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Science Fun Facts

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A1 coral reef fertilizer

by Gail Kuhnlein

Professor Jacob Allgeier is a new member of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology’s faculty. One objective of his research is to increase the numbers of fish living in certain areas of the ocean by creating more places for fish to live. In some areas, especially those that have been overfished by local fishermen who need the fish to survive, the numbers of fish living in the ocean are dwindling.

Allgeier uses cement blocks to construct artificial reefs off the coasts of Haiti and the Bahamas, which provide some protection and a place for fish to call home. Artificial reefs are good fish habitats because of all the holes in them. The process can be described as a cycle:

More fish habitat leads to more fish>

More fish means more fish pee >

Fish pee makes sea grass grow bigger >

Bigger sea grass provides more food for invertebrates (such as lobsters, crab, shrimp and coral)  >

More invertebrates means more food for fish and people

And, if we protect the coral reefs, fish can grow bigger and produce more baby fish.  And the cycle continues…more fish means more fish pee…

Watch a video

Read more about Jacob Allgeier’s research

Illustration: John Megahan.

Q: What makes coral reefs healthy?

A: Fish pee (or in Haitian Creole pipi pwason)!

MIGHTY MITES

by Pavel Klimov, assistant research scientist, U-M EEB, Museum of Zoology

Mites in space
Mites are the first animal space hitchhikers. A colony of the mold mite (Tyrophagus) has been found inside the International Space station.  On Earth, this mite is common in houses and stored food.

Way prehistoric
Mites are one of the oldest terrestrial organisms, known from the Devonian. This is 410 million years ago.

Mysterious mites
There are about one million species of mite, but only about 50,000 species of mites have been characterized by scientists.

Mighty mites
Mites are among the strongest and fastest creatures on earth. A soil mite can hold 1,180 times its own weight and pull 540 times its own mass with its claws.

The predatory mite Paratarsotomus macropalpis can run 322 body lengths per second. For a human, that would be like running 1,300 miles an hour.

Wow – beware
Mites are among the most poisonous animals. The toxin in the saliva of the straw itch mite (Pyemotes) is so potent that a single mite can paralyze and kill an insect larva 166,000 times its own weight. This mite attacks bees as well.

Don’t tell me this
Nearly every human on the planet has two species of mites living in different parts of hair follicles: Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis.

A-choo!
From 65 million to 1.2 billion people suffer from allergies caused by house dust mites.

Yum?
The crust of aged Mimolette cheese produced in France is the result of cheese mites intentionally introduced to add flavor on the surface of the cheese. There is a monument to the cheese mite in Germany (but actually cheese mites include several genera of the family Acaridae).
 

Let me call you sweetheart
The sugar mite (Carpoglyphus lactis) has alarm pheromones which enhance the aroma of pale and dry wines aged under flor yeasts in Italy. Alarm pheromones are chemical substances, which mites emit to communicate with each other by the smell.

Bye bye bees
Varroa destructor
is the most dangerous mite attacking the European honey bee causing the decline of bee colonies worldwide.  However, it is relatively benign parasite of its natural host, the Asian honey bee. What made it dangerous is the host switching due human activities.

Read about the USDA Bee Mite ID in previous EEB web news

Illustration: John Megahan.

Mites in space

Mites are the first animal space hitchhikers. A colony of the mold mite (Tyrophagus) has been found inside the International Space station.  On Earth, this mite is common in houses and stored food.

Ocean weather report: blizzard -- every day!

Every day a steady blizzard of marine snow rains about two million tons of carbon to the floor of the deep blue sea. “It’s really beautiful,” said Melissa Duhaime, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, even though the particles are primarily “poop” and carcasses from microbes living on the ocean’s surface.

Marine snow is vital for the functioning of Earth, especially in light of climate change. The carbon cycle on our planet is fueled by a conceptual biological pump that removes carbon from the atmosphere into the ocean’s depths. “Microbes that live on the surface of the ocean all around the world produce 50 percent of the air we breathe.”

Microbes, the most abundant life forms on Earth, maintain the planet's atmosphere, drive essential processes in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and have formed intimate relationships with all plants and animals. The abundance of marine snow is created by these microbes.

Because atmospheric carbon leads to global warming, anything that increases the potential to draw atmospheric CO2 into the ocean is beneficial. Human activities send CO2 into atmosphere at a rate faster than the biological pump can work.

Read more about the research of Duhaime in the fall 2016 issue of Natural Selections.

"Marine snow" scene. Illustration: John Megahan

 

Every day a steady blizzard of marine snow rains about two million tons of carbon to the floor of the deep blue sea. “It’s really beautiful,” said Melissa Duhaime, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, even though the particles are primarily “poop” and carcasses from microbes living on the ocean’s surface.

