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So far Hoot has created 63 blog entries.

The Usual Suspects

Most entomologists have received a phone call along the lines of, “YOU WON’T BELIEVE THIS CRAZY BUG.” These calls often feature the same few species, and entomologists usually can make a quick tentative ID of the “usual suspects.” Here are some of eastern North America’s repeat offenders:

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Unlike their periodical cousins, adult dog day cicadas turn up each summer. Males sing to females using membranes called tymbals.1 The resulting sound, resembling a shaking metal sheet, is produced when the males flex their muscles, buckling the tymbals.

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This spider has been wrongly accused! The golden garden spider is often found on the sides of homes. Females are large and vibrant, while males are small and drably colored.2 The female’s bold, aposematic coloring may be frightening, but she’s unlikely to bite. If found inside, try gently moving her outdoors to safety.3

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These voracious predators are aquatic and often become disoriented by porch lights as they’re flying to new habitats. To move this bug to safety, use a safe transport technique3; this species (and its close relatives) can deliver a painful defensive bite when stressed.4

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House centipedes are native to the Mediterranean but have spread globally with humans.5, 6 They have 30 legs (one pair per body segment) and often turn up in basements, where they prey on smaller invertebrates.7

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Often […]

By |April 13th, 2016|Uncategorized|6 Comments

Doodles from a Meeting

At Buzz Hoot Roar, we’re always telling you about what researchers are doing. This year, we let the researchers speak for themselves. At this spring’s Entomological Society of America’s SEB meeting, researchers made their own sciart about their work and wrote about it in classic BHR (brief!) style. Read on for four of our favorites.

Also, special thanks to Matt Bertone (@Bertonemyia) for this great idea. To learn more about the North American Coastal Plain’s new biodiversity hot spot, check out Matt’s American Scientist work here.

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Annie Rich, University of Georgia

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Hannah Burrack, North Carolina State University

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Chelsea Standish, University of Tennessee

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Nancy Hinkle, University of Georgia

By |March 31st, 2016|No Backbones|1 Comment

Taxonomy Pun Contest Winners!

Your entries are in, and the judges have spoken! After poring over the puniest selection of taxonomy one-liners ever emailed, Facebooked, and tweeted our way, our celebrity judges selected their five favorites.

With heartfelt thanks to our readers and with the utmost appreciation for taxonomists past and present, we’ll post one winner a day leading up to Taxonomist Appreciation Day.

And now, our first 2016 pun contest winner:

 

 

Pun by Emily Dangremond, @Docta_Danger. Illustration by Buzz, @verdantrobin.

And our second winner:

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Pun and illustration by Jen Burgess (@jenburgessart), a freelance science illustrator based in Vancouver, Canada. In addition to her formal education in science and fine art, she is a trained naturalist and interpretive guide and is passionate about science communication and environmental education. In her free time, Jen can be found hiking with her dog, making soup, or sitting down to a cup of tea. Check out more of her work at jenburgessart.com and fb.com/jenburgessart.

And our third winner:

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Pun by @phishdoc, illlustration by Roar, @verdanteleanor.

And our fourth winner:

bhr_puns_16_vegaPun by @brianwolven. Illo by Belinda Vega, an Austin based Illustrator strongly inspired by old cartoons and creepy stuff. The result: crazy, cute bugs!

And our fifth winner:

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Pun by Dr. Jeffrey A. Stein, @SFEL_Stein. Illustration by Christin Hardy, Buzz Hoot Roar artist in residence.

Meet our celebrity judges!

Dr. Bryan Lessard is a postdoctoral fellow and taxonomist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. […]

By |March 15th, 2016|Contests|0 Comments

Attention! Attention! Taxonomy Contest!

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In honor of our great appreciation for those who love to order, classify, categorize, group, arrange, grade and rank (and just in time for Taxonomist Appreciation Day), Buzz Hoot Roar is proud to announce its third annual pun contest.

Check out one of last year’s winners:

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Pun by Natalie Sopinka (@phishdoc). Illustration by Christin Hardy (@c_hristin).

Here’s how it works:

1. Tweet us your best taxonomy-related pun by Wednesday, March 9.

2. Our celebrity judges will select five favorites.

3. Winners will receive: their puns illustrated on Buzz Hoot Roar’s blog, a set of printed greeting cards to share with the taxonomists in their lives, and a BHR super-soft T-shirt.

Let the witticisms begin!

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By |March 2nd, 2016|Contests, Other Science|0 Comments

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

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