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I just spent two nights observing the Perseids and was wondering whether any animals have been recorded to exhibit unusual behaviour in response to meteor showers.
It is known that some animals change their behavior at night in response to moonlight and artificial illumination (e.g. eagle owls call more frequently at full moon), but I am not aware of any materials indicating behavioral changes in response to short-term lights like those produced by meteor showers or far away lightnings.
Any pointers would be appreciated.
There are a significant number of major meteor showers in the earth's orbit, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Nocturnal animals have good night vision (obviously) and their acclimation to the dark plus time spent awake at night (if they look up at all) means they see many, many more meteors on average than humans do.
The year's parade starts with the Quadrantid shower.
January overall has good meteor rates restricted to the last third of the night. Rates to 20/hour can be obtained.
Meteor "showers" (if they can be called that) continue until mid-march, when they drop off to a "very poor" rate of 10/hour or less, continuing this pattern into early June, except for the Lyrids (max: April 22/23) and the Eta Aquariids (max: May 7/8).
February, March, and April evenings have another notable feature. An unusual number of sporadic fireballs come in this interval, possibly one every few nights.
In the last half of July, we get the Delta Aquariids (July 29/30) and Alpha Capricornids (July 27-28). Then the Perseids (maximum: August 12/13), rich to our eyes at about 100/hr at their peak, moon and weather permitting.
From September to the first half of December is pretty rich.
Mid-October to mid-December is a nearly continuous period of heavy meteor activity. The Orionids (max: October 21/22) during the second half of October have a prolonged, plateau maximum for several nights, usually rich. The Taurids (max: October 11 for S. Taurids, November 13/14 for N. Taurids), active for two months, are most numerous in November's first half, and can be rather variable in strength. This period is the best for a couple of Taurid fireballs each night, if the shower is not too weak. The Leonids of mid-November (max: November 17-19) are quite unpredictable, with rich displays occuring roughly every 33 years.
Finally there's the Geminids of mid-December (max: December 13/14) with "the strongest dependable and observable display" (usually passing 60-70/hour at maximum.)
Finally, the oft-overlooked Ursids complete the year's activity, reaching maximum on December 22/23. Nearly half the year's visual meteor activity is crammed into the two-month interval just described.
What does all this have to do with biology and your question? I'm guessing here that the Perseids, though rich for humans, are probably nothing exciting for animals. The diurnals and crepusculars don't see them at all (they're soundless and certainly not bright enough to wake anyone up). The nocturnals see the (or not, depending on where they're looking) all the time. So a study wouldn't likely detect much, would be challenging to design well, would cost some big bucks, and wouldn't really help humans like studying animal behavior before earthquakes and such.
As a child, I once saw some very funny chicken behavior on my grandmother's farm during a total eclipse of the sun. It was so funny that I remembered it all the years since.
I searched, as I'm sure you did, and the first hit on regular Google was this question. A scholar search brought up possible animal behavioral changes before fireballs.
Major Meteor Showers
What is adaptive behavior in animals?
Read everything about it here. Accordingly, what is an example of an adaptive behavior?
Adaptive behaviors include real-life skills such as grooming, getting dressed, avoiding danger, safe food handling, following school rules, managing money, cleaning, and making friends. Adaptive behavior also includes the ability to work, practice social skills, and take personal responsibility.
Subsequently, question is, what are some examples of animal behavior? Behavior is anything an animal does involving action and/or a response to a stimulus. Blinking, eating, walking, flying, vocalizing and huddling are all examples of behaviors. Behavior is broadly defined as the way an animal acts. Swimming is an example of behavior.
Then, what makes a Behaviour adaptive?
Adaptive behavior refers to behavior that enables a person (usually used in the context of children) to get along in his or her environment with greatest success and least conflict with others. Nonconstructive or disruptive social or personal behaviors can sometimes be used to achieve a constructive outcome.
What defines animal behavior?
Animal Behavior is the scientific study of the wild and wonderful ways in which animals interact with each other, with other living beings, and with the environment. Previous lesser definitions of Animal Behavior include: "Behavior is motion".
