Courtesy of Enrique Peñalver (Museo Geominero, Instituto Geológico y Minero de España, Madrid, Spain).
Courtesy of Enrique Peñalver (Museo Geominero, Instituto Geológico y Minero de España, Madrid, Spain).

When Flowers Were New, This Ancient Beetle in Amber Pollinated Differently

Courtesy of Enrique Peñalver (Museo Geominero, Instituto Geológico y Minero de España, Madrid, Spain).
Courtesy of Enrique Peñalver (Museo Geominero, Instituto Geológico y Minero de España, Madrid, Spain).

The final meal of the false blister beetle pictured below ended on a traumatic note 105 million years ago. As it struggled to free its body from a gob of sticky tree sap, the grains of pollen clenched in its jaws tumbled free, rolling to their ultimate resting places around the beetle’s soon-to-be-still body. But one beetle’s bad day is a scientist’s gold mine: Researchers say the tableau in amber is proof of an entirely different form of prehistoric pollination. A report of the findings was published in the journal Current Biology.

Courtesy of David Peris (Departament de Ciències Agràries I del Medi Natural, Universitat Jaume, Castelló de la Plana, Spain)

The newly discovered beetle (Darwinylus marcosi) and its golden tomb date back to the mid-Mesozoic era. It was an exciting time to be alive—especially if you were a plant. The Earth was still mostly the dominion of non-flowering plants (gymnosperms), but the first flowering plants (angiosperms) had begun to arrive on the scene.

When we think of pollination today, we generally think of angiosperms, with their oh-so-subtle pistils and stamens gyrating in the breeze or quivering under the antennae of a honeybee. Gymnosperm reproduction is a rougher affair, as trees like pines and gingkos drop hard cones stuffed with spores. But it wasn’t always that way.

Recent discoveries like the unfortunate beetle shown above suggest that gymnosperms’ sex lives used to be much more varied. They had no fewer than four different demographics of non-plant partners. Moths, scorpionflies, and lacewings plunged their long, needle-like snoots deep into pinecone crevices and sucked out drops of liquid pollen. Other flies used sponge-like mouthparts to soak pollen up. Little bugs called thrips used their mouths like hole punchers, perforating pollen grains and draining the juice. And then there’s our unfortunate beetle friend, who likely used its jaw-like mouthparts to crack the little grains open and scarf up the good stuff within.

As flowering plants spread and took over, gymnosperm reproduction began to shift toward a more plant-centric model, eventually dumping its insect partners altogether. With no access to gymnosperm-based food, you’d think its former pollinators would die out. Many did. But the descendants of D. marcosi found a way to make it work: transferring their attention to flowering plants instead. Today, false blister beetles are an angiosperm-only family.

Paper co-author Conrad Labandeira is a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. He says we could learn a lot from D. marcosi’s ability to move on after a pollination breakup. “Modern insect pollinators and their host plants may be facing similar conditions today,” he said in a statement, “and our understanding of this earlier transition may help us better grasp and comprehend the present situation."

Bad Moods Might Make You More Productive

Being in a bad mood at work might not be such a bad thing. New research shows that foul moods can lead to better executive function—the mental processing that handles skills like focus, self-control, creative thinking, mental flexibility, and working memory. But the benefit might hinge on how you go through emotions.

As part of the study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, a pair of psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Canada subjected more than 90 undergraduate students to a battery of tests designed to measure their working memory and inhibition control, two areas of executive function. They also gave the students several questionnaires designed to measure their emotional reactivity and mood over the previous week.

They found that some people who were in slightly bad moods performed significantly better on the working memory and inhibition tasks, but the benefit depended on how the person experienced emotion. Specifically, being in a bit of a bad mood seemed to boost the performance of participants with high emotional reactivity, meaning that they’re sensitive, have intense reactions to situations, and hold on to their feelings for a long time. People with low emotional reactivity performed worse on the tasks when in a bad mood, though.

“Our results show that there are some people for whom a bad mood may actually hone the kind of thinking skills that are important for everyday life,” one of the study’s co-authors, psychology professor Tara McAuley, said in a press statement. Why people with bigger emotional responses experience this boost but people with less-intense emotions don’t is an open question. One hypothesis is that people who have high emotional reactivity are already used to experiencing intense emotions, so they aren’t as fazed by their bad moods. However, more research is necessary to tease out those factors.

[h/t Big Think]

7 Reasons Why You Should Let Your Kid Get Bored This Summer

No matter how excited kids are for summer break, after a few weeks without school, they can start to feel a little bored. But as a parent, you shouldn't drive yourself crazy scheduling playdates, lessons, and other organized activities for your restless progeny. Instead, turn off the iPad, put down the camp brochure, and let them sit around the house moaning “I'm bored”—it can be good for them.


Research suggests the experience of boredom can lead to greater creativity because it allows minds to wander. In one 2014 study, researchers asked a group of participants to undertake boring activities like copying down telephone numbers from a directory. Then, they were tested for creativity—they had to come up with as many uses for a pair of foam cups as they could think of. The participants who had endured the boring tasks ended up thinking up more uses for the cups than those who hadn't. Boredom, the researchers wrote, "can sometimes be a force for good."

This isn't an entirely new idea. Another study conducted in Canada in the 1980s provides further evidence that boredom isn't always a bad thing: It found that kids who lived in towns with no televisions scored higher on imagination-related tests than kids who had TVs. Imagine what disconnecting from all of the screens available now could do for a kid's creativity.


Boredom can force kids to generate their own ideas about what they'd like to do—and what's feasible—then direct their own activities independently. "If parents spend all their time filling up their child's spare time, then the child's never going to learn to do this for themselves," Lyn Fry, a child psychologist, told Quartz in 2016. "Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant."


In The Boredom Solution: Understanding and Dealing with Boredom, teacher and author Linda Deal advises that it's important to let kids learn to deal with their boredom themselves because it helps them learn to make decisions about how to use their free time. They need to learn to "see the problem of boredom as one within their control," she writes, which can help them come up with constructive ways to solve it rather than simply getting hopeless or angry about it, as kids sometimes do in situations they don't have control over. Kids learn that boredom isn't an insurmountable obstacle.


In a 2012 study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, researchers sought to define what, exactly, boredom is. "At the heart of it is our desire to engage with the world or some other mental activity, and that takes attention," co-author Mark Fenske, an associate professor at the University of Guelph, explained at the time. "When we cannot do this—that seems to be what leads to frustration and the aversive state we call 'boredom.'" When kids (and adults) are bored, especially with activities that were once engaging, they're motivated to try new things.


According to a pair of psychologists from Texas A&M University, boredom might have a social role. They argue that it "expresses to others that a person is seeking change and stimulation, potentially prompting others to respond by assisting in this pursuit." Being bored can push kids to go out and be more social, and have fun through activities. When there's not much to do, hanging out with the new kid down the block (or even your little brother) suddenly seems a lot more appealing.


Both at school and at home, kids are often required to participate in a range of activities. Having the time and space to do nothing can help kids figure out what they actually like to do. "Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves," psychologist Vanessa Lapointe writes at the Huffington Post. This downtime allows kids to direct their own activities without adult input. Pressed to come up with their own entertainment, they might discover a love of writing plays, baking cookies, biking, crafting, or perfecting their jump shot.


According to one 2011 study, boredom forced people to reflect on meaning in their lives, prompting them to seek out meaningful activities like donating blood. While the study only examined adults, who may be more inclined to search for purpose, boredom can nonetheless push kids to undertake activities they might otherwise find unappealing—whether that means helping out with the dishes or agreeing to go volunteer for the day—or could even inspire them to make the world a better place.


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