Science!: Ants and Monkeys

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Health is Your Future!

Researchers at Kansas State University have found that people who are future-minded tend to make more positive decisions about their health than those who focus more on the present. Whether it comes to denying yourself that mid-break cigarette or drinking one fewer beer a day,if you’re focusing on the future, you’re more likely to make the smarter choice. If you are more present-minded, you may not deny yourself that Appletini, since you’re more likely to be thinking that another drink will give you that nice buzz you’ve been craving, and not how it may contribute to liver disease. If you’re future-minded, you’re more likely to take care of your body and mind in the present, since you realize that each decision will contribute to your health in the future.

Participants in a study were asked if they would prefer $35 today or $45 in 35 days, as well as other questions that gauged their tendencies to think in the future or the present. The participants then took surveys that posed questions such as how often they smoked, exercised, as well as about their concerns on health issues like high cholesterol and AIDS.

Researchers found that subjects who gave future-minded answers were more likely to report healthier behaviors in the survey. Gary Brase, associate professor of psychology at Kansas State University claims, “There is a lot of potential for helping people make better health decisions. People who tend to have a very present-minded perspective will have an easier time following through with a change if they can see rewards sooner. So if somebody goes into a weight loss center, the clinicians could measure a client’s time perspective. Then the clinicians would know the more effective way of helping the client reach his or her weight loss goal.”

In further research, Brase and James Daugherty stated they would like to see how present-mindedness and future-mindedness contributed to environmentally responsible behaviors such as recycling.

Source: Science Daily

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Monkeys Dance With Fire

Imagine you’re being chased by a pack of angry hyenas. Lightning strikes a tree next to you, and you quickly construct a makeshift lantern to wave at the oncoming horde to scare them away. The hyenas will likely run away in terror, but if it were, say, a pack of angry, rabid chimps, you may not be so lucky.

As it turns out, chimps may have a finer understanding of fire than we originally believed. Primatologist Jill Pruetz was the first to notice how chimps reacted to wildfires. When people set fires to clear the land, the monkeys didn’t run away in fear. “It was the end of the dry season, so the fires burn so hot and burn up trees really fast, and they were so calm about it,” Pruetz states.

Primitive humans conquered their fear of fire in three easy steps: first, they learned how it behaves, then they began to control it, and then they figured out how to start one. Most animals fail the first step – they just turn tail and run. But not chimps. Chimps watched the fire and moved when it spread too closely to them. This minimized the amount of energy they expended in order to keep safe. Running in terror may be a vital instinct, but it burns a lot of energy, and quickly. Pruitz also found that the males of the chimps did a “fire dance,” making distinct noises when the fire approached.

Does this mean that chimps understand the behavior of fire? Are they taking the first steps towards mastery and control of it, similar to our own evolution?

Source: Discover

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Chimp Master the Cleaver

Well, chimps are just not ceasing to amaze lately, are they? Not only are they unafraid of fire, show a developed use of syntax in their language, but now they’ve also mastered the basic cleaver. Chimps in the Nimba Mountains of the West African nation of Guinea have been found to be using stone and wooden cleavers to chop fruit.

PhD student Kathelijne Koops and Professor William McGrew of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge have been studying these Nimba chimps for quite some time. “Chimpanzees across Africa vary greatly in the types of tools they use to obtain food,” says Koops.”Some groups use stones as hammers and anvils to crack open nuts, whereas others use twigs to fish for termites.”

Treculia fruits are the size of volleyballs and thus must be broken down in order to eat. They’re too big for a chimp to get its jaws around, so the chimps use stone wooden cleavers to process the fruit into more manageable sizes. This is the first account of chimps using a pounding tool to break down larger foods, and “it’s the first time wild chimpanzees have been found to use two distinctive types of percussive technology, i.e. movable cleavers versus a non-movable anvil, to achieve the same goal,” Koops further explained.

Interestingly, other chimps that are nearby to the Nimba chimps do not process their food in the same way, which suggests that this behavior is culturally learned and passed down through generations.

Source: BBC

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Flower Mind Control

In Africa, there lives a genus of plant called the Acacia. Within the limbs of this plant live hordes of stinging ants. These ants are aggressive and attack anything that comes near its home.

Nigel Raine, a researcher from University of London in the UK has been studying the relationship between the acacia plant and the ants for quite some time. During his observations, he noticed that though the plant provides shelter and nourishment for the ants, the ants completely avoid the flowers that bloom on them. “Acacias…have very open flowers, but still, the ants don’t seem to go on to them. We wanted to know why,” states Raine.

The acacia gets a pretty sweet deal, housing entire armies of ants who will guard the plant against animals which would like to eat it. However, when ants and plants co-exist, the former often sup from the nectar of the flowers, which can put a damper on the pollination process. “Some plants [protect their flowers] structurally, with physical barriers to stop ants getting on to the flower, or sticky or slippery surfaces that the insects can’t walk on.” Says Raine. “Acacias don’t have these barriers.”

So, how do the acacias keep the ants from stealing the nectar? Apparently, through bribes. The acacia plant produces “extrafloral nectaries,” which are small stores of nectar found on the stems. These distract the ants from the motherload of nectar in the flowers, while still giving them a taste of what they love. The acacia also produces “beltian bodies” on its leaves, which are nutritious and delicious structures that keep their ant guardians happy and healthy.

However, when these bribes fail to work, the acacia considers a more sinister approach. Flowers are designed to produce an attractive aroma that pollinating insects can’t seem to resist. However, the acacia plant produces a small that actually repels the ants it houses. These repellents are very specific to the ants the acacia tree houses. “The chemicals don’t repel bees, even though they are quite closely related to ants. And in some cases, the chemicals actually seem to attract the bees,” states Raine.

Raine and his colleagues believe that the repellents mimic pheromones that the ants naturally produce. When the scent was placed into a syringe and puffed over a group of ants, they became agitated and aggressive.

Source: BBC

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Lauren Admire wishes she produced an ant repellent.


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