80 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from 3rd Quarter of 2016
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
9-30-16 Nature has a dog problem
Nature has a dog problem
Free-roaming dogs can spread disease and kill wildlife. India has more than 30 million stray dogs, which can be a danger to people and wildlife alike. Man’s best friend can sometimes be wildlife’s worst enemy. Free-roaming dogs, both feral and owned animals that run loose, spread rabies and other diseases, kill wild animals and have caused extinctions. They’re even to blame for thousands of human deaths every year. And yet dogs get little of the hatred aimed at feral cats — and only a fraction of the attention from scientists. A new study places the domestic dog among the four invasive mammals that have caused the most extinctions of native species. Cats and rodents are the worst, responsible for 63 and 75 extinctions, respectively — mostly birds. Dogs have caused around 10 extinctions and threaten another 156 species, Tim Doherty of Deakin University in Australia and colleagues report September 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
9-30-16 Protect dolphins, UK government urged
Protect dolphins, UK government urged
Campaigners are demanding better safeguards for the UK's marine mammals after the EU said it would take Britain to court over harbour porpoises. The European Commission announced the action because it says the UK is failing to protect the endangered animals properly. The government is yet to comment on the court action. But the Wildlife Trusts are urging ministers to declare many more Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). These would protect mammals round the shores. The Wildlife Trusts say safeguards to the UK's domestic marine life should be as strong as they are around Britain's overseas territories.
9-29-16 New data shows 'staggering' extent of great ape trade
New data shows 'staggering' extent of great ape trade
A new database suggests say there has been a dramatic under-reporting of the live, illegal trade in great apes. Around 1,800 orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas were seized in 23 different countries since 2005, the figures show. Since 90% of the cases were within national borders they didn't appear in major data records, which only contain international seizures. The new database has been published at the Cites meeting here in Johannesburg.
9-30-16 Endangered giraffes threatened by Uganda’s oil drilling bid
Endangered giraffes threatened by Uganda’s oil drilling bid
Plans to drill for oil in one of the last remaining habitats of the highly endangered Rothschild’s giraffe could further threaten this neglected animal. In the lush greens of Karen-Hardy just next to Nairobi national park, a young male Rothschild’s giraffe called Jock is feeding on greenish-coloured pellets from a container placed on a raised platform. As excited tourists and schoolchildren take photos of Jock, George Njagi, an education officer at the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife’s (AFEW) Giraffe Centre, guides me up the platform steps. From the top I spot more giraffes browsing on acacia trees in this island of serenity just south of the noisy and chaotic Kenyan capital. Jock is one of eight Rothschild’s resident on this 120-acre breeding sanctuary. “We provide the endangered Rothschild’s with a conducive breeding environment before relocating mature offspring to the wild in a bid to boost their numbers,” Njagi tells me. There are thought to be only around 1500 Rothschild’s left in the wild – making them one the world’s most endangered populations. They are scattered across the acacia woodlands of Kenya’s central rift valley and in Uganda’s Murchison falls, where another conservation group, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, is studying the animals. Earlier this week Greenpeace revealed that Murchison Falls national park could be damaged by planned oil drilling, putting the giraffe at risk. British, French and Chinese oil exploration has already damaged the park, the charity said.
9-30-16 The human and animal costs of India's unregulated coal industry
The human and animal costs of India's unregulated coal industry
India is one of the largest producers of coal in the world and more than half of its commercial energy needs are met by coal. But unregulated mining has caused serious health and environmental issues, and led to growing conflicts between elephants and humans. In the coal-rich central state of Chhattisgarh, for example, fly ash has caused respiratory problems and serious illnesses like tuberculosis among people, but their troubles don't end there. Forests are being cleared for coal mining and wild elephants are entering villages in search of food and attacking people. Photojournalist Subrata Biswas has documented the fallout of India's dependence on coal.
9-28-16 Budgies reveal the rule that means birds never collide in flight
Budgies reveal the rule that means birds never collide in flight
Birds have a trick for avoiding head-on collisions – now we know what it is, we could teach autonomous drones to do the same. How do birds avoid crashing into each other when approaching head-on? They have an in-built preference for veering right. The finding may contribute to the design of better anti-crash systems in autonomous drones. Mandyam Srinivasan at the University of Queensland, Australia, and his colleagues uncovered the simple trick when filming pairs of budgerigars flying towards each other in a narrow tunnel. During more than 100 tests, the birds moved to each other’s left hand side in 84 per cent of cases, and zero crashes were observed. The budgerigars also tended to fly past each other at different heights, which prevented mid-air collisions on the rare occasions that one of the birds veered left. Group hierarchy may dictate which bird moves up and which moves down, Srinivasan says. “It looks like the dominant birds prefer to go lower,” he says. “Maybe it’s more energy efficient and easier to go lower than higher, so the non-dominant bird is forced to gain altitude.”
9-28-16 Sound blasts could keep whales away from wind farm construction
Sound blasts could keep whales away from wind farm construction
Underwater electronic pulses are being tested to keep minke whales in the North Sea from swimming towards the dangers posed by offshore wind farm building sites. Warning signals that deter minke whales from wind farm construction sites are being tested in Iceland. It’s the first time such acoustic deterrent devices, or ADDs, have been used for this purpose. The deterrents, a series of amplified electronic pulses projected into the water, were originally developed to stop seals from stealing farmed fish. This trial will see if they might also help ward off whales during noisy pile-driving activity in the North Sea. Each ADD is tuned to emit a noise that, while being a nuisance to whales, is not harmful. Whales use sound to navigate, communicate and find food. “So if a lot of anthropogenic noise is emitted into the ocean, they can experience temporary or permanent hearing loss,” says Emilie Reeve from the Carbon Trust, which managed the 40-day study in Iceland. “That’s what we are trying to avoid through this trial.”
9-28-16 New safeguards agreed for world's most trafficked mammal
New safeguards agreed for world's most trafficked mammal
A little known species driven to the edge of extinction by poaching has gained extra protection at the Cites meeting in South Africa. Pangolins are slow moving, nocturnal creatures found across Asia and Africa but over a million have been taken from the wild in the last decade. The trade is being driven principally by demand for their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Now the Cites meeting has agreed to ban all trade in eight species of Pangolin.
9-28-16 Total trade ban for Gibraltar's monkeys agreed
Total trade ban for Gibraltar's monkeys agreed
Europe's only non-human primate, the Barbary Macaque, has gained the highest level of species protection at the Cites meeting in Johannesburg. While about 200 live safely on the Rock of Gibraltar, they are experiencing rapid decline in their natural habitats in North Africa. Hundreds of infants are illegally taken from the wild each year for European pet markets. Countries banned any form of trade in the species. The Barbary Macaque seems to specialise in isolation. It's the only African primate species north of the Sahara and the only macaque species in Africa.
9-27-16 CITES species body rejects process for ivory sales
CITES species body rejects process for ivory sales
Delegates at the Cites meeting here in Johannesburg have defeated an attempt to set up a process to resume sales of ivory. Under discussion for eight years, the so-called Decision Making Mechanism was supported by a number of southern African states. It was intended to work out a way for legitimate ivory sales to resume at some point in the future. But the Conference of the Parties (COP) heavily rejected the proposal.
9-26-16 Zambia's front line between elephants and humans
Zambia's front line between elephants and humans
As the Cites conference on endangered species meets in Johannesburg, the BBC's Matt McGrath travelled to Zambia to hear the voices of people with first-hand experience of conflicts between humans and wildlife. Humphrey Mubita farms near the Kafue National Park. Kafue is often said to be the green jewel of Zambia, being its oldest and biggest protected area covering over 22,000 sq km. When the national park system in Zambia was set up, the authorities decided to designate buffer zones around them, areas in which people live and farm, but also areas in which the animals from the park move freely. This has had tragic consequences for Humphrey. "My daughter was going to the clinic in Chunga, on the way she met this elephant. There were five people, but the other four knew where to hide. My daughter was a visitor to the area so she didn't know how to divert…" Humphrey's daughter was 29 years old and left three children behind. Her case is not an isolated one. Humphrey knows of two other people who have been killed by elephants in the past three years. The main complaint that Humphrey and others in his area have about the elephants is the lack of compensation from the government - The destruction of crops or people is just a "loss to be borne", as another villager said.
9-26-16 World must resist pressure to lift ban on trade in rhino horn
World must resist pressure to lift ban on trade in rhino horn
Allowing seized and farmed rhino horn to be traded to fund conservation measures will simply encourage more poaching, says Richard Schiffman. A battle is brewing over rhino horn in South Africa. This week, the Convention on Trade In Endangered Species (CITES) shines a spotlight on the alarming decline in rhino numbers. From half a million animals at the beginning of the 20th century, there are 29,000 surviving today, most in southern Africa and in fragmented enclaves in Asia. Three of the five remaining rhino species are critically endangered due to increased poaching, fuelled by a doubling in the illicit horn trade since 2013. As the 181 nations that make up CITES meet in Johannesburg, pressure to legalise the rhino horn trade will reach a peak. Swaziland is leading the charge. It wants to sell 330 kilograms of stockpiled horn and an extra 20 kilograms a year, mainly taken humanely from farm-kept rhino, to raise millions of dollars for costly anti-poaching measures. Support may come from neighbouring South Africa, with which Swaziland has close ties, plus Namibia and Zimbabwe. Any lifting of the 1977 ban on the rhino horn trade would open the door to laundering illegal ivory by mixing it with the legal stock, making law enforcement harder. Poachers would rejoice.
