Chris Hadfield: Down to Earth * Bee Extinction * Cuckoo Finch Tricks * How Do You Feel?

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What can you say about a man who's been a Top-Gun military test pilot, an astronaut and a social media phenomenon? Chris Hadfield joins us on the program today to discuss his new memoir and how he nearly went blind in space.  Plus, we'll hear about how the bees, as well as the dinosaurs, were victims of the last great extinction; we'll find out how the cuckoo finch outnumbers the eggs of the birds it victimizes; and we'll explore how we feel like we hear; rather than like we see

 

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Chris Hadfield: Down to Earth

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Chris Hadfield in the Quirks studio
How do you follow up on being the first Canadian to graduate top of the class at the US Test Pilot School, or the only Canadian to visit the Russian Mir Space Station, or the first Canadian to walk in space, or the first Canadian to command the International Space Station, or the first astronaut to share that experience of space and space travel with millions of people around the world, through videos, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media?  Well, if you're retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, you chronicle all those experiences in a new autobiography, called An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. And then you drop by the Quirks studio to talk about it.

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Bee Extinction

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A small carpenter bee, courtesy S. Rehan
The K-T extinction, 66 million years ago, completely wiped out non-avian dinosaurs, along with about 75 percent of all other terrestrial and marine species on Earth.  It had long been assumed that many bees also went extinct, mostly because of the loss of flowering plants.  But this had never been demonstrated until recently.  Now, new research by Canadian scientist Dr. Sandra Rehan, an Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of New Hampshire, has found a lack of diversity in DNA sequences of four 'tribes' of carpenter bee, during the same 10-million-year span in their ancestral history.  The fact that there wasn't any evolutionary change during a period that coincides with the K-T event, is consistent with a mass extinction.  The bees we have today are the ancestors of the estimated 10 percent that survived the mass extinction.

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Cuckoo Finch Tricks


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Cuckoo finch eggs (right), closely match prinia eggs (left).  courtesy C. Spottiswoode

The African cuckoo finch is a brood parasite: rather than take the trouble to raise its own chicks, a brood parasite lays an egg in the nest of another bird, in the hopes that this 'host' will be tricked into raising it for her.  But the host will often reject the egg she suspects is not hers.  Now new research by Dr. Martin Stevens, from the Centre for Ecology and Evolution at the University of Exeter in England, has found the cuckoo has added a slight twist in attempting to trick the host, in this case the tawny-flanked prinia.  The cuckoo lays more than one egg in the host's nest, so that the prinia is less likely to reject the cuckoo's eggs. This is because the cuckoo's often perfect egg mimicry makes it difficult for the prinia to distinguish the parasitic eggs from her own.  This becomes an even more successful tactic for the cuckoo when her eggs outnumber the host eggs. 


Related Links

  • Paper in Nature
  • University of Exeter release
  • BBC Nature news
  • Video of prinia rejecting eggs that don't match her own.

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How Do You Feel?


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The sense of touch is more complex than we might have thought.  Dr. Sliman Bemsmaia, a neuroscientist in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, has been exploring how we feel fine textures.  For coarse textures, our sensory nerves respond directly to the pressure that the bumps on the material produce.  For fine textures, it turns out, an entirely different system operates.  A different set of sensory receptors actually detects the characteristic vibration produced when we rub our skin over silk, cotton or other smooth surfaces. This suggests our sense of touch, for fine textures, is more analogous to hearing than any other sense.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0