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Bearded Wonders

Hipsters of the animal world, these creatures’ beards boast form and function.

Harvester ants, the original bearded ladies, have long goatees (called psammophores) they use for scooping up otherwise slippery sand and seeds. Their lovely chin locks can increase their carrying capacity up to 200 percent.

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Male goats, purveyors of the first goatees, urinate on their beards to appear sexier to hot-to-trot females.

male_goatWalruses. No, they don’t want to sell you any Quaker Oats or diabetes supplies. Walruses just want to use their mustaches (made of hairs called vibrissae) to snarfle around the ocean floor, looking for mussels and clams to eat.

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Although they don’t look bearded, Geoffroyi’s marmosets use their Chairman Mao-like hairdos to let the ladies know they are the sexiest game in town. It works for the marmoset, but did it work for Mao?

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Bearded dragons not only use their beards to signal sexiness but also for psychological warfare. Flashing the extra face shows that they could fight if they wanted to.

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By Roar and David Eichenberger.

David Eichenberger is an illustrator/muralist from Raleigh, North Carolina.  He currently works at the Autism Society of North Carolina as an art specialist. You can see his most current projects on his Instagram feed, @troubleberger or follow him on twitter at @dmeichenberger. His website is davideichenberger.carbonmade.com

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By |January 28th, 2015|Backbones|0 Comments

The secret extra animals in your food

Yes, you CAN have your peanut butter and some roaches, too! In the United States, it’s legal to get served a little extra protein in your PB&J. Even vegetarians get a little extra meat, whether they want it or not.

Here are some of the FDA’s regulations regarding acceptable levels of insect parts in food. Most of these regulations were made for “aesthetic” purposes only:

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Peanut butter: You can have up to 30 insect parts or 1 rodent hair per 100 grams.

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Chocolate: If you want that Hershey bar, go for it, and get yourself up to 60 insect fragments or a big, fat rodent hair in every 100 grams.

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Canned fruit juice: Have yourself a nice glass of orange juice—with up to one maggot for FREE!

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Cornmeal: If you want to go whole-hog, may we suggest some cornmeal? You can get up to one whole insect per 50 grams and up to 1 piece of rodent doo doo per 50 grams (on average) and be juuuust fine. Tamales and hushpuppies for everyone!

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Fish: Because we like oozy things, we’d love to see the stuff we’re allowed to eat on fish. With red fish and ocean perch, we can have copepods “accompanied by pus pockets,” and for blue fin and other freshwater herring, we can have up to 60 parasitic cysts per 100 fish.

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Hops: How about a beer? With an average of more than 2,500 aphids allowed […]

By |December 17th, 2014|Backbones, Bugs, No Backbones, Other Science|2 Comments

Lessons from the Schoolyard: Why Do Dogs Hump?

Sometimes you just need a good hump. If you’re a dog. We’re talking about dogs here. Why do dogs hump even when they’re not gettin’ it on? Check out the top five reasons:

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1. Play date!

By six weeks old, male and female puppies already start with those sexy pelvic thrusts as a normal, healthy part of play. Later in life, it could help dogs get attention from their buddies. Most research shows that mounting in play is one way that dogs win friends and influence doggies. It’s like saying, “Let’s be friends. Like me! Like me!” Keep this in mind for the playground, kids!

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2. Arousal and excitement

Fist pump? How about air hump? Sometimes dogs get excited about going in the car or playing at the park. Dogs. Get. Excited. Like cheering when your team scores a touchdown, a hump here or there could easily pop out during times of excitement.

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3. Nervous nancies

For dogs, mounting is a well-known displacement behavior, associated with emotional conflict or anxiety. If a new person or dog drops by the house, a nervous Nancy could quickly become a nervous humper.

Buzzhootroar_4_10nov144. Like a massage, but different

Some kids suck their thumbs to calm down; dogs don’t have thumbs, so some may get in the habit of mounting, say, a pillow, while winding down for the night. Who are you to judge?

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5. Who’s the boss?

