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.


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.


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.”


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.


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

Elephants ATTACK!

Asian elephants kill, on average, nearly 400 people across India each year.1, 2

Migrating around Asia, they scarf down and stomp on people’s crops, smash their homes, and drink their liquor.


In all, elephants snarfle down the crops of at least 500,000 families in India each year (each elephant eats about 440 pounds of vegetation per day).1


The big meanies.

Except . . .

People kill elephants right on back. In addition to the more than 100 Asian elephant retaliatory killings each year, at least




are electrocuted on fences,






die from diseases like anthrax and trypanosomiasis they contract from human-owned cattle, and at least






are killed by trains (over 100 total elephants have died from trains). 2


Nobody knows how many more elephants die from getting trapped in human-dug drainage ditches, poaching, direct habitat loss, and more, so let’s not count those.

So . . .

Taking the largest estimate of total Asian elephant population today3 and the CIA’s estimate of the total population of Bhutan4 and India5, let’s compare the damage.

Elephants are 12,422 times more likely to die at the hands of humans than humans are to die from elephant-related causes.


And while humans have encroached on 80 percent of elephant-inhabited forests, elephants have damaged less than one millionth of one percent of Indian farmland. bHR_15


Maybe we’re the jerks.


Or maybe it’s a complicated problem. One that we can help fix.

By |July 9th, 2014|Backbones|0 Comments

How Many Does It Take?

Here at Buzz Hoot Roar, we love how humans measure everything and hand out superlatives. Today, we see how many of the biggest, longest, or tallest animals in their class (or order or family!) it would take stacked end-to-end to reach the top of some of our favorite landmarks. (It’s probably pretty important to know how many of the largest known bacteria it would take to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower.)

How many of the tallest dinosaur versus the biggest bacteria does it take to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower?



…and how many of the longest jellyfish versus the longest tapeworm does it take to stretch to the top of the Grand Canyon?



…and how many of the biggest mammal versus the tallest bird does it take to reach the top of the Statue of Liberty?



…and how many of the tallest marsupial and biggest ant does it take to reach the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa?



…and how many of the tallest land mammal and longest snake does it take to stretch to the tip of the Great Sphinx?



Meet our Contenders!

BHR-how-many-1-dinosaur-v2 BHR-how-many-1-giraffe-v2 BHR-how-many-1-ostrich-v2 BHR-how-many-1-snake-v2 BHR-how-many-1-tapeworm-v2 BHR-how-many-1-ant

By |July 2nd, 2014|artist in residence, Backbones, Bugs, No Backbones|4 Comments

Hey, Hot Stuff!

hotstuff_v2-01 hotstuff_v2-02 hotstuff_v2-03 hotstuff_v2-04 hotstuff_v2-05 hotstuff_v2-06 hotstuff_v2-07

Check our facts!

1. http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/11/3/371.short

2. http://www.pnas.org/content/105/33/11808.short

3. http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/11473305/reload=0;jsessionid=IuKpuL7FE1NYrfBJnY2u.18


By Roar, illustrated by Hoot.

By |June 25th, 2014|Backbones, No Backbones|0 Comments

What’s the difference?

When it comes to some animals, it can be hard to say at first glance exactly what makes one group different from another. Besides, someone always breaks the rules (We’re talking to YOU, Mrs. Macaque!). That said, here’s a quick-and-easy guide to help you tell the general differences between some often-confused animal doppelgangers.

What’s the difference between . . .

a frog and a toad?


an ape and a monkey?


a turtle and a tortoise?


a wasp and a bee?


a dragonfly and a damselfly?


an ant and a termite?


an alligator and a crocodile?


Written by Roar, drawn by Christine Fleming.

Check our facts:

1. Frogs vs. Toads

2. Monkey vs. Ape

3. Turtle vs. Tortoise

4. Bee vs. Wasp

5. Dragonfly vs. Damselfly

6. Termites vs. Ants

7. Alligator vs. Crocodile


Christine Fleming is an illustrator whose work tends to have a whimsical feel with organic lines, delicate textures, and hidden details. She is currently writing and illustrating her first children’s book. You can see more of her work on her website, and follow her @might_could.

By |May 21st, 2014|Backbones, Bugs|13 Comments

Poop Transplants

For the estimated 3 percent of people who have Clostridium difficile bacteria living in their guts, it’s usually no big deal. C. diff. just sort of hang out, kept in check by all their other bacteria gut-mates.


But sometimes the balance of power gets messed up. Whether it’s because of old age, illness, or antibiotics, those “good” bacteria get killed off, and C. diff begins taking over—leading to diarrhea, fever, and even death.


Traditional antibiotics often don’t work against C. diff. But know what does work? Poop transplants.03_Atteberry

Putting someone else’s poop in one’s body brings in reinforcements for the good bacteria, which whip C. diff back under control. (And the transplant is administered through a tube in your nose. Really!)


How well do these transfers work? In one study, 15 out of 16 patients who got a poop transplant recovered from their C. diff symptoms—while only four out of 13 patients on antibiotics got over their C. diff symptoms.


Want to avoid getting C. diff? Wash your hands. It makes it less likely that C. diff spores will hitch a ride into your mouth (and later—to your gut).




Check our facts!