The science behind meteor showers in Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing has proven again and again to be an exquisitely well-designed game and has surprised many with its excellent representation of scientific concepts. Many players have written about the punnet squares of flower breeding, and others have made videos about all the animals in Blathers’s museum (even the bugs!). However, I’d like to turn your attention skyward. Let’s take a look at the meteor showers that happen above your island…
Can Animal Crossing make you happier?
“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was released on March 20 th , 2020 and has since become a cultural phenomenon. Although the game itself has been praised by critics, some suggest that its success is partially attributable to its being released during the COVID-19 pandemic. During these trying times, many people have been affected by anxiety and loneliness stemming from, for example, social isolation and/or loss of work. The world can be a scary place right now — Animal Crossing provides the perfect place for much needed escapism, and in fact many people online have claimed that this game has helped them manage challenges to mental health posed by the pandemic.
“Animal Crossing” begins with you (the main character) moving to a deserted island to start a new life. When you arrive, a man named Tom Nook helps you set up and improve your island. As the game progresses, you help open a community shop, donate art and bug and fish specimens to the local museum, invite new animal villagers to live on your island, and decorate the island however you want — with flowers, trees, rivers, and furniture. So how exactly does this relatively simple video game help improve mental health in players?
Image 1. The art section of the museum in “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”
Videogames are able to elicit positive emotions
One of the first things that comes to mind when I think about positive mental health is feeling happy. A lot of research suggests that playing videogames contributes to positive emotions, which is often defined as the ability to experience joy, happiness, and satisfaction. One study compared people who never play videogames to people who engage in low, moderate or excessive amounts of gaming and found that individuals who never play video games have worse mental health outcomes than all other groups on measures such as insomnia, anxiety and general mental health. Some of these benefits may be attributed to the stress-relieving abilities that video games have. Video games like “Animal Crossing” are designed to be relaxing. There is never a sense of urgency, and you can choose how you want to play the game. However, research has found that even games that involve more stressful gameplay or include violence can be relaxing for many individuals. By immersing themselves in a fictional world, players are able to shift their focus away from stress in their everyday, offline life.
Social Benefits of videogames
In the past, video games have been traditionally viewed as a solitary activity. However, modern video games often include opportunities to play with other people, either by playing with each other online or playing together in person. In the case of “Animal Crossing,” you are able to visit the island of any other player in the game. Some players hold virtual birthday parties, have meteor shower watch parties or get their friends to help them water flowers in the game. This allows people to connect even in a time when many are socially isolating.
Image 2. Playing with friends online can help with social isolation
In addition to the in-game features that allow for socialization, “Animal Crossing” has amassed an immense online community since its release. People have been sharing pictures of their island to inspire others, have uploaded designs that others can download and use in their own games, have traded with other animal villagers for materials such as bells (the game’s currency) or furniture. People have been able to connect with others through many social media platforms such as Twitter , Instagram, Reddit and Discord, which likely helps many people cope with the loneliness of social isolation during the pandemic.
Feeling a sense of accomplishment through videogames
One thing that “Animal Crossing” does really well is give the player a sense of accomplishment. Pretty much everything you do in the game gets rewarded (and sometimes even praised!) by other villagers on the island. Being rewarded for completing goals can help the player feel accomplished and competent. These feelings are commonly reported as a reason why people return to certain video games. Even though these accomplishments are happening in a virtual world, this goal-attainment can still positively impact mental health. Specifically, by producing positive feelings, these games improve life-satisfaction and enhance players’ general well-being. In addition, accomplishments in video games occur regularly, are often very achievable and have immediate rewards, whereas accomplishment in real-life can often be infrequent, difficult to achieve, and might go unnoticed.
Although much of the past research concerning the effects of playing videogames has focused on their potential negative effects, there is much more research supporting the potential of videogames to provide benefits to mental health and contribute to mental flourishing. Although videogames should not be used as a replacement for other mental health services–especially if you are suffering from mental health problems–their positive benefits should not be overlooked.
Reference: Jones CM, Scholes L, Johnson D, Katsikitis M, Carras MC (2014) Gaming well: links between videogames and flourishing mental health. Frontiers in Psychology 5:260
11 Best Examples Of Classical Conditioning In Real Life
When we think about learning, we often picture educational classrooms where students are listening intently to their teacher. However, in psychology, learning means something else.
