Category Archives: Video

Scientia Pro Publica #46

Scientia Pro Publica

Alright you lot, apologies for hibernating for the last couple of months. For those of you who don’t know (ie. who aren’t on twitter), I’ve been working at Australian science magazine, Cosmos, since June, and it’s keeping me very busy and happy. But don’t give up on old RP completely – we’ll be back very soon…

That aside, I’m super-excited to be able to host the 46th edition of Scientia Pro Publica: a rotating bi-monthly compilation of the best blog writing targeted to the public about science, medicine, the environment and technology. And if you a) think taking 5000 bees in a suitcase on a plane is a great but pointless idea, b) think strapping a prawn to a treadmill is a great but pointless idea or c) need proof that chimps are nothing like humans because you hate them and don’t want to look at them ever as much as I do – prepare to be enlightened.

Or don’t, I don’t know, it’s not like it’s going to change anything. Either way it’s just going to end with a, “Huh. Cool.” anyway, which is pretty much ideal if you ask me.


So first up: BEES ON A PLANE

The team over at More Than Honey – The Making of a Bee Documentary tell the amazing story of German biologist, Max Renner – student of the famous bee expert, Karl von Frisch, – who somehow stuffed 5000 bees into a wooden suitcase in 1955 and boarded a plane from Paris to New York to see how their tiny internal ‘bee clocks’ would cope. Do bees get jetlag? What kind of decor does a Bee Room need?  Click to find out…

So bees can count to four and speaking of counting and segways, The Questionable Authority blog destroys the dreams of school kids everywhere by explaining why Conrad Wolfram’s idea proposal to let computers do the calculations in maths class instead of the kids doing it themselves just won’t work. Fifteen-year-old me is devastated. And continuing on our mini maths jaunt, MarkCC from Good Math, Bad Math explains what obfuscatory mathematics is and precedes to stomp all overits use to argue against the value of vaccination.

Things are getting characteristically philosophical over at Traversing the Razor, where that giant cat overlord oversees a post to celebrate Carl Sagan Day (8th November) with an excerpt from Pale Blue Dot (1994). If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an incredible read. The giant cat overlord would also like you to ponder the science versus the products of science question while you bask in his hypnotic gaze.



Look at him. He’s the weeniest. But being weeny doesn’t mean he can’t kill things. GrrlScientist from Punctuated Equilibrium explains how the recently discovered eleutherodactylus iberia – the Cuban mini-frog – evolved to be highly toxic due to its very specific diet.

Meanwhile, not-so-poisonous but a whole lot more deadly if you’re a harbour seal – the Pacific sleeper sharks have been found to be controlling certain parts of its ecosystem with fear. That’s just the kind of thing a shark would do, only sleeper sharks aren’t known for eating seals. Chuck from Ya Like Dogs explains the science of keeping ’em in line – fear style.

Also frightening are chimps. Don’t even get me started. Now, I specifically asked for no chimp-related submissions because I don’t want primates infecting this blog, but Norman Johnson from Watching the Detectives compromises by reviewing Jeremy Taylor’s Not a Chimp. If I’m going to have to read about chimps, it helps that I’m reading about how unlike humans they are.

Emily Willingham from The Biology Files introduces us to microchimerism. And no, this isn’t some awesome condition that makes you develop the parts of a lion, a goat and a snake and then makes you really really small. I know, I’m disappointed too. What it does mean is that we can carry a few cells from someone else around with us, meaning our parents are literally with us all the time. Again, frightening.

Now I hope you all remember THIS:

It gets me every single time. But now thanks to Andrew from Southern Fried Science, we now know why that prawn is unwittingly scrambling for its life. You’ll also find out about other scientific experiments that don’t harm the animals (even the Pigeon’s Obstacle Course of Doom and Baby Seal Waterboarder) but can tell us so much about them.

Meanwhile Andrew Bernardin hits us with some null news over at 360 Degree Skeptic, discussing recent null experimental results involving fish oil and green tea and why they are important, and Bob O’Hara from Deep Thoughts and Silliness takes a look at a paper on research fraud, and find the Americans aren’t as bad as the paper made out. So America: 1, Journal of Medical Ethics: zero.