Gould C.V., McDonald L.C. Bench-to-bedside review: Clostridium difficile colitis. Crit. Care. 2008; 12(1), 203. (DOI: 10.1186/cc6207)

Els van Nood, M.D., Anne Vrieze, M.D., Max Nieuwdorp, M.D., Ph.D., Susana Fuentes, Ph.D., Erwin G. Zoetendal, Ph.D., Willem M. de Vos, Ph.D., Caroline E. Visser, […]

By |April 23rd, 2014|Backbones, No Backbones|2 Comments

Animals in Spaaaaaaace


Editor’s note:

While we commend these brave creatures on their orbital journeys and appreciate the valuable job they do for us humans, we’d like to point out that many other animals went into space before and after them. Animals like monkeys, apes, dogs, mice, cats, goldfish, and chimpanzees. Some returned fine, and others suffered extreme conditions. Outer space is littered with the corpses of more than half a century of our investigations. Here’s a brief summary of some of our unfortunate animals: http://science.howstuffworks.com/dead-animals-in-space.htm, and you can read more about them online.

View/download Animals in Spaaaaaaace in poster form (PDF) 

Drawn by Hoot, written by Roar.

Check our facts!

1 http://archive.rubicon-foundation.org/xmlui/handle/123456789/9288

2 http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/fruit_fly/#.UyMX1oVPJS4

3 http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/ast.2005.5.690

4 http://jeb.biologists.org/content/209/16/3209.short

5 http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/9-12/features/F_Animals_in_Space_9-12.html

6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12528722?dopt=Abstract

7 http://www.nsbri.org/EDUCATION-and-TRAINING/Teaching-Resources/Middle-School/Butterflies-in-Space/

8 http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition22/butterflies.html

9 http://jeb.biologists.org/content/212/24/4033.full

10 http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0064793

11 http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/786.html

12 http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/world-s-first-spidernaut-lands-smithsonian

13 http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/space_spiders_live.html


By |April 16th, 2014|Backbones, Bugs|4 Comments

Gluteal Crease: Where the Butt Crack Begins

Gluteal crease! The top part of your butt crack!


A great place to live, if you’re bacteria. Thanks to your g.c.’s warm, “moist” environment, a bouquet of biota feels right at home. Humidity-loving microbes like Staphylococcus and Corynebacteria  delight in hanging out in there (and other warm, moist areas like inside your belly button and in your toe cracks).



There, they scarf down your sweat, and in the process generate what scientists call “butt funk.”1,2


As an aside, plastic surgeons want you to know the “most attractive” gluteal crease is a v-shaped one.3 In case you were looking for something else to dress up.



Check Our Facts!

  1. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/324/5931/1190.short
  2. http://www.nature.com/nrmicro/journal/v9/n4/abs/nrmicro2537.html
  3. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00266-004-3114-6

Written by Roar, art by Hoot and Roar.

Special thanks to Dr. Holly Menninger, who always keeps her eyes peeled for good gluteal crease information. You can follow her on Twitter @drholly.

By |April 2nd, 2014|Backbones, Vocabulary Friday|1 Comment

Frogs in Pants Finally Explain Sex

For centuries, people believed that maggots and fungi magically sprung from inanimate objects out of thin air. Spontaneous generation! How babies happened was also shrouded in myth, and by the mid-1600s, people had yet to figure out that, in humans, barely visible eggs and microscopic sperm were part of the process. Turns out, all it took was a pair of frog pants to get the ball rolling in the right direction.








A happy day for science: frogs in pants, the first empirical demonstration of barrier contraception, and spontaneous generation went the way of the powdered wig.


Katie L. Burke is an ecologist-turned-science-journalist, who writes about all things biology. Currently an editor at American Scientist, she also blogs at The UnderStory (www.the-understory.com). Follow her on Twitter: @_klburke.

Bethann Garramon Merkle believes science and sustainability matter—her passion is communicating why. Tap into her capacity to help you blend word craft and images by visiting www.commnatural.com or connect with her onFacebook and Twitter.

Image Attributions 1.PG 1 Scientists: Original illustration utilizing source image of Anton van Leeuwenhoek from the Library of Congress (http://www.answers.com/topic/anton-van-leeuwenhoek) and source image from Wikimedia Commons for Lazzaro Spallanzani (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Lazzaro_Spallanzani). 2.PG 2 Frog in pants: Original illustration utilizing multiple sources.3.PG 3 Frogs mating: Original illustration based on source image from Peter Chen, available through GNU General Public License (http://bio1151b.nicerweb.net/Locked/media/ch46/). 4. PG 4 Tadpoles: Original illustration based on source image from Geoffrey Gallice, available through Creative Commons license (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dejeuxx/6407253419/) 5. PG 5 Eggs: Original illustration; source is artist’s photograph.

By |March 26th, 2014|Backbones|16 Comments

Squirrel Chat: No Longer an Elitist Pastime

Eastern gray squirrels can live up to 12 years in the wild, so why not befriend your favorite little nut stasher? Yes, it may be intimidating at first. With their luxurious tails and constant incoherent chatter, hanging out with squirrels can seem like hanging out with a bunch of drunk debutantes. Lucky for us, in 1959 a guy named Arnold Bakken decoded their language1 so we can finally have a meaningful conversation with them (or at least get the treetop gossip).


Check our facts!

Bakken, A (1959) Behaviour of gray squirrels. Proceedings of the South Eastern Association of Game and Fish Commissioners 13, 393-406.


Heather Copley is a Clinical Social Worker whose hobbies happen to include: science, storing up food for the winter like our squirrel friends, and writing hilarious llama jokes.

By |March 19th, 2014|Backbones|3 Comments