School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist

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I Spy an Ecosystem

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I Spy an Ecosystem

By Tamara Harms
Illustrated by Sabine Deviche

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  • Abiotic: non-living things... more
  • Biotic: living things.
  • Decomposers: living things that feed on and break down things that are dead.
  • Percolate: the process of filtering a liquid or gas slowly through a porous material or a material with small holes (filter). Coffee is made by percolating water through a filter holding coffee bean grounds.
  • Resilience: ability to return to previous conditions after sudden changes.
  • Scale: is used to describe the size differences between objects, or how large or small an object is.

What is an ecosystem?

We hear the word ecosystems in the news and at school but just what are ecosystems? To start off, let's take a quick look at the word because it holds some clues to its meaning. "Eco" comes from ancient Greek and Latin and means "house". So "eco" means that all of the parts exist together, as if they were together in a house. You have probably heard the word "system" in lots of places, and it means "interacting parts". So "system" tells us that not only do the parts exist together as if they were in one house, but the parts also affect one another.

Ant Factoids

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Ant Factoids

Ant factoids

We have collected a few facts about ants that you might find interesting. More are still to come.

How much weight can an ant carry?

Face to Face with Ants

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Face to Face with Ants

By Tate Holbrook
Illustrated by Sabine Deviche

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  • Anatomy: parts of the body and how they fit and work together... more
  • Compound: something containing two or more parts, like a chemical compound.
  • Exoskeleton: hard body covering... more
  • Gaster: final body segment of an ant.
  • Mandibles: jaws.
  • Mesosoma: 2nd body segment of an ant (literally “middle body”).
  • Ocelli: simple eyes that detect light.
  • Petiole: 3rd body segment; bulge at an ant’s narrow ‘waist’.
  • Queen: a female ant that lays eggs.
  • Worker: a female ant that performs jobs other than reproduction.

Imagine being the size of an ant. Be careful - a face-to-face encounter with an ant would be scary and potentially life-threatening! But, if you avoided being eaten, you could learn a lot about ant anatomy from a close-up view. Ants have many body parts that are normally hard to see without a magnifying glass or microscope. And each structure has its own special function.

Which tree lizard morph would you like to be?

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Which tree lizard morph would you like to be?

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  • Territory: an area defended and owned by an individual.

Michael Moore and researchers at the laboratory study two male tree lizard morphs: the aggressive orange-blue morph, and the more mild-mannered orange morph.

Tree Lizard Gallery

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Tree Lizard Gallery

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  • Camouflage: use of colors and patterns to blend into the surrounding area in order to hide... more
  • Predator: an animal that eats other animals to survive. For example, a lion is a predator... more

Tree lizards (Urosaurus ornatus) are among the most common lizards in the southwestern United States. You can often find them warming themselves in a sunny spot on a tree, fence, or wall, waiting for an insect snack to come crawling or flying by. Males have bright blue bellies and colored dewlaps. Females have orange dewlaps, but no blue belly patches. Look on your backyard fence for tree lizards in the summer.

Mighty Morphing Tree Lizards

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Mighty Morphing Tree Lizards

By Danika Painter
Illustrated by Dr. Biology

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  • Aggressive: eager to fight.
  • Dewlap: (pronounced "doo-lap") brightly colored skin on a lizard's throat that can be puffed out and displayed to communicate with other lizards.
  • Morphs: animals that are the same species, but have different looking forms. Tree lizard morphs have different colored dewlaps.
  • Territory: an area defended and owned by an individual.

A group of children are busy playing in the park. They look up as a tough-looking boy approaches. "Hey, this is my playground!" he says with a nasty smirk. "You'd better get outta here now or you'll be sorry!" The other children flee in search of another place to play. Every playground has its bullies. Why do some people's instincts tell them to fight, and other people would rather just run away? Many animals behave the same way. Biologists at Arizona State University hope that by learning more about animal behavior, they will also be able to understand why people act the way they do.

Migrating Monarchs

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Migrating Monarchs

By Tracy Fuentes
Illustrated by Dr. Biology

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  • Cultural generation: all of the individuals born at about the same time.
  • Larva: the second, "worm-like" stage in the life cycle of insects that undergo complete metamorphosis (like caterpillars).
  • Life Cycle: the sequence of all stages through which an organism passes - going from egg to adult.
  • Migration: movement of an animal or a group of animals from one place to another.
  • Milkweed: plant with milky sap that monarch larvae eat.
  • Nectar: sugary liquid made by flowers.

monarchs in treeThousands of orange and black shapes flutter through the trees. They carpet the ground, making walking difficult. As you look up, so many of them hang from the trees that the branches bend under their weight. Welcome to one of the few wintering homes of the monarch butterfly.

Exercise for your Brain

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Exercise for your Brain

By Gabriel Shaibi and CJ Kazilek

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  • Efficient: doing a job or task without wasting time or energy.
  • Intensity: the level or amount of something; sometimes, a high level.
  • Physiology: the part of biology that studies how the parts of living things, like cells, work.
  • Stress: a feeling we have when reacting to a particular event. Examples of stressful situations include studying before a big test or when a basketball player has to take a shot that could win the game.
  • Vigorous: using a lot of energy or force.

Let's get moving

RunningThere are those who like to run. Other people like to lift weights. Still others find an aerobics class or game of soccer to be their favorite way to exercise. But these are just a few ways people work out. There are many more.

A Matter of Scale

A Matter of Scale

By CJ Kazilek
Illustrated by Dr. Biology

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  • Billion: a number represented as 1,000,000,000, or 109, also equal to thousand millions.
  • Matter: the stuff that makes up the things we see. At the smallest level, matter is atoms, which are made of protons, neutrons and electrons.
  • Nano: a unit of measure that is a billion times smaller than a meter, also billionth the size of a meter, or 10-9.
  • Nanotube: a hollow cylindrical molecule, like a straw. Nanotubes are made of one element, usually carbon atoms.
  • Scale: is used to describe the size differences between objects, or how large or small an object is.
  • Spectator: someone who looks or watches something.

You may not think about it, but size does matter. It is especially true when talking about the very tiny things that exist in the nano world. Things in this tiny and often violent place no longer play by the same rules as the things we can see. They don’t even behave the same as things we can see with a light microscope.

Feather Biology

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Feather Biology

By CJ Kazilek
Illustrated by Sabine Deviche

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  • Anatomy: parts of the body and how they fit and work together... more
  • Envy: a desire to be like someone or have something others have. You could envy a person's new iPod, or to be able to run as fast as your friend.
  • Iridescence: bright rainbow-like colors that can change depending on the angle you look at them or the angle light hits them.

Flights of Fantasy

Almost everyone has wished at one time or another to be able to fly like a bird. Just the thought of soaring above your city or town without any mechanical device gives us a reason to envy these feathered animals.

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