Science Briefs

Stink bug traps may increase tomato damage

The invasive brown marmorated stink bug is an important pest of fruits and vegetables. To counter them, some home gardeners use pheromone-baited traps that are designed to attract, trap and kill them. But new research from entomologists at the University of Maryland suggests that the traps may actually increase stink bug damage to tomatoes.

Researchers asked 15 gardeners to place stink bug traps at the ends of rows of tomatoes, while another group of 14 placed no traps in their gardens. Both groups experienced nearly the same amount of stink bugs on the tomato plants themselves, but the the abundance of stink bugs on the tomato fruits was marginally greater in the gardens with traps, and the fruits sustained significantly more injury than tomato fruits grown in gardens without traps. Furthermore, tomato fruits on plants near the traps housed more stink bugs than tomato fruits on plants that were away from the traps.

“We found no evidence that stink bug traps protected tomatoes,” according to the report, published in the April issue of Environmental Entomology.

Tobacco may impair tasting caffeine in coffee

Many current and former smokers can’t fully appreciate the full flavor of a cup of coffee, because they can’t taste the bitterness of caffeine. This is the finding of a study led by Nelly Jacob of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital APHP in France, published in the journal Chemosensory Perception.

While it was found that smoking status had no influence on a person’s ability to recognize salty, sweet or sour tastes, it did have an effect on people’s ability to recognize the bitter taste of caffeine. The bitter receptors in the tongue are generally able to detect this taste in very low concentrations. One in every five smokers (19.8 percent) could not correctly recognize the taste; among former smokers, one in every four (26.5 percent) couldn’t, either. Only 13.4 percent of non-smokers could not correctly identify the bitter samples they were asked to taste.

The researchers believe that the accumulation in the body of some tobacco or combustion products may hamper the regeneration of taste buds, and therefore still impair a person’s ability to recognize certain tastes even after they have stopped smoking.

Cartoon animals don’t help kids learn zoology

A new study by University of Toronto researchers has found that kids’ books featuring animals with human characteristics not only lead to less factual learning, but also influence children’s reasoning about animals.

Researchers also found that young readers are more likely to attribute human behaviors and emotions to animals when exposed to books with anthropomorphized animals than books depicting animals realistically.

“Books that portray animals realistically lead to more learning and more accurate biological understanding,” said lead author Patricia Ganea, assistant professor with the University of Toronto’s Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development. “We were surprised to find that even the older children in our study were sensitive to the anthropocentric portrayals of animals in the books and attributed more human characteristics to animals after being exposed to fantastical books than after being exposed to realistic books.”

The study was recently published in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology.