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facts & arguments

Ants switch jobs

"Ants change careers as they age," says The New York Times, "transitioning from caretakers to cleaners and then foragers, according to a new study that tracked more than 1,000 ants for 41 days." Swiss researchers put bar codes on the ants by hand and used a high-resolution infrared camera to take an image every two seconds, as the ants were kept in the dark. They discovered that young ants are primarily nurses. They stay close to the nest's interior and ensure that ant larvae and pupae have sufficient food. Middle-aged ants continuously patrol the colony to verify that [it is clean and] in working order. … The most dangerous job is foraging, since it requires leaving the nest and encountering the outside world. That's a job for the oldest ants in the colony.

Fish use sign language

"Two types of fish have been shown to use gestures, or sign language, to help one another hunt," reports Live Science. "This is the first time these types of gestures have been found to occur in animals other than primates and ravens. Both types of fish, grouper and coral trout, are known for hunting co-operatively with other kinds of animals. Whereas the grouper hunts with giant moray eels and a fish called the Napoleon wrasse, coral trout partner up with octopuses to snag prey." The researchers found that when a prey fish escaped its hunting party, a grouper occasionally moved over the place where the fugitive prey was hiding. The grouper would then rotate its body so that its head faced downward, and it would shake its head back and forth in the direction of the potential meal.

Tracking shoppers' eyeballs

An advertising system which is able to track your eye movements while you shop has been created by researchers based at Lancaster University in Britain. "The Sideways project uses software to locate faces and eye movements of shoppers captured on camera," BBC News reports. "It could allow for video screens to change adverts depending on what you look at in a shop." The team hopes the technology will be used in stores within five years.

Pigs running hog wild

"This may seem like a ludicrous pitch for a doomsday blockbuster … but the fact is, wild pigs have overrun the planet," says "To wit: Pig populations are nearing a million in the state of Florida, encroaching on urban areas and destroying an F-16 fighter plane in Jacksonville. Feral pigs are running (hog) wild in the streets of Berlin, with dedicated pig squads waging a losing battle to overtake them. They've become a fixture on the West Bank, after Israeli settlers, some say, released boars to destroy Palestinian croplands. There are even thousands of radioactive wild pigs wandering in Europe, thanks to the tainted feeding grounds near Chernobyl." The explosion of wild pigs is destroying natural ecosystems, spreading disease and causing a billion dollars in agricultural damage.

The allure of stubble

"Men may now think twice about reaching for a razor," says The Washington Post. "A new study shows that facial hair says a lot about a man, and that attractiveness peaks at the 'heavy stubble' phase. Researchers photographed 10 men at four stages of beard growth: clean-shaven, five-day 'light' stubble, 10-day 'heavy' stubble and fully bearded. Then, 351 women and 177 heterosexual men viewed the photos and rated each face for attractiveness, masculinity, health and parenting ability. Women ranked heavily stubbled faces as the most attractive."

Thought du jour

"Only through imitation do we develop toward originality."

John Steinbeck, American author (1902-68)

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