Live-in grandparents helped human ancestors get a safer night’s sleep. Duke Today, July 12, 2017. A sound night’s sleep grows more elusive as people get older. But what some call insomnia may actually be an age-old survival mechanism, researchers report. A study of modern hunter-gatherers in Tanzania finds that, for people who live in groups, differences in sleep patterns commonly associated with age help ensure that at least one person is awake at all times. Picked up by The New York Times, CBS News, New Scientist, Discover Magazine, Science, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Cosmos, The Guardian, BBC News, Mental Floss, Popular Science, Reader’s Digest, USA Today and The Telegraph.
Researchers identify genes that help trout find their way home. Duke Today, April 26, 2017. In the spring when water temperatures start to rise, rainbow trout that have spent several years at sea traveling hundreds of miles from home manage, without maps or GPS, to find their way back to the rivers and streams where they were born for spawning. Researchers have identified genes that enable the fish to perform this extraordinary homing feat with help from Earth’s magnetic field. Picked up by the Daily Mail, Nature, The Herald-Sun, IFLScience and the News & Observer.
Mating mix-up with wrong fly lowers libido for Mr. Right. Duke Today, March 16, 2017. If you’ve ever suffered a nightmare date and were hesitant to try again, fruit flies can relate. Female flies that have been coerced into sex by invasive males of the wrong species are less likely to reproduce with their own kind later. Invasive species are known to threaten native biodiversity by bringing in diseases, preying on resident species or outcompeting them for food. But these results show invasives pose a risk through unwelcome advances, too. Picked up by The Discovery Files, a podcast from the National Science Foundation.
People far from urban lights, bright screens still skimp on sleep. Duke Today, Feb. 16, 2017. Screen time before bed can mess with your sleep. But people without TV and laptops skimp on sleep too, researchers say. A Duke University study of people living without electricity or artificial light in a remote farming village in Madagascar finds they get shorter, poorer sleep than people in the U.S. or Europe. But they seem to make up for lost shuteye with a more regular sleep routine, the researchers report. Picked up by Huffington Post.
Why baboon males resort to domestic violence. Duke Today, Jan. 18, 2017. Some baboon males vying for a chance to father their own offspring expedite matters in a gruesome way — they kill infants sired by other males and attack pregnant females, causing them to miscarry, researchers report. Infanticide has been documented in other animals including baboons, lions and dolphins, but rarely feticide. The perpetrators are more prone to commit domestic violence when forced to move into a group with few fertile females, the study finds. Picked up by The Times (South Africa), Cosmos Magazine, Smithsonian and Seeker of the Discovery Channel.
Genetic opposites attract when chimpanzees choose a mate. Duke Today, Jan. 11, 2017. Duke University researchers find that chimpanzees are more likely to reproduce with mates whose genetic makeup most differs from their own. Many animals avoid breeding with parents, siblings and other close relatives, researchers say. But chimps are unusual in that even among virtual strangers they can tell genetically similar mates from more distant ones. Chimps are able to distinguish degrees of genetic similarity among unfamiliar mates many steps removed from them in their family tree. Picked up by UPI.com and the Daily Mail.
Upward mobility boosts immunity in monkeys. Duke Today, Nov. 24, 2016. The richest and poorest Americans differ in life expectancy by more than a decade. Health inequalities across the socioeconomic spectrum are often attributed to medical care and lifestyle habits. But a study of rhesus monkeys shows the stress of life at the bottom can impact immunity even in the absence of other risk factors. Infection sends immune cells of low-ranking monkeys into overdrive, but social mobility can turn things around, researchers report in Science. Picked up by BBC News, Scientific American, The Telegraph, The Scientist, Science Magazine, Science News, the Daily Mail, New Scientist and The New York Times.
‘Mean girl’ meerkats can make twice as much testosterone as males. Duke Today, Oct. 20, 2016. Testosterone. It’s often lauded as the hormone that makes males bigger, bolder, stronger. Now researchers have identified one group of animals, the meerkats of Africa, in which females can produce even more testosterone than males — the only animals known to have such a pattern. Female meerkats with high levels of testosterone-related hormones are more likely to be leaders, but they also pay a price for being macho, according to two new studies. Picked up by the Daily Mail and the daily news feed of the National Science Foundation.
In the ocean, clever camouflage beats super sight. Duke Today, Aug. 23, 2016. Some fish blend seamlessly into their watery surroundings with help from their silvery reflective skin. Researchers have long assumed that squid, shrimp and other ocean animals could see through this disguise, thanks to an ability to detect a property of light — called polarization — that humans can’t see. But a new study finds that not even polarization vision helps animals spot silvery fish from afar. Picked up by Cosmos.
Breakneck bite. 1,100 words, Aug. 1, 2016. The jaws of trap-jaw ants can generate forces hundreds of times their body weight and snap shut at speeds reaching 145 miles per hour — over 2,000 times faster than the blink of an eye. Duke biologists are using 3-D X-ray imaging to peer inside the insects’ heads and study the internal structures that power their impressive mandibles.
Lemurs mix smelly secretions to make richer, longer-lasting scents. Duke Today, April 19, 2016. Humans aren’t alone in their ability to mix perfumes and colognes. Lemurs, too, get more out of their smelly secretions by combining fragrances from different scent glands to create richer, longer-lasting scents, finds a study led by Duke University. Picked up by Mental Floss, Scientific American, Scientific American’s 60-Second Science, and the Daily Mail.
Why testing lemur color vision is harder than it looks. Duke Research Blog, March 18, 2016. Elphaba the aye-aye is not an early riser. A nocturnal primate with oversized ears, bulging eyes and long, bony fingers, she looks like the bushy-tailed love child of a bat and an opossum. Elphaba is one of 14 aye-ayes at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina, where researchers have been trying to figure out if these rare lemurs can tell certain colors apart, particularly at night when aye-ayes are most active. But as their experiments show, testing an aye-aye’s eyesight is easier said than done.
