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Jason Hollinger via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

This Orchid Emits 'B.O.' to Attract Mosquitoes

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Jason Hollinger via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

To trick tiger mosquitoes into coming their way, one type of orchid produces a scent that’s oddly familiar. At this week’s annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, a team of sensory ecologists reported that the scent emitted by the Platanthera obtusata is chemically similar to our own natural body odor.

Even though mosquitoes are notorious for being subpar pollinators, this common bog orchid seems to depend on them for reproduction. This species rarely interbreeds with nearby Platanthera relatives, so scientists expected it might have found a way to reproduce by attracting unique pollinators. Researchers tested this theory by sealing airtight bags over several orchid varieties and sampling their odors. When P. obtusata’s scent was analyzed, it was found to contain some of the same chemicals that are present in human B.O.

If you were to take a whiff of one of these plants, the scent wouldn’t necessarily remind you of a locker room. The orchid’s stench is barely noticeable to humans. But it was shown to stir electrical activity in a mosquito's antennae. This supports the possibility that the scent is primarily meant to lure the insects in. Researchers are conducting additional behavioral tests to verify the theory. Further studies could help us make more effective mosquito traps in the future.

[h/t: Science]

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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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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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