Science Story Round-Up: Weird Animal Eating Habits Theme

While looking for a good story to write about this week, I discovered that for some inexplicable reason, what, when, and how animals eat was an overarching theme across many of my favorite science tales this week. I’ve included my three favorites below, but honestly, any one of these stories could make for a best-selling children’s book or at least a good story to tell someone at a cocktail party. So click through for sexually-frustrated flies, sweet-toothless carnivores, and lizards that take advantage of naturally occurring poisons.

Story 1: Flies! They are just like people!

OK, well, not in absolutely every way, but a recent article in the journal Science has found that male fruit flies that were unlucky in love (AKA could not find a mate, AKA could not give a fly a bone, so to speak) drank more alcohol than those who were. How do we know that they wanted the booze and not just the eats? Well, flies were given a choice between regular food slurry (sounds appetizing!) or a food slurry with alcohol and the rejected dude-bro-flies flocked to the alcohol in droves. The scientists involved in the research think that these scorned lovers were looking to get their pleasure centers hit in a different, more-boozy-less-schmoozy way. Somehow, I think some of y’all can relate.

Look at all of those teeth, and not one of them sweet. Image from wikicommons, author polandeze/Andrew.

Story 2: Cats can’t taste sweet so there’s got to be another reason my cat keeps trying to steal my ice cream!

Yes, so that is a very long title, but it not only summarizes the main finding (the genes responsible for our ability to taste sweet care found broken in several carnivore species) and my main confusion based on this news. It makes sense that carnivores might not need to taste sweet, but then what is going on with my cat? I guess the little cat-dude just likes the texture or the fat? Actually, given the size of his belly, he’s definitely into ice cream for the fat.

Anyway, just knowing that the gene is broken is not enough – scientists performed tests where they gave animals a choice between plain water and sugar water. For species with the broken gene, the plain water was drunk as often as the sugar water, but for species with a sweet tooth, well, as you probably guessed, the sugar water was a huge hit. I could go for some sugar water right now.

Story 3: Introduced species and unexpected interactions and also there is poison!

My titles are seriously decreasing in brevity and wit, but they are still accurate. For this story, we go to a country known for its introduced species and deadliness: Australia. In this case, there are so many introduced species that they are starting to have some really unexpected effects. Let me start from the beginning. Australia has some skinks, which are just lizards, and it has an introduced cane toad, and it has an introduced plant called mother-of-millions (with a name like that, wouldn’t you expect for it to spread prolifically?).

Eating a cane toad can kill a skink by poisoning. However, researchers noticed that in areas where the skink was living with and chomping on some mother-of-millions, it was also way more resistant to the toxins created by the cane toad. Eating the introduced plant was helping protect the skinks from the introduced cane toad. Unexpected! Wild! Nature at its wackiest!

This is the skink and he is judging you. Photo found on wikicommons, author JJ Harrison.

I encourage you to click through and check out the longer, more complete write ups of these exciting and hilarious stories. And then come back here and let me know what you think.

6 replies on “Science Story Round-Up: Weird Animal Eating Habits Theme”

I used to live with a cat that loved licking the little tin lids on my yogurt cups, so I’m surprised to hear that they can’t taste sweet. His favorite was peach. My current kitties’ favorite human food: any sort of raw leafy green, especially baby spinach and arugula; tortilla chips; goldfish crackers; cheese; melon. Yes, greens. My two girls will run in mrrrowing and begging whenever they hear the cellophane that they associate with me making a salad. I’m completely messed them up with my vegetarianism.

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