Quirks & Quarks

Sep 24: The Milky Way tells its story, raccoon criminal masterminds, back to the water and more...

A medieval hate crime and a city's summer smells.

A medieval hate crime and a city's summer smells.

A recent study found that the most docile, calm raccoons are best at adapting to new urban environments. (Shutterstock)

On this week's Quirks & Quarks with host Bob McDonald:

A new book lets the Milky Way speak for itself - and it's kind of a jerk

Astrophysicist Moiya McTier's new astronomy book is a little different. It's written in the voice of our galaxy, which brags about its hundreds of billions of stars, gossips about its galactic neighbours, and spills secrets about its supermassive black holes. The Milky Way: An Autobiography of our Galaxy is an informative tour of our home galaxy, with a twist: turns out our galaxy doesn't think much of the insignificant humans infesting it.

Moiya McTier is an astrophysicist, folklorist, and science communicator based in New York City, and the author of The Milky Way: An Autobiography of our Galaxy. (Mindy Tucker)

Watch out for the quiet ones – The smartest raccoons are the most docile

A study investigating animal personalities and how they help critters adapt to human environments has come to a curious conclusion. The smartest, most adaptable raccoons researchers followed tended to be docile, patient and shy. Sarah Benson-Amram, an assistant professor of Zoology and Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia, was part of the team that studied the notorious trash bandits' personality and how it related to their ability to solve puzzles. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

A wild raccoon receives a handful of dog treats after pressing the currect button in an outdoor research cubicle. Researchers studied wild raccoons living in Laramie, Wyoming for two years by observing how well they learned to press the correct button to receive treats. (Lauren Stanton)

375 million years ago an animal crawled out of the water - then noped right back in

The first vertebrate animal emerged from the water and began adapting to live on land about 375 million years ago. But a new study of a fossil from around that time provides evidence that one early lineage of terrestrial animals decided quite quickly to return to the water. Neil Shubin, an evolutionary biologist from The University of Chicago led the study, which appeared in Nature.

Illustration of Qikiqtania wakei, an animal that emerged onto land, then returned to the water (Alex Boersma)

Seventeen bodies found in a medieval well were likely from a 12th century hate crime

New advances in DNA analysis have allowed scientists to identify the remains of 17 people whose bodies were dumped in a well around 1190 in Norwich, England. In the study, published in the journal Nature, researchers were able to confirm the victims as Ashkenazi Jews likely murdered during an outburst of antisemitic violence. As well, geneticist Ian Barnes from the UK's Natural History Museum was able to map the genomes of six of the bodies, and found that four were closely related, including three sisters. 

Two faces, one adult male and one young boy.
Based on the skeletal remains found in the well, scientists were able to reconstruct the face of a male adult (left) and a child (right). (Professor Caroline Wilkinson, Liverpool John Moores University)

The science of a city's summer smells

Davi de Ferreyro Monticelli, a PhD student in Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric sciences at UBC drove around in the heat of Vancouver this summer in the name of science. He spent much of July and August driving a mobile lab around the city as part of the university's 'Smell Vancouver' program. The air pollution lab on wheels called PLUME (Portable Laboratory for Understanding Human Made Emissions) sniffed for Vancouver's poor air quality and bad smells.

Quirks listener question -  Food caching

A listener asks: "Mammals and birds stash their food for later consumption. Is the food placement random, or is there some method of planning?"

For the answer we hear from Ryan Norris, a wildlife ecology professor at The University of Guelph.

Red squirrels hang mushrooms above the ground in order to dry them before they are stored for later (Juris Graney / CBC)


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