Tag Archives: tongue

Fossil Friday: amphibian trapped in amber is the first known ‘tongue-thrower’

New research looking at some old fossils uncovers a novel species of amphibians. The animal belonged to the albanerpetontid family and provides the oldest known evidence of a slingshot-style tongue.

The skull encased in amber. Image credits Florida Museum / Edward Stanley.

The fossils had been previously analyzed and mistakenly interpreted as belonging to a species of ancient chameleons. However, the new study comes to show that despite having lizardlike claws, scales, and tails, albanerpetontids (or ‘albies’) were actually amphibians. They belonged to a lineage that’s distinct from modern frogs, salamanders, and caecilians. This lineage developed over some 165 million years and died out roughly 2 million years ago.

The fossils described in this study are roughly 99 million years old, and help showcase how the albies hunted: lying in wait for potential prey, then launching their tongue at them, similarly to modern chameleons. This fossil specimen (previously misidentified as an early chameleon) is the first albie discovered in modern-day Myanmar and the only known example in amber. The species was christened Yaksha perettii, after treasure-guarding spirits known as yakshas in Hindu literature and Adolf Peretti, who discovered the fossil.

Don’t judge a fossil by its tongue

“This discovery adds a super-cool piece to the puzzle of this obscure group of weird little animals,” said study co-author Edward Stanley, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Digital Discovery and Dissemination Laboratory. “Knowing they had this ballistic tongue gives us a whole new understanding of this entire lineage.”

The initial misidentification of the species came down to the fossils it was described from: a juvenile individual with a hodgepodge of characteristics, including a specialized tongue bone. The paper describing them sparked an international collaboration to better correctly identify the fossils, after Susan Evans, professor of vertebrate morphology and paleontology at University College London and an albie expert, recognized some of the characteristics. Together with Peretti, the researchers sent the specimen together with similar amber-encased ones to the University of Texas at Austin for computer tomography (CT) scanning.

X-ray of albanerpetontid skull
An X-ray of the skull showing its long hyoid bone, which provided support for the tongue, jutting from the back. Image credits Florida Museum / Edward Stanley.
CT scan of albanerpetontid skull
CT scan of the skull. Preserved soft tissues are shown in pink. Image credits Florida Museum / Edward Stanley.

It was found that the amber-encased specimen was in “mint condition” (which tends to be rare for albies). It was also, luckily, an adult counterpart of the juvenile that has previously misidentified.

“Everything was where it was supposed to be. There was even some soft tissue,” says Evans.

The excellent quality of the specimen allowed the team to dispel some wrong assumptions about the species. Their reinforced skulls have led researchers to hypothesize that they were a species of digging salamanders. Several other shared features, most notably their claws, scales, and large eye sockets, were also reminiscent of reptiles. The albie also likely had a ballistic tongue similar to those of chameleons today.

Based on the skull, the researchers estimate that Y. perettii was about 2 inches long, not including the tail. The juvenile was a quarter that size. It relied on its fast tongue (the chameleon tongue can go from 0 to 60 mph in a hundredth of a second, being one of the fastest muscles in the animal kingdom) to hunt for insects, and would otherwise try to keep hidden among the brush, the team believes.

Its predatory nature and projectile tongue also help explain its other “weird and wonderful” features, including unusual jaw and neck joints and large, forward-looking eye sockets. It’s also likely they breathed through their skin like salamanders do, but this is still unconfirmed.

Although the specimens were in excellent condition, the team remains unsure where they fit in the amphibian family tree due to its unusual combination of features.

“In theory, albies could give us a clue as to what the ancestors of modern amphibians looked like,” Evan says. “Unfortunately, they’re so specialized and so weird in their own way that they’re not helping us all that much.”

No albies are known to have survived to modern times, but they only faded out about 2 million years ago — which means they might have crossed paths with our earlier hominid relatives.

“We only just missed them. I keep hoping they’re still alive somewhere,” Evan adds.

The paper “Enigmatic amphibians in mid-Cretaceous amber were chameleon-like ballistic feeders” has been published in the journal Science.

Macro cat tongue.

