No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
51 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from March of 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
3-31-17 Badger filmed burying a whole cow by itself in Utah mountains
Badger filmed burying a whole cow by itself in Utah mountains
An American badger took five days to bury a calf carcass left at a camera trap by researchers. The behaviour could help cattle ranchers by limiting the spread of disease. Want to eat steak for a month? One enterprising badger did, after finding a dead cow in the Utah mountains and burying it by himself. Ethan Frehner of the University of Utah and colleagues left seven calf carcasses in the area with camera traps to see what animals would visit. They were hoping to learn more about vultures and other avian scavengers. When they returned after a week, they found one was missing, and thought it must have been dragged away by a coyote or mountain lion. The photos revealed otherwise. An American badger had buried the entire carcass over the course of five days. Afterwards, it spent two weeks in its underground burrow without leaving, and kept returning to the burrow for several more weeks. Frehner thinks the badger was getting most of its sustenance from the cow for over 50 days. American badgers are known to cache small items like rodents and rabbits, but they have never before been seen burying an animal bigger than itself.
3-31-17 Camera trap catches a badger burying a cow
Camera trap catches a badger burying a cow
Badgers are known to bury their meals, but usually that’s small fare, such as jackrabbits. But researchers in Utah found them caching something much bigger — dead calves. The American badger is known to cache carrion in the ground. The animals squirrel away future meals underground, which acts something like a natural refrigerator, keeping their food cool and hidden from anything that might want to steal it. Researchers, though, had never spotted badgers burying anything bigger than a jackrabbit — until 2016, when a young, dead cow went missing in a study of scavengers in northwestern Utah. That January, University of Utah researchers had set out seven calves (all of which had died from natural causes) weighing 18 to 27 kilograms in the Great Basin Desert, each monitored by a camera trap. After a week, one of the carcasses went missing, even though it, like the others, had been staked in place so nothing could drag it off. But perhaps a coyote or mountain lion managed the feat, the researchers thought. Then they checked the camera. What they found surprised them.
3-31-17 Meet the fish with the heroin-like bite
Meet the fish with the heroin-like bite
Scientists from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the University of Queensland have solved the mystery of how a fish with sharp fangs gives a pain-free bite. The researchers discovered that the fang-blenny, a tiny reef-dwelling fish, has a venom that is laced with pain-killing chemicals. They say the discovery, published in the journal Current Biology, is an example of the medical secrets that are hidden in our oceans.
3-31-17 Snow the cat
Snow the cat
Tokyo street hustlers running the notorious “shell game” had best keep an eye out for Snow the cat. The male feline has an uncanny ability to identify which of several rapidly shuffled cups hides a small plastic ball. Snow became an Instagram celebrity after his Japanese owner posted a video of him staring intently at as many as five moving cups before placing a paw on the right one every time. The cat’s acute sense of sight, hearing, and smell—which evolved for hunting prey—undoubtedly contribute to his shell game prowess. “Gonna bring this boy to a casino with me,” Snow’s owner said.
3-31-17 For glass frogs, moms matter after all
For glass frogs, moms matter after all
Just a few hours of motherly attention help eggs survive. The few hours that a mother Cochranella granulosa glass frog huddles over her brood may be brief, but this previously unknown maternal care boosts offspring survival. Glass frogs often start life with some tender care from a source scientists didn’t expect: frog moms. Maternal care wouldn’t be news among mammals or birds, but amphibian parenting intrigues biologists because dads are about as likely as moms to evolve as the caregiver sex. And among New World glass frogs (Centrolenidae), what little parental care there is almost always is dad’s job — or so scientists thought, says Jesse Delia of Boston University. Months of strenuous nights searching streamside leaves in five countries, however, have revealed a widespread world of brief, but important, female care in glass frogs. In examining 40 species, Delia and BU colleague Laura Bravo-Valencia found that often mothers lingered over newly laid eggs for several hours. By pressing maternal bellies against the brood, moms hydrated the jelly-glop of eggs and improved offspring chances of survival, Delia, Bravo-Valencia and Karen Warkentin, also of BU, report online March 31 in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.
3-31-17 UK plans to bring 20 species back from brink of extinction
UK plans to bring 20 species back from brink of extinction
A major funding boost of by £4.6 million is expected to protect little-known but highly endangered plants and animals across the country. Efforts to save some of the UK’s rarest species from extinction are being backed by £4.6 million in lottery funding. Little-known insects such as the bearded false darkling beetle and the royal splinter cranefly, as well as plants including the prostrate perennial knawel and interrupted brome are among the 20 species being targeted for action. A further 200 threatened species will also be helped by the funding from the National Lottery, including pine martens, large garden bumblebees, lesser butterfly orchids and hedgehogs. The money will support the Back from the Brink initiative to bring together leading charities and conservation bodies in the first nationwide coordinated effort to safeguard species from extinction and deliver conservation measures across England. The scheme aims to boost conservation efforts in 150 key habitats and landscapes, and recruit and teach more than 5,500 volunteers the skills they need to study, identify and look after threatened species.
3-31-17 Why a tiny, fanged fish produces a pain-free bite
Why a tiny, fanged fish produces a pain-free bite
Venom research laboratory scientists have solved the mystery of the pain-free bite from a small, fanged fish. Researchers found that the fang blenny, a reef-dwelling fish, administers a bite that is laced with opioids. These morphine-like compounds cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, apparently disorientating a predator and letting the blenny escape. The findings, published in Current Biology, are an example of medical secrets still hidden in our oceans.
