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Social studies

Fish can be naive, too Add to ...

Protected fish, easier prey

“Fish that grow up in protected reserves are more naive than ones in regularly fished areas and are easier to catch, since they don’t turn tail at the first sight of humans,” says Our Amazing Planet. “But new research reveals that this naiveté persists a short distance outside reserves, as well. This ‘naiveté radius’ presents an unexpected windfall for fishermen lurking on the border of these protected areas, and presents a reason why reserves should be supported, according to a statement from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, which conducted the study.”

Wrens can use passwords

“Some species of cuckoo are known as brood parasites for their devious tactic of laying their eggs in other species’ nests so those birds can care for the cuckoos’ young,” writes Sindya Bhanoo of The New York Times. “Now scientists have discovered that an Australian bird called the fairywren has evolved a way around this tactic: The mothers teach their unborn chicks a unique begging call – a sort of password.” The cuckoo chick tries out many begging calls until it sounds similar to the fairywren but, because it has hatched several days before the young wrens, it has had little time to practice and perfect the password-like call of the fairywren mother.

When our ancestors ate grass

“Our ancestors began eating grass half a million years earlier than thought, soon after they started leaving the trees,” says the New Scientist. “Early hominins, living three million to 3.5 million years ago, got over half their nutrition from grasses, unlike their predecessors, who preferred fruit and insects. This is the earliest evidence of eating savannah plants, says Julia Lee-Thorp at the University of Oxford. She found high levels of carbon-13 in the bones of Australopithecus bahrelghazali, which lived on savannahs near Lake Chad in Africa. This is typical of animals that eat a lot of grasses and sedges. … A. bahrelghazali may have eaten roots and tubers, rather than tough grass blades. Adding these to their diet may have helped them leave their ancestral home in east Africa for Lake Chad.”

Courtroom theatrics

“The woman who faked a mental illness to get out of jury duty, then bragged about the ruse on radio, has received her sentence,” reports The Denver Post. “Susan Cole, 58, pleaded guilty on Tuesday. … On June 28, 2011, Cole, a published author and Denver cosmetologist, sold her act by having heavy makeup smeared on her face while her hair hung askew in curlers, with shoes and reindeer socks mismatched. Denver District Court Judge Anne Mansfield … quickly dismissed Cole, who explained in disjointed speech, ‘I broke out of domestic violence in the military. And I have a lot of repercussions. One is post-traumatic stress disorder.’ Months later, Cole bragged on a radio program about how she avoided jury duty. Turns out Judge Mansfield was listening.”

The face is familiar

“You might want to think twice about how often you hang out at your local Best Buy in the future,” writes Andrew Liszewski for Gizmodo.com. “In Japan, NEC has developed a new facial recognition system geared toward retailers that determines the age and gender of shoppers and tracks how long and how often they visit a given store. The collected data can be used by a retailer to analyze trends in who exactly is visiting its stores, and what they can do to encourage repeat visits. And because the database of shoppers is stored in the cloud, it can’t be fooled by simply visiting another location on the other side of town.”

Thought du jour

“It is not enough to do good; one must do it in a good way.”

Marquis de Condorcet, French philosopher (1743-94)

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