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Jason Hollinger via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Jason Hollinger via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

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

Jason Hollinger via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
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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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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