Pyrosomes: The Ultimate Social Networkers

pyrosome

This pyrosome is made up of thousands of tiny organisms linked together as one. (Photo credit: Mark Conlin/Alamy)

If you’re looking for a strange sea creature, you can’t get much weirder than the giant pyrosome. With an appearance like a monster out of a science fiction movie, those who’ve had the good luck to see them have likened them to everything from unicorns, due to their rareness, to the Borg, because of how they stick together and seem to be part of a collective.

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Think Your Dog is Smart? Probably Not as Smart as the Wolf

dachshund

Is a wolf smarter than your beloved pet dog?
(Photo credit: Elayne/Fotolia)

You probably think your dog is pretty smart. And you may be right. Dogs sometimes seem to be able to read our minds, knowing exactly what we’re thinking and what we’re going to do before it’s even clear to us. However, recent research indicates that their wild ancestor, the wolf, may have an edge in some intelligence competitions. [Read more…]

Want to Prevent Algal Blooms? Toilet Train Birds

cormorants resting on a rock in a lake

While they may not be the sole cause, recent research shows that an increase in the population of cormorants on a lake in South Korea may have contributed to algal blooms.(Photo credit: EAGiven/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Algal blooms are a rapid increase in the population of algae in a body of water. They are characterized by their bright green color. While they can be an entirely natural phenomenon, algal blooms can be very harmful. They can deplete lakes of oxygen, produce toxins, and ultimately kill much of the aquatic life. [Read more…]

A Breath of Fresh Fructose?

naked mole rat

Described by some as looking like “bratwurst with teeth,” naked mole rats live in communities with social structures resembling beehives, are coldblooded like reptiles, and now are known to get energy from fructose, like a plant. (Photo credit: Ger Bosma/Alamy)

It’s difficult to find an odder animal than the naked mole rat (Heterosphalus glaber). A native of east African deserts, these mammals live more like bees, in complex, underground societies complete with a queen who gives birth to worker offspring who will never reproduce.  [Read more…]

The Secret’s in the Knots

brown recluse

A series of tiny knots make the silk of a brown recluse spider super strong. (Photo credit: Miles Boyer/Shutterstock)

Though most infamous for its deadly venomous bite, the brown recluse is also known for its unusual silk. Now researchers have discovered the secret behind the construction of this dangerous spider’s unique silk. [Read more…]

I Am Mouse, Hear Me Roar

mouse

Mice and many other rodents make ultrasonic sounds that they use to attract mates and defend territories. (Photo credit: Digital Zoo/Getty Images)

Stammering speech, or stuttering, has traditionally been thought to be an indication of anxiety or stress. A large amount of evidence, however, has long supported the idea that it must have some genetic component. For instance, identical twins often both stutter, as do other family members. In 2008, scientists at the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders identified that those who stuttered often had a mutation in the gene Gnptab. The discovery was particularly interesting, because, previously, the gene had only been believed to be related to “general housekeeping” of the body, such as digestion. How could a gene that affects every cell of the body cause something so mechanical as stuttering? [Read more…]

A “Sixth Sense”? It May Be in Your Genes

blind-folded woman

Scientists have discovered proteins responsible for proprioception. (Photo credit: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

As senses go, touch might be the least understood. While touch-associated maladies do exist, we don’t often read about sufferers from them. A team of researchers at the Scripps Research Institute spent decades looking into how organisms perceive changes in temperature and pressure. [Read more…]

This Antenna Has Teeth: The Psychic Sawfish

sawfish

The sawfish’s snout is an incredible tool. (Photo credit: TOM MCHUGH/Getty Images)

In cartoons, a sawfish could find itself being unwittingly plucked from the water to serve as a handy tool for any number of purposes. In reality, the long, sharp-toothed snouts of these shark relatives are found to be something much more than an appendage reminiscent of a handsaw. [Read more…]

Meet the Dung Beetle, Keen Navigator by Starlight

dung beetle

Dung beetles use starlight to navigate at night. (Photo credit: Cathy Withers-Clarke/Shutterstock)

It’s a disgusting way to live, but dung beetles do it … and thereby deserve their unenviable name. Males of the species seek out steaming piles of manure, descend on them, shape some of the smelly stuff into balls, and roll them away from chaos of the pile, hopefully attracting a mate along the way. [Read more…]

Do You Smell a Rat … Or Should the Rat Smell You?

African giant pouched rat

Some animals, such as this African giant pouched rat, are being used to sniff out disease in humans. (Photo credit: Penny Boyd/Alamy Stock Photo)

In 1989, a paper appearing in the British medical journal The Lancet made an astounding claim. Two dermatologists reported how a patient decided to come in for an exam because her dog kept sniffing a mole on her leg. The dog even tried to bite it off at one point. Tests proved it was a malignant melanoma nearly two millimeters thick. When removed, the woman survived, and the study would eventually become known as the ‘First Lancet Letter’ or the first time in a peer-reviewed medical journal that an animal’s senses had been linked to the detection of disease. [Read more…]