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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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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

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

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

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Meet our Contenders!

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

Hey, Hot Stuff!

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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

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By Roar, illustrated by Hoot.

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

When the solution is Indiana Jones’s worst nightmare

We all know Indiana hates snakes, but should he? Here, a couple of snake experts give us three big reasons why when it comes to snakes, the more the better.

1. More snakes = fewer venomous bites.

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Here’s how it works: Non-venomous kingsnakes eat other snakes, like venomous copperheads. Where kingsnake populations drop, copperheads (and therefore perhaps potential for copperhead bites) leap. Keep your kingsnakes, folks!1

2. More snakes = less disease.

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Snakes eat rodents. When that happens, researchers in Oklahoma say that incidence of rodent-borne disease like hantavirus and Lyme disease take a nosedive. They’re slick and smooth disease-weeding machines!

3. More snakes = more food for us.

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While they weed disease, snakes are also scarfing down field pests and stored grain pests like some birds, mice, and rats.2,3,4

Despite these good deeds, Dr. Jones isn’t alone in hatin’ on the slink and sliver. Snakes remain one of humans’ most common phobias, and we may have evolved this fear to keep us safe in the olden days.5 But we’re not in the olden days anymore. We need to know more about snakes, to watch them without trying to kill them, to understand and appreciate their contributions to our backyards.

 

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By Roar and David Steen.

Check our facts!

1 http://www.hljournals.org/doi/abs/10.1655/HERPETOLOGICA-D-13-00064

2 http://www.pnas.org/content/109/7/2418.short

3http://www.researchgate.net/publication/228329113_Do_predators_control_prey_species_abundance_An_experimental_test_with_brown_treesnakes_on_Guam

4 http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/z96-113#.UzrlNVcvmuA

5 http://pss.sagepub.com/content/19/3/284.short

Meet our experts!

Dr. David A. Steen (@AlongsideWild) is a research fellow with the Alabama Natural Heritage Program; his research currently focuses on the conservation and ecology of the Indigo Snake, an animal that was recently reintroduced to the state. David blogs about his work and natural history […]

By |May 7th, 2014|No Backbones|3 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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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).

 

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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

For Love or Supper: Why Critters Light Up

Breaking news: Hundreds of underwater species radiate neon greens, reds and oranges as they shimmy through the ocean’s depths.1 But sea creatures aren’t the only animals at ease in the limelight. Buzz Hoot Roar guest-author Matt Shipman offers a few good reasons why sea and land animals put on the ultimate light show.

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Check our facts!

1 http://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/research-posts/researchers-reveal-covert-world-of-fish-biofluorescence?utm_source=social-media&utm_medium=facebook&utm_term=2014-01-08-wed&utm_campaign=biofluorescence

2 http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00227-005-0085-3

3 http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.ento.53.103106.093346

4 http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/baldwin/webbugs/3005_5006/Docs/firefly%20paper.pdf

Harvey , E.N. and K.P. Stevens. 1928. The brightness of the light of the West Indian elaterid beetle, pyrophorus. J. Gen. Physiol. 12: 269-272.

Nicol, J.A.C. 1978. Bioluminescence and vision, pp. 367-398. In P.J. Herring , Bioluminescence in action. Academic, London.

*Measured at around 143 cd/m2, their luminescence is comparable to the average computer screen, which can range anywhere from 50-300 cd/m2.

Written by Matt Shipman

Matt Shipman (@shiplives) is a public information officer at North Carolina State University and a freelance science writer. He also writes the Communication Breakdown blog, which focuses on science communication. He lives near Raleigh, in a house full of humans.

Illustrated by James Hutson

James Hutson (@jameshutson) is a writer, illustrator and animator.  He is co-director at Bridge8 (www.bridge8.com.au), a foresight and futures agency fostering critical, creative and compassionate thinking through workshops, animations and artefacts.

 

By |April 9th, 2014|Bugs, No Backbones|3 Comments