Chapter 12. Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases

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Rebecca Brooker & Tristin Nyman Even before the pandemic, there was plenty for expectant mothers to worry about. Pregnant women must withstand a barrage of arguably well-intentioned, but often hyperbolic, warnings about their health and what’s to come, including concerns about everything from what to eat, to what to wear, to how to feel. Health professionals know that mothers-to-be experience predictable increases in anxiety levels before infants are born. Maternal mental health has been steadily deteriorating in the U.S., particularly among poor and minority women. The calls to “be afraid, be very afraid” are, of course, countered by the equally strong cautions for pregnant women to not worry too much, lest it lead to long-term negative outcomes for them and their infants. Such warnings are not entirely off base. Maternal stress hormones cross the placenta and affect the vulnerable fetus. Fetal exposure to the stress hormone cortisol has been linked to an array of negative outcomes, including miscarriage and preterm birth, and irritable temperament for the child and increased risk of emotional problems during childhood. One thing researchers know is that anxious mothers tend to have anxious children. This common, albeit not prescriptive, phenomenon is likely due to numerous factors, both pre- and postpartum. In our laboratory, we focus on what happens when women start their pregnancies already worried or anxious and what clues we can uncover about how to help them and their children. Our research suggests that worry during pregnancy can have long-term impacts on how mothers’ brains communicate – but also that there might be some simple steps that can help rein in the effects. © 2010–2021, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 27820 - Posted: 05.15.2021

by Jessica Jiménez, Mark Zylka Mice and rats typically give birth to 6 to 12 animals per litter. Some scientists treat this as a benefit, because a large number of animals can be produced with a small number of matings. In reality, though, this is of no benefit at all, especially when you consider a fact that is well known in the toxicology field: Animals within a litter are more similar to one another than animals between litters. Herein lies what is known as the ‘litter effect.’ Anyone who uses multiple animals from a small number of litters to increase sample size is making a serious mistake. The similarities within individual litters will heavily skew the results. Our goal in writing this article, and an accompanying peer-reviewed paper on this topic, is to raise awareness about the litter effect and to encourage researchers who study neurodevelopmental conditions to control for it in future work. Like many scientists who use rodents to study autism and related conditions, we were oblivious to the litter effect and its impact on research. However, we now recognize that it is essential to control for the litter effect whenever a rodent autism model is studied, be it a mouse with a gene mutation or an environmental exposure. It is essential because the litter effect can lead to erroneous conclusions that negatively influence the rigor and reproducibility of scientific research. Indeed, false positives, or the incorrect identification of a significant effect, increase as fewer litters are sampled. Conversely, litter-to-litter variation adds ‘noise’ to the data that can mask true treatment or genetic effects. This is concerning because most phenotypes associated with rodent models of autism are remarkably small, and they are often difficult to reproduce between labs. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27789 - Posted: 04.28.2021

Lise Eliot Everyone knows the difference between male and female brains. One is chatty and a little nervous, but never forgets and takes good care of others. The other is calmer, albeit more impulsive, but can tune out gossip to get the job done. These are stereotypes, of course, but they hold surprising sway over the way actual brain science is designed and interpreted. Since the dawn of MRI, neuroscientists have worked ceaselessly to find differences between men’s and women’s brains. This research attracts lots of attention because it’s just so easy to try to link any particular brain finding to some gender difference in behavior. But as a neuroscientist long experienced in the field, I recently completed a painstaking analysis of 30 years of research on human brain sex differences. And what I found, with the help of excellent collaborators, is that virtually none of these claims has proven reliable. Except for the simple difference in size, there are no meaningful differences between men’s and women’s brain structure or activity that hold up across diverse populations. Nor do any of the alleged brain differences actually explain the familiar but modest differences in personality and abilities between men and women. © 2010–2021, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27784 - Posted: 04.24.2021

