Sci/Tech briefs

Studies link singing origins to fish

When most people think of singing animals, they think of birds. However, recent research shows that songbirds’ singing actually originated in a fish called the lungfish. The studies also show that the development of singing in songbirds and humans progresses similarly, starting with little singing abilities until they are tutored by an adult.

Studies of sparrows and northern cardinals, which have very different singing voices, show that both birds’ sounds are produced in the syrinx, or voice box, and are modified by the upper vocal tract and beak movements. Researchers believe that this method of singing in birds originated from the gulping movements that lungfish made to take in air. Such information on the techniques that fish and birds use to sing could improve speech impediment treatments and human singing.

Source: MSNBC

Polarized light impacts wildlife

Scientists have discovered that artificially generated polarized light, which consists of waves vibrating in only one plane, could have dangerous effects on wildlife.

Polarized light occurs in nature as well and is used by many animals as a cue to make different decisions. Due to the horizontal polarized light in water, animals such as birds, insects, and reptiles recognize and respond to polarized light. Additionally, over 300 insect species use polarized light to assist them in navigating while flying. Polarized light generated by roads and buildings is much more intense than natural light and could interfere with animals’ ability to function properly.

Source: BBC NEWS

Hydrocarbons expose cheating ant

Ants typically take care of their queen’s offspring, rather than reproducing. Some ants, however, attempt to cheat and reproduce. A new study published in Current Biology reveals that these cheaters are caught and attacked by other worker ants due to chemical hydrocarbons that show their fertility status. Other ants could also differentiate eggs based on hydrocarbons and determine if they were laid by the queen.

Fertility hydrocarbons are a reliable method for determining cheaters, because ants cannot concurrently mask their own fertility and make their egg’s hydrocarbons seem like a queen’s egg.

Source: ScienceDaily

Scientist finds ways to study sand

Rob Holman, an oceanographer at Oregon State University and an avid collector of sand, has a thousand samples of sand from around the world. His collection is studied by geology students, as well as presented in front of audiences when he gives lectures about oceanography. Along with collecting sand, Holman has also developed a computerized photography system called Argus to observe the sand at various beaches.

Argus measures the formation and movement of sandbars, and has shown that sandbars move in much more complex patterns than scientists expected. The data collected from Argus is helpful in teaching scientists about beach erosion and rising sea levels due to climate changes.

Source: The New York Times