Q. What’s in a name? Plenty, if you’re trying to encourage people to eat more vegetables. Can you explain?
A. At five university dining halls across the U.S., Stanford University researchers tested whether “taste-focused labels” (“Sizzlin’ Szechaun Green Beans”) increased diners’ vegetable intake compared with “health-focused labels” (“Nutritious Green Beans”) or neutral labels (“Green Beans”), reports the University of California, Berkeley, “Wellness Letter.” “Taking a page from the junk-food-marketing playbook, the taste-focused labels were designed to provide expectations of a positive experience,” using words suggesting excitement, indulgence, tradition.
Based on 138,000 diner decisions and 24 vegetable types, “the taste-focused labels increased the selection of vegetable dishes by 29 percent compared with health-focused labels, and by 14 percent compared with basic labels” (“Psychological Studies”). And compost discards indicated that diners consumed more of the veggies, suggesting greater enjoyment.
“The authors concluded that emphasizing the taste attributes of vegetable dishes — rather than their healthfulness — may make diners more likely to choose them over less-healthy fare.”
Q. Arachnophobes, listen up: Cellar spiders, goldenrod, writing, grass and wolf spiders have some mighty strange habits. Do you know what they are?
A. These common spider species can be found creeping around North American homes and lawns, say Eleanor Spicer Rice and Neil McCoy in “American Scientist” magazine. A cellar spider steals other spiders’ webs, tricking victims by doing a “death dance,” shaking webs like entangled prey. “When the hungry web owner comes for a bite, the cellar spider tosses silk on it and eats it.” She then goes on to eat other captured prey.
Chameleons of the spider world, goldenrod spiders have special cells with pigments that enable them to blend in with the flowers they call home. “Look out, bees!” And species of wolf spiders number nearly 2,400 worldwide, with more than 200 in North America alone. They come in an array of colors for blending in.
Finally, consider mating behavior: “The male writing spider spontaneously dies while still inside the female, hanging there until he falls off or is eaten.” But the male grass spider, to avoid getting eaten, releases a chemical that causes his mate to go comatose “until the deed is done.”
Q. How did elephants’ excellent memory and their fear of bees help resolve a serious problem peacefully and profitably?
A. When farmland expansion in East Africa encroached on the habitat of elephants, they began to raid the farms for food, destroying crops in the process, says Dan Lewis on his “Now I Know” website. “Elephants have a good aptitude for recalling times and events that have caused them injury,” and bees are particularly harmful because they can sting near the beasts’ eyes or from inside their trunks. With their trunk-blast driven language, they can warn other elephants to stay away.
Researcher Lisa Kind devised a plan involving beehive “fences,” theorizing that if farmland were surrounded with fences bearing beehives, elephants encountering the fences would end up shaking them, disturbing the hives and releasing the bees. “The elephants often fled the area.”
Overall, a peaceful resolution. The profit came when the farmers collected and sold the honey.
Speaking of elephants: The term “white elephant” dates back to the 1800s, when the King of Siam used to give actual white elephants to those in his service who had displeased him. “The recipients of these elephants risked financial ruin due to the creature’s care and upkeep.” Thus, the term means “a property requiring much care and expense and yielding little profit.”