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martedì 18 agosto 2015


(in Eng?ish)

Hello dear English-thinking-speaking-reading visitor! Welcome back to this obscure blog usually frequented only by ghosts of ancient mariners looking for a safe heaven where to chill out and finally digest in peace that gristly bird in company of their mascot, Tom Cat, which has found here a perfect hideout even if it is not necessary anymore given the fact that it's arch-enemy, Curiosity, has been sent no less than to another planet (NASA is in fact ruled by a secret congregation devoted to cartoon cats. And smart paillettes. Whatever they be.)

by sciencemug
by sciencemug

Sooo once upon a time, like... now, there were and are two species of hylid frogs named Corythomantis greeningi and Aparasphenodon brunoi. They live happily ever always in Brazil and they don't want to be grabbed (they are less than ten centimeters big indeed and therefore their size fits perfectly that of the shaky hands of the corny dreamers I’m talking about in four words) and kissed (two…) by any sloppy fairy tales junkie to become some Prince Charming who spends all his time running away from the paparazzi and all his considerable PC’s fortune (he's one of the biggest shareholder of Packard Bell) on H75 Chardonnay hair dyes and long expensive trips to his dermatologist (an Inuk who receives exclusively on his personal iceberg off Uummannaq) to nurse a chronic rash caused by too tight cheap long johns.

To protect themselves from the serial-kissers, the two anti-monarchist amphibians have flat heads full of tiny (not even half of a millimeter) bony spines concentrated in the rear part of their skulls and in the nasal and jaw zones where these pointy little things form a sort of provocative lusty stinging upper lip (yeah, those frogs are leaping saucepots...). But it's not this that make these couple of Brazilian Kermits so special to become the main characters of a report just published on the science journal Current Biology (and of such a useless post like this). Nope.

lipstick frog (by sciencemug)
C. greeningi (sort of)'s maquillage (by sciencemug)

The fact is that the frogs’ heads’ pointy little bony thingies are associated with minuscule (about 1/10 to 3/10 of a millimeter in size) skin glands. The spines indeed “pierce the epidermis in areas of the skin well supplied with […] glands(Carlos et al, 2015 aka P) and end up all poulticed with these glands’ secretion which is – X-Files-the reboot (by the way HELL YEEEEEEESSS!)-suspence-generating-like music- toxic stuff.
Actually it is stuff made of stuff (enzymes) that cripple the normal process of coagulation of the blood (the kind of stuff that used to freak out Buffy and her gang in other words) and crumble proteins. In the secreted stuff, besides, there's other stuff (the name is hyaluronidase, and it’s an enzyme too) which enhances the transport and delivery of those above mentioned toxic stuff. So, well, the glands' stuff is bad stuff (is it discreet and dissimulated enough the sponsorship I got form “Stuff” the auto-repair and dental prosthesis shop?). At least for a wanna-be frog predator (and for the serial-kissers running dry).

by sciencemug
“Stuff” the auto-repair and dental prosthesis shop (by sciencemug)

Soooooo, that’s the reason why Carlos Jared and other six biologists and zoologists from US and Brazilian universities take their science clever lab time to study 15 frogs of both C. greeningi and A. brunoi.
They do it ‘cause toxic stuff+stinging stuff+animal-equal-venomous thug. Aaand the Brazilian leapers are the first frogs, and amphibians, to be classified as venomous and not poisonous.

That’s the scientific scoop!

I mean, yes, it is commonly known that most of amphibians are poisonous, ‘cause they have their skin covered with toxic glands-spitted whatever to protect themselves from predators. But till our Carlitos labcoated bunch’s discover, well, no species of this class of animals had been found to be venomous, that is not only to be able to produce toxic compounds, but to be also equipped with a delivery mechanism that can shoot the toxins straight into another animal.
I mean, that’s usually snakes’ (especially on a plane) weaponry, like the fangs.

So now, to recap, thanks to Jared and colleagues, the world is aware of the fact that there’re at least two venomous species of frogs which have a venom delivery system consisting of spines which are covered with toxins produced by skin glands, placed in correspondence of the spines. Spines that cover the frogs’ head. Head that is therefore, as a matter of fact, well, the ultimate Kermit’s weapon.

by sciencemug
by sciencemug

C. greeningi and A. brunoi defense strategy is indeed based on their ability, unusual in amphibians, to flex a lot the head both laterally and vertically. Once grabbed or constrained, the Brazilian Kermits release their stiky venom and move “the head, jabbing and rubbing the spines” (P) so to sting/cut the predator and deliver, like this, their toxic secretion into the wound.

And Jared is positive that the strategy works. He himself accidentally ends up with a hand injured by the spines of one C. greeningi frog, and feels an “intense pain radiating up the arm, lasting about 5 hr.(P) So, the sore researcher and his probably still mercilessly laughing colleagues think that their frogs’ “jubbing and rubbing the flexible venomous stinging head” defense strategy that impairs the arm of a human being for hours “should be even more effective on the mouth lining of an attacking predator”.(P)

Moreover the researchers test the lethality of the frogs' venoms in the lab, on some mouses, and they find that just a hint of them (about 3 to 50 millionths of a gram) is sufficient to kill the rodents.

