Scientists Are Tweeting About The Strangest Experiments They've Ever Done

iStock.com/espiegle
iStock.com/espiegle

Scientists are tasked with answering some of the strangest questions we never knew we had: How do wombats poop cubes? Why are all the spoons missing from our office kitchen? And what makes the word turd so funny?

These examples just scratch the surface of scientists' experiments to explain our world. In a Twitter trending thread spotted by IFL Science, researchers and scientists of all stripes have been answering the question, “What's the weirdest thing you've done for science?” Jason Rasgon, a professor of entomology and disease epidemiology at Penn State University, posed the question a few days ago and offered a personal anecdote to kick off the discussion. “For me, it was giving nicotine enemas to caterpillars when I was a postdoc,” he wrote. “I'm certain this isn't the weirdest thing compared to what y'all have done.”

He might be right about that. A long thread of one-upmanship ensued, and it turns out that scientists are doing a lot of weird stuff with animals. “Put diapers on ostriches,” writes biomechanist Jonas Rubenson. “Made resin casts of mouse vaginas,” writes behavioral ecologist Jessie Tanner. “I made a sex doll for fruit flies and painted it with pheromones,” added a Twitter user and former biologist who goes by the name of Dr. Orchid.

These escapades aren’t confined to the lab, either. “Transported 500 decomposing fox rectums in my hand luggage on a Ryanair flight,” writes parasitologist Charlie Evans. Someone else wrote that they once brought 100 live spiders on a plane—and you thought snakes were the worst of your worries.

Their responses give us a newfound respect for the professionals who immerse themselves in bizarre and sometimes gross situations for the sake of science. Here are a few other stories they shared.

[h/t IFL Science]

Bombshell, Victoria’s Secret’s Bestselling Fragrance, Also Happens to Repel Mosquitoes

Dids, Pexels
Dids, Pexels

People love Bombshell, the best-selling fragrance at Victoria’s Secret, for its summery blend of fruity and floral notes. Not everyone is a huge fan, though: As Quartz reports, the perfume is surprisingly good at warding off mosquitoes. In fact, it’s almost as effective as DEET insect repellent, according to the results of a 2014 experiment by researchers at New Mexico State University.

Researchers took 10 products that are commercially available and tested their ability to repel two different species of mosquitoes: the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), both of which are known to transmit diseases like dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever. In doing so, volunteers subjected their own flesh to the test by placing their hands on either side of a Y-shaped tube containing the blood-sucking critters. One hand was covered in a synthetic rubber glove, while the other hand was sprayed with one of the products but otherwise left bare. Researchers recorded which tunnel the mosquitoes flew to, and how long they avoided the other end.

Three of the products contained DEET, while four products didn’t. In addition, there were two fragrances (including Bombshell) and one vitamin B1 skin patch. The DEET products were the most effective, but Bombshell proved to be nearly as good, keeping mosquitoes at bay for roughly two hours.

“There was some previous literature that said fruity, floral scents attracted mosquitoes, and to not wear those,” Stacy Rodriquez, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “It was interesting to see that the mosquitoes weren’t actually attracted to the person that was wearing the Victoria’s Secret perfume—they were repelled by it.”

This isn’t the first time a perfume has had an unintended effect on the natural world. It turns out that tigers are obsessed with Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men cologne, partly because it contains a synthetic version of civetone, a pheromone that's secreted by glands located near a civet’s anus. This substance was once used to create musky fragrances, but nowadays the scent is mostly reproduced in a lab. Still, the fake stuff must be pretty convincing, because big cats go crazy when they catch a whiff of it.

[h/t Quartz]

Mystery Solved: Scientists Have Figured Out Why Some Squirrels Are Black

Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images
Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images

It can be something of a surprise to see an animal sporting a fresh coat of paint. Blue lobsters occasionally surface after being caught in traps. A pink dolphin was spotted in Louisiana in 2007 (and several times since). In the Chinese province of Shaanxi, a cute brown and white panda greets zoo visitors.

Another anomalous animal has joined their ranks. Black squirrels have been spotted in both the United States and the UK, and now scientists believe they know why.

Like many animals with unusual color schemes, black squirrels are the result of a genetic detour. Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge University, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History collaborated on a project that tested squirrel DNA. Their findings, which were published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, demonstrated that the black squirrel is the product of interspecies breeding between the common gray squirrel and the fox squirrel. The black squirrel is actually a gray squirrel with a faulty pigment gene carried over from the fox squirrel that turns their fur a darker shade. (Some fox squirrels, which are usually reddish-brown, are also black.)

A black squirrel is pictured
sanches12/iStock via Getty Images

Scientists theorize a black fox squirrel may have joined in on a mating chase involving gray squirrels and got busy with a female. The black fur may offer benefits in colder regions, with squirrels able to absorb and retain more heat, giving them a slight evolutionary edge.

In North America, black squirrels are uncommon, with one estimate putting them at a rate of one in every 10,000 squirrels. In 1961, students at Kent State University in Ohio released 10 black squirrels that had been captured by Canadian wildlife authorities. The squirrels now populate the campus and have become the school’s unofficial mascot. Their coloring might help them hide from predators, which might come in handy at Kent State: The campus is also home to hawks.

[h/t The Guardian]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER