No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
34 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from January of 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
1-30-17 Chimps beat up, murder and then cannibalise their former tyrant
Chimps beat up, murder and then cannibalise their former tyrant
A gang of chimps overthrew their alpha male, ostracised him for years and then killed him when he returned. It was a gruesome scene. The body had severe wounds and was still bleeding despite having been lying for a few hours in the hot Senegalese savanna. The murder victim, a West African chimpanzee called Foudouko, had been beaten with rocks and sticks, stomped on and then cannibalised by his own community. This is one of just nine known cases where a group of chimpanzees has killed one of their own adult males, as opposed to killing a member of a neighbouring tribe. These intragroup killings are rare, but Michael Wilson at the University of Minnesota says they are a valuable insight into chimp behaviour such as male coalition building. “Why do these coalitions sometimes succeed, but not very often? It’s at the heart of this tension between conflict and cooperation, which is central to the lives of chimpanzees and even to our own,” he says. Chimps usually live in groups with more adult females than males, but in the group with the murder it was the other way round. “When you reverse that and have almost two males per every female — that really intensifies the competition for reproduction. That seems to be a key factor here,” says Wilson. Jill Pruetz at Iowa State University, who has been studying this group of chimpanzees in south-eastern Senegal since 2001, agrees. She suggests that human influence may have caused this skewed gender ratio that is likely to have been behind this attack. In Senegal, female chimpanzees are poached to provide infants for the pet trade.
1-30-17 Goat plague wipes out 10 per cent of endangered antelopes
Goat plague wipes out 10 per cent of endangered antelopes
The Mongolian saiga antelope population has been decimated by a disease that usually affects livestock – the first instance in wild antelopes. Save the saiga. Hundreds of Mongolia’s iconic antelopes have died after contracting a deadly virus that normally affects sheep and goats. Saiga antelopes (Saiga tatarica) were once widespread across the grasslands of Europe and Asia. But hunting and disease have reduced their numbers from 1.25 million to 50,000 over the last four decades. Now, a further 900 saiga – almost 10 per cent of the endangered Mongolian subspecies (Saiga tatarica mongolica) – have perished in the country’s Khovd province, and thousands more are at risk. The carcasses tested positive for Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), a highly contagious virus that usually affects sheep and goats, also known as goat plague. Symptoms of the disease, which kills up to 90 per cent of infected animals, are severe diarrhoea, fever, pneumonia and mouth sores. First reported in Côte d’Ivoire in 1942, PPR has since spread between domestic sheep and goats across Africa, the Middle East and Asia. But outbreaks in wild animals are rare, and have never before been seen in free-ranging antelopes. Mongolia had its first ever outbreak of PPR in sheep and goats in September 2016 after the virus spread from China. It may then have crossed to saiga during close contact at shared grazing grounds, says the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
1-30-17 We don’t need a huge blue grab to save sharks and rays
We don’t need a huge blue grab to save sharks and rays
Amid calls to ring-fence nearly a third of oceans to protect marine life, it now seems a fraction of that could save key species, says Lesley Evans Ogden. Conservationists are still arguing about exactly how much of the world’s oceans should be protected to ensure marine life does well. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity has a goal of 10 per cent by 2020. And at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress last year, a headline-grabbing target of 30 per cent by 2030 was endorsed. But such targets may miss the point. Are our existing marine protected areas (MPAs) doing a good job of conserving the biodiversity they were designed to safeguard? Are they always in appropriate places? A new analysis focusing on one important class of species suggests not (Nature Ecology and Evolution, DOI: 10.1038/s41559-016-0040). It also concludes that to prevent extinctions for these creatures, much could be done by shielding just 3 per cent more of the oceans, above and beyond the 3.5 per cent already protected.
1-27-17 Yellow fever outbreak is killing off rare monkeys in Brazil
Yellow fever outbreak is killing off rare monkeys in Brazil
Up to 90 per cent of brown howler monkeys in one area may have died already and fear of them spreading yellow fever to humans has led to reprisal attacks. Rare monkeys in the forests of Brazil are being decimated by yellow fever. The outbreak started in late 2016 and, as is often the case in South America, it has spread to humans, killing at least 50 since the start of 2017. The authorities have rushed vaccines to hospitals, where long queues await inoculation. But there is no vaccine for monkeys who are dying en masse in Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais, the two states so far worst hit. “Some 80 to 90 per cent of the brown howler monkeys are infected or have already died,” says Sergio Mendes at the Federal University of Espírito Santo in Vitoria, Brazil. “This is a true catastrophe. These outbreaks happen periodically, but this is the worst I’ve ever seen.” Mendes knows of 400 howler monkey deaths in the state, and he believes this is likely to be only 10 per cent of the total, with the greatest losses happening largely unseen in remote forested areas. Atlantic titis and geoffroy’s marmosets found dead last week in Espirito Santo are also being tested for yellow fever. Both are unique to the Mata Atlantica, one of the world’s most species-rich and most-endangered tropical forests.
1-25-17 Parasite turns wasp into zombie then drills through its head
Parasite turns wasp into zombie then drills through its head
It’s Russian dolls of nature’s manipulators: a wasp that fools oak trees to make it a crypt to live in is in turn made to drill a route out of the crypt by another wasp. The crypt gall wasp (Bassettia pallida) is a master manipulator. It parasitises the sand live oak tree, encouraging it to form hollow galls – or “crypts” – in its woody stems. Young wasps develop inside the crypts through the second half of the year, chewing their way out to emerge as adults the following spring. At least, most of them do. Some crypt gall wasps don’t make it: they begin to chew their way out several months earlier than expected, but stop while the exit is still only as large as their head. Then they die, with their head blocking the hole. Now it appears that the manipulator is itself manipulated into an early death. Kelly Weinersmith at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and her colleagues examined about a dozen of the “head blocked” crypts. In all but one case they found the larvae or pupae of a smaller wasp – Euderus set – living as a parasite inside the larger B. pallida wasp, slowly eating it.
1-25-17 New hermit crab has candy-stick legs and a giant spoon-like claw
New hermit crab has candy-stick legs and a giant spoon-like claw
A previously unknown Caribbean crab has been seen – it’s just a few millimetres long, sports bright red and white stripes, and has a large scoop-like claw. How about a little eye candy? A new species of hermit crab, discovered in the Caribbean, is just the ticket. It’s called the candy striped hermit crab, named for the bright red stripes that run up its white claws and legs. Ellen Muller, a photographer and naturalist on the island of Bonaire off the coast of Venezuela, inadvertently snapped a photo of one of these little critters while taking a picture of a flaming reef lobster on a night dive in Bonaire National Marine Park. “I was photographing the lobster and that’s the photo that started the whole thing rolling,” she says. “I saw a strange crab that I’d never seen before and I do a lot of night diving, so I’d seen all the normal things. This wasn’t normal.”
1-25-17 Cats may be as intelligent as dogs, say scientists
Cats may be as intelligent as dogs, say scientists
The idea that dogs are more intelligent than cats has been called into question. Japanese scientists say cats are as good as dogs at certain memory tests, suggesting they may be just as smart. A study - involving 49 domestic cats - shows felines can recall memories of pleasant experiences, such as eating a favourite snack. Dogs show this type of recollection - a unique memory of a specific event known as episodic memory. Humans often consciously try to reconstruct past events that have taken place in their lives, such as what they ate for breakfast, their first day in a new job or a family wedding. These memories are linked with an individual take on events, so they are unique to that person. (Webmaster's comment: Cats are just as smart as dogs but they are not as obedient and are too independent. That's why many men don't like them as much as dogs. And that's also why many men have issues with women.)
1-23-17 Whale sharks’ secrets revealed by live-tracking aquatic drones
Whale sharks’ secrets revealed by live-tracking aquatic drones
Whale sharks dive deep and swim far, making them hard to monitor. A Honduras project is using aquatic drones to track the world’s biggest fish in real time. Wave-powered drones are being used to provide live tracking of the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, for the first time. Researchers at the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center (WSORC) on the island of Utila, Honduras, have just finished a year-long project using autonomous “Wave Glider” drones to patrol for whale sharks and report back on their movements. The team was able to follow along in real-time as the drones relayed the depth and minute-by-minute position of individual sharks. They found whale sharks feeding off the coast of Utila at unexpected times of year, which shows the potential for this technology to fill some significant gaps in our understanding about the endangered species. Konrad Madej, former research director at WSORC and lead researcher on the Wave Glider project, says the drones spotted one shark at a depth of 90 metres in July, when it was thought the whale sharks had migrated north toward Mexico. “With the turbulent weather during these months, it’s difficult to find whale sharks feeding as rough waters prevent the plankton, roe and coral spore they feed on from settling at the surface,” he says. “So it’s great to see they’re still swimming at depth, for the first time, via the Wave Glider.”