9-25-16 New report confirms grim outlook for elephants
New report confirms grim outlook for elephants
Elephant populations in Africa have declined by around 111,000 over the past 10 years according to a new study. The African Elephant Status report says that poaching is the main driver of the fall, the worst losses in 25 years. However the authors say that long-term issues such as the loss of habitat also pose a significant threat. The report has been presented at the Cites meeting which is considering new proposals on elephant protection. Every year in Africa between 30,000 and 40,000 elephants are poached for their ivory, and it's thought there are only 400,000 left. Even accounting for the newborns, this rate of killing calls into question whether these amazing creatures will still be around in a generation, especially as Africa's ever-increasing population is reducing the space for them. Organised crime runs the ivory industry.
9-24-16 Horses can communicate with us - scientists
Horses can communicate with us - scientists
Horses have joined a select group of animals that can communicate by pointing at symbols. Scientists trained horses, by offering slices of carrot as an incentive, to touch a board with their muzzle to indicate if they wanted to wear a rug. The horses' requests matched the weather, suggesting it wasn't a random choice. A few other animals, including apes and dolphins, appear, like us, to express preferences by pointing at things.
9-24-16 Deep divisions over elephants to dominate key species meeting
Deep divisions over elephants to dominate key species meeting
The illegal trade in ivory has seen elephant numbers plummet. The world's biggest conference on species protection has opened in South Africa amid concern and division over the survival of elephants. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) will address proposals impacting more than 500 plants and animals. But elephants are likely to top the bill with countries bitterly divided over the best way to protect the ponderous pachyderms. Billed as the largest gathering in the 43-year history of the convention, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) will see more than 2,500 delegates from more than 180 countries come together in Johannesburg. While there are proposals affecting lions, sharks, rhinos, pangolins and dozens of other species, the main focus will be on elephants. There have been growing international concerns about the surge in poaching for ivory that has seen elephant numbers plummet by 30% in the past seven years.
9-24-16 Cheetah is now 'running for its very survival'
Cheetah is now 'running for its very survival'
Pitiful scenes of cheetah cubs lying emaciated and bewildered highlight one of the cruellest but least-publicised examples of illegal wildlife trafficking. Baby cheetahs are so prized as exotic pets that entire litters are seized from their mothers when they may only be four to six weeks old. Each tiny animal can fetch as much as $10,000 on the black market and end up being paraded on social media by wealthy buyers in Gulf states. But the trade exacts a terrible toll on a species that claims a superlative status as the fastest land animal on the planet but which now faces a serious threat to its survival. According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, some 1,200 cheetah cubs are known to have been trafficked out of Africa over the past 10 years but a shocking 85% of them died during the journey.
9-23-16 Dolphins have conversations
Dolphins have conversations
Dolphins have an elaborate spoken language and engage in conversations, Russian researchers have concluded. Marine biologists have recorded an exchange between Yasha and Yana, two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins that took turns producing a series of pulses, which the researchers identified as individual “words” strung together to form sentences. It’s well known that dolphins use pulses, clicks, and whistles to communicate, but the recordings reveal that they also alter the volume and pitch of the sounds they make, enabling them to convey messages and seemingly form sentences. The dolphins appeared to listen to each other without interrupting before responding—behavior reminiscent of a chat between well-mannered friends. While the researchers were unable to decipher what the dolphins were saying, their recordings suggest the marine mammals, which have larger brains than we do, communicate in a highly developed language. Researcher Vyacheslav Ryabov tells CNN.com that humans should create a device that could decode dolphin language and enable us to communicate. “We must take the first step to establish relationships with the first intelligent inhabitants of the planet,” Ryabov said.
9-22-16 Scientists solve singing fish mystery
Scientists solve singing fish mystery
When California houseboat residents heard their low, submarine hum in the 1980s, they thought it might be coming from noisy sewage pumps, military experiments or even extraterrestrials. But this was the nocturnal hum of the midshipman fish; a courtship call, and the source of a biological secret scientists have now solved. Researchers brought the fish into their lab to work out why they sang at night. The researchers found the singing was controlled by a hormone that helps humans to sleep - melatonin. And looking more closely at how melatonin acts on receptors in different parts of the fish's brain could help explain why it is such a powerful "chemical clock" with a role in the timing of sleep-wake cycles, reproduction and birdsong.
9-21-16 How baby beluga whales dive deeper and longer than any others
How baby beluga whales dive deeper and longer than any others
Arctic sea ice forces baby belugas to hold their breath longer than other young whales. Special muscle adaptations help the babies survive. Their life amid the sea ice means the young whales do swim wild and free – from an early age, baby belugas must follow their mothers under the sea ice, where air holes are transient and scarce. Now we are learning how baby belugas achieve that: they are born with more mature diving muscles than any other marine mammals studied so far and they develop more rapidly over their first year of life. Shawn Noren at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Robert Suydam from the Wildlife Management Department of Alaska’s North Slope Borough collected muscle samples from 23 female and male beluga whales of various ages and studied the biochemistry of their muscles. They found that belugas are born with much higher stores of myoglobin, an oxygen-binding protein, than other cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), making them better prepared for diving at birth than other species. Myoglobin allows oxygen to be stored and slowly released if an animal needs to hold its breath. The researchers showed that myoglobin in baby beluga whales increased by some 450 per cent between birth and their first birthday, to levels similar to those of fully grown adults. In fact, belugas have adult levels of myoglobin in their muscles by 14 months of age.
9-21-16 Vets warn people against buying 'flat-faced' dogs
Vets warn people against buying 'flat-faced' dogs
Vets are warning would-be dog owners to think twice before buying breeds with fashionably "flat-faced" features because of concerns over their welfare. Pugs, bulldogs, French bulldogs and shih-tzus have become sought-after in the UK, despite wide-ranging health problems. Their appeal is attributed to having "squashed" faces and wrinkled noses. The British Veterinary Association said the surge in popularity of these dogs had "increased animal suffering". Sean Wensley, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said: "Prospective owners need to consider that these dogs can suffer from a range of health problems, from eye ulcers to severe breathing difficulties. "We strongly encourage people to choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed instead." Webmaster's comment: The same is true for "flat-faced" cats. You may think they are cute but they suffer all the time. They also are less active and playful and less intelligent.)
9-21-16 Fish recorded singing dawn chorus on reefs just like birds
Fish recorded singing dawn chorus on reefs just like birds
nderwater recordings of vocal fish off the Australian coast reveal an ocean choir composed of at least seven distinct choruses. The ocean might seem like a quiet place, but listen carefully and you might just hear the sounds of the fish choir. Most of this underwater music comes from soloist fish, repeating the same calls over and over. But when the calls of different fish overlap, they form a chorus. Robert McCauley and colleagues at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, recorded vocal fish in the coastal waters off Port Headland in Western Australia over an 18-month period, and identified seven distinct fish choruses, happening at dawn and at dusk.
9-20-16 China’s fancy for ‘aquatic cocaine’ could wipe out rare porpoise
China’s fancy for ‘aquatic cocaine’ could wipe out rare porpoise
Illegal trade in the swim bladder of the totoaba fish fuels fishing practices that may drive the critically endangered vaquita to extinction. There are only around 60 vaquitas left, and it is now up to China whether the world’s smallest porpoise will escape extinction. That’s according to a report by campaign organisation the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The critically endangered porpoise is only found in the Gulf of California, where it often gets tangled in gill nets targeting the totoaba, a similarly sized fish that is also endangered and whose fishing and international trade are banned. The totoaba’s swim bladders, known as “aquatic cocaine”, are sought for their putative medical effects, and can fetch tens of thousands of dollars in China. This trade still thrives there, despite a fall in prices and the ban, according to an investigation by the EIA.
9-19-16 Tap-dancing songbirds drum with their feet to attract mates
Tap-dancing songbirds drum with their feet to attract mates
DThe superfast tap dance of the blue-capped cordon-bleu is thought to play a role in courtship. Now it seems it’s not just for looks – noise is also important. The only songbird known to perform a rapid tap dance during courtship makes more noise with its feet during its routines than at other times. The blue-capped cordon-bleu (Uraeginthus cyanocephalus) from East Africa is blessed with the attributes of a Broadway star: striking good looks, a strong singing voice – and fine tap-dancing skills. The dances are so fast that they went unnoticed until 2015, when Masayo Soma at Hokkaido University in Japan and her colleagues captured the performances on high-speed film. The bird’s speciality is a left-right-left shuffle – only with the feet striking the perch up to 50 times a second. The vision of some birds operates at a faster rate than that of humans, so the cordon-bleu’s dance may simply be about creating an impressive visual performance. But it could also be about winning over a potential mate with rhythm.