Psychologists define learning as a relatively permanent change in behavior that is based on experience. The psychology of learning emphasizes on various topics related to how animals learn and interact with their environments.
Behavioral psychology describes three major types of learning: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning. In this overview article, we’ve explained what exactly is classical conditioning using real-life examples.
In the 1890s, a Russian physiologist named Ivan Pavlov did experiments on the digestive response in dogs, which led to one of the most important discoveries in psychology — classical conditioning.
Pavlov showed dogs some food and rang a bell at the same time. After a while, dogs started associating the bell with the food. They gradually learned that when the bell rings, they get food. Eventually, dogs began salivating by just hearing the bell. They would expect food at the sound of a bell.
Under normal conditions, the smell and sight of the food cause a dog to salivate. Thus, in this case, food is an Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS) and salivation is an Unconditioned Response (UCR).
The world “unconditioned” refers to the fact that no learning took place to link the stimulus with the response — dog saw the food and automatically got so excited that he started to salivate (like a reflex).
In Pavlov’s experiment, no one trained dogs to salivate over some steak. However, when they paired an unconditioned stimulus (such as food) with something that was previously neutral (such as the bell’s sound), that Neutral Stimulus (NS) became a Conditioned Stimulus (CS). And that’s how classical conditioning was discovered.
There are three stages in classical conditioning:
Before Conditioning: At this stage, there no link between UCS and CS. The UCS naturally triggers a UCR. The UCR cannot be learned or taught it is a completely innate reaction.
During Conditioning: The NS is paired with UCS. After a while, this pairing causes the previously NS to become a CS.
After Conditioning: Once the UCS and CS are linked, the CS is alone capable of triggering a response, which is now called a Conditioned Response (CR). This means the dog has learned to associate a particular response with a previously natural stimulus.
Classical conditioning doesn’t only work on dogs: human behavior is also influenced by it, but we often fail to recognize those changes. To better explain this phenomenon, we have gathered some of the best examples of classical conditioning that happen in our everyday lives.
11. Celebrities In Advertisements
Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS): Celebrities
Unconditioned Response (UCR): Your positive associations with celebrities
Conditioned Stimulus (CS): Products and services
Conditioned Response (CR): You start liking/purchasing company’s product
Whether it is a famous actor promoting soft drinks or an influencer showcasing products on social media, celebrity endorsement is quite hard to ignore. These days, celebrity advertising often involves generating buzz or engagement with their social networks.
Companies take advantage of our positive associations with celebrities in order to increase the sales of their products and services. Robert Downey Jr., for instance, has been the brand ambassador of OnePlus since 2019. Previously, he was promoting HTC phones.
Potential customers then see a smartphone manufactured by OnePlus and start to experience the same positive feeling as when they see Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr.
10. Children Getting Injection
UCS: A child getting an injection
UCR: He/she starts crying
CS: The doctor wearing a white coat
CR: The child starts crying whenever he/she sees anyone wearing a white jacket
Since immunization is the most important and cost-effective strategy for the prevention of childhood disabilities and sickness, it’s a basic need for all children. Many children receive regular immunizations all over the world, and they may cry because of these injections.
Some children start associating the doctor’s white coat with this painful experience. After a while, they begin to cry whenever they see anyone wearing a white jacket.
9. Students Dislike A Subject Because Of Bad Teacher
UCS: A teacher who regularly humiliates students
UCR: Students hate the teacher
CS: He/she teaches science
CR: Students start disliking the science subject
Some teachers regularly punish students for small mistakes and humiliate them in front of the class. Such situations prevent students from acquiring a liking for the teacher as well as the subject(s) taught by him/her. This is because studying the same subject reminds them of their past (bad) experiences in the classroom.
Some students get so affected that they start hating the entire school system. This behavior might even continue throughout their academic career.
8. Fear Of Dog’s Bark
UCS: A man is bitten by barking dog multiple times at the same location
UCR: A horrible and frightening experience
CS: He walks past the same location or hears a bark
CR: He gets unnerved and starts trembling
Let’s say a man is bitten by a barking dog more than once at the same location. This would be a frightening experience, particularly if he were bitten at a young age. He might develop an irrational and persistent fear of barking dogs.