3-30-17 Tiny fish’s venom makes predators zone out and release them
Tiny fish’s venom makes predators zone out and release them
When predators attack, blennies on Pacific coral reefs bite back with a venom that makes the attackers so dizzy that they open their mouths to let the prey out. If you swallow this tropical blenny, you’re likely to have bitten off more than you can chew. It has two prominent fangs on its lower jaws, which it uses to inject a unique venom that sends predators into a limp mess. When a predator engulfs a blenny, the tiny fish bites the predator’s gums. The bigger fish’s blood pressure plummets, its coordination goes hopelessly awry and its mouth gapes involuntarily, allowing the tiny prey to swim out unscathed. “The predators would shake and quiver, and open their jaws and gills really wide,” says Nick Casewell of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK, and joint leader of a team that has established the ingredients of blenny venom. “What’s more, they never eat blennies again, so whatever the effect is, it seems to be very unpleasant for predators.” The researchers have now tested venom from 11 species found in the reefs of the western Pacific Ocean, but many of the insights came from Meiacanthus grammistes (the striped poison-fang blenny) and Meiacanthus atrodorsalis (the forktail blenny).
3-30-17 Flying foxes are facing extinction on islands across the world
Flying foxes are facing extinction on islands across the world
Despite their key role as pollinators, these fruit bats are hunted for food and to protect fruit crops, which could wipe them out on their island homes. Flying foxes are in deep trouble. Almost half the species of this type of fruit bat are now threatened with extinction. The bats face a variety of threats, including deforestation and invasive species, but the main one is hunting by humans, says Christian Vincenot, an ecological modeller at Kyoto University in Japan, who highlights their plight in a perspective article in Science this week. The bats are hunted for food, for their supposed medicinal properties and for sport. They are also killed by farmers to protect fruit crops. Around half of the 90,000 bats on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius have been killed in a government-sponsored cull in the past two years alone. The threats are particularly severe for those species that live on islands scattered across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, which is most of them – 53 of the 65 species of flying fox are island-dwellers. “Islands exacerbate all these issues, because there are fewer places for the animals to hide,” says Vincenot. But it is also islands that have the most to lose if the bats are wiped out. On many islands, fruit bats are the only pollinators and seed dispersers, especially for fruits with large seeds, says Vincenot.
3-29-17 Inside knowledge: What’s really going on in the minds of animals
Inside knowledge: What’s really going on in the minds of animals
Bright animals from chimps to crows know what they know and what others are thinking. But when it comes to abstract knowledge, the picture is more mixed. WORKERS at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, claim that elephants know they will be looked after at its rescue centre, even if the animals have never been there. Elephants that have had no contact with the centre, but know others who have, often turn up with injuries that need attention. That suggests not only abstract knowledge, but relatively sophisticated communication of that knowledge. Either that, or wishful thinking on our part. The extent to which non-human animals “know” things is difficult to assess. The attribute known as “theory of mind” – the ability to know what others are aware of – has been demonstrated, although not always conclusively, in elephants, chimps, parrots, dolphins and ravens, for example. Dolphins are even aware of lacking knowledge. Train a dolphin to answer a question such as “was that a high or low-frequency tone you just heard?” and they give sensible answers, even giving a “don’t know” when the right response isn’t clear. Some primates spontaneously seek further information when posed a question that they can’t answer, suggesting they know both that they don’t know and that they can change that. Things look more mixed when we consider abstract knowledge: the ability we have to understand abstract properties such as weight or force, and squirrel away knowledge gained in one situation to be applied in some future, different context. Great apes instinctively know that, of two identical cups on a seesaw, the lower one is more likely to contain food. “They have a spontaneous preference, from the first time, for the lower cup,” says Christoph Voelter, who researches animal cognition at the University of St Andrews, UK. “They seem to have certain physical knowledge about the world.” New Caledonian crows, on the other hand, don’t have this know-how and make “mistakes” when assessing which stones will exert the most force on a lever to release food. “Crows aren’t using knowledge of force when initially solving the problem,” says Alex Taylor of the University of Auckland, New Zealand – rather, they seem to use trial and error.
3-29-17 Giant octopus wears jellyfish cape after it devours its owner
Giant octopus wears jellyfish cape after it devours its owner
A rarely-seen deep-sea octopus eats zooplankton and a gelatinous, low-calorie food – jellyfish – and may use them as tools to catch food and feed through. An elusive deep-sea giant has been filmed with its prey for the first time. It turns out it eats jellyfish and other gelatinous animals. The octopus, Haliphron atlanticus, was filmed swimming docked on top of a medusa jellyfish, with its beak devouring its innards, while the medusa’s sticky tentacles were still hanging out of its mouth. The researchers think it might even be using the jellyfish tentacles as a handy feeding implement. Little is known about H. atlanticus, and the researchers who filmed it using remotely operated vehicles have only seen it three times in as many decades. Most other octopuses eat more substantial prey such as fish and crustaceans, so it is a surprise to see this large species eating jellyfish.
3-29-17 Sawfish’s fearsome snout evolved to be undetectable to prey
Sawfish’s fearsome snout evolved to be undetectable to prey
The snout of the elusive sawfish doesn’t make vibrations that prey fish can detect as it swims – just like a wind turbine blade through air. Something looked fishy to Sam Evans as he watched a TV show about sawfish. The sawfish’s long, rigid snout – called a rostrum – looked oddly similar to some of the industrial wind turbine blades he had investigated as a professor of engineering at Australia’s University of Newcastle. So he teamed up with biologist David Morgan and fellow engineer Phil Clausen to find out precisely how the sawfish’s rostrum moves underwater. The researchers CT scanned the rostrum of three different species and then tested these 3D models in a computer program to observe water movements around the rostrum. They used existing video footage of the rostrum’s natural movement to ensure the program mimicked it accurately. “These are tools we use every day for engineering problems, but now the technology is able to cross boundaries into biology,” says Clausen. “Essentially, we have the ability to apply engineering principles to something outside the engineering box.” Marine biologists have long known that sawfish use rostrums as weapons to bludgeon their prey, sometimes impaling it on the razor-sharp teeth embedded in them. But Evans and his team found a second feature: the snouts cut through water without creating vibrations — just like wind turbine blades.