9-15-16 Tool-using crow: Rare bird joins clever animal elite
Tool-using crow: Rare bird joins clever animal elite
A bird so rare that it is now extinct in the wild has joined a clever animal elite - the Hawaiian crow naturally uses tools to reach food. The bird now joins just one other corvid - the New Caledonian crow - in this exclusive evolutionary niche. Dr Christian Rutz from St Andrews University described his realisation that the bird might be an undiscovered tool user as a "eureka moment". He and his team published their findings in the journal Nature. "I've been studying New Caledonian crows for over 10 years now," Dr Rutz told BBC News. "There are more than 40 species of crows and ravens around the world and many of them are poorly studied. "So I wondered if there were hitherto undiscovered tool users among them." Previously, Dr Rutz and his colleagues have reported that New Caledonian crows have particular physical features - very straight bills and forward-facing eyes. The researchers suggested these might be tool-using adaptations. (Webmaster's comment: And humans killed all but a few off. We killed off the species second most intelligent to us. What a great human acheivement!)
9-14-16 Hawaiian crows can use sticks as tools but are nearly extinct
Hawaiian crows can use sticks as tools but are nearly extinct
Like their cousins the New Caledonian crows, island-welling Hawaiian crows seem naturally disposed to using tools for getting food. It’s certainly something to crow about. New Caledonian crows are known for their ingenious use of tools to get at hard-to-reach food. Now it turns out that their Hawaiian cousins are adept tool-users as well. Christian Rutz at the University of St Andrews in the UK has spent 10 years studying the New Caledonian crow and wondered whether any other crow species are disposed to use tools. So he looked for crows that have similar features to the New Caledonian crow – a straight bill and large, mobile eyes that allow it to manipulate tools, much as archaeologists use opposable thumbs as an evolutionary signature for tool use in early humans. “The Hawaiian crow really stood out,” he says. “They look quite similar.”
9-14-16 Hawaiian crows ace tool-user test
Hawaiian crows ace tool-user test
Second corvid species shows knack for deftly groping with sticks to snag food. Hawaiian crows have just joined the short list of birds demonstrated to have a widespread, natural capacity for using tools, such as a stick for probing. A second kind of crow, native to Hawaii, joins the famous New Caledonian crows as proven natural tool-users. Tested in big aviaries, Hawaiian crows (Corvus hawaiiensis) frequently picked up a little stick and deftly worked it around to nudge out hard-to-reach tidbits of meat that researchers had pushed into holes in a log, scientists report September 14 in Nature.
9-13-16 How forensic science can stop slaughter of endangered wildlife
How forensic science can stop slaughter of endangered wildlife
Technology to investigate wildlife trafficking is rapidly improving, but countries also need to agree new ways of working and better training and resources. With wildlife crime escalating, maybe it’s time to revamp the international treaty aimed at combatting it. Forensic scientists are proposing a series of changes to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to allow new technologies to be unleashed on the problem. Later this month, the CITES meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, will hear of growing desperation over the rise in poaching and the illicit wildlife trade, which is said to be the fourth largest illegal trade in the world. For example, rhino killings in Africa have risen for the last six years, with over 1300 killed in 2015. Some CITES-listed plant species have become more valuable than ever. A 1-kilogram piece of resinous agarwood, used in pricey perfumes and traditional Chinese medicine, sold for $3 million earlier this year, says Ed Espinoza, deputy director of the US Fish and Wildlife Services Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.
9-9-16 As IUCN votes on ivory trade, elephants’ future looks bleak
As IUCN votes on ivory trade, elephants’ future looks bleak
Forest elephants are a species distinct from their savannah cousins. New research finds that populations of both elephant species are in trouble. The fate of Africa’s elephants may be decided before the weekend is out. Members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, happening this week in Honolulu, will decide on Motion 7, whichwould call on the IUCN to encourage governments to shut down the ivory trade — and provide help in doing so. The hope is that ending the demand for ivory — and with it, hopefully, the large-scale elephant poaching that has been going on for more than a decade — would allow both savannah and forest elephants to recover. But two new studies show that the species have declined so much that, even after poaching ends, their populations will take decades to recover.
9-9-16 The immorality of animal research
The immorality of animal research
As a scientist who spent decades conducting research on monkeys, said John Gluck, I once believed that “intentionally harming animals” was justified by what we learned. But after witnessing the terrible suffering we inflicted, I now believe animal research is immoral. In fact, we need to examine whether we should stop the research that scientists are still conducting on 70,000 laboratory primates in the U.S. In my own work, we separated young monkeys from their families and others of their kind, putting them in isolated, soundproof cages that were lit 24 hours a day. We then measured “how their potential complex and intellectual lives unraveled” under these awful conditions—in effect, driving them insane. As we observed these intelligent primates suffer, I began to see them as individuals with personalities and feelings, not just objects yielding data, and “it became harder and harder for me to argue that the importance of my work always outweighed the pain I caused.” Besides, what we learned about animals in cages had limited relevance to mental illness in people. In recent decades, we have banned research that causes harm to humans—even if it produces useful information. “There is no ethical argument that justifies not doing the same for animals.”
9-9-16 How your dog understands you
How your dog understands you
Man’s best friend may understand us better than we thought. Groundbreaking new research has found that dogs process words and intonation using separate parts of the brain—the same way humans do, reports The Washington Post. Scientists trained 13 dogs of various breeds to lie still in an MRI machine. The pooches then listened to a trainer reciting positive phrases (such as “good dog”) as well as meaningless ones (like “however”), in both a neutral tone and a happy, “attaboy” tone. The scans showed that the dogs processed the meaningful words with the left side of their brain—the same hemisphere humans use to process language—and intonation with the right side. Furthermore, the canines’ dopamine “reward centers,” which respond to things like food or being petted, weren’t activated by meaningless phrases spoken in a positive tone of voice or by encouraging words spoken in a flat tone. “Dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it,” says Attila Andics, the study’s lead researcher, “but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really mean.”
9-9-16 How one man is saving China's endangered bees
How one man is saving China's endangered bees
Most beekeepers in China keep imported bees from Europe because they are easier to manage and produce more honey. But 60-year-old Li Yongchang decided to keep indigenous Chinese bees a decade ago. They have been on the verge of extinction for years, and Li is on a mission to pass on his skills to raise these creatures essential to China's natural environment.
9-9-16 Pioneering 'diaries' reveal the secret lives of animals
Pioneering 'diaries' reveal the secret lives of animals
How do you tell if an elephant is having a good day? Or spy on the nocturnal squid-catching skills of the albatross? This week at the British Science Festival, Prof Rory Wilson of Swansea University has been divulging the secrets of the animal kingdom, including penguin diving habits, albatross hunting methods and the emotional states of elephants. "The problem with animals is we often want to know things about them that they don't want to tell us or that aren't easy to find out. The only way to do it is to put something on [the animal] that will accompany it," Prof Wilson said. Addressing a crowd of journalists, Prof Wilson said his work was all made possible by a small electronic chip his team developed specifically to stalk animals in their private hours. This chip contains accelerometers, magnetometers, pressure, temperature and light sensors - offering an unprecedented view of an animal's life. The tag, Prof Wilson explained, essentially does exactly what our smartphones or fitness monitors do, continually tracking and recording the wearer's position and movements.
9-8-16 White killer whales were legend – now they are everywhere
White killer whales were legend – now they are everywhere
White orcas are so rare, there was once only one. Now they are being spotted more frequently – and the reason is not good news. Six years ago, on 11th August 2010, whale researchers working in the western North Pacific encountered something very unusual: a white male killer whale, or orca. Two days later the white whale, nicknamed Iceberg, reappeared in a large group of orcas – a group that included a second white whale. In fact, over the past few years the researchers have encountered no fewer than five – and perhaps as many as eight – white orcas in the western North Pacific. They are virtually unheard of elsewhere in the world’s oceans. Their unusual abundance in this one particular region could be worrying evidence of inbreeding. “What we are seeing is strange. It’s a very high rate of occurrence,” says Erich Hoyt at Whale and Dolphin Conservation in Bridport, UK, who co-directs the Far East Russia Orca Project. Hoyt and his colleagues estimate there are several thousand orcas in the region, which could mean as many as one in 1000 individuals is born white. “All the other areas where orcas are studied intensively have zero or one or two [white whales] historically,” he says. Hoyt and his colleagues have not yet managed to take genetic samples from any of the white whales, so the exact reason for their unusual colour is not clear. One possibility, though, is that the whales are albinos – a condition that is often more common when mammal populations are inbred.