Now, whenever this person hears a barking noise or walks past the same location, he gets unnerved and starts to tremble. The fear he feels is a conditioned response.
7. Phone Ringtone/Buzz
UCS: You hear a tone/buzz from your mobile
UCR: You check for notification and consume content
CS: A familiar notification chime heard in a public area
CR: You instinctively reach for your phone
We clutch our phone as if it was a treasure we can’t lose. Why do such modern electronic devices have such a pull on us?
Actually, the smartphone we carry is associated with ways to meet our psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. It gives us access to endless content (in the form of news, entertainment, and knowledge) as well as connects us with other people. Since these things have been paired on a regular basis, the rings and buzzes of our phones trigger automatic, reflexive responses.
Have you ever been in a public area and heard the same notification tone as yours? Did you instinctively reach for your phone? That is classical conditioning in action.
6. A Bad Report Card
UCS: A report card filled with bad grades
UCR: Your parents yell at you
CS: You receive another bad report card
CR: You feel sad thinking about the negative consequences
The report card that you get from school determines the quality of schoolwork by evaluating your performance during the term or year that has just finished. Maybe each time you brought home a poor report card, your parents would yell at you, or they would compare your grade with your cousins/friends.
Then, the next time you receive a bad report card, you already know what would happen if you show it to your parents. You feel sad because you have already anticipated those negative consequences. Some students even get depressed thinking about it.
5. Food Aroma Makes You Feel Hungry
UCS: The smell of the food
UCR: The feeling of hunger in response to the smell
CS: You cross a food street
CR: You develop a desire to eat
What happens when you smell one of your favorite foods? If you haven’t eaten for hours, you will immediately feel very hungry. This happens to all of us.
Most of the time, when we cross a food street or walk past a particular restaurant, we automatically develop a desire to eat, even though we don’t feel hungry. Similarly, some people get a desire to eat at a specific time of the day (for example, lunchtime), even though they are not hungry.
4. Cancer Patients Feel Sick Before Chemotherapy Sessions
UCS: Cancer patients receive chemotherapy
UCR: They get side effects like vomiting and nausea
CS: Treatment room
CR: Patients begin to feel sick
Vomiting and nausea are two of the most feared cancer treatment-related side-effects for people with cancer and their families. Patients who receive chemotherapy often vomit during or shortly after the procedure. After multiple chemotherapy sessions, some patients begin to feel sick at the sight of the treatment room.
3. Christmas Music
UCS: Christmas holiday
UCR: Happiness and excitement
CS: The music
CR: You get into the holiday spirit
The taste of peppermint, the look of lights strung on houses, the smell of pine, and the sound of Christmas music — these are things people associate with end-of-the-year holidays.
When you listen to popular Christmas songs, your mind starts recalling those happy memories associated with holidays. Some studies show that listening to joyful music can have a positive effect on your demeanor.
2. Wildlife Conservation
UCR: Lions eat meat
CS: Beef meat treated with a deworming agent
CR: Lions feel sick, and thus they refuse to eat meat
Classical conditioning can be used to support wildlife conservation efforts. In a study, African lions were conditioned to dislike the taste of beef. This is done to keep lions from preying on cattle, which should, in turn, prevent farmers from killing the lions.
Eight lions were given beef meats treated with a deworming agent. This made lions temporarily sick to their stomachs (it was just a bad case of indigestion). After repeating this multiple times, the lions were once again offered untreated meat. As expected, they refused to eat it. Now that lions have developed an aversion to beef meat, they would be highly unlikely to prey on cattle.
1. Combat Phobias and Anxieties
UCR: A cynophobic person gets scared of dogs
CS: Therapist performing relaxation technique
CR: Person feels comfortable being around dogs
Classical conditioning is also used in therapy to combat different types of phobias anxieties, such as a fear of dogs. The therapist might frequently show the person pictures and videos of dogs while performing relaxation methods so that the person can form a link between dogs and relaxation.