3-29-17 Mosquito flight is unlike that of any other insect
Mosquito flight is unlike that of any other insect
Physics of skeeter wingbeats suggests insects may have traded efficiency for alluring buzz. High-speed video and computer modeling detail forces involved in mosquitoes’ wing rotation that help the insects generate enough lift to support their body weight in the air. Mosquitoes take weird insect flight to new heights. The buzzing bloodsuckers flap their long wings in narrow strokes really, really fast — more than 800 times per second in males. That’s four times faster than similarly sized insects. “The incredibly high wingbeat frequency of mosquitoes is simply mind-boggling,” says David Lentink, who studies flight at Stanford University. Mosquitoes mostly hover. Still, it takes a lot of oomph and some unorthodox techniques to fly that slowly. Mosquitoes manage to stay aloft thanks primarily to two novel ways to generate lift when they rotate their wings , Richard Bomphrey and colleagues write March 29 in Nature. The insects essentially recycle the energy from the wake of a preceding wing stroke and then tightly rotate their wings to remain in flight.
3-28-17 How the mouse came to live alongside humans
How the mouse came to live alongside humans
Mice have been living alongside humans for 15,000 years, according to fossil evidence. This is earlier than previously thought - and predates the dawn of agriculture. Scientists believe wild mice crept into settlements in the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) region to steal wild grains and seeds that ancient people had gathered and stored. The rodents became what we know today as house mice, enjoying free food and shelter in human homes. "Nowadays, thanks to this relationship, house mice have colonised almost every corner of the globe to become almost as ubiquitous as humans and also one of the most invasive mammalian species," said Dr Thomas Cucchi of Museum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris. His research is based on studies of teeth from the remains of rodents found in the southern Levant. Mice started their relationship with humans "as soon as our species started to stay put and build houses 15,000 years ago", he said.
3-27-17 Mice lived with us 15,000 years ago even before farming took off
Mice lived with us 15,000 years ago even before farming took off
House mice began to associate with humans when the Natufian people started settling in the eastern Mediterranean, before the advent of farming. The close relationship between mice and humans seems to have begun with the earliest settled people around 15,000 years ago – even before the advent of farming that made our stored crops a draw for the rodents. “The question that interests us is: do house mice become associated with humans due to farming or before farming?” says Lior Weissbrod at the University of Haifa, Israel. To find out, Weissbrod collected 272 mouse molars from 14 archaeological sites in Israel dating from 200,000 to 10,000 years ago, working with Thomas Cucchi of the French National Center for Scientific Research and colleagues. They identified two mice species from these teeth – the house mouse (Mus musculus domesticus) and its wild, short-tailed relative, the Macedonian mouse (Mus macedonicus) – giving an indication of how their distribution changed over time. At that time, people who had previously been mobile hunter-gatherers started to settle in fixed locations in the eastern Mediterranean. These people, called the Natufians, built stone houses with hearths and buried their dead. “This suggests the Natufian people were quite deliberately ‘putting down roots’, placing their ancestors in a particular location,” says Terry O’Connor, an archaeologist at the University of York, UK. But they continued to hunt and didn’t farm.
3-22-17 The rapid spread of Australia's cane toad pests
The rapid spread of Australia's cane toad pests
They are toxic invaders that have conquered swathes of northern Australia as they continue their seemingly irrepressible march west towards the Indian Ocean. Packed with poison and supremely adaptable, the dreaded cane toad, or Bufo marinus, has few friends in Australia, where a massive scientific and community effort has failed to stop their advance. "They probably have moved about halfway through that tropical region of Western Australia," explained Rick Shine, a professor in biology at the University of Sydney. "They are in very inaccessible country now in the Kimberley. It is very hard to get detailed information on exactly where the front is but it seems to be moving at 50 to 60km (31 to 37 miles) per annum." The warty amphibians move only during the wet season. Although tracking studies have shown many hop less than 10 metres a day, those at the front line have grown bigger and faster. "The guys at the invasion front up in the tropics are moving often kilometres in a single night and they have evolved this very distinctive behaviour," Prof Shine told the BBC. "They've actually evolved differences in shape and physiology as well. Essentially they have turned into these dispersal machines and they move as far as they can, as fast as they can." Experts are reluctant to speculate on how many of these unwelcome pests have been unleashed across Australia's north. They are prolific breeders - some estimates put the figure at around 1.5 billion - but it is impossible to know for sure. Australia has a long and depressing history of inadvertently introducing wrecking ball species as pets and livestock, or for sport. Examples include foxes, pigs and rabbits, goats, camels and cats. Invasive plants and fish have also had a dramatic effect on native flora and fauna, but it is the cane toad that is widely reviled above all else.
3-22-17 This bird has flown: Unravelling the mysteries of bird migration
This bird has flown: Unravelling the mysteries of bird migration
The epic seasonal voyages of migratory birds have long confounded scientists – now satellite tracking technology is revealing precisely how they do it. THE Arctic tern, a black-crowned seabird weighing no more than a bar of soap, flies from the top of the world to the bottom and back again every year. That’s 40,000 kilometres as the crow flies. But when researchers equipped terns with satellite tracking devices, they discovered that these birds don’t take the shortest path. One individual, tracked in 2015, ended up covering close to 100,000 kilometres – equivalent to more than twice around the planet. “Bird enthusiasts have been ringing birds since the 1890s,” says Anders Hedenström at Lund University in Sweden. “But ringing data only tell you where birds have been recaptured. They don’t tell you what they’re up to once they’ve disappeared over the horizon.” Thanks to lightweight trackers, we can now follow even the smallest birds on their spectacular journeys. What we’re finding along the way is amazing, says Hedenström. “In just a few years, we’ve learned more about migration strategies than from a century of ringing.” Meanwhile, mathematical modelling and molecular biology are also bringing fresh insight into why and how they do it. There is still a lot to learn, but from where these birds really go and how they navigate to the tricks they use to prepare for such epic journeys, the story of avian migration is not standing still.
3-22-17 Female fish with bigger brains choose better mates
Female fish with bigger brains choose better mates
Colourful male guppies are healthier and better foragers. But using this information to pick a good mate requires female guppies to use more brainpower. It takes brains to choose a good partner. In one of the first experiments to look at the cognitive demands of choosing a mate, female guppies with big brains showed a preference for more colourful males, while those with smaller brains showed no preference. In guppies, like most animals, females are choosy about who to mate with, since they invest more in their offspring than males, which don’t help care for them. They tend to prefer males with striking colour patterns and big tails, traits that have been linked to good foraging ability and health. By choosing a male with these qualities, female guppies give their offspring a good chance of inheriting the same useful traits. Despite this, females often go on to make different choices. Alberto Corral López and colleagues at Stockholm University wanted to find out if brain size could account for this.
3-22-17 Female guppies with bigger brains pick more attractive guys
Female guppies with bigger brains pick more attractive guys
But the additional mental power has downsides, too. Brain size in a female guppy turns out to affect her taste in males. Bigger brains go with a preference for a colorful guy instead of some dim dud. When choosing more attractive guys, girl guppies with larger brains have an advantage over their smaller-brained counterparts. But there’s a cost to such brainpower, and that might help explain one of the persistent mysteries of sex appeal, researchers report March 22 in Science Advances. One sex often shows a strong preference for some trait in the other, whether it’s a longer fish fin or a more elaborate song and dance. Yet after millions of years, there’s still variety in many animals’ color, size, shape or song, says study coauthor Alberto Corral-López, an evolutionary biologist at Stockholm University. Somehow generations of mate choice have failed to make the opposite sex entirely fabulous. Mate choice could require a certain amount of brainpower, with animals weighing the appeal of suitors and choosing among them. Previous research suggests a smaller brain dims guppies’ mental abilities, and the researchers wondered how brain size might affect the fish’s choice of mate.
3-22-17 Spain's emergency room for wildlife
Spain's emergency room for wildlife
Spring is a busy time for the medical staff at the GREFA wildlife hospital. Just 15 miles from Spain's bustling capital city of Madrid, nestled in a lush public forest, is the GREFA animal hospital, the first stop for the country's injured, ill, or orphaned wildlife. Known as the Group of Rehabilitation of the Native Fauna and its Habitat, this non-governmental nonprofit is dedicated to studying and conserving Spain's native animal species. Spring is a busy season for GREFA. Indeed, warmer temperatures bring thousands of orphaned chicks and baby animals to the hospital. But all year round, the center takes in victims of human-caused injuries, mostly birds of prey, that may have been run over, poisoned, or shot. Often the hospital finds itself caring for rare and endangered species, like black vultures and golden eagles. GREFA works toward recovery and re-release, but when that isn't possible, patients can be sent to zoos, reserves, or other facilities for educational purposes. Since its founding in 1981, GREFA has treated more than 40,000 animals — more than 5,000 in 2016 alone — making it one of the oldest and most important wildlife hospitals in Spain, if not all of Europe.
3-22-17 Sea otters ahead of dolphins in using tools
Sea otters ahead of dolphins in using tools
Sea otters may have been using stone tools for thousands or even millions of years, according to scientists. It appears otters learned how to use tools long before other marine mammals. Sea otters are often seen floating on their backs, using rocks to break open shellfish for food. A genetic study of more than 100 wild sea otters living off the Californian coast suggests their ancestors living millions of years ago showed this behaviour. Dolphins in Australia have been seen to use sponges to protect their noses when scouting for fish on the sea floor. However, this seems to be a relatively new invention, happening less than 200 years ago. Dr Katherine Ralls of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, US, said they were surprised to find sea otters using tools were not from the same family group, suggesting the behaviour originated in the ancestors of modern sea otters. "It's older in sea otters," she told BBC News. "They're very smart; they'll use rocks as anvils and as hammers." Unlike dolphins, using tools seems to be innate in all young sea otters, said the researchers. "Orphaned otter pups raised in captivity exhibit rudimentary pounding behaviour without training or previous experience, and wild pups develop tool-use behaviour before weaning regardless of their mother's diet type," they wrote in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters. (Webmaster's comment: The key is that Otters have hands and Dolphins do not.)
3-21-17 Tool use in sea otters doesn't run in the family
Tool use in sea otters doesn't run in the family
Sea otters use rocks to crack open their food. A new study suggests that a propensity for this behavior is not passed from mother to child. Aside from being adorable, sea otters and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins share an ecological feat: Both species use tools. Otters crack open snails with rocks, and dolphins carry cone-shaped sponges to protect their snouts while scavenging for rock dwelling fish. Researchers have linked tool use in dolphins to a set of differences in mitochondrial DNA — which passes from mother to offspring — suggesting that tool-use behavior may be inherited. Biologist Katherine Ralls of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and her colleagues looked for a similar pattern in otters off the California coast. The team tracked diet (primarily abalone, crab, mussels, clams, urchins or snails) and tool use in the wild and analyzed DNA from 197 individual otters. Otters that ate lots of hard-shelled snails — and used tools most frequently — rarely shared a common pattern in mitochondrial DNA, nor were they more closely related to other tool-users than any other otter in the population.
3-20-17 Parrots find ‘laughter’ contagious and high-five in mid air
Parrots find ‘laughter’ contagious and high-five in mid air
Chortling parrots join humans, apes and rats in elite club of species that find fun infectious and enjoy a laugh or two together. If your parrot is feeling glum, it might be tweetable. Wild keas spontaneously burst into playful behaviour when exposed to the parrot equivalent of canned laughter – the first birds known to respond to laughter-like sounds. The parrots soared after one another in aerobatic loops, exchanged foot-kicking high fives in mid-air and tossed objects to each other, in what seems to be emotionally contagious behaviour. And when the recording stops, so does the party, and the birds go back to whatever they had been doing. We already knew that these half-metre-tall parrots engage in playful behaviour, especially when young. What’s new is that a special warbling call they make has been shown to trigger behaviour that seems to be an equivalent of spontaneous, contagious laughter in humans. Moreover, it’s not just the young ones that respond, adults of both sexes join in the fun too. (Webmaster's comment: Humor is universal! In college I observed that lab rats are especially humorous and laugh, tease and play all the time.)
