Ticks feed on the blood of vertebrates, but this diet is low in B vitamins, which are vital for cellular metabolism. A study published earlier this year shows that African soft ticks (Ornithodoros moubata) supplement their diet with vitamin B from bacterial symbionts.
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.
This month I’ve been working on a book proposal, which has been keeping me very busy, as well as a couple of blogs that will also be comedy sets!
I wrote a short piece about social immunity in acrobat ants.
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.
This month I’ve been away in California, so I’ve been less productive than usual. Back to normal for April! But I did finish the article I promised you last month, about social medicine in ants, which was a lot of fun to write.
I’m looking for interesting new blog topics for 2018, so please send me your science questions!
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.
Greetings from snowy London!
Over the last month I’ve been working on some really cool articles for Curious Meerkat – one I’d hoped to publish before the end of Feb but you’ll have to wait a few more days! I’ve also been working more on my upcoming podcast, and a very special series of blogs and videos for Curious Meerkat coming later this year.
I’ve been even more busy in my freelance work, writing several pieces on the Amazon – deforestation, dams and carbon emissions – for Mongabay.
Please don’t forget to send me your questions to answer in my blog posts, and also any comments / suggestions you have for the blog!
Thanks for reading!
I must apologise to anyone who has been trying to visit the Curious Meerkat site recently. I’ve had a nightmare with web hosting migration this month, but I’m pleased to say it’s all finished now and the site is back up and running for good!
In between sorting that out and doing some live gigs, I’ve managed to publish a piece I’ve been wanting to write for ages, clarifying what the word ‘bug’ really means.
Expect loads more content next month!
Ps – I’m also working on some other exciting projects this month in different mediums – watch this space for vlogs and podcasts later this year!
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.
What are the effects of yoga and meditation on the brain? (Asked by @leximills)
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).