No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
42 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from February of 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
2-28-17 Nest-boxes no substitute for tree cavities, says study
Nest-boxes no substitute for tree cavities, says study
Conservationists cannot consider nest-boxes to be a substitute for naturally occurring tree cavities, a study has suggested. A study found the artificial nesting sites had higher humidity levels and poorer insulation than tree cavities. Researchers also found some species, such as great tits, favoured nest-boxes while others, such as marsh tits, favoured naturally available sites. The findings are reported in the Forest Ecology and Management journal. The team of scientists from Wroclaw University, Poland, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK, wanted to produce data that highlighted the anecdotal evidence between tree cavities and nest boxes. "The main message from the study is that nest-boxes cannot replicate tree cavities," explained co-author Marta Maziarz. "The microclimate - the temperature, humidity and insulation - from outside conditions is different. The nest-boxes do not insulate well but they are generally warmer and they are drier." She told BBC News: "They are not bad; they are just different. This has consequences for the birds."
2-27-17 De-extinction dilemma: reviving dead species may doom the living
De-extinction dilemma: reviving dead species may doom the living
Diverting precious conservation resources into de-extinction projects could simply mean more threatened species are wiped out, warns Olive Heffernan. The resurrection of extinct species, as depicted in the 1993 film Jurassic Park, was until recently regarded as pure science fiction. Today, de-extinction looks increasingly feasible and is being heralded as a way of turning back the clock on biodiversity loss. But with scarce resources available for conservation, it may have the opposite effect, increasing the rate of extinction. We must tread carefully. It’s easy to see the appeal of bringing back obliterated creatures. While most of us don’t wish to live alongside dinosaurs, who isn’t saddened by the loss in recent decades of the platypus frog – the only species to use its stomach as a womb and give birth from its mouth? And who wouldn’t like to see the skies of North America once again darken with great flocks of passenger pigeons, or wish that the Tasmanian tiger could live another day in the sun? This is not a new idea. But the science to make it possible is suddenly making great strides. Earlier this month, Harvard geneticist George Church claimed he’s just two years away from creating a hybrid woolly mammoth-elephant embryo. If successful, it will be the closest thing to a woolly mammoth that Earth has seen for nearly 4000 years.
2-27-17 Caterpillars vibrate anuses to send food and shelter alerts
Caterpillars vibrate anuses to send food and shelter alerts
Tiny birch caterpillars send messages by making a complex range of sounds – buzzing their bodies and drumming and scraping their mouths and anuses against leaf surfaces. Bees buzz, cicadas sing, but caterpillars are the real musical maestros of the insect world. It turns out they use different parts of their body to get the attention of other caterpillars. The tiny birch caterpillar makes special vibrations, inaudible to human ears, using their mouths, body and anal parts. These appear to send out information about food and shelter to other caterpillars nearby. Within a couple of hours, a small group of some 2-6 individuals forms around the drummer – a behaviour that may provide safety from predators or bad weather. “These tiny caterpillars produce a complex diversity of signals – they shake their bodies, drum and scrape their mouthparts, and drag specialised anal ‘oars’ against the leaf surface to create bizarre signals,” says evolutionary biologist Jayne Yack at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, who led the new study. “I’ve been studying insect sounds for more than 30 years, and I’ve never seen one insect species produce such a diversity of signal types.” The study is the first to provide evidence for the use of vibratory signals for complex acoustic communication in caterpillars, Yack says.
2-23-17 Bees learn to play golf and show off how clever they really are
Bees learn to play golf and show off how clever they really are
Bumblebees have shown they can learn how to push a ball into a hole to get a reward, staking their claim to be considered tool users. It’s a hole in one! Bumblebees have learned to push a ball into a hole to get a reward, stretching what was thought possible for small-brained creatures. Plenty of previous studies have shown that bees are no bumbling fools, but these have generally involved activities that are somewhat similar to their natural foraging behaviour. For example, bees were able to learn to pull a string to reach an artificial flower containing sugar solution. Bees sometimes have to pull parts of flowers to access nectar, so this isn’t too alien to them. So while these tasks might seem complex, they don’t really show a deeper level of learning, says Olli Loukola at Queen Mary University of London, an author of that study. Loukola and his team decided the next challenge was whether bees could learn to move an object that was not attached to the reward. They built a circular platform with a small hole in the centre filled with sugar solution, into which bees had to move a ball to get a reward. A researcher showed them how to do this by using a plastic bee on a stick to push the ball. The researchers then took three groups of other bees and trained them in different ways. One group observed a previously trained bee solving the task; another was shown the ball moving into the hole, pulled by a hidden magnet; and a third group was given no demonstration, but was shown the ball already in the hole containing the reward. The bees then did the task themselves. Those that had watched other bees do it were most successful and took less time than those in the other groups to solve the task. Bees given the magnetic demonstration were also more successful than those not given one.