3-17-17 Stop killing lions for their bones to make bogus aphrodisiacs
Stop killing lions for their bones to make bogus aphrodisiacs
The export of lion skeletons to China for use in 'aphrodisiac' wines threatens the survival of the king of the beasts, says Richard Schiffman. When Cecil the lion, a star attraction in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, was killed for sport in 2015, outrage followed. But there is scant attention for a far bigger threat to the king of the beasts than trophy hunting. Lions are increasingly being destroyed for their bones, which are exported to China for use in a wine sold as an aphrodisiac. For centuries, tiger bones were used in bogus treatments, reputedly meant to boost male libidos. Now, however, as tiger numbers plummet because of habitat loss and poaching – with maybe as few as 3200 left in the wild – cheaper and more plentiful lion skeletons are being used. Proponents of this practice argue that the bones are not from wild animals, but from lions raised in southern Africa’s “canned lion” industry. The way this works is that trophy hunters pay tens of thousands of dollars to legally shoot a captive-bred lion and take the animal’s skull, skin and paws home as grisly keepsakes. Hunters usually leave the skeletons to the bone traders, who sell them for about $2000 to the booming Asian market. In 2016, South Africa alone exported hundreds of sets of lion bones to China and South-East Asia. However, this legal trade is being used as a cover for poachers in other parts of Africa who are anxious to get in on the lucrative act. Kristoffer Everatt, a zoologist and researcher in South Africa, told New Scientist that at least three lions from a population of 70 have been poached for their bones in the past year in Limpopo National Park, Mozambique.
3-17-17 A king snake’s strength is in its squeeze
A king snake’s strength is in its squeeze
Studies suggest how the snake coils matters more than muscle size. King snakes coil around mice like a spring, squeezing tight enough to stop a rodent’s heart. It’s not the size of a snake’s muscles that matter, but how it uses them. King snakes can defeat larger snakes in a wrestling match to the death because of how they coil around their prey, researchers report March 15 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. King snakes wrap around their food and squeeze with about twice as much pressure as rat snakes do, says David Penning, a functional morphologist at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. Penning, along with colleague Brad Moon at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, measured the constriction capabilities of almost 200 snakes. “King snakes are just little brutes,” Penning says. King snakes, which are common in North American forests and grasslands, are constrictor snakes that “wrestle for a living,” Penning says. They mainly eat rodents, birds and eggs, squeezing so hard, they can stop their prey’s heart (SN: 8/22/15, p. 4). In addition, about a quarter of the king snake diet is other snakes. King snakes can easily attack and eat vipers because they’re immune to the venom, but when they take on larger constrictors, such as rat snakes, it has been unclear what gives them the edge. “That’s not how nature goes,” Penning says, because predators are usually larger than their prey. King snakes, though, can eat snakes up to 35 percent larger than themselves. One of the largest king snake conquests on record, from 1893, is of a 5-foot-3-inch rat snake, about 17 percent larger than the 4-foot-6-inch king snake that consumed it, Penning says.
3-17-17 Detachable scales turn this gecko into an escape artist
Detachable scales turn this gecko into an escape artist
Newly discovered lizard leaves predators with a mouth full of the largest scales yet. Geckolepis megalepis lets go of its scales to elude enemies, exposing the pinkish tissue underneath. Large, detachable scales make a newly discovered species of gecko a tough catch. When a predator grabs hold, Madagascar’s Geckolepis megalepis strips down and slips away, looking more like slimy pink Silly Putty than a rugged lizard. All species of Geckolepis geckos have tear-off scales that regrow within a few weeks, but G. megalepis boasts the largest. Some of its scales reach nearly 6 millimeters long. Mark Scherz, a herpetologist and taxonomist at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and colleagues describe the new species February 7 in PeerJ. The hardness and density of the oversized scales may help the gecko to escape being dinner, Scherz says. Attacking animals probably get their claws or teeth stuck on the scales while G. megalepis contracts its muscles, loosening the connection between the scales and the translucent tissue underneath. The predator is left with a mouthful of armor, but no meat. “It’s almost ridiculous,” Scherz says, “how easy it is for these geckos to lose their scales.”
3-16-17 These fish are evolving right now to become land-dwellers
These fish are evolving right now to become land-dwellers
The threat of predation makes the blenny fish seek refuge outside of water, where they are safer, perhaps retracing steps of first land-dwelling animals. It’s a literal case of fish out of water. Blenny fish in the South Pacific Ocean are gradually relocating to land to escape their aquatic predators, in an example of evolution in action. Fish first began crawling onto dry land about 400 million years ago, kicking off an evolutionary chain of events that led to humans. But their reasons for exiting the sea have been uncertain. To look for clues, Terry Ord at the University of New South Wales in Australia and his colleagues have been studying several species of blenny fish or ‘blennies’ at Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands. At low tide, blennies are commonly found swimming in rock pools around the edges of the island. But when high tide moves in, they climb up to dry land and shuffle around the rocks until the tide retreats. The researchers found that this is most likely to avoid predators that swim in with the rising tide – mainly bigger fish like flounders and lionfish. To test what would happen if blennies did not have an escape plan, they made plasticine models and submerged them in the sea. The blenny mimics ended up with puncture wounds, bite marks and chunks missing.
3-16-17 How one enslaving wasp eats through another
How one enslaving wasp eats through another
Parasite that forces trees to do its bidding gets enslaved itself. Springtime for parasitoids in the southeastern United States means a female Euderus set wasp searches oak stems for victims hidden inside. Parasites can drive their hosts to do weird, dumb things. But in certain oak trees, the parasites themselves get played. “Creepy and awesome,” says Kelly Weinersmith of Rice University in Houston, who has helped reveal a Russian doll of nested parasitisms. The saga begins when two majestic live oak species in the southeastern United States send out new shoots, and female crypt gall wasps (Bassettia pallida) arrive to lay eggs. A wasp mom uses the delivery end of her reproductive tract to drill through tree bark, injecting each of her eggs into a separate spot in the oak. Wasp biochemistry induces the tree to form a botanical womb with an edible lining largely free of oak defense chemicals. The tree is hijacked into nurturing each larva, and wasp life is good — until the unlucky ones get noticed by a second exploiter.
