Left or right preference in birds

Handedness is an individual’s preference for the use of a hand, and can also be described as being left-handed or right-handed. We all know that some people are right handed, and some are left handed, while others are blessed with ambidexterity, but did you know that individual birds also favor a particular side? Scientists at The University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institution (QBI) and the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence in Vision Science have worked together and discovered that budgerigars (also known as common pet parakeet or shell parakeet) display an individual bias to fly to the left or right.

Picture of a budgerigar. Source: Wikipedia

The researchers flew the budgerigars down a tunnel that has an obstacle in the middle of it. The budgerigars then had to pick between two paths to fly through. Sometimes, the paths are the same in size, other times one is bigger. Some birds showed no preference and flied through the larger path every time, while others had a bias towards one side and flied in that path even if it was narrower and more difficult to fly through. Scientist speculate that this allowed groups of birds travelling together to navigate past obstacles by splitting up in different directions and not slowing down to crowding.

What’s really remarkable though, is that birds can display a preference for one direction in one task, and another direction for a different task, such as which side they land on a perch or which feet they use to land. This showed that an animal’s thought could be more complex than we initially believed. However, researchers said more investigation must be done in order to observe the behavior of the birds in groups and examine if their different side preference when flying stayed the same.

-Jean

The Golden Ratio

The golden ratio is a special number that is approximately equal to 1.618 and is symbolized by the Greek letter Phi.  It  has fascinated scientists for years and is found hidden almost everywhere on earth. The ratio was actually derived from the Fibonacci sequence, which looks something like this: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 and so on. Each number is just the sum of the two numbers before it, and it looks quite simple. However when examined in depth, mathematicians and scientists realized it seems to be hiding a secret to the universe.

The Fibonacci sequence is named after Leonardo Fibonacci who actually came up with the sequence when calculating the mating sequence of rabbits over the course of one year. The sequence itself doesn’t look special at all, but when you take each number in the series and divide it by the previous number, the ratios began to  approach 1.618 as the numbers get bigger. That number is now known as “The Golden Mean”.

An example of where the golden ratio is found on earth is in the Pyramids. If the base of the pyramid is considered to be 1 unit, then its sides are calculated to be 1.618 units and the height is the square root of 1.618 units tall. The golden ratio is also frequently found in nature, particularly in flowers and trees. For example, the number of petals in a flower follows the Fibonacci sequence: Lily has 3 petals, buttercups have 5 petals, and chicory has 21 petals. All of the number of petals in different flowers are all just numbers found in the Fibonacci sequence. Each petal is placed at 0.618 per turn to allow for the maximum exposure to sunlight. In addition to that,  the number of seeds in a sunflower is arranged in a spiral shape and when the spirals are counted, the total also matched a Fibonacci number.

Spirals found in sunflowers

Similar patterns are found in  fruits and vegetables such as pineapple and cauliflower. Shells, spiral galaxies and hurricanes also seemed to contain the golden ratio when  put into a “golden rectangle”. A golden rectangle is a rectangle whose side lengths are in the golden ratio.

Golden ratio found in space
Source: http://io9.com/5985588/15-uncanny-examples-of-the-golden-ratio-in-nature

Last but not least, the golden ratio is found also in the human face.  People whose face proportionality approached 1.618 are deemed more attractive- although every person’s body is different, the average across different populations still tend towards the golden ratio.

Posted by Jean Wang

Do you have Trypophobia?

Trypophobia is an irrational fear of holes. Many people have never heard of the word trypophobia, but a simple search online will tell you that it is actually quite a common fear. We are surrounded by holes in our daily lives, such as the pores on our skin or the holes on clothes, but no one really has a fear of those. Trypophobia does not mean the fear of any hole, but refers specifically to a cluster of holes. Many things found in nature such as honeycombs, and lotus seed pods may strike a feeling of disgust in some people.

A sea creature full of holes

However, there has been debates going on about if trypophobia is a real phobia. A study was done by two researchers who monitored the brain activities of patients using an image scan and found extreme brain activities whenever the participants saw an object with a cluster of holes. Many scientists still disregard trypophobia as an actual phobia because they believe people just feel discomfort based on what they see, and are not experiencing actual fear. A phobia by definition is an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. Meanwhile, other scientists believe that people are just influenced by others who have some discomfort when seeing clusters of holes and end up believing they as well have trypophobia

Although scientists are not quite sure about the cause of trypophobia, they have hypothesized that it may have an evolutionary basis. They compared pictures of clusters of holes and found that it resembled spots  found on poisonous animals.   However, trypophobia is still not very well known, so more research must be done in order to come to a conclusion.  Currently, it is not considered to be an official phobia by many Psychological associations and is not written in books regarding mental disorders.

-Jean Wang

Lotus Seeds