Many folks think dog mounting is about dominance. Why not? It looks and feels all “dominance-y.” […]

By |December 3rd, 2014|Backbones|6 Comments

A Good Nose Isn’t That Hard to Find

Ever since the dawn of time — give or take a few millennia — humans and dogs have been best buds. People liked dogs, with their scary barks and teeth when needed. And their great noses. Dogs thought, “Why not, as long as they feed and pet us?”
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Ever since the dawn of technology, researchers have gazed past the dog’s eager eyes and sensitive nose and thought, “Meh. I can build something better than that!” The race was on for a “biomimetic olfactory microsystem” to replace the dog.
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Mash-ups of mechanisms and organisms abounded. An army lab rigged a tube with a wire that blood-loving bugs would dance on and signal if they smelled the enemy.  The cone-nosed bugs lacked judgment.
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Plants take less maintenance than dogs. What about a super fern that would turn white if it detected a bomb? Sure enough. A transgenic plant could detect TNT. It took the torpid topiary between 24 and 48 hours to turn pale.

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The Germans figured the turkey vulture, with perhaps the most advanced smell of any raptor, could replace the earthbound dog.
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Sherlock didn’t like to fly when he was searching. He waddled like a duck. He would bolt and hide.
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Reconsider the humble dog. The one researchers looked at and said, “Sorry, I’m just not that into you.” More fun than a machine and usually less expensive. Check. Can signal the presence […]

By |November 12th, 2014|artist in residence, Backbones|3 Comments

Happy Halloween! Lesser-Known Vampires of the Animal World

Forget Dracula—these Nosferatus of the animal world would make our blood curdle if they didn’t seem so impossible.

Vampire finch: Somehow, the thought of adorable birds hanging around drinking blood is just about the eeriest thing ever. The sharp-beaked ground finch in the Galapagos has the annoying and creepy habit of pecking at other birds until they bleed and then sipping their blood.

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Vampire bats: Yes, yes. We all know about these sharp-teethed exsanguinators. But did we know that if the vampire bat Desmodus rotundus goes for two nights without a blood meal, it will starve to death? They need to consume at least 50 percent of their body weight in blood each night and will vomit blood into their less-fed friends’ mouths to keep them alive. We’ll keep company with fruit bats instead, thank you.

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Vampire squirrels: Okay, this is local legend, but folks say the little-understood Bornean tufted ground squirrel (Rheithrosciurus macrotis), known to us as Mr. Bushytail Deluxe, attacks larger animals, severs their jugulars, and scarfs down their innards. Go get ‘em, Bushytail Deluxe!

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Vampire spiders: The vampire spider (Evarcha culicivora) wants to drink your blood—but only if it’s in the belly of a mosquito. The small East African jumping spider looks for blood-fed mosquitoes to slurp down as its favorite meal.

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Dracula ants: Hmmm. What would make a delicious and nutritious meal for a hungry ant queen? How about her own children’s blood? When dracula ant (in the genus […]

By |October 29th, 2014|Backbones, Bugs|2 Comments

It’s Our Birthday!

This time last year, we were just opening our wee little eyes to the Great World of Blogging. In honor of our birthday, we’d like to share with you this totally unscientific list of our top 3 favorite, mostly official baby animal names. Do you have any more favorites?

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Also in honor of our birthday, we printed limited-edition BHR squirrel talk T-shirts. They’re green! They’re for sale! And, if you’re interested in drawing for us for a super-soft T-shirt with a squirrel on it, now’s your chance! Email us and let us know!

Special thanks to Matt Shipman and Julia Ellis, who give great birthday presents.

Illlustrated by Julia Rice, an educator, designer and artist based in Raleigh, North Carolina. She develops and directs design education programs for young people at the Design Lab at the College of Design at NC State University, has a master’s in art therapy and counseling, and likes to tell funny stories. Whether she’s making things or making things happen, you can see what she’s up to at http://thedotank.tumblr.com/. Follow her on Twitter @IamTheDoTank

By |October 8th, 2014|Backbones, Bugs|1 Comment

The Horrors of Your Backyard: Squirrel Warbles

It’s that time of year again. Time when squirrels come lumbering up to our windows minding their own business with their bellies looking like Quasi Modo had a baby with the Elephant Man.

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Our squirrels have warbles.

In parts of the United States, about one in four squirrels has warbles.

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Here’s what warbles are:
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Here’s what they really are:
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Check our facts!
By roar.
By |September 24th, 2014|Backbones, Bugs|4 Comments

Dinosaurs Wore Party Hats!