FUNgus = your new BFF?!

by Jillian Myers, EEB graduate student

Fashionable fungi

“Stone-washed” jeans aren’t made by beating denim with stones anymore! A more economical and environmentally-friendly way is called bio-stoning. This uses chemicals made by mold to make denim softer and distressed looking. Almost all jeans are made this way!

Mold to medicine

Fungi revolutionized medicine with the accidental discovery of the antibiotic Penicillin in the 1940s. Thanks to Penicillium chrysogenum, previously deadly bacterial infections became treatable. Today, many types of medicinal products are made using fungi, including many antimicrobials, medicines to help lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, and immunosuppressants that make organ transplants possible.

Illustration: John Megahan

BFF (Best fungal friend)

Fungi make partnerships with lots of other organisms. Lichens are partnerships between a fungus and an algae. Fungi commonly live with plant roots to help them get essential nutrients. Over 90 percent of all plants have such mycorrhizal fungi. Who is your BFF?

Nature’s recyclers

Do you recycle? If so, you have something if common with fungi! Fungi are decomposers, which means they break down dead material and make nutrients available to other life. Without fungi, we would be buried miles deep in fallen leaves and logs!

Speedy spores

What’s the fastest acceleration in nature? That’s right, it’s done by a fungus! Some fungi spread by shooting their spores into the air like a cannon. The spores of Pilobilus take off faster than a cheetah, a diving peregrine falcon, even astronauts in a space shuttle! Watch a YouTube video called "Fungus cannon."

Mushroom marvel

What’s the biggest organism in the world? Blue whale? Redwood tree? Nope! A fungus in Oregon is the largest living organism. It covers a two-and-a-half square mile area! That’s one humongous fungus!

What's the largest organism on Earth? A blue whale? Redwood tree? Nope! A fungus. Not only that, a fungus has the fastest acceleration in nature. And -- without them -- we'd be buried miles deep in fallen leaves and logs! Don't believe it?  

Why are monarchs so brightly colored?

Monarchs eat milkweed plants, which contain a toxic substance called cardenolides that gets stored inside the butterfly. Monarchs are immune to cardenolides, it doesn’t harm them (in fact, it helps them, as you’ll read in the Detroit Free Press Yak’s Corner). So, their flashy appearance may warn predators not to mess with them. It’s like they’re wearing tiny T-shirts that read “Don’t eat me. I can stop your heart.”

This research is done in the lab of Professor Mark Hunter with graduate students Amanda Meier,Leslie Decker and Johanna Nifosi. They also conduct their research at the University of Michigan Biological Station in northern Michigan and at the U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Read the full article from the Detroit Free Press Yak’s Corner, October 2015

 

Illustration: John Megahan

 

A monarch's flashy appearance may warn predators not to mess with them.

This fish wins father of the year

Not only does the cardinalfish, Simphamia tubifer, carry its very own nightlight, the father fish carries the eggs it has fertilized until they hatch.

S. tubifer use bacterially produced light while foraging for food near coral reefs at night. The light organ is located in the fish’s abdomen between the pelvic fins (picture a light where your belly button is). The blue-green light illuminates the entire belly of the fish. During the daytime, the fish remain in groups among the protective spines of longspined sea urchins. The spines are sharp and venomous.

These remarkable fish are paternal mouth brooders – the male fish carry the eggs in their mouths and nurture them through their development into larvae.

According to fishbase.org, S. tubifer live in the Indo-West Pacific: from the Red Sea south to Madagascar and east through the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India to the Andaman Sea Islands and Western Australia; north to Ryukyus; throughout the Indo-Malayan region to Vanuatu. They’re found in coastal reefs and outer reef lagoons. They eat zooplankton and small crustaceans.

Illustration: John Megahan

 


Not only does the cardinalfish, Simphamia tubifer, carry its very own nightlight, the father fish carries the eggs it has fertilized until they hatch.

Why do zebras have stripes?

The mystery behind zebra’s striped pattern may be solved. Alumnus Amanda Izzo (Ph.D. EEB 2011) and researchers at the University of California Davis, published a study in Nature Communications explaining their “black and white” findings.

According to a blog post in Discover, “Researchers going as far back as Charles Darwin have offered a number of theories about how stripes might benefit zebras. Did they develop their unusual multi-hued coats as camouflage to help deter predators? To keep cool beneath the harsh African sun? Do their stripes help them identify each other? A new study topples all of those theories, leaving just one still standing. As it turns out, stripes are an excellent bug repellent — at least for zebras.