Cat’s tongues are surprisingly complex — and better at cleaning than any brush we have

Cat’s scaly tongues are actually very, very good at cleaning fur. So good, in fact, that they could teach our doctors and engineers some tricks, a new study reports.

Macro cat tongue.

Image credits Jennifer Leigh / Wikimedia.

Feline owners out there will know that their pet’s tongue can be really scratchy — especially when they’re grooming. One team of researchers from Georgia Tech wanted to know why. Their research reveals how the rough tongues help cats clean their thick fur and cool down on hot days.

Rough around the middle

“Their tongue could help us apply fluids, or clean carpets, or apply medicine” to hairy areas on our body, says lead researcher Alexis Noel.

The secret behind the feline tongue’s roughness — and its superb cleaning ability — is a layer of tiny hooks that cover the surface. These hooks have groove- or scoop-like structures that help them drive saliva deep into the fur. They’re really effective at it, too. The team says these structures can help inspire new inventions for a wide range of application. Noel himself is already seeking a patent for a 3D-printed, tongue-inspired brush.

Cats, when not busy presenting us with dead presents, spend a lot of time grooming their fur; around a quarter of their waking hours are invested in personal hygiene, the team reports. Given how thick their fur can get, and how hard licking it clean seems to be, this isn’t really surprising at first glance. However, Noel’s curiosity was piqued when she witnessed her cat getting its tongue stuck in a fuzzy blanket. She wondered why her pet’s tongue is covered in those cone-like bumps. Luckily for us all, her lab has a background in animal-inspired engineering — so she set out to find the answer.

The team started by taking computerized tomography (CT) scans of cats’ tongues. This step revealed that the ‘cones’ are, in fact, hooks shaped much like a cat’s claws. They typically lie with their barbs pointing towards the neck (i.e. out of the way), until a certain tongue muscle springs into action. At that point, the spines spring straight up.

What really surprised the team, however, was that these spines (called papillae) contain hollow scoops. The researchers obtained preserved feline tongues (from zoos and taxidermists) to study — bobcats, cougars, snow leopards, lions, and tigers all share this trait, the team explains. Papillae were only slightly longer in lions than in housecats, although the tongues of larger felines hold many more such structures.

Feline Papillae.

Comparison of feline papillae from CT scans.
Image credits Alexis Noel / Georgia Tech.

When dabbed with drops of food dye, these spines absorbed the liquid. Noel’s team estimates that a housecat’s papillae (roughly 300) hold saliva and release it when pressed against fur — and ensure that the animal can thoroughly clean its mane. Lab tests with a machine that the team constructed to mimic the strokes of a cat’s grooming showed that saliva from the tongue’s surface alone simply can’t penetrate as deep.

The team also measured cat fur. Our pets are usually quite fuzzy since their manes try to trap as much air as possible to insulate the animal. When compressed, however, the thickness of fur matches the length of these spines in many types of cat, the paper adds. One exception is Persian cats with their super-long fur that veterinarians caution must be brushed daily to avoid matting.

Finally, these spines aren’t just about staying clean — a thermal camera showed evaporating saliva cooled the cats as they groomed.

The paper “Cats use hollow papillae to wick saliva into fur” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Small arms, tongue-tied: T-Rex couldn’t stick its tongue out

The idea of a roaring tyrannosaur run amok, flailing its head and tongue around, might not be accurate at all researchers say.

Some of the fossils used for the study. The blue and green arrows are pointing to the hyoid apparatus. Image credit: Li et al. 2018

It’s funny how one of the fiercest predators in our planet’s history — if not the fiercest — is the butt of so many jokes in modern times. The small arms of the T-Rex are so well-known that they often precede the dinosaurs’ incredible reputation. But no matter how you look at it, in its heyday, T-Rex was a killing machine. Its immense head offered an ungodly biting strength, which T-Rex used to the fullest.

Now, researchers have compared the mouth anatomy of T-Rex and other ancient reptile species to their closest living avian and reptilian relatives, including alligators. They were particularly looking at the hyoid bones, which anchor the tongue to the body.

Unlike other bones, the hyoid is only distantly articulated to other bones by muscles or ligaments — instead, it is anchored by muscles from the anterior, posterior, and inferior directions (front, back, and below). The hyoid bones aids in tongue movement and swallowing, while also providing attachment to the floor of the mouth and the tongue above, the larynx below, and the epiglottis and pharynx behind.