Similarly, if primary students hate a particular subject, the teacher couples that subject with a pleasant and fun environment so that students can learn to enjoy while studying that subject.
Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from GGSIPU University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected]
How Disgust Shapes Ecosystems
(Inside Science) -- Clearly, parasites can make you sick. But in the grand scheme of things, animals' efforts to avoid things like viruses, tapeworms and salmonella may be an even bigger deal than the infections themselves.
Most research on parasitism has focused on actual infections. But a growing number of researchers are investigating parasite avoidance behaviors, and they have found examples nearly everywhere they look.
For example, sheep avoid eating grass contaminated with feces, mandrills avoid grooming sick companions, and tadpoles increase their activity levels to evade trematode worms. Disgust itself is thought to have evolved in response to parasites, as the emotion prompts humans and other animals to avoid things like feces, vomit and rotting bodies, all of which carry a high risk of infection.
As ecological parasitologist Julia Buck of the University of California, Santa Barbara watched such discoveries accumulate in recent years, she was reminded of a revolution that took place a few decades ago in predator-prey research. At one time, ecologists assumed that predators shaped ecosystems primarily by killing their prey. Now, they recognize that whole prey populations will dramatically shift their behavior to evade predators, even if only a few individuals are ever killed -- and those behavior changes can have cascading effects throughout the ecosystem.
The classic example is what happened after wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. The wolves enabled aspen trees to recover from overbrowsing by elk, and not just because the elk population was reduced. The remaining elk also grew more cautious, avoiding parts of the landscape where they couldn't see or escape from wolves and thus allowing aspen in those areas to flourish.
In two recent papers published in the journals Science and Trends in Ecology and Evolution (also known as TREE), Buck and her colleagues propose a similar revolution for parasite-host research.
"The cumulative effects of parasite avoidance might be as strong, if not stronger, than those associated with predator avoidance," they wrote in the TREE paper. "Nevertheless, they have received far less attention from ecologists."
Avoiding parasites can be costly for hosts, leading them to forgo food, shelter or social contact. The behaviors can also have indirect effects on other species, said Buck. For example, when tadpoles thrash around to avoid parasitic worms, they become easy meals for dragonflies. More generally, any resource that one animal avoids might instead be used by another, less infection-prone creature.
Human efforts to avoid parasites, such as draining swamps or spraying insecticides to kill disease-carrying mosquitos, can also have wide-reaching effects. Researchers have even speculated that parasite avoidance lurks behind the human tendency to fear or hate outsiders, said Buck. At one time, people from other societies could carry dangerous new diseases, such as when Europeans infected Native Americans with smallpox.
Of course, Buck noted, in our current age of health care and global travel, there is little risk of getting sick from people of other races and cultures -- and no justification for bigotry.
"Now we're stuck with this horrible relic of parasitism past, despite the fact that racists today are at absolutely no advantage," said Buck, who will soon be starting a professorship at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Most of the ideas in the new papers were already floating around among researchers, according to Rachel McMullan, a biologist at Open University in Milton Keynes in the U.K. But, she said, the new TREE paper nicely synthesizes ideas about the impacts of parasite avoidance into a single "ecology of disgust."
Until recently, discussions of parasite avoidance have been largely isolated in various corners of academia, with psychologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists and others all approaching the topic in their own ways, said McMullan. In 2017, she helped connect these enclaves by co-hosting a meeting devoted to parasite avoidance the presentations were published last month in a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Both McMullan and Buck agree that it's high time parasites got the attention they deserve. Parasites may be small and hidden, but they are everywhere. In fact, said McMullan, if you squished all the world's parasites together, they would probably weigh more than all the world's predators.
"Most of them are microscopic, and they're hiding in their hosts," said Buck. "I think we've failed to notice the avoidance behavior because parasites are so much less noticeable."
Six Morbidly Fascinating Creatures You Might Find at the Beach
When this bristle worm is ready to have sex, sections of its rear end carry its eggs or sperm to the surface.
This photo may only be republished in conjunction with this Inside Science story.
(Inside Science) -- Ahh, the beach -- everyone's favorite summer getaway of warm sand, sparkling waves and mind-bending biological weirdness.