Basically, the Carlitos say, the frogs’ from Brazil venoms are 2 (C. greeningi) to 25 (A. brunoi) times more lethal than the Central and South American vipers’ (genus Bothrops) one.

Good news for the frogs, bad news for the "Union of serial-kissers&predators&fried frogs’ French (and also other non French individuals of the world) eaters".

To sum up Jared and colleagues close their report (and I this post useless as a pair of sneakers for Jabba the Hutt) with these lines: “There are other amphibians that probably should be considered as venomous, including salamanders with ribs that pierce through the skin […] and frogs with spines in the head region […], but information on the toxicity of their skin secretions is lacking. […] It is likely that venomous amphibians are more toxic and common than previously assumed.

- Jared, C., Mailho-Fontana, P. L., Antoniazzi, M. M., Mendes, V. A., Barbaro, K. C., Rodrigues, M. T., and Brodie, E. D., Jr. (2015). Venomous Frogs Use Heads as Weapons. Curr Biol 25, 2166–2170.

venerdì 14 agosto 2015


Ohhh, well well, dear English thinking-speaking-hearing listener, welcome back to me, sciencemug, the blog which tells 'bout science and, at the same time, chats with that tickle of yours, that one yeah, right there, under the thin skin of your wonder. And that do all this in Eng?ish, a language that is to real English what the '80s have been to a decent haircut. 

Soo, now, dear visitor, let’s talk about bacon, soppressa and speck, ok*? And of how the scent of sizzling pork can trigger a wide range of dopaminergic deliciousnergic gnamgnamminergic effects on humans’ brains. And lead you munching bipeds to mechanically gulp chunks of meat and emit various modulated and complex more or less loud sounds which are used to communicate, to your same species pals: satisfaction, emotion, the culinary equivalent of the Stendhal’s Syndrome aaand, at the same time (ah, the utterly fascinating complexity & plasticity of animals’ vocalizations!) an awfully original scary threat of whatever sort against everyone only give a sign of entering your present biting territory.

Ok? Weeell, nope. Eheh, sorry. The post ain’t about this. Pigs are still involved in the plot though. Today’s post is in fact about pigs, aaand pheromones aaaand barking dogs


here (on iTunes)
here (on SoundCloud)
here (on Podcast Machine)

 The pigs’ and dogs’ sounds are under Creative Commons license.
They have all been modified by
The original sound files have been downloaded from
The sound files have been created by:
(in order of usage)

A pig’s pheromone, the androstenone, can calm excessively anxious dogs when sprayed on them. The discovery, made by a group of researchers of the Texas Tech University, has been published in the journal The Professional Animal Scientist.

the barking dog and the bacon (by sciencemug)
by sciencemug
[The dog image is a Public Domain pic adapted by sciencemug (source:]

John J. McGlone and other two researchers study dogs affected by the barking and jumpin jack flash syndrome”, meaning that the McGlones study dogs that think to be Mick Jagger with an awful laryngitis… Ok, ok, just kidding, there’s not such a syndrome (which I’m sure would be the coolest to diagnose for the vets though). Indeed the actual syndrome is the barking and jumping syndrome(McGlone et al., 2014, aka P), meaning that the McGlones study dogs that are hyper anxious and excitable, jump and bark as hell, and are as pleasant to deal with as a giant pneumatic drill that sings A-aloud the Slipknot’s top fifty hits to your worst-hangover-of-the-Saros**’s ears can be.

So the happy researchers do an experiment

mercoledì 5 agosto 2015


a guppy
Sig. Guppy (Pub Dom img)
Avere un cervello grande aumenta la capacità di sopravvivere ai predatori nelle femmine, ma non nei maschi, di Poecilia reticulata, una specie di piccoli pesci tropicali detti guppy. La scoperta, fatta da un gruppo di scienziati delle università di Stoccolma e Vienna, è riportata sulla rivista scientifica Ecology letters

Clicca qui sotto per ascoltare il podcast in italiano

ascoltalo/scaricalo anche
QUI (su iTunes)
o QUI (su SoundCloud)
o QUI (su Podcast Machine)


a guppy
Mr. Guppy (Pub Dom img)
Size does matter. At least when it comes to brain and the ability of surviving predators' attacks and when you are a female of Poecilia reticulata, a species of small tropical fishes called guppies. The discovery, made by a group of scientists from the universities of Stockholm and Vienna, is reported in the journal Ecology letters.