2-23-17 Score! Bumblebees see how to sink ball in goal, then do it better
Score! Bumblebees see how to sink ball in goal, then do it better
Lesson in six-legged soccer tests power of insect learning. A buff-tailed bumblebee rolls a yellow ball toward a goal as researchers explore just how odd a task bees can learn and how much observing others helps them succeed. Even tiny brains can learn strange and tricky stuff, especially by watching tiny experts. Buff-tailed bumblebees got several chances to watch a trained bee roll a ball to a goal. These observers then quickly mastered the unusual task themselves when given a chance, researchers report in the Feb. 24 Science. And most of the newcomers even improved on the goal-sinking by taking a shortcut demo-bees hadn’t used, says behavioral ecologist Olli Loukola at Queen Mary University of London. Learning abilities of animals without big vertebrate brains often get severely underestimated, Loukola says. “The idea that small brains constrain insects is kind of wrong, or old-fashioned.” He and colleagues had previously challenged bees to learn, in stages, the not very beelike skill of pulling a string to reveal a hidden flower. Bees eventually succeeded. So the researchers devised an even more fiendish protocol to see how far insect learning could go.
2-22-17 Resurrecting nature: Extinct is not forever
Resurrecting nature: Extinct is not forever
Dreams of Jurassic Park are so last century. Now biologists want to use de-extinction biotechnology for conservation. But is it a good idea? KATSUHIKO HAYASHI is playing God. In his lab at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, he recently created eight baby mice using eggs made from reprogrammed mouse skin cells. Now he’s working his magic on the northern white rhino, a species so endangered there are just three individuals left, all with reproductive problems. And he has even bigger plans: he wants to use the technique to resurrect extinct animals. De-extinction isn’t a new idea. But where early attempts owed more to Jurassic Park than to science, Hayashi and others are taking a more high-minded approach. They look at the fast-moving field of biotechnology and see its conservation potential. “Many animals are gone because of human error, so we need to use technology to recover them,” he says. He has a point. With 100 or so species disappearing from the planet every day, we are living through one of the biggest mass extinctions ever. And the causes – from poaching to pollution to climate change – are down to us. At the same time, cutting-edge biotechnology, including genome sequencing, cloning and gene-editing tools like CRISPR, is allowing us to manipulate life. We are now on the verge of being able to undo extinctions, and researchers are racing to get there first. But while some foresee a thrilling new age of conservation and are urging conservationists to embrace it, others are horrified by the prospect of high-tech meddling with nature. (Webmaster's comment: We may be able to recreate the creature, but never the creature's culture, that is lost forever! It would be a creature created forever out of place and forever lost in time. We would learn nothing about how it lived.)
2-22-17 New species of bushbaby found in disappearing forests of Angola
New species of bushbaby found in disappearing forests of Angola
The Angolan dwarf galago is the fifth new primate species found in mainland Africa since 2000, but its habitat is under threat. It’s a dwarf with big eyes, big ears and a big voice. The newly discovered Angolan dwarf galago belongs to the bushbaby family, members of which are found all over sub-Saharan Africa. The creature’s most distinctive characteristic is its call: a chirping crescendo followed by a twitter, report Magdalena Svensson of Oxford Brookes University, UK, and her colleagues. This is similar to calls by made by other members of the dwarf galago genus to keep in contact with their group, and is why the researchers have classed the new animal as another dwarf galago . But the new creature is three times the size of its closest relatives – making it more similar to non-dwarf bushbabies in stature.
2-21-17 Low-status chimps revealed as trendsetters
Low-status chimps revealed as trendsetters
In experiments, apes were more likely to copy subordinates than alpha males. Low-ranking chimpanzees in a captive colony, represented here by a female named Angie, were more successful at spreading a trained, rewarding behavior to other group members than alpha males were, a new study shows. The finding points to the complexity of chimps’ social lives. Chimps with little social status influence their comrades’ behavior to a surprising extent, a new study suggests. In groups of captive chimps, a method for snagging food from a box spread among many individuals who saw a low-ranking female peer demonstrate the technique, say primatologist Stuart Watson of the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, and colleagues. But in other groups where an alpha male introduced the same box-opening technique, relatively few chimps copied the behavior, the researchers report online February 7 in the American Journal of Primatology.
2-21-17 Coconut crab pinches like a lion, eats like a dumpster diver
Coconut crab pinches like a lion, eats like a dumpster diver
The giant crustaceans use their mighty claws to scavenge, hunt. Birgus latro, the largest known crab species on land, scavenges with a mighty left claw strong enough to crack a coconut. A big coconut crab snaps its outsized left claw as hard as a lion can bite, new measurements suggest. So what does a land crab the size of a small house cat do with all that pinch power? For starters, it protests having its claw-force measured, says Shin-ichiro Oka of the Okinawa Churashima Foundation in Motobu, Japan. “The coconut crab is very shy,” he says. It doesn’t attack people unprovoked. But wrangling 29 wild Birgus latro crabs on Okinawa and getting them to grip a measurement probe inspired much snapping at scientists. Oka’s hand got pinched twice (no broken bones). “Although it was just a few minutes,” he says, “I felt eternal hell.”
2-21-17 Lemur facial recognition tool developed
Lemur facial recognition tool developed
A team of researchers has developed a facial recognition system that can identify individual lemurs in the wild with high levels of accuracy. The plan is to use the technology to help radically improve the way the endangered species is tracked. LemurFaceID proved 97% accurate when comparing the faces of two different lemurs. The animals were named the world's most endangered group of mammals in 2012. The system was developed by a team of lemur experts and computer scientists. The researchers have published a paper detailing their work in the journal BioMed Central Zoology.