3-16-17 Tardigrades turn into glass to survive complete dehydration
Tardigrades turn into glass to survive complete dehydration
Water bears make unique jelly proteins that form a glass-like cocoon to protect them from drought. The find could one day help make drought resistant crops. They are probably the toughest creatures on Earth, and now we know how they manage to survive years of complete dehydration. Water bears, or tardigrades, have been recorded surviving the vacuum of space, high doses of radiation and pressure. These water dwelling creatures can also survive dry environments in a shrivelled-up, dormant state for as long as a decade, reviving within an hour when exposed to water. To pull off this remarkable trick, the animals rely on proteins unique to them, called tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered proteins (TDPs). When there is water around, these anti-dehydration proteins are jelly-like and don’t form into well-defined three-dimensional structures like most known proteins. But when water bears start to dry out, these proteins turn into a kind of glassy sanctuary that cocoons all dehydration-sensitive materials in the animal from harm. “When the animal completely desiccates, the TDPs vitrify, turning the cytoplasmic fluid of cells into glass,” says lead author Thomas Boothby of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We think this glassy mixture is trapping [other] desiccation-sensitive proteins and other biological molecules and locking them in place, physically preventing them from unfolding, breaking apart or aggregating together,” says Boothby.
3-16-17 Chimp filmed cleaning a corpse’s teeth in a mortuary-like ritual
Chimp filmed cleaning a corpse’s teeth in a mortuary-like ritual
The never-before-seen behaviour suggests that chimpanzees can be curious about death and may shed light on the origins of human mortuary practices. For the first time, a chimpanzee has been observed using tools to clean the corpse of a deceased group member. This behaviour could shed light on the evolutionary origins of human mortuary practices. A female chimpanzee, Noel, at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia sat down by the dead body of a young male, Thomas, whom she had previously adopted. She then selected a firm stem of grass, and started to intently remove debris from his teeth. She continued doing this even after the rest of the group had left the corpse. A team of scientists from the University of St Andrews, UK, who observed the behaviour think this could mean that the long-lasting social bonds that chimpanzees form continue to influence their behaviour even after their bonding partner has died. “The report is important because it indicates once more that the human species is not the only one capable of compassion,” says Edwin van Leeuwen, lead author of the study. It appears that chimps, like humans, treat deceased members of their own species sensitively, rather than treating them like inanimate objects – especially when the deceased is a close associate. “This is certainly an interesting and noteworthy observation, another case of chimpanzees showing unusual behaviour in the presence of deceased group members,” says Klaus Zuberbuehler, also at St Andrews, who wasn’t involved in the study. “We have seen similar behaviour in our wild group of chimps in Budongo forest, Uganda, where individuals groomed an adult female, who had just been killed, for an extended period of time.”
3-15-17 Flower-rich habitat boosts survival for bumblebees
Flower-rich habitat boosts survival for bumblebees
At this time of year, bumblebee queens are a familiar sight foraging on spring flowers. After spending the winter hibernating, they need to build up vital energy stores before laying their eggs. According to the largest study of its kind, access to flower-rich habitats from spring through to summer is key to the survival of successive generations of the bees. Scientists have discovered that bumblebees need flowers within a short distance (1km) of their colony. Bumblebees are among the most important insect pollinators, yet they are in decline globally. Until now, aspects of the lifecycle of bumblebees have remained a mystery, said ecologist, Dr Claire Carvell. "Our research was looking to unravel some of these mysteries - and in particular to try and look at how the structure of habitats across a landscape, or the availability of flowers for the bees, affected this one key aspect of their life cycle, which was the survival of their families between years," she told BBC News.
3-15-17 Tropical bedbugs outclimb common bedbugs
Tropical bedbugs outclimb common bedbugs
Climbing tests suggest that tropical bedbugs are more adept climbers than common bedbugs. Some bedbugs are better climbers than others, and the bloodsuckers’ climbing prowess has practical implications. To detect and monitor bedbugs, people use an array of strategies from DIY setups to dogs. Pitfall traps, which rely on smooth inner walls to prevent escape, are highly effective for detecting and monitoring an infestation. The traps are sold around the world, but they have only been tested with common bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) — the most, well, common species in the United States. As it turns out, tropical bedbugs (C. hemipterus) can easily scale the walls of pitfall traps, Chow-Yang Lee, an entomologist at Malaysia’s University of Science, and his colleagues found in lab tests. While 24 to 76 percent of tropical bedbug strains escaped traps, only 0 to 2 percent of common strains made it out. In measurements of vertical frictional force, tropical bedbugs also came out on top. Further investigation of the species' feet revealed extra hairs on the tibial pads of tropical bugs. These may give their legs a better grip on trap walls, the researchers propose March 15 in the Journal of Economic Entomology.
3-15-17 Fiddler crab’s drumming shows off the size of its home
Fiddler crab’s drumming shows off the size of its home
Male fiddler crabs famously wave and drum their claws – but why? It seems the drumming is a sign to females of how big their bodies and burrow are. It’s not just arm waving. Male fiddler crabs use their huge claws to advertise the size of their home – and their fitness — to prospective mates. Male banana fiddler crabs (Uca mjoebergi) try to catch a female’s attention by waving their brightly coloured major claw in the air. They then switch to a drumming signal transmitted through the ground as a series of rapid vibrations. Males that drummed most rapidly had the largest burrows and the highest fitness, a new study has found. Burrow dimensions are important to a female because she stays inside the mated male’s burrow to incubate her eggs. It also found that drumming is physically costly to males. The researchers believe the physical investment required to drum and wave allows females to select the fittest mates. The advantage of drumming as well as waving is that male crabs can still attract females from inside their burrow when they are no longer visible. This could also benefit female crabs because it reduces their risk of being coerced into mating when they enter a male’s burrow to see how big it is.