9-7-16 Get inside the collective mind of a genius superorganism
Get inside the collective mind of a genius superorganism
The amazing bridges and scaffolds that ants build using their own bodies can teach us a thing or two about robotics, engineering and cooperation. BARRO Colorado Island is tiny and sits in the middle of the Panama Canal. Here, below the forest dome, a diminutive predator scuttles over dead leaves and along narrow branches. Nearly blind, this Eciton army ant follows a trail of chemical signals laid down by her sisters. She pushes forward, relentlessly, in search of prey. Whatever she finds, she’ll bring back to the nest to share with her colony. But then she stops. The ground has dropped away in front of her. There is no scent trail, just empty space. Other members of the colony that were following begin to climb over her. Now, instead of walking in a line, they grip hold of one another using hooks on their feet, adding body after body to build an impromptu bridge. More and more join in, until they traverse the gap. And there they remain until the entire foraging party, numbering hundreds, has crossed. Then, as suddenly as it came into being, the bridge disperses, and the ants continue on their way. How do these creatures achieve such an impressive feat of coordination with very limited brainpower and no overview of the situation? That’s the question a group of researchers working on Barro Colorado Island set out to answer. Their efforts have revealed how ants use simple cues to organise themselves into complex living structures. It’s a wonder of nature, and it could offer insights for engineers, mathematicians and robot designers. What’s more, it might even shed some light on our own interactions.
9-5-16 Bonobos rival chimps at the art of cracking oil palm nuts
Bonobos rival chimps at the art of cracking oil palm nuts
Bonobos in an African sanctuary use stones to crack oil palm nuts surprisingly well, researchers say. These apes hold nut-cracking stones in 15 different ways, and use 10 hand grips not previously described for tool-using chimps or monkeys. Bonobos — chimpanzees’ sister species — don’t get the credit they deserve as tool users. Bonobos ranging through a sanctuary’s protected forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo crack nuts with stones nearly as well as wild chimps in other parts of Africa do, researchers report August 26 in the American Journal of Primatology. Wild bonobos have rarely been observed using any object as a tool and have never been reported to pound open nuts with stones. All 18 adult and adolescent bonobos tracked during April and May 2015 cracked oil palm nuts with stones of various sizes that researchers had placed near oil palm trees, says a team led by Johanna Neufuss of the University of Kent, England. Bonobos chose pounding stones well-suited to busting palm oil nutshells. These animals employed 15 grips to hold nut-cracking stones, including 10 grips not previously observed in nonhuman primates. Several novel grips involved holding a stone with the thumb and one or a few fingers while bracing the tool against the palm.
9-5-16 Eastern gorillas threatened with extinction
Eastern gorillas threatened with extinction
The eastern gorilla is now on the endangered species list. A surge in illegal hunting is threatening the eastern gorilla, the world's largest primate, an international conservation group has said. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List says just 5,000 of the animals remain in their central African habitat. The number of eastern gorillas has declined more than 70% in two decades. Four of the six great apes are now critically endangered, the IUCN says. This means they are just one step away from extinction.
9-1-16 What would Trump's wall mean for wildlife?
What would Trump's wall mean for wildlife?
Roadrunners have been affected even by the present border restrictions. Free movement between the US and Mexico - the hottest of topics in the 2016 US presidential campaign - is not just a human issue. What would the construction of a wall mean for animals that live near the border? One of the pledges he made during his announcement was to construct an impenetrable barrier running the length of the US border with Mexico. Very few people have been talking about what it would mean for wildlife. The US-Mexico border region is a delicate ecosystem located between two biomes, with regular animal and bird migrations moving between the north and south of the American continent. It is home to a diverse population of mammals, birds and plants, including the iconic American roadrunner and the saguaro cactus, the cinematic symbol of the American southwest. The dry, desert ecosystem also supports cougars, desert bighorn sheep, the endangered North American jaguar and the ocelot - which is down to its last 50 animals in southern Texas. Animals are susceptible to artificial borders of various shapes and sizes - not just walls but highways, train tracks and all sorts of man-made infrastructure. "Border infrastructure not only blocks the movement of wildlife, but... destroys the habitats, fragments the habitats and the connectivity that these animals use to move from one place to another," Sergio Avila-Villegas, from Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tuscon, told Science in Action on the BBC World Service.
9-1-16 South Carolina county inadvertently kills thousands of honey bees
South Carolina county inadvertently kills thousands of honey bees
Bees have turned out to be an unexpected casualty in the fight against Zika virus. After Dorchester County, South Carolina, dispensed a pesticide by plane Sunday targeting potential Zika-carrying mosquitoes, honey bees started dropping dead by the thousands. At one bee farm in Summerville, South Carolina, 46 hives containing a total of about 2.5 million bees died almost immediately after the area was sprayed. Upon investigation, officials concluded that what some beekeepers are calling a "mass killing" was caused by the insecticide intended for mosquitoes. While the county has sprayed the insecticide, Naled, by truck before, Sunday was the first time the county has dispensed the insecticide by airplane, prompted by the four Zika cases in the county.
8-31-16 Slow birth rate found in African forest elephants
Slow birth rate found in African forest elephants
African forest elephants have an extremely slow birth rate, putting them under greater pressure from poaching, research suggests. Scientists have found that the animals start to breed at a later age and with longer intervals between calves than other elephant species. The researchers say it means it could take decades for this species to recover from recent dramatic declines.
8-31-16 Slow-to-breed elephant hurtles towards extinction
Slow-to-breed elephant hurtles towards extinction
The African forest elephant doesn’t begin having offspring until its mid-20s – which makes population recovery a mammoth problem, even if poaching can be halted. African forest elephants could be wiped out in the next 10 years. Numbers of this small elephant species that inhabits tropical forests fell by about 65 per cent across the Central African Republic between 2002 and 2013, according to a study led by the Wildlife Conservation Society. They are being poached for their ivory. “In 2013 the estimated remaining population was 100,000,” says study co-author Peter Wrege at the Elephant Listening Project, part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Ithaca, New York. “But poaching rates suggest that 12,000 to 15,000 forest elephants are being killed every year. At this rate, forest elephants will be essentially extinct in one decade – by 2023. This should worry everybody.” The elephants’ bleak future is partly because of their slow reproduction rate. Unlike the bigger, more abundant savannah elephants – which start breeding from the age of 12 – female forest elephants begin breeding only at 23. They then only give birth only once every five to six years. “Overall, this makes forest elephants the slowest reproducing mammals known,” says Wrege. Orangutans are probably the closest mammal in terms of rate of reproduction – they give birth about every six to seven years. But orangutans begin reproducing in their teens rather than their twenties.
8-31-16 Why elephants are seeking refuge in Botswana
Why elephants are seeking refuge in Botswana
Elephants are everywhere - under the shade of trees, drinking by the river or playing at the few remaining waterholes in the drought-parched landscape. Botswana has more elephants than any other country in Africa - 130,451 to be precise. At least that's the estimate given by the Great Elephant Census. Sadly, hundreds of them have now probably been killed since the survey was done. Botswana may be their last place of refuge on the continent, but poachers are already breaching its vast borders in their pursuit of ivory. In seven years, 30% of Africa's elephants have disappeared. At the current rate of decline, half the continent's remaining pachyderms will be gone in just nine years.
8-31-16 For snowy owls, wintering on the prairie might be normal
For snowy owls, wintering on the prairie might be normal
Some snowy owls leave the Arctic to fly south for the winter. That may be a normal part of their migration pattern, a new study finds. White, fierce and fluffy, snowy owls are icons of Arctic life. But some of these owls are not cool with polar winters. Every year, part of the population flies south to North American prairies. Ornithologists thought those birds fled the Arctic in desperation, haggard and hungry. But the prairie owls are doing just fine, researchers report August 31 in The Auk: Ornithological Advances.
8-30-16 Dogs process language like us and can tell when we praise them
Dogs process language like us and can tell when we praise them
Brain scans have found that dogs use different parts of their brains to process speech, and can tell what words mean if we use the right tone. It turns out they really do understand some of what we are saying, processing both words and intonation to work out what we mean. Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, and her team scanned the brains of dogs while they were listening to their trainer speaking. They found that, just like us, dogs use the left hemisphere of their brains to process words, while the intonation of speech is processed by the right hemisphere. The team tested the dogs by saying different words with various intonations – for example, a meaningless word spoken in an encouraging voice, or a meaningful word said in a neutral tone. They found that dogs only registered praise in the reward region of their brain if both positive words and encouraging intonation were used at the same time.
8-30-16 Dog brains divide language tasks much like humans do
Dog brains divide language tasks much like humans do
Meaning, intonation interpreted separately, study finds. To see how dogs process speech, these pooches were trained to undergo MRI brain scans. The results: Dogs are a lot like humans. Dogs process speech much like people do, a new study finds. Meaningful words like “good boy” activate the left side of a dog’s brain regardless of tone of voice, while a region on the right side of the brain responds to intonation, scientists report in the Sept. 2 Science. Similarly, humans process the meanings of words in the left hemisphere of the brain, and interpret intonation in the right hemisphere. That lets people sort out words that convey meaning from random sounds that don’t. But it has been unclear whether language abilities were a prerequisite for that division of brain labor, says neuroscientist Attila Andics of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.