By Emily Anthes Male tanagers are meant to be noticed. Many species of the small, tropical bird sport deep black feathers and splashes of eye-catching color — electric yellows, traffic-cone oranges and nearly neon scarlets. To achieve this flashiness, the birds must spend time and energy foraging for, and metabolizing, plants that contain special color pigments, which make their way into the feathers. A vibrantly colored male is thus sending an “honest signal,” many scientists have long theorized: He is alerting nearby females that he has a good diet, is in good health and would make a worthy mate. But some birds may be guilty of false advertising, a new study suggests. Male tanagers have microstructures in their feathers that enhance their colors, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports. These microstructures, like evolution’s own Instagram filters, may make the males seem as if they are more attractive than they truly are. “Many male birds are colorful not just because they’re honestly signaling their quality, but because they’re trying to get chosen,” said Dakota McCoy, a doctoral student at Harvard University who conducted the research as part of her dissertation. “This is basically experimental evidence that whenever there’s a high-stakes test in life, it’s worth your while to cheat a little bit.” The new study is an important contribution to the longstanding debate over how, and why, brightly colored feathers evolved in birds, said Geoffrey Hill, an ornithologist and evolutionary ecologist at Auburn University. “Scientists have spent the last 150 years since Darwin and Wallace trying to understand ornaments in animals and especially colors in birds,” he said. “And this is the kind of original approach that helps us.” © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 27781 - Posted: 04.21.2021

Nicola Davis It is a trope used in films from King Kong to Tarzan – a male primate standing upright and beating its chest, sometimes with a yell and often with more than a dash of hubris. But it seems the pounding action is less about misplaced bravado than Hollywood would suggest: researchers studying adult male mountain gorillas say that while chest-beating might be done to show off, it also provides honest information. “We found it is definitely a real, reliable signal – males are conveying their true size,” said Edward Wright, co-author of the research from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. Advertisement Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Wright and colleagues report how they studied chest-beating in six adult male mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes national park in Rwanda. The team used a camera setup involving two parallel green lasers a known distance apart to determine the breadth of each gorilla’s back from a photograph. They then recorded 36 chest-beating episodes among these six males between November 2015 and July 2016, and analysed the recordings. The results revealed that the duration of the chest-beating, number of beats and the rate of the beats during an episode were not associated with the size of the gorilla. However, the average peak frequency of the sound produced was – the larger the gorilla, the lower the frequency of the sound produced. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 27765 - Posted: 04.10.2021

By Jake Buehler Fairy wrasses are swimming jewels, flitting and flouncing about coral reefs. The finger-length fishes’ brash, vibrant courtship displays are meant for mates and rivals, and a new study suggests that the slow waxing and waning of ice sheets and glaciers may be partly responsible for such a variety of performances. A new genetic analysis of more than three dozen fairy wrasse species details the roughly 12 million years of evolution that produced their vast assortment of shapes, colors and behaviors. And the timing of these transformations implies that the more than 60 species of fairy wrasses may owe their great diversity to cyclic sea level changes over the last few millions of years, scientists report February 23 in Systematic Biology. Within the dizzying assembly of colorful reef fishes, fairy wrasses (Cirrhilabrus) can’t help but stand out. They are the most species-rich genus in the second most species-rich fish family in the ocean, says Yi-Kai Tea, an ichthyologist at the University of Sydney. “That is quite a bit of biodiversity,” says Tea, who notes that new fairy wrasse species are identified every year. Despite this taxonomic footprint, Tea says, scientists knew “next to nothing” about the fairy wrasses’ evolutionary history or why there were so many species. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 27755 - Posted: 04.03.2021

