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Environment & Science

Lab Notes: Did you know that mice can sing?




Lunar eclipse from the 90042 zip code at 5:30 a.m. Dec. 10, 2011.
Lunar eclipse from the 90042 zip code at 5:30 a.m. Dec. 10, 2011.
Felicia Friesema

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Bug reducing light bulbs, moon madness and squeaky serenades. These are the topics that Southern California Public Radio's Sanden Totten is talking about this week on Lab Notes, our regular look at strange, new science.

1) Moon news! This Saturday there'll be a full moon and a total eclipse as well, but it's super early. At around 5:00 a.m. PST. It's actually the century's shortest lunar eclipse, lasting only about 5 minutes. But you should be able to see it with the naked eye. If you don't want to go outside that early, Griffith Observatory will be streaming it online, so you can watch it from your laptop in bed.

But there's a new study on the moon's effect on human behavior, or lack thereof. There are some common old wives' tales, like that hospital admissions and birth rates go up for a full moon. It was even supposedly backed up by science. A 2004 study in a nursing journal suggested that the full moon influenced the number of hospital admissions in a medical unit in Barcelona, Spain.

But a UCLA researcher re-examined the data and determined that there were errors in the calculation. The 2004 study mis-measured the lunar cycle and also didn’t control for factors like the day of the week, which could also account for rise in admissions and births.

After the correction, no correlation was found, which in turn fits in with many other studies that found no link between the moon and automobile accidents, surgery outcomes, birth complications, depression, violent behavior, and even criminal activity.

2) Well, moon or no moon, people up late a night have another issue to deal with... bugs that swarm around light bulbs. But there's a new study that may be able to help curb this phenomenon. It's actually a real problem, especially in the developing world.

Six million people worldwide, mostly in Latin America, are infected with Chagas disease, which is transmitted by a bug that is attracted to lights. Sand flies, which are also attracted to light, infect people with a protozoan parasite responsible for 20,000 deaths annually. And mosquitos, which carry malaria, are documented to be attracted to light.

So, a researcher at USC wanted to tackle this problem by designing a better bulb. What matters most isn’t just how bright your bulb is, but what color wavelengths it gives off. Blue, violet and ultraviolet wavelengths are especially attractive to moths and many other insect groups. So, the researcher built some custom bulb cutting back those hues, left them around L.A. and Santa Monica with bug traps and in just over a month, the customized bulbs attracted about 20 percent fewer insects.

More research is definitely needed to perfect this, but could help lots of people in places were bugs carry serious disease.

3) Did you know that mice can sing? There's another study out on the singing habits of mice. Scientists have known about this behavior for a while. The thing is they sing at such a high pitch that humans can't hear them.

Well, a new study from Duke looked at how they use these songs in mating. Apparently males sing to woo lady mice and the actually change their song depending on the situation. When the female mouse is near, their songs are loud and complicated serenades. But when they're in the same room as the female mice, they switched to less complicated, softer songs.

Researchers thought that the mice were being flashy to win a lady then dropped the effort to save energy for making mouse love.