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HomeScientiFixIndian jumping ants shrink their brains trying to become queen

Indian jumping ants shrink their brains trying to become queen

ScientiFix, our weekly feature, offers you a summary of the top global science stories of the week, with links to their sources.

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Indian jumping ants shrink their brains to reproduce

Scientists have found that the Indian jumping ant can shrink its brain by nearly 20 per cent to prepare its body for reproduction. It can again increase its brain size over the subsequent weeks.

This inch-long ant has a four-inch vertical leap and the ability to take down prey nearly twice its size.

Other insects, including honey bees, have been known to possess the ability to increase their brain size. But the Indian jumping ant is the first insect known to be capable of both increasing and decreasing its brain size.

When a queen Indian jumping ant dies, about 70 per cent of the females in her colony enter a battle that sometimes lasts up to 40 days — where competitors beat one another with their antennae until a group of five to 10 victors emerges. These victors spend the rest of their lives producing babies.

As soon as this battle begins, the competitors undergo an intense physiological transformation that turns them into reproductive queen-like ants, called gamergates.

The gamergate’s ovaries balloon to five times their normal size, and their brains shrink by roughly 20 per cent.

The scientists believe that when female Indian jumping ants transform into gamergates, most of the energy that was once spent on the brain gets diverted to parts of the body that are responsible for reproduction. Read more here

Earth had 2.5 billion Tyrannosaurus rexes

Scientists who have been trying to estimate the population of Tyrannosaurus rexes for years have found that as many as 2.5 billion of the ferocious pre-historic predators roamed Earth over approximately two and a half million years ago.

The team found that about 20,000 adult T. rexes probably lived at any one time, give or take a factor of 10. Until now, no one has been able to compute population numbers for long extinct animals.

The project started with a scientist from the University of California trying to estimate what was the probability of one T rex being alive millions of years ago.

The researchers point out that the uncertainties in the estimates are very large. While the population of T. rexes was most likely 20,000 adults at any give time, the 95% confidence range which describes the population range within which there’s a 95% chance that the real number lies, is from 1,300 to 328,000 individuals.

That means the total number of individuals that existed over the lifetime of the species could have been anywhere from 140 million to 42 billion. Read more on it here

Also read: Lions engage in contagious yawning, mimic behaviour to harmonise group movements

Scientists find oldest evidence of opposed thumbs

Researchers have found the oldest evidence of opposed thumbs in a newly identified pterosaur species, dubbed ‘Monkeydactyl’.

Opposed thumbs are important in evolution since they can be moved around to touch the other fingers, which gives animals the ability to grasp things. The evolution of opposed thumbs gave primates and subsequently humans the ability to use tools.

However, for the first time, an opposed thumb has been identified in pterosaurs. This Jurassic pterosaur was discovered in China. It is a small-bodied pterosaur, with an estimated wingspan of 85 cm, that lived 160 million years ago.

The specimen was preserved with an opposed thumb on both hands.

The species name ‘antipollicatus’ means ‘opposite thumbed’ in ancient Greek. It represents the earliest record of a true opposed thumb in Earth’s history.

A true opposed pollex is extremely rare among reptiles except for chameleons.

The team suggests that the species could have used its hand for grasping, which is likely an adaptation for living in trees. Read more on it here

Ancient pottery reveals early evidence of honey hunting in West Africa

A team from the University of Bristol has found the first evidence for ancient honey hunting, inside pottery fragments from ancient West Africa, dating back some 3,500 years.

Today, in the West African tropical rainforest, hunting for wild honey, found in natural hollows in tree trunks and on the underside of thick branches, is a common activity.

However, it is not well understood how long humans have been exploiting bee products. While historical literature from across Africa suggests that bee products, honey and larvae, were important, both as a food source and in the making of honey-based drinks, there was very little evidence to understand how this trade started.

The team carried out chemical analysis of more than 450 pre-historic potsherds from the Central Nigerian Nok culture to investigate what foods they were cooking in their pots.

The Nok people are known for their large-scale terracotta figurines and early iron production in West Africa.

The team found that one-third of the pottery vessels used by the ancient Nok people were used to process or store beeswax. Read more here

Also read: How vast is the universe? ‘Cosmic Zoom’ helps you explore this from the comfort of your mobile

World’s oldest photographs reveal new secrets

Researchers have used the world’s oldest photographs to reconstruct what ambient light looked like more than hundred years ago.

The team from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne looked at some of the original photographic plates and images of the scientist and inventor Gabriel Lippmann, who won the 1908 Nobel Prize in physics for his method of reproducing colours in photography.

Most photographic techniques take just three measurements, for the colours red, green and blue. These three are the primary colours that can be mixed to create all other colours.

However, the team found that Lippmann’s historical approach typically captured 26 to 64 spectral samples of information in the visible region.

His technique, based on the same principles that recently enabled gravitational waves to be detected and which is the foundation of holography, has been almost completely forgotten today.

By capturing the light reflected back from the Lippmann’s images, the team was able to measure how it differed from the original. It could then create an algorithm to get back the original light that was captured a hundred years ago. Read more here

Also read: X-rays detected from Uranus for the first time 


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