2-21-17 Meet the frog that can sit on a thumbnail
Meet the frog that can sit on a thumbnail
Four new frogs so tiny that they can sit on a thumbnail have been discovered in the forests of India. Among the smallest frogs in the world, they live on the forest floor and make insect-like calls at night. Three larger species were also found, bringing to seven the number of night frogs discovered in the Western Ghats. The mountain range, which runs parallel to the western coast of India, is home to hundreds of threatened plants and animals. Scientists discovered the new species after several years of exploration in the forests of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
2-17-17 Ant odd couple work together to build and keep a healthy nest
Ant odd couple work together to build and keep a healthy nest
A 15-millimetre-long species of ant happily shares its home with a distantly related species that is one-sixth its size. One is a massive black ant, the other is a tiny, only distantly related, brown ant. But together they form a perfect team to build and guard a shared nest. This insect odd couple is found in the forests of the Lamto Ecological Reserve in Ivory Coast. The 15-millimetre-long Platythyrea conradti is a highly skilled engineer, building nests from the organic material – like leaf mulch – it finds in its environment. Small species then move into the organic matter – providing the large ants with a ready meal. One species the large ant doesn’t eat is the 2.5-millimetre-long Strumigenys maynei. This small ant moves into the nests, where its highly aggressive nature helps deter any unwanted invaders. “This is a remarkable and rare example of cooperation between two ant species that share little in common,” says Thomas Parmentier, an evolutionary biologist from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. “One is large and the other minuscule, they belong to unrelated genera and have markedly different behaviour.” Together, though, they can maintain a safe and efficient home, he says. The rare association was first recorded in 2001, when Christian Peeters and his student Kolo Yéo, from the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, were looking for wingless queens of P. conradti in the Lamto reserve.
2-17-17 Hens that can lay eggs from other species could save rare birds
Hens that can lay eggs from other species could save rare birds
Like a seed bank for poultry, a 'frozen aviary' will store primordial stem cells for rare breeds of birds so they can be saved. Genetically modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds are helping create a “frozen aviary” to conserve rare and exotic birds. Like a seed bank for poultry, the aviary will store primordial stem cells that give rise to eggs destined to hatch male or female offspring. So far, the team from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have collected more than 500 samples from 25 different breeds. Held in a freezer at minus 150C, the cells will remain viable for decades. The researchers want to preserve rare chicken breeds that may be resistant to infections such as bird flu or have desirable traits such as high meat quality. A first step was to create the GM hens capable of laying eggs from multiple different rare breeds, which include the”rumpless game”, “Scots dumpy”, Sicilian buttercup, and Old English pheasant fowl.
2-17-17 GM hens help build 'frozen aviary' in Edinburgh
GM hens help build 'frozen aviary' in Edinburgh
Genetically-modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds are helping scientists set up a "frozen aviary" to conserve rare birds. The aviary acts like a seed bank for poultry, storing primordial stem cells that produce eggs destined to hatch male or female offspring. The Edinburgh University team have collected more than 500 samples from 25 different breeds. The cells are held in a freezer at -150C and will be viable for decades. The researchers at Edinburgh's Roslin Institute want to preserve rare poultry breeds that may be resistant to infections such as bird flu or have desirable traits such as high meat quality. The first step was to create the GM hens capable of laying eggs from multiple different rare breeds, which include the colourfully-named "rumpless game", "Scots dumpy", "Sicilian buttercup", and "Old English pheasant fowl"
2-16-17 Running ants: Why scientists built an insect treadmill
Running ants: Why scientists built an insect treadmill
Scientists from the University of Freiburg have designed a treadmill specifically for ants - with the aim of revealing their navigation secrets. Desert ants are able to locate and travel to their nest very quickly; with their brains keeping track of the number of steps they have taken and their orientation. The researchers, who published their design in the Journal of Experimental Biology, plan to use their unique set-up to record directly from ants' brains as they navigate - research that could help in the development of miniature robots. (Webmaster's comment: Ants are very simple creatures aren't they? But they aren't. They are small but highly evolved fine-honed living organisms.)
2-15-17 Dormouse might be first tree-climbing mammal shown to echolocate
Dormouse might be first tree-climbing mammal shown to echolocate
It's not just bats that navigate at night using a form of sonar – so might a dormouse, and if so it could tell us whether bats' echolocation preceded flight. A rare rodent isn’t just blind as a bat: it may navigate like one too. The tree-climbing Vietnamese pygmy dormouse seems to make ultrasonic calls to guide its motion. If that’s confirmed, it would be the first arboreal mammal known to use echolocation. Apart from bats, dolphins, whales, rats and shrews – which use calls in the audible range – few mammals echolocate as vision is usually more efficient. But Aleksandra Panyutina at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow and her team thought the dormouse was a good candidate. They had access to two of these seldom-studied, mainly nocturnal rodents at the Moscow zoo, where keepers had noticed that they were able to climb with remarkable agility despite poor eyesight. They also have big, bat-like ears. “We suspected that they use echolocation,” says Panyutina. To find out, the team first confirmed the rodent’s poor vision by analysing the preserved eyes of dead individuals. Then, the two zoo dormice were filmed in cages filled with branches. The soundtrack revealed that they often produced a series of quick, ultrasonic pulses similar in structure to bat echolocation calls but much quieter. Syncing the video and audio showed that they typically made sounds while moving, suggesting that the sounds are for navigation. Gareth Jones, a bat researcher at the University of Bristol in the UK, thinks the results are interesting although further work is needed. “It is important to determine whether the mice can hear echoes from the calls,” he says.
