Swordtails measure their equipment, women smell best when they're making eggs and parrots divulge all your secrets.

I See Your Sword is as Big as Mine
Sorry guys, it’s not how you use it; it really is the size that counts. According to new research, when two male swordtails—a type of colorful aquarium fish—get ready to fight, compare the size of their pointy appendage. After they check each other out, the fish with the smaller sword usually swims away, scared off by the bigger fish’s prowess.

The study also concluded that ladies love big swords, especially when the swords have stripes. However, the sword’s flashy appearance belies its impotence: It’s totally useless as a weapon. The researchers believe a long sword may indicate that the fish is healthy, and therefore a better mate and fiercer opponent. But, as mentioned in last week’s column, implants work: When the researchers attached artificial sword extensions to poorly-endowed fish, those fish scared their naturally-larger opponents into surrendering. This could make for some great fish spam; if only they had e-mail.
(source: Discovery News)

The Original Guilt-Trippers
If they heard the news, they’d be kvelling. According to researchers, just over three million Ashkenazi Jews, or 40% of all Ashkenazi Jews living today, descend from just four women. The matriarchs lived in Europe about 1,000 years ago—not in Great Neck or Boca, as one might guess. After sampling mitochondrial DNA—which is passed down from a mother to her children—from 11,452 people representing 67 populations, researchers found that the same markers kept popping up in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. They did not find these markers in non-Jews, nor did they find them in high concentrations in Jews of different origin. To misquote Mel Brooks: “We have three million children, and not one of them comes to visit!”
(source: Reuters)

When In Rome, Do Like Judge Jones
Even the Vatican thinks ID proponents are full of it. An article by University of Bologna evolutionary biology professor Fiorenzo Facchini appeared in a recent edition of the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. In the article, Facchini praises the Dover trial’s verdict, saying that intelligent design strays from the methodology of science, while pretending to be science. While the letter certainly isn’t the Vatican’s official position, its inclusion signifies that the Vatican may not deeply disagree with Facchini’s position.
(source: New York Times)

The No-Boob Tube
Has Stephen Colbert appeared in your bedroom and ruined your sex life? A new study by Italian sexologists shows that it’s certainly within his power to do so. According to the researchers, couples who have a TV in their bedroom have sex only half as much as those who don’t. For people over 50, an average of seven sexual encounters a month dropped to a mere 1.5 when a couple had a TV in their bedroom. Less than twice a month? Come on, Italians, you’re ruining your reputation.
(source: Reuters)

Eau de L’ovulation
What’s that intoxicating perfume? You smell so…fertile. According to a new study, men can potentially use smell to determine whether their partners are at peak fertility. Twelve female subjects walked around wearing stylish armpit pads, collecting their body odor during different phases of their menstrual cycle. After the body odor was collected, 42 lucky men got to smell the fresh BO and rate its attractiveness. The men were least attracted to the odor produced during menstrual bleeding, but were most pleased by the odor from the follicular phase, when an egg develops. I’m sure it was right up there with freshly-baked cookies.
(source: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.)

Going Cat-Shit Crazy
A group of British scientists believe schizophrenia may be caused by cat feces. In a new study, they’ve found strong evidence for a link between an increased risk of schizophrenia and a parasite common to cat feces and undercooked meat. They tested the connection by administering anti-psychotic drugs to rats infected with the parasite. They found the anti-psychotics were at least as effective at treating the rats as the anti-parasite drugs they would normally use. This study backs up several others that have made the connection between cat poo and schizophrenia. That pet paramecium is looking more appealing every day.
(source: Imperial College London)

Hot People Rule
If you don’t believe in love at first sight, get a load of this: We judge whether someone is good-looking before we even realize we’ve seen them. In a new study, subjects had faces flashed in front of them for a mere 0.013 seconds. The subjects had to rate the faces’ attractiveness, even though all reported that they hadn’t seen any of the pictures and were merely guessing. But the subjects “accurately” rated each face’s attractiveness.
In a second study, the researchers found that seeing pretty faces makes us think happy thoughts. In each trial they flashed a face and then a word in front of their subjects. The subject rated whether the word was positive or negative. When the subjects saw a pretty face, their reaction times were much faster on words with good connotations, such as “laughter” and “happiness.” The researchers said this may be a clue as to why attractive people have higher salaries, are thought to be more intelligent and receive more attention than unattractive people. Truly, anti-ugliness appears to be the last acceptable prejudice.
(source: University of Pennsylvania)

Polly Want a WHAT?
Don’t tell the town gossip if you’re having an affair. Don’t tell your boyfriend’s best friend. And, god help you, do not tell your parrot. Chris Taylor of Leeds, England was dismayed when his eight-year-old African grey parrot, Ziggy, started squawking out “I love you Gary.” Apparently, his wife had been secretly seeing “Gary” in the couple’s apartment for the past four months, long enough to unwittingly train the bird to say “Hiya, Gary” whenever she answered her cell phone and to make kissing sounds whenever the name “Gary” was said on television. Taylor said he was not sad to see his cheating wife go, but he was sad that he had to dump Ziggy after the bird wouldn’t stop squawking out painful reminders of the now ex-wife’s affair.

In further bird-mimicry news, researchers have shown that a Sri Lankan bird called the drongo not only mimics the sounds other birds make, but can figure out the right context in which to use them. The drongo can also imitate the calls of predators in order to alarm birds in emergency situations. If Taylor’s bird had been a drongo, perhaps the revelation of his wife’s indiscretions would have happened at an even less opportune time.
(sources: BBC, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

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Originally published January 23, 2006


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