Beware: The Sneaky Grass Goby

Grass Gobies

Grass Goby (Zosterisessor ophiocephalus) – Wikipedia Commons

Competition for mates drives the evolution of many of the exaggerated male traits, such as the bright plumage of tropical birds or the intricate horns of dung beetles, that are so easily appreciated (and photographed).  However, the elaborate consequences of competition for mates continue even after mate choice and copulation has taken place, inside of the female reproductive tract.  Much of the research on sperm competition has focused, for obvious reasons, on the quantity and morphology of the sperm produced by males with results that are no less fascinating or extreme.  For example, the fruit fly, Drosophila bifurca, produce sperm that are around 2.3 inches long, which is more than 20 times their body length and 1000 times the length of human sperm!

However, sperm constitute only a small portion of the male ejaculate transferred to females during mating.  The rest, up to 90%, is composed of a myriad of proteins and other compounds that constitute the seminal fluid.  In addition to being produced in abundance, seminal fluid proteins are also diverse.  For example, scientists have found that males, of many species, produce dozens, if not hundreds, of different types of seminal fluid proteins.  So, what then, do all these proteins do?  It turns out that these protein are involved in many different processes that indirectly influence male reproductive success, including influencing female physiology and interacting with a male’s own, as well as rival, sperm.

A recent study by Locatello et al., published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has taken advantage of some useful characteristics of the mating system of the grass goby, Zosterisessor ophiocephalus, (pictured above) to investigate how alternative male mating strategies may be paired with alternative sperm competition strategies to help level the playing field between males that vary in their ability to directly compete for mates.

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Friday Coffee Break

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.


Noah has a pretty random link, but the sad takeaway is, by mass there are now more boats in the ocean than fish.

Sarah is showing some Tiger pride and bringing us some cool research out of LSU. Life under the Antarctic ice, yet another example of life persisting in extreme habitats.

Have you hugged a paleontologist lately? CJ has! Find out why you should, and how paleontology is a “gateway science” (inherently cool and will draw in non scientists).

Jeremy is also thinking about paleontology, but more about humans than dinosaurs. First step? Taking off your clothes.

Also from CJ, an interesting and rather bleak view of the job market for PhD. Enough bad news to make all our contributors cry a little.

Dolphins can call each other maybe? Although they don’t use names, there is a particular eeeeee that distinguishes one individual from another. Although Sarah is knee deep in dissertation she still has time for the dolphins.

Jonathan is worried about the children! Specifically the scary low levels of vaccination for whooping cough in Vermont. Herd vaccination anyone?

Devin has yet another video! This time on the floral polymorphism: heterostyly. It is only 6 minutes, so you can watch it twice while you sip your coffee.

Pollinators to deceptive daisy: Fool me twice, shame on me

Gorteria diffusa

Gorteria diffusa. If its spots look like sexy female bee flies to you, you might be a bee fly yourself. Photo by Flickr/thehumofbees.

The South African daisy Gorteria diffusa has a means of attracting pollinators that is either a mean-spirited or brilliant, depending on how much you sympathize with the pollinators in question: its dark-spotted petals fool male bee flies (Megapalpus capensis) into mating with the flower. This is, of course, a fruitless exercise for the bee fly, but not so for the daisy, since the decieved males pick up pollen in the process, which they’ll transfer to another daisy when they’re fooled again.

This is a bit salacious, but this kind of sexual deception isn’t exactly rare among flowering plants. What makes G. diffusa more interesting, to an evolutionary biologist, is that not all populations of the daisy practice this deception. The pattern of G. diffusa‘s petals varies across its range—and not all petal patterns prompt the pollinators to hump the flower. Actually, on all but three of the various forms of G. diffusa, bee flies mostly just come to feed on nectar.

That poses the interesting evolutionary question of why some populations of G. diffusa have evolved to trick their pollinators, when so many others have not. A paper just released online at the journal Evolution attempts to answer that question—but its authors find more new questions than they do concrete answers.

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Friday Coffee Break

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.


Coevolution is not just about the two interacting species?!?!?! An excellent link from Jeremy that may cause me to rethink my dissertation. Pollinator/plant mutualisms are actually all about… the microbial communities.

Although this is less evolution and ecology orientated, and more just shear awesomeness, Devin brings us global population growth rate data visualization by Hans Rosling. Because he just rocks!

Is feeding pigs antibiotics causing increased resistance? Sarah is reading about a study out of China that has found 200 times more resistance genes in pig manure from those treated with antibiotics than those pigs that had never received treatment. Yikes!

Use em and leave em… I mean it… behind? From CJ, a sea slug who sheds its penis after sex. Not to worry though, it grows back.

Devin is aiming to make you itch and scratch in your seat (and more than succeeded with me) with a video about the evolution of bird lice.