3-15-17 Spiders top the global predator charts
Spiders top the global predator charts
Biologists have calculated that the global population of spiders consumes 400 million to 800 million tonnes of primarily insect prey every year. Researchers set out to put a value on the ecological importance of the arachnids. They say their appetite for prey means they consume approximately the same amount as the weight of meat and fish eaten every year by humans. The findings are published in the journal the Science of Nature.
3-14-17 Spiders eat twice as much animal prey as humans do in a year
Spiders eat twice as much animal prey as humans do in a year
They may be tiny but spiders chomp through an estimated 800 million tonnes of mainly insect prey a year, compared with our 400 million tonnes of meat and fish. Spiders devour up to 800 million tonnes of prey each year, making them some of the world’s most voracious predators. Most of their victims are insects but the largest tropical species occasionally make a meal of vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, fish and small mammals. There are more than 45,000 species of spider living in all parts of the world with a collective weight of about 25 million tonnes. Together they kill between 400 million and 800 million tonnes of prey annually, a team of Swiss and Swedish scientists has calculated. In comparison, all the humans on Earth consume about 400 million tonnes of meat and fish each year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. The appetite of spiders even exceeds that of whales, which get through an estimated 280 million to 500 million tons of prey a year. “Our calculations let us quantify for the first time on a global scale that spiders are major natural enemies of insects,” says Martin Nyffeler, from the University of Basel in Switzerland. “In concert with other insectivorous animals such as ants and birds, they help to reduce the population densities of insects significantly.”
3-13-17 Luminous frog is the first known naturally fluorescent amphibian
Luminous frog is the first known naturally fluorescent amphibian
Fluorescent compounds make a South American tree frog much brighter at night, and the trait may be more widespread in nature than we realise. Shine on you crazy frog. The polka-dot tree frog is the first amphibian known to be naturally fluorescent. Fluorescence, which happens when a substance absorbs light at one wavelength and emits it at a longer one, is known to occur in some parrots and sea turtles, and a wide variety of fish. The polka-dot tree frog, which is about 3 centimetres long, is pale green and speckled with white, yellow or reddish spots. It is commonly found all over the Amazon basin and is mainly active at dawn, dusk and night. Julián Faivovich at the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, made the discovery unexpectedly while studying a pigment in the frog. “For some things we were planning on doing, we had to illuminate the frog tissues with UV light. Then we realised the whole frog was fluorescing,” he says. He and his colleagues traced the fluorescence to a compound found in the lymph and skin glands. They found that this trait enhances the brightness of the frog by 19 per cent on a night with a full moon and 30 per cent during twilight. The fluorescent compounds absorb light at a wavelength at which frog photoreceptors have low sensitivity, and emit it in a wavelength at which they have high sensitivity. That means it’s likely the frogs themselves can see the fluorescence.
3-10-17 Never-before-seen gatherings of hundreds of humpback whales
Never-before-seen gatherings of hundreds of humpback whales
The marine giants are gathering to feed in super-groups of 200, and no one knows why. It could be their natural behaviour when populations are at normal levels.In a mysterious change to their normal behaviour, humpback whales are forming massive groups of up to 200 animals. Humpbacks aren’t normally considered to be terribly social. They are mostly found alone, in pairs, or sometimes in small groups that disband quickly. But research crews have spotted strange new social behaviour on three separate cruises in 2011, 2014 and 2015, as well as a handful of public observations from aircraft. These super-groups of up to 200 were spotted feeding intensively off the south-western coast of South Africa, thousands of kilometres further north from their typical feeding grounds in the polar waters of the Antarctic. “It’s quite unusual to see them in such large groups,” says Gísli Vikingsson, head of whale research at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Iceland.
3-10-17 Dogs use deception to get what they want from humans (a sausage)
Dogs use deception to get what they want from humans (a sausage)
Who needs enemies with friends like these? Human’s best friend can be sneaky and manipulative – and all for a tasty treat. Dogs are all honest, loyal and obedient, right? Well, not always. Our pets can be sneaky and manipulative when they want to maximise the number of tasty treats they get to eat. Marianne Heberlein, who studies dog cognition at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, wanted to test the animals’ ability to use deception to get what they want from humans. She got the idea to study doggie deception from watching her own dogs. One occasionally pretends to see something interesting in the backyard to trick the other into giving up the prime sleeping spot. “This sort of thing happens quite often, but it is not well studied,” she says. To see if dogs would deceive humans too, Heberlein and her colleagues paired various pooches with two partners – one who always gave the dog treats and another who always kept the treats.
3-9-17 Robber fly: Hunting secrets of a tiny predator revealed
Robber fly: Hunting secrets of a tiny predator revealed
The mid-air hunting strategy of a tiny fly the size of a grain of rice has been revealed by an international team of scientists. Holcocephala, a species of robber fly, is able to intercept and "lock on" to its prey in less than a second. Researchers used high-speed cameras to show exactly how the fly positioned itself to capture a moving target in mid-air. The results are published in the journal Current Biology.
3-9-17 Sneaky beetles evolved disguise to look like ants, then eat them
Sneaky beetles evolved disguise to look like ants, then eat them
At least a dozen species of rove beetles have independently evolved almost identical disguises to dupe their army ant prey into accepting them as one of their own. It’s one of the sneakiest ploys that has ever evolved. Rove beetles blend seamlessly into army ant societies, but instead of helping out, they devour the young of their unsuspecting companions. The deceit is so successful that it has independently evolved in at least 12 parasitic rove beetle species – a phenomenon called convergent evolution. The beetles’ entire body shape evolved to resemble the army ants they prey on, and they smell and act like the ants too. They even go marching on raids with them. “What we found is that multiple times, the ancestors of these rove beetles adapted to life inside army ant colonies,” says Joseph Parker at Columbia University in New York. “Each time, their body shape and behaviour underwent the same radical changes.” Parker discovered the phenomenon with his colleague, Munetoshi Maruyama of Kyushu University Museum in Fukuoka, Japan. He says the finding challenges arguments by famous palaeontologist and author Stephen Jay Gould and others that completely different creatures would evolve if the evolutionary clock was restarted from scratch. Instead, the findings suggest that evolution may take the same predictable path whenever a certain scenario arises. In this case, beetles first prey on army ants directly, but later evolve to sneak into the army itself.
