Friday, May 15, 2015

First-Century Silk Scams, Popcorn, Elephants, and Other Answers with More Questions

Things I have learned and things I still need to find out:

1) I have learned that Chicago Style Popcorn is mixed Caramel and Cheese Popcorn

I still need to know what makes this Chicago style popcorn, not just "yummy, mixed flavor" popcorn.

2) I have learned that trees share nutrients through the fungal web, even with trees of different species. Douglass firs and paper birch, for an example, have a seasonal relationship: Paper birch trees send nutrients to Douglass fir trees when the latter are shaded by other trees; in the fall and spring, when the birch have no leaves, the Douglas firs send nutrients their way. It's very tidy.

I still need to know how many other trees do this? How much is the fungus deciding and how much the tree? Or can we even say "This is the tree, and that is the fungus"?

3) I have learned that the Syrians spent years in the first century unweaving heavy Chinese silk and reweaving it into something lighter. The Parthians then took it back to China claiming that the Romans just had better silkworms (See Justinian's Flea)

I still need to know how long this went on, how many people were in on the scam, and what the Chinese did or thought when they found out.

4) I have learned that all comic books should have T-Rexes

I still need to know why they don't.

4) That some farmers in Kenya are using bees to protect them from elephants, and have been for a while. It seems that in 2002 someone noticed that elephants don't bother acacia trees with hives in them. In 2011, this was taken to the logical conclusion: The hives are placed on a fence around the crops, and when the elephants bump the fence, the bees get mad. Elephants do not like being stung and usually steer clear. As a bonus, the farmers are harvesting the honey.

Apparently, the elephants don't always even need to bump the fence since they know what bees smell and sound like.From the 2002 acacia observations:

Elephants may even avoid the sound of bees. One old bull that had been badly stung several years earlier turned tail at a tape recording of a buzzing hive, the researchers point out. The control treatment - a Bach violin concerto - left elephants unmoved.

I still need to know how the farmers get in and out of the field without getting stung, how widespread it is (there is a Facebook page that may help with that), and what elephants really think of Bach.

5) Yes, that adoring doggy gaze is adoring, and dogs actually respond positively to holding the gaze of a known human.

I still need to know how this relates to all that advice about not looking directly at a dog because it signals an attempt at dominance. Is this only true with strange dogs? Or was it never true at all?

6) That bees may actually like some of the new neonicotinoids pesticides (IMD & TMX). In the lab, when given a choice between sugar water and sugar water with just a teeny bit of pesticide--the equivalent of what would be in nectar--they actually sought out the pesticide-laced stuff. This is not good, as they are still damaged by it. The researchers who did the experiment were extremely careful not to say that the bees were addicted to the pesticides, and to say that there needed to be further study, but if the bees do find the pesticide tasty, that's...not good, to put it mildly.

I still need to know: Are they addicted? Also, what are IMD & TMX compared to everything else?

7) That spiders sprayed with graphene produce silk that is 6x stronger than regular silk.

I still need to know: Why would anyone spray a spider with graphene? What were the researchers doing, sitting around and spraying spiders with whatever they had on hand? Hairspray? Paint?

It's nifty in a way because it does raise the possibility of making other "bionic materials" and it leads to more questions about how spiders spin their webs anyway (Why did the graphene end up strengthening the web?). It's hard on the spiders, though. Four of the five died shortly thereafter.

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