Friday Fun: This newly-discovered spider courts by playing peek-a-boo

Watch these spiders seductively waggle their fingers at each other in their search for love. Then go read this paper from the Hoy lab in which they perform the first neural recordings from a jumping spider!

Enjoy your blizzard, Northeasterners.

Unrelated to all that, 03/21 edition

Note: I now post these in my twitter feed first, so check it if you’re super bored!

Monarch butterflies are disappearing.  I can’t think of anything more important or more underreported.

Okay, we’re kind of biased.  Every good bayesian knows ‘not being biased’ often means you’re just not being explicit about your assumptions.  Economists get explicit.

Sharks: now in groups, more terrifying.  Sharks hunt in groups and can learn from each other, too.

I guess that will do the trick.  Pandas have trouble mating and sometimes need a bit of… guidance.

Things were always more fun in the olden days.  On Victorians getting monkeys drunk and hungover, for science.

At least there’s only 20.  Advice for if you want a faculty job, told with a straight face.

As a theorist, I only use fake data.  Apparently in Physics you sometime get given fake data to see what you do with it, going so far as to not tell you until you’re about to submit a paper; I think if this happened to me I’d cry.

Kawaii psychophysics.  Because cats can see optical illusions.

Emperor Tamarins, always the swankiest monkeys.  Some monkeys sit in mud to cool down and relax, only to realize they can no longer recognize any of their friends; vicious fights ensure.

Why you’ll become an alcoholic unless you get more sex

One very social behavior involves a man and a woman who love each other very much (hint: I’m talking about sex).  Flies who love each other very much obviously also mate, although you may not know that they undergo a courtship ritual first – not just any ol’ fly is getting to home plate.  That’s a behavior I’ll talk more about in a future post.  What I want to talk about here is instead what happens to that unlucky guy who, know matter how hard he tries, isn’t getting any.

A recent paper looked at this very question by taking a bunch of flies, and either having one group that either had a lot of sex or were rejected.  And can I say how awesome this sounds?  Listen to the protocol: one group of male flies experienced 1-hour sessions of sexual rejection three times a day for four days.  Another group experienced six-hour sessions of mating with multiple receptive virgin females for four days.  Let’s just say that you probably couldn’t do this kind of science in people.

The flies were then given the choice between food with alcohol and food without alcohol.  When the flies were sexually satisfied, they went without the alcohol; the flies were rejected needed that extra beer.  It turns out even virgin flies choose the alcohol – though they like it less than the rejected flies – which means that it is the lack of sex that mainly influences how much they need to drink.  If these same flies are allowed to mate?  Then they don’t need the alcohol anymore!

Desire, motivation and addiction in the brain are normally associated with the neural chemical dopamine.  But in this paper they looked at a neural peptide instead.  In humans, the neural peptide Y regulates alcohol consumption, as does all kinds of stress like PTSD and early maternal separation.  The equivalent peptide in fly is neural peptide F (NPF).  When they measured the amount of NPF in these flies, they found that it matched the desire for alcohol: the sexually rejected males had the lowest amount of NPF, the virgins had a little more, and the mated males had the most.  By decreasing the amount of NPF with siRNA or artificially activating it, they were able to control how much the flies wanted the alcohol.

So what is happening in the brain in response to sex?  Sex releases this neuropeptide – NPF in flies, NPY in humans – and the peptide is rewarding!  You love it (no surprise there)!  The peptide probably sets in motion changes in the larger reward system, modifying dopamine transmission over the course of many days.  This reveals the importance of investigating how we interact with our environment and fellow creatures in order to understand how our brain really works.


Shohat-Ophir, Kaun, Azanchi, Huberlein.  Sexual deprivation increases ethanol intake in Drosophila.  Science (335) 1351-1355.  DOI: 10.1126/science.1215932

See also the perspective.