Fun Fact: About ripe fruits

July 21, 2022

Fun Fact: You owe the dexterity of your hands to the fact that some figs don’t change colour when they ripen.

Maybe…at least a bit. Twenty percent of figs show no color change during ripening, which poses a sensory challenge if you’re a hominid trying to find nutritious food to eat. Imagine how much longer it would take to choose an avocado at the grocery store if you couldn’t squeeze it. You would have to bite each one to know if it was edible. Store managers wouldn’t like that.

Hominids, like chimpanzees, gorillas, and humans, have uniquely dextrous hands compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. In a study lead by Dartmouth College evolutionary biologist Nathaniel Dominy, researchers found that chimpanzees’ ability to feel the ripeness of a fig conferred an advantage over rival species when selecting fruit. Monkeys (black-and-white colobus monkeys, red colobus monkeys, and red-tailed monkeys) that compete for the same food relied on colour and bite-testing. Squeezing figs supplied nearly 75 % more information about fig ripeness than colour did and it was also four times faster than plucking it, biting it, and spitting it out if it wasn’t ripe. This lead to more efficient foraging and ultimately more calories consumed by the chimps.

While the researchers couldn’t definitively say that the ability to feel if a fruit is ripe was a selective force in the evolution of more sophisticated hands, the idea is very a-peeling.

If you’re interested in further reading, you can find their paper here:

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GRAND OPENING: Paragon Ballpark in Devon

July 20, 2022

A grand opening for the Paragon ballpark will be held this Friday July 22, 2022 3pm-6pm! More details in the link below:

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Fun Fact: Leaves with Drip Tips

June 29, 2022

Fun Fact: The proportion of leaves with drip tips in the fossil record can tell you how rainy the climate was.

Drip tips are specialised pointed tips on the ends of leaves of some plants. As their name implies, drip tips help channel water off the leaves quickly. In particularly rainy places, accumulated water can break leaves and provides a perfect place for the growth of algae, mildew, or other nasty microorganisms that thrive in the hot and humid conditions. They are common in rainforests and are more pronounced in shaded understory plants than overstory canopy plants that are exposed to sun and wind. If you measure the proportion of leaves that have drip tips, you can make a pretty reasonable guess of the local rainfall.

Apparently, my living room is very rainy…

If you want to see some drip tips in action (and an excited biologist), follow this link:

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Fun Fact: About Artificial Banana Flavouring

June 23, 2022

Fun Fact: Artificial banana flavouring tastes more like an (almost) extinct variety of banana than the one in your fridge.

There is a theory floating around that the reason artificial banana flavour tastes so wrong is because it was developed from an old variety of banana that is no longer commercially available: the Gros Michel. The Gros Michel, or “Big Mike”, was once the top banana at grocery stores but it was mostly wiped out in the 1950s by a fungus called Fusarium oxysporum.

People who still grow the Gros Michel say that it tastes similar to cultivated bananas now (the Cavendish), but amplified – sweeter, and somehow artificial. While it might be a neat story, it is unlikely that artificial banana flavouring comes from the Gros Michel. Synthetic organic chemist, Derek Lowe explains that the banana flavour comes from a simple compound called isoamyl acetate, or the “banana ester”, which is found naturally in bananas including the Gros Michel and the Cavendish. It’s far more likely that the Gros Michel tastes artificial because, aside from isoamyl acetate, it has far fewer compounds than other banana varieties. Strong, one-note tastes tend to be perceived as more “artificial’; capturing the flavour of something like a fresh, ripe fruit in one compound is impossible. The Cavendish may be mild in comparison, but it is more complex.

Long story short, at one time, banana flavouring actually tasted like the real thing. That’s bananas!

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Indigenous People’s Day

June 21, 2022

In honour of Indigenous People’s Day and inspired by our partners in the strong Fort McMurray Metis Local 1935 community, Paragon is pleased to support Indspire with a $2,500 donation. One of the key mandates of our Paragon Infinity partnership is to support education for Metis youth, including through Keyano College’s environmental certificate programs and internships. Indspire’s mission fits perfectly with that objective – they provide financial support for First Nations, Inuit and Métis students across Canada to assist them in completing their post-secondary education.