By Alyson Krueger Samantha LaLiberte, a social worker in Nashville, thought she had made a full recovery from Covid-19. But in mid-November, about seven months after she’d been sick, a takeout order smelled so foul that she threw it away. When she stopped by the house of a friend who was cooking, she ran outside and vomited on the front lawn. “I stopped going places, even to my mom’s house or to dinner with friends, because anything from food to candles smelled so terrible,” Ms. LaLiberte, 35, said. “My relationships are strained.” She is dealing with parosmia, a distortion of smell such that previously enjoyable aromas — like that of fresh coffee or a romantic partner — may become unpleasant and even intolerable. Along with anosmia, or diminished sense of smell, it is a symptom that has lingered with some people who have recovered from Covid-19. The exact number of people experiencing parosmia is unknown. One recent review found that 47 percent of people with Covid-19 had smell and taste changes; of those, about half reported developing parosmia. “That means that a rose might smell like feces,” said Dr. Richard Doty, director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He noted that people typically recover their smell within months. Right now, Ms. LaLiberte can’t stand the scent of her own body. Showering is no help; the smell of her body wash, conditioner and shampoo made her sick. What’s more, she detected the same odor on her husband of eight years. “There is not a whole lot of intimacy right now,” she said. “And it’s not because we don’t want to.” “It’s a much bigger issue than people give it credit for,” said Dr. Duika Burges Watson, who leads the Altered Eating Research Network at Newcastle University in England and submitted a journal research paper on the topic. “It is something affecting your relationship with yourself, with others, your social life, your intimate relationships.” © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27742 - Posted: 03.23.2021

Tinbete Ermyas & Kira Wakeam Roughly 35 bills are being proposed that would limit or prohibit transgender women from competing in women's athletics. Above, athletes run in the Women's 400 meter final during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Shaun Botterill/Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Throughout the country, roughly 35 bills have been introduced by state legislators that would limit or prohibit transgender women from competing in women's athletics, according to the LGBTQ rights group Freedom for All Americans. That's up from only two in 2019. The latest action in this push came last week, when Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed into law the "Mississippi Fairness Act." The law prohibits schools from allowing transgender female students to compete in female sports and cites "inherent differences between men and women" as one of the reasons to block these athletes from competition. The often heated debates around these bills have centered on whether transgender women and girls have an unfair advantage over cisgender women — a term used for those who identify with the sex assigned to them at birth. Proponents say the legislation is needed in order to maintain fairness in women's athletics by reducing what they believe is an inherent competitive edge of trans athletes who identify as female. Critics call that a false argument and say the proposals are being used as a way to discriminate against transgender Americans. These proposals, they say, also risk opening the door to humiliating treatment of women and girls who don't fit culturally-accepted notions of femininity. Often missing from the culture-war aspect of the debate is a focus on the type of questions that Dr. Eric Vilain has spent much of his career researching. Vilain, a pediatrician and geneticist who studies sex differences in athletes, says there are no good faith reasons to limit transgender women's participation in sports, especially at the high school level. Vilain has advised both the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA, and says these laws generally aren't based in scientific evidence, but rather "target women who have either a different biology or ... simply look different." © 2021 npr

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27739 - Posted: 03.23.2021

Amanda Heidt In 2015, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke released a report stating that more than 600 neurological conditions—including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and motor neuron disease, among others—affect an estimated 50 million Americans, a number that is growing each year. Many of these diseases share a common feature in the degradation of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), the cloak of endothelial cells that disposes of the brain’s waste while also providing necessary nutrients. To better understand these diseases and to develop new ways to treat them, scientists rely on increasingly sophisticated cellular models that attempt to mimic the full complexity of the BBB. The advent of hydrogels, microfluidics, and so-called organs on a chip all rely on stable cell lines to build a useful proxy, but new research suggests that all cells may not respond equally to experimentation. The Scientist spoke with Alisa Morss Clyne and Callie Weber, two bioengineers at the University of Maryland whose recent review, published March 16 in APL Bioengineering, makes the case for the inclusion of sex as a biological variable in cell-based experiments. Men and women, a growing body of evidence shows, respond differently to brain diseases in ways that can profoundly influence a study’s findings. Men, for example, are 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and often experience the condition more severely, perhaps because the higher levels of estrogen in premenopausal women shield the BBB from damage. When purchasing cells, Clyne says, scientists are rarely aware of the sex of the original cell donor, but it may ultimately have important consequences for the study of diseases, neurological or otherwise. © 1986–2021 The Scientist

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27738 - Posted: 03.23.2021

By Elizabeth Pennisi For a glimpse of the power of sexual selection, the dance of the golden-collared manakin is hard to beat. Each June in the rainforests of Panama, the sparrow-size male birds gather to fluff their brilliant yellow throats, lift their wings, and clap them together in rapid fire, up to 60 times a second. When a female favors a male with her attention, he follows up with acrobatic leaps, more wing snaps, and perhaps a split-second, twisting backflip. “If manakins were human, they would be among the greatest artists, athletes, and socialites in our society,” says Ignacio Moore, an integrative organismal biologist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. As biologists have understood since Charles Darwin, such exhibitionism evolves when females choose to mate with males that have the most extravagant appearances and displays—a proxy for fitness. And now, by studying the genomes of the golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus) and its relatives, researchers are exploring the genes that drive these elaborate behaviors and traits. Last month at the virtual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, Moore and other researchers introduced four manakin genomes, adding to two already published, and singled out genes at work in the birds’ muscles and brains that may make the displays possible. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 27716 - Posted: 03.06.2021

By Jake Buehler You might be able to do a mean celebrity impression or two, but can you imitate an entire film’s cast at the same time? A male superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) can, well almost. During courtship and even while mating, the birds pull off a similar feat, mimicking the calls and wingbeat noises of many bird species at once, a new study shows. The lyrebirds appear to be attempting to recreate the specific ecological soundscape associated with the arrival of a predator, researchers report February 25 in Current Biology. Why lyrebirds do this isn’t yet clear, but the finding is the first time that an individual bird has been observed mimicking the sounds of multiple bird species simultaneously. The uncanny acoustic imitation of multispecies flocks adds a layer of complexity to the male lyrebird’s courtship song yet unseen in birds and raises questions about why its remarkable vocal mimicry skills, which include sounds like chainsaws and camera shutters, evolved in the first place. Superb lyrebirds — native to forested parts of southeastern Australia — have a flair for theatrics. The males have exceptionally long, showy tail feathers that are shaken extensively in elaborate mating dances (SN: 6/6/13). The musical accompaniment to the dance is predominantly a medley of greatest hits of the songs of other bird species, the function of which behavioral ecologist Anastasia Dalziell was studying via audio and video recordings of the rituals.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Animal Communication
Link ID: 27715 - Posted: 02.28.2021

By Brooke N. Dulka Think back to years past. When you were a kid, you most likely had more friends than you do now. There were probably a lot of children on the playground you considered a friend, but not all of these friendships were very deep. As you grew up, your friendship circle most likely grew smaller. Instead of having many superficial relationships, you now have just a few really important friendships. This is normal. When we are older, we tend to focus on maintaining positive, meaningful relationships. One idea suggests that we become more selective about our friends because we become increasingly aware of our own mortality. In other words, we have future-oriented cognition. However, a recent study published in Science on the wild chimpanzees living in Uganda’s Kibale National Park suggests that our friendships may not actually be tied to thinking about the future. Alexandra Rosati, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan and one of the study’s lead investigators, had heard about this long-term field study in Uganda. “It seemed like it all could sort of fit together, in this cool way, this primatology data to actually test this idea about human cognition,” she says. Advertisement In this study, a team of researchers analyzed 78,000 hours of observations of 21 male chimpanzees made between 1995 and 2016 at the Kibale National Park. According to Rosati, a unique feature of this study is the value that exists in the long-term collection of data. “We used 20 years of data for this paper. [It] lets us look at this really detailed information about what's going on in these chimpanzees’ social lives,” she says. The findings surprised her. © 2021 Scientific American

Keyword: Stress; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27681 - Posted: 02.08.2021

