Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


Quirky experiments and conclusions

Angry at Your Spouse? When Did You Last Eat?

By Magdeline Lum

Lower levels of blood sugar make us more likely to lash out, and the people we lash out at are often those we hold closest to our hearts.

A study from Ohio State University has found that lower levels of blood sugar makes married people angrier at their spouse and are more likely to lash out aggressively. The good news is that blood glucose levels can be increased quickly by eating carbohydrates or sugary foods.

Bacteria from Baby Poo Used to Make Sausages

By Magdeline Lum

Tasmanian devil facial tumour is evolving, and scientists have created a low-fat sausage using bacteria harvested from infant faeces.

A dirty nappy is not something that awakens the appetite but Spanish scientists could change this. The scientists at Catalonia's Institute of Food and Agricultural Research have created a sausage with less fat using bacteria harvested from the faeces of infants. The bacteria was employed to ferment the meat.

Catfish among the Pigeons

By Magdeline Lum

It might be time to add to the selection of bait and lures used to catch freshwater fish now that scientists have observed catfish hunting pigeons and tigerfish catching swallows.

Along the banks of the Tarn River in the south-west of France, catfish are hunting pigeons. If that is hard to believe, researchers from the University of Toulouse have observed the catfish temporarily stranding themselves on land to catch their prey. The scientists are hailing this behaviour as evidence of adaptive behaviour.

The pigeon-hunting catfish originated east of the Rhine River, and in 1983 they were introduced to the Tarn River.

People Who Buy Organic Foods are Meaner

By Magdeline Lum

Does buying organic food make you more judgemental, and why is it better to fart on a plane than hold it in?

The beginning of a new year heralds resolutions and goals of self-improvement. These are often centred on improving health, and one method is to eat healthier accompanied with an exercise regime. Everyone would agree that eating healthy food leads to improvement in well-being, and some advise eating organic foods.

The Law of Urination

By Magdeline Lum

Why do bats, dogs and elephants take the same time to urinate?

Dogs, goats, cows and elephants are all mammals that can empty their bladders in around 21 seconds, even though their bladders range in size from 100 mL to 100 L. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta wanted to know why mammals of varying size empty their bladders in the same amount of time, and used high-speed video to study how urine is ejected from various animals. The team also gathered footage of animals urinating from YouTube.

Suicidal Sex Explained

By Magdeline Lum

Sex is suicidal for some marsupials, and termites communicate by headbaging.

August in Australia marks the mating season for the antechinus, a mouse-like marsupial. Males go into a frenzy mating with as many females as they can, with some encounters lasting up to 14 hours. By the end of the mating season, the males are literally falling apart and dying.

This death toll occurs in 20% of all known species of insectivorous marsupials, including all 12 species of antechinus, three species of phascogale, and kalutas. Some populations of northern quolls and dibblers also lose their males after the breeding season.

Dung Beetles Navigate Using the Milky Way

By Magdeline Lum

Dung deetles navigate using the Milky Way, and scientists analyse a dead whale’s ear wax to reveal its exposure to hazardous chemicals.

It’s that time of year of when research is acknowledged and awarded for making us laugh and then think. It’s the Ig Nobel season.

This year the winner of the joint biology and astronomy prize went to Prof Eric Warrant of Lund University and his colleagues for being the first to document the use of the Milky Way for orientation in the animal kingdom.

Warrant was born in Australia and married his love of physics and entomology in his PhD at the Australian National University. He studied the optics of the compound eyes of dung beetles.

Cockroaches Quit Sugar

By Magdeline Lum

Cockroaches have learnt to avoid sugar, rendering many baits ineffective.

The sugar-free diet is one of the latest fad diets to catch on in the human world. Now cockroaches have joined in, with US research that cockroaches will eat anything besides sugar – confirming what professional pest controllers have known for years.

Flying in a Flock Tires Pigeons

By Magdeline Lum

Why pigeons shouldn’t fly as a flock, how urine can power your phone, and how moths use their genitals to beat bats.

Birds fly around in flocks. They like to be together and it is where the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” comes from. However, an analysis has found that for the pigeon, flying as a flock costs them more energy than to fly alone.

Birds like pelicans and swans fly in V-formations. Research has shown that this gives the birds a benefit in aerodynamics. They don’t need to flap their wings as much and their heart rates drop. This has been extended to flying aircraft in V-formations to reduce fuel consumption.

Speed Bump Pain a Sign of Appendicitis

By Magdeline Lum

Appendicitis could be diagnosed by a patient’s pain when driving to hospital over speed bumps.

There have long been anecdotal reports of a link between acute appendicitis and pain experienced when driving over speed bumps. Could it be used as a diagnostic tool? There has never been any evidence to support this until now.

A district general hospital in Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom was chosen as the location for a small prospective study. The researchers describe the roads of Buckinghamshire as “almost universally surfaced in tarmac and are smooth” – apart from speed bumps.