Tongues are often not the focus of paleontology studies, but they can offer important insight into the creature’s lifestyle and evolutionary patterns.

“Tongues are often overlooked. But, they offer key insights into the lifestyles of extinct animals,” said lead author Zhiheng Li, an associate professor at the Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The results show that the hyoid bones of most dinosaurs were like those of alligators and crocodiles — short, simple, and connected to a tongue that was not very mobile. In other words, like today’s crocodiles, tyrannosaurs likely couldn’t stick their tongue out. This goes directly against the grain of how these dinosaurs are depicted in popular media.

“They’ve been reconstructed the wrong way for a long time,” said study author Julia Clarke, a professor at the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences, in a statement. “In most extinct dinosaurs, their tongue bones are very short. And in crocodilians with similarly short hyoid bones, the tongue is totally fixed to the floor of the mouth.”

However, this wasn’t the case for all the dinosaurs researchers studied. Pterosaurs, bird-like dinosaurs that could fly have a great diversity in hyoid bone shapes (just like living birds, and often have very mobile tongues. Clarke and her team suspect that this feature could potentially be connected to other evolutionary traits such as flying.

“Birds, in general, elaborate their tongue structure in remarkable ways,” Clarke said. “They are shocking.”

Essentially, they say that if the forelimbs started developing into wings, this could have drastically reduced the ability of birds and pterosaurs to manipulate food, and the tongue might have become agiler to compensate for that lack.

“If you can’t use a hand to manipulate prey, the tongue may become much more important to manipulate food,” Li added. “That is one of the hypotheses that we put forward.”

But there’s also an exception: ornithischian dinosaurs — a group that includes Triceratops, ankylosaurs, and other plant-eating dinosaurs that chewed their food — had hyoid bones that were highly complex and more mobile; obviously, they couldn’t fly, so they must have had a different reason for evolving this way. However, researchers note that they were structurally different from those of flying dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

Researchers hope that their work can inspire further research on the topic, especially as it’s not clear when these changes started to occur in the fossil record.

Journal Reference: Zhiheng Li, Zhonghe Zhou, Julia A. Clarke. Convergent evolution of a mobile bony tongue in flighted dinosaurs and pterosaurs. PLOS ONE, 2018; 13 (6): e0198078 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198078

Bluetongue.

Australian skinks will literally stick their tongues out at predators — and it works!

When in doubt, stick your tongue out at them!

Bluetongue.

“You asked for it punk!”
Image credits Shane Black.

Skinks in the genus Tiliqua are pretty inconspicuous as far as lizards go. They don’t really like to draw attention to themselves, and they’re decidedly lizard-shaped. New research shows that when their unassuming nature fails to garner the peace of mind they desire (from predators), the skinks fall back to a surprising — and surprisingly effective — last-ditch defense: their tongues.

Their what now?

Bluetongued skinks are fairly widely spread throughout Australia, eastern Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. They’re omnivorous, mediumly-sized lizards that primarily rely on their camouflage to keep out of sight. When under attack by a determined predator, however, they make an effort to stand out: the skinks open their mouth suddenly, as wide as they can, to reveal a brightly-colored blue tongue. Not to make them self-conscious but these tongues must be a sight to recoil from — because that’s exactly what predators do.

The behavior is used as a last line of defense to protect the skinks from attack, writes Martin Whiting, the study’s corresponding author, in a press release. The research revealed that the tongues are very reflective in the UV spectrum, and that they are more UV-luminous towards the back. Some of the lizards’ main predators, such as birds, snakes, or monitor lizards, are thought to be able to see UV light, suggesting the skinks might use this light to startle predators into breaking off their attack.

The study focused on the northern bluetongue skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia), the largest species of the group. The species sports good camouflage: broad brown bands across their backs to blend them into their surroundings. However, some of its main predators can still spot them, likely due to their ability to perceive UV light — so the team aimed to determine what tactics it uses to deter attackers.

First, they used a portable spectrophotometer to measure the color and intensity across different areas of the tongues of 13 skinks. This revealed that the blue tongues actually reflect UV light. Further data crunching in the lab later revealed that the tongues were almost twice as bright at the rear compared to the tip.

