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John Prince via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-ND 2.0
John Prince via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientists Unwrap the "Nuptial Gifts" Male Fireflies Give to Their Mates

John Prince via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-ND 2.0
John Prince via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-ND 2.0

Finishing up your holiday gift-buying this week? If your recipient list includes a lady firefly, we’ve got the perfect idea: a gooey bundle of protein-packed sperm. Researchers, writing in the journal Scientific Reports, say these "nuptial gifts" from male fireflies to their mates contain an astonishing array of fertility-promoting nutrients.

Corresponding author Sara Lewis specializes in sexual selection in insects. Lewis and her colleagues at Tufts University have been studying firefly sex for years, and they’re still not sick of it—nor are the fireflies, apparently. “I think it’s safe to say that adult fireflies are obsessed with sex,” she said in a statement. She and her team have identified some of the crucial factors in firefly courtship, but the firefly’s gift has remained something of a black box.

Terry Priest via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

 
Nuptial gifts are a normal part of the mating game for many insect species. Male bugs use them as an enticement and as a way of boosting the odds that their genetic material will make it to the next round. The substance of these gifts varies quite a bit, from decorated crickets’ “gummy bears” to male mantises’ ultimate sacrifice of their own bodies.

To peek inside the firefly’s gift, the research team sent the little packages through a gauntlet of genetic, proteomic, and metabolomic tests, trying to create an ultimate ingredient list.

That list proved to be long, including more than 200 different proteins. Some of those compounds make up the physical stuff of the capsule; some help break it down and become useful once it enters the female firefly’s body. Others prompt her body to produce more eggs, hold on to sperm, or increase the sperm’s efficacy. The gift also contains a nasty-tasting toxin called lucibufagin, which has previously been shown to help protect firefly eggs from predators. It is, in short, the total nuptial package.

And it works well. The research team found that lady fireflies who consumed nuptial gifts produce more eggs over their lifetimes and even live longer, while males who give larger gifts tend to have more kids.

Co-first author Nooria Al-Wathiqui calls the little bundles “complex, elegant structures” and says they’re produced by “a bevy of male glands. In fact, if you look inside a male firefly, you’ll find them jam-packed with gift-making machinery.”

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Animals
The Simple Way to Protect Your Dog From Dangerous Rock Salt
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Winter can be a tough time for dogs. The cold weather usually means there are fewer opportunities for walks and more embarrassing accessories for them to wear. But the biggest threat to canines this time of year is one pet owners may not notice: the dangerous rock salt coating the streets and sidewalks. If you live someplace where this is a problem, here are the steps you need to take to keep your pooch safe until the weather warms up, according to Life Hacker.

Rock salt poses two major hazards to pets: damage to their feet and poisoning from ingestion. The first is the one most pet owners are aware of. Not only do large grains of salt hurt when they get stuck in a dog’s paws, but they can also lead to frostbite and chemical burns due to the de-icing process at work. The easiest way to prevent this is by covering your dog’s paws before taking them outside. Dog booties get the job done, as do protective balms and waxes that can be applied directly to their pads.

The second danger is a little harder to anticipate. The only way you can stop your dog from eating rock salt from the ground is to keep a close eye on them. Does your dog seem a little too interested in a puddle or a mound of snow? Encourage them to move on before they have a chance to take a lick.

If, for some reason, you forget to follow the steps above and your pet has a bad encounter with some winter salt, don’t panic. For salty feet, soak your dog's paws in warm water once you get inside to wash away any remaining grit. If your dog exhibits symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and disorientation and you suspect they’ve ingested rock salt, contact your vet right away.

Even with the proper protection, winter can still create an unsafe environment for dogs. Check out this handy chart to determine when it’s too cold to take them for a walk.

[h/t Life Hacker]

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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