Unusual-ology: Male Spiders Self Sacrifice for Better Offspring.

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

The practice of monogyny is found throughout the insect kingdom, especially arachnids. One such arachnid is the make dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus). A recent study in Biology Letters has discovered that the male arachnid willingly sacrifices itself to the female to ensure that the resulting offspring is healthy; by providing itself as a meal for the female.

Video of the mating rituals and cannibalism from the experiment – Royal Society of Journals

Schwartz et al (2013) think that this practice of sexual cannibalism may provide an ‘evolutionary advantage’, because a better fed female is more likely to provide healthy descendants. But there are certain drawbacks to this practice; if a male dark fishing spider accidentally prematurely triggers one of their pedipalps, their two feeler-like appendages near the mouth where sperm is stored, they can die. Schwartz has encountered many problems during his experiment while catching the wild male specimens; they would accidentally snag their pedipalps on a piece of cotton which would cause them to die before the experiment could take place.


National Geographic. 2013. Male Spiders Self-Sacrifice, Lose Genitals. National Geographic News. Click here for the article.

Schwartz, S.K., Wagner Jr, W.E., Hebets, E., A. 2013. Spontaneous male death and monogyny in the dark fishing spider. Biology Letters. 9, 4. Click here for the journal.

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If you want to read more unusual science posts click here, or to read the Unusual-ology post on the Ancient Egyptian use of lettuce as an aphrodisiac, click here. Or to read about the newly discovered ‘Entrance to Hell’ click here!

Unusual-ology: The Churkey: Half Turkey, Half Chicken?

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

I stumbled upon a very interesting article about a type of bird which has been dubbed as a ‘churkey’. The instant I saw the title I was immediately intrigued and felt I should write a post on these bizarre creatures.

The Transylvanian naked neck chicken has been recently assigned this nickname due to its unusual appearance; the ‘churkey’ has the body of a chicken but has the neck of a turkey.


Photo of the Transylvanian ‘churkey’.

Scientists at Edinburgh University, led by Dr Denis Headon, have set out to understand what has caused the chicken to have this unique appearance. The scientists have proposed that its appearance is caused by genetic mutation which was enhanced by a vitamin A-derived substance that is produced around the bird’s neck. Researchers were able to identify this as the protein BMP12 after obtaining DNA samples from numerous naked neck chickens from Hungary, France and Mexico (BBC, 2011). This protein causes the feather production to be suppressed around the neck area. The mutation was first found in domestic birds in Romania around a hundred of years ago. It is suggested that the loosing of feathers around the birds necks help the bird to remain cool in warm climates just like Ostriches (National Geographic, 2011).

This proves that mutations in animals are not always bad and from this example it has helped scientists understand developmental biology even more. This research could also have practical applications such as to produce poultry that can withstand hotter climates such as those in the third world countries.


BBC. 2011. Experts unravel ‘churkey’ appearance mystery. BBC News. Available from here – along with an image of said ‘churkey’.

National Geographic. 2011. Why Transylvanian Chickens Have Naked Necks. National Geographic News. Available from here.

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