Sept 2015: Kate Umbers, burying beetle parental care, and tasteless monkey thieves

This month I find out that animals should be careful when choosing a mate, picking a partner that matches them in quality, else they might face an early grave! I discover that a mutation in a taste receptor gene has helped macaques in Japan to become thieves. And in the scientific spark, I talk to Kate Umbers from the University of Western Sydney, who works on a variety of topics, mainly related to understanding the mechanisms, functions and evolution of biological colouration. She tells me what sparked her interest in becoming a scientist. 

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A Japanese Macaque munching on fruit (image:


Becky Kilner's Burying Beetle Lab 
Burying Beetle paper in eLife 
Japanese Macaque taste receptor paper in PLOS One
Kate Umbers' lab page 
Sunday, 27 December 2015
Posted by Hannah

Aug 2015: ZSL Scientist Patricia Brekke, polar bear welfare at Yorkshire Wildlife Park, and self-medicating ants

This month I hear how a wildlife park in Yorkshire is providing the perfect retirement setting for an old polar bear. I discover that social insects make trips to natures pharmacy to fight infections. And in the scientific spark, I talk to Patricia Brekke from the Zoological Society of London, who tells me about her research on the endangered new Zealand bird the Hihi, and what inspired her to become a scientist.

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Victor is Yorkshire Wildlife Park's polar bear. 
He is one of the biggest polar bears in Europe, weighing 500Kg


Yorkshire Wildlife Park's Project Polar Bear

Ants medicate to fight disease in the journal Evolution

Patricia Brekke from The Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London

Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Posted by Hannah

July 2015: Johan Nilson, sea ducks, and horse facial expressions

This month I find out about sea ducks who enjoy a rather sophisticated fast food diet of mussels. I discover that horses horse around with lots of different facial expressions. And in the scientific spark, I talk to Johan Nilsson from the university of Lund, who researches the physiology and evolutionary ecology of birds.

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What does this face say?!


EquiFACS: The Equine Facial Action Coding System

Elisabeth Varennes' research gate page

Johan Nilsson's research page

Thursday, 10 September 2015
Posted by Hannah

June 2015: Lucy Nash from OUP, Dottybacks change colour to hide from prey, and moths that slow their brains down

In this episode I discover that some species of coral reef fish change colour, and they do this to grab a sneaky meal! I also find out how moths find flowers in the dark. And in the scientific spark I talk to Lucy Nash, who is commissioning editor for science at Oxford University Press.

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Copyright © N Justin Marshall/Courtesy of University of Basel

Will Feeney's webpage

Fabio Cortesi's webpage

The dottyback paper in Current Biology

Hovering hawkmoth paper in science
Monday, 10 August 2015
Posted by Hannah

May 2015: Marie Herbenstein, deception and disguise of orchid mantis and owl butterflies with @jamohanlon @JohannaMappes and @SebaDeBona

This month I’m joined by special guest James O’Hanlon from the Australian museum in Sydney for a deception and disguise special. James tells me about his PhD research on mantids that trick bees by mimicking flowers - or do they?! And we discuss a new paper showing that butterfly eyepsots might really be mimicking the eyes of a predator’s own predator. In the Scientific spark I talk to Marie Herbenstein, from Macquarie University in Sydney, who tells me that things might have not gone the way they have if she’d chosen a different research project!

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The owl butterfly Photo Credit:


James O'Hanlon's webpage

Predator mimicry, not conspicuousness, explains the efficacy of butterfly eyespots

Marie Herbenstein's webpage
Thursday, 4 June 2015
Posted by Hannah

April 2015: Tristram Wyatt, the hormonal bond between humans and their dogs, and predator-prey flight and fight behaviour

This month I discover what black field crickets do when predatory lizards get too close. I find out how humans bond with their canine chums. In the Scientific spark I talk to Tristram Wyatt, from the University of Oxford, who tells me how he became fascinated in all things pheromone-y.