Last up – Mike McRae from The Tribal Scientist talks about the real education gap – between science and maths communicators and their students – and makes some really important points, and Bill Litshauer from explains how the seasons work, in terms that even I can understand. (Shhhh….)

Now I’ll leave you with James Byrne from Disease of the Week!’s post about gut flora. It’s gross. There are gross bodily functions, gross bodily emissions, gross babies eating gross bodily emissions…. but it’s also a great read.

Thus ends my part. And now I’m going to read something really really stupid to balance all of this out. Or watch cat videos. I’ll just do that. If you want to get involved in the next Scientia Pro Publica, keep an eye on the website for submission details.

– bec



Filed under Animals, Insects, New Species!, Random Rants, Science, Sea Creatures, Video

Wandering Ponies #5

For this edition of WP, I’ll attempt to take you on a roller coaster of emotions, most of which will hopefully be pleasant, and one of which, hopefully not. Unless of course you, I don’t know, find birds scary, squids lame, oil fantastic, and humour not so funny, then I’ve completely misrepresented this entire thing. Maybe you don’t even have emotions. Yeah, exactly. But regardless, I suggest you climb aboard. Unless you’re pregnant. In which case you’re going to have to sit this one out. Sorry, lady, rules are rules.

First up is photographer, Andrew Zuckerman’s, new book – Bird, and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in ages. Described by Erin Estell, a bird trainer who worked on the project, as, “like Vogue for birds,” it features 200 stunning photographs of 75 species, including a baby-faced African pygmy falcon, the most villainous-looking ferruginous hawk you’ll ever see, and my absolute favourite, the secretary bird. You can see most of the photo’s on his website here (I’d post some here if I wasn’t terrified to my very soul by that copyright warning).

And speaking of birds, New Scientist’s wonderfully quirky weekly column about bizarre/extraordinary animals, Zoologger, has a great article on the amazing tool manipulation of rare Egyptian vultures. But before you go all, “Birds and tools = old news, GOD,” this particular story includes coprophagy (not quite as bad as matriphagy, but almost), a fascinating story behind the publication of the original research paper, and one of the best scientific journal titles around. If that doesn’t pique your interest, you can leave (but I’m keeping your shoes):

Zoologger: Vultures use twigs to gather wool for nests.

If you’ve ever simultaneously wanted to marry someone while wishing you could be that same person, you’ll understand how I feel about the Oatmeal Guy. Obviously we haven’t got the technology to facilitate the latter, so I’ll just have to keep working on the former. Regrettable fangirl confessions aside, he really does capture the absolute shit of a hand the male angler fish is dealt in his latest comic here. And when I say ‘absolute shit of a hand,’ I mean everyone else got regular playing cards, while he ended up with a handful of angry grizzly bears who just got told he stole their cubs and called them bad parents:

How the Male Angler Fish Gets Completely Screwed.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute never ceases to amaze with its constant output of incredible footage showing everything from otters holding hands to an inside-out vampire squid. Their latest video shows even more deep-sea squids zipping around and ejecting spawn and whatever else squids do for fun:

And finally,’s The Big Picture section has a few oil spill photo collections that are devastating to look at, but so, so important:

The Big Picture – Caught in the Oil // Scenes from the Gulf of Mexico // Oil in the Gulf – Two Months Later

But because I don’t want to leave you sadfaced, here’s a cat swimming in beanbag filling:


– bec


Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Potential Husbands, Science, Sea Creatures, Video

Trust Me When I Say You’re Going to Need a Blow Torch and Some Rope, Amaurobius ferox Spiderlings.

black-lace weaver spider

In a discovery both sinister and intriguing, a biologist in South Korea has found that life as a juvenile Black-lace weaver spider (Amaurobius ferox) is far from easy. As part of a group known as subsocial spiders, an A. ferox individual will hatch with some 60-130 siblings and remain on a communal web with its mother, living off the eggs she lays for it until it is old enough for a more solitary lifestyle. But things aren’t as simple as they sound, because before they can venture off on their own, these spiderlings must first eat their devoted mother alive. A week or so after hatching, the mother will encourage her brood to devour her body, a strategy which has been found to produce a higher number of surviving offspring, as opposed to abandoning them early to lay a second clutch.

