Humanity could vanish from the Earth right now, and our legacy would still linger for a thousand years. The world is waking to the reality of anthropogenic climate change, but that’s not the full story when it comes to how we’ve remade this planet in our image . Our obsession with plastic has flooded our environment with millions of tons of plastic waste, and every crevice of the planet is now filled with plastic fragments, small and large.

A study published in February calls into question the widely held belief that fish are stupid, by showing that they can recognise their own reflection. Masanori Kohda and Alex Jordan from Osaka City University in Japan and their colleagues tested bluestreak cleaner wrasse with a classic measure of self-awareness – whether they respond to a mark on their body that is only visible to them in their reflection in a mirror.


Saving Face or Saving the Planet?

I’ve written before about the issues surrounding our near-limitless demand for palm oil. So you might expect I’d be applauding Iceland for promising to cut palm oil from their own-brand products from 2019 onwards – the kind of self-imposed deadline most campaigners can only dream of. And you might think I’d be up in arms about the ban that has stopped their beautiful and heartbreaking advert from reaching millions. And you’d be partly, but not completely, right. 

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Lice evolved with birds and mammals

Parasites are thought to diversify with their host species, but the theory has rarely been tested. Kevin Johnson at the University of Illinois and his colleagues sequenced the genomes of 46 species of lice that parasitise birds or mammals, and two non-parasitic bark lice, and constructed an evolutionary tree. They estimated that parasitic lice first emerged between 90 and 100 million years ago, but didn’t begin to diversify until 66 million years ago – around the time of the dinosaurs’ extinction.

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Ants immunise their young

As I’ve mentioned before, living in a large densely-packed social group, like a city or an ant colony, comes with some drawbacks – perhaps worst of which is the risk of catching a contagious diseases. Earlier this year I wrote about research showing that raider ants treat injured workers’ wounds, helping them to heal. Now, a new study shows that the queen can pass on resistance to diseases she’s encountered, arming her workers against pathogens.

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The Ant Doctor Will See you Now

I’ve spent more time than most observing ants, and I’ve come to find them ‘cute’ – something few other people understand, and that is often hard to convey. So it’s nice to find a paper that offers the opportunity to give people a glimpse into the cuteness I see in ant behaviour.

Ants clean the wounds of injured nest mates, often saving their lives and keeping infection out of the colony.

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Biological Linguistics: What is a bug?

I’d like to talk about a very important issue, very close to my heart, and one that I think needs greater public awareness – the definition of the word ‘bug’.

See, people think they can just throw the word bug around willy-nilly. Anything small, flying or irritating, is a bug. Any pest, is a bug. But what many people don’t realise is the word isn’t just a colloquial term for insect or invertebrate, it isn’t a synonym for shelled or armoured creatures, it has a real scientific definition.

The word bug refers to insects in one particular order – Hemiptera, or the True Bugs.

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What are the effects of yoga and meditation on the brain?

Question:

What are the effects of yoga and meditation on the brain? (Asked by @leximills)

Answer:

Yoga and meditation have effects on physiology, brain chemistry, and cognitive processes; these vary depending on the exact type of practise being performed and how long a person has practised it for. Studies of brain activity confirm that meditation can achieve a state of calm, thoughtless awareness, by suppressing brain regions involved in external attention and irrelevant information, and activating brain regions involved in internalised attention and positive emotions. Meditation is thought to activate the parasympathetic-limbic pathways, reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure and slowing breathing. Meditation practises can fundamentally change the shape, structure and function of the brain – reinforcing neural networks, developing particular brain regions and influencing the production of key neurotransmitters and hormones in the brain related to attention, self-awareness and emotional control. Yoga has far-reaching effects on the body, reducing inflammation, boosting mood and making long-term practitioners feel more awake. It may even speed up learning in childhood and slow the natural cognitive declines that come with ageing. However, our understanding of the effects of meditative practises on the brain and body is still in its infancy – much more work remains (especially large-scale, carefully controlled trials).

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