2-15-17 Emergency clause lets European countries beat bee pesticide ban
Emergency clause lets European countries beat bee pesticide ban
About half of the European Union’s member states are making use of an emergency clause to allow the use of banned pesticides that are thought to harm bees. Pesticides that have been banned in Europe for the past three years have still been deployed more than 60 times around the continent during this period, say campaign groups. Since December 2013, it has been illegal to spray the seeds of flowering plants such as oilseed rape, maize and sunflowers with three neonicotinoids and a further pesticide. This is because there is evidence these substances harm bees, and bee populations are in decline. But farmers can apply to their governments for emergency authorisations to use the pesticides for up to four months. About half of the European Union’s member states have made use of this emergency clause, and in most cases the applications have provided little or no evidence in justification, say Bee Life, ClientEarth and Pesticide Action Network Europe, who obtained the paperwork from the European Commission. Romania tops the list with 20 exemptions. Finland has approved nine, Estonia seven and Bulgaria five. The UK has allowed three. A report by campaign groups says that more than 80 per cent of the applications contained nothing to demonstrate that there was a danger to plant production or ecosystems that couldn’t be dealt with by any other reasonable means – despite being required to show this. Many also failed to explain how they would limit or control the use of the pesticides, which is another requirement. And two of the applications were blank apart from administrative information, according to Dominique Doyle, a lawyer with ClientEarth and co-author of the report.
2-14-17 Honeybees let out a ‘whoop’ when they bump into each other
Honeybees let out a ‘whoop’ when they bump into each other
A vibrational pulse that was thought to be a “stop” signal between bees may actually be a startled response when they collide. Whoop whoop! A vibrational pulse produced by honeybees, long thought to be a signal to other bees to stop what they are doing, might actually be an expression of surprise. Bees produce vibrations with their wing muscles that are inaudible to humans but can be detected by accelerometers embedded in the honeycomb. In the 1950s, researchers noticed that this signal was often followed by bees exchanging food, and hypothesised that it was a request for food. Later, it was shown that the signal was produced when one bee tried to inhibit another from performing a waggle dance – a behaviour that tells other bees where to forage. It was interpreted as a “stop” signal that warns colleagues against foraging in a location where there might be problems, such as a predator or a researcher bothering the bees for an experiment. To find out more, Martin Bencsik and colleagues at Nottingham Trent University in the UK used accelerometers to record vibrations inside hives over the course of a year. Then they used software to scan the recordings and identify the signal. Some of these signals have been collected and converted into the sound clip below.
2-14-17 The animal guide to finding love
The animal guide to finding love
Looking for love? The right appearance is important. Female black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys seem to prefer guys with rouged lips. Are you feeling the pressure of Valentine’s Day and in need of advice on how to find someone special? The animal world has some advice for you. (Webmaster's comment: The same advice also works for humans.)
- Make sure you look nice.
- Learn to dance …
- … and how to flirt.
- Attend a party.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Keep an eye on the competition.
- Bring a gift.
2-13-17 Deep-sea squid points a big, bulging eye up and a tiny eye down
Deep-sea squid points a big, bulging eye up and a tiny eye down
Videos reveal that the cock-eyed squid’s two contrasting eyes are adapted for entirely different hunting purposes. Here’s looking at you, squid. Cock-eyed squid have one huge, bulging eye and another normal-sized eye, but the reason has remained a mystery. Now we have an answer. Kate Thomas of Duke University in North Carolina studied 161 videos of the creatures collected over 26 years by remotely operated submarines in Monterey Bay, California. The findings provide the first behavioural evidence that the two eyes are adapted to look in different directions. The large one points upwards to spot prey silhouetted against the sky. The smaller one points downwards to spot bioluminescent organisms against the darkness below. The squid, from the histioteuthid family, live at depths of 200 to 1000 metres, where little light penetrates. The videos show that the squid normally swims with its tail end pointing upwards, but tilted so the large eye is consistently oriented towards the sky.
2-10-17 Monkeys and dogs judge humans by how they treat others
Monkeys and dogs judge humans by how they treat others
Experiments show that both canines and capuchins prefer those of us who help other people, hinting that morality may have a more-ancient origin than thought. Be nice – or your dog may judge you. Both pets and monkeys show a preference for people who help others, and this might explain the origins of our sense of morality. Studies involving babies have previously shown that by the age of one, humans are already starting to judge people by how they interact. This has led to suggestions that children have a kind of innate morality that predates their being taught how to behave. Comparative psychologist James Anderson at Kyoto University and his colleagues wondered whether other species make social evaluations in a similar way. They began by testing whether capuchin monkeys would show a preference for people who help others. The capuchins watched an actor struggle to open a container with a toy inside. Then this actor presented the container to a second actor, who would either help or refuse to assist. Afterwards, both actors offered each capuchin food, and the monkey chose which offer to accept. When the companion was helpful, the monkey showed no preference between accepting the reward from the struggler or the helper. But when the companion refused to help, the monkey more often took food from the struggler.