1-23-17 Bird is evolving to be less flashy in response to global warming
Bird is evolving to be less flashy in response to global warming
White patches on male collared flycatchers' heads have been shrinking, as climate change mysteriously makes those with big patches less likely to survive. Sex may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of climate change. But for the collared flycatcher, the two seem to be linked in some mysterious way. As temperatures have risen, male flycatchers’ brilliant white forehead patches have changed from a valuable sexual signal into a liability. Since 1980, ecologist Lars Gustafsson at Uppsala University in Sweden has been monitoring a population of collared flycatchers on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Every year, he and his colleagues have marked every bird in the population with numbered leg-bands, allowing the parentage, reproductive success and survival of many generations of birds to be tracked. In recent years, Gustafsson’s team has noticed that the males’ forehead patches have been shrinking. Team member Simon Evans wondered whether this change was just a response by individual birds to changing conditions, or whether the population as a whole was evolving. So Evans combed through 34 years of records. He found that early on, birds with larger forehead patches were more likely to contribute genes to future generations than their small-patched neighbours, but this edge reversed in the second half of the study period. Further analysis showed that this change was associated with higher springtime temperatures, a result of changing climate.
1-20-17 Spitting archerfish shoot at prey above and beneath the water
Spitting archerfish shoot at prey above and beneath the water
“If we understand how the mosquito reduces the parasite to begin with, we hope we can boost these mechanisms to completely eliminate these parasites [in mosquitoes],” says Kristin Michel, an insect immunologist at Kansas State University in Manhattan who wasn’t part of the study. Spit and it’s a kill. Archerfish are famous for shooting mouthfuls of water at insects to dislodge them from vegetation above the water. New experiments show that they also use the jets to hunt underwater – disturbing sediment where prey is lurking and snapping up the spoils. “Our study adds support to the view that archerfish use their jets as tools,” says study leader Stefan Schuster of the University of Bayreuth in Germany. “They’re not simple all-or-nothing events, but the jets can be adapted to serve both in aerial and underwater hunting.” Schuster’s team decided to investigate after observing the behaviour of wild fish on arrival in the lab. “We usually get wild-caught fish from Thailand, and when they first arrive in the lab we often see them ‘shooting’ at things on the ground of their tanks, such as leaves or small fragments of wood,” he says. The team presented five fish in a lab with prey hidden in bowls of various types of sediment, and then filmed the behaviour. They found that the fish use the same mouth manoeuvres underwater as they do at the surface to produce jets that can dislodge insects as far as 2 metres away.
1-19-17 How desert ants navigate walking backward
How desert ants navigate walking backward
Foraging species like Cataglyphis velox and Myrmecia piliventris use celestial cues and visual memory to walk backward — helpful when dragging a big dinner home. Some ants are so good at navigating they can do it backward. Researchers think that foraging ants memorize scenes in front of them to find their way back to the nest. But that only works when facing forward. Still, some species have been observed trekking in reverse to drag dinner home. To find out how the ants manage this feat, Antoine Wystrach of the University of Edinburgh and his colleagues captured foraging desert ants (Cataglyphis velox) near a nest outside Seville, Italy. In a series of tests, they gave the ants cookie crumbles and released them at a fork in the route back to their nest.
1-19-17 Ants use Sun and memories to navigate
Ants use Sun and memories to navigate
Ants are even more impressive at navigating than we thought. Scientists say they can follow a compass route, regardless of the direction in which they are facing. It is the equivalent of trying to find your way home while walking backwards or even spinning round and round. Experiments suggest ants keep to the right path by plotting the Sun's position in the sky which they combine with visual information about their surroundings. "Our main finding is that ants can decouple their direction of travel from their body orientation," said Dr Antoine Wystrach of the University of Edinburgh and CNRS in Paris. "They can maintain a direction of travel, let's say north, independently of their current body orientation." Ants stand out in the insect world because of their navigational ability. Living in large colonies, they need to forage for food and carry it back to their nest. This often requires dragging food long distances backwards. Scientists say that despite its small size, the brain of ants is remarkably sophisticated. "They construct a more sophisticated representation of direction than we envisaged and they can incorporate or integrate information from different modalities into that representation," Dr Wystrach added.
