Chasmology! The study of yawning! It’s a real thing! There’s even an international conference!

Everybody yawns!


Even human fetuses!


Seeing, reading, or thinking about yawning triggers more yawning in humans (except those of us with schizotypal personality traits). Contagious yawning happens more often when you’re warm and when you breathe through your mouth and most probably is a primal, uncontrollable expression of human empathy.


So it’s no surprise that children don’t yawn contagiously until they’re a few years old.


If you’re out with your Romeo or Juliette and they start to yawn, don’t fret! In people, yawning is triggered by some sex-related agents like oxytocin and androgen, and many males get sexually aroused when they yawn.


And one more thing, to set the record straight: Research shows we DO yawn when we’re bored, we DO yawn because we’re sleepy, and we do NOT yawn because of high CO2 levels or low O2 levels in the blood and brain.


By Roar.

By |December 19th, 2013|Backbones|2 Comments

Guess that Age: It’s a Ringer!



Check our facts:








Devin Cremins is a graphic designer working in the Raleigh, NC area with a love of science and illustration. Visit octopusoddments.com to see more of her work or follow octopusoddments on tumblr.

Also special thanks to Julia Ellis, who really knows her sharks: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10641-006-9116-2.


By |December 4th, 2013|Backbones, No Backbones|2 Comments

Holiday Reruns: Five Conversation Starters for the Thanksgiving Table

Tongue-tied with Uncle Tommy? Sick of Aunt Sally’s prattle? Try some of these BHR-approved conversation starters to get things going this Thanksgiving.

1. “My little heart goes pitter pat just being surrounded by all of you loved ones. Speaking of hearts, did you know smaller animals’ hearts beat faster than larger animals? Well, they do.



2. “It sounds like that investment banking career is really taking off for you, Mike. Oh, me? I just took up omphaloskepsis.”


3. “No, I’m not being creepy about your baby, Janet. I’m expressing a natural evolutionary urge to protect him.”squeezeit_05_03
4. “Oh, look at the moon! It’ll look even smaller tomorrow night. How do I know? I just know.”
5. “It’s natural to share, Jerry. But you gotta work for it. So no, you’re not getting any of my pecan pie.”
Image credits: 1. Neil McCoy, 2. Julia Rice. 3. Jaime Van Wart 4. Christina Wang 5. Chris Trlica
By |November 26th, 2013|Backbones, Bugs, Other Science|1 Comment

We Got the Beat

Metabolism! The stuff our body does to keep us rolling down the road! Powered by our hearts!



Some scientists say all animals have a fixed number of heart beats before we die (955,787,040, to be exact).



While not always true, metabolism (and heart rate) generally correlates with lifespan. Animals with slow beats live longer. Be still, our hearts—or at least slow down!


Check our facts: 


Heart Rate Sources:
The Complete Dinosaur
The Cardio Research Web Project
Electrocardiographic studies of the three-toed sloth, Bradypus variegatus
Squirrel = Super Soldier? WIRED Online
Cheetah Facts

Illustrations by Hoot and Brad Berkner, a master craftsman of multimedia. Check out more of his work at http://www.bradberkner.com/ and follow him on Twitter @bberkner.
By |November 22nd, 2013|Backbones|7 Comments

Vocabulary Friday: Omphaloskepsis

Omphaloskepsis is the act of contemplating one’s own navel.


We should all do it!



Because our belly buttons are packed with life! With an average of 67 different types of bacteria living in each one of our belly buttons, each one of us has a unique microbial fingerprint.



That’s omphaloskepsis for you. Time to look on down and start omphaloskepsisizing (not a real word) about the personal jungle you carry with you.




Check our facts!

1. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/324/5931/1190.short




Julia Rice is 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 |November 8th, 2013|Backbones, Other Science|5 Comments

We’re Going to Squeeze It

According to Neal Singer’s awesome book “The Wonders of Nuclear Fusion,”


That’s what we thought was happening inside us when we saw baby otters…


…or animal best friends…


. . . or anything to do with red pandas or sloths.


Then we found out that, whether from a need to protect or happy overload, cuteness arouses aggressive responses in people.


Check our facts!





Jaime Van Wart is a graphic designer and illustrator based in Raleigh, North Carolina. She works full-time as a User Experience Designer with IBM and freelances part-time under the studio name Ketchup and Mustard. See her work here and follow her on Twitter @saucebomb.

By |November 6th, 2013|Backbones|2 Comments

Saving Face: Putting a Dead Head Back Together




BuzzHootRoar_SavingFace_FNL4_05Check our facts:

1. Restorative Arts and Sciences 

2. Daniel at Shumate–Faulk Funeral Home

3. http://archfaci.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=480245

4. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/com/108/3/233/


Meg O’Brien is designer—graphic and otherwise—living in the Pacific Northwest. She received a BFA in Graphic Design from the North Carolina State University College of Design. She is always seeking new ways and new skills to make herself a better designer and global citizen, and is particularly interested in pattern, distilling information visually, and the preservation of craft. Follow her @MegofBrien.

By |October 30th, 2013|Backbones|2 Comments

Get Moving! How to Navigate the Great Migrate.

Ancient civilizations couldn’t figure out how animals came and went with the seasons. They came up with all kinds of stories


But the truth behind navigation turned out to be way better than anything they could have imagined. Bobolinks take an annual trip of more than 12,000 miles. Monarch butterflies bat their wings for up to 6,000 miles.


With no GPS, how are they doing it? Lots of animals get their major move on using these three tools:

1. Sun compass


2. Stars. Most migrating songbirds travel by night. They learn constellation patterns and orient to those patterns. Light pollution throws a monkey wrench in their plans.


3. Magnetic fields.



Check our facts!

K. Able, Gathering of Angels: Migrating Birds and Their Ecology. Comstock Publishing, 2003.

W. Hamilton, III, The Auk. Vol. 79, No. 2 (April 1962), pp. 208-233.

O. Taylor, Monarch Butterfly: Top Ten Facts. April 2009.

W. M. Hamner, P.P. Hamner, S.W. Strand, Sun-compass Migration by Aurelia aurita: Population Retention and Reproduction in Saanich Inlet, British Columbia. June 1994, Volume 199, Issue 3, pp. 347-356.

All About Birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Poot, H., B. J. Ens, H. de Vries, M. A. H. Donners, M. R. Wernand, and J. M. Marquenie. 2008. Green light for nocturnally migrating birds. Ecology and Society 13(2): 47.

W. Wiltschko, U. Munro, H. Ford, R. Wiltschko, Aviation Orientation: […]

By |October 17th, 2013|Backbones, Bugs|2 Comments