2-10-17 Foxes seen climbing trees at night to track down and eat koalas
Foxes seen climbing trees at night to track down and eat koalas
Native Australian tree-dwellers may be at risk from European red foxes, which appear to have learnt how to climb trees in pursuit of prey such as koalas. Beware the sly fox. For the first time, red foxes in Australia have been documented climbing trees to look for baby koalas and other unsuspecting creatures to munch on. The European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) was introduced to Australia in the mid-1800s for recreational hunting. It quickly developed a taste for ground-dwelling native species like bilbies, wallabies and numbats, leading to savage declines in their numbers. Until now, tree-dwelling animals have been considered safe. But recent work led by Valentina Mella at the University of Sydney, Australia, suggests this might not be the case. In mid-2016, Mella was studying koalas on a property in the Liverpool Plains, about 250 kilometres north-west of Sydney. As part of her research, she set up cameras to record the animals visiting drinking fountains in eucalyptus trees spaced several kilometres apart.
2-10-17 New Zealand whales: Hundreds more stranded at Farewell Spit
New Zealand whales: Hundreds more stranded at Farewell Spit
The mass stranding of whales on a remote beach in New Zealand has taken a turn for the worse as 240 more arrived. Earlier on Saturday, volunteers had refloated some 100 of the more than 400 pilot whales which beached on Thursday. But a human chain, with volunteers wading neck-deep into the water, failed to prevent a fresh pod making landfall. The whale stranding, at Farewell Spit at the top of South Island, is one of the worst ever in New Zealand. Dozens of volunteers turned out to help. More than 300 of the 400 original arrivals died while medics and members of the public tried to keep survivors alive by cooling them with water. It is hoped that those of the new arrivals that survive can be moved back out to sea during the next high tide in daylight on Sunday.
2-10-17 400 pilot whales stranded on New Zealand’s ‘whale trap’ beach
400 pilot whales stranded on New Zealand’s ‘whale trap’ beach
The reasons for mass strandings of marine animals, like this event in New Zealand, aren’t clear, but NASA is looking into whether solar storms could be involved. More than 400 pilot whales beached themselves on Thursday in one of the worst whale stranding New Zealand has ever seen. The animals washed up on beaches at Farewell Spit on the South Island, a known black spot for whale strandings. At least 300 died overnight before rescuers began trying to refloat animals. Hundreds of volunteers converged on the site to help this morning. The reasons for beachings remain a mystery. Explanations range from marine noise pollution to suicides, and NASA is even investigating whether solar storms could mess with whales’ navigation. But geography could certainly be a factor, considering several known stranding blackspots share characteristics. “Cape Cod in Massachusetts is also notorious, and there’s another in Tasmania,” says Sharon Livermore, at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “They share similar features such as gently sloping beaches, and the coastal configuration as a whole acts as a whale trap.” At Farewell Spit, where 200 whales beached in 2015, the tide can come in for 5 kilometres, creating a vast stretch of water no more than 3 metres deep at any point, a perilous situation for whales used to deep water. “The water gets shallower, and that’s what gets them disorientated,” says Livermore.
2-9-17 Robotic bee could help pollinate crops as real bees decline
Robotic bee could help pollinate crops as real bees decline
With bee populations tumbling, an autonomous drone just 4 centimetres wide could help pollinate crops by flying from flower to flower. Robotic bee could help pollinate crops as real bees decline. A drone that can pollinate flowers may one day work side by side with bees to improve crop yields. About three-quarters of global crop species, from apples to almonds, rely on pollination by bees and other insects. But pesticides, land clearing and climate change have caused declines in many of these creatures, creating problems for farmers. Pollination is needed for reproduction in flowering plants. Male flower parts, or stamens, produce pollen that fertilises female parts, known as pistils, to make seeds. In self-pollinating flowers, the stamen sheds pollen directly onto the pistil. Cross-pollination, however, requires the transfer of pollen from one plant to another. This mostly relies on pollen becoming stuck to the bodies of bees and other insects when they feed on flowers, and then being deposited on the next plant they visit. It has advantages over self-pollination, in that it increases genetic diversity and improves the quantity and quality of crops. Eijiro Miyako at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and his colleagues have used the principle of cross-pollination in bees to make a drone that transports pollen between flowers. (Webmaster's comment: Mankind destroys bees and replaces them with robots. Wouldn't it be better to stop destroying the bees and make for a healthy environment for them.)
2-9-17 Synchronised swimming seems to make dolphins more optimistic
Synchronised swimming seems to make dolphins more optimistic
Having a mate to swim with – and mirror their movements – appears to make zoo dolphins feel more positive about their prospects in life. Bottlenose dolphins that engage in synchronised swimming with their peers tend to see the glass as being half full. Some of these dolphins frequently swim in tight-knit groups, and they’re the ones who appear the most optimistic, according to a study of eight captive animals. In the experiment, individual dolphins were trained to swim towards one of two targets. They were taught that when they reach the left one, they receive applause and eye contact, while the one on the right delivers herring – the jackpot – and dolphins swim faster towards it. When presented with a new and ambiguous middle target, some dolphins still swim rather fast, presumably hoping they’ll receive another tasty herring, although it’s only a 50/50 chance. Those were dubbed the “optimistic” dolphins, and the analysis found that they were the same animals who had participated in the most synchronised swimming recently: moving closely alongside their fellow dolphins and matching their movements.