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Ukraine fundraiser results

June 20, 2022

We were able to raise $5,528 for the Canada Ukraine Foundation in April and May of 2022. Thank you to everyone who donated!

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Fun Fact: Acacia trees and rewards

June 16, 2022

Fun Fact: Acacia trees will change the rewards they provide to their symbiotic ants depending on how good they are at their jobs.

Swollen-thorn acacias, most famously Vachellia collensii, are known for their symbiotic relationship with ants. They provide a bunch of services for their trees, including attacking herbivorous insects, clearing encroaching vegetation, and even protecting them from disease by distributing antibiotics synthesized by bacteria living on their legs. In return, the trees reward their ants with food in the form of protein-rich Beltian bodies and sugar-rich nectaries, and with secure housing inside hollow thorns that have evolved specifically for the purpose. Sweet deal.

One of the best-known ant symbionts is Pseudomyrmex spinicola. They do everything expected of them and help their host plant to thrive. The kind of neighbour you’d lend a cup of sugar to (literally). Crematogaster crinosa however, is a little less desirable. They are lazy defenders against herbivores, fail to clear encroaching veg, and are not known to spread antibiotics. A bunch of formic freeloaders. Considering the difference in services, you’d think the acacia would pay their little buddies differently. And you’d be right… although probably not in the way you would think.

In a three-month study, Amador-Vargas and Gijsman (2021) monitored acacia trees at two sites, one which supported both ant species, and one with only P. spinicola. The authors found that the quality and quantity of accommodation (thorns) remained the same between the two sites, but the food rewards did not. Acacias with colonies of only P. spinicola produced nectaries along the bases of their leaves, while those also supporting C. crinosa sported them at their leaf tips too. Rude. The authors suggested that the extra nectaries encouraged the lay-about-Larry’s to traverse the leaves to reach an extra reward, leading them to drive away pests they might not have encountered otherwise. Hardly seems fair to the poor P. spinicola who did not need to be bribed to achieve the same goal.

If you’re interested in further reading, see their paper: Gijsman, F., González, Y., Guevara, M. et al. Short-term plasticity and variation in acacia ant-rewards under different conditions of ant occupancy and herbivory. Sci Nat 108, 31 (2021).

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RemTech 2022

June 14, 2022

Do you have some interesting research to share? The call for abstracts is now open for RemTech 2022, which will be held October 12-14, 2022 at the Fairmont Banff Springs – see link below for more details. Hope to see you there!

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Fun Fact: Banyan Trees

June 8, 2022

Fun Fact: Banyan trees (Ficus benghalensis) can walk…

So you’d better tie up your ficus before it runs off to join an Entmoot. (I hope I’m not the only one chuckling at that joke, it’s a pretty good one).

Banyan trees, or strangler figs, start off life as epiphytes when their seeds land on the branches of another tree. Once the seed germinates, it sends aerial roots down around the trunk of its host tree, which eventually dies and rots away, leaving the hollow trunk of the banyan. As they grow, banyan trees continue to send aerial ‘prop roots’ down from their branches to support their massive structure. Eventually, the original trunk will die and one of the prop roots will become the new main trunk. This cycle can continue on for centuries with old trunks dying away and new prop roots carrying on, which is a sort of walking… I suppose.

One of the biggest known banyan trees is the Great Banyan near Kolkata, India. It covers more than 4.6 acres and can shelter over 20,000 people.

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Metis Fest 2022

June 2, 2022

Thank you to Fort McMurray Metis for inviting us to Metis Fest 2022, a festival celebrating and sharing Metis culture. It was a fun day full of sunshine, bbq, music, and dancing! We had a great time volunteering alongside Heidi Taves and Melanie Walsh in the children’s tent. Can’t wait for next year 🙂

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