Mean spectra of different regions of the tongue. Associated illustration by Courtney Walcott of a Bluetongue skink performing a full-tongue display.
Image credits A. Badiane et al., 2018, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Bloo!

The next part of the study was to identify how this bright tongue benefited the skinks. The team observed that skinks in the wild would open their mouths and stick their tongues out at would-be attackers. To find out more, the team simulated attacks on the lizards using models of their natural predators — the team used a snake, a bird, a goanna (monitor lizard), a fox — and a piece of wood as a control.

Skinks will rely on concealment for as long as they possibly can, the team reports. Should this fail, however, the lizards open their mouths widely at the last moment, revealing their UV-reflective tongues. One particularly amusing paragraph of the study suggests that the more intense attacks elicited a stronger tongue-response: the more risk the skinks felt exposed to, the more tongue they would poke at their enemies. I can relate to their fighting style.

Bluetongue display.

Northern Bluetongue skink performing a ‘full-tongue’ display in response to a simulated attack by a model predator. The face of a true warrior.
Image credits Peter Street / A. Badiane et al., 2018, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

“The lizards restrict the use of full-tongue displays to the final stages of a predation sequence when they are most at risk, and do so in concert with aggressive defensive behaviours that amplify the display, such as hissing or inflating their bodies,” explains lead author Arnaud Badiane.

“This type of display might be particularly effective against aerial predators, for which an interrupted attack would not be easily resumed due to loss of inertia.”

Finally, the team notes that tongue-displays were most often triggered by the fake bird and fox models, rather than by those of snakes or monitor lizards.

“The timing of their tongue display is crucial,” adds Badiane. “If performed too early, a display may break the lizard’s camouflage and attract unwanted attention by predators and increase predation risk. If performed too late, it may not deter predators.”

If you’re ever caught between a rock and a hard knuckle, stick your tongue out. It likely won’t be as effective as those of the skinks, but maybe you’ll confuse people enough to make your (brave and honorable) escape. Worth a shot.

The paper “Why blue tongue? A potential UV-based deimatic display in a lizard” has been published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Why do snakes flick their tongues?

Despite popular belief, snake tongues have no receptors for taste or smell. However, they flick their tongues to collect chemicals from the air or ground, using the so-called Jacobson’s Organ in the top of the mouth.

Snakes are terribly odd creatures, with their cold-blooded no-legs approach to life, but they’ve been around for over 100 million years, so they must be doing something right. Among the distinctive features of these elongated, carnivorous reptiles is their forked twin tongue.

Folklore and old explanations

Since the dawn of mankind’s interaction with snakes, we’ve noticed their eerie forked tongues flicking in and out — but why do they do it? Aristotle was seemingly fascinated by snakes and wrote about them on several occasions. Somehow, he managed to be very wrong, and yet also very close to the real answer. He wrote that “nature does not do anything in vain” and does “what is best among the possibilities,” something which is somewhat consistent with the principles of evolution. About the tongue, he wrote that it provides snakes with “a twofold pleasure from savors, their gustatory sensation being as it were doubled.”

In the 17th century, the idea that snakes catch insects with their tongue was popularized, and even though this has never been observed to be the case, it was still widely believed. However, this is true for other reptiles — most notably chameleons.

The Italian astronomer Giovanni Hodierna thought snakes use their tongues to clean dirt from their nose, which is a more reasonable explanation, though equally unlikely.

Two myths have also been perpetuated about snake tongues. The first is that they use the tongue to cover the prey in saliva before swallowing it. However, even a superficial investigation will reveal that the delicate tongue is neither well-suited or capable of such an act. The other myth is that it is a stinger, or the source of the snake venom, something which again, was disproven by autopsies since the Renaissance. This latter belief was probably popularized by quotes in the Bible and in Shakespearean literature. It’s surprising that so many myths still surround this phenomenon, but it’s probably understandable since snakes themselves are surrounded by a great deal of myth and folklore.