Catherine S. Woolley, Ph.D. Sex differences in the brain are real, but they are not what you might think. They’re not about who is better at math, reading a map, or playing chess. They’re not about being sensitive or good at multi-tasking, either. Sex differences in the brain are about medicine and about making sure that the benefits of biomedical research are relevant for everyone, both men and women. You may be surprised to learn that most animal research is done in males. This is based on an erroneous view that hormonal cycles complicate studies in female research animals, and an assumption that the sexes are essentially the same down at cellular and molecular levels. But these beliefs are starting to change in neuroscience. New research shows that some fundamental molecular pathways in the brain operate differently in males and females, and not just by a little. In some cases, molecular sex differences are all-or-nothing. Recognition that male and female brains differ at a molecular level has the potential to transform biomedical research. Drugs act on molecular pathways. If those pathways differ between the sexes, we need to know how they differ as early as possible in the long (and expensive) process of developing new medicines and treatments for disease. The bulk of public attention to brain sex differences is focused on structural differences and their purported relationship to behavior or cognition. Yet structural sex differences are actually quite small, and their interpretation is often based on gender stereotypes with little to no scientific justification. © 2021 The Dana Foundation

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27650 - Posted: 01.15.2021

Mercedes Burns An Asian water dragon hatched from an egg at the Smithsonian National Zoo, and her keepers were shocked. Why? Her mother had never been with a male water dragon. Through genetic testing, zoo scientists discovered the newly hatched female, born on Aug. 24, 2016, had been produced through a reproductive mode called parthenogenesis. Parthenogenesis is a Greek word meaning “virgin creation,” but specifically refers to female asexual reproduction. While many people may assume this behavior is the domain of science fiction or religious texts, parthenogenesis is surprisingly common throughout the tree of life and is found in a variety of organisms, including plants, insects, fish, reptiles and even birds. Because mammals, including human beings, require certain genes to come from sperm, mammals are incapable of parthenogenesis. Creating offspring without sperm Sexual reproduction involves a female and a male, each contributing genetic material in the form of eggs or sperm, to create a unique offspring. The vast majority of animal species reproduce sexually, but females of some species are able to produce eggs containing all the genetic material required for reproduction. Females of these species, which include some wasps, crustaceans and lizards, reproduce only through parthenogenesis and are called obligate parthenogens. A larger number of species experience spontaneous parthenogenesis, best documented in animals kept in zoo settings, like the Asian water dragon at the National Zoo or a blacktip shark at the Virginia Aquarium. Spontaneous parthenogens typically reproduce sexually, but may have occasional cycles that produce developmentally ready eggs. © 2010–2020, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27630 - Posted: 12.19.2020

Claudia Dreifus Questions like “why do men and women act differently?” are age-old, with tangled, deeply buried answers. But that is why Catherine Dulac, a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, has become so well respected by her neuroscientist colleagues for the originality and creativity with which she has brought important answers to light. Though she is trained as a developmental biologist, Dulac takes her research into territory usually explored by social scientists by trying to discern the balance of genetic determination and environmental influence that shapes vital behaviors in mammals. Moreover, she deploys the genetic tools of modern biology to discover the mechanisms that activate these behaviors. Relatively early in her career, Dulac’s investigations into how animals detect pheromones changed our understanding of what those airborne chemicals may signify to the brain. More recently, her experiments identified how the brain circuitry that regulates crucial mating and parenting behaviors works — at least in her model animals, which are mice. She found astonishing evidence that although certain of these behaviors are often described as “male” or “female,” both types of circuitry are present and potentially active in both sexes. As a result, the right combination of triggers can switch an individual creature’s behavior to that of the opposite sex. Scientists are still exploring the full implications of her findings, but Dulac and others are hopeful that they might yield useful insights into conditions like postpartum behavioral disorders. Because of her work’s relevance, in September Dulac, just age 57, was awarded the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the richest single personal award in the scientific world. The citation for the prize hailed the success of her work, which connected behaviors to specific neural mechanisms and “overturned decades-old dogma in behavioral science.” Simons Foundation © 2020

