A Bee’s Buzz

Where do bees get their buzz?  No, I’m not referring to the sound their vibrating wings make when they fly.  In fact, I’m talking about a much more colloquial “buzz” – the one you get from caffeine when you drink a cup of coffee.  It turns out bees also enjoy the little boost in energy they reap from coffee plants when they drink the nectar, which contains low levels of caffeine that the pollinators obtain much satisfaction from.

flowers-caffeinate-pollinators-bee-coffee_64953_600x450

Plants originally evolved caffeine as a defense against herbivory because it can be toxic at high levels.  However, at low levels, it encourages honeybees to return to the plant – thus increasing the plant’s pollination efficacy – because the honeybees’ learning and memory abilities are enhanced, and therefore the honeybee reaps a benefit from the plant.  So what began as a deterrent for herbivores is now a triple whammy for the plant, which now 1) attracts more bees because the bee enjoys the caffeine buzz, 2) ensures the bee will return because its learning and memory are enhanced due to the caffeine, and 3) repels herbivores at the same time!

“Bees on caffeine buzz pollinate better.” http://www.thenews.com.pk/article-91262-Bees-on-caffeine-buzz-pollinate-better

“Plants give bees a caffeine buzz.” http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/scicurious-brain/2013/03/11/plants-give-bees-a-caffeine-buzz/

Leaf-tailed gecko: a master of disguise

leaf tailed gecko camo This amazing creature is a master of disguise, blending in to its surroundings to the point that it is nearly indistinguishable from the litter of the forest floor where it makes its home.  The gecko, which has evolved its elaborate camouflage to escape visual detection by predators, sports leaf-shaped tail and leaf-patterned skin, complete with veins, folds, and insect nibble marks.

Giant leaf-tail gecko / reuzenbladstaartgekko (Uroplatus fimbriatus)

Both crypticity and mimicry deceive the beholder into believing that the animal is something that it is not.  Crypticity typically involves an animal avoiding detection through colors and patterns and can be visual, olfactory, or auditory (Stevens & Merilaita 2009).  Visual crypticity can include camouflage, disruptive coloration, and background-matching, and can be quite striking.  Crypticity is distinguished from a similar phenomenon, masquerading, in that masquerading involves the matching of specific inanimate object like twigs or rocks rather than matching the general background (Gullan & Cranston 2010).

ALiman_phantasticus.jpg

The majority of individuals of the few extant (living) species of leaf-tailed gecko on Earth are endemic to Madagascar and a few surrounding islands and are inextricably linked to the survival of the Madagascan rainforest, meaning that habitat destruction primarily in the form of deforestation poses a potential threat for these cool critters.  There are several protected areas in Madagascar that are therefore crucial for the leaf-tailed gecko’s continued existence.  Some of the species are of “least concern” on the IUCN’s conservation status scale, meaning that the protected areas are doing their job for the most part; however, illegal harvesting of these animals has caused some species’ numbers to drop and vary from “near threatened” to “vulnerable” status.  These little guys are unique and incredible, and offer just another reason to save the earth’s rainforests, without which many interesting species such as this one could not hope to survive!

References

Gullan, P.J. and P.S. Cranston.  The Insects.  Ed. 4.  Wiley-Blackwell: UK, 2010.

Stevens, M. & S. Merilaita. 2009. Animal camouflage: current issues and new perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 364:423-427.

“Uroplatus phantasticus.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uroplatus_phantasticus

“Satanic Leaf-tailed gecko.” http://www.arkive.org/satanic-leaf-tailed-gecko/uroplatus-phantasticus/

“Leaf-tailed gecko.” http://a-z-animals.com/animals/leaf-tailed-gecko/

“Animal of the week: the satanic leaf-tailed gecko.” http://www.bite.ca/bitedaily/2013/03/animal-of-the-week-the-satanic-leaf-tailed-gecko/

Mystery underwater sand circles are actually puffer fish art

If you thought crop circles were strange, odds are you haven’t seen these:

crop circles

The underwater version of crop circles!  Some of the intrigue with crop circles faded once people stopped thinking they were made by aliens, but these sand circles are even more interesting to behold once you know where they do come from.

So who or what makes these enigmatic sculptures where they are doomed to fade into nonexistence once the ocean erodes them away?  No, not an alien race, nor a group of people from of the legendary Atlantis, but Puffer fish!

Male puffer fish craft their detailed sculptures by using a single fin to push the sand around, working day and night to finish the job, topping it off by cracking shells and placing them along the inner grooves of the circles.  Similar to bower birds, the puffer fish creates these structures to attract females.  However, the marine art serves a greater purpose than to look pretty to impress the ladies.  The puffer fish constructs his art with great care because it will become a nursery ground for his future offspring!  Watch him here:

Once the female has found the grooves, she will follow the ridges to the male in the center, mate with him, and lay her eggs.  The more ridges the circle contains, the more likely it is that the female will mate with the male, because she knows that the ridges will buffer the eggs from currents, thereby protecting the eggs from disturbance and exposure to predators.  Furthermore, the seemingly decorative seashells provide nutrients to the eggs and newborn puffer fish.

The artist at work

The artist at work

Next time you get annoyed by the sand that gets in every orifice after a day at the beach, or think humans are clever for using sand to make glass and concrete, think about how the puffer fish makes art out of sand to attract females, protect its young, and provide sustenance to its offspring just by using the raw stuff-and you might find new appreciation in sand, and the ingenuity of animals, a little more.

References:

Discovery: http://news.discovery.com/earth/oceans/puffer-fish-makes-elaborate-undersea-sand-circles-120925.htm

This is Colossal: http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2012/09/mysterious-underwater-crop-circle-art-discovered-off-the-coast-of-japan/