An intact scorpion locking claws with an autotomized one
An intact scorpion claw-in-claw with an autotomized one

Constipation’s Effect on Scorpion Sex Garners Biology Ig Nobel

Other winners of this year’s prizes include research on the physics of ducklings and the therapeutic potential of ice cream.

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Christie Wilcox

Christie joined The Scientist's team as newsletter editor in 2021, after more than a decade of science writing. She has a PhD in cell and molecular biology, and her debut book Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry, received widespread acclaim.

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Sep 16, 2022

ABOVE: Constipation doesn’t seem to keep male Ananteris scorpions from mating. © John Uribe

The winners of the 32nd annual Ig Nobel Prizes were announced last night (September 15) via a prerecorded webcast. The awards, given by the Annals of Improbable Research, honor hilarious scientific achievements. But the prizes aren’t just for laughs: By making us giggle, the Ig Nobels “draw attention to the relevance that even seemingly bizarre research can have,” according to a 2020 blog post by Annals cofounder and editor Marc Abrahams.

West Chester University biologist Frank Fish, who shared this year’s physics Ig Nobel for his work on duckling swimming, tells the Associated Press: “Science is fun. My sort of a tagline is you’re not doing science if you’re not having fun.”

Ig Nobel winners received a PDF file that allows them to print and construct a paper container for storing “all their knowledge,” according to the video awards presentation, as well as a $10 trillion Zimbabwean note, which is nearly worthless.

The ceremony concluded with Abrahams’s message to viewers: “If you didn’t win an Ig Nobel prize tonight—and especially if you did—better luck next year.”

The prizes awarded were:

The underside of an autotomized scorpion showing a white swelling of accumulated excrement.
After self-amputation, a scorpion’s digestive tract heals shut, causing the animal to accumulate excrement (white) until it dies from constipation.

Applied Cardiology: Researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands found that the heart rates of potential romantic partners synchronize when they first meet—but only if they feel attracted to one another.

Literature: Legal documents are hard to understand thanks to bad writing, not legal jargon, linguists from MIT and the University of Edinburgh determined.

Biology: Male scorpions that self-amputate the end of their tails (including their anus, which is not reproduced in regeneration) eventually become slower than intact males, according to a study by a research duo from Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil. Still, the animals can likely move fast enough to score a mate before they die from constipation. 

Medicine: Consuming ice cream reduced swelling and irritation in the mouth during infusions of the chemotherapy agent melphalan in a retrospective trial conducted by researchers from Medical University of Warsaw in Poland.

Engineering: Larger doorknobs require more fingers to turn, according to a study from scientists at the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan.

Art History: Enema scenes in ancient Mayan pottery suggest ritual intoxication via the rectum, argue a pair of researchers from the Royal Dutch Society for the Advancement of Pharmacy and the Foundation for Latin American Anthropological Research.

Ducklings swimming behind their mother
Ducklings ‘surf’ their mother’s wake, according to Ig Nobel–winning research.
© ISTOCK.COM, ZOCHA_K

Physics: Duckling formations conserve energy by surfing their mothers’ wake, according to an unrelated pair of studies that included researchers from West Chester University in Pennsylvania, Jiangsu University of Science and Technology in China, and the University of Strathclyde in the UK.

Peace: An algorithm capable of determining when lying serves gossipers was developed by an international research team.

Economics: Success is predominately a matter of luck rather than talent, according to a model from University of Catania mathematicians.

Safety Engineering: This year’s award was granted for the development of a crash test moose dummy made of readily available parts, which was designed for a master’s thesis at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden with the aim of aiding safety scientists and automotive manufacturers and designers.