Why snakes really flick their tongue

A thorough investigation of snake behavior will reveal that through the tongue, the snake gets some understanding of its surrounding. This was determined by the investigations of French naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède in the early 1800s. Various 19th-century scholars have believed the tongue to be an organ of smell, taste, or even vibrations. However, these theories were displaced by thorough experiments.

More recent studies have learned that a snake tongue picks up particles or odors from the air. The two tips of the tongue are then introduced into the corresponding pair of what is called Jacobson’s organ, where they evoke different signals which are then transmitted electrically to the brain.

Keep in mind that this is neither a sense of smell nor taste — the tongue does not have receptors for smell or taste. It simply picks up the chemicals from the air or ground and passes them to Jacobson’s Organ.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”Jacobson’s Organ” footer=””]The organ (also called the Vomeronasal organ, or VNO) was actually discovered in the 18th century, but its purpose wasn’t properly understood at the time. The organ is mainly used to detect pheromones, chemical messengers that carry information between individuals of the same species. Snakes have very well developed Jacobson’s organ, which allows them to sense a wide variety of chemicals.

But snakes aren’t the only creatures to have this biological feature. Many mammals also have it, and it is typically involved in the so-called flehmen response — a behavior in which an animal curls back its upper lip exposing its front teeth, inhales with the nostrils usually closed and then often holds this position for several seconds. The flehmen response is often used by horses and cats. However, oscillating tongue flicks are unique to snakes.

In humans, the VNO remains an area of active research and a controversial subject. The presence of vomeronasal organ has been observed in fetuses, though several studies found that it regresses as the fetus develops. It’s unclear if the VNO continues into adult life, as some studies have found evidence of it, while others have not. Furthermore, even if it does exist, it’s not clear that it is active and functional — even though chemical communication has been proven to exist between humans.[/panel]

So, snakes flick their forked tongues to pick up chemicals from the air or from the ground, something which is akin to smelling but is really not the same as smell. But this doesn’t really tell the whole story.

Advanced features of the snake tongue

While this explains why snakes flick their tongue, we still haven’t discussed why their tongue is forked — and there’s a very good reason for it.

Because it is forked, it can collect information in two places at once. This allows the snakes to create a chemical gradient of sorts, which gives them a sense of direction. In other words, snakes use their forked tongues to navigate the chemical world in 3D. It’s the same principle with owls, who developed asymmetrical ears to collect sounds in 3D. This makes it much easier for snakes to pick up and follow trails left behind by other animals.

This theory was confirmed in the 1930s, in an age before the ethical use of animals in research was regulated. German biologist Herman Kahmann cut off the forked parts of a snake tongue. He found that while the snakes were still efficient at picking up chemicals, they were much less able to follow trails.

More ethical studies have shown that the snake is effective in following not only the trail of potential prey — but also that of mates. In the 1980s, snake biologist Neil Ford at the University of Texas at Tyler followed male garter snakes as they were chasing the trail of females. He found that if both tips of the male tongue fall within the trail left by the female, the snake continues his route. But if one side falls outside of it, the snake turned his head away from that side, accurately following the female trail. Snake ecologist Chuck Smith at Wofford College also found that male Copperheads have longer, more deeply-forked tongues than females, which seems to support this theory.

Also, it was once thought that since Jacobson’s organ is forked just like the tongue, the tongue delivers the chemicals directly to the organ, but X-ray videos have revealed that this is not the case. It seems that the tongue simply deposits the chemicals on the bottom of the mouth, and when the mouth closes, the bottom and the top of the mouth, where Jacobson’s organ is located, come into contact.

Recent studies have also sought to quantify snake tongue flicks by analyzing tongue flick behavior. Gheylen Daghfous and his colleagues from the Université de Montreal have found two different tongue flick behaviors: one when the snakes picked up chemicals from the air, and another one when they pick chemicals up from the ground. They explain this as a specialized behavior which optimizes how chemicals are picked up from different environments.

Odor dispersion and how it is picked up by different creatures is still an area that’s poorly understood. While we can now say we truly know why snakes flick their tongues, the intricacies of this process are still not fully understood, and future studies will no doubt reveal even more about the impressive creatures we call snakes.

