Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


Quirky experiments and conclusions

Genealogy Gives Birth to Incest Alert App

By Magdeline Lum

Icelanders can check if a potential mate is a relative, and bees lose electrons as they fly.

Imagine living on an island and one day you fall in love with a special person. However, there is a small disquiet in the back of your mind because you know that you are part of a small population and are related in some way to everyone else on the island.

The good news is that the population is large enough that not everyone knows one another. Everyone in a relationship on the island is in one with a relative but, for the most part, the relatives involved are distant so the statistics are on your side.

Where Has All the Roadkill Gone?

By Magdeline Lum

Some birds are evolving shorter wings to help them avoid cars, and the stress of combat training leads to gastrointestinal issues.

Swallows the world over have slender, streamlined bodies and long, pointed wings, allowing them to hunt and eat insects while flying. They are incredibly efficient at flight and are capable of reaching speeds in the range of 50–65 km/h with great manoeuvrability. Despite their speed and mobility, they do make up a proportion of roadkill each year.

The Rise of Zombie Tits

By Magdeline Lum

Scientists have discovered bat-eating birds and sea slugs with disposable penises.

Finnish wildlife photographer Lassi Kujala recently found a number of dead birds, including more than ten common redpolls (Carduelis flammea) and a yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella). They had all been killed by two or three great tits (Parus major). This is not the first incident where this 14 cm-long bird weighing up to 21 grams has been reported to kill other birds.

Sloppy Barnacle Sex

By Magdeline Lum

What does a barnacle do when its penis isn’t long enough? And how can Coca-Cola save you from gastric surgery?

In some species of barnacle, the penis is up to eight times the body length. Scientists have thought that the animals’ long penises seek out a neighbour to eject sperm into an egg bearing cavity. After fertilisation the larvae hatch, feed and swim around before settling down near other barnacles.

Midlife Crisis in Great Apes

By Magdeline Lum

Chimpanzees suffer a midlife crisis, and psychologists explore why we get itchy when we see someone else scratching.

The midlife crisis is no longer the exclusive domain of humans. A study of 508 chimpanzees and orangutans from zoos and research centres throughout the USA, Canada, Singapore, Japan and Australia has found that they also experience a midlife crisis, indicating it could be inherent in primate biology rather than something specific to human society.

Take a Closer Look at that Christmas Card

By Magdeline Lum

Many Christmas cards and decorations have incorrect depictions of the Moon and snowflakes.

It’s that time of year when houses are adorned with twinkling lights and decorations with presents under a tree are waiting to be opened. Christmas is approaching. How much attention do you pay to pictures on the Christmas cards you receive or to the paper wrapped around the presents?

Robo-Roach Rescue

By Magdeline Lum

A microelectronic controller could soon make cockroaches useful in dangerous search-and-rescue and reconnaissance missions.

Cyborg insects have long been suggested as the next big thing in search-and-rescue as miniaturised electronics are not just becoming economically viable but also more powerful.

Costly Copulation

By Magdeline Lum

Wasps and bats upsize their meals when they catch prey that are in the act of mating.

In 2010 Australian plague locusts (Chortoicetes terminifera) descended on farming land and communities throughout Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria after a decade of drought had been broken by rainfall. While the locusts were feeding and damaging grazing areas and gardens in agricultural areas, Dr Darrell Kemp from the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University was observing parasitoid digger wasps (Sphex cognatus) entombing mating pairs of locusts.

From Dresses to Dressings

Wine dress

Bacteria have been developed that can turn wine into a fabric that fits like a second skin. Credit: Ray Scott

By Magdeline Lum

Bacteria have been developed that can turn wine into a fabric that fits like a second skin, and the sexual health of female cyclists can be affected by cycling.

Bacteria have been developed that can turn wine into a fabric that fits like a second skin.

A multidisciplinary approach at the University of Western Australia could lead to a new generation of medical dressings made from microbes.

Dinosaur Farts May Have Warmed the Earth

By Magdeline Lum

Scientists estimate that sauropods emitted substantially more methane than modern ruminants.

Giant leaf-eating dinosaurs roaming the Earth millions of years ago may have produced enough of the greenhouse gas methane to warm the climate, according to a study published in Current Biology. The Mesozoic era spanning from 250 million years ago to 65 million years ago is believed to have had a hotter climate than today.

Sauropod dinosaurs like Apatosaurus had large, bulky bodies with long necks that allowed them to graze on grasses as well as from the treetops. They were in large numbers 150 million years ago.