8-30-16 Endangered dolphin with broken blowhole learns to mouth-breathe
Endangered dolphin with broken blowhole learns to mouth-breathe
What to do when your blowhole is blocked? A dolphin has learned to breathe through its mouth instead, even though it’s not usually an option for them. A dolphin has learned to breathe through its mouth after developing a faulty blowhole, highlighting the animal’s ability to adapt. The adult Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) was discovered in January 2014 off the coast of Christchurch in New Zealand. Steve Dawson at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and his colleagues were studying the endangered species as part of a long-term conservation project, when they noticed unusual behaviour in one member of a group of seven. Each time the dolphin surfaced, it approached at a steep angle and lifted its head higher out of the water than normal. The blowhole stayed shut while its mouth opened wide and made a sound consistent with sucking in air. Dolphins were not thought to be able to breathe through their mouths. To do this, a dolphin would need to move its larynx from the usual position to allow the respiratory and digestive tracts to communicate, says Dawson.The animal probably learned to do this after its blowhole became blocked by a foreign object or injury, or because the muscles around it didn’t work properly, he says. “We think this dolphin has found a workaround to what is most likely a pathological problem.”
8-29-16 The fish that have bellies full of mice – but we don’t know how
The fish that have bellies full of mice – but we don’t know how
Lesser salmon catfish from rivers of north Australia gobble down mice and possibly other small mammals. How they get to their land prey remains a mystery. The lesser salmon catfish has been found feasting on mice. But how does it catch them? Some catfish are known to ambush unwary pigeons at the water’s edge, giving them the nickname “freshwater killer whales”. But the lesser salmon catfish might just be an opportunist, gobbling up animals when they drown. A survey of 18 lesser salmon catfish (Neoarius graeffei) from Ashburton river in northern Australia, suggests the fish can consume large quantities of small land animals when given the chance — almost half of the catfish had mice in their bellies. The stomachs of some catfish contained as much as 95 per cent small mammals, with two fish having three animals each in their stomachs.
8-26-16 Monster slugs are devouring defenceless baby birds in nests
Monster slugs are devouring defenceless baby birds in nests
Nestlings are sitting ducks for giant slugs – some of them invasive – that have been recorded feeding on the chicks of several birds species. Some baby birds are meeting a slimy end. Voracious supersized slugs have been seen chomping on chicks in nests on or near the ground. “The actual moment of slugs predating on nestlings isn’t easy to observe,” says Katarzyna Turzanska at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. “You are more likely to come across the traces of the ‘tragedy’: dead or alive nestlings with heavy injuries, covered in slime – and often slugs’ droppings found nearby.” She and Justyna Chachulska, a colleague at the University of Zielona Góra in Poland, were studying common whitethroat birds near Wroclaw, in Poland, when they spotted a slug of the Arion genus in a nest with newly hatched chicks. The next day, the slug was gone, and the chicks were dead with severe injuries on their bodies that hinted at the slug as the culprit. They were gobsmacked. “We couldn’t believe that the slug had killed the nestlings,” says Turzanska. “We talked to many experienced ornithologists, but none of them had observed slug predatory behaviour towards birds before.”
8-25-16 Genes help snub-nosed monkeys live the high life
Genes help snub-nosed monkeys live the high life
A few genes may have put black snub-nosed monkeys on top of the world. Black, or Yunnan, snub-nosed monkeys (Rhinopithecus bieti) live in high-altitude forests on a small slice of the Tibetan plateau. At 3,400 to 4,600 meters above sea level, the monkeys reside at higher elevations than any other nonhuman primate. A genetic study of DNA from four of the five remaining species of snub-nosed monkeys in Asia has found 19 gene variations in black snub-nosed monkeys that might be responsible for their high life. One of those genes, called ADAM9, is more active in cancer cells in low-oxygen conditions. Tibetan yaks and chickens also have their own versions of the gene. The results suggest that natural selection favored changes to ADAM9 because they help snub-nosed monkeys and other animals survive low-oxygen environments.
8-25-16 Warm-up benefit could explain morning birdsong
Warm-up benefit could explain morning birdsong
Dawn tune-up may improve sound for attracting mates. Even in the highly musical species of Adelaide’s warblers, singers aren’t at their best with the first trill of the morning. Vocally warming up puts more dazzle into a bird’s singing for the day, a new test shows, perhaps helping to explain widespread outbursts of birdsong at dawn. Males of Puerto Rico’s Adelaide’s warblers (Setophaga adelaidae) start trilling through their repertoires of 30 or so songs while it’s still pitch black. Tracking the songs of individual males showed that the order of performance had a strong effect on performance quality, behavioral ecologist David Logue said August 17 at the North American Ornithological Conference. In the early versions of particular songs, males didn’t quickly change pitch as well as they did later, Logue, of the University of Lethbridge in Canada, and colleagues found.
8-23-16 Secrets of how primates can live at extreme altitude revealed
Secrets of how primates can live at extreme altitude revealed
Gene selection explains how some species of snub-nosed monkeys have adapted to the challenging conditions of their habitat up to 4600 metres above sea level. It can be lonely at the top. Snub-nosed monkeys live at a higher altitude than any other non-human primate – but they are also among the rarest of all primates. The latest genomic analyses may help to explain exactly how they have adapted to life in the thin air found in their habitat and perhaps inform their conservation. Snub-nosed monkeys were once fairly common across Asia, before climate and geological processes conspired against them. Mountain-building activity in the area associated with the formation of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau created physical barriers that isolated monkey populations from one another. The deterioration of environmental conditions during the last ice age helped keep those populations apart. By about 300,000 years ago, the monkeys had been isolated for so long that they had split into five distinct species. Golden, black and gray snub-nosed monkeys live in the mountainous forests of southern China, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey inhabits northern Vietnam and the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey lives in Myanmar. The black snub-nosed monkey has the highest elevational range of any non-human primate. It lives in a small corner of the Tibetan plateau at 3400 to 4600 metres above sea level.
8-22-16 Ways to beat heat have hidden costs for birds
Ways to beat heat have hidden costs for birds
Panting, seeking shade affect food foraging. Heat can have hidden costs for birds. Something as simple as panting can chip away at a southern yellow-billed hornbill's ability to snag prey. In the short-term, ways to beat the heat are cool. But for desert birds, even simple panting or flying into the shade have some sneaky long-term costs. When male southern yellow-billed hornbills pant, they’re less able to snap up food, Susan Cunningham reported August 18 at the North American Ornithological Conference. The hornbills are the third bird species that Cunningham, of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and various colleagues have shown face hidden costs of trying not to overheat. Birds certainly have ways to ease the immediate dangers of heat. But determining the full consequences of all those small accommodations becomes more urgent as the climate changes.
8-19-16 Bird nest riddle: Which shape came first?
Bird nest riddle: Which shape came first?
Don’t assume simple cup-shaped architecture evolved before roofed structures. o human thinking, songbird nests now seem to have evolved backwards: The most distant ancestor probably built complex, roofed structures. Simple open-top cup nests came later. More than 70 percent of songbird species today build some form of that iconic open cup, evolutionary biologist Jordan Price said August 18 at the North American Ornithological Conference. Yet looking at patterns of nest style across recent bird family trees convinced him that the widespread cup style probably isn’t just a leftover from deepest bird origins.
8-19-16 Zebra finch 'heat song' changes hatchling development
Zebra finch 'heat song' changes hatchling development
The finches live in the desert, where adjusting to temperature is critical. When the weather is hot, zebra finches in Australia sing to their eggs - and these "incubation calls" change the chicks' development, a study has found. The surprising discovery suggests that the birds are preparing their offspring for warm conditions after they hatch. Scientists collected eggs and incubated them in controlled conditions, playing recordings of the incubation song. Compared to a control group, hatchlings that received these calls grew more slowly and coped better in the heat. Writing in the journal Science, the researchers say this is the sort of adaptation that could help animals acclimatise to rising global temperatures.
8-18-16 Birds sing to their unborn chicks to warn them about hot weather
Birds sing to their unborn chicks to warn them about hot weather
Zebra finch parents prepare their chicks for the heat by giving them advice – through the shell. When it’s hot outside, zebra finches sing a special song to their eggs. That song appears to keep the chicks from growing too large after they hatch if the weather is toasty – and it even affects the number of baby birds in the next generation, though researchers aren’t sure exactly why. Several species of birds and their unborn offspring call to one another, says Mylene Mariette at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia. When they hatch, birds that are born well developed, such as ducks and chickens, recognise their parents by their voices. Birds that hatch at an early stage, such as zebra finches, were not thought to do this. “We didn’t realise that they were able to hear before hatching,” Mariette says. But they do – and they seem to take this to a whole new level.
8-17-16 Evidence piles up for popular pesticides' link to pollinator problems
Evidence piles up for popular pesticides' link to pollinator problems
Butterfly species in Northern California, such as Pyrgus scriptura, may suffer spillover effects of local neonicotinoid pesticide use. The link between pollinator problems and neonicotinoids, a group of agricultural pesticides commonly associated with declines in honeybees, continues to build with two new studies published this week. Butterflies of Northern California join the ranks of honeybees, bumblebees, moths and other organisms that may be feeling the effects of the infamous insecticides. Butterfly species in California’s Central Valley have dipped since the 1990s — around the same time that neonicotinoids were introduced. Matthew Forister of the University of Nevada and his colleagues report August 16 in Biology Letters that those two events may be linked.
8-16-16 Neonic pesticide link to long-term wild bee decline
Neonic pesticide link to long-term wild bee decline
Species that fed regularly on oil seed rape such as the buff tailed bumblebee showed more serious declines. The large-scale, long-term decline in wild bees across England has been linked to the use of neonicotinoid insecticides by a new study. Over 18 years, researchers analysed bees who forage heavily on oilseed rape, a crop widely treated with "neonics". The scientists attribute half of the total decline in wild bees to the use of these chemicals. Industry sources say the study shows an association, not a cause and effect.
8-16-16 Decline of wild bee species in England linked to pesticide use
Decline of wild bee species in England linked to pesticide use
Neonicotinoid pesticides used on oilseed rape farms in England have been linked with a dramatic decline in wild bee populations for the first time. The decline of England’s wild bees has been linked for the first time to the use of controversial neonicotinoid pesticides on oilseed rape farms. Neonicotinoids are applied to the seed prior to planting and can be transported to all tissues of a crop, meaning creatures that feed on the nectar will ingest them. The various effects such pesticides might have on bees have been documented before, but there was no strong evidence linking them to long-term losses of wild bee species. Now, Ben Woodcock at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in Oxfordshire, UK, and his colleagues have studied data on 62 species collected by volunteers from more than 31,818 surveys across more than 4000 square kilometres of land. They looked at bee populations between 1994 and 2011. In England, farmers first started using neonicotinoids on oilseed rape in 2002. They found the average decline in populations across all bee species was 7 per cent since 2002. Some species, such the Bronze Furrow bee and the Spined Mason bee declined by 20 per cent or more.
8-13-16 NZ scientists track penguins' marathon winter travels
NZ scientists track penguins' marathon winter travels
Two species of sub-Antarctic penguin have surprised scientists in New Zealand by travelling up to 15,000km (9,320 miles) during six months spent at sea. Researchers tagged 90 rockhopper and Snares crested penguins to find out where they go during the southern hemisphere's winter, and were astonished by the birds' long-distance journeys, the New Zealand Herald reports. It's hoped the study will help determine why rockhopper numbers on New Zealand's Campbell Island have plummeted. There was a 94% drop in the population between 1942 and 1984, and since then numbers have fallen by more than 20%, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, which ran the project. "Prior to this study we didn't have a clue where rockhoppers went in the winter," says seabird ecologist Dr David Thompson. "But the spaces they use in the ocean might be really important, not only for them but for scientists to better understand what is causing the population decline."
8-11-16 Cherry or rhubarb? Orangutan mixes tasty cocktails in its mind
Cherry or rhubarb? Orangutan mixes tasty cocktails in its mind
A pleasure-seeking ape can predict the taste of cocktails it has never tried before, which was thought to be something only humans can do. What’s an orangutan’s favourite cocktail? By providing a captive orang-utan with its own personal cocktail bar, a group of researchers found that out, and in the process discovered that these great apes have a predictive ability thought to be unique to humans. Naong, a male orangutan based at a Swedish zoo, was offered three distinct-tasting fruit juices – cherry, rhubarb and lemon – as well as cider apple vinegar. Each was in a small bottle on a table adjacent to his cage, and which he could access using a straw. He learned their flavours, and also the flavour of every possible pairing of the liquids mixed for him by a personal bartender. The researchers found that Naong not only remembered the flavour of each combination, but could predict whether combinations he had never tasted before would taste pleasant.
8-10-16 Wild New Caledonian crows possess tool-craft talent
Wild New Caledonian crows possess tool-craft talent
Crows from the Pacific island of New Caledonia show amazing abilities to create tools. Stick tool skills have now been recorded in crows in the wild. Scientists have confirmed that a species of wild crow from New Caledonia in the South Pacific can craft tools. The birds were observed bending twigs into hooks to extract food hidden in wooden logs. Previously this skill had been seen in captive birds kept in laboratories. The study, published in the journal Open Science, suggests that this talent is part of the birds' natural behaviour.
8-10-16 Genius crow's tool-bending behaviour may be natural to its kind
Genius crow's tool-bending behaviour may be natural to its kind
Betty the crow astounded scientists with its ability to bend a piece of garden wire into a neat hook back in 2002. Now it looks like wild crows do it all the time. A crow that astonished the world by bending a straight piece of wire was simply acting out behaviour in her species’ natural repertoire. Betty bent a straight piece of garden wire into a neat hook to lift a food-baited bucket from a vertical tube in a laboratory at the University of Oxford in 2002. At the time, it was known that New Caledonian crows manufacture tools from twigs in the wild, but it seemed highly unlikely that this involved bending. The resulting paper from the experiment suggested that Betty had spontaneously come up with a clever solution after understanding the experimental task. This shook the field of comparative cognition and was regarded as one of the most compelling demonstrations of intelligence in a non-human animal. But recent field experiments by biologists at the University of St Andrews have found that tool bending is part of New Caledonian crows’ natural behaviour. (Webmaster's comment: But still she had to figure out that it could be used to lift the bucket.)
8-9-16 Betty the crow may not have invented her hook-bending tool trick
Betty the crow may not have invented her hook-bending tool trick
Textbook example of ‘spontaneous’ toolmaking challenged by wild bird studies. Betty, heralded as a toolmaking prodigy among New Caledonian crows, may not have been such a whiz bird after all. Her apparently spontaneous wire-bending is getting a closer, skeptical look based on new information about what the birds do in the wild. As a lab resident, Betty astounded researchers more than a decade ago by bending a wire into a hook — with no obvious design cues or known experience — and then using the hook to retrieve a treat from the depths of a tube. Described cautiously in 2002, the report of Betty’s hook became “widely considered one of the most compelling demonstrations of insightful behavior in nonhumans,” says Christian Rutz of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Now, tool tests of wild New Caledonian crows temporarily held in a field aviary raise the possibility that Betty might have had experience with twig bending before coming into the lab, Rutz and colleagues say August 10 in Royal Society Open Science. In the recent tests with 18 wild-caught Corvus moneduloides, 10 birds vigorously bent a pliable stick tool they were making, the researchers report. Betty, who died in 2005, had also been caught in the wild and may have had some experience with bending pliable wood. The observations don’t disprove the claim that she invented wire-bending spontaneously, but do raise an alternative explanation, Rutz says. (Webmaster's comment: So she learned it in the wild. At what age can your child learn it without your help?)
8-3-16 First evidence birds nap in flight without dropping out of sky
First evidence birds nap in flight without dropping out of sky
Brain recorders fitted to 14 great frigatebirds show these birds sleep on the wing, usually while circling in rising air currents. The debate has finally been put to bed. Wearable brainwave recorders confirm that birds do indeed sleep while flying, but only for brief periods and usually with one half of their brain. We know several bird species can travel vast distances non-stop, prompting speculation that they must nap mid-flight. Great frigatebirds, for example, can fly continuously for up to two months. On the other hand, the male sandpiper, for one, can largely forgo sleep during the breeding season, hinting that it may also be possible for birds to stay awake during prolonged trips. To settle this question, Niels Rattenborg at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, and his colleagues fitted small brain activity monitors and movement trackers to 14 great frigatebirds. During long flights, the birds slept for an average of 41 minutes per day, in short episodes of about 12 seconds each. By contrast, they slept for more than 12 hours per day on land. Frigatebirds in flight tend to use one hemisphere at a time to sleep, as do ducks and dolphins, but sometimes they used both. “Some people thought that all their sleep would have to be unihemispheric otherwise they would drop from the sky,” says Rattenborg. “But that’s not the case – they can sleep with both hemispheres and they just continue soaring.” Sleep typically took place as the birds were circling in rising air currents, when they did not need to flap their wings.
8-3-16 Giant honeybees may act like a collective lung to beat the heat
Giant honeybees may act like a collective lung to beat the heat
Curtains of bees appear to draw air in and out of their colonies, keeping their colonies cool. It’s practically a hive lung. When it’s hot, Asian giant honeybees may chill their colonies through synchronised movements that suck cool air into the nest, then push warm air out. Unlike common honeybees, which nest in cavities such as hollow tree trunks, giant honeybees build large combs in the open. To protect the comb, which can grow to 2 metres long, up to seven layers of bees surround it, forming a living insulating cloak called the “bee curtain”. It can only provide limited shelter from the elements, however. Keeping cool on toasty days requires the cooperation of the entire colony, says Gerald Kastberger of the University of Graz, Austria. Different types of honeybees keep cool by spewing water around their nests, beating their wings like fans, and even flying off en masse to dump excess heat through defecation.
7-28-16 Crows are first animals spotted using tools to carry objects
Crows are first animals spotted using tools to carry objects
Brainy New Caledonian crows have figured out how to carry objects too large to move with their beaks by using a stick. New Caledonian crows have figured out how to move two things in one fell swoop. The adept tool users have been filmed inserting sticks into objects to transport both items at once – a feat that has never been seen in non-humans. Ivo Jacobs of Lund University in Sweden and his team recorded the unique behaviour in a group of captive crows (Corvus moneduloides). They saw how one crafty individual slipped a wooden stick into a metal nut and flew off, carrying away both the tool and the object. A few days later, another crow inserted a thin stick into a hole in a large wooden ball to move the items out of the room. The team observed four other instances of the crows’ clever trick. One of these involved using a stick to transport an object that was too large to be handled by beak. The birds’ novel mode of tool use may be a reflection of their intelligence and exceptionally large brains. Although we already knew crows could use tools, adapting this behaviour to other contexts involving novel objects and purposes shows behavioural flexibility, says Jacobs. “This is typically seen as a hallmark of complex cognitive abilities.” (Webmaster's comment: Like I have said. Next to humans crows are the smartest animals on the planet.)
7-27-16 Clever koalas learn to cross the road safely
Clever koalas learn to cross the road safely
Koalas have quickly learned to use wildlife passageways to cross busy roads in Australia's Queensland state as they move between habitats, writes Myles Gough. A new study tracked 72 koalas living near six wildlife crossings, specially installed by the Queensland government between 2010 and 2013. It was the first study to test the effectiveness of the crossings, which were part of a $20 million retrofit project to help stop roadway deaths of the vulnerable marsupial. "But that's not the case. This proves they really can innovate," he says. "No koala has ever walked under a road on a ledge ever before in its evolutionary history, and indeed they were doing it within a couple of months." "They were able to learn new tricks far faster than anyone would have thought."
7-27-16 Orangutan learns to mimic human conversation for the first time
Orangutan learns to mimic human conversation for the first time
‘Rocky’ the ginger ape has astonished experts by producing sounds similar to words, a feat that might help us study the evolutionary origins of human speech. An orangutan has shown an ability to emulate human speech for the first time — a feat that gets us closer to understanding how human speech first evolved from the communications of ancestral great apes. ‘Rocky’ the ginger ape has astonished experts by producing sounds similar to words in a “conversational context”. “This opens up the potential for us to learn more about the vocal capacities of early hominids that lived before the split between the orangutan and human lineages to see how the vocal system evolved towards full-blown speech in humans,” says lead researcher Adriano Lameria, from the University of Durham, UK.
7-27-16 Orangutan 'copies human speech'
Orangutan 'copies human speech'
An orangutan copying sounds made by researchers offers new clues to how human speech evolved, scientists say. Rocky mimicked more than 500 vowel-like noises, suggesting an ability to control his voice and make new sounds. It had been thought these great apes were unable to do this and, since human speech is a learned behaviour, it could not have originated from them. Study lead Dr Adriano Lameira said this "notion" could now be thrown "into the trash can". Dr Lameira, who conducted the research at Amsterdam University prior to joining Durham University, said Rocky's responses had been "extremely accurate".
7-27-16 Controversial pesticides may be lowering the sperm count of bees
Controversial pesticides may be lowering the sperm count of bees
Widely used neonicotinoid pesticides may harm the fertility and viability of male honeybees, contributing to the collapse of bee populations. Male bees may have inadvertently been taking contraceptives – a possible factor in the alarming decline in bee populations across North America and Europe over the past 15 years. Neonicotinoid pesticides, a controversial class of neurotoxins used in agriculture for pest control, significantly impairs the fertility of male honeybees, according to a new study. These pesticides are still widely used in the US, while the European Commission is currently reviewing a temporary ban it imposed in 2013.
7-26-16 Neonicotinoids are partial contraceptives for male honeybees
Neonicotinoids are partial contraceptives for male honeybees
Common pesticides reduce amount of living sperm in test. Pollen tainted with neonicotinoid pesticides could interfere with male honeybee reproduction, a new study finds. After bee colonies fed on pollen spiked with the pesticides thiamethoxam and clothianidin, male bees, or drones, produced almost 40 percent fewer living sperm than did males from colonies fed clean pollen, researchers report July 27 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The concentrations of the pesticides, 4.5 parts per billion and 1.5 parts per billion, respectively, were in the range of what free-living bees encounter when foraging around crops, study coauthor Lars Straub of the University of Bern, Switzerland, says.
7-25-16 Whooping crane recovery puts human chick ‘parents’ out of a job
Whooping crane recovery puts human chick ‘parents’ out of a job
Humans in costume reared captive chicks and flew in light aircraft to guide the cranes' migration, but now the population has grown it's back to nature's way. When this year’s clutch of captive-bred whooping cranes hatch at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, Wisconsin, they’ll see something that previous generations missed out on – their parents. The recovery of whooping cranes is one of conservation’s big success stories. From a low of just 21 individuals in the 1940s, the population has grown to more than 600 birds today. Around 100 of those make up the reintroduced “eastern migratory population” that breeds in Wisconsin and winters in Florida. To boost their numbers, the ICF used a technique called “re-clutching”: the eggs are taken away from breeding pairs and hatched in an incubator, allowing the birds to lay more than one clutch in a season. This meant each pair could produce four or five eggs per year, instead of one or two. But that also meant that there were more chicks than the adult birds could handle, so humans wearing crane costumes reared the young. Operation Migration volunteers in ultralight aircraft later guided the birds along the migration route to Florida. The result was that lots of young birds were released into the wild, but they turned out to be not very successful in raising their own young. Last year just two chicks fledged in the wild. (Webmaster's comment: There is a false assumption that "instinct" would raise the young properly. WRONG! Just like all animals the young have to LEARN from experienced parents.)
7-22-16 Monkeys who use tools
Monkeys who use tools
Wild capuchin monkeys in Brazil have used stone tools to prepare their food for at least 700 years, new research reveals. Archaeologists discovered dozens of stone hammers and anvils in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park—the oldest known tools not belonging to either humans or chimpanzees. Operating carefully so as not to strike their own fingers, the monkeys use smaller stones as hammers to crack open cashew nuts on a heavier, flat stone; when they’re done eating the protein-rich nutmeats, they store their tools in nearby caches for future use, like a set of utensils at a restaurant. Scientists observed older monkeys teaching their youngsters how to use the stones.
7-21-16 Humans, birds communicate to collaborate
Humans, birds communicate to collaborate
Honeyguides, honey hunters stick together to find, break into bees’ hives. New research finds that honeyguides lead honey hunters to bees’ nests after hearing the humans make what amounts to a “join the hunt” call. When asked the right way, a savvy bird species steers African hunter-gatherers to honey. All it takes is a loud trill followed by a grunt that sounds like “brrr-hm.” Birds known as greater honeyguides lead hunter-gatherers in Mozambique to honey-rich bees’ nests after hearing humans make this signature call, say evolutionary ecologist Claire Spottiswoode of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues. In exchange, the birds get human-aided access to perilous-to-reach food, the scientists report in the July 22 Science. The new study provides the first solid evidence of two-way, collaborative communication between humans and a nonhuman animal in the wild. In some parts of the world, dolphins help fishermen herd fish into nets. But it’s unclear whether these dolphins respond to specific calls from fishermen. (Webmaster's comment: And don't forget Crows will form trading relationships with humans, trading small "lost" human objects for food.)
7-21-16 Wild birds 'come when called' to help hunt honey
Wild birds 'come when called' to help hunt honey
Honeyguides flutter from tree to tree ahead of the hunters. New findings suggest that the famous cooperation between honeyguide birds and human honey hunters in sub-Saharan Africa is a two-way conversation. Honeyguides fly ahead of hunters and point out beehives which the hunters raid, leaving wax for the birds to eat. The birds were already known to chirp at potential human hunting partners.
7-21-16 To douse hot hives, honeybee colonies launch water squadrons
To douse hot hives, honeybee colonies launch water squadrons
New study reveals roles, communication among social insects at time of crisis. When a honeybee colony gets too hot, specialist drinker bees fly off to collect water. When a honeybee colony gets hot and bothered, the crisis sets tongues wagging. Middle-aged bees stick their tongues into the mouths of their elders, launching these special drinker bees to go collect water. That’s just one detail uncovered during a new study of how a colony superorganism cools in hot weather. Using lightbulbs to make heat waves in beehives, researchers have traced how honeybees communicate about collecting water and work together in deploying it as air-conditioning. The tests show just how important water is for protecting a colony from overheating, Thomas Seeley of Cornell University and his colleagues report online July 20 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. (Webmaster's comment: I'm continually amazed at how evolution has adapted these colony insects to survive. The individual bee does not have that much intelligence, but the members of the group work together like a single more intelligent creature. Evolution distributes the brain and the resultant mind across many individuals.)
7-20-16 Water-bottle bees cool the hive after their overheated mates beg
Water-bottle bees cool the hive after their overheated mates beg
After a hot day, some honeybees become living water tanks – they store water in their gut in anticipation of demand from their sisters. Turn the air conditioner on, it’s a scorcher out there. When honeybee hives get too hot, thirsty bees beg their specialised, water-foraging sisters for more liquid, which ends up cooling the colony. Honeybees have a few strategies for chilling out: some fan the nest, others leave the hive to increase air flow, and a few zip off looking for ponds or puddles. These “water collector” bees fill their bellies with water, fly back home, then regurgitate the liquid. Other bees slurp it up and spit it out around the hive, allowing the colony to cool as the water evaporates. It was suspected that a steady supply of water is important during extreme heat, says Thomas Seeley at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. To confirm that, Seeley and his colleagues exposed two hives — each containing about 3000 honeybees — to heat lamps in the lab.
7-19-16 Well-travelled chimps more likely to pick up tools and innovate
Well-travelled chimps more likely to pick up tools and innovate
What makes some apes pick up tools and others not has perplexed scientists, but hunger brought on by travel appears to be a big motivator. Spot a tool-using chimpanzee in Uganda’s Budongo Forest, and you could probably say it’s come a long way – in more ways than one. Chimps here are more likely to make use of tools to gather food if they have used up precious energy reserves travelling in the previous week. The finding suggests that balancing energy needs might push apes into experimenting with tools, with possible implications for understanding what drove our ancestors to develop technology. One explanation of tool use in animals is that it starts by chance and then spreads through a population by social learning. An alternative view is that ecological factors nudge animals into trying tools, with two main theories of how it happens. One is that animals may be forced to try out tool use to exploit new food sources when they are low on energy – if their preferred foods are in short supply, for instance. The other is that animals may be tempted into innovating after encountering new foods that they can only access with tools.
7-18-16 Hummingbirds’ unique way of seeing prevents them from crashing
Hummingbirds’ unique way of seeing prevents them from crashing
Dare-devil fliers that can hover, fly backwards and go at more than 50 kilometres per hour rarely crash – here’s why. Hummingbirds have a unique collision avoidance system built into their brains that allows them to perform high-speed aerobatics in safety. The super-agile birds, whose wings beat up to 70 times a second, can hover, fly backwards, and whizz through dense vegetation at more than 50 kilometres per hour. How they manage to avoid potentially fatal crashes has remained a mystery until now. Researchers in Canada conducted a series of experiments which showed that the birds process visual information differently from other animals. As they dart and dive at speed, they judge distance from the way looming objects appear to get bigger, and vice versa.
7-14-16 Meet the philosopher ducklings that indulge in abstract thought
Meet the philosopher ducklings that indulge in abstract thought
Unexpectedly, ducklings recognise and remember relationships between “same” or “different” objects and colours, showing they can grasp abstract concepts. There once was a brainy duckling. It could remember whether shapes or colours it saw just after hatching were the same as or different to each other. The feat surprised the researchers, who were initially sceptical about whether the ducklings could grasp such complex concepts as “same” and “different”. The fact that they could suggests the ability to think in an abstract way may be far more common in nature than expected, and not just restricted to humans and a handful of animals with big brains.
7-13-16 Gorillas may have evolved a way to beat a cheating berry plant
Gorillas may have evolved a way to beat a cheating berry plant
A "deceitful" West African plant makes super-sweet, but low-calorie berries to attract animals that disperse their seeds. Gorillas can see through the ploy – at least, that’s the theory. Fool me once, perhaps… it looks like gorillas don’t get fooled twice, at least not by a cheating plant. If true, that makes them smarter than humans and almost 50 other primate species all of whom can be tricked by a West African plant that grows super-sweet but low-calorie berries. Pentadiplandra brazzeana’s fruit is packed with a protein called brazzein, which mimics the taste of high-energy sugary fruits, but costs the plant less to make. So sweet is brazzein that it’s even been suggested as a new artificial sweetener for human consumption. The problem for hungry primates is that it’s mostly a waste of time eating the plant’s fruit. Brenda Bradley, an anthropologist at George Washington University, thinks the plant is probably producing cheap, sweet proteins to “trick” African primates into eating the low-calorie berries and dispersing their seeds.
7-11-16 Capuchin monkeys may have taught us how to eat cashew nuts
Capuchin monkeys may have taught us how to eat cashew nuts
Stones found in Brazil seem to be nutcrackers used by monkeys hundreds of years ago, hinting that human settlers could have copied them to enjoy the nuts. They are literally a tough nut to crack. To enjoy tasty cashews you first have to figure out a way to remove the shells, which contain a caustic chemical. The bearded capuchin monkeys of Brazil may have been up to the task for centuries – and watching them work could even have taught us how to eat cashew nuts safely. We know that at least three non-human primates use stone tools: chimpanzees in West Africa, long-tailed macaques in Thailand and bearded capuchins in Brazil. The first ever “primate archaeology” dig – carried out in Ivory Coast and published in 2007 – confirmed that chimpanzees have been living through their Stone Age for at least 4300 years. A similar investigation in Thailand published earlier this year traced back the macaque Stone Age at least 65 years.
7-11-16 Earliest evidence of monkeys’ use of stone tools found
Earliest evidence of monkeys’ use of stone tools found
Capuchins in Brazil used flat ‘anvils’ and round ‘hammers’ to smash nuts at least 600 years ago. Using tools is very old monkey business. Capuchins in northeast Brazil have wielded stones to crack open cashew nuts for 600 to 700 years, researchers report July 11 in Current Biology. Unearthed “hammers” and “anvils” are the earliest evidence of monkey tool use to date. Today, Brazilian bearded capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) still open cashews by placing them on the flat surfaces of anvil rocks and pounding the nuts with large stones. Unlike pebbles and other rocks, the tool stones are distinctively heavy, blemished with wear marks, greased with cashew residue and clustered under cashew trees, Michael Haslam of the University of Oxford and colleagues found.
7-11-16 Monkey archaeology: Ancient evidence of tool use found
Monkey archaeology: Ancient evidence of tool use found
Primate archaeology is a new and unusual-sounding field, but it has revealed ancient evidence of some clever and dextrous monkey culture. Researchers from Oxford University, working in Brazil, found ancient "nut-cracking tools" - 700-year-old stone hammers that capuchin monkeys used to open cashew nuts. This is the earliest evidence yet of monkey tool use outside Africa.
7-10-16 Documentary looks for meaning in Koko the gorilla’s life
Documentary looks for meaning in Koko the gorilla’s life
Film focuses on ape’s relationship with researcher. For the last four decades, Koko, the world’s most famous gorilla, has lived in a trailer in Silicon Valley, the subject of the longest-running project on ape sign language. With a reported vocabulary of hundreds of signs, Koko has appeared to express feelings almost anyone can relate to — a love of kittens, a desire to be a mother. A new PBS documentary argues that Koko’s remarkable life “challenges what it is that makes humans unique.” The problem, though, is that the film never really makes clear what “it” is. Rather than diving into the question of ape language and dissecting Koko’s abilities, Koko — The Gorilla Who Talks focuses more on the relationship between Koko and researcher Penny Patterson. (Webmaster's comment: The first article on Koko in a 1978 issue of National Geographic began my long journey learning about animal intelligence. I still have that issue with "Conversations with a Gorilla". It had a significant influence on my life. Back issues are still available at National Geographic's website.)
7-8-16 Secret sexual liaisons explain mystery of night-singing birds
Secret sexual liaisons explain mystery of night-singing birds
Field sparrows are normally active by day, but the males sing at night in the hope of fling with a partnered female. Nocturnal birds sing at night – no surprises there – mainly to attract mates or repel rivals, the same reasons other birds sing at daytime. But a small number of species active by day also occasionally sing at night. Why they invest time and energy in such behaviour has been something of a mystery. “I was surprised to see what these birds were up to,” says Celis-Murillo. The males sing to attract other male’s partners, and these females are all too willing to wake up for a night-time rendezvous. The team also found that males sang more during periods when females were reproductively receptive, and that the females responded to such song more often when they were fertile. (Webmaster's comment: Infidelity is everywhere. We just have to learn to live with it.)
7-8-16 Cats can be rather selfish, and evolution explains why
Cats can be rather selfish, and evolution explains why
Anyone who has lived with a cat knows they are prone to self-regard, but as our video explains, they have been shaped by the process of domestication.
80 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from 3rd Quarter of 2016
Animal Intelligence News Articles from 2nd Quarter of 2016