You might imagine that you have much in common with an octopus. Humans and octopi certainly don’t look similar, and their brains are far from something you’d find in any mammal, but a recent study reveals that we might be more like the eight-legged aquatic invertebrates than we think, and all it took was a party drug to make us realize it.
The research, which was led by Dr. Gül Dölen of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is groundbreaking and also pretty odd. The scientists gave octopuses MDMA, also called “ecstasy,” to see how they would react, and they ended up doing the exact same things humans do.
First, several male and female octopuses were given a bath in water laced with MDMA. The animals absorbed it for a half hour and then were placed in a sort of multi-room chamber. Some of the rooms in the chamber were empty, but one contained a (sober) male octopus in a cage. This is where things get really weird.
When sober octopuses were put in this test chamber, they typically sought to avoid the solitary male in the cage. They ignored or avoided contact with the other octopus and just kind of sat around being all squishy and stuff. But when the “high” octopuses were dropped in the chamber they actively sought physical contact with the caged male.
“It’s not just quantitatively more time, but qualitative,” Dölen said in a statement. “They tended to hug the cage and put their mouth parts on the cage. This is very similar to how humans react to MDMA; they touch each other frequently.”
The “love drug” seemed to be working on the brains of the invertebrates much in the same way it does to human brains. These “pro-social” behaviors were incredibly obvious in the experiments, and the research could help open new doors to understanding how animals socialize and what inhibits or promotes touchy-feeling behavior in the animal kingdom. The study was published in Current Biology.
You’ve probably never heard of a long-extinct organism known as Dickinsonia. Unlike dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus rex or more recent extinct beasts like the wooly mammoth, fossils of Dickinsonia aren’t particularly interesting to look at. The large, flat, ribbed blobs are mostly featureless, and the animal itself probably wouldn’t have been very exciting to observer. Nevertheless, it’s an incredibly important creature for the simple fact that it’s now considered the oldest known animal that ever lived.
You see, Dickinsonia lived over half a billion years ago, back when plants and animals were really nothing like they are today. Many of the organisms of the day were flat and ribbed and, well, boring. This makes it surprisingly hard to tell what finds in the fossil record are animals and which are plants. A new study says it’s now likely Dickinsonia was one of the earliest animals, but that’s far from a sure thing.
To get it out of the way: Dickinsonia, if it was indeed an animal, would definitely be the oldest known animal on Earth. A new paper published in Science focuses on one particular Dickinsonia fossil that was analyzed in depth. In the fossil the researchers discovered something surprising: cholesterol. Tiny molecules of cholesterol were found in the fossil and, the researchers believe, it’s all the proof we need to declare the organism to be a true animal rather than a plant or fungus.
“The fossil fat molecules that we’ve found prove that animals were large and abundant 558 million years ago, millions of years earlier than previously thought,” associate professor Jochen Brocks of the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences said in a statement.
“Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edicaran Biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution or the earliest animals on Earth. The fossil fat now confirms Dickinsonia as the oldest known animal fossil, solving a decades-old mystery that has been the Holy Grail of palaeontology.”
This all sounds pretty definitive, but others aren’t totally on board with the study’s conclusions. As Gizmodo notes, some researchers are unswayed by the study, pointing out that it’s entirely possible that the fossil had been contaminated in some way during the 550+ million years it was waiting to be discovered.
Arachnophobes will want to avoid the Greek town of Aitoliko for a while. That’s because a massive army of eight-legged web weavers has descended upon quaint seaside locale and blanketed trees, road signs, and huge stretches of shoreline in wispy webs.
Like something out of a horror movie, the town’s residents have been forced to put up with their home turning in a massive bug-catching festival. But what’s probably the most surprising thing about all of this is that nobody really seems to mind all that much. In fact, they’re pretty used to it at this point.
As ScienceAlert notes, this isn’t the first time that the town has had to put up with a massive influx of spiders. This kind of thing apparently happens with shocking regularity, with massive spiderwebs popping up in the town every few years. The spiders aren’t dangerous — at least not to humans — and they eat a lot of even more annoying bugs, like mosquitos, so the locals tend to just let them do their thing.