1-19-17 Foxes may confuse predators by rubbing themselves in puma scent
Foxes may confuse predators by rubbing themselves in puma scent
Gray foxes in the mountains of California rub in the scent of pumas, possibly to absorb their smell and confuse predators to give themselves a chance to run. They have a reputation as cunning creatures, and some foxes appear to be living up to it as masters of disguise. Gray foxes living in the mountains of California have been filmed deliberately rubbing themselves in the scent marks left by mountain lions. They may be using the scent of the big cats, also known as pumas or cougars, as a sort of odour camouflage against other large predators such as coyotes. Coyotes often kill gray foxes, which are half their size, to reduce competition. Max Allen, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, had been studying pumas visiting sites known as “community scrapes”, where males leave scent “signposts” to communicate with others.
1-18-17 Majority of primate species may vanish in next 25 to 50 years
Majority of primate species may vanish in next 25 to 50 years
The latest review of primate survival prospects shows that habitat loss from farming and human expansion is putting our closest evolutionary relatives at risk. The majority of the world’s primates are in deep trouble. There are as few as 20 or 30 Hainan gibbons left in China, and the trapdoor of extinction is gaping for the Javan slow loris. Even numbers of Madagascar’s iconic ring-tailed lemur have slumped to around 2000. These could be the next primates to disappear from our planet. But overall, the picture is even bleaker, with 60 per cent of all primate species globally predicted to vanish within between 25 and 50 years. That’s the gloomy conclusion from the largest ever review of the survival prospects of the world’s 504 known species of non-human primate, 85 of them discovered since 2000. “This paper is a synthesis of the factors, at all scales, that are causing declines and extinctions,” says Anthony Rylands of Conservation International, joint lead author of the report. The biggest harbinger of doom is clearance of forests for agriculture, both by local farmers and by big agro-industrial producers of commodities such as palm oil and rubber. Between 1990 and 2010, for example, agricultural expansion into primate habitats was estimated at 1.5 million square kilometres, an area three times that of France. (Webmaster's comment: This problem will be solved if the first primite we get rid of is us!)
1-18-17 Primates facing 'extinction crisis'
Primates facing 'extinction crisis'
The world's primates face an "extinction crisis" with 60% of species now threatened with extinction, according to research. A global study, involving more than 30 scientists, assessed the conservation status of more than 500 individual species. This also revealed that 75% of species have populations that are declining. The findings are published in the journal Science Advances. Professor Jo Setchell from Durham University, a member of the team, explained that the main threats were "massive habitat loss" and illegal hunting. "Forests are destroyed when primate habitat is converted to industrial agriculture, leaving primates with nowhere to live," she told BBC News. "And primates are hunted for meat and trade, either as pets or as body parts." Other threats - all driven by human behaviour - are forest clearance for livestock and cattle ranching; oil and gas drilling and mining. "The short answer is that we must reduce human domination of the planet, and learn to share space with other species," Prof Setchell commented. (Webmaster's comment: FAT CHANCE OF THAT! In the end all that will be left is 100 billion robotic monsters thinking they are somehow human beings pleasing themselves with push button orgasms on a sterile planet.)
1-18-17 Seals hunt down hidden fish by sensing their breath in the sand
Seals hunt down hidden fish by sensing their breath in the sand
The only way for flatfish hidden under the sand on the sea floor to avoid harbour seal predators might be to hold their breath. It’s a slasher film scenario playing out in nature. Harbour seals use their whiskers to follow underwater vibrations rippling away from gills of fish so they can home in on prey. Until now we didn’t know how seals manage to locate and catch bottom-dwelling fish that are hidden beneath the sand. “We have solved a longstanding riddle,” says Wolf Hanke, the biologist at the University of Rostock in Germany who led the study. “These flatfish are very cryptic. They burrow in the ground and they’re covered with sand or silt, but the seals still grab them.” The only way to avoid being eaten would be to stop breathing until the seal swims on – although it’s not clear if flatfish do this.
1-17-17 Antelope revived in Sahara years after going extinct in the wild
Antelope revived in Sahara years after going extinct in the wild
Scimitar-horned oryx were hunted to extinction in the 1990s, but are now returning to the wild, thanks to breeding in captivity and reintroduction efforts in Chad. They’re back. Scimitar-horned oryx have been reintroduced to the wild after a two-decade absence and are flourishing in their old stomping grounds. The desert antelopes were once widespread across northern Africa, but were hunted to extinction in their natural habitat in the 1990s. Since then, the species has been kept alive in captivity in the United Arab Emirates, the US, Europe and Australia. Several hundred have also been reintroduced to fenced areas in northern Africa. To test whether scimitar-horned oryx could survive in the wild once again, 23 individuals were released into a remote part of Chad last August. Based on early signs of success, another 23 will be released this week. The animals have been fitted with GPS collars to monitor their movements. “So far, the animals look exceptionally healthy,” says Jared Stabach from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington DC, who is involved in the project. “They seem to be adapting to the environment really well.”