2-9-17 Endangered snow leopards dine on livestock like goats and horses
Endangered snow leopards dine on livestock like goats and horses
In the Himalayas, goats and horses are especially prominent on the diet of endangered snow leopards, and male leopards tend to attack livestock more. More than a quarter of the animals consumed by snow leopards in the central Himalayas are livestock, according to a new study. The finding comes at a time when the iconic species – categorised as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – faces increasing threats, especially human-wildlife conflict and climate change, and when stakeholders around the world are stepping up conservation efforts. Snow leopards are elusive denizens of alpine habitats up to 5800 metres above sea level in Asia. According to the IUCN, the total population is estimated to be between 4080 and 6590 individuals, which roam over a range of 2 million square kilometres.
2-9-17 Orangutan squeaks reveal language evolution, says study
Orangutan squeaks reveal language evolution, says study
Orangutan kiss squeaks could provide a glimpse of how our ancestors combined vowels and consonants to form the first words. Scientists who spent years listening to the communication calls of one of our closest ape relatives say their eavesdropping has shed light on the origin of human language. Dr Adriano Reis e Lameira from Durham University recorded and analysed almost 5,000 orangutan "kiss squeaks". He found that the animals combined these purse-lipped, "consonant-like" calls to convey different messages. This could be a glimpse of how our ancestors formed the earliest words. The findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.
2-9-17 'Dogs mirror owners' personalities'
'Dogs mirror owners' personalities'
The idea that a dog takes on the personality of its owner has received scientific support. Researchers in Austria say dogs can mirror the anxiety and negativity of owners. And dogs that are relaxed and friendly can pass this on to humans, perhaps helping their owners cope with stress. More than 100 dogs and their owners underwent various tests, including measurement of heart rate and their response to threat. Saliva samples were also taken to measure cortisol levels, a marker for stress. The owners were then assessed for the big five hallmarks of personality: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness. The personality of dogs was also assessed with a questionnaire. Dr Iris Schoberl, of the University of Vienna, said both owners and dogs influenced each other's coping mechanisms, with the human partner being more influential than the dog. "Our results nicely fit to experience from practice: owners and dogs are social dyads [a group of two], and they influence each other's stress coping," she told BBC News. She said dogs are sensitive to their owners' emotional states and may mirror their emotions. Dogs have lived alongside humans for more than 30,000 years. Evidence shows they can pick up emotional information from people and adjust their behaviour accordingly.
2-9-17 Row over Indian textbook that tells children how to kill kittens
Row over Indian textbook that tells children how to kill kittens
An animal rights row has erupted in India over a school textbook which tells children how to suffocate kittens. The book, which is used in hundreds of private schools, features a science experiment in which two cats are placed in separate boxes - only one of which has airholes. Activists argued that it endangered the lives of children and animals. Many schools have now scrapped the offending page. The passage in Our Green World: Environment Studies is meant to demonstrate that air is essential for life. It reads: "Put a small kitten in each box. Close the boxes. After some time open the boxes. What do you see? The kitten inside the box without holes has died." The book's publisher has promised it will not appear in the next edition, according to the Indian Express. Parvesh Gupta of PP Publications said: "A parent had called us a couple of months ago and asked us to remove the text from the book because it was harmful for children. We recalled books from our distribution channel and will come out with a revised book next year." Shocked Indians shared their disgust online, saying the book was wholly unsuitable for children. "Person who wrote such experiment must be put in instead of animal. Fools," wrote a tweeter with the handle Thinking Indian.
2-8-17 Why grey wolves kill less prey when brown bears are around
Why grey wolves kill less prey when brown bears are around
We’ve long assumed wolf packs are forced to kill more often to make up for having meals stolen by scavenging bears – but the opposite is true, they kill less. Wolves may be better at sharing their meals with bears than we thought. Biologists have long assumed that when wolves and brown bears share territory, the wolves are forced to kill more often to make up for the food stolen by scavenging bears. But when Aimee Tallian, a biologist at Utah State University, and her colleagues looked for evidence of this, they found the opposite. Where wolves live alongside bears in Scandinavia and Yellowstone National Park in the US, they actually kill less often. “People had this general assumption, because you do see lynx and mountain lions abandon their kills once a bear takes it over, but no one had really looked at this in wolves before,” she says. It’s not yet clear why this might be, but Tallian has a few theories.
