Strange Biology Questions

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Research About Questions That Might Strike You As Being Strange
compiled by Alice Shirrell Kaswell, Improbable Research staff

Are Motorways Rational From Slime Mold’s Point of View?
Are Motorways Rational From Slime Mould’s Point of View?” Andrew Adamatzky, Selim Akl, Ramon Alonso-Sanz, Wesley van Dessel, Zuwairie Ibrahim, Andrew Ilachinski, Jeff Jones, Anne V. D. M. Kayem, Genaro J. Martinez, Pedro de Oliveira, Mikhail Prokopenko, Theresa Schubert, Peter Sloot, Emanuele Strano, and Xin-She Yang, arXiv:1203.2851v1, March 13, 2012. (Thanks to investigator Vaughn Tan for bringing this to our attention.) The authors report:

Motorway networks of fourteen geographical areas are considered: Australia, Africa, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Iberia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, The Netherlands, UK, USA. For each geographical entity we represented major urban areas by oat flakes and inoculated the slime mould in a capital. After slime mould spanned all urban areas with a network of its protoplasmic tubes, we extracted a generalised Physarum graph from the network and compared the graphs with an abstract motorway graph using most common measures.... We obtained a series of intriguing results, and found that the slime mould approximates best of all the motorway graphs of Belgium, Canada and China, and that for all entities studied the best match between Physarum and motorway graphs is detected by the Randic index (molecular branching index).

Detail from the study “Are Motorways Rational From Slime Mould’s Point of View?”

Are Snakes Right-Handed, Hemipenisically?
Are Snakes Right-Handed? Asymmetry in Hemipenis Size and Usage in Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis),” R. Shine , M.M. Olsson, M.P. LeMaster, I.T. Moore, and R.T. Mason, Behavioral Ecology, vol. 11, no. 4, 2000, pp. 411-415. The authors, at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Oregon State University, USA, report:

Male snakes possess paired reproductive systems, with an independent set on either side of the body. Our studies on gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) reveal [that copulations] using the right hemipenis produced a larger gelatinous “mating plug,” and may thus more effectively delay remating by the female. Although the overall usage of the two hemipenes in field matings averaged close to 50/50, hemipenis usage was not random. Males tended to alternate hemipenis use in successive matings, perhaps because of depletion of plug material. Also, male gartersnakes preferentially used their larger (right) hemipenis when mating at high body temperatures.

Would a Cylindrical Snake Roll Off a Log?
Why Arboreal Snakes Should Not Be Cylindrical: Body Shape, Incline and Surface Roughness Have Interactive Effects on Locomotion,” Bruce C. Jayne, Steven J. Newman, Michele M. Zentkovich, and H. Matthew Berns, Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 218, no. 24, 2015, pp. 3978-3986. (Thanks to Diane Kelly for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the University of Cincinnati, report:

We used artificial branches with five inclines and five peg heights (≤40 mm) to test for interactive effects on the locomotion of three snake species with different body shapes.... Our results illustrate how morphology and two different aspects of habitat structure can have interactive effects on organismal performance and behaviour. Notably, a sharper keel facilitated exploiting shorter protrusions to prevent slipping and provide propulsion, which became increasingly important as surface steepness increased.

Do Hens Have Friends?
Do Hens Have Friends?” Siobhan M. Abeyesinghe, Julian A. Drewe, Lucy Asher, Christopher M. Wathes, and Lisa M. Collins, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 143, no. 1, January 15, 2013, pp. 61-66. The authors, at the Royal Veterinary College, the University of Nottingham, and Queen’s University Belfast, UK, report:

Spatial and temporal associations were examined in two contexts (day activity and evening roosting), within 8 identical pens of 15 laying hens over 8 weeks.... Overall, we found no convincing evidence of dyadic preferential relationships expressed by close active and resting proximities.


This article is republished with permission from the September-October 2017 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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