1-16-17 Female shark learns to reproduce without males after years alone
Female shark learns to reproduce without males after years alone
Some fish and reptiles can reproduce asexually, but a shark in an Australian aquarium is a rare case of this in an animal that once had a mate. Who needs men? A female shark separated from her long-term mate has developed the ability to have babies on her own. Leonie the zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) met her male partner at an aquarium in Townsville, Australia, in 1999. They had more than two dozen offspring together before he was moved to another tank in 2012. From then on, Leonie did not have any male contact. But in early 2016, she had three baby sharks. One possibility was that Leonie had been storing sperm from her ex and using it to fertilise her eggs. But genetic testing showed that the babies only carried DNA from their mum, indicating they had been conceived via asexual reproduction. Some vertebrate species have the ability to reproduce asexually even though they normally reproduce sexually. These include certain sharks, turkeys, Komodo dragons, snakes and rays.
1-13-17 Harvester ants farm by planting seeds to eat once they germinate
Harvester ants farm by planting seeds to eat once they germinate
The ants’ unusual trick lets them snack on seeds that are too big from them to crack. They just let the seeds crack themselves. They’ve cracked it. Small ants carry home large seeds to eat all the time, but no one knew exactly how they managed to break through the seeds’ tough exterior. It turns out that Florida harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex badius, have developed a clever farming strategy to do so – they plant seeds, wait for them to germinate and then eat the soft spoils. Some 18 genera of ants harvest seeds, and colonies of some species can store more than 300,000 seeds in their underground granaries. So far, scientists thought that ants must be able to break the seeds open and just ate them as they were. “The reality is a lot more interesting,” says Walter R. Tschinkel at the Florida State University. “There are many studies of seed choice by forager harvester ants, but none of the authors asked the question of whether the ants can open the seeds,” says Tschinkel. “This may be in part because most of these studies were done on western harvester ants whose deep nests are in hard soil, so the seed chambers are not easily excavated.”
1-13-17 Alien bird risk from pet trade
Alien bird risk from pet trade
The trade in caged birds poses a risk to native species if the pets escape into the wild, UK researchers say. They identified almost 1,000 species of bird introduced into new areas by human activity over the past 500 years. More than half of these arrived after 1950, probably driven by the trade in exotic birds. Global demand for parrots, finches, starlings and other exotic birds has soared. "Areas that are good for native birds are also good for alien birds," said Prof Tim Blackburn, of University College London and the Zoological Society of London, who worked on the study. "It's a worry because aliens may threaten the survival of native species."
1-11-17 Wild vampire bats are now sucking blood from humans at night
Wild vampire bats are now sucking blood from humans at night
Bats in Brazil exclusively feed on bird blood, but new arrivals in their territory are now on the menu – they have been caught feasting on human blood. Human blood is now on the menu. Wild vampire bats that were thought to exclusively feed on bird blood have been caught feeding on people for the first time, raising health concerns. Enrico Bernard from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, and his team analysed 70 faeces samples from a colony of hairy-legged vampire bats, D. ecaudata, living in Catimbau National Park in north-east Brazil. They found that three samples out of the 15 they managed to get DNA from had traces of blood from humans. “We were quite surprised,” says Bernard. “This species isn’t adapted to feed on the blood of mammals.” The bats typically target large birds at night-time, sucking a spoonful of blood from a single animal as a meal. They are adapted to process fat, the main component of bird blood, as opposed to the thicker, high-protein blood of mammals. Previous experiments showed that when only pig and goat blood was available, many bats opted to fast, sometimes starving to death. But human encroachment may be driving the species to try new blood. The park is now home to several human families and the bat’s usual prey, such as guans and tinamous, are disappearing due to deforestation and hunting.
1-11-17 Baboons recorded making key sounds found in human speech
Baboons recorded making key sounds found in human speech
A claim that baboons are capable of five vowel-like sounds could mean key features of spoken language emerged with the common ancestor of monkey and humans. Baboon grunts and barks have more in common with human speech than we thought. The monkeys routinely produce five of the distinct vowel sounds found in our languages. Researchers typically link our ability to produce a range of vowels with the low position of the human voice box, or larynx, in the throat. Non-human primates have a high larynx, hence are thought to be incapable of producing many vowel sounds. But according to Joël Fagot at Aix-Marseille University and Louis-Jen Boë at the Grenoble Alps University, both in France, this standard explanation is wrong. They point out, for instance, that infants can produce a similar range of vowels to adults even though the larynx only begins to descend midway through childhood. Fagot, Boë and their colleagues have now analysed 1300 baboon vocalisations, recorded at a primate research centre in Rousset-sur-Arc in southern France. They extracted vowel-like sounds from the calls and used software to identify the key resonant frequencies, or “formants”. The lowest two formants — denoted F1 and F2 — are known to give a reasonable indication of the position of the tongue, and can help computers classify the associated vowel sound.
1-11-17 'Star Wars gibbon' is new primate species
'Star Wars gibbon' is new primate species
The gibbons live high up in the canopies of the tropical rainforests of China. A gibbon living in the tropical forests of south west China is a new species of primate, scientists have concluded. The animal has been studied for some time, but new research confirms it is different from all other gibbons. It has been named the Skywalker hoolock gibbon - partly because the Chinese characters of its scientific name mean "Heaven's movement" but also because the scientists are fans of Star Wars. The study is published in the American Journal of Primatology.
1-10-17 Primate tool-use: Chimpanzees make drinking sticks
Primate tool-use: Chimpanzees make drinking sticks
Researchers have used camera traps to film tool-use that is unique to chimpanzees in Ivory Coast. The footage revealed that the clever primates habitually make special water-dipping sticks - chewing the end of the stick to turn it into a soft, water-absorbing brush. Primate researchers examined the "dipping sticks" and concluded they were made specifically for drinking. The findings are reported in the American Journal of Primatology. Lead researcher Juan Lapuente, from the Comoe Chimpanzee Conservation Project, in Ivory Coast, explained that using similar brush-tipped sticks to dip into bees' nests for honey was common in chimpanzee populations across Africa. "But the use of brush-tipped sticks to dip for water is completely new and had never been described before," he told BBC News. "These chimps use especially long brush tips that they make specifically for water - much longer than those used for honey." The researchers tested the chimps' drinking sticks in an "absorption experiment", which showed that the particularly long brush-tips provided an advantage. "The longer the brush, the more water they collect," said Mr Lapuente.
1-10-17 Wild monkey filmed mounting deer and trying to have sex with it
Wild monkey filmed mounting deer and trying to have sex with it
The unusual inter-species sex may be down to a lack of females pushing Japanese macaques to search for pleasure elsewhere – on the backs of furry Sika deer. Oh deer! A male Japanese macaque monkey has been caught in the act of trying to mate with two Sika deer by leaping on their backs, rodeo-style. Captured in November 2015 by researchers monitoring the macaque monkeys – made famous by videos of them bathing in hot springs – the footage shows that both attempts at copulation were unsuccessful, the only genital contact being with the deer’s back. The monkey’s first attempt met with no resistance from the deer. But when he tried it with a second deer, she did her best to shake him off. Afterwards, he also appeared to try and “guard” the deer against rival monkeys. Such observations are rare but not unheard of. In the 1990s, forest rangers reported orphan elephants attempting to mate with rhinos, and in 2008 footage was taken of a chimpanzee attempting to mate with a frog. In 2014, there were reports of sea otters attempting to mate with cormorants. Also in 2014, an Antarctic fur seal was observed attempting to mate with king penguins, some of which he subsequently ate. In this latest example, on Yakushima Island south of Japan, the perpetrator was a young male macaque – one of the more peripheral members of a larger group. This means he was probably frustrated by not having a mate. (Webmaster's comment: Just like 6-8% of human males, many male animals will mate with any female animal of another species that does not kill them.)
1-10-17 Japanese monkey tries to mate with deer
Japanese monkey tries to mate with deer
A male Japanese monkey has been filmed trying to mount and mate with a Sika deer. Researchers saw the primate attempting to mate with at least two deer in November 2015, during the macaque breeding season. The macaques regularly bathe in hot springs in snow-covered parts of Japan, and live side-by-side with the deer. The macaques have previously been observed grooming the deer or riding them in a playful manner. The curious behaviour is outlined in a study published in the journal Primates. (Webmaster's comment: No more curious than the 6-8% of men and 4% of women that have mated with animals. The drive to breed with something, anything is unbelievably strong.)
1-9-17 The trunk trick that lets elephants pick up almost anything
The trunk trick that lets elephants pick up almost anything
Kelly the elephant has shown how trunks can grip and lift anything from fine granules to 350-kilogram logs – it’s all in the kink. A captive African elephant called Kelly has helped to shed light on one of nature’s great mysteries: how elephant trunks that can grip and carry heavy logs a metre across can also handle tiny, fragile objects. Jianing Wu at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and his colleagues, offered Kelly items of food in four different sizes – powdered bran, cubed bran, cubed swede and largest of all, cubed celery. “We wanted to know how she would grab food items of different size,” says Wu. They offered the food on a table that measured the downward force her trunk generated during gripping, and took detailed measurements of Kelly’s trunk manoeuvres to find out how she varied the shape of her trunk and the forces it applied to grip each target. Kelly’s secret, it turns out, was her ability to create a kink at any point along her 2-metre-long trunk that would provide exactly the right downward force to grip each size of food item. The kink acted like a joint that subdivided her trunk into two sections: a long section that supported the weight of the trunk and a short tip pointing vertically downwards for dexterous gripping.
1-6-17 Oxytocin surge before a fight helps chimps bond with their group
Oxytocin surge before a fight helps chimps bond with their group
A spike in the “cuddle hormone” helps chimp comrades bond for war with rival groups, and something similar seems to happen in humans. Is the fabled “cuddle hormone” really a “warmone”? Oxytocin levels surge in troops of chimpanzees preparing for conflict with rival groups to defend or expand their territory. The finding is at odds with the prevailing image of oxytocin as something that helps strengthen bonds between parent and infant, or foster friendships. But given its capacity to strengthen loyalty, oxytocin could also be a warmonger hormone that helps chimps galvanise and cooperate against a common enemy. Catherine Crockford of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and her colleagues monitored two rival groups of chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Ivory Coast, each containing five males and five females, for prolonged periods between October 2013 and May 2015. Thanks to trust built up between the team and the chimps, the team could safely track and video the groups – even during conflict, observing at close quarters what was happening. Crucially, the team was also able to pipette up fresh samples from soil when chimps urinated.
1-6-17 Unusually loose skin helps hagfish survive shark attacks
Unusually loose skin helps hagfish survive shark attacks
Slip-sliding outer covering also aids in Houdini escapes. Remarkably loose-fitting skin could help hagfish survive a shark bite. Skin that mostly hangs loose around hagfishes proves handy for living through a shark attack or wriggling through a crevice. The skin on hagfishes’ long, sausage-style bodies is attached in a line down the center of their backs and in flexible connections where glands release slime, explained Douglas Fudge of Chapman University in Orange, Calif. This floating skin easily slip-slides in various directions. A shark tooth can puncture the skin but not stab into the muscle below. And a shark attack is just one of the crises when loose skin can help, Fudge reported January 5 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.
1-4-17 China’s ivory ban is great, now for shark fins and tiger bone
China’s ivory ban is great, now for shark fins and tiger bone
Beijing's ban on ivory is very welcome and could save the African elephant, but it must do the same for rhinos, pangolins and more, says Richard Schiffman. China made a New Year’s resolution that caused elephant lovers around the world to rejoice: the government announced it will shut down its domestic ivory market this year. Poaching experts estimate that up to 70 per cent of all illicit ivory passes through China. It is turned into statues and ivory trinkets, which are either sold as status symbols to its growing middle class or exported. The news is a game changer, says elephant behaviour expert Joyce Poole. Poole’s finding that poaching destroys not just individual elephants but their family and social structure was instrumental in the decision of the global wildlife authority CITES to ban the international ivory trade in 1989. Sadly, that ban flopped, due in large part to China’s failure to comply, or even admit culpability. During a trip to Beijing in 2013, senior government officials told Poole that China had no role in the poaching crisis. Since then, however, China has changed its tune. Under increasing pressure from a world incensed by the slaughter of tens of thousands of African elephants a year and talk of possible extinction, China’s leader Xi Jinping vowed in 2015 to end the ivory trade. In a joint statement, president Barack Obama promised to do the same in the US. But until last week, China – unlike the US – hadn’t committed to a concrete plan and timetable to accomplish this.
1-3-17 Largest lake in southern Europe under threat from “eco-resort”
Largest lake in southern Europe under threat from “eco-resort”
The largest lake in southern Europe is under threat from a double whammy. Environmentalists say that the development of an “eco-resort” on its shores and several hydropower projects on its major tributary will damage biodiversity and harm endemic species found nowhere else. Lake Skadar, shared by Albania and Montenegro, is the westernmost breeding ground of the vulnerable Dalmatian pelican, and is recognised as an area of international importance for birds. More than 280 bird species are found at this largely pristine lake, as well as nearly 50 fish species, 18 of which are found nowhere else, earning it a place on the Ramsar Convention list of Wetlands of International Importance. But new developments in Montenegro are putting the lake’s status and its unique wildlife at risk, says Nataša Kovacevic of Green Home, a non-governmental organisation focused on conservation based in Podgorica, Montenegro. Green Home started a petition with several other NGOs in late December asking the government to save the lake. The government is seeking to build several hydropower dams on the river Moraca, which provides most of the lake’s water, and which is a biodiversity hotspot itself. Similar hydropower developments also threaten to damage what’s been dubbed Europe’s last truly wild river, in neighbouring Albania. “Building dams on the Moraca would have unprecedented impacts on the biodiversity of Lake Skadar, the biggest lake in the Balkans and one of the biggest hubs of biodiversity in Europe,” says Kovacevic. She says some 20 per cent of bird nesting habitat in the northern part of the lake could be destroyed by changes in the water regime brought about by the dams.
1-3-17 New beginning for illegally traded endangered species
New beginning for illegally traded endangered species
Illegally traded endangered species that escape, forming secondary populations, offer hope for their long-term survival, a study suggests. These secondary populations could also be utilised in a way to reduce or halt the pressure on species' native populations, say researchers. Adopting a more creative approach to conservation could help slow global biodiversity loss, they added. The findings appear in the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment journal. "This first came to my attention when I read a news story about the seizure of an illegal shipment of 23 yellow crested cockatoos," said co-author Luke Gibson from the University of Hong Kong. "Each individual had been stuffed inside a plastic water bottle."
1-2-17 The macabre life of Russia's Arctic reindeer herders
The macabre life of Russia's Arctic reindeer herders
Killing thousands of reindeer each year is controversial, but it's part of a herder's job. Russia's Arctic North is home to the largest reindeer herd in the world: An estimated 730,000 reindeer reside there. But such a dense population can threaten the fragile landscape of Siberia's northern Yamal region and cause more frequent epidemics within the local nomadic communities of the Nenet people. To protect the landscape and their people, Nenet herders take part in an annual "slaughter campaign," a government program that provides herders with a stipend for participation. During November and December, herders across the region will kill up to 70,000 reindeer. This year, for the first time, the culling season will stretch through January to encourage even higher numbers. Reindeer herding among the Nenet people is a tradition that goes back centuries — the Nenets relied on the reindeer hide and meat for survival during the brutal winters. Now, the annual cull, which was instituted by the Russian government during the Soviet era, provides the Nenets with a sustainable income from the stipend and the commercially-sold meat. But the cull is not without its critics. "It is an unequivocal tragedy for both people and animals," said one coordinator for Greenpeace in Russia. "It will end up with nomadic reindeer herders turning into settled reindeer farmers. This is a completely different form of husbandry, and means the loss of a culture."
1-2-17 The scientific reason you should be watching Planet Earth
The scientific reason you should be watching Planet Earth
2016 was rough. America's grueling presidential campaign was full of anger, searing accusations, and fear. In its wake, our country's darkest differences have been brought to light. Many families and friends have been pitted against one another. We are exhausted. We are divided. We are perhaps even a little bit depressed. So allow me to offer you some good news. I'm here to tell you, downtrodden countrymen (and women), that there is a remedy for our particular affliction. It can be found in the flutter of a hummingbird's wings, or the determined eyes of a crouching snow leopard. It's in the gallop of a giraffe as it's pursued across the tundra, and the heroic leap of a penguin from razor-sharp cliffs. Mix in a cinematic score by Hans Zimmer and the soothing sounds of David Attenborough's voice, and the formula is complete. Lift your eyes to the TV screen, my weary friends. What we need now, perhaps more than ever, is a hefty dose of Planet Earth.