Tag Archives: brain

Shelley Adamo: Consider the Invertebrate

Shelley Adamo was recently asked to testify before the Canadian senate as to whether or not lobsters felt pain (Image Credit: Marco Verch, CC BY 2.0)

Dr. Shelley Adamo is a full professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. An internationally recognized expert in the field of ecoimmunology and comparative psychoneuroimmunology, Dr. Adamo has an enormous amount of scientific experience in both the lab and field. In addition to her stellar career in academia, she has also brought her expertise and knowledge to the public, as she was recently asked to testify before a Canadian senate committee to discuss whether or not insects feel pain.

During Shelley’s recent visit to my university, I took the opportunity to sit down and talk to her about appearing before the senate, the concept of pain in invertebrates, and the plight of the insect world in general.

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Seeing Ourselves in Animals: The Pitfalls of Anthropomorphism

The thought of an orca playing with its food – a cute seal – can be a grim one. But is it useful to project our ideas of morality and emotion onto other species? (Image Credit: Christopher Michel, CC BY 2.0)

Guest post by Mary Shuttleworth

Scene: A lone seal on a piece of ice, surrounded by an expanse of deep and frosted blue. The scene would be romantic, except the water is rippling. Every now and then dark fins with streaks of white emerge, jostling the ice. It is an orca, and it is in training. Members of its family, or pod, are nearby, watching it as it practices how to take down its prey. The seal is in distress, stress resonating throughout its body. If they have noticed, the orcas take no notice. They are learning how to hunt. More than that, it appears that they could even be playing.

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It’s All in Your Mind

Rodents and primates are periodically cited as some of the more intelligent animals on the planet, but it turns out that the large brains that these mammals possess have evolved more than once in their history. (Image Credit: Arjan Haverkamp CC BY-SA 4.0 

Encephalization and longevity evolved in acorrelated fashion in Euarchontoglires but not in other mammals (2018) DeCasien, Alex R., Evolution, DOI: doi:10.1111/evo.13633

The Crux

Some of the most striking footage from documentaries like the recent “Blue Planet II” involve organisms that display remarkable intelligence (the octopus that uses shells to disguise itself and hide from its shark predators was a particular favorite of mine). As humans, we sometimes assume that we have the best brains on the planet and have somewhat of a monopoly on intelligence, so it’s always fascinating and maybe even surprising to see other animals using their own brains to solve problems. In mammals, brains that are larger than expected have evolved more than once, which is somewhat of a surprise given how costly a big brain is. For example, your brain needs 20% of the oxygen that your body uses, so one out of every five breaths is exclusively for your brain.

Larger brains are also correlated with longer lives, relative to the group that the organism in question belongs to. Historically, studies on brain size and longevity have been dominated by primate species, so the concern was that this long life/large brain trend may only be a primate trend, instead of generalizable to all mammals. The authors of this study wanted to analyze this trend across more mammal groups, in addition to studying the relationship between larger brains and longer lives.

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Taken For a Ride

This parasitic fungus takes over the brain and then ejects its spores out of the ant's head

This parasitic fungus takes over the brain and then ejects its spores out of the ant’s head (Image Credit: Penn State, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Mind Control: How Parasites Manipulate Cognitive Functions in Their Insect Hosts (2018) Libersat et al., Frontiers in Psychology, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00572

The Crux

The field of neuro-parasitology is a relatively new field in biology and deals with the study of parasites that manipulate the nervous system of their hosts for their own gain (usually at the expense of the host). The authors of this review focused on host-parasite interactions between insect hosts and their myriad of parasites, due not only to most studies in this field being done with insects, but also the fact that most animals on the planet are in fact insects.

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