But this is not the only cooperative behaviour displayed by A. ferox juveniles. In the first study examining the synchronisation movements in non-social or subsocial spiders, Dr. Kil Won Kim of the University of Incheon of the Republic of Korea has found that in response to certain stimuli, the orphaned spiderlings will group together and contract their bodies in unison in order to make their web pulse. This behaviour, which would emerge just one day post-matriphagy, is typically triggered by the approach of intruding insects, mites or worms, an individual spiderling sensing this potential threat, causing it to contract in response. Other spiderlings in the huddle then follow suit, contracting and relaxing their bodies to create a pull-and-release effect on the web. The A. ferox juveniles continue to use this apparent defense mechanism for seven to nine days, by which time they appear to grow out of it, focussing their collective efforts on hunting prey up to twenty times their size instead. Dr. Kim notes, “contraction seems to occur only during the period when the other is not present any more but the young are not yet capable of capturing prey.”

You’ll have to visit the BBC report to see clips of the A. ferox matriphagy and web-pulsing, but here are some Yellow sac spiderlings doing the former:

So alright, spiders. I was willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that you enjoy decorating your webs with rotting insect corpses because you like having freeloaders come and squat in your home. I just figured you were lonely and/or needed someone to verse you in Sonic Racing or something. And I don’t really have a problem with your lady jumping spiders beating each other to death at the drop of a hat, because let’s face it – girls will be girls, amirite? But this is just taking it too far, even by your atrociously low standards.

I mean, how does it work exactly? You’re all sitting around the dinner table like, “Hey Mum, look how many eggs I can fit in my mouth,” and “Do you think Justin Bieber like spiders? I bet he does. He seems nice. Do you think he’s nice? I wonder what he’s having for dinner. I bet it tastes better than these eggs,” when suddenly your mum’s like, “So… who wants part of my abdomen for dessert?”

And you’ll be all, “Wtf, Mum!”

And she’ll be like, “Watch your language.”

And then one of you will be like, “But Mum…” and, “Does this mean I’m going to have to catch the bus to school now?”

And she’ll be all, “Gregory, don’t start. Now excuse yourself from the table and come over here and eat your mother.”

So you’ll reluctantly slink off your chairs and edge towards her, telling each other that you’ll probably be grounded either way, but she’s much less likely to enforce it if you eat her first, and pretty soon she’ll be engulfed. Someone will point out rather sheepishly that it actually doesn’t taste that bad, and before you know it, you’ll be collectively digesting your mum in front of Wizards of Waverly Place.

But then what? What’s a family of inexperienced orphans going to do with no food and no protection from strangers who wouldn’t mind devouring and digesting you in front of the television? I’m sorry to break the news, spiders, but huddling together on your web, contracting nervously in unison, muttering, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, we’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die,” isn’t going to solve your problems once the insects and worms figure out what’s really going on.

Guys, you need a more sophisticated plan. And that’s where I come in. But first you’ll need:

* A precocious attitude
* An empty house, preferably in the initial stages of being renovated
* Paint tins
* Rope
* Bricks
* A blow torch
* Staple guns
* Live electrical wires lying in a pool of- –

What? Too complicated? Oh for Christ’s sake, spiders, I was only trying to help. GOD.

Original paper published by Insects Sociaux // Picture from Avec La Vie.


Related posts: Assassin Bug, What Do You Mean You’ve Never Seen The Jackal?

Way to be a Vegetarian for all the Wrong Reasons, Bagheera Kiplingi

– bec


Filed under Insects, Science, Video

You Should Probably Just Move Oceans, Male Gulf Pipefish

It’s well-known that within seahorse circles, it’s the males who bear the responsibility of pregnancy, not the females. The same goes for their relatives, the pipefish, whose males are equipped with a specialised external brood pouch into which the females will deposit eggs during copulation. But a recent examination of  pipefish male pregnancy and mate selection by Kimberley Paczolt and Adam Jones from Texas A&M University has found that this process is nothing to coo over, Henry Gee, Senior Editor at Nature, describing it as “sinister.”