But what actually prompts the spiders to come out in full force? Nice weather, of course! A surplus of tasty insects and warm temperatures have made for perfect breeding conditions, and the spiders have taken advantage in a big way.
“The spiders are taking advantage of these conditions and are having a kind of a party,” Maria Chatzaki, a biologist with Democritus University of Thrace, told Greece news outlet Newsit. “They mate, they reproduce and provide a whole new generation.”
The spiders won’t last long, and while their webs may be a bit of a nuisance for now they’ll eventually break down and the affected areas will return to normal. That is, until the next pleasant stretch of weather creates another spider frenzy.
Bees and wasps are two very different creatures. Bees are friendly little fellas that give us honey and might maybe leave a welt on your arm if you happen to cross into their personal space. Wasps, on the other hand, are nasty, aggressive fight-starters who come flying out of your Pepsi can to sting you right in the eyeball, and then laugh about it.
That’s the public perception that scientists are now trying to change.
As BBC News reports, researchers are noticing a dramatic shift in the way bees are perceived when compared to wasps, but they’re warning that both types of insects are vitally important to the environment, even if one of them seems to be more rude than the other.
In a new study published in Ecological Entomology, 750 people from dozens nearly 50 countries voiced their opinions on both wasps and bees. Bees, it seems, are associated with flowers and honey and generally pleasant things, while wasps are seen as annoying, dangerous brutes that just want to cause trouble.
“People don’t realize how incredibly valuable they are,” Dr. Seirian Sumner of University College London told BBC News. “Although you might think they are after your beer or jam sandwich – they are, in fact, much more interested in finding insect prey to take back to their nest to feed their larvae.”
One of the biggest issues, according ot Dr. Sumner, is a lack of scientific research into the role that wasps play. There exists a huge discrepancy between the number of publications related to bees and those that focus on wasps. Wasps, generally speaking, are ignored, and the public understanding of why wasps are important has suffered dramatically as a result.
The paper argues that wasps need something of a PR campaign to revitalize their image. Wasps do indeed pollinate, and they help keep other pest populations in check. As much as they might annoy you when you’re just trying to enjoy a nice day in the sun, the ecosystem depends on them in a similar way that it depends on bees. That doesn’t make a sting any less painful, but it’s an important thing to keep in mind anyway.
Sharks, the fearsome predators of the deep blue sea, are some of the most deadly animals on the planet. Their teeth are made for tearing meat from bone, and they aren’t shy about sinking their jaws into whatever looks like a tasty, bloody meal. But not all sharks are so blood thirsty, and a new study reveals that at least one species actually eats lots and lots of leafy greens.
While most sharks crave fresh meat, the bonnethead shark, which is a relative of the iconic hammerhead, is actually just fine with salad. In the study, which was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the shark is described as having an affinity for sea grass, and not just as an occasional snack. Up to 62 percent of the shark’s diet is actually made up of the flowing sea vegetation.
The shark species has been known to consume sea grass for some time, but researchers weren’t sure why it was doing so. It was believed that the grass played some role in the animal’s digestion, and that it wasn’t actually absorbing any nutrients from the grass itself.
This latest research puts that claim to rest. By feeding sharks on a grass-heavy diet for three weeks and then analyzing its droppings, the team has proven that the sharks actually use the vegetation for nutritional purposes. The discovery makes the bonnethead shark the first ever known omnivorous shark, which is just plain cool. Along with the sea grass, the sharks like to chomp on squid, shrimp, and crabs.
“Until now, most people thought that seagrass consumption was incidental when these sharks were hunting for crabs, etc. that live in the seagrass beds,” Samantha Leigh, co-author of the work, told reporters. “Bonnetheads have a digestive system that is very similar to other closely-related species that are definitely strictly carnivorous, so the fact that they are acting like omnivores is truly remarkable!”