“Researchers from UC Davis knew that certain flies avoid black and white surfaces, so they wondered: Could zebra stripes have evolved to keep the animals free from suffering the bites of those very same flies, which can carry fatal diseases? To tackle that question, the researchers examined the distribution of zebras and the locations of the best breeding grounds for the stripe-averse flies. Sure enough, they found that they overlap. The same was true for other animals in the horse family that had stripes on various parts of their bodies.”

“I was amazed by our results,” said lead author Tim Caro, a wildlife biologist at UC-Davis. “Again and again, there was greater striping on areas of the body in those parts of the world where there was more annoyance from biting flies.”

Izzo is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, UC Davis.

The paper received widespread media attention. Read the paper in Nature Communications and more in Discover and National Geographic.

Illustration: John Megahan

 

 

The mystery behind zebra’s striped pattern may be solved. Alumnus Amanda Izzo (Ph.D. EEB 2011) and researchers at the University of California Davis, published a study in Nature Communications explaining their “black and white” findings. 

Watch Bald Eagles in their nest and eaglets hatching in spring!

The Decorah Bald Eagles video project began when the first camera was installed in 2009.The eagle’s next is about 80 feet high, six feet across, five feet deep and weighs close to 1,367 pounds. The eagles built the nest in 2007. Their previous nest nearby fell when a windstorm broke one of the supporting branches.

The story of the Bald Eagle is a happy one. This bird of prey found in North America is the national bird and symbol for the United States of America. In the late 1900s, the Bald Eagle was headed toward local extinction in the continental U.S. even as it was thriving in large areas of Alaska and Canada. Populations recovered and stabilized prompting their removal from the U.S. federal government’s list of endangered species and placement on the list of threatened species in July 1995. The Bald Eagle was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the continental U.S. in June 2007.

You can read more about the Decorah Bald Eagles on the website underneath the live video link.

Read more on Wikipedia>>

The eagle website might not always be actively running. Idea submitted by Dennis Drobeck, Lab/Classroom Services Supervisor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan


 

The Decorah Bald Eagles video project began when the first camera was installed in 2009.The eagle’s next is about 80 feet high, six feet across, five feet deep and weighs close to 1,367 pounds. 

Birdie boogie!

Another ability long-thought to belong solely to humans, like tool-use or counting, does in fact occur in other species, according to two new studies, published in Current Biology. In this case, it is the capacity to move rhythmically with music. Studying two different birds the research groups found that the birds weren’t just moving randomly or mimicking owners, but actually changing the tempo of their movement to match the music—in other words, dancing. 

Video

Read the news written by Jeremy Hance on Mongabay.com. Read the Harvard University press release.



Another ability long-thought to belong solely to humans, like tool-use or counting, does in fact occur in other species, according to two new studies, published in Current Biology.

Porpoising penguins and plenty more!

Did you ever want to know more about the waddling, flightless seabirds who appear to be dressed to the nines in handsome tuxedos? According to about.compenguins are some of the most recognizable and beloved birds in the world, and they are also some of the most unique. Here are some fun penguin facts from about.com and amazing photos from Kevin Bakker, University of Michigan research lab technician in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

 

While swimming, penguins will leap above the surface of the water, a practice called porpoising. This coats their plumage with tiny bubbles that reduce friction, allowing them to swim as fast as 20 miles per hour (32 kph).

Penguins are found only in the Southern Hemisphere. While most people associate penguins with Antarctica, they are much more widespread and penguin populations can also be found in South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

There are 18 species of penguin in the world. While some species are thriving, 13 of them have declining populations.

The light front and dark back of classic penguin plumage is called countershading and it provides superb camouflage from above and below to protect penguins in the water.

The emperor penguin is the largest of the penguin species and can weigh up to 90 pounds. The fairy penguin is the smallest and weighs only 2 pounds.

Penguins are social birds that form breeding colonies numbering in the tens of thousands. They may use the same nesting grounds for thousands of years, and colonies can number in the millions.

Penguins have many natural predators depending on their habitat, including leopard seals, sea lions, orcas, snakes, sharks and foxes. Artificial threats are also a problem for penguins, including oil spills and other pollution, global warming that changes the distribution of food sources and illegal poaching and egg harvesting.

Read more onAbout.com>>

Photo captions: (from top)1. Porpoising penguins 2. Midnight march of the penguins with Kevin Bakker 3. A well-worn trail 4. Hatchlings 5. Emperor penguin with the Swedish Icebreaker Oden.

Kevin Bakker took these photos while on research cruises to collect water samples around Antarctica, including one cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula. Amazing! Thanks Kevin!