2-8-17 Bird lookouts make alarm calls to save themselves, not the group
Bird lookouts make alarm calls to save themselves, not the group
Arabian babbler birds that go it alone continue to sound alarm calls when they see threats, showing there must be selfish motives behind sentinel behaviour. When animals that live in groups take it in turns to keep watch for predators while others forage, it appears to be altruistic. But now it seems they might mainly be out for themselves. Birds called Arabian babblers usually live in territorial and hierarchical groups of up to 20 individuals, but sometimes one low in the pecking order will go it alone. These individuals are called floaters, and they are usually attacked or chased away if seen by the territory-owning group. Roni Ostreiher and Aviad Heifetz at The Open University of Israel have been observing Arabian babblers (Turdoides squamiceps) at the Shezaf Nature Reserve in Israel for 28 years. All birds in the study area are fitted with coloured rings so they can be identified individually. The babbler groups’ sentinel activity has been studied extensively but when the researchers started watching floaters, they were surprised to see them engaging in similar behaviour, scanning their surroundings for several minutes and even uttering alarm calls when they saw approaching predators, especially birds of prey. This suggests that sentinel behaviour is at least partly down to selfish motives. “It doesn’t mean that others can’t benefit, but an individual acts as a sentinel first of all for itself,” says Ostreiher.
2-7-17 Endangered antelope 'may be wiped out'
Endangered antelope 'may be wiped out'
The death of more than 2,000 critically endangered Saiga antelope in Mongolia was caused by a disease that could now threaten the entire population. Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientists, who work in the affected grassland area of Western Mongolia, say the disease originated in livestock. It is a virus known as PPR or Peste des Petits Ruminants. WCS veterinary scientist Dr Enkhtuvshin Shiilegdamba told BBC News that 2,500 Saiga had already died. The animal carcasses are burned to prevent the spread of the disease.
2-7-17 Gecko eludes foes with tearaway skin
Gecko eludes foes with tearaway skin
A newly discovered species of gecko has tearaway skin that leaves predators with nothing but a mouthful of scales when attacked. Many lizards can detach their tails when attacked, but fish-scale geckos have large scales that tear away with ease. The new species is a master of this art, say scientists, having the largest scales of any known gecko. The reptile, named Geckolepis megalepis, is described in PeerJ. The skin of fish-scale geckos is specially adapted to tearing. The large scales are attached only by a relatively narrow region that tears with ease. In addition, beneath the scales there is a pre-formed splitting zone within the skin itself.
2-7-17 Pectoral sandpipers go the distance, and then some
Pectoral sandpipers go the distance, and then some
Males visit multiple breeding grounds all across the Arctic. After a long migration from the Southern Hemisphere, male pectoral sandpipers fly thousands of kilometers more around the Arctic. After flying more than 10,000 kilometers from South America to the Arctic, male pectoral sandpipers should be ready to rest their weary wings. But once the compact shorebirds arrive at a breeding ground in Barrow, Alaska, each spring, most keep going — an average of about 3,000 extra kilometers. Scientists thought males, which mate with multiple females, stayed put at specific sites around the Arctic to breed. Instead, in a study of 120 male pectoral sandpipers in Barrow, most flitted all across the region looking for females. One bird flew a whopping 13,045 kilometers more after arriving, researchers report online January 9 in Nature.
2-6-17 For calmer chickens, bathe eggs in light
For calmer chickens, bathe eggs in light
Incubating eggs in hours of light means chicks less skittish. Shining light on incubating eggs could make adult broiler chickens less fearful, a new study suggests. Fearful, flighty chickens raised for eating can hurt themselves while trying to avoid human handlers. But there may be a simple way to hatch calmer chicks: Shine light on the eggs for at least 12 hours a day. Researchers at the University of California, Davis bathed eggs daily in light for different time periods during their three-week incubation. When the chickens reached 3 to 6 weeks old, the scientists tested the birds’ fear responses. In one test, 120 chickens were randomly selected from the 1,006-bird sample and placed one by one in a box with a human “predator” sitting visibly nearby. The chickens incubated in light the longest — 12 hours — made an average of 179 distress calls in three minutes, compared with 211 from birds incubated in complete darkness, animal scientists Gregory Archer and Joy Mench report in January in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
2-6-17 Being friendly puts monkeys at risk in times of revolution
Being friendly puts monkeys at risk in times of revolution
The young of sociable female capuchin monkeys survive better in times of peace, but are more likely to be killed when the group is going through a change of leadership. Being too friendly can be costly. When a new alpha male takes over, female capuchin monkeys are more likely to lose their offspring to infanticide if they have an extensive network of social contacts than if they don’t. This new finding suggests sociable primates don’t necessarily fare better than non-sociable ones when it comes to raising offspring. Group-living mammals have plenty to gain from being sociable, says Urs Kalbitzer at the University of Calgary in Canada. They can have better access to food and more protection from predators, as they often take up a position near the centre of the group. These advantages should help the most sociable females raise more infants to adulthood. But some researchers have suspected that being sociable carries a cost when the group’s alpha male loses his position to a rival. The usurper can kill offspring he hasn’t fathered so that adult females will become receptive to his sexual advances. One idea is that the alpha male is more likely to kill the offspring of females at the group’s social core, as less sociable females on the periphery may escape his attention. To test the theory, a team led by Kalbitzer and his colleague Linda Fedigan looked at data from wild communities of white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus) in Santa Rosa, Costa Rica, between 2005 and 2011.
