Let’s Talk About Sexy Bird Dances!

After talking in class last night about the evolution of behaviors, I ran across some interesting articles in National Geographic today. I wanted to share a few with you. The article descibes the great bustard “one of the few animals in the world that can stomach certain species of blister beetles (Berberomeloe majalis andPhysomeloe corallifer). The insects produce a potent toxin called cantharidin, which can be exuded as a blood-red goo. Great bustards of both sexes have been observed to eat blister beetles, though usually only one to three beetles at a time. If the birds eat too many, they can become intoxicated and die, as other animals do. However, Juan Carlos Alonso, the study’s project leader and research professor at the National Museum of Natural History in Madrid, said that just the right amount of blister beetles may kill the great bustard’s parasites or at least persuade them to look for a new host.”

The initial article that came across my newsfeed was this – Male Birds Poison Themselves to Appear Sexier—a First. From the article:

Scientists already knew the large birds, which are native to parts of Europe and Asia, snack on toxic insects to clear their guts of certain intestinal parasites, including bacteria, nematodes, and tapeworms.

But the new research, published this week in PLOS ONE, shows that males eat substantially more blister beetles than females, a strategy that makes them appear healthy—and thus sexier—during courtship rituals.

If true, the findings may be the first known case of a male “self-medicating” to attract females, according to the study authors. (Also see “Watching ‘Sexy’ Males Leads to Better Chicks, Study Says.”)

This goes along with the discussion from class about the evolution of behaviors – do the birds KNOW that they are eating poisonous beetles, that will kill their internal parasites? No, how could they know that? It’s scientists who study these birds who know what happens with the bird’s diet. Check out the video from the article:

Great Bustard mating ritual from Aroshanti on Vimeo.

The article goes on to state:

To look at a male great bustard at the height of his mating pomp, you might think that the female would be attracted to puffed and preened feathers at the front. But just a few seconds of watching the dance reveals that it’s actually what’s going on in the rear that matters.

So what exactly is the female looking for?

“If I can be a bit crude, it’s probably not to see whether the male is well-endowed,” said Daphne Fairbairn, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the study.

Instead, it’s likely that the female is evaluating the male’s cloaca—an all-purpose hole that serves reproductive, urinary, and intestinal functions—to see if it might give her a sexually transmitted disease. (By the way, this kind of mating is sometimes called a “cloacal kiss,” which is about as lovely as bird sex gets.)

Sexy, right? You thought we were going to discuss sex, and now we’re talking about “all-purpose holes” and STDs!

Following one of the links from the article, “Watching “Sexy” Males Leads to Better Chicks, Study Says.” Watching attractive males strut their stuff makes female birds more fertile and leads to healthier chicks, a new study suggests. Here is a description of that experiment:

For the experiment, the team allowed 90 female Houbara bustards to watch other birds before being artificially inseminated. Of that total, 30 females watched healthy-male displays, 30 watched poor-male displays, and 30 saw nondisplaying females.

Females that had watched the healthier males dance laid eggs containing about twice as much of the growth hormone testosterone as the eggs laid by females that watched inferior dances or no dances at all. Testosterone in both genders is associated with building bone density and muscle mass.

Or this brilliantly titled article, “Flashier Great Tits Produce Stronger Sperm, Bird Study Shows.” The tits in this article are BIRDS! What do you think I’m going to show you? But these articles go on to show you that behaviors are extremely complex, and can be learned or innate. There are advantages to using your energy to put on a great mating ritual – you go on to pass your genes along to your offspring. Maybe you’ll be thinking about biology and the evolution of your own behaviors next Saturday night when you go out with your friends. You may notice elaborate rituals that both males and females go through, trying to meet their potential mates. How much of what you do is your own decision, and how much of it has come from your ancestors? Think about that the next time you see two guys in a fist fight over a girl (AKA every episode of Jerry Springer!)

Becoming a Mindful Student

I have found that – when I am stressed at school – I can often change the way I approach my days, and make them better. Below are 20 suggestions for becoming a mindful college student.


1. What do you eat when you study? Crap, or nutritional snacks that fuel your brain?
2. Identify how the subject you are studying makes you feel. If it’s not a subject you are personally interested in, how could you relate the materials to what you are majoring in?
3. You can’t multitask. You just end up doing both things poorly. Learn how to focus, and shut out the outside world while you really work.
4. Every hour you spend studying, go take a five minute walk. Not with music blaring, but focusing on the beauty of the world around you, and making a plan for how you will work when you return.
5. When you feel stressed, journal the source. Keep a running blog or journal in a Google Doc about what you feel, what you think, and why you think that.
6. Put your problems in perspective. Think about what’s happening in your community, state, country, world, and solar system. Ask yourself, “Is this really going to kill me?” (the answer is most likely no)
7. Notice how the people around you make you feel. Do they empower and energize you? Or make you feel disorganized, stressed, or pressured? You can choose who is allowed around you. Do they bring you up, or weigh you down?
8. Before you begin to study, make a ritual. Gather your materials, sit in a specific place, block out the world around you, relax your body, turn off your phone, and begin.
9. Practice serving others, and being kind. If you made a study guide, share it with a friend who helps you. Offer to proofread for your roommate. Make a video about how to solve a problem, and share it on youtube. When you share your helpful study tips, people will share with you. Be collegial (relating to or involving shared responsibility, as among a group of colleagues).
10. Simplify your surroundings. Clean off your desk. Shut down all those tabs. Simplify to focus on the task at hand – both physically and mentally.
11. Meditate. Go outside, sit on a bench or in the grass, and listen to the sounds of nature.
12. Listen to a guided mediation.

