Snippets From Science

• In West Africa there is a kind of bug whose worm-like larvae are preyed on by spiders, geckos, and centipedes. Spiders use touch to sense prey, geckos are visual predators, and centipedes hunt using both smell and touch. To protect themselves, these unusual larvae coat themselves with sticky spit from their abdominal hairs and attach “trash” to their backs. The trash consists of pieces of vegetation and discarded ant and termite skins. The resultant backpack of trash confuses predators of the larvae, for they don’t look right, they don’t feel right, and they don’t smell right to the geckos, spiders, and centipedes. Thus the larvae escape predation and develop into adults. These adults are called “assassin bugs.” (Gullan and Cranston, The Insects, Blackwell Pub, 2005)

• There are over 50 different kinds of adenoviruses, which is a group of DNA viruses that causes respiratory infections, including the common cold and digestive upsets. Recent research suggests that children exposed to one kind of adenovirus, called adenovirus-36, are more likely to be or become obese than children not carrying antibodies to the virus. One study tested 67 obese and 57 normal-weight children, ranging in age from 8 to 18, for antibodies to adenovirus-36. If antibodies were present, that meant the person had been exposed to the virus. Nineteen of the children showed antibodies to the virus, and 15 of them were obese. In other studies, about 30 percent of obese adults carried the antibodies to adenovirus-36, while only about 10 percent of people of normal weight showed these antibodies. Of course there are many factors associated with obesity. Older mothers are more likely to have obese children. An increase in hormone-disrupting chemicals in the environment may affect hormones that regulate metabolism. Lack of exercise and poor eating habits can result in weight gain. Now we add to the list the possibility that certain viruses may be associated with obesity. (Science News, Oct. 10, 2010; and other sources)

• A pet peeve of many people is being distracted by individuals who insist on yammering away on their cell phones in public, in a voice loud enough to be heard 15 or so feet away. Now researchers at Cornell University provide evidence that having to listen to such one-way chatter interferes with the ability of people in hearing range to concentrate on their own tasks. (Psychological Science, Sept. 3, 2010)

• Deep diving whales remain submerged for an hour or two and then return to the surface to pant. Their panting is via blowholes (equivalent to our nostrils) and they breathe regularly every 10 seconds or so for 5 to 10 minutes. After panting, they are ready to dive again. Fin and blue whales regularly swim at about 20 mph, and the fin whale can sprint at speeds of over 30 mph. Imagine 100 metric tons of mass in a body 65 feet long moving through water at such speeds. (Mead and Gold, Whales and Dolphins in Question, Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002)

• Are men the more belligerent sex? A psychologist at the University of Minnesota claimed that if we could cryogenically freeze all boys and men between the ages of 12 and 28, the rate of violent crime in the U.S. would be cut by two-thirds. Data indicate that the rate of violent crime for males aged 10 and older is over six times greater than for females in the same age range. Men commit about 90 percent of the murders in the U.S. There is strong evidence that levels of the hormone testosterone play a role. (Lilienfeld and Arkowitz, Scientific American Mind, May/June, 2010)