Valentine’s Day Edition: Red Wine and Chocolate

It is that wonderful time of the year again, Valentine’s Day. A day filled with love, bitterness, or per my own Valentine’s traditions, red wine. While I can not confirm when I start drinking red wine on Valentine’s Day (earlier is better), I openly admit wine is an integral part of my holiday celebration.


Celebrating Valentine’s Day the right way

As all fellow wine enthusiasts know, wine is made when the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae eats up the sugars provided by grapes and leaves behind deliciously alcoholic grape juice. What I am sure most winos do not know however, is that the fermentation process is not where the biological interest ends, but rather is just the beginning.

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Happy Darwin Day!

Today we celebrate awesomness:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.


Stay tuned for a new Valentine’s Day post on Thursday!




Friday Coffee Break

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.


First it was caterpillar zombies, but Amy has uncovered something even more profoundly disturbing. Moths driving robots….

Have you ever looked at animals and thought “WTF Evolution?” Well Jeremy found a tumblr for that! I’m particularly puzzled by this bird.

Jeremy has also found bayesian statistics this week liberating to psychologists and controversial to economists.

Additionally Jeremy has written a terrific post about heritability and where to find it.

Sarah is still thinking about the link she posted cats and their impact on biodiversity. This follow up is asking whether cats really are the vicious killers they are portrayed, although she’s not sure which of the comments are real and which are just silly. Either way, it’s an interesting look on how emotional reactions can get in the way of creating productive policy.

While thinking about cats Sarah is listening to the animals they may impact. The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has just released a digitized version bird songs, mammal cries and reptiles.

Thinking like a scientist: Explaining falsification and why creationism is not a viable alternative to evolution

This post is a guest contribution by Dr. Prosanta Chakrabarty, Assistant Professor/Curator of Fishes at Louisiana State University. Prosanta studies the systematics and evolution of both marine and freshwater fishes worldwide. His research has been featured in Science, NPR and the BBC. You can follow him on Twitter.

We live in a rapidly changing world. There is a great deal of information available to us, most of it at our fingertips through computers, smartphones and the like. It is easy to think that having the internet at our reach means that we are all on an equal playing field in terms of knowledge: everything we don’t know we can find the answer to with a quick Google search. I’ve written this post because I think this view is flawed.

Figure 1

It may be true that we can find a great many answers on the internet, the problem is that there are many wrong answers out there as well (Fig. 1). Knowing right from wrong has never been harder. Thinking like a scientist is the best way to sort through the mess.

So how does a scientist think? As a scientist I should know better than to speak for all scientists, but I’m going to do so anyway. When presented with a problem a scientist attempts to solve it without bias. (Although we may want a certain outcome, influencing a test or experiment to get that result is not science.) One common way scientists tackle a problem is through falsification (also called the hypothetico-deductive method). Using falsification, we construct hypotheses and conduct tests that are capable, in theory, of proving those hypotheses are incorrect. (Hypotheses are essentially answers to a question.) Following those tests, the hypothesis that is not falsified lives to fight another day but we can soundly reject the one that was demonstrated false. The next time we can refine the hypotheses and make the tests stricter. Will we then find the truth? Potentially. The truth is out there but we will never know for sure if we’ve found it. Truth, is unknowable. All we have done through falsification is proven what isn’t true, or at least, what is least true.

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Herd Immunity


Over the past several years there has been a growing trend of parents that are terrified of vaccinating their kids citing reasons such as the debunked link to autism or that it just isn’t “natural.”   A healthcare blog run by several infectious disease doctors called Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention has run frequent stories reporting on the declining vaccination rates as well as problems that ensue because of that, most recently about the whooping cough epidemic in Washington and wondering why Jenny McCarthy has so much influence on national views on vaccinations.

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Carnival of Evolution: We’re hosting!


Step right up, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, to submit your fine evolution-related blog posts to the 58th edition of the Carnival of Evolution, the one and only community-assembled, community-supported, community-hosted aggregation of the finest online writing on the illustrious topic of Descent With Modification and all its manifold modified descendents.

On the first day of March, this glorious Carnival will be found right here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!, the better to showcase the work of everyone from students to scientists to great fans of science, everyone and anyone, ladies and gentlemen, who believes and can demonstrate in mellifluous prose, captivating videos, eye-catching infographics, or hilarious LOLcats that bedrock principle of the modern life sciences, that nothing—no, ladies and gentlemen, not a gosh-darned thing—in the whole of biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution.

Think you’ve got what it takes to join this revolutionary celebration of evolutionary science? Send us links to your blog posts, essays, videos, and webcomics at this elegant and convenient form (it requires a log-in, but then what doesn’t these days?) or simply e-mail them direct to Jeremy Yoder, our local curator of carnivalian content. Please do send’em before the 26th of February, though, to ensure proper packaging and adequate care of all your delightful and illuminating work.

We thank you humbly and vociferously for your contributions, one and all—and we look forward to seeing you right here, at this very URL, for the Carnival of Evolution, in less than the span of one short month!