Observing the reproductive behaviour of 22 captive male Gulf pipefish (Syngnathus scovelli), a small-mouthed, pencil-shaped species with a relatively poor swimming technique, Paczolt and Jones discovered just how much control the males have over their prospective progeny. By pairing the males with either large or small females, they found that that the males wasted no time in mating with larger, more attractive females, but were significantly less eager when paired with smaller females. What they also found is that the eggs deposited by larger females had a much higher rate of survival to the point of birth, the males selectively aborting those from a less attractive partner by either retaining vital nutrients, or absorbing (ie cannibalising) the embryos.

By also looking at successive pregnancies in male pipefish, the team were able to make sense of their rather callous tendencies. Not only did broods from smaller females have a low survival rate to begin with, but if a male first mates with an attractive female and bears a large brood, he’s unlikely to want to invest more resources into a following pregnancy, particularly from a less attractive partner. Instead of nurturing these offspring, his specially evolved brood pouch allows him to retain or absorb the nutrients to ready himself for the possibility of meeting a more attractive mate. “When a male mates with a female that’s not necessarily all that ‘attractive,’ instead of investing a lot in those offspring, he’s recharging for the next pregnancy – at least this is what our results suggest,” Dr Jones reports.

That the male pipefish are actively trying to control the quality of their offspring during pregnancy is evidence of post-copulatory sexual selection, which follows the initial competition for mates by way of combat and elaborate courtship displays. Dr Jones explains, “When Darwin proposed the theory of sexual selection, he dealt entirely with pre-mating sexual selection… But after mating there are things that happen within the female’s reproductive tract or competition among sperm from different males that also results in sexual selection. So it turns out that post-mating sexual selection has hardly been studied at all in these sex role-reversed species.”

Well Gulf Pipefish Boys, you might think this is all pretty great, being able to pick and choose (and cannibalise) your own progeny with nary a qualm in the world. But the thing is, those ugly pipefish girls you mated with in the past, they’re not just going to disappear. The ocean might be big, but it’s not that big, and you know what they say – “Mate with one ugly pipefish that time you had nine vodkas, three gins and no dinner, and you’ll end up with six months of whiny text messages and a lifetime of really awkward encounters whenever you try and go back to that particular bar because they happen to serve $5 spirits till 1am.”

So you’ll decide to brave said bar one night, all, “Five tequila sunrises please. Yes, I’m serious. Oh. Hi…”

And that unattractive pipefish girl you once mated with, let’s call her… Martin, will be like, “OMG, I haven’t seen you in ages. How are the offspring?”


“You know, the offspring. Our offspring?”

“Oh. Umm. Hmm.”

“You ate them, didn’t you?”

“Well technically I absorbed… Shit. Five more tequila sunrises please.”

But it won’t end there, Gulf Pipefish Boys, with you simultaneously drinking and wearing a good deal of very cheap alcohol and orange juice, because everyone will know about that time you mated with Martin, especially her really short and ugly friends, and they’ll look at her and then at you and then back at her and figure they’ve got a shot.

So you’ll be at a completely different bar, trying to chat up some cute pipefish girl who really likes the Internet and stuff, like, “I aborted a brood twenty hoping to meet someone so… long. How many millimetres are you anyway? A hundred and twenty? Hundred and thirty? Wait right there, I’m going to get you a vat of gin.”

“And a Redbull.”

“And a Rebull. Right.”

But you’ll only get halfway to the bar before a bunch of Martin’s short and ugly friends swarm and engulf you, all, “Hey can I buy you a drink?”

“No thanks.”

“You want my number? I might be only ninety-five millimetres, but I sure know how to use them…”

“Ew. No thanks.”

“Hey can I buy you a drink?”

And meanwhile the cute pipefish girl who really likes the Internet and stuff will fully think you’re into ugly chicks or something and clear off without her vat of gin, or Redbull, and you’ll either have to go home alone, or pick one of the short and ugly pipefish girls to take with you, like, “Alright, fine. You. What’s your name? Brian? Yeah okay, whatever, come on.”

And you thought having a brood pouch would be a riot, Gulf Pipefish Boys.