New electric fork simulates a salty flavor by shocking your tongue

Adding extra-salt may make food tastier, but it can also has a negative effect on your health. With that in mind, Japanese researchers have invented a fork that creates a salty taste in your mouth at the press of a button, by releasing an electrical current which stimulates the tongue.

The “electric flavoring fork” generates a salty or sour taste. The metal part of the handle is held in the palm, and the button is pressed by the thumb. It can be used for about six hours per charge. The prototype is not water-proof, but presumably will be in the future.

Salt has long been associated with blood pressure, an increased risk of heart disease and even a risk of stomach cancer. It’s clear that many people are eating too much salt, but no one really likes bland food. There may be a middle way.

The prototype fork, which was built from just $24 worth of electronics, creates the sensation of both salty and sour, and can be adjusted for different intensities. The handle of the fork incorporates a rechargeable battery and electric circuit. When the user inserts the head of the fork into the mouth with food while pressing a button on the handle, a certain level of electric current is applied to the tongue. The fork was developed based on the “electric flavoring” technology being researched by Hiromi Nakamura at Rekimoto Lab, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, the University of Tokyo. It’s based on a technology which stimulates the tongue to make it feel salty or sour, the same “electric test” being used to see if some parts of the tongue are fully functional or not.

At this moment, it’s not clear whether or not the fork will become widely available. For now, the prototype was prepared for “No Salt Restaurant,” a project to offer a salt-free full-course meal.

Warmer climate is making bumblebees’ tongues shorter

A new paper published Thursday in Science looks at how climate change is (out of all things) making the tongue of some bumble bees shrink. Two species of alpine bumbles in the Rocky Mountains already show a decrease in tongue volume of nearly 25 percent in the last 40 years; and smaller tongues could spell big trouble for the flowers that rely on bumble bees for pollination.

They'll have a hard time raspberrying from now on. Image via wikipedia

No pollen and a raspberry for you. Take that, flower!
Image via wikipedia

Uhh…Tongues?

Well you see, if you’re a bumble bee, size matters — more to the point, tongue size matters because it dictates which flowers the insects can harvest for nectar. This sweet liquid pools in the corolla, the long tube-y shape petals form at the base of the flower, and the taller the corolla, the longer the tongue needed to scoop out the tasty treat.

While bees with medium-length tongues tend to pollinate many different species of flowers, the ones boasting a longer tongue tend to feed off of only a few species, specializing in flowers with deep corolla tubes. This benefits the plants and the bees themselves, as the hungry insects get exclusive access to the nectar and the flower enjoys selective pollination — visiting only flowers with long corollas, the bees carry only a few types of pollen, increasing the chance that it will be transferred to the right species.

This tactic works really well when food is abundant, but the researchers on this study found that rising temperatures are causing flowers (of all sizes) to decline in mountainous regions, putting more stress on the bees when it comes to finding food.

When there are fewer flowers to choose from, specialization becomes a curse rather than a blessing, says Nicole Miller-Struttmann, lead author of the new study and an assistant professor of biological sciences at SUNY College at Old Westbury. They believe that shrinking tongues can be explained by an evolutionary attempt to make the species more generalized, giving them a wider range of food sources to visit.

“[The study is] a beautiful piece of work that shows the first incidence of climate affecting an important functional trait in the bees,” said Sydney Cameron, a professor of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was not involved with the study.

Shorter and more versatile

The study involved measuring Bombus balteatus and Bombus sylvicola (two species of bumble bees) tongues from two different spans of time: samples collected between 1966-1980 taken from a museum collection were compared to more recent ones, from 2012-2014. Balteatus and sylvicola were chosen as they are the most commonly encountered species at high elevations in the Rocky Mountains, and the results were quite shocking: tongue length of both species has declined by 24.4 percent overall, for an average of 0.61 percent each year.

Cameron believes it would be a good idea to conduct the same study again in five years, just to be sure that the tongue-shrinking is a long-term trend and not just “short-term cycling.” But if the trend holds true, it represents an instance of surprisingly rapid evolution in the bees.

“It’s a very short period of time to have seen such a strong shift,” said Leif Richardson, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, who was not involved with the study.

“It suggests that these bees may have an especially low effective population size and that they could have been through an evolutionary bottleneck, allowing very rapid change in these traits,” he added.

