Science Stories for Halloween

In keeping with our tradition at Promega Connections, we have put together a “Halloween-themed” blog for you. This year we compiled a list of science-related stories that we felt had a certain spooky air about them. Enjoy! And, if you have other stories to add to this list, leave us a comment.

    • Zombie Bees: In January 2012, Andrew Core and colleagues published an article in PLOS ONE describing “zombie” honey bees. With the host of pathogens and pesticides that can harm honey bee colonies, loss of honey bee colonies and rapid declines of honey bee populations world wide, perhaps the worst news bee keepers could get is the description of a new bee zombie parasite. The phorid fly, Apopcephalus borealis, attacks honey bees, causing them to leave their hives at night. Infected honey bees have been found beneath and within light fixtures, regardless of weather conditions, and show symptoms such as “walking in circles” and an inability to “stand on legs”. The female flies lay eggs in the abdomens of the bees, and approximately a week later immature larvae emerge from between the head and thorax of the bee.
    • Remote-Controlled Cockroaches: By firing electrical signals at the sensory organs of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, North Carolina State University assistant professor Alper Bozkurt and graduate student Tahmid Latif were able to direct the cockroaches’ movements either left or right. The antennae are touch sensors and the electrical impulse stimulates the sensors and “tells” the roach to move in the opposite direction. What would one do with one of these robotic roaches? Apparently use them to find survivors in collapsed buildings. Building small scale robots is very difficult, but harnessing the ability of these roaches to survive in adverse environments overcomes the design issues of tiny robots. Video of the remote controlled roaches.
    • Super Archer Fish: Vailati and colleagues describe the amazing power and accuracy of the archer fish. This fish lurks underneath the surface of shallow water looking for unsuspecting insect prey that have settled “safely” onto comfortable vegetation above the water. Suddenly, with power well beyond that achievable by mere vertebrate muscle, it shoots a precise jet of water that knocks the prey off its perch to the jowls of the waiting fish below. The PLOS ONE article with its video in the supporting information section.
    • Weaving Tangled Webs: In September, Rogers and colleagues published a study in PLOS ONE describing the natural ecological experiment taking place on the island of Guam with the introduction of the brown tree snake, an invasive species. The tree snake, introduced in the 1940s, has virtually eliminated insect-eating birds from the forests on the island of Guam, with 10 of 12 bird species completely eliminated. Rogers and colleagues asked if the loss of the bird population has led to an increase in spider populations, a phenomenon that has been noted in smaller scale studies. What did they find? More spiders, larger webs, and loss of seasonality of spider populations. On top of that, the forests of Guam are eerily quiet because of the lack of song birds.
    • Another Arachnid Tale: On Tuesday, March 6 2012, floods in Wagga Wagga, Australia, forced people from their homes and tiny sheet weaver spiders to move to safer ground. The spiders with their webs left the landscape looking like something from a bad William Shatner movie. However, there is no reason to be afraid, the spiders helped reduce the mosquito population and they even are associated with a legend that having one of these spiders land on you will bring you good luck. (Story and Photo Gallery)
    • As If Creating Robotic Roaches Wasn’t Enough: Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, teamed up with engineers to create a small robot that mimics the “disappearing” behavior of the cockroach. These scientists observed the quick disappearing action of roaches, figured out how they pulled off their act, and then mimicked it with a small robot. The robot is only slightly less creepy than the roaches. (Story and Video)
    • Vaporizing the Earth: This story reminds me of the Phineas and Ferb episode in which Baljeet decides to remove the Earth’s atmosphere. In this instance however, astrophysicists Schaefer, Lodders and Fegley are intent upon vaporizing Earth to see what it would look like. They need to be able to predict the spectra they and other astronomers should see when looking at super-Earths (planets outside our solar system that are more massive than Earth and made of rock). So they have vaporized Earth, well two Earths—one with water and one without. And they did it as a computer simulation, but still… (Link to the article abstract)
    • Vampire Spiders Distinguish the Male and Female Heads of a Two-Headed Mosquito: Okay, forget the scariness of the mere existence of something called a vampire spider. Not only does this spider use odorant cues to find a nice engorged mosquito on which to feast, if the odor isn’t there to lead it, it can distinguish male from female mosquitoes, visually, choosing the female (the one who bites and feeds) over the male every time. (Link to summary of the paper.)
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