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Neil Losin
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
UCLA
Los Angeles CA USA

Neil Losin is a biologist, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, CA. In his "day job," he's working on his Ph.D. in UCLA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, studying the evolution of territorial behavior in lizards. When he's not doing science, he takes photographs of nature (especially wildlife) and documents the work of scientists who study nature.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Recent Comments
Comment by vernon getzler in You look scrumptious tonight

Well, it’s amazing. The miracle has been done. Hat’s off. Well done, as we know that “hard work always pays off”, after a long struggle with sincere effort it’s done. ========== Read More
Apr 21, 2011, 6:34am
Comment by Marcia Neil in You look scrumptious tonight

Many species will bite each other if pushed together; among people the action can be also to shoot/stab each other with weapons/tools  --  perhaps calculated results among specific populations of. . .Read More
Apr 20, 2011, 11:05am
Comment by Neil Losin in You look scrumptious tonight

Jade: I think it's all about potential reproductive value of the females. Bigger females produce more eggs than smaller ones, so they are "better" from the male's perspective. So are virgins, becau. . .Read More
Apr 20, 2011, 12:08am
Comment by Psycasm in You look scrumptious tonight

Note: I'm not sure 'gestation' is appropriate for egg-layers... forgive my ignorance if this is the case . . .Read More
Apr 19, 2011, 12:28am
Comment by Psycasm in You look scrumptious tonight

Woah... I will never look at a redback the same way again. What a great reproductive strategy. How long is gestation in the redback? and how frequently does a female redback need to eat? Does the c. . .Read More
Apr 19, 2011, 12:26am
Views: 1685 | Comments: 9
Last by vernon getzler on Apr 21, 2011, 6:34am
If you’re on a first date and it’s not going so well, what’s your exit strategy? Do you have a friend ready to call you at a predetermined time so you can give a plausible excuse? (“Heeyyy, so I’m having a really great time but my buddy Nate just called and he accidentally flushed his pants down the toilet at a gas station, so um, yeah, I gotta go help him out.”) Or do you just hit the fire alarm and run for it?

One strategy you probably haven’t considered is eating your date. For whatever reason, our society just isn’t into that. But sexual cannibalism is common in a wide variety of invertebrate species, and biologists have plenty of hypotheses to explain this odd behavior.



Closeup of a female redbacked spider (Latrodectus hasselti).
Usually, it’s females that eat males. In one remarkable spider species, the Australian redbacked spider (Latrodectus hasselti), up to 65% of males get eaten by their sexual partners. Remarkably, males even seem to offer themselves to females during mating, performing a sort of “somersault” into the female’s jaws and thereby facilitating their own demise (see a video here – the male’s “somersault” begins around 0:20). This might appears to be a poor evolutionary strategy – after all, once you’ve been eaten, your mating days are over. But biologist Maydianne Andrade has shown that this behavior actually makes sense in a macabre sort of way.

. . . More
Views: 1246 | Comments: 4
Last by Suzy on Apr 07, 2011, 8:59pm
Remember the Gouldian Finch? I wrote about it a few months ago. Sarah Pryke, a behavioral ecologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia has conducted some amazing research showing that female Gouldian Finches can control the sex ratio of their broods.

Now, there’s no denying that Gouldian finches are weird; males and females come in three head-color morphs, and this “sex ratio manipulation” comes into play only when a female is paired with a male bearing a different head color than her own – a situation in which the average fitness of male and female "mixed-morph" offspring differs dramatically. So, given all the peculiarities of the Gouldian Finch, is the manipulation of offspring sex ratio widespread among more “normal” birds?

A Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) on its wintering grounds in Southern California A good strategy to address this question is to look for other situations in which the expected fitness of male and female offspring differ. Lincoln’s Sparrows, s . . . More
Views: 529 | Comments: 0
At some point in your life, you’ve probably missed out on something great because your timing was off. Maybe you waited too long to ask a cute friend on a date, and she ended up going out with some d-bag instead of you. Maybe you bought a Version 1 iPad last week, just days before they announced the new, clearly-superior-in-every-way edition. Regardless of the specifics, at some point each of us has learned the hard way that timing is critical. Good timing is crucial in nature too, and recent research on birds gives us a vivid illustration why.