A few coastal creatures already have cult followings. Octopuses delight YouTube viewers with their squishable bodies and mastery of disguise, while mantis shrimp are famous for their psychedelic vision and ability to punch through aquarium glass. But coastal waters are full of lesser-known wonders as well. Here are a few prime examples, which we dedicate to every beachcomber who has ever stopped to wonder: "What the hell?"
Sea cucumbers regenerate their guts after puking them out
A researcher injects potassium chloride into a brown rock sea cucumber, prompting it to expel its own digestive tract.
"[Sea cucumbers] basically spit out their intestines, and they also lose their head in the process. And then they grow everything back," said Vladimir Mashanov, a developmental biologist at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Mashanov studies sea cucumbers' remarkable powers of regeneration, which he hopes could someday inspire advances in human medicine.
Found on seafloors worldwide, sea cucumbers resemble the inert vegetables they are named for. But they are actually animals related to starfish, with a mouth on one end, an anus on the other and a complex digestive tract taking up most of the space in between. Rather than keeping those guts safe inside, they have a habit of puking them up.
The gut-expelling process is precise, with organs breaking away at specific fracture points. Some species squirt their innards out the back end, while others puke them up through the front, along with their mouths and much of their nervous systems.
No one knows for sure why sea cucumbers expel their digestive tracts. Some think they do it to drive away predators, but Mashanov doubts this explanation, since the process ends with them sitting there helpless next to a pile of their own guts. Alternatively, the behavior may help sea cucumbers get rid of parasites, or it may help them survive lean times by reducing the amount of energy their bodies need.
Shark embryos devour their siblings in the womb
Sand tiger shark embryos and eggs.
Credit: Debra Abercrombie. First published in Chapman, Demian D., et al. "The behavioural and genetic mating system of the sand tiger shark, Carcharias taurus, an intrauterine cannibal." Biology letters 9.3 (2013).
With their 10-foot-long bodies and triple rows of pointed teeth, adult sand tiger sharks look every inch the fearsome predator as they glide across reefs and sandy shorelines worldwide. But people may be surprised to learn that their embryos are fearsome too, attacking and devouring their siblings before they are even born.
During the early stages of pregnancy, each of the female shark's two uteruses contains numerous fertilized and unfertilized egg capsules. The embryos hatch within the womb, then spend a couple of months digesting their own yolk sacs. When they reach a length of about 4 inches, they begin eating everything in sight, including their hatched and unhatched brothers and sisters. By the time the mother gives birth, each uterus contains only one pup, which is already 3.5 feet long and capable of defending itself in the open ocean.
Starfish engulf prey with their stomachs
A sea star feeds on a coral colony in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research via Flickr
Starfish, also known as sea stars, are an iconic part of tranquil seaside landscapes. But beneath their bright upper surfaces, these echinoderms conceal feeding habits straight out of a horror movie. Rather than swallowing food like most animals, they push their stomachs out of their bodies to engulf prey. They then release enzymes to dissolve their prey into sludge, which they suck up before retracting their stomachs.
Starfishes' flexible, oozing stomachs are perfect for feeding on animals like clams and mussels. Such creatures rely on their shells for protection, but even when closed, those shells often have tiny gaps on one side. The gaps function as an exit route for filaments that attach the clam or mussel to the ground, but they can also serve as an entrance for starfish stomachs. A common Pacific starfish called the purple sea star can slip its stomach through cracks less than a quarter of a millimeter wide, digesting the soft animal inside even when it can't pry the shell open.
Pyrosomes look like glowing jet-propelled wind socks
Pyrosomes look plenty weird even before you know what they are. They resemble luminescent wind socks adrift in the open ocean, and their length varies from less than an inch to more than 30 feet, with some reports of pyrosomes 60 feet long. Some marine biologists have even theorized that their confusing appearance may have helped launch the Vietnam War, causing American sailors to think they were being attacked by torpedoes.
These wormlike wonders are actually colonies, made up of thousands of tiny animals more similar to us than they are to squid or lobsters. The animals are tunicates, or sea squirts -- members of a group called chordates that also includes all vertebrates. While other adult tunicates live solitary lives stuck to the seafloor, those in pyrosomes live side-by-side in a tube-shaped gelatinous sheath, sucking in plankton through their outward-facing mouths and expelling wastewater into the middle of the tube. Since the tube is closed on one end, this feeding method lets them move around through gentle jet propulsion.
