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Big cockroach evolution

According to the evolutionary tree of Australian burrowing cockroaches, published in Systematic Entomology, our notorious big bugs might look like other species of cockroach, but they aren’t particularly closely related to them – a type of evolution called parallelism.

Burrowing cockroaches live in scrubland, preferring leaf litter, and they are actually pretty good mothers. While they resemble other cockroaches, they are genetically different.

“We tend to assume that organisms that look similar to one another do so because they descended from a common ancestor, but parallelism involves the acquisition of the same traits – such as body forms, behaviour, or diet – in distantly related organisms,” says Perry Beasley-Hall of the University of Adelaide, who was part of the study.

“These processes can occur because the organisms are being subjected to similar constraints in their environment. In the case of soil-burrowing cockroaches, ancient drying events in Australia are thought to have driven them underground to avoid the heat. 

“As a result, we now know the majority of species are unrelated to one another and have in fact independently evolved from wood-feeding cockroaches, temperate-dwelling species with relatives in Southeast Asia, at least seven separate times.” 

“This updated phylogeny confirms the scenario of parallelism for these insects and adds to a growing body of knowledge demonstrating that organisms that experience analogous environmental pressures, such as continent-wide climate change, can acquire strikingly similar forms independently of one another.” 

Gross. I love it.


An illustralion of a green farm with blue sky. There is a mother and baby sheep. The mother is being milked by a robot. There is a robot in the garden and a drone in the sky
This illustration shows the utopian farm robot scenario. Credit: Natalis Lorenz

An opinion piece by agricultural economist Thomas Daum, published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, explores two extreme futures of farmbots: utopian and dystopian.

He describes the utopia as a mosaic of rich, green fields and streams, where little robots fuelled by sustainable energy fly around and help.

“It’s like a Garden of Eden,” says Daum. “Small robots could help conserve biodiversity and combat climate change in ways that were not possible before.”

However, the dystopian version describes a scenario where huge robots bulldoze the land, which might be planted with only a few types of crops.

“The utopia and dystopia are both possible from a technological perspective,” says Daum. “But without the right guardrails on policy, we may end up in the dystopia without wanting to if we don’t discuss this now.”

Okay, this isn’t a research study, but it does have my favourite pictures from literature this week. Especially the sheep-milking bot.

A huge robot n a farm. It is the square in shape. It has big headlights and an arm with spray coming out of it. There are storm clouds in the sky
This illustration shows the dystopian farm robot scenario. Credit: Natalis Lorenz

Swim like the underdog

Americans and underdogs on your relay team, because they swim better, according to a study, published in PLOS One.

Aussie researchers, led by Paul Pao-Yen Wu of Queensland University of Technology, analysed race data from 716 relay finals in the 4x200m freestyle across 14 international competitions over 8 years. They found that people who swam the slowest in individual races – that is, the underdogs – showed the most improvement and fastest speeds during relays. They also found Americans were just always fast anyway.

They also found the true gold medal is the friends you make along the way, because swimmers in general tend to swim faster in relay events than going solo – Although that may have something to do with seeing their teammates and anticipating when to start swimming.

Up sports!


Friends become lovers

Forget tinder: if you want a partner, look to your circle of friends.

According to a study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, two-thirds of romantic couples started out as friends.

The spice girls holding signs that say "if you wanna be my lover you gotta already be my friend"
Credit: Know Your Meme and Cosmos.

The study found that people were often friends for a year or two before they began a romantic relationship, and that many did not have romantic feelings when they began the friendship.

There was little variation between gender, level of education and ethnic groups, but it was more common to happen among people in their 20s and/or within the LGBTQ+ community.

“Our research suggests that the lines between friendship and romance are blurry,” says lead author Danu Stinson of the University of Victoria, Canada. “I think that forces us to rethink our assumptions about what makes a good friendship and also what makes a good romantic relationship.”

Seed beetle phalluses are both good and bad for females

Male seed beetles (Callosobruchus maculatus) with genital structures that injure females may also have higher reproductive success… Ouch.

A new study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, details males that had misshapen members with larger spines. Females who reproduce with wobbly knob males had healthier offspring, despite the injuries incurred during the coupling.

The researchers also investigated what would happen if the spines were peeled off during mating, and found that reproductive success decreased.

“This helps us understand the evolutionary dance between males and females of all animal species, and the resulting differences between them – sexual dimorphism _ that we observe,” says Göran Arnqvist, Professor of Animal Ecology at Uppsala University, Sweden.

“It’s important to understand this evolutionary dance that we’re all caught up in. We can show that this intricate process is influenced and governed by several different processes at the same time.”

Two brown beetles on top of a white seed. One beetle is mounting the other
Mating in the seed beetle (Callosobruchus maculatus) causes damage to the females’ reproductive tract from the males’ spiny genital structures, but the spiniest males also have the healthiest offspring. Credit: Julian Baur
A microscope image of a beetle genetalia. Is has a bunch of spikes at the top and ridges underneath. It is about 2mm tall
In the seed beetle (Callosobruchus maculatus), the male has a spiny genital structure that enhances its reproductive success. Credit: Johanna Rönn

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