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Your Brain Hums While Idling

Your brain is 100% occupied when watching and concentrating on things, and still processing at 80% in the dark when idle, say researchers at University of Rochester.  Opening your eyes only adds 20% more brain activity to the 80% while in neutral.  The amount of neural processing going on in idle mode surprised the researchers.  […]

Your Eyes Have Automatic Light Meters

Every pupil knows that pupils constrict in bright light and dilate in dim light, but how?  Physiologists had assumed the retina signalled the iris muscles, but now it appears there is an independent mechanism in the iris itself, at least in birds, and probably in mammals, too.  A report in EurekAlert summarizes a finding from […]

Submarine Engineers Admire Penguins

An ocean engineer from MIT, Franz Hover, says “we never miss marveling at them,” speaking of penguins.  In the cover story of Science News,1 the submarine designer elaborates: Under the power and guidance of its versatile flippers, a penguin can move through the water faster than 10 miles per hour, turn almost instantaneously, and leap […]

Genes Fail to Reveal Evolutionary Pattern in European Mammals

One would think an examination of DNA from fossils would track the animal’s geographical distribution as they evolved.  However, a study reported in PNAS1 failed to find any correlation in European mammals after the last glaciation.  Hofreiter et al. report: Here, we analyze mtDNA sequences from cave bears, brown bears, cave hyenas, and Neandertals in […]

Humans Lose Some, Win Some in Animal Olympics

Imagine humans competing in Olympic events with animals.  Astrobiology Magazine predicts we would lose many events, but excel in others: “In most cases of physical competition, the animals beat us at our own games,” says the website’s staff writer, Dr. David Noever. 100 Meter Sprint:  Cheetah wins the gold at 3 seconds.  Silver goes to […]

Hire a Gopher to Rototill Your Land

We may holler at them when they dig up our lawns and gardens, but pocket gophers are an important part of the ecosystem, say Jim Reichman and Eric Seabloom in a UC Santa Barbara press release.  They change the nutrient availability for plants, among many things: They act like little rototillers, loosening and aerating the […]

How Cells Build Hard Parts

You have rocks in your head, and it’s a good thing, or you would die of starvation and imbalance.  Living things have need of inorganic structures for various functions.  Can you name the mineral structures in your body?  The answer is: bone, dentin, enamel and otoliths.  The last three are specific to your head.  Dentin […]

Zoo Monkey Walks Upright

For what it’s worth, there’s a story going around about a macaque in an Israeli zoo started walking on its hind legs after a near-death experience (see MSNBC News and picture).  One news source is calling it a missing link, another claiming the strange behavior is due to brain damage. This calls for a monkey […]

Talk to Your Dog: He’s Listening

Science Now and Nature Science Update both describe a border collie named Rico that can identify 200 objects by name.  The dog exhibits the same “fast-mapping” skill of a three-year-old child learning to associate sounds with objects.  The owner calls out “dinosaur” and the dog picks up the blue dinosaur toy.  He calls “doll” and […]

Hippos Sweat Their Own Sunscreen

You know that reddish fluid on hippo skin that turns brown?  It’s not just funny colored sweat.  Japanese scientists reported in Nature1 that it acts as a sunscreen and an antibiotic.  See also the BBC News report on this finding. 1Saikawa et al., “Pigment chemistry: The red sweat of the hippopotamus,” Nature 429, 363 (27 […]

Humans and Chimps Compared

In case you had an identity crisis last time at the zoo, Current Biology can provide psychoanalysis.  The May 25 issue posted two articles side by side: one, simply entitled “Humans,”1 and the other, “Chimps.”2  Various comparisons are contrasts are drawn, including a few surprising facts, such as this statement: “Based on relative amounts of […]

Whale Flippers Inspire Aeronautical Engineers

Have you seen the bumpy flippers on humpback whales, you know, the species whose males serenade their mates?  Don’t laugh.  Scientists have found that the ungainly flippers actually have superior lift, less drag, and are less susceptible to stalling.  Engineers are imitating the whale flippers for advanced aircraft and helicopter rotors, reports EurekAlert from studies […]

Moose Muzzle: A Nose for News

Curious about the enigmatic nose structure of the moose, two researchers picked up moose roadkill and decided to study those large, comical Bullwinkle faces, reports Nature.1  Lincoln Tim writes, The moose, Alces alces, is a member of the deer family, but its nasal apparatus is unlike that of any of its relatives.  The apparatus overhangs […]

Underground Rodents Have Better Eyes Than Darwin Predicted

European scientists looked into the eyes of African mole-rats, expecting to find retinas that had deteriorated due to disuse in the underground, lightless environment.  What they found were several surprises that “call for a revision of our current views on the visual system of subterranean mammals,” reports a Max Planck Society press release.     […]

Animals Are “Overengineered” for Navigation

Animals outshine us in many ways, but one capability that should humble us is animal navigation.  From spiders to mice, from birds to bees, the ability of animals to find their way around is truly astonishing, and James L. Gould of Princeton has raised our awareness of just how astonishing in a short article in […]
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