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Borrow my doggy-friend - Milo


Patricio Lago's webpage

Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds

Tristram Wyatt's webpage
Monday, 1 June 2015
Posted by Hannah

March 2015: Shaun Killen, animal personality, and guppy food preferences

This month, I discover that a preference for a particular colour of food can be heritable, and I also have a chat with Niels Dingemanse from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology about how you test animal personality. In the Scientific spark, I talk to Shaun Killen, from the University of Glasgow, who tells me about his inspiration to become a scientist.

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Testing Great tit personality. Image from


Great tits: birds with character

Artificial selection for food colour preferences

Shaun Killen's webpage

Naturally speaking podcast
Thursday, 2 April 2015
Posted by Hannah

Feb 2015: Damien Farine, penguins who can't taste, and shiny tree swallows

This month, I find out that penguins can’t tell the difference between savoury and sweet. I also chat with Sonia Van Wijk from The Universit√© de Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada, about what makes a male tree swallow attractive to a female who's on the look-out for more than one partner. And in the Scientific spark, I talk to social network whizz Damien Farine, from the University of Oxford, about his path into science.

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Adelie penguins from


Sonia Van Wijk's Research Gate page

The penguin taste loss paper in Current Biology

Damien Farine's webpage
Tuesday, 31 March 2015
Posted by Hannah

Jan 2015: Niels Dingemanse, animal arithmetic, and smooth billed ani alarm calls

This month, animal arithmetic from a research group in Italy who investigated how chickens order numbers – I put Naked Scientist Graihagh Jackson through her paces. Also in the episode, Leanne Grieves from McMaster University tells me what Smooth-billed anis do in response to different types of predators. And Niels Dingemanse, from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology tells me about his Scientific Spark.

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Credit: Rosa Rugani, University of Padova

Leanne Grieves' paper on Ani in Animal Behaviour
Number-space mapping in the newborn chick resembles humans’ mental number line, in Science
Niels Dingemanse's research page
Tuesday, 10 March 2015
Posted by Hannah

Dec 2014: Innes Cuthill, tropical lizard leaf mimicry, and bird infrasound

Professor Innes Cuthill from the University of Bristol describes his Scientific Spark. Danielle Klomp from the University of New South Wales, tells me about two populations of gliding lizard that have diverged in gliding membrane colouration to match the colours of their local falling leaves, and that mimicking falling leaves is an adaptation that functions to reduce predation by birds. I also find out how birds heard tornadoes coming and fled one day ahead.

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Falling leaf mimic - Bornean gliding lizard, Draco cornutus


Danielle Klomp's paper in Biology Letters

Danielle Klomp's blog

Tornadic Storm Avoidance Behavior in Breeding Songbirds - Current Biology

Innes Cuthill's Camo Lab
Friday, 2 January 2015
Posted by Hannah

Nov 2014: The Wiltschkos and magnetic navigation in birds

A sensory ecology bonanza! Professor Wolfgang and Roswita Wiltschko, the husband and wife team who were the first to show that birds have a magnetic sense and use the earth’s magnetic field to orientate, talk about their Scientific Spark. Tanya Kleinhappel tells me how fish sniff out friends from foe. I discover how bats jam their competitor’s sonar.

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Bats jam each others echolocation calls when competing for prey


Tanja Kleinhappel's paper on Diet-mediated social networks in shoaling fish

Corcoran's and Conner's Science paper - Bats jamming bats: Food competition through sonar interference

Wolfgang and Roswitha Wiltschko's research page
Monday, 22 December 2014
Posted by Hannah

Oct 2014: Ben Sheldon, rock goby camouflage, and lizard imitation

Professor Ben Sheldon, who is the Luc Hoffman Chair of field ornithology and director of the Edward Grey Institute of field ornithology at the University of Oxford tells me what sparked his interest in birds and gives advice to young scientists. Alice Lown tells me about an unassuming little fish commonly found in rock pools around Britain, that is a master of camouflage. I discover that imitation isn’t just the highest form of flattery, but is also an indicator of an animal’s learning prowess.

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Three individuals are shown on the left having been placed on a black background, and then the same individuals are shown on the right after being on a white background.

Alice Lown's research page
Alice Lown's paper
Anna Wilkinson's paper
Ben Sheldon's research page
Tuesday, 18 November 2014
Posted by Hannah

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