Archive for 'Research News'

Heaps of Clasping, Fighting, Kicking Toads, Squealing Like Mice

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

Toads, some of them, are capable of dramatic action. Here are two examples, one old, one not so old, from the scientific literature.

Heaps of Clasping, Fighting, Kicking Toads, Squealing Like Mice

Some toads sometimes form heaps of clasping, fighting, kicking males, squealing like mice, sometimes, suggests a study published in 1907:

Response to Toads to Sound Stimuli,” A. Courtis, The American Naturalist, vol. 41, no. 491, November 1907, pp. 677-682. The author, at the Detroit Home and Day School, Michigan, reports:

There were many interesting things observed during the experiments. For one thing the males as well as the females responded to the call, which they could locate very accurately. At the beginning of an experiment, as soon as the males were put down they began to scatter in all directions, swimming excitedly about, now this way, now that. When there were twelve unattached males within four or five feet, a call by one of their number would bring the others from all directions, and in a second or two there would. be one or two heaps of clasping, fighting, kicking males, squealing like mice, and rolling over and over….

From these observations I conclude that both male and female toads can hear and locate in space the call of the male; that the response is unintelligent and mechanical; that to the sound of the mating call a motor response is given, which serves to bring the sexes to the same place; that motion is the stimulus which starts the clasping reflex; that neither sex is able to recognize the other without actual contact; that toads do not quickly profit by experience.

Toads Rolling Downhill From a Tarantula

Some toads form a ball and roll downhill when attacked by a tarantula, at least sometimes, suggests this brief BBC video:

(Thanks to Laura Bassett for bringing the rolling toad to our attention.)

Do small dogs urinate dishonestly? [research study]

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

The height of dogged dishonesty or honesty, when dogs urinate, gets analyzed in this new study:

Urine Marking in Male Domestic Dogs: Honest or Dishonest?B. McGuire [pictured here],  B. Olsen,  K.E. Bemis, and  D. Orantes, Journal of Zoology, epub 2018. The authors, at Cornell University, explain:

Via two studies, we tested the hypothesis that urine marking is a dishonest signal in adult male domestic dogs, which raise a hindlimb when marking vertical objects. In Study 1, we tested whether raised-leg angle (i.e., during a urination, the angle between a dog’s raised leg and the axis normal to the ground) is a proxy for urine mark height (n = 15 dogs) and, in Study 2, we tested whether small dogs exhibit larger raised-leg angles than large dogs (n = 45 dogs).

Our findings support raised-leg angle as a proxy for urine mark height and provide additional evidence that scent marking can be dishonest. Assuming body size is a proxy for competitive ability, small adult male dogs may place urine marks higher, relative to their own body size, than larger adult male dogs to exaggerate their competitive ability. We did not control for over marking, which also may explain our findings.

The study also says “Dogs set the pace of walks, explored freely, and investigated prospective marking targets as they pleased,” and points out an alternative, dog-honesty-heavy explanation for what’s happening:

Alternatively, over marking may explain our findings. Over marking is used by mammals to cover deposits by conspecifics in favor of displaying their own scent (Johnston, Chiang & Tung, 1994) and is a common behavior in dogs that may, in combination with adjacent marking (i.e., depositing a scent mark adjacent to that of a conspecific), constitute 63% of all urinations (Lisberg & Snowdon, 2011). If a large dog places a scent mark at the height of its hip, a small dog would need to place its urine higher, relative to its own hip, to over mark the large dog’s deposit. This requires the small dog to perform a larger raised-leg angle than the large dog (per Study 1). Compared to large dogs, small dogs will encounter more marks that are higher in relation to their own body size for them to over mark; this could explain the negative relationship between body size and average raised-leg angle.

(Thanks to Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention, and for pointing out that “fake news” has now become an issue with dogs.)

Recent progress in Wonder Woman studies

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Booing/Music/Noise [research study]

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

‘We Are Interrupted by Your Noise’: Heckling and the Symbolic Economy of Popular Music Stardom,” Mark Duffett, Popular Music and Society, vol. 32, no. 1, February 2009, pp. 37-57. The author explains:

“Heckling has rarely been examined in popular music studies. The argument of this piece is that audience members heckle in an attempt to alter the balance of power in live musical performance. To understand this I introduce the idea of the “symbolic economy,” a framework of assumptions and interpretations held by audience members that gives stars their social value. My argument is that each musician’s aura is perceived when his or her performance is both recognizably popular and emotionally meaningful to each fan. Heckling can potentially damage the aura by shifting attention away from the star, condemning the content of his or her performance, and forcing him or her to make an impromptu response. Drawing on theory from sociology and literary studies, the article supplies examples to help us understand the potentials of this process by creating a typology of different heckles.”

Read that and more, in the column “Music and Noise Research—Explorations of artistic and other vibrations” [free, downloadable PDF], in the special NOISE issue of the Annals of Improbable Research.

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The campaign to honor the first cat in outer space

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

A cat named Félicette gets ever-widening recognition as being the first cat intentionally (and probably otherwise, too) launched into outer space.

Félicette has many admirers, and has admired research into the history of the thing, and inspired artists, too.

(Thanks to Brent Freeze for bringing this to our attention.)

NOTE: The saga of Félicette should not be confused with the also delightful—but fictional—story of Esther the Cold War Kitty.