Science roundup

This week's most exciting science developments

This week in Science roundup, we highlight plant hearing, the agony of isolation and the elusive vampire squirrel.

Lend me your ears (of corn)

Run! It's the Very Hungry Caterpillar!  Image courtesy of Tom Phillips.*

Run! It’s the Very Hungry Caterpillar! Image courtesy of Tom Phillips.*

Plants not only register the sounds of caterpillars chowing down on floral flesh, but they can also subsequently ramp up their production of chemical defenses, research by two University of Missouri scientists suggests.

The researchers played recordings of insect mastication to arabidopsis plants and then measured the levels of two caterpillar-repellent chemicals, glucosinolate and anthocyanin, unleashed when the critters nibbled the plants’ leaves.

The authors’ results suggest a novel mechanism for long-distance plant signaling, and yet another tool deployed in the eternal struggle between plants and insects.

Splendid isolation

How far would you go to avoid being alone with your thoughts?  Image courtesy of  Windell Oskay*

How far would you go to avoid being alone with your thoughts?
Image courtesy of Windell Oskay.*

Enduring six to 15 minutes alone in a room can become quite burdensome, it seems. According to a paper published July 4 in Science, people far prefer performing simple tasks to enduring even a few moments of idle introspection. Not only that, but many participants opted to give themselves electric shocks in lieu of spending that time sans stimulus.

Given how much I relish my alone-time, I find these results shocking!

 

The squirrel that was all tail

Sorry, Bub: Your tail pales in comparison to the voluminous appendage sported by the fabled vampire squirrel.  Image courtesy of  Richard Heyes.*

Sorry, Bub: Your tail pales in comparison to the voluminous appendage sported by the fabled vampire squirrel.
Image courtesy of Richard Heyes.*

In the remote forests of Borneo lurks a creature with the body of a sleek rat and a tail like a startled feather duster. The vampire squirrel, as it is know, is considerably larger than your average squirrel and reportedly leap from tree branches onto the backs of unsuspecting deer, sever its jugular and feast on the slaughtered animal’s offal.

According to a new analysis of images of the squirrels captured by motion-activated cameras, the species has the fluffiest tail-to-body-size ratio of any mammal, weighing in at fully 30 percent larger than the squirrel’s body.

Although the tail’s precise function remains cloaked in mystery, the authors speculate that the voluminous appendage could serve as a decoy, baffling predators and helping the vampire squirrel evade capture.

That’s it for this week’s Science roundup. Check back next week for more wacky science news still warm from the presses.

And happy belated birthday, America.

*All photos used under this creative commons license.