In The News

Bees Join An Exclusive Crew Of Animals That Get The Concept Of Zero

Posted: June 12, 2018

Honeybees can pass a test of ranking ‘nothing’ as less than one.

A little brain can be surprisingly good at nothing. Honeybees are the first invertebrates to pass a test of recognizing where zero goes in numerical order, a new study finds.

Even small children struggle with recognizing “nothing” as being less than one, says cognitive behavioral scientist Scarlett Howard of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. But honeybees trained to fly to images of greater or fewer dots or whazzits tended to rank a blank image as less than one, Howard and colleagues report in the June 8 Science.

Despite decades of discoveries, nonhuman animals still don’t get due credit outside specialist circles for intelligence, laments Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London, who has explored various mental capacities of bees. For the world at large, he emphasizes that the abilities described in the new paper are “remarkable.”

Researchers recognize several levels of complexity in grasping zero. Most animals, or maybe all, can understand the simplest level — just recognizing that the absence of something differs from its presence, Howard says. Grasping the notion that absence could fit into a sequence of quantities, though, seems harder. Previously, only some primates such as chimps and vervet monkeys, plus an African gray parrot named Alex, have demonstrated this level of understanding of the concept of zero (SN: 12/10/16, p. 22).

The researchers first trained bees to visit a spot with either a Y-shaped maze or an upright display, both offering images with different numbers of elements, such as dark circles of different sizes. Some bees were trained to fly to the image with the lower numbers of objects, while other bees were taught to go to the higher-number image. The researchers offered the bees a sweet treat for the correct image, and a bitter quinine solution for a wrong answer.

“I was fairly afraid of bees when I began working with them,” Howard says. But learning their ways convinced her that a lot of what humans mistake for aggression from a foraging bee buzzing around is usually “just curiosity.”

The trained bees then performed a series of tests with no rewards. In one test that offered the bees a choice between a single shape image versus a blank image, bees trained to pick the lower number of objects flew to the blank image — the zero — 63 percent of time. Overall, the test results showed the bees treating zero as being less than one, Howard says.

The results convince evolutionary behavioral biologist Rafael Rodríguez of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee that honeybees are indeed getting the basics of zero. Now he’s wondering about earlier studies that might hint that certain spiders would be worth testing, too.

Still, the most sophisticated sense of zero, using a symbol for it in mathematical calculation, is a feat only humans have demonstrated. So far. Howard muses about the possibility of someday testing bees’ prowess on that harder feat.

Click here to view original article. 


1 science leader has joined NSELA last week.

Posted: June 12, 2018

1 science leader has joined NSELA last week.

They are: 


• John Baskett - Odessa, Florida 


Please welcome John!

Members, you can connect to all NSELA members through the NSELA Member Directory. You must be signed in to access. Not yet a member? Join today!


"A Safety Minute" by Dr. Ken Roy - NSELA Safety Compliance Officer

Posted: June 5, 2018

Electrical Hazards: Even the most experienced professional can overlook basic safety principles when working with electricity – so it is vital that protective measures are employed throughout the laboratory. This is a quick tutorial for science teachers and supervisors!

For additional safety information, follow Dr. Ken on Twitter @drroysafersci. Also follow Dr. Ken on Instagram at Drkensafetyjob1.


Toxic Toad Invasion Puts Madagascar's Predators At Risk, Genetic Evidence Confirms

Posted: June 5, 2018

The recent introduction of the common Asian toad to Madagascar has led to fears that the toxic amphibian could wreak havoc on the island's already severely threatened fauna. Now, researchers report genetic evidence in the journal Current Biology on June 4 showing that those fears are well founded: virtually all predators native to Madagascar are highly sensitive to toad toxins. If they should eat the toads, it would be a potentially fatal mistake.

"In Australia, the introduction of cane toads has caused profound perturbation to many ecosystems by removing key predators from local food webs with their toxins," says Wolfgang Wüster of Bangor University, United Kingdom. "Similar effects are likely to occur in Madagascar, where toads were never present before, as well; predators that frequently feed on toads and do not rapidly learn or evolve to avoid them are likely to become much rarer or possibly extinct."

Bufonid toads secrete bufadienolides that kill many predator species by inhibiting the sodium-potassium pump (Na+/K+-ATPase), an essential component of animal cell membranes. However, some species are known to have evolved resistance to these toxins through repeated, predictable, and specific point mutations in the gene encoding that essential enzyme. As such, the arrival of the toxic and invasive Asian toads (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) to Madagascar prompted vigorous debate over their likely impact and the actions that should be taken to control or eradicate them.

"A crucial knowledge gap has been whether native Malagasy predators are indeed sensitive to toad toxins: this has been widely assumed by conservationists, but without concrete evidence," says co-author Andolalao Rakotoarison, co-chair of Madagascar's IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group.

To fill that gap in the new study, the researchers analyzed sequences of the Na+/K+-ATPase gene of 77 Malagasy species potentially feeding on toads, including 27 snakes, two lizards, 12 frogs, eight mammals and 28 birds. Their studies showed that only one native species -- a rodent known as the white-tailed antsangy -- showed evidence of resistance to the novel toxin.

The results strongly suggest that invasive toads are liable to have significant impacts on the native Malagasy fauna, and they stress the importance of controlling the spread of this alien species to prevent a worsening biodiversity crisis, according to the researchers.

"Our findings confirm that the invasive toads are likely to have a significant impact on many Malagasy endemic species, adding to the country's existing conservation problems and potentially endangering many of Madagascar's most iconic endemic species, such as tenrecs and the enigmatic fossa, as well as a plethora of other species," says co-author Nicholas Casewell of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Co-author Frank Glaw, a specialist in Malagasy amphibians based at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology, noted that the toad's tadpoles might also threaten endemic fish, as well as invertebrate predators, including water beetles, dragonfly larvae, and crustaceans. A similar study is therefore needed to assess the vulnerability of Madagascar's aquatic predators.

"This is another example of how species introduced from one part of the world to another can disrupt natural ecosystems," says Ben Marshall, a master's student at Bangor University and first author of the new study. "Preventing the introduction of alien invasive species must be a top priority for biodiversity conservation."

Click here to view original article. 


8 Science Leaders Joined/Renewed To NSELA Last Week

Posted: June 5, 2018

8 science leaders have joined or renewed to NSELA last week.

They are: 


• KD Davenport - School District of Philadelphia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
• Lisa Owens - Round Rock, Texas
• Dennis Schatz - Pacific Science Center; Seattle, Washington
• Sam Shaw -; Pierre, South Dakota


• Cathi Cox-Boniol - Lincoln Parish Schools; Ruston, Louisiana
• Kathryn Fleegal - Denver Public Schools; Denver, Colorado 
• April Holton - Arizona State University; Peoria, Arizona
• Lola Szobota - Northern Valley Regional High School DistrictMorristown, New Jersey 

Please welcome them back!

Members, you can connect to all NSELA members through the NSELA Member Directory. You must be signed in to access. Not yet a member? Join today!

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