More info from Not Exactly Rocket Science and Grrl Scientist // Original paper in Nature // Image from Reef Scavengers

Edit: I’m entering this post for the The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center’s Travel Award competition, which awards a $750 grant to two bloggers to attend ScienceOnline2011, a science communication conference held on January 13-15, 2011, in North Carolina. The best posts that highlight current or emerging evolutionary research appearing in peer-reviewed literature within the last five years win, so fingers crossed tightly for me please!!

– bec


Filed under Science, Sea Creatures, Video

Wandering Ponies #4

Ahh, the Internet.

It’s been a while between Wandering Ponies and the Internet has been providing some mad lolz of late, so bear with me while I indulge. Or you know, try and enjoy the mad lolz. If that’s what you’re into. I’m not one to assume. Plus you look like a busy person. You probably don’t have time for mad lolz. I don’t know. Hey nice tie. What are those, birds? Yeah that’s cool. Hey do you reckon you could make an entire tie out of a bird? That would be wild. It’d have to be a pretty big bird though. What? Oh okay, you’re busy. Sorry, just saying I like your tie. Jesus.

Anyway, first up, one of the best services the Internet has provided in, I don’t know, a long time: BIG ASS MESSAGE. Perfect for those times when you need to ask this, or this.

When it comes time to give your kids Teh Drugs Talk, best you don’t show them this. Because giant teddy bears who cough up business men and whack giant pigeons with street lamps are AMAZING:

Novelty Tumblrs make me infinitely happy, and these two are among the best new ones around. There’s Godzilla Haiku, because you might be a hungry reptile the size of a twenty-storey building, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings. And Michael Buble Being Stalked By A Velociraptor. Because dude has it coming to him.

Next, if you think Running Ponies has an unhealthy obsession with sex, and sea creatures, and sex, you obviously haven’t visited the Hectocotyli blog. Dude makes even me blush. And giggle like a school girl. Or both, simultaneously.

And finally, because everyone these days seems to have forgotten what ACTING is about, I give you: DEATH DISC:

Balloon horse by Andrea Galvani

Happy Easter.

– bec xox

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Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Science, Sea Creatures, Video

Wandering Ponies #3

The Internet pretty much begins and ends with this. The vacant, cock-eyed horse stare. The tiny moustachioed gentleman with the shrunken, useless legs. The buxom peasant woman with the giant meaty paws. It’s got it all. You’ll probably listen to it ten times in a row before realising that you just listened to it ten times in a row before listening to it another ten times in a row. Youtube for techno, acoustic and heavy metal remixes.


For a number of reasons (or just one who rather inconveniently requires vaccinations during the ridiculously expensive Festival Season ) I’m still too poor to buy the t-shirts I’ve had on my WANT list for months. But those of you who are in a more fortunate financial situation might want to consider picking up a The Open Dinosaur Project t-shirt here. And if you buy one for me while you’re at it I’ll sing a song about you. In my head. And then I’ll tell you about it, that it was really awesome and stuff and you’ll ask if you can hear it but I would have forgotten it by then because I don’t write these things down. Sound good?

As close to a living theropod as you could probably get, the Secretarybird is pretty much the coolest bird ever. Too bad the zoo guy ruins everything with his shit jokes. You could recruit like twenty of these to form a personal army they’d be the most dainty deadly weapon ever.

Brand new site,, launched a couple of weeks ago and it’s a ridiculously thorough and nice-looking project run by the likes of Dave Hone, Darren Naish, John Conway (pic above by) et al. dealing with a creature we’re likely to hear a good deal about this year. Best make sure you’ve got your pterosaur general knowledge up to speed first.

And finally, the devastatingly charming Oatmeal’s guide for How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You. I know I’ll be sleeping with one eye open from now on…

– bec


Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Fossils, Science, Video

Lose the Coconut Shells, Veined Octopus. You’re Holding Everyone Up!

Researchers from the Museum of Victoria have stumbled across a rare case of invertebrate tool manipulation in Indonesian waters. While studying the delightful mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus), biologists Dr Julian Finn and Dr Mark Norman observed the peculiar and complex behaviour of more than twenty veined octopuses (Amphioctopus marginatus) off the coasts of Northern Sulawesi and Bali. When coconut shell halves are discarded (or rubbish or shells etc), they fall to the ocean floor to be buried by the substrate which gradually settles on top. Using jets of water expelled from their mantle, the veined octopuses would flush the mud and sand away from inside the shells and use them for shelter from lurking predators.