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27625 - Posted: 12.15.2020

By Jason Castro To be an expectant mother, or the anxious partner of one, is to be keenly, even agonizingly aware of how chemicals affect a developing life. The basic advice is well known, and obsessively followed: Alcohol in strict moderation, and no nicotine at all. Don’t mess with mercury. Folic acid is your friend. More protein and less caffeine. Stay away from BPA, PBCs and PFA, and generally make an enemy of the unpronounceable. But, if we take the results of a provocative recent paper seriously, there may be another important, and deeply underappreciated chemical influence at work: a man’s odor. The research, by a team headed by Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute of Science, suggests that there is a relationship between women’s response to “social odors” contained in male sweat and the heartbreaking condition of unexplained repeated pregnancy loss (uRPL). Specifically, in blind smell-tests, these scientists observed that women who had experienced uRPL were significantly better at identifying their spouse’s odor than age-matched controls. Additionally, their brains responded differently to nonspouse odors and they displayed unique olfactory neuroanatomy. Taken in the context of a large body of literature on chemosignaling in nonhuman animals, these results make it conceivable that the human nose could also communicate with the womb and may even influence a pregnancy. So far, the results are strictly correlative, and in no way point to male odor as some kind of pheromonal smoking gun that explains pregnancy loss. Hypothetically, it could also be true that women experiencing uRPL have, on average, larger middle toes, larger whites of their eyes, thinner wrists and a proclivity for wearing purple socks. None of these would give one pause or prompt a serious search for some kind of causal link to pregnancy loss. Yet this particular link between smell and pregnancy loss is intriguing because of how prevalent and robust it is in other mammals, including primates. Many miscarriages still have unexplained causes, which makes any lead, correlative or not, a particularly interesting and worthwhile area of research. © 2020 Scientific American

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27619 - Posted: 12.09.2020

By Emily Willingham When a male sand-sifting sea star in the coastal waters of Australia reaches out a mating arm to its nearest neighbor, sometimes that neighbor is also male. Undaunted, the pair assume their species’ pseudocopulation position and forge ahead with spawning. Mating, pseudo or otherwise, with a same-sex neighbor obviously does not transfer a set of genes to the next generation—yet several sea star and other echinoderm species persist with the practice. They are not alone. From butterflies to birds to beetles, many animals exhibit same-sex sexual behaviors despite their offering zero chance of reproductive success. Given the energy expense and risk of being eaten that mating attempts can involve, why do these behaviors persist? One hypothesis, hotly debated among biologists, suggests this represents an ancient evolutionary strategy that could ultimately enhance an organism’s chances to reproduce. In results published recently in Nature Ecology & Evolution, Brian Lerch and Maria R. Servedio, from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, offer theoretical support for this proposed explanation. They created a mathematical model that calculated scenarios in which mating attempts, regardless of partner sex, might be worth it. The results predicted that, depending on life span and mating chances, indiscriminate mating with any available candidates could in fact yield a better reproductive payoff than spending precious time and energy sorting out one sex from the other. Although this study does not address sexual orientation or attraction, both of which are common among vertebrate species, it does get at some persistent evolutionary questions: when did animals start distinguishing mates by sex, based on specific cues, and why do some animals apparently remain indiscriminate in their choices? © 2020 Scientific American