Pyrosomes are usually rare, but this year they have been washing ashore in huge numbers along the Pacific Northwest.
Sea urchins release armies of venomous jaws
A pedicellaria head that has just been released by a collector sea urchin.
Credit: Hannah Sheppard-Brennand
Sea urchins are best known for their long, stiff spines. But down between those spines, they have an even scarier weapon: biting, venomous organs called pedicellariae. While not all pedicellariae are adapted for defense, some are positively fearsome, with three fang-tipped lobes that open and close like flower petals.
Pedicellariae are normally set on top of flexible stalks, which bend this way and that in response to signals like light and touch. But the collector sea urchin, a species that lives in shallow waters in Hawaii, the Indo-Pacific region and the Red Sea, is capable of releasing its pedicellariae en masse when danger threatens. The pedicellariae then form a cloud of tiny defenders, all floating through the water with jaws splayed wide. They can snap shut to deliver a painful sting, so it's no wonder fish prefer to keep their distance after a collector sea urchin has let loose.
Bristle worms' rear ends swim off on their own to have sex
A Myrianida pachycera, a type of bristle worm, with a row of stolons on the rear end getting read to detach.
This photo may only be republished in conjunction with this Inside Science story.
Bristle worms, also known as polychaetes, are a diverse group of worms named for the bristles that sprout from their stubby limbs. These marine relatives of earthworms usually live on the seafloor, but they mate at the surface -- a problem that different species of polychaetes have solved in different ways. Some transform their crawling bodies into swimming forms for the journey to the top. But others detach their rear segments and send them off on their own.
Before detaching, the rear segments transform into swimming, sexual forms called stolons. The stolons grow their own eyes, and their innards become little more than storage space for eggs or sperm. Finally, they break free and swim to the surface, where they disgorge their contents in an orgy of external fertilization.
Bonus: Mysterious blobby sea monsters
The St. Augustine "monster," a globster that washed up on a Florida beach in 1896.
Some seaside mysteries take decades -- and DNA evidence -- to solve. History is littered with huge, blobby things that have turned up on beaches around the world. These "sea monsters" have fascinated the public and scientists alike, inspiring fantastical names and origin stories.
For example, the "St. Augustine Monster," which washed up on a Florida beach in 1896, was originally identified as a colossal octopus far larger than any known species. Other famous specimens include the "Chilean Blob," two "Bermuda Blobs" and the "Tasmanian West Coast Monster."
In recent decades, scientific techniques such as DNA analysis and amino acid analysis have allowed researchers to finally figure out what they are: whale blubber. Evidently when whales rot, great slabs of their blubber can lift away intact and float through the ocean. The cellular tissue gradually decays, leaving an amorphous tangle of collagen fibers sure to stymie unsuspecting beachgoers.
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Penguins: The Math Behind The Huddle
(ISNS) -- In the icy freeze of Antarctica, Emperor penguins huddle for warmth – and they stay toasty even though they constantly rotate positions in the scrum. Now, researchers have modeled the workings of the huddle, looking at the system through the lens of fluid dynamics.
Francois Blanchette, an applied mathematician at the University of California, Merced, says that it took a bit of serendipity to bring him into the topic.
"I was watching those penguin movies and got to thinking: I work with similar things," Blanchette said. "You can see the wind blowing in all these movies, and you can see snowflakes -- I thought maybe there's a way to get involved in the idea of penguin huddling."
Biologists have long observed how hundreds of penguins gather together in order to resist the Antarctic temperatures of -60 F and gusts of 100 mph. Other researchers showed that the penguins move from place to place within the packed group, moving outside penguins to the warmer spots and dispersing the heat loss.
Inside the huddle, temperatures have been known to reach 70 degrees F. Huddling is particularly important, as the penguins don't eat for up to 115 days and need to conserve as much energy as possible.
Blanchette took the idea a step further and created math models of the shape and dynamics of the huddle. He found that when penguins try to maximize their warmth -- the coldest ones move to the best available spot -- and the huddle takes the form of a cigar.