On four occasions the veined octopuses were observed to stack the coconut shell halves inside themselves so they could wrap their tentacles around and awkwardly “stilt-walk” across distances of up to twenty metres with them in tow. “We were blown away,” Dr Norman told National Geographic. “It was hard not to laugh underwater and flood your mask.”

When compared to their usual unencumbered jet-propelled locomotion, this “lumbering octopedal gait” is a noticeably inefficient and risky alternative, the only benefit being the future manipulation of the shells as a safety enclosure from potential predators. That the octopuses are opting to haul these shells around for later use instead of simply darting behind a rock when a threat is detected, together with the fact that the shells need to be manipulated in a certain way in order to make them work signifies that these cephalopods have the heightened cognitive ability required for basic tool use. “I think these sorts of behaviours are everywhere in nature. There’s really complex behaviours that we write off because we think we’re the clever ones.” Dr Norman told ABC News.

Now while everyone might think this is really awesome and ingenious and everything, to me it all seems a bit much. I know Under the Sea isn’t always a bed of roses, but the other sea creatures get by okay without having to cart a couple of coconut shells around with them all the time, so I don’t see why the veined octopus thinks it needs to. Like, they’d all be hanging out, the veined octopus, the weedy pygmy seahorse and the nudibranch, trying to reconstruct the events of last night’s Christmas party whilst battling through their mad hangovers like:

“Um so I hear you landed a coffee date with the GM who looks like Alec Baldwin.”

“Shit. I don’t remember that at all. Isn’t he married?”

When the nudibranch will be all, “Erm guys, my rhinophores just retracted, so you might want to keep your voices down. It’s probably nothing, and I’m hyper-coloured to the shit anyway, so I don’t care.”

And the weedy pygmy seahorse will be all, “Oh okay, yeah that’s coo…”

But the veined octopus, in typical melodramatic fashion, will be stilt-walking back and forth like a madman, cutting them off all, “OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE EVERYONE GET THE FUCK OUT I CAN’T FIT YOU IN HERE YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN OH MY ARGHHHHH!!”

But it turns out to be a false alarm and they’ll all laugh about it afterwards, but the veined octopus will only laugh because everyone else is laughing because he actually thinks it’s a very serious situation and they just got lucky this one time. Then the nudibranch will be like, “So who wants ice cream?” And they’ll all get ice cream but the weedy pygmy seahorse won’t be able to finish hers so she’s like, “It’s cool, I’ll just take it home and put it in the freezer for later. What..?”

Only the veined octopus will slow them down with his awkward coconut-laden stilt-walking and the weedy pygmy seahorse will get all pissy like, “Seriously, veined octopus, hurry up. Lose the fucking shells. Once these flavours melt into each other it’s ruined.”



But then the veined octopus will see the nudibranch’s rhinophores start to retract again and he’ll freak out like, “Shit, Nudibranch, your rhinosphores… OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL IN SO MUCH TROUBLE ESPECIALLY ME BECAUSE I’D MAKE A REALLY AWESOME MEAL LOOK HOW MEATY I AM COMPARED TO YOU GUYS ARGHHHHH…”

And the nudibranch will try to explain that there is no danger, he just wants to mate with the pretty lady nudibranch chilling somewhere nearby, but the veined octopus will throw back a muffled, “Better safe than sorry!!” through his coconut shells. And then he’ll make them wait and hide for another ten or fifteen minutes before he decides it’s safe to move on.

“You know, it’s probably because of me that we’re all still alive. Oh… hey, seahorse, what happened to your ice cream?”

“Fuck off.”

Current Biology paper here. // Visit Microecos for more examples of invertebrate tool use.

More on octopuses:

* Oh Hey, Cephalopod. How Much of That Did You Just Hear…?

* Intelligence Test – You’re Doing It Wrong.

– bec


Filed under Science, Sea Creatures, Video