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 27603 - Posted: 12.05.2020

By Sabrina Imbler In the spring of 2018 at the Montreal Insectarium, Stéphane Le Tirant received a clutch of 13 eggs that he hoped would hatch into leaves. The eggs were not ovals but prisms, brown paper lanterns scarcely bigger than chia seeds. They were laid by a wild-caught female Phyllium asekiense, a leaf insect from Papua New Guinea belonging to a group called frondosum, which was known only from female specimens. Phyllium asekiense is a stunning leaf insect, occurring both in summery greens and autumnal browns. As Royce Cumming, a graduate student at the City University of New York, puts it, “Dead leaf, live leaf, semi-dried leaf.” Mr. Le Tirant, the collections manager of the insectarium since 1989, specializes in scarab beetles; he estimates that he has 25,000 beetles in his private collection at home. But he had always harbored a passion for leaf insects and had successfully bred two species, a small one from the Philippines and a larger one from Malaysia. A Phyllium asekiense — rare, beautiful and, most important, living — would be a treasure in any insectarium. In the insect-rearing laboratory, Mario Bonneau and other technicians nestled the 13 eggs on a mesh screen on a bed of coconut fibers and spritzed them often with water. In the fall, and over the course of several months, five eggs hatched into spindly black nymphs. The technicians treated the baby nymphs with utmost care, moving them from one tree to another without touching the insects, only whatever leaf they clung to. “Other insects, we just grab them,” Mr. Le Tirant said. “But these small leaf insects were so precious, like jewels in our laboratory.” The technicians offered the nymphs a buffet of fragrant guava, bramble and salal leaves. Two nymphs refused to eat and soon died. The remaining three munched on bramble, molted, munched, molted, and molted some more. One nymph grew green and broad, just like her mother. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 27601 - Posted: 12.05.2020

By Jake Buehler Naked mole-rats — with their subterranean societies made up of a single breeding pair and an army of workers — seem like mammals trying their hardest to live like insects. Nearly 300 of the bald, bucktoothed, nearly blind rodents can scoot along a colony’s labyrinth of tunnels. New research suggests there’s brute power in those numbers: Like ants or termites, the mole-rats go to battle with rival colonies to conquer their lands. Wild naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber) will invade nearby colonies to expand their territory, sometimes abducting pups to incorporate them into their own ranks, researchers report September 28 in the Journal of Zoology. This behavior may put smaller, less cohesive colonies at a disadvantage, potentially supporting the evolution of bigger colonies. Researchers stumbled across this phenomenon by accident while monitoring naked mole-rat colonies in Kenya’s Meru National Park. The team was studying the social structure of this extreme form of group living among mammals (SN: 6/20/06). Over more than a decade, the team trapped and marked thousands of mole-rats from dozens of colonies by either implanting small radio-frequency transponder chips under their skin, or clipping their toes. One day in 1994, while marking mole-rats in a new colony, researchers were surprised to find in its tunnels mole-rats from a neighboring colony that had already been marked. The queen in the new colony had wounds on her face from the ravages of battle. It looked like a war was playing out down in the soil. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Keyword: Evolution; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27538 - Posted: 10.21.2020

Moles have a pretty tough life. They live underground, in the dark, burrowing through heavy dirt. And when faced with an enemy, there's nowhere to turn — they have to fight. In most mammals, females tend to be at a disadvantage when it comes to face-to-face combat, because they tend to be smaller and less aggressive than males. But female moles have evolved a secret weapon: a hybrid organ made up of both ovarian and testicular tissue. This effectively makes them intersex, giving them an extra dose of testosterone to make them just as muscular and aggressive as male moles. "As a consequence, basically the whole body of the female, they get masculinized," geneticist Darío Lupiáñez told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald. "They become the body builders of nature." Lupiáñez co-led a study to understand how the moles' genes facilitated this advantage, which was recently published in the journal Science. The research was part of a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association in Germany. Same genes, different instructions The team worked with Iberian moles, commonly found in Spain and Portugal, however this intersex adaptation has been documented in at least six mole species. "We know that intersexuality happens in species like humans, dogs or cats. But the difference actually in moles, it happens all the time, so all the females are intersexual. And this is really something unique among mammals," said Lupiáñez. To understand how moles evolved these intersexual traits, researchers fully mapped the genome of the Iberian mole, commonly found in Spain and Portugal. (David Carmona, Department of Genetics, University of Granada, Spain ) ©2020 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 27530 - Posted: 10.19.2020