Archive for 'News about research'

The Marshmallow, in herpetology and medicine

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

marsmallow_lizardThe 390 species of Anolis-lizards are generally considered insectivorous. Some also eat fruit and nectar. Recently, a new source of food for these New World reptiles was discovered: On the Consumption of Marshmallow Residues, an Atypical Food Item, by Anolis cristatellus Duméril and Bibron, 1837 in Puerto Rico [LEB (Life: The Excitement of Biology) 2: 270-271, January 10, 2015]

Norman Greenhawk, of Tropic Ventures Research and Education Foundation, Las Casas de la Selva, Buzón, Puerto Rico, reports:

On March 18th, 2014, at approximately 09:00, I observed an adult male Anolis cristatellus eating the remains of a marshmallow that had been roasted over a campfire the night before. The remains were on the end of stick that had been discarded on an outdoor table at the homestead of Las Casas de la Selva, a sustainable forestry project in the Carite Forest region of Patillas, Puerto Rico. The anole licked the charred marshmallow residue and four times bit the end of the stick. This feeding event took place for eleven minutes, until one of the observers accidentally startled the anole.

The author concludes:

I believe this is the first record of an anole consuming a human-manufactured food item.

Please note that consumption of marshmallows by other – even carnivorous – reptiles is well-known in Florida and Louisiana:

BONUS: “The Marshmallow as an Aid to Radiologic Examination of the Esophagus” by J. Edward Kelly, Jr in New Engl J Med 1961; 265:1306-1307

Kiwis and the sensible quest against toppling

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Richard Lehman writes (in his journal reviews column, in BMJ), about a standout article about standing up for standing up, in The Lancet:

I do wish the world was run by New Zealanders. Unassumingly tough, kind and sensible, uninterested in adopting other people’s bad habits and neuroses, they are just wonderful at getting on with life. When old Kiwis have falls, they look at what they might fall over and what they might hold on to. Result: “a 26% reduction in the rate of injuries caused by falls at home per year exposed to the intervention.” OK, this has been done before. But it needs doing a lot more.

The New Zealand attitude about preventing falls shines also in the study that earned the 201o Ig Nobel Prize for physics:

parkin2010 IG NOBEL PHYSICS PRIZE: Lianne Parkin [pictured here], Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, New Zealand, for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes.

REFERENCE: “Preventing Winter Falls: A Randomised Controlled Trial of a Novel Intervention,” Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest, New Zealand Medical Journal. vol. 122, no, 1298, July 3, 2009, pp. 31-8.

BONUS (somewhat related): Toppling of the Pops: A sometimes fatal quest for soda pop

Toppling of the Pops: A sometimes fatal quest for soda pop

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

We all know that fizzy drinks can affect the health of people who drink them, especially in super-size quantities, but – even worse – fizzy drinks in a vending machine sometimes bring immediate violent death when the machines are attacked.

This is documented dramatically by Dr Michael Q Cosio in a 1988 research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In the summary of his paper, Soda Pop Vending Machine Injuries, Cosio minces no words.

“Fifteen male patients, 15 to 24 years of age, sustained injuries after rocking soda machines. The machines fell on to the victims, resulting in a variety of injuries. Three were killed. The remaining 12 required hospitalisation for their injuries.”

At the time, Cosio was working at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. He has since died. I have not determined the manner of his passing.

—So begins another Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

BONUS: For context, here is detail from a patent for a beverage vending machine. According to Dr. Cosio’s report, this general class of vending machine dispenses cans and — if attacked — death:


More Bite than an Old Saw? A Saw Made with Shark Teeth

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Francie Diep’s article “Watch a Power Saw Made with Shark Teeth Slice Through Salmon“, in Popular Science magazine, is well headlined, and has a video that shows a power saw, made with shark teeth, slicing through salmon. The research Diep describes was itself described by the researchers at a meeting earlier this month:

Jawzall: Effects of Shark Tooth Morphology and Repeated Use on Cutting,” CORN, K*; BRASH, J; FARINA, S; SUMMERS, A; Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, 2015 Meeting, P2-196 Monday, Jan. 5 15:30.

The investigators, at Cornell University; Valley Steel and Stone; Cornell University; and the University of Washington, report:

“Shark teeth both pierce and cut their prey, which is viscoelastic and structurally and materially heterogeneous. We propose a device for testing the function of shark teeth in a biologically relevant context with respect to their movement relative to the prey. We used this device to test whether tooth shape has an effect on cutting efficiency on a large actinopterygian prey item (salmon) and how quickly teeth dull. Teeth from four sharks, tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier), sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus), silky (C. falciformis), and sixgill (Hexanchus griseus), were attached to 30.5cm straight saw blades with epoxy. Each blade was mounted in a reciprocating saw and applied to a chum salmon with constant force. Published data report that Carcharodon carcharias shakes its head at 0.5Hz (~15cm/s). Our saw moved the teeth 35 cm/s. Our ‘bite force’ was substantially below that reported for sharks, due to of limitations of our system. There was not a significant effect of tooth shape on the area of prey cut per linear distance traveled. The mean area cut per cm traveled across all tooth shapes was 69 cm^2/cm. There was a significant effect of repeated use on cutting speed. After 12 reciprocations, a tooth cut only 7% of the tissue it cut on the first 6 reciprocations (at 5.7cm/reciprocation). This rapid dulling is enhanced by the high speeds at which we are cutting, as the fish tissues appear much stiffer at high strain rates. Sharks have very rapid tooth replacement and we propose this is driven by the speed of dulling from use.”

(Thanks to investigator Paula Gramm for bringing this to our attention.)

Here is a photo of Adam Summers, the final-named author of the study, engaged in a different activity:


Gene Hunt and the hunt for genes

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

hunt3Gene Hunt has, so far, resisted the pressures of nominative determinism. Gene Hunt does not hunt for genes.

No. Gene Hunt hunts  for explanations for evolutionary patterns as expressed in the fossil record. “Empirically,” Gene Hunt says, “I most often work with ostracodes – small, bivalved crustaceans – with much of this work to date on deep-sea forms.”

Gene Hunt, Ph.D., is the curator of Ostracoda in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

Among Gene Hunt’s many publications, you’ll find the metaphorically as well as non-metaphorically cutting-edge study:

Green, Walton A., Hunt, Gene, Wing, Scott L. and DiMichele, William A. 2011. Does extinction wield an axe or pruning shears? How interactions between phylogeny and ecology affect patterns of extinction,Paleobiology, 37(1):72-91