 Listen to the podcast in Eng?ish here

listen to/download it also
here (iTunes)
or here (Podbean)
or here (SoundCloud)
or here (Podcast Machine) 

The following text is that of the podcast
in Eng?ish

O-oooooh hallo dear English-hearing-speaking-thinking listener, welcome to the third of my podcasts in Engmark, that is English-question mark, a language that is to real English what “spaghetti bolognese” is to an actual Italian dish and the combination of a piece of evil chalk scraping a blackboard with Marge Simpson’s voice is to velvet.
Speaking of voices, the one you’re hearing is that of my avatar, a dumb human controlled via a wireless-voodoo trick by me, “sciencemug”, the blog which tells you about science, sings the song of love but scrambles all the words while skipping the rope of summer in company of ice creams in a blue mood aaand while shutting down the alien conspiracy which aims to take over the world production of donuts in order to change the recipe and make them taste like deep space tofu, that is as saaaad as the Earth’s one, but colder and with a bit of a Haggis aftertaste.
Soooo, what am I telling you this time? Weeell, I’m telling you a science story about dimensions, brains, little tropical fishes, predators and evolution! 

guppies meet jaws_ by sciencemug
by sciencemug
[The guppies pic is a Public Domain image adapted by sciencemug (source:]

Size does matter, as usual. At least when it comes to brains and the ability of surviving predators' attacks and when you are a female, hence not a male, of Poecilia reticulata, a species of small tropical fishes called guppies. The discovery, made by a group of scientists from the universities of Stockholm and Vienna, is reported in the journal Ecology letters.

Ooooh, well well, doctor Alexander Kotrschal (which I’m gonna call Alex, from now on, to avoid to plead guilty of consonant slaughter in a trial for mass murder of the poor people of the alphabet and then face the wrath of the ghosts of those innocents letters for the rest of my blog-life, and, by the way, according to the usual reliable sources of the internet, 1 blog’s year is equal to 5 leap years of a sloth), so, doctor Alex, I was saying, and other 5 scientists form Sweden and Austria (and I‘m gonna call this science bunch “the Alexanders”, ‘cause, well, I think it’s really really cool) they decide to try to understand whether and how evolution kisses the kiss of blessing to the bigger brains. To do that the Alexanders decide to study little tropical fishes, the guppies, and to analyze the relationship

martedì 4 agosto 2015


 (in Eng?ish)

The interview opens with PiPs, on its way to the lunar-monthly appointment with its dermatologist (PiPs still can’t figure out how those damn armpits of its really work), passing by a chirping mayhem of birds that form a very long feathered line outside of, and fill the foyer up to the ceiling (literally, I mean, they’re birds, they can fly for [fill in with the deity of preference by the way Bacco seems a fun guy or Thunder pretty hard core it too] sake!) of the movie theatre “The fun’s beak” formerly known as “The high-flyer” (name dismissed ‘cause it made the theatre to be confused, on and on, with a Dutch coffee-shop for pilots) and before that as “The bald eagle’s wig” {name eventually dropped ‘cause it discouraged the other winged species which thought it was a filthy playground for adult narcissistic predators only and offended the eagles [notoriously among the touchiest creatures in the world along with dodos (which, science says, went extinct ‘cause they refused to feed unless a formal apology had came, and it obviously never did, from the ‘UNB’* for the fact that the other birds kept on mocking them for their look and inability to fly)] and all the ferns (no one really understood why)} while storming the sugar-coated worms/roasted bugs/not-popped corns/candy-seeds shops before the show begin**. And the film projected, hence the multitude, is: “Angry Birds: the movie! (In 3D)”.

PiPs and "The (Angry) Birds" (by sciencemug)
PiPs and "The (Angry) Birds" (by sciencemug)

But PiPs sees also another thing in all that noisy chaos. It sees a human standing still among the tweeting animals. She’s a girl. In a lab coat (ok people, ok, the whole thing is absolutely cuckoo, but, as it has been remarked before, PiPs' reality is a very very, very peculiar place).

PiPs_by SM
PiPs by SM
PiPs- I’m sorry to bother you miss, but, unless this is the weirdest creation of Madame Tussaud and you’re one of the most realistic wax sculptures I’ve ever seen, well, you’re alive. And human. So, may I ask who are you?


Miss Madza Farias-Virgens_by sciencemug
Miss MFV by SM
Miss Farias-Virgens - Hello! My name is Madza. I’m a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at University of California at Berkeley. I work in one of the branches of Anthropology called Biological Anthropology [aka BioAnthro]. BioAnthro is dedicated to the study of human evolution and biological variation. But I’ve not always being a biological anthropologist, I started out my college level studies in the Biomedical Sciences, and later specialized in Medical Genetics during my Masters in Brazil (I’m Brazilian). I have made proteins wiggle and gotten lost among A T G C sequences [A, T, G, C are nucleobases, that is the four letters of the DNA’s alphabet. Ever wondered why Andrew Niccol entitled his movie “GATTACA”, well, “GATTACA”? SM's note] . Those were fun times, but I always thought of pursuing questions in Human Evolution, and the conclusive motivation came after reading pieces of Professor Terrence W. Deacon’s fantastic book "The Symbolic Species". Professor Deacon is now my PhD adviser and we work together in the BrainEvoLab. Professor Deacon and I are studying how the human language