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Pheromones and the Price of Pollination

• Does the nose, know? There is growing evidence that subtle odor molecules given off by humans can influence the behavior of others. Some of these are so subtle they can’t be perceived by our olfactory system. These airborne molecules are called pheromones, and they are detected by a different patch of sensory cells in our nasal chamber. Pheromones are airborne chemicals we release that affect the behavior or physiology of others, especially at close range. Can pheromones influence mate selection in humans? Yes. It appears that pheromones subconsciously program females to favor males whose immune systems are least like their own. This occurs in other animals as well. Why? Scientists argue that this favors survival of offspring since their “hybrid” immune systems will have a more diverse arsenal to ward off disease and infection. (Moran, Jafek, and Rowley, 1991, J. Steroid Biochem. & Mol. Biology, pp. 522-545; Jones and Lopez, Human Reproductive Biology; Tim Friend, Animal Talk, and other sources)

• The total value of pollination services rendered by all insects globally has been estimated to annually exceed $100 billion. In the U.S., bees alone contribute several billion dollars of value by pollinating food crops.

• Workers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, led by Sarah Olson, provided evidence that in some tropical areas where the forest has been clear-cut, the incidence of malaria may increase up to 50 percent. The apparent cause is a substantial increase in the population of mosquitoes that transmit the parasite. Olson’s colleague, Jonathan Patz, said “If we keep treating diseases like malaria and other infectious diseases without understanding the underlying determinants of disease transmission, it’s equivalent to mopping up the floor without turning off the faucet.” (paper by Olson and Patz in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases [2010], and reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

• In a small cave in Botswana, archeologists discovered remnants of a primitive people that worshiped the python about 68,000 years ago. Some believe the seeking of spirituality is hard-wired in the brain.

• Mantis shrimp are crustaceans that are distantly related to crayfish and lobsters. They get their name from the way they hold their forelegs – similar to those of the praying mantis. These creatures grow to 10 inches or so in length and walk or swim over the ocean bottom, feeding on other shrimp, snails, crabs, and clams. What’s fascinating about mantis shrimp is that their claws are modified to deliver a vicious stab that easily punctures or crushes the hard exoskeleton of their prey. Researchers at UC Berkeley used a $60,000 highspeed video camera to capture and analyze the strike of the mantis shrimp at 5,000 frames/second. They found that these stabs are delivered at lightning speed with almost as much force as a .22 rifle bullet. (Google “mantis shrimp attacks”; http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004)