You’d be yawning, too, if you completed a migration like that of the Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres). Scientists satellite-tracked one bird on a 27,000km round-trip migration around the Pacific – a flight that included three non-stop flights of 7600km, 6200km, and 5000km!It’s hard to imagine a group of animals for whom timing is more critical than migratory birds. If they arrive too early on the breeding grounds, they might encounter frigid temperatures and inadequate food. If they arrive too late, and all the best territories might already be occupied. Migration itself is such a costly activity that birds can . . . More
Views: 778 | Comments: 7
Last by Dr. Girlfriend on Feb 26, 2011, 7:16am
Albert Einstein will be remembered for many contributions before this one, but this quote has been resonating with me recently:

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

Einstein was probably being more self-deprecating than necessary – he knew what he was doing to a greater extent than most scientists of his era, and likely of any era. Perhaps he was just making a joke. Honestly, I haven’t been able to find out much about the origin of this quote – if anyone has more insight, do let me know.

In the absence of additional context, however, I’m going to take Einstein’s words at face value. The obvious interpretation is: we do science because we’re not sure. This is an important thing for science communicators to remember. Scientists may have predictions about how an experiment will turn out, and we think about how various outcomes will support or cast doubt on the hypotheses we’re testing. But we never know for sure what’s going to happen – that’s why we do the experiment!

This uncertainty is part of what makes science exciting, and the thrill of discovery is not an experience that goes unappreciated outside of academia. The best science media give viewers or readers an oppo . . . More
Views: 3969 | Comments: 5
Last by Suzy on Feb 01, 2011, 6:25pm
Earlier this month at ScienceOnline2011 (a professional meeting of science bloggers and others using the web to communicate about science), Brian Malow – aka. the Science Comedian – gave a wonderful impromptu performance. On the topic of viruses, Brian described a viral infection as “Your cells: Under new management.” It’s a clever but quite apt description – viruses co-opt the genetic machinery of host cells, forcing those cells to produce the DNA, RNA, and proteins required to make more viruses.

But viruses just manipulate single cells. Some parasites play puppet-master with their entire multicellular host, bending its behavior to suit their needs. Consider the parasitoid wasp Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga. Many wasp species lay their eggs on spiders, the wasp larva slowly consuming (and ultimately killing) its host as it develops – gruesome, yes, but not particularly inventive. This is exactly how a larval H. argyraphaga begins its life, feeding on the hemolymph (essentially, the “blood”) of its host spider. And for a couple of weeks, the spider continues to go about its business quite normally.

But then something changes, and the spider begins to spin a web unlike anything it has ever built before; this custom-built structure will support the para . . . More
Views: 1233 | Comments: 3
Last by Neil Losin on Jan 25, 2011, 3:24pm
Birds have some awesomely descriptive names. Like the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), a North American woodpecker that specializes in drilling “sap wells” in trees to feed on their sugary phloem sap. Or the Brown Trembler (Cinclocerthia ruficauda), a Caribbean relative of the mockingbird that shakes its wings violently to communicate with other members of its species. But when it comes to quirky but descriptive names, the African oxpeckers are hard to beat.

A Yellow-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus africanus) foraging on the back of a large mammal. Photo by Steve Garvie.

You may not realize it, but you’ve probably seen oxpeckers in nature documentaries: small brown birds with festive red-and-yellow bills, traveling about the African savannah perched on the backs of large grazing mammals. As their name suggests, oxpeckers peck the animals on which they perch, harvesting ticks and other ectoparasites from the skin of their hoofed hosts. Their relationship is a classic example of a mutualism: an interaction in which each species benefits from the presence of the other. The hosts get rid of pesky ticks, while the oxpeckers get a pr . . . More
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