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Scientists Discover Octlantis, An Octopus City off the Coast of Australia
There’s a special reason these generally solo cephalopods have decided to cohabitate.
If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting an octopus’s garden like the Beatles song portrays, you might get your chance—if you visit Australia. Common Sydney Octopuses, also known as gloomy octopuses (Octopus tetricus) were recently found cohabiting in Eastern Australia’s Jervis Bay, at a depth of 10-15m (30-45 ft.).
This particular species can be found roaming the subtropical waters between New Zealand and Australia. It was first thought that they were solitary creatures who only met once a year to mate. Instead, over the course of eight days, researchers found 10-15 of them inhabiting the same space.
The “city” was comprised of a series of dens made out of shells leftover from mealtimes, along with beer bottles and fishing lures. This shell city was founded upon some type of metal slab. It’s too old and encrusted for researchers to tell what it is.
Within and around it, the octopuses interacted, signaling to one another, protecting mates, making art out of leftover shells, starting fights, tossing out roommates, and ignoring undesirable cohorts until they went away. Sounds more like a college dorm than a city. At any rate, the results of this fascinating find were published in the journal, Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology. American and Australian researchers conducted it. Much like the cantankerous New Yorker, the gloomy octopus might be irritable due to the cramped conditions found in its murky metropolis.
These creatures are known to be temperamental already, and they're thought to crave solitude. Mother octopuses after mating and tending to her eggs, will take off once they’ve hatched, leaving the hatchlings to fend for themselves, which is why the discovery of Octlantis is so surprising. Although, it's in fact the second “octopus city” to be discovered. The first was Octopolis in 2009, which is in close proximity to this one. That one’s 17m (approx. 55.8 ft.) deep.
A sketch of Octatlantis. Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology.
“These observations demonstrate that high-density occupation and complex social behaviors are not unique to the earlier described site,” researchers wrote. Discovering this second location has made them rethink their stance on octopus social behavior, particularly since generations of octopuses have been found at each site.
According to the report, finding two sites “suggest that social interactions are more wide spread among octopuses than previously recognized.” Studying these creatures isn’t easy. They're very smart and elusive. They can blend in very well with their environment and fit themselves in the snuggest of spaces. You need to have a lot of experience in order to hunt them.
What sticks out is, octopuses make piles of discarded shells—called midden piles. These can help you spot their lair. Otherwise, you could luck out and see one swimming, but it’s rare. They're vulnerable to predators in open water. Another stumbling block on the human side of things: the equipment needed to study them is expensive.
They’re hard to keep in captivity as well. Not only do they have specific environmental requirements, octopuses love to escape and they’re good at it. Put more than one in a tank together and they’ll fight and bicker constantly. The larger one usually wins. Even in these cities, they’re very aggressive with one another and evictions are commonplace. It’s like an extended, dysfunctional family where everyone has eight arms.
Octopuses are elusive and can squeeze themselves into small spaces. Flickr.
Studying such behavior can help us to better understand the octopus. Why is it that they’ve decided to live collectively? Some animals such as fish live together and travel in packs for protection from predators and to further commonly shared aims, like swimming faster while using less energy. Others do so to hunt more effectively. Or perhaps there’s a dearth of food in other places, forcing the octopuses to cohabitate.
Professor David Scheel of Alaska Pacific University led the study. He told Quartz, “These behaviors are the product of natural selection, and may be remarkably similar to vertebrate complex social behavior. This suggests that when the right conditions occur, evolution may produce very similar outcomes in diverse groups of organisms.”
Little actual data has surfaced thus far. Researchers found the city in the first few days of the study, dropped cameras down and started taking footage. Now, there’s a ton of it to go through. Most of what’s written in their report are impressions from among the daily recreational dives they took to the site, over the course of eight days.
Study co-author Peter Godfrey-Smith has put out an interesting book called, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. He said that dens give an octopus good protection against predators. In the case of Octlantis, the area northwest of the site has an exceptionally large scallop bed, a favorite food among these cunning cephalopods.
Besides doughboy scallops, there are plenty of razor clams and Tasmanian scallops to be had in the area as well. This rich bounty allows for the octopuses to tolerate one another, in order to enrich themselves. As the creatures devour mollusks, their midden piles build, which makes room for future occupants, who themselves consume shellfish, leading to an even further pile-up. Godfrey-Smith calls this process ecosystem engineering.
To see another wonder of our great oceans, click here:
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>