Science behind the photo #47

Salticidae Spider Depth perception takes on a whole new meaning when you have eight eyes. The spider in the picture belongs to the Salticidae family, which contains over 5000 described species. The Salticidae’s ability to jump is not unique among spiders, but they are set apart from other families by their capability to make precise, […]

Placebo: making evidence-based medicine bad for you

The placebo effect is like a slightly embarrassing trick you play on someone who’s never heard it before. There’s no deception that makes a person look so gullible or so much of a hypochondriac as to bring them back to health with a treatment that does nothing at all. However, although it’s still debated, the […]

Putting Love in a Pill

We can all admit to being, on occasion, slaves to our emotions. But what if we could medically alter and regulate our most basic feelings? Be prescribed a pill to love, an inhaler to feel anger, or a topical lotion for loneliness? Neuroscience is starting to better understand the hard-wiring of our emotions. And one […]

A Sense of Magnetism

The Summer 2012 issue of I, Science took a look at perception, discussing senses and their limitations. However, one sense that was not touched upon was that of magnetism, called ‘magnetoception’. The way magnets attract and repel things, or even levitate them (most notably frogs), gives magnetism the aura of the artificial, or the quality […]

Pooh Sticks

Just a short post today. I came across this video of the strangest animal behaviour I’ve ever witnessed. The bear, named Claude, can be seen twisting and spinning a large stick with more precision and agility than your average sergeant major. Such complex tool use is rarely seen in the animal kingdom naturally, such as […]

Science Behind the Photo #28

This is odd behaviour for a southern tamandua anteater (tamandua tetradactyla).  They’re usually found in trees, not wandering open grassland.  In fact, tamanduas are so badly adapted for living on the ground, they have to walk on the outside of their feet to stop their claws piercing their palms. What’s more, being nocturnal, they’re usually […]

The Dance of the Starlings

This amazing video by Mark Rigler demonstrates the beautiful complexity that exists throughout the natural world. Like a Bach fugue, patterns emerge and fade, interweave, and are exquisitely modified to form an endless variety of beautiful structures. The end result seems too complicated, too ordered, too apparently designed to have appeared by chance. But, like […]

Run Lassie – no not over there! Damn you Lassie!

Scientists can be utter bastards some of the time. Not content with letting us unwashed masses revel in our ignorance, they systematically poke and prod the world around us, looking for answers to questions best left unanswered. The latest casualty of this scientific tirade – my childhood. Specifically, the destruction of my faith in man’s […]

Buzz Off: Are Bees the Answer to the Elephant Wars?

“I studied Zoology.” “Oh right, the study of zoos.” “Not exactly.” Zoology is the study of ANIMALS and it’s one of those science disciplines that rarely gets the reaction that chemistry or physics have come to expect. The response is normally one of confusion – why would anyone want to study something that has no […]

Diversity over ability: how to pick the perfect pub quiz team

‘Swarm intelligence’ refers to how grouping can help solve cognitive problems and a study published in Animal Behaviour this week examined how this works in humans. Most companies work on the assumption that employing the strongest individuals will produce the best team, but theoretical studies have started to question this. One model has predicted that […]

Science Behind the Photo #19

  There can be few species on Earth about which more myths exist than piranhas. Piranhas have an aggressive image as flesh-eaters, able to dilacerate a human body in seconds. While piranhas do occasionally attack humans, this is only usually when water levels are low and there has never been an official recorded death due […]

Science Behind the Photo #14

Earlier this month, researchers from New Zealand announced that they had observed wasps lifting up ants and carrying them away from food. This video footage also shows how the wasps hurl the ants away in their desperate attempts to monopolise the food source.  Although this video was made in a laboratory environment, the ant-dropping behaviour […]

At it like rabbits. Or lions. Or bats.

Something about animals having sex is inherently hilarious. Having done a biology degree, I know quite a lot about the sex lives of various animals – their courting rituals, how often they do it, and how many partners they do it with. That kind of knowledge is pretty important when studying the evolutionary origins of […]

Nurturing Nature

Animal behaviour is a subject that has always fascinated me. At first glance, the actions of animals seems so familiar, obvious to the point of not being noteworthy. They eat when they are hungry, they run when danger is present, and they get down to it when, you know, they want to. What I find […]

Hiding behind nature

Hide and seek goes on just about everywhere. It’s a simple case of looking hard enough. Camouflage allows organisms of all shapes and sizes to remain unnoticed by their predators or prey. Obvious examples include a tiger’s stripes or a leopard’s spots, but let’s take a closer look at some more unusual cases of visual […]

Can animals dream?

Most animals need sleep. Even C. elegans, the nematode worm, has sleep-like states and it is one of the simplest organisms that exists with a nervous system. Sleep comes in many guises, in invertebrates like the cockroach; it can be as simple as folding down your antennae, adopting your favourite posture and decreasing your sensitivity […]