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Monkeys Use Mosquito Repellent, Too

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about what happens when you slip spiders and other animals recreational drugs. A tidbit that didn’t make it into the post was that scientists working with capuchin monkeys in South America had often seen the monkeys grabbing certain types of millipedes, crushing them and then massaging the dead insects into their fur. Sometimes it was a social event—four or five monkeys would share the same millipede, rubbing it all over themselves and then passing it to a friend. Afterwards, they started drooling and their eyes sometimes glazed over. Maybe, some of the scientists speculated, the millipedes were mildly psychoactive and the monkeys were getting high off of their secretions.

When a team of researchers actually analyzed the chemicals that the millipedes produced, though, they realized that the monkeys weren’t catching a buzz, but getting rid of one. The millipedes produced two chemicals, both compounds called benzoquinones, that happen to be excellent mosquito repellents. The monkeys were using the millipedes like bug spray. A later study supported that idea by placing the millipedes’ secretions between some hungry mosquitoes and a container of human blood. The mosquitoes landed and fed less, and flew around at a distance from the container more, when the benzoquinones were present than when they weren’t.

After discovering what the millipedes were for, one of the zoologists who worked on the second study began giving benzoquinone-soaked napkins to the capuchins at the Smithsonian National Zoo, where he worked. After a few rub downs with the napkins, the monkeys would start to abandon their regular keeper when they saw the zoologist coming and run towards him with outstretched arms. There’s good reason for that sort of reaction. Mosquitoes are always annoying, but during the South American rainy season, they can descend on a poor capuchin in thick clouds. Along with an itch, their bites might also leave behind the eggs of the parasitic bot fly, which will develop under the monkey’s skin and create a festering cyst that eventually bursts open with maggots.

Given how much fun that sounds like, the side effects of a millipede rubdown don’t seem as bad. Some benzoquinones are toxic and carcinogenic, and contact with them can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, and mouth that leads to a glassy-eyed look, drooling, and pain—plus, from a human perspective, an overall impression that a monkey might be stoned. For these reasons, the researchers who did these studies don’t recommend that you self-medicate with millipedes to keep the bugs away. One scientist who copied the capuchin technique of crushing a bug with his teeth to release the chemicals fell to his knees in pain when the benzoquinones got into his mouth.

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Animals
25 Shelter Dogs Who Made It Big
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If you’ve been thinking of adding a four-legged friend to your brood and are deciding whether a shelter dog is right for you, consider this: Some of history’s most amazing pooches—from four-legged movie stars to heroic rescue dogs—were found in animal shelters. In honor of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, here are 25 shelter dogs who made it big.

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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