1) Scrap chicken bones [Butcher Shop]
Traditional Use: making delicious chicken stock for homemade broth or gravy
Scientist’s Use: to maintain an active colony of flesh-eating beetles while on vacation
Skeletons are often used by scientists to explore questions in evolutionary biology, functional morphology, animal behavior, and more. In order to observe and measure particular features of a skeleton, and to store bone material for multiple uses over time, a bone must be completely cleaned of any animal tissue – no muscle, no fat, no connective tissue, no skin. And when it comes to ridding skeletons of animal tissue, nature knows best! The most effective way to remove soft tissue is to harness the power of a colony of flesh-eating beetles. Beetles in the family Dermestidae feed on the rotting flesh of decaying animals – if you’ve ever walked past a dead animal in the forest, you may have noticed these guys feasting away. So research institutions maintain live beetle colonies for the purpose of cleaning off bones. However, if a skeleton is left in the colony for too long, the beetles may eventually begin to eat the bone itself. If the scientist who monitors the beetles is away on vacation, the colony must be kept alive without risking damage to valued skeletal specimens. That’s where the cheap scrap chicken from the butcher comes in! The beetles can feast on the carcass, and if some of the bone gets damaged, it won’t be that of a useful research animal. Voila!
2) Heat & Stick Beads [Toy Store]
Traditional Use: a fun activity for kids in which beads are placed on posts in a creative design and ironed together to create plastic sculpture art
Scientist’s Use: to mark birds with unique color combinations to determine individual identity in the wild
Fig. 2 a) Bead activity for kids on a toy store shelf. b) Beads used as color-bands for bird identification purposes. Both photographs by Amy Strauss.
In order to study population dynamics or bird behavior in the wild, it is often necessary to differentiate between individuals within a population. Researchers can do this by catching and marking birds. One method for marking is to place colored bands around the birds’ legs that will stay on not just day to day, but season to season. If you arrange the colors in unique patterns on each bird, you can tell one individual from another in the field, allowing for valid scientific controls during experimentation and observational studies (i.e. not accidentally running your experiment on the same individual bird over and over). It turns out that Heat & Stick Beads are the perfect size for fitting around the leg of my study species, the song sparrow (Melospiza melodia), and they come in a million different bright colors – perfect for making many unique, easily seen bird leg band combinations. And a single package comes with thousands of beads – enough to support multiple seasons of research at a low cost!
3) Camo-print bandanas [Hunting Supply Store]
Traditional Use: a wardrobe accessory primarily worn by hunters and others hoping to blend into their forested surroundings
Scientist’s Use: to allow for precisely timed behavioral experiments on wild birds
Fig. 3 a) Camouflage design traditionally worn by hunters. Source. b) Camouflage bandana being used in scientific experimentation. Photograph by Amy Strauss.
In behavioral experiments, timing is everything. A standard approach to behavioral studies in the wild is to present a stimulus and monitor an animal’s reaction to that stimulus. In such trials, it is essential that the stimulus be presented at the exact right moment – when researchers are ready to make detailed observations, when the focal animal is in the right place, etc. It is often also important that the researchers are not in the direct vicinity of the experiment so they don’t interfere with an animal’s natural response. The setup for these types of experiments can be tricky to pull off. But with camouflage bandanas from a hunting supply store and a DIY pulley system, it’s totally doable! In my case, I presented a wild bird with a fake bird under specific conditions to simulate different social encounters. While setting up the experimental plot, I kept the fake bird hidden under the camouflage bandana so the real bird would not be alerted to anything out of the ordinary or begin reacting before we had everything ready. Then when I had left the area and the timing was right, I pulled the string from afar, which brought the bandana up to reveal the stimulus underneath and begin the experiment. Ta-da!