Blanchette soon realized that the oblong shape didn't match up with what he saw in penguin movies, so he added another factor: random heat loss to every penguin. That created a rounder huddle with a smattering of holes in it, with a bit of elongation in the direction of the wind.
"It's not surprising that there is a lot of randomness, as penguins are not perfectly rational beings," said Blanchette. His research, done with two students, was published Friday in the online journal PLoS ONE.
The team was surprised to find that even though each penguin was out to help itself, the cold ended up being shared nearly equally over the whole group.
"If you wanted to design a process that's fair, this is a close approximation," said Blanchette.
Barbara Wienecke, a biologist with the Australian Antarctic Division who studies penguins, said the model was interesting. She added that reality may be more complex than the model, which assumes there are few gaps in the huddle, suggests.
"Huddles are highly dynamic and not as symmetrical as one might expect," Wienecke said, who had a biological shape in mind for the huddle. "The outline of a huddle can make it look more like an ameoba than a circle so to a point openings often exist, depending on the number of birds in a huddle."
Penguins huddles aren't the only shape-shifting animal grouping -- other biological masses have dynamics that can be modeled like fluids, said Blanchette. He points to colonies of bacteria that change shape in response to food or toxins.
In addition, the model could be programmed into robots who need to swarm and huddle to survive.
"Imagine a group of robots caught in a sandstorm, and they might want to rotate who is exposed," Blanchette said. A biology-based model could prescribe behavior to maximize survival for a group faced with a nasty environmental situation.
Jacky dragons can’t golf (unfortunately)
The research of observing visual communication in Jacky dragons provides an important stepping stone in the field of general biology and animal behavior. Using video playback techniques helped analyze specific visual signals by lizards as a means of understanding their behavior better. This technique seems to maintain the ability to impact lizard evolution, especially concerning male-male competition and female mate choice. Video playback gives the potential for the Jacky dragons to develop their evolution through communication, territorial defense, and the maintenance of social dominance. This research hopes to provide quantitative comparisons between signal recognition and general communication for the lizards.
Scientists wanted to determine whether video playback could be used for analyzing visual signaling in male lizards. 21 male lizards were presented with 4 separate stimuli tests to examine aggressive behaviors, appeasement displays, and substrate licking which would demonstrate if the lizards could discriminate between individual males–a live lizard house in a glass tank with a sand substrate, the glass tank alone, a digital video sequence depicting the same lizard on a wooden perch, and a digital video sequence of a wooden perch and tank background with no lizard. Lizards were placed into individual glass tanks that provided isolation from neighboring males. They videorecorded the response of 12 male lizards to another male presented in front of their tank, and found that the typical response was aggressive behavior. 2 male lizards, Male A and Male B were recorded as a digital video sequence. The two males differed in size and locomotion. This design provided a direct comparison between responses to live and video lizards. During the four tests, scientists recorded aggressive displays of behavior, appeasement displays (arm waving), and substrate licking which is more frequent in social situations.
Scientists found that when a live male lizard was placed in the tank, it exhibited a lot of movement around the tank, but lacked significant aggressive behavior. In both live and video stimulus, the focal lizard began tail flicking at the initial appearance of the stimulus male lizard and created push-up displays for the rest of the session both considered to be aggressive responses. In the video stimulus, the focal lizard exhibited slow arm waving, substrate licking (licking the area in which it stands), and increased locomotor activity (exploratory behavior). In the control stimulus, no spontaneous changes were observed in the behavior of the focal lizard.
The presentation of both the live and simulated stimulus caused significant changes in focal lizard behavior. This behavior is concluded as visual communication accompanied by exploratory responses.
Aggressive behaviors can be analyzed through video recordings due to similar production of behavioral displays. The a bility to extract enough information for discrimination of behaviors serves as a potential advantage to predator/prey relationships. For future research, scientists can run similar experiments to other various species that use visual cues/signals in order to obtain a better understanding of the video playback technique to define and manipulate stimulate stimuli characteristics.
(Jacky dragon and a screenshot of video playback technique… that’s why they can’t golf)