Black widows are color-coded to deter predators without tipping off prey. Duke Today, Feb. 29, 2016. Secret codes and hidden messages aren’t just for computer security experts or kids passing notes in class — animals use them too. The telltale red hourglass of the black widow spider appears brighter and more contrasting to birds than to insects, finds a new study. The red-and-black color combination sends a “beware!” signal to predators without scaring off their prey. Picked up by Forbes, Smithsonian Magazine, Discovery News and the Daily Mail.
Togetherness relieves stress in prairie voles. Duke Today, Jan. 19, 2016. Many people feel anxious in crowds. But not so for prairie voles. When these mouse-like creatures live in close quarters, they are less stressed out, researchers report. The study is part of a larger field of research on how social stresses such as crowding and isolation affect brain chemistry and behavior.
Stress ‘sweet spot’ differs for mellow vs. hyper dogs. Duke Today, July 21, 2015. People aren’t the only ones who perform better on tests or athletic events when they are just a little bit nervous — dogs do too. But in dogs as in people, the right amount of stress depends on disposition. A new study by researchers at Duke University finds that a little extra stress and stimulation makes hyper dogs crack under pressure but gives mellow dogs an edge. Picked up by the Daily Mail, the News & Observer and CBS News.
Big butts aren’t everything to male baboons. Duke Today, April 20, 2015. While the female baboon’s big red bottom may be an eyesore to some, it has an aphrodisiac effect on her mates. Biologists have long thought that baboon males prefer females with bigger backsides as the mark of a good mother, but a Duke study reveals that the size of a female’s swollen rump doesn’t matter as much as previously thought. Picked up by the Washington Post and Fox News.
Baboon friends swap gut germs. Duke Today, March 16, 2015. The warm soft folds of the intestines are teeming with thousands of species of bacteria that help break down food, synthesize vitamins, regulate weight and resist infection. If they’re so key to health, what factors shape an individual’s gut microbial makeup? Previous studies have pointed to the food we eat, the drugs we take, genetics, even house dust. Now, a new study in baboons suggests that relationships may play a role, too. Picked up by The Scientist.
Urging HPV vaccine for boys could protect more people for same price. Duke Today, March 11, 2015. Whether vaccinating U.S. boys against HPV in addition to girls is worth the cost has been hotly debated. But with HPV-related cancers in men on the rise, and coverage in girls stagnating below the levels needed to ensure that most people are protected, research suggests that devoting a portion of HPV funding to boys — rather than merely attempting to improve female coverage — may protect more people for the same price. Picked up by National Public Radio affiliate WUNC.
How mantis shrimp evolved many shapes with same powerful punch. Duke Today, Feb. 27, 2015. The miniweight boxing title of the animal world belongs to the mantis shrimp, a cigar-sized crustacean whose front claws can deliver an explosive 60-mile-per-hour blow akin to a bullet leaving the barrel of a gun. A Duke University study of 80 million years of mantis shrimp evolution reveals a key feature of how these fast weapons evolved their dizzying array of shapes — from spiny and barbed spears to hatchets and hammers — while still managing to pack their characteristic punch. Picked up by the daily news feed of the National Science Foundation.
Apes prefer the glass half full. Duke Today, Feb. 11, 2015. Humans aren’t the only species to be influenced by spin. Our closest primate relatives are susceptible, too. For example, people rate a burger as more tasty when it is described as “75 percent lean” than when it is described as “25 percent fat,” even though that’s the same thing. A Duke University study finds that positive and negative framing make a big difference for chimpanzees and bonobos too. Picked up by the Daily Mail and Scientific American.
Chimps with higher-ranking moms do better in fights. Duke Today, Jan. 28, 2015. For chimpanzees, just like humans, teasing, taunting and bullying are familiar parts of playground politics. An analysis of twelve years of observations of playground fights between young chimpanzees in East Africa finds that chimps with higher-ranked moms are more likely to win.
Humans, sparrows make sense of sounds in similar ways. Duke Today, Jan. 5, 2015. The song of the swamp sparrow — a grey-breasted bird found in wetlands throughout much of North America — is a simple melodious trill. But according to a new study by researchers at Duke University and the University of London, swamp sparrows are capable of processing the notes that make up their simple songs in more sophisticated ways than previously realized — an ability that may help researchers better understand the perceptual building blocks that enable language in humans. Picked up by The Herald-Sun, Wildlife Magazine and The New York Times.
Lady baboons with guy pals live longer. Duke Today, September 10, 2014. Numerous studies have linked social interaction to improved health and survival in humans, and new research confirms that the same is true for baboons. A long-term study of more than 200 wild female baboons finds that the most sociable females live two to three years longer than their socially isolated counterparts. Socializing with males gave females an even bigger longevity boost than socializing with other females, the researchers found. Picked up by the Daily Mail.
Supportive moms and sisters boost female baboon’s rank. Duke Today, July 30, 2014. A study of dominance in female baboons suggests that the route to a higher rank is to maintain close ties with mom, and to have lots of supportive sisters. Picked up by TIME Magazine.
Animals with bigger brains, broader diets have better self control. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, April 24, 2014. The largest study of animal intelligence to-date finds that animals with bigger brains and broader diets have better self-control. The results are part of a long history of research aimed at understanding why some species are able to do things like make and use tools, read social cues, or even understand basic math, and others aren’t. By convincing animal experts across the globe to conduct the same set of experiments, researchers were able to test ideas about how cognitive differences in the animal kingdom came to be in a much more rigorous way than has been possible before. Picked up by The New York Times and the National Science Foundation.