Climate change was not the first cause of this shortening the team thought of — they investigated whether a reduction in overall body size (which would mean the muscle shortened, but remained proportional with the bumble bee) occurred, if there was an increase in short-tubed flowers that would allow the species to harvest more food sporting shorter tongues, they even looked for an increase in food competition from other organisms might have caused the bees to evolve. Their theories didn’t pan out,  and the team was puzzled.

Then they looked at the effects of climate change on floral resources in the area. According to the researchers, minimum summer temperatures in the mountains they sampled have increased by about 2 degrees Celsius since 1960. That means it’s become more common for temperatures to get warm enough to cause flowers — of all sizes — to decline. And, in fact, the researchers found that total food resources for bumble bees in the region have fallen by about 60 percent since the 1970s. It fit, and it explained the shortening — it was an evolutionary response, allowing the bees to make the most out of dwindling food supplies.

So the tongue-shrinking seems to be an adaptation that allows the bees to better cope with dwindling food supplies.

“When resources are low, it’s more advantageous to go to lots of different flowers because there’s more resources that way,” Miller-Struttmann said. “And it takes less energy to get to them because you don’t have to search them out as much.”

But versatility is the death of specialization

“We’re gonna need some straws now, kids.” – Mr. Bumblebee.
Image via wikipedia

Great for the bees, but terrible news if you’re a flower — the shrinking could have catastrophic effects on the long-tubed flowers that the bumbles used to pollinate.

“It is possible that, at the same time, plant species that depend on these bees are receiving less effective pollination service,” Richardson said.

It’s possible that the plants could also adapt to the bees’ new behavior, perhaps by evolving shorter corollas, said Miller-Struttmann. But for now, it’s still unclear how the flowers will be affected.

“It will be really interesting to use some models to see how sensitive some of these species we see are to changes in bumble bee behavior,” she said.

Richardson said that similar studies should be conducted in other locations to see if the trend holds up. The areas they sampled are fairly isolated and thus show a strong reaction to environmental pressure, but the trend should be visible to one degree or another in other areas affected by climate change.

“Bumble bee species that live in lower mountainside habitats and have larger populations might be buffered from these very strong selective pressures,” he said.

So, while the researchers have uncovered an intriguing trend in one instance, work remains to be done.

“We documented something that has happened, but we’re not exactly sure what’s going to happen going forward,” Miller Struttmann said. “That’s true from both the plants’ and the bees’ perspective.”

how many licks finish lollipop

How many licks does it take to finish a Tootsie Roll lollipop?

“How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie pop? The world may never know,” a timeless commercial might have us believe. What the world of advertising seems to neglect, however, is scientists’ astute resilience to rhetoric. As it happens, it takes an estimated 1,000 licks to reach the center of a lollipop, according to a paper published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, by researchers from New York University and Florida State University.

how many licks finish lollipop

The researchers developed a model of how flowing liquid dissolves and shrinks material which they then used to determine how long it would take to dissolve a lollipop. Specifically for Tootsie Rolls, it takes some 2,500 licks to reach the center.

To formulate their theory of how a lollipop dissolves, the team placed spherical and cylindrical pieces of hard candy up to two inches long in a water tunnel, which allows for washing of these bodies by well-controlled flows. Using high-speed photography, the candy’s dissolving was image frame by frame. The shapes and patterns that arose from their analysis allowed the researchers to formulate mathematical relations that predict how the candy behaves under flow and how long it takes to reach its gummy center.

This estimation, however, seems to be way off. Elsewhere, a group at Purdue University actually built a licking machine that mimicked the human tongue and the licking motion.  They then tested this machine against real tootsie pops with the results being an average of 364 licks to get to the center of the tootsie pop licking from only one side constantly. Not satisfied with this only, the same team tested this against their own tongues and found that it took an average of 252 licks to get to the center, again only licking from one side, but this time with  real tongues.

Some might find the findings liberating, while others will dismiss them as a useless science. This isn’t necessarily the case, though. The pharmaceutical industry is very concerned wit monitoring and controlling how substances dissolve inside the human body. Also, the findings might aid geological research providing a basis for modeling the morphology of eroding and dissolving surfaces to present water or wind flows.