13. Note the thought process that occurs when you feel bad, stressed, or emotional. Avoid those thoughts in advance.

14. Spend five minutes each morning to plan your day. Pack a healthy lunch, snack, and water bottle. Get the right books and notebooks in your backpack. Note the weather. Note your work schedule. Plan the important things in half hour or hour long chunks. Use a timer.

15. Be fully present in each conversation. Pay attention to who is talking. Look them in the eye.

16. Practice compassion to those who are suffering. Maybe that’s your friend, roommate, classmate, professor, or family member. Tell them, “I’m sorry you are hurting.” Being kind to a person who is in pain is the best remedy.

17. Close your eyes, and breathe in and out ten times. Focus on relaxation and mental clarity.

18. Recognize the beauty all around you.

19. Pay attention to things that may have gone unnoticed.

20. School is not going to last forever. You will get past that paper, exam, semester, year, or degree. You will get it done. Just hang in there.


What Scientists are Saying About Ebola

If you are looking for credible information about Ebola, then check out this video. How can you tell if this is good information or not? Check out the sources, listed below.

Published on Aug 7, 2014

SciShow News give you the facts about ebola, one of the world’s deadliest diseases that’s making a stand in West Africa.









How to Stay on Your Game, When School Gets You Down

One of my favorite Youtube channels is from Marie Forleo. She’s smart, funny, and gives great advice. I thought I’d share this video, because this is the time in the semester when students are approaching midterms, and tend to FREAK OUT. Marie shares some great advice about staying positive:

The first thing you can do is to let yourself go. If something goes wrong, you’re over the top frustrated, or you just need to vent – cry like crazy. Experience those emotions and let them free. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shut my office door and cried my eyes out. Or I cry in my car, on the way home. Or just have a good screaming cry at my house. I think it’s better to just get those emotions out there on the table. Part of what makes dramatic or stressful situations unbearable is when you are trying to keep it together. GET. IT. OUT.

Next you can talk it out with someone. I usually call a friend, my boyfriend, or someone on my team. There’s something so therapeutic about getting all the words out, being able to clear my mind and then move ahead. I even talk to Tipsy, my chihuahua. She still loves me, even when I’ve just dropped the f-bomb a few times. I’ve also turned to a counselor or even my doctor. They are professionals. They know what to do. There are always counselors available on campus.

One thing you shouldn’t do when you’re really upset is make decisions. You’re likely highly emotional and this is not a good time to make decisions. Instead, defer to people that you trust to tell you what to do. When I was writing my dissertation, I told several people that I pretty much was not to be depended on for ANYTHING. When you are taking finals, when you are writing huge papers, when you are doing anything really important, don’t make the decision to dump your boyfriend. Walk away from things for a while.

And last, build a “sh*t happens” buffer into whatever you’re working on. Realize that people get sick, things break, and things don’t always go as planned. That way if you already know in your mind that nothing is or is going to be perfect or smooth all the time, you’ll be emotionally prepared to deal with it when shizzle does in fact, hit the fan. Plan for your internet to go down. Plan for your computer not to save your work. Plan for your printer to eat your paper. Give yourself a BUFFER!

School is stressful. Give yourself some slack, friends!

21st Century Learning

As I think about how I teach my students, and how learning has developed over the last 20 years, some huge changes have occurred. We have gone from the traditional “teacher teaches, students watch” style of teaching, where the teacher is the lone source of information, to Web 3.0, where students are an active part of creating and collaborating. To me, it’s sad to see some teachers unwilling to change. I appreciate the students and their technology knowledge they bring to this “game of education.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned to my students for information, that they have at their fingertips, on their phones.

I love to watch my students as I lecture, and see something I’m saying piquing their interest, and they are off to Google, in real time. I’ve had students raise their hands in the middle of my lectures, to ask about things they’ve read, Googled, or seen on Facebook. I like to add these articles that I see on Facebook into my lessons, because I think it gives what I’m teaching real-world application.

I’ve always thought teaching was fun. I’ve always enjoyed empowering students through knowledge.

But teaching is more fun when I am creating something WITH my students. During labs, in the field, or online.

But the most exciting revolution in learning is sharing socially. Making science relevant and fun and a resource for understanding what’s happening around us.

We live in amazing times. I can’t wait to see what’s next!