 


 

Did you ever want to know more about the waddling, flightless seabirds who appear to be dressed to the nines in handsome tuxedos? Here are some fun penguin facts and amazing photos. 

We're not saying those mushrooms growing in your yard are your second cousins...

Here's some dinner conversation for tonight, you can start with something like this, "Hey Dad, did you know you are more closely related to that mushroom on your plate than that mushroom is to that piece of broccoli?!" If he doesn't get too mad, you can go on to explain.

Although traditionally studied by botanists, fungi are actually more closely related to animals (like you!) than plants. Animals and fungi are sister kingdoms of a “supergroup” called Opisthokonta. Shared characteristics of most Opisthokonta are cells that move, powered by a single tail (sperm in animals and the zoospores found in several primitive, aquatic fungi), flattened compartments inside their cells (known as mitochondrion organelles), and they eat other organisms for their energy (this is called heterotrophic nutrition).

However, a big difference between fungi and animals is how they get nutrients from their food source. Fungi grow inside their food, from which they are separated by a cell wall, and secrete enzymes across the cell wall to digest food externally and then import pre-digested food. Animals, on the other hand, lack cell walls and engulf their food whole and digest it internally. (Picture you chowing down a piece of pepperoni pizza -- with or without mushrooms!)

Plants use photosynthesis to make their own food using energy harvested from light (also known as autotrophic nutrition). For more information on the characteristics of fungi and their phylogenetic position see the Tree of Life website.

With thanks to Tim James, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, University of Michigan; assistant curator, U-M Herbarium

 

 

Although traditionally studied by botanists, fungi are actually more closely related to animals (like you!) than plants. Animals and fungi are sister kingdoms of a “supergroup” called Opisthokonta. 

Walking bats!

Bats are the only mammals that can fly. Not only that, did you know that some bats walk too? Of the 1,100 bat species known today, the lesser short-tailed bat and the American common vampire bat (the only mammals that feed entirely on blood!) are the only two known to walk on the ground. Watch a video of the lesser short-tailed bats walk, climb and hunt.

The recent discovery of fossils of an extinct walking bat in northwestern Queensland, Australia, suggests that today's lesser short-tailed bats descended from 20-million-year-old Australian relatives.

Read more from National Geographic News

 

 

The recent discovery of fossils of an extinct walking bat in northwestern Queensland, Australia, suggests that today's lesser short-tailed bats descended from 20-million-year-old Australian relatives. 

Have you seen this tree?

Professor Paul E. Berry replied “This is Tamarisk or Salt cedar, genus Tamarix and likely the species Tamarix ramosissima. It is native to Eurasia and is a serious invasive plant in drier areas of the western U.S., but in our neck of the woods it just stays in place."

Submitted by Birgit Otte, U-M Department of Astronomy, photos: Otte



While walking around near downtown Ann Arbor, Birgit Otte of U-M’s Department of Astronomy saw the tree pictured here. She had never seen it before and wondered what it was. Her curiosity led her to write to EEB for assistance. 

Chimp plans stone attacks on zoo visitors

A male chimpanzee in a Swedish zoo planned hundreds of stone-throwing attacks on zoo visitors, according to researchers. Keepers at Furuvik Zoo discovered that the chimp collected and stored stones that he would later launch toward onlookers. (No one was injured.) Also, the chimp learned to recognize how and when parts of his concrete enclosure could be pulled apart to make further projectiles.

The findings were reported in the journal Current Biology. There has been scant evidence in previous research that animals can plan ahead. Crucial to the study is the fact that Santino, a chimpanzee at the zoo in the city north of Stockholm, collected the stones in a calm state, before the zoo opened in the morning. He threw the stones hours later in an "agitated" state – displaying his dominance to zoo visitors.

This suggests that Santino was anticipating a future mental state – an ability that has been difficult to definitively prove in animals, according to Mathias Osvath, a cognitive scientist from Lund University in Sweden and author of the new research. Read more at BBC News

 

 



A male chimpanzee in a Swedish zoo planned hundreds of stone-throwing attacks on zoo visitors. Keepers at Furuvik Zoo discovered that the chimp collected and stored stones that he would later launch toward onlookers. 

Chimps invent brush-tipped tool

Co-author Josep Call told Discovery News that chimps first uproot the stem of a plant "or use their teeth to clip the stem at the base and then remove the large leaf from the distal end by clipping it with their teeth before transporting the stem to the termite nest."

"they complete tool manufacture by modifying the end into a 'paint brush' tip by pullingthe stem through their teeth, splitting the probe lengthwise by pulling off strands of fiber, or separating the fibers by biting them," added Call, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology.

