Does Sloth Fur Fungus Hold the Next “Wonder Drug?”

Posted 28 January 2014 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Throughout human history, humans have included wild animals in their folklore, mythology, and daily vocabulary. Animals with especially distinctive traits have likewise become ensconced in modern popular culture and language. Leonine features are considered striking and sexy, outfoxing someone is a demonstration of cleverness, and it is obnoxious to parrot someone in a conversation. Being slothful is unlikely to gain you any respect. Sloths spend the vast majority of their lives nearly sedentary, moving through the canopy at incremental paces.... Read more

Life in the slow lane: Primate metabolisms run at half the pace of other mammals

Posted 22 January 2014 by Anne-Marie Hodge

  Western society is obsessed with metabolism. Magazines bombard us with splashy headlines offering hyperbolic advice on how to boost, rev, fire up, jump-start, enhance, or otherwise maximize our metabolic rates. You should eat six meals a day, or fast two days a week, or drink green tea before every meal, or sleep 9 hours a night, or hang upside down, or use company X’s proprietary powder/capsule/plant-extract to ensure that your metabolism is purring along like a jet. We are... Read more

The Case of the Heterodox Fox: Bergmann’s Rule North and South of the Equator

Posted 11 August 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Ecology is a mind-bogglingly complex field. As such, ecologists make few "rules"--they're more like "tentative tenets." Nature presents an exception for nearly everything, so even "rules" are often framed less as absolute laws and more as hypotheses to continue testing. One of the best-known "rules" of evolutionary ecology, is Bergmann’s rule, which predicts that endothermic animals found in cooler climates will have larger body sizes than conspecific populations or closely-related species in warmer habitats (Bergmann 1847). Bergmann’s reasoning was that... Read more

Hibernating Bears Run Hotter and Cleaner While Pregnant

Posted 3 August 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

When it comes to feats of physiology, bears are among the superstars of the mammalian world. Their endurance is legendary. During hibernation, bears regularly survive up to six full months without consuming any food at all. Hibernating bears reduce their heart rates by over 80% and decrease their metabolic rates by 50-75%, yet they actually remain conscious during this time (Laske et al. 2010; Tøien et al. 2011). Bears also manage to avoid muscle atrophy and loss of bone density,... Read more

Brains Versus Brawn Amongst Wild Canids

Posted 8 April 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Continuing the theme from my last post, I'm going to cover a new study involving some of the carnivores that I'm observing and studying out here in Kenya. Last time we talked about mongoose, and this time we'll move on to one of my favorite mammalian families: the Canidae. Few things are more important for a carnivore's survival than having a lethal bite. The critical mechanics underlying bite force have significantly influenced carnivore evolution--they determine morphology, hunting behavior, and prey... Read more

Humpbacks Multitask for Mates

Posted 31 December 2012 by Anne-Marie Hodge

The trade-offs between rewards involved in either foraging or courting mates have likely plagued animals for millennia. The need to feed often competes with the requirement to reproduce . . . and yet one cannot successfully secure a mate and raise offspring without adequate resources. This dilemma means that animals must carefully balance the time and energy they allocate to each endeavor. Humans may be able to cruise for dates in the grocery store, but few other animals are so... Read more

From “You are What You Eat” to “You See What You Eat”: Shedding Light on Ecologically Attuned Vision

Posted 25 November 2012 by Anne-Marie Hodge

If you have ever been temporarily blinded by sunlight after emerging from a building, or have stubbed a toe in the middle of the night, then you realize first-hand that sensitivity to light is a key element of success in one's environment. Animals vary dramatically in their visual abilities under different light conditions: birds and bees use UV vision to see colors that we cannot even perceive, some cave animals forgo vision completely, and the rest of us fall somewhere... Read more

Dolphins Remain Alert for Weeks Without Sleep

Posted 24 October 2012 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Modern society seems to wage a constant battle with the biological need to sleep.  We have arrays of caffeinated beverages, 24-hour stores at our disposal, and technology the provides round-the-clock entertainment sources. If you have ever been a shift worker, a new parent, a desperate student during finals week, or have traveled across multiple time zones, it’s likely that you have experienced just how mentally and physically overwhelming it can feel to be in a state of sleep deprivation.  Although... Read more

“The Redder the Better” . . . Sometimes

Posted 26 July 2012 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Nature is a wonder of color: flowering plants are the kaleidoscopes of many landscapes, and animals ranging from flatworms to parrots display a rainbow of shades and hues.  Color is often appreciated for its aesthetic value alone, but in reality it often carries great functional significance. An animal’s hues and patterns may help it to hide from predators, attract mates, or signal that it wields a toxin or sting that potential attackers would be wise to avoid.  Two recent studies,... Read more

African Rat Obtains Toxic Armor from Plants

Posted 1 December 2011 by Anne-Marie Hodge

For many generations, humans have known that toxic plant compounds can be used to poison the tips of arrows, spears and other weapons, vastly increasing the lethality of an attack. The indigenous peoples of South America are perhaps the most famous (or infamous) for this strategy, and the use of curare-tipped arrows (Lee 2005) achieved legendary status after Europeans invaded that continent. A similar strategy is used by some African communities (Cassels 1985), which take advantage of the natural substances... Read more