A lot of foolery happens on this day of the year, from mild pranks like greased doorknobs and plastic-wrapped toilet bowls to pranks that go horribly wrong. Some pranks that cross legal lines merit another name — “crimes.”
For example, rampant counterfeiting in Southern Africa plagues 30 - 40% of the seed available for purchase, and the ruse is keeping some farmer’s poor. Apparently, selling fake seeds is more lucrative than selling real seeds.
To clarify, the seeds are real, but they’re masquerading as high-yield seeds when their actual performance is lame. As the World Food Bank says, “Each seed contains a genetic profile that determines the resiliency, health, and quality of the crop that will grow from it.”
It’d be like selling a Hyundai dressed up as a Mercedes. If you test-drove it, the foolery would be obvious, but farmers have already invested in the bum seeds by the time their identity is revealed. Attempts to halt seed "pranking" have included features of the seed packets that can’t easily be faked. Now, engineers have taken it up a notch by adding unclonable features to the seeds themselves.
A new study announces the creation of tiny dots of silk with unique signature that “can be read, and that cannot be replicated,” explains study author Benedetto Marelli. The researchers envision a day where the purchaser might scan the seeds with a smartphone app to verify their legitimacy as quality merchandise.
But let’s not kid ourselves, we’re not the only species that engages in foolery. Even plants have plenty of tricks up their stems. Mimicry is rife in the plant kingdom (Plantae), usually evolutionarily motivated by the need to get pollinated. Carrion flowers mimic the scent of rotting flesh to attract flesh-eating flies and orchids are pretty sus with their deceptions.
See HERE how a South African daisy (Gorteria diffusa) attracts male flies by feigning voluptuous females. It's the only daisy known to do this trick, and a recent study unpacks the genetics behind it. The fake females are assembled via gene co-option — where genes used for other things take on new roles. Genes for regulating iron, growing root hairs, and making petal spots all get coopted.
“This daisy didn't evolve a new 'make a fly' gene. Instead it did something even cleverer—it brought together existing genes, which already do other things in different parts of the plant, to make a complicated spot on the petals that deceives male flies,” says study author Beverley Glover.
We should admit our April Fool’s stunts are outdone by other organisms that prank year-round. We might achieve a one-time startle response, but check out this ghost catfish (Kryptopterus vitreolus) whose see-through body shows its beating heart. It goes from transparent to iridescent with a subtle position change, probably puzzling a predator with the flickering.
In a recent study, engineers looked at how light moved through its tissues and found a special banded muscle structure. Reminisces study author Zhao, “I was standing in front of the tank and staring at the fish. And then I saw the iridescence.”
Clearly, we humans are gobsmacked by the foolery of other species.