Saturday Science Snippets #3

Ants farm tropical fruits

Humans invented agriculture around 10,000 years ago and were probably quite proud of themselves. But for Philidris nagasau, an ant found only in Fiji, agriculture was old news – they’ve been growing their own fruit for 3 million years. Just like a human farmer does, they collect seeds, they plant them, they fertilise and protect their growing crops and then they harvest the fruit and replant the seeds. The relationship between ant and fruit is so close that both species now completely depend on each other for survival.
There are a small number of animal species that farm fungi and algae but this is the only animal, except us, known to grow its own fruit. Being able to grow our own food gave humans the time and energy to develop civilisation – luckily for us the same has not yet happened with ants.
Read more here.Cartoon ant

A fossilised dinosaur brain has been discovered

Brains don’t normally fossilise. Soft body parts get decomposed by bacteria before the long process of turning flesh to stone can happen. It takes a rather unusual set of circumstances for a brain to fossilise.One day, a long time ago, a small plant eating dinosaur fell head first into a swamp from which it would sadly never escape. But the swamp in which it demised contained acid and salt. Acid and salt are what we use to pickle food. Our dino’s brain was pickled like an onion, decomposition was prevented and the brain fossilised. 133 million years later a fossil hunter found this fossil and scientists have been able to study it looking at its detailed structure and finding out that it is quite similar to the brains of modern birds and reptiles. We will never know if our dino friend dived into that swamp deliberately to preserve its brain for future scientists, but it probably didn’t.

Read more here.

Pico looking at brain with a magnifying lens.

Men beat women at a very specific and useless task

Almost every time we’ve compared men and women’s ability to recognise faces women have been better or there has been no gender difference. For the first time ever researchers have found a type of face that men are better at recognising: the faces of transformer toys. Women were better at recognising Barbie faces though. The research was conducted by psychologists interested in learning more about humans’ very powerful ability to recognise faces and their findings suggest that early childhood experiences play an important part.Read more here.

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