Let’s talk turtle sex

By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt

Hello there, little lady.

Hello there, little lady.

People are incredibly curious about how turtles have sex. This blog gets fairly good traffic based mainly on the search term “how do turtles have sex.” I wrote about turtle sex once, about two years ago. Based on the post’s popularity, I think it’s time for a follow-up.

So we already know how turtles have sex, but did you know:

1. Turtles gotta watch their backs.

Biologists have discovered that bottle-nosed dolphins seem to enjoy having sex with sea turtles. In her book, Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, Olivia Judson describes how dolphins do it:

“Males are frequently sighted copulating with turtles (they insert their penises into the soft tissues at the back of the victim’s shell), with sharks and even eels.”

Continue reading

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Review: “Wild Ones” shows a new side of our shrinking world

9781594204425H[1]I’ll miss the sharks. I’ll miss the sea turtles and the manatees. These are the species that have my heart—and that’s not fair.

In his 2013 book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, Jon Mooallen follows the efforts to save threatened and endangered species. The book was a well-researched page turner, and it made me think more about the importance of saving entire ecosystems, not just the photogenic species that use them. Continue reading

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Honeybee study holds clues for humans

European honeybees show their flash-dance side

European honeybees show their flash-dance side

I recently moved from small-town Illinois to big-city California, and now a new article has me wondering if this move could have changed my genes. In this article for Pacific Standard, science writer David Dobbs explains how bees, birds and even humans respond to their environment on a genetic level.

For example, when European honeybees are raised in a killer bee colony, they not only act more aggressive, but they begin to resemble killer bees on a genetic level. Their actual DNA code doesn’t change, but certain angry-bee genes switch on. Continue reading

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Two years, countless animal facts


This means I’m also saying goodbye to the Midwest.

I’m wrapping up my current job at the American Society of Animal Science. It has been a crazy couple of years, and I’ve learned so much.

For example, a sheep’s placenta is very similar to a human placenta. That’s why sheep make good models for human reproduction.

After attending a two-day conference on swine castration, I can also tell you WAY too much about pig scrota. Like – I could tell you that a compound produced in the testes of male pigs causes a foul odor and taste in pork.

These are the facts that stick with me. These are the facts that make my mom “SHUSH!” me when we’re chatting at Starbucks. Continue reading

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Squid sperm to the rescue

By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt


A dried squid. Magnificent.

I’m in research mode today. I was reading The Disappearing Spoon last week (it’s a fun book, I recommend it), and the author mentioned that Rosalind Franklin used squid sperm in her DNA studies. The author didn’t dwell on the reason for squid sperm. In fact, most texts skip over the detail.

But squid sperm ain’t a footnote! As a person obsessed with squid, I refuse to stand for that. We owe our knowledge of DNA to squid (and scientists, I suppose). So my question today is: Of all creatures, why did Franklin pick squid?

According to a 1951 paper by A.E. Mirsky and Hans Ris in the Journal of General Physiology, squid sperm is special because of its ratio of DNA to sperm. Continue reading

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Why did pregnant women need rabbits?

“The Rabbit Test” was also a movie in which Billy Crystal starred as a pregnant man. It was directed by Joan Rivers. Apparently it was hilarious

By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt

Here’s a confession: I’ve never used a typewriter. I’ve also never dialed on a rotary phone or played a eight-track tape. I was a deprived child of the 1990s.

One technology I don’t have a hipster-like nostalgia for? The rabbit test.

If this sounds familiar (to youngsters like me), it might be from the scene in season four of “Mad Men” when Roger asks the pregnant Joan, “Did you get the rabbit test?”

The “rabbit test,” also called the Aschheim-Zondek test, was a way of detecting pregnancy through the presence of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). The hormone hCG is sometimes called “the pregnancy hormone” because levels increase when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall. 

In the 1920s, scientists discovered that hCG was present in the urine of pregnant women. Continue reading

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From “Shark Lady” to shark soup

I pose as very scientifically inaccurate shark

By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt

Shark news update! While beachgoers in Florida worry about a shark attack off St. Augustine, shark behavior research goes strong.

First — A shameless plug.

I had to investigate when I ran into a reference to Dr. Eugenie Clark, aka “The Shark Lady.” Clark agreed to speak with me for an article for the Scientific American Blog Network, and SciAm ran the story today. Clark is a fascinating scientist, and I was glad to share her work in “How to Catch a Shark.”

Second — Experiments at the Bimini Biological Field Station in the Bahamas indicate that lemon sharks may learn new behaviors by watching other sharks. Continue reading

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