2-5-17 The secret trade in baby chimps
The secret trade in baby chimps
A secret network of wildlife traffickers selling baby chimpanzees has been exposed by a year-long BBC News investigation. The tiny animals are seized from the wild and sold as pets. The BBC’s research uncovered a notorious West African hub for wildlife trafficking, known as the “blue room”, and led to the rescue of a one-year-old chimp. In a dusty back street of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city, a tiny chimpanzee cries out for comfort. His black hair is ruffled and his dirty nappy scrapes the concrete floor as he crawls towards the familiar figures of the men who have been holding him captive. The baby chimp, ripped away from his family in the wild, is the victim of a lucrative and brutal smuggling operation, exposed by a 12-month-long BBC News investigation spanning half a dozen countries. (Webmaster's comment: And once they grow up they are extremely dangerous and will try to dominate you and tear you face off. They can never be pets past childhold.)
2-5-17 The dead-bird detective
The dead-bird detective
As the only criminal forensic ornithologist in the U.S., Pepper Trail helps build cases against bird smugglers and poachers. His mission: Protect rare birds by identifying them in death. Pepper Trail is the first to admit he has an unusual skill set. Give him a single feather or a small fragment of a claw or a cooked hunk of breast meat, and he'll tell you the species of bird from which it came. As the world's leading criminal forensic ornithologist, Trail is asked day in and day out to perform these exact tasks. Over the past 18 years he has assisted with hundreds of investigations, testified in federal court 15 times, and handled more bird carcasses than anyone should. "All birders have life lists," Trail says. "I have a death list." Trail isn't joking. He opens a file on his computer and scrolls through a list of 750 species of dead birds he has identified throughout his career. The decor of his work space at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, blends bird-nerd kitsch with macabre relics of closed cases. A "Waddling Penguin Pooper" wind-up toy sits on a bookshelf still in its original packaging. Atop a filing cabinet is a confiscated necklace made from the claws and skull of a cassowary. Nearby is a long, sleek feather ripped from an Andean condor wing and attached to a pin that customs agents seized from a polka dancer coming into Chicago. "There's actually a trade in condor feathers from Peru to Germany to decorate polka hats," Trail says.
2-3-17 Honeybees welcome friendly migrants to hives but repel raiders
Honeybees welcome friendly migrants to hives but repel raiders
Bees use chemical cues to decide which newcomers to allow into their hive, and become more accepting in times of plenty. Honeybees may have a unique system for accepting migrants. “Drifting” bees that wander into a neighbouring hive may be allowed to stay – if the guard bees see fit. Honeybee drift is common in apiaries, where hives are placed closer together. A bee that drifts essentially migrates from its own hive to another, something thought to be unintentional. Morgane Nouvian and her team at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, reviewed 161 papers on defensive behaviour in honeybees to get a comprehensive overview of the phenomenon. They reported that 10 to 15 per cent of honeybees take on nest-guarding roles when they are 2 to 3 weeks old. Their main role involves detecting and dealing with predators, but they are also the first point of contact when drifting honeybees arrive. In an inspection that can last half a minute, the guards check out chemical cues on the newcomer – typically hydrocarbons – that depend on hive-specific genetic factors and comb wax. If this profile matches or nearly matches that of their own hive, the guards will let the drifter in. Around 30 per cent of drifting bees are allowed to stay, experiments show. The guards also have to identify marauding bees that aim to steal honey. “We know now that these robber bees are detected by their flight patterns and speed,” says Nouvian. “Guards can detect an incoming robber and sting it before it even reaches the nest.”
2-1-17 Dragonfish opens wide with flex neck joint
Dragonfish opens wide with flex neck joint
Soft tissue at base of skull helps deep sea fish swallow big. Small but ferocious dragonfish can open their mouths wide using a unique joint at the base of their skulls. Dragonfish are the stuff of nightmares with their oversized jaws and rows of fanglike teeth. The deep sea creatures may be only several centimeters long, but they can trap and swallow sizeable prey. How these tiny terrors manage to open their mouths so wide has puzzled scientists, until now. In most fish, the skull is fused to the backbone, limiting their gape. But a barbeled dragonfish can pop open its jaw like a Pez dispenser — up to 120 degrees — thanks to a soft tissue joint that connects the fish’s head and spine, researchers report February 1 in PLOS ONE.
2-1-17 The great extermination: How New Zealand will end alien species
The great extermination: How New Zealand will end alien species
New Zealand’s unique fauna are under threat from alien invaders. It has ambitious plans to wipe out all rats, stoats and possums by 2050, but can it be done? ENTRY to Zealandia is past a checkpoint where all bags and pockets are turned inside out to stop unwanted stowaways, and then through a double gate. Inside the 2.2-metre-high fence is an ancient world, completely unlike the humming urban environment we just left behind. Bird song soon takes over, the tracks narrow and the forest closes in. We are inside the old water reservoir for New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. Over the past two decades, it has undergone an extraordinary transformation, from urban utility to ecological haven. During the day, large forest parrots called kaka swoop over tuatara, the only survivors of a prehistoric group of reptiles. Night-time visitors have a good chance of crossing paths with a little spotted kiwi. Hihi – small black, white and yellow birds that had once disappeared from New Zealand’s main islands – are flourishing. What you won’t see are many mammals: virtually all have been eradicated. Mice (and humans) are the only exception and pest control keeps mouse numbers low. (Webmaster's comment: It seems to me the most alien species is Homo Sapiens.)