Word + Quiz: dowel

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Word + Quiz: dowel

1. a fastener that is inserted into holes in two adjacent pieces and holds them together

2. a round stick or rod that can be used as such a fastener

Amy Eacock, a graduate student in Dr. Saccheri’s lab at the time of the study, and another of the paper’s authors, decided to investigate. First, she tested the caterpillars’ eyes for light-sensitive proteins called opsins. “We did the skin as kind of a negative control,” said Dr. Eacock, who is now at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany. “But then we found they were expressed in the skin as highly as they were in the head.”

That’s when she suggested blindfolding the caterpillars. The researchers could cover their eyes, place them on different-colored dowels, and see if they still changed to match.

But Dr. Eacock persisted, eventually testing more than 300 caterpillars. First, they tried green and brown dowels. For later groups, the researchers used black and white dowels. Over and over again, the blindfolded caterpillars successfully changed color to blend in. In photographs, they look chic, as if modeling different clothing hues in a shop window display.

The team even placed some caterpillars on striped dowels, and “they did go stripey,” Dr. Eacock said, although the sample size for that experiment was too small to include in the published work.