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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

Collective Intelligence

Within ant colonies, nobody’s in charge. There’s no central control. No one, not even the queen, gives orders in the colony. The queen can:

But she doesn’t give orders for the other ants to follow. Instead, each ant walks around in her own world and operates on feedback from her environment.

These individual actions result in a collective intelligence, where the seemingly uninformed interactions of individuals can add up to a group dynamic that shapes the world.

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Ants aren’t alone with their collective intelligence. Individual decisions are how:

Our choices in the buffet line, our electing of leaders and even our internet search results all represent the presence of collective intelligence at work.

It’s easy to squash an ant. Pretty easy to catch a fish or knock down a bird. But to wipe out the insect society? Capture the school or flock? Smash our culture? Each individual choice, that ant reacting to the smell of a chocolate chip cookie, makes a world of difference.

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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. […]

By |June 17th, 2015|Backbones, Bugs|1 Comment

Spider book update: Help us pick our species!

We’re writing a spider book!

Chris Buddle and Roar will soon present a happy volume packed with eight-legged greatness.

Each chapter will highlight a common species: a plain language and scientific overview of the biology and natural history of common spider species of North America. That’s a big task, because of the hundreds of potential candidate species, we’ll only highlight a dozen or so of the most common.

We need your help: Many of you provided valuable feedback on your favorite spidey friends, and we have already spoken to loads of Arachnologists, but we want to know what’s on everybody’s minds (spiderly speaking). See our chapter candidates and let us know if we missed a North American species SO INCREDIBLE IT MUST BE INCLUDED!

Here are the species we are proposing as “main chapters”:

Argiope aurantia (garden spider, or writing spider)

Oxyopes salticus (the striped lynx spider)


Neoscona sp. (orb-weavers)

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Misumena vatia (goldenrod crab spider)spiders_page1_1
Dolomedes sp. (fishing or dock spiders)
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Salticus scenicus (zebra jumper)
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Parasteatoda tepidariorum (American house spider)
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Latrodectus sp. (widow spiders)
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Pardosa sp. (thin-legged wolf spiders)
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Cheiracanthum sp. (ceiling spiders)

Agelenopsis sp. (funnel-web spiders)
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By |June 4th, 2015|Backbones, News, Spiders|15 Comments

Nest building — it’s not just for the birds!

Like their fine feathered friends, fishes build nests too. Check out these fish who nest with the best of them!

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Hoping to attract the ladies, male cichlid (Lamprologus callipterus) industriously hoard empty snail shells in Africa’s Lake Tanganyika. Bigger is better, as females prefer to release their eggs in large shells collected by large males.

 

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Three-spined sticklebacks males spend hours moving around mouthfuls of sand and collecting mouthfuls of algae. Sticky mucus (complete with an antibacterial protein called spiggin) secreted from the males’ kidneys glues together the gathered algae to form hobbit hole-like nests—sometimes, sticklebacks with an eye for design add a red accent at the nest’s entrance to catch a female’s attention.
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Bluehead chub do some heavy lifting of their own, moving thousands of rocks to nest-building sites in freshwater streams. As the rocks start to pile up, females take notice and deposit their eggs into the safety of the rocky mounds. Chub nests are popular places—more than 30 other species of fishes also spawn in their boulder homes!

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Perhaps most elegant and artistic of all fish nests is that of a pufferfish from the Tetraodontidae family. These meter-wide underwater crop circles are crafted by a single male no larger than your hand. Days of vigorous tail shimmying, pectoral fin flipping, and an eye for symmetry produces a sandy castle fit for a fish queen.

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Written by Natalie Sopinka and illustrated by Bethann Garramon Merkle.

Natalie Sopinka recently finished her PhD at the University of British Columbia studying what happens to salmon babies when their mom is stressed out. […]

By |February 25th, 2015|Backbones|6 Comments

Sinister Sniffles: Animals with Malevolent Mucus

Welcome to winter’s icy dread: Everywhere we look, people are miserably shuffling about, constantly sniffing back a runny nose. While the sneezing soul crammed next to you on the bus might seem adversarial toward your good health, the world is full of critters that have truly weaponized their gooey secretions. This winter, we’re jealous of these four:

1. Hagfish: These primitive, worm-like fish, with their scaleless bodies and poor eyesight, seem like easy prey for predatory fish.

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But hagfish, when threatened, release a thick slime from glands running along their sides.

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This slime quickly expands in seawater to several gallons’ worth of slippery, translucent grossness. The booger cloud clogs the gills of attackers, promptly persuading them to cough out their hagfish meal.

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2. Boxfish: When harassed, these little reef fish excrete a soapy mucus from their skin, which disperses widely into the water.

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It is loaded with pahutoxin, a potent, lethal poison that targets enemies’ gills, destroying red blood cells.

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Aquarium-residing boxfish, hours after a chance poisonous release, are commonly discovered as a lone, oblivious survivor surrounded by scores of dead tankmates.

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3. Velvet worms: These weird, plushy invertebrates are slow, but they capture their food in an amazing fashion.

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Velvet worms have two glands near their mouths that can […]

By |February 11th, 2015|Backbones, Bugs, No Backbones|2 Comments