality after you’ve munched on a few spears of asparagus.

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This smell stems from the aptly named asparagusic acid, a chemical present only in asparagus. In the plant, this chemical is thought to act as a natural pesticide to protect the vegetable’s tender young shoots from attack by predatory parasites.

Curiously enough, some people never even notice.

Scientists have two theories to explain this olfactory antipathy. The first theory suggests that some people simply don’t produce any malodorous molecules when they digest asparagus.

A 2011 study by the Monell Chemical Sciences Center in Philadelphia suggests both possibilities are true.

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The researchers asked 38 men and women to pee in a cup before and after noshing on grilled asparagus. Then they asked the study volunteers to come back for a smell-test of their own samples, as well as samples from the other donors. The study ran into a bit of trouble when several of the recruits dropped out due to “unanticipated aversions to urine.” Still, the researchers were able to gather enough data to show that 8 percent of people couldn’t produce the asparagus odorant and 6 percent of people failed to detect it.

Another study traced the latter olfactory disability to a single genetic change, amid a cluster of genes that code for the proteins that help process and identify smells.

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By Marla Vacek Broadfoot. Illustrated by Jaime Van Wart. 

Marla Vacek Broadfoot is a geneticist-turned science writer. She currently serves […]

By |September 17th, 2015|Backbones|1 Comment

Calling All Clowns

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Clownfish live in groups of two to six, but only the two largest in the group can breed.

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Instead of fighting or kicking out their group members for dominance like wasps, chimps, and many other animals, clownfish patiently wait their turn to the top and call to each other to determine size, as well as to help find each other.

When they’re not sex switching or bubbling out babbles, they’re happily fertilizing their anemone homes with poop.

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By Roar. Illustrated by Christin Hardy.

Christin Hardy grew up in a teeny, tiny place called Seven Springs, North Carolina, where livestock outnumber people. Her father is a farmer and her mother is an artist, so naturally Christin turned out to be an artist who loves nature, infusing it into her work and life. Currently she works for the NCDOT designing posters, banners and brochures, but her heart lies in explaining science through illustrations and graphic design. You can find her on Instagram @c_creature, on Twitter @c_hristin or send her an email at c.creature.881@gmail.com.

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Check our facts!

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v424/n6945/abs/424145a.htmlm

By |September 3rd, 2015|Backbones|0 Comments

The Kama Sutra of the Anglerfish

Fortunately, they live in the dark. Because no matter which way you spin it, deep-sea anglerfish (suborder Ceratioidei) ladies are not easy on the eyes.
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Most notable for their creepy countenance—and that bioluminescent dangle that lures hypnotized prey to their doom—anglerfish also have a crazy level of sexual dimorphism.

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While the females get all the ghastly looking bells and whistles, male anglerfish are tiny and bland, sometimes 60 times smaller than their lovers, with huge nostrils and big, hopeful eyes.

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Yes, they may be an unlikely pair, but deep-sea anglerfish display one of the most romantic love stories—or craziest sex habits—of the animal world. It all depends on how you look at it.

It can be hard to find a mate in the deep, dark ocean. It’s pretty vast down there, and hard to see. So Monsieur Anglerfish uses his gigantic nose to sniff out his lover, and, once he finds her, opens wide and bites his sweetie’s behind (taking the term “clingy boyfriend” to the max). angerfish_sweetlove_03

Eventually, the male’s mouth tissue fuses to his mate and their circulatory systems unite. As long as she lives, he lives, spawning away whenever and wherever. Like that old couple at the end of The Notebook, they eventually die with each other’s last breaths.

The more romantic ladies of some anglerfish species remain one-man women. Others can have as many as eight lovers living off their blood, which takes tender to terrifying. Okay, they could be considered parasites, but we think it’s kind of sweet.

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Check our facts!
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By |July 15th, 2015|Backbones|0 Comments

Your Anti-Shark Attack Handbook

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View/download our Anti-Shark Attack Handbook in poster form (PDF).
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Written by Roar with Katie Mosher (@ncsg_katiem) and NC Sea Grant (@SeaGrantNC). In addition to giving people the skinny on sharks, NC Sea Grant gives research, education, and outreach opportunities relating to issues affecting the North Carolina coast and communities. Whether or not you’re from NC, NC Sea Grant’s site gives you a chance to learn cool stuff. Check it out here.
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Illustrated by Heather Copley. Heather is a Clinical Social Worker whose hobbies happen to include: science, long walks on the beach, drawing technicolor dream sharks, and writing hilarious llama jokes.

By |June 24th, 2015|Backbones, Other Science|1 Comment