Call and colleagues observed this process while conducting surveillance at termite nests located at Goualougo Triangle, Republic of Congo. Chimpanzee populations elsewhere are known to do something similar, only with plain-tipped sticks. The scientists determined the brush-tipped tool does a better job, however, since it retrieves more termites.

Call explained that, "termites can bite better the frayed ends since their mandibles get a better grip." Like pulling forks out of a fondue pot, the chimpanzees can then extract the brush tools and gulp down the attached insects. Read more from NBC News. Watch a video.

 

 

Wild African chimpanzees invented a new and improved brush-tipped tool to gather more termites to eat, according to a new study in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters. 

Diet Coke and Mentos: An explosive combination!

The "Mentos effect" occurs when a Mentos mint, the cult candy associated with dorky 1990s commercials, is dropped into cola, especially diet cola, and usually Diet Coke (although some claim that Diet Pepsi works just as well). The cola immediately fizzes over with geyser-like force, and clips of the reaction, including some choreographed Mentos effect "performance art" have cropped all over sites like YouTube

But what causes it?

Brian P. Coppola, an Arthur F. Thurnau chemistry professor at the University of Michigan answers this question in this Ann Arbor News article "Frothy mystery: mentos plus diet cola equals drama" by Tracy Davis.

Submitted by Tracy Davis, Ann Arbor, Mich. 



The "Mentos effect" occurs when a Mentos mint, the cult candy associated with dorky 1990s commercials, is dropped into cola. 

An American Robin backyard mystery

Because a new nest is built for each brood, she is wondering if the same robin is recycling its nest or if another robin may have come along to take the easy route to residency. 

Robert Payne, U-M professor emeritus of zoology and curator emeritus of birds, guesses that the same female laid the eggs because robins are pretty territorial about their nest. Payne says, “Not to worry, dad will look after his young when they leave the nest" so mom can focus on the new hatchlings.

Robin ramblings
Many people consider robin sightings the first real sign of spring but the truth is American Robins spend much of the winter in their usual spring and summer locales. American robins – up to hundreds of thousands of them – can gather in a single winter roost, spending less time in yards where more people notice them. The number of robins present in the northern parts of the range varies each year with the local conditions. Some travel to their more southern ranges for part of the winter.

Females sleep on the nests and males gather in roosts during the summertime. As young robins become independent, they join the males in the roost. Female adults go to the roosts only after they are done nesting. An American Robin lays between three to five eggs per clutch and can produce three successful broods in a year. About 40 percent of nests successfully produce young. A quarter of those fledglings survive until late fall. About half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next. Fortunate robins can reach the ripe old age of 14. 

The cup-shaped nest is built by the female, who weaves together the outer foundation with long coarse grass, twigs, paper, and feathers. She lines the inner bowl with mud, smearing it with her breast and then adding fine grass or other soft material to cushion the eggs. The nest can be located on the ground or high up in trees, but most commonly five to 15 feet above ground in dense bushes, in the crotch of trees, or on window ledges or other human structures. In northern areas the first clutch is generally placed in an evergreen tree or shrub, and the later clutches are laid in a deciduous tree. 

Dewey, T. and C. Middlebrook. 2001. "Turdus migratorius" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 01, 2008. 
Sallabanks, R., R. James. 1999. American Robin (Turdus migratorius). Birds of North America, 462: 1-20.

Submitted by Shirley Spence, Monroe, Mich., bottom photo: Shirley Spence with special thanks to Shirley who loves the fun facts page!



This fun fact was prompted by a question from Shirley Spence in Monroe, Mich. who watched this spring as one nest full of robin’s eggs hatched and then two weeks later, to her surprise, new eggs appeared. 

Picture this: You vs. the chimp

Rules of the game
First, researchers in Japan taught six chimps--three 5-year-olds and their mothers--to recognize and order the numbers 1 through 9. Then they taught them to play a memory game. In the game, the numbers would appear randomly on a video screen. The object was to touch them in order: 1, 2, 3, etc. But there was a catch. As soon as the chimps pressed 1, the rest of the numbers disappeared, covered over by white boxes. So they had to remember where they had seen the numbers and touch the white boxes that covered them.

Remarkable results 
Not only could the chimps do this just as accurately as college students, they could do it faster, too. So the scientists devised another test, to see who could remember and order five numbers that flashed on a screen for justfractions of a second. Result? Another chimp win. Lead researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa says that chimps seem to have something akin to "photographic memory," at least for short-term tests.

by Steve Sampson, KnowledgeNews.net, used with permission.

Watch an amazing video!

And another from BBC Earth.

 

 

Think chimps are chumps when it comes to serious mental powers like short-term memory? A new study says that young chimpanzees can significantly outperform you at some short-term memory tasks.