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Little-known fact: Some dinosaurs wore hats.* And one group of duck-billed dinosaur had the best hats of all.

This hat (henceforth, we’ll call it a crest, for scientific accuracy) was not just any fancy accoutrement. Not at all. This crest contained the dinosaur’s nasal passages. That’s right; the dinosaurs breathed through a hollow crest on their head.

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As an example, let’s take a look at the Parasaurolophus, who had the longest nasal passages of any animal ever, except for a large wooly mammoth.
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Here’s how air makes its way from nose to lungs:

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That is over four meters from nostril to lung.

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Different shapes, colors, sizes and lengths of nasal passages: Why the variety?
 
These crests form the basis of communication.


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*Not real hats, of course. Through evolution, the bones of their face extended, shrank and otherwise rearranged so a totally awesome crest grew on top of their heads.

By Terry “Bucky” Gates, a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and NC State University. He spends his time researching a wide variety of topics but one of his favorites is the crazy crests and spikes on dinosaurs and other animals. Follow him on Twitter, @terryagates, LinkedIn, and his series of Cretaceous Cold Case blogs.

Illustrated by Talcott Starr (@talcotts), […]

By |September 17th, 2014|Backbones|0 Comments

Stop with the Death Metal! You’re Not a Woodpecker!

Okay, people. No matter how much they’re shreddin’ it onstage, we know head banging is bad for us. But whether it’s from contact sports, car accidents, or clumsiness, head injury diagnoses seem to be on the rise (at least in the U.S.).

Woodbanger_1In addition to a killer skull shape that protects their brains, woodpeckers have beaks to beat the beat. These birds can slam their skulls into trees with an impact of about 1000g (that’s 1,000 times the force of gravity). Plus, some species hammer away for HOURS at a rate of up to 300 beats per second.

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Here’s what they have going on that we need:

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When it comes to cutting-edge, built-in safety measures, our heads just haven’t kept up. That’s why we say, until you expand your ribs and fix your eyeballs in place and develop a cushiony middleskull: Popping a wheelie? Pop on a helmet.

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Written by Roar. Illustrated by Joshua Röpke from Austin, TX, who draws and does lettering with pens and sometimes brushes. He especially enjoys nature, DIY electronics, and succinct third-person synopses. For more birds and junk, check out:  www.jropke.com

Special thanks to Jordan Lite, who knows about head banging.

Check our facts!

N. Lee et al. Hierarchical multiscale structure-property relationships of the red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpescarolinus) beak. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Published May 7, 2014. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2014.0274. http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/11/96/20140274#

S-H. Yoon and S. Park. A mechanical analysis of woodpecker drumming and its application to shock-absorbing systems.Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. Vol. 6, […]

By |August 20th, 2014|Backbones|3 Comments

Pronking: The Happy Dance That Should Kill You (But Doesn’t)

Lambs do it, alpacas do it, even gazelles do it: pronking. Also known as stotting, that joyous all-four-hooves-in-the-air leap can be one of the happiest ways to signal a hoofin’ good time. Their spines are even built for it.

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But pronking’s for more than just fun and games. When danger strikes, hooved animals will do a yipes-like pronk high in the air.

Does this make sense? If you’re being chased by someone, it would seem to make more sense to put your energy into forward motion than just pogo up and down in the same spot while Mr. and Mrs. Sharpteeth come nipping at your heels. Still, pronkers get chased less often, and when they are chased, they’re captured less often than those who just turn tail and flat-out run.

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Here’s the thing: It takes a lot of energy to pronk. Get up and try it! It doesn’t take many boing boing boings to see that the best pronkers need to be in tip-top shape. Pronking is an example of honest signaling, which means good pronkers are saying, “You can try to catch me, but I’m in such good physical condition I’ll probably outrun you. See? I have all this energy that I can jump up and down here and don’t even need to run from you yet.”

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And the predators say, “Oh. Ok. Thanks for the head’s up. I won’t waste my time. I’ll eat Mr. Slowpoke over here.”And then they do. And the meanest pronkers pronk for joy.

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By |July 16th, 2014|artist in residence, Backbones|4 Comments