4) Selfie Stick [Target]
Traditional Use: a handy device for capturing snapshots of oneself in the absence of a friend (or stranger) willing to serve as photographer
Scientist’s Use: used to monitor hard-to-reach nests of songbirds during the breeding season
In studies of bird populations, we often need to track the breeding cycle of the subjects – to know when a nest is built, when eggs are laid, when they hatch, and so on. A bird’s reproductive cycle over the course of the breeding season is closely tied to all sorts of variation in behavior, hormones, physiology, etc. and is thus an important variable in most field experiments. To track this process, we must find and monitor nests. But some nests are high up in trees and quite hard to reach. So what happens if a nest is found but it’s too high to see in? Grab your selfie stick and reach up to snap a photo of the contents inside the nest. Success!
More From Thats Life [Science]
- Midnight Snacks Could Be the Death of You
- Lobster Fight Club
- Making a Murderer - A Matter of Biology?
- Got Lactase? Breaking Down the Enzyme
- Why Do I Shiver When It’s Cold?
- Crap you didn’t really need to know
- You Can't Observe A Lot Just By Watching
- What Do You Do When It's Too Hot to Move?
- 5 Fun Facts about Hormones
- Death stinks - literally
- Why the sea salt fad could be very bad
- Henry's Pockets: A Poem
- Henry's Pockets: A Poem
- Biology Superpowers: X-Ray Vision
- How to Expand Your Senses by Reading a Blog Post
- What's up with bat echolocation?
- Seeing is Believing - How Can We Visualize Tiny Colorless Bacteria?
- Saving water is no longer a matter of how short our showers are · Water balance in a man-made world
- Double Digestion in Rabbits · Why Does Mopsy Eat Her Own Poop?
- Should I say sex or gender? Pt. 2
- Should I say sex or gender? Pt. 1
- How To Catch Hard-to-Catch Fish?
- Finding the Perfect Partner
- Is your gut trying to kill your resolve? · Mind over microbe
- Why Do Mothers Mother?
- GMO! The Places You'll Go!
- New-Fangled Paleontology · Really Old Fossils, Really Strong Predators, and Cool New Tech
- A Brief History of Evolutionary Thought, part III
- Saving face: transplanting our most distinctive features
- A Brief History of Evolutionary Thought, part II
- DNA as a solution for data storage · DNA - Nature’s Hard Drive
- A Crash Course in the Coolness of Mitochondria · Mitochondria: The Underrated Organelles
- A Pollinator’s Job Description and Why We Should All Care About Them · Pollination 101
- You May Say I’m Biased, But I’m Not the Only One
- The evolution of one of the greatest medical discoveries in history. · The Path of Least Resistance: Our Relationship with Antibiotics
- Mother Nature’s History Book · Estimating the Age of Life Long-Gone
- Proprioception as a vital sense · Know Your Limb-its
- Man’s Best Artificially-Selected Friend · Your Dog is a GMO Wolf
- Better Safe Than Sorry: The Pesticide Industry is Getting a Revamp
- Sometimes scientists have to get creative in order to effectively do science – especially on a budget. · The Bizarre Shopping List of a Determined Scientist
- Insects Get Sick Too: The Study of Insect Pathology
- Our teeny tiny friends and their huge potential · Employee of the Month - Hire a Microbe to Do Your Work
- A Brief History of Evolutionary Thought - Part I
- The Effects of Custom Build Paradise · Artificial Islands
- To B(PA) Or To Not B(PA): Regulating Endocrine Disruptors
- Bioluminescence truly looks like it is nothing short of sorcery, and although this naturally occurring phenomenon is well studied and explained, that does not take away from its beauty. · Fireflies of the Ocean: Lighting up the Dark with Science
- Part II - Cases of altruism in the animal kingdom · Charity cases in nature - when are animals more likely to be altruistic?
- Part I - Why true altruism is a rare behavior in the animal kingdom · Being selfish means staying alive
- Penguins and other strange things we study from space
- Pseudoreplication and the Art of Biological Statistics
- What is wrong with my tomatoes?...And other plant disease questions · Why did orange prices increase?
- How fecal microbiota transplants can improve lives and possibly save them · The Wonders of Fecal Transplants
- The scientific facts behind the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines · Calling the Shots - Discussing Vaccines
- 3D Printing for Fun and Science
- What is wrong with my tomatoes?...And other plant disease questions · What is Phytopathology?
- Medical Mysteries Still Surrounding Zika Virus
- More ›