3-9-17 Translucent helmeted cockroach looks like an alien with a halo
Translucent helmeted cockroach looks like an alien with a halo
A new species of cockroach has been found in a lava cave in Vietnam, and has strange behaviours to match its bizarre appearance. It’s one of the weirdest-looking cockroaches ever known, sporting a huge head with a helmet and extra-long legs. “It looks like a forthcoming Star Wars personality,” says Peter Vršanský, who has described the new species. Vršanský and his colleagues found it in the Tan Phu cave, part of a lava-tube cave system running a few metres below the soil surface under a forest in southern Vietnam. Rather than feeding on bat guano like many other cave cockroaches, the new species instead graze on bacteria and fungi. Particles that look like fungal spores were found in the gut of the new species. Guano aside, it may still make use of the bats. Riding on bats could be a useful mode of dispersal for these cave dwellers – and this may partly explain some of their weird appearance. “Morphologically, it is apparently the most bizarre cockroach which has ever lived that we know of,” says Vršanský, who is at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava. It is tiny, at just 3 millimetres long, and largely translucent with reduced eyes. “The most interesting features are hidden at the back,” says Vršanský. One of these is the huge helmet that gives it a halo-like appearance when viewed from below. Others are a big hook and a “nipper” further down its back. These features may help the cockroach attach to a female for reproduction, but they may also help the creatures hook together to piggyback on bats to new caves. In evolutionary terms, there’s little point being the only cockroach in a new cave: much better to bring along a mate.
3-7-17 Bumblebees can tell who visited flowers by smelly footprints
Bumblebees can tell who visited flowers by smelly footprints
The bees leave fragrant footprints on flowers and can tell the difference between their own footprint scent and that of other bees, which may help them hunt for food more efficiently. Smelly footprints left by bumblebees can help them find good sources of food. The insects secrete invisible markers when they touch their feet on a surface, which can be detected by themselves and other bumblebees. Researchers from the University of Bristol, in the UK, found that bees can distinguish between their own scent, the scent of a relative and that of a stranger. This ability can be used to improve their success at finding good sources of food and avoiding flowers that have already been visited and mined of nutrients.
3-7-17 First-ever underwater video of the elusive True’s beaked whale
First-ever underwater video of the elusive True’s beaked whale
The deep-water whale spends most of its life on hour-long dives kilometres below the ocean surface. The new footage is a step towards understanding them better. The sighting of a rare True’s beaked whale came literally out of the blue, and it’s been captured on video. The first underwater footage of this elusive mammal was recorded in the deep coastal waters of the Azores and shows three of the whales surfacing. Just seven live sightings have been reported in Macaronesia, the southernmost part of their north Atlantic range, and some may be misidentifications of other beaked whale species. The new video was taken by a team of educators on an expedition with a group of schoolchildren. The whales surfaced for 10 minutes, which gave the team time to slip out of their inflatable boat with a GoPro camera to record them. “Suddenly this group of whales appear from nowhere and start to surround the boat,” says Natacha Aguilar de Soto, a marine biologist from the University of St Andrews, UK, and the University of La Laguna on the Canary Islands, Spain, who later identified the whales from the footage. “These are whales that very few people in the world have ever seen.” The True’s beaked whale has never been tagged for research purposes, but other beaked whale species have and they all exhibit the same behaviour.
3-5-17 ‘Monkeytalk’ invites readers into the complex social world of monkeys
‘Monkeytalk’ invites readers into the complex social world of monkeys
Researcher shares stories of science and life in the field. In a new book, a primatologist discusses what’s known about intelligence and social behavior in several monkey species, including Barbary macaques. The social lives of macaques and baboons play out in what primatologist Julia Fischer calls “a magnificent opera.” When young Barbary macaques reach about 6 months, they fight nightly with their mothers. Young ones want the “maternal embrace” as they snooze; mothers want precious alone time. Getting pushed away and bitten by dear old mom doesn’t deter young macaques. But they’re on their own when a new brother or sister comes along. In Monkeytalk, Fischer describes how the monkey species she studies have evolved their own forms of intelligence and communication. Connections exist between monkey and human minds, but Fischer regards differences among primate species as particularly compelling. She connects lab studies of monkeys and apes to her observations of wild monkeys while mixing in offbeat personal anecdotes of life in the field. Fischer catapulted into a career chasing down monkeys in 1993. While still in college, she monitored captive Barbary macaques. That led to fieldwork among wild macaques in Morocco. In macaque communities, females hold central roles because young males move to other groups to mate. Members of closely related, cooperative female clans gain an edge in competing for status with male newcomers. Still, adult males typically outrank females. Fischer describes how the monkeys strategically alternate between attacking and forging alliances. (Webmaster's comment: Where it all started.)
3-3-17 Stubborn wasp queens pass their personality on to their colony
Stubborn wasp queens pass their personality on to their colony
The way a queen paper wasp responds to intruders predicts how members of her brood will respond, but it is unknown if nature or nurture is behind it. Annoying and stubborn! That’s how most of us would characterise the wasps that buzz around our food when we try to enjoy a quiet lunch outside. But there may be more to wasp personality than this, according to work led by Colin Wright at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Wright’s team has found that it could predict paper wasp behaviour six weeks before they hatch – by observing the queen. This suggests wasps get their personalities from their mothers, either by nature or nurture. Often, the insect group founder and offspring engage in different day-to-day activities, making it challenging to understand resemblances in their personality. Most studies instead define insect personality based on interactions of the entire group, largely ignoring the founder of the colony.
3-3-17 WW2 bomb craters are a home to rare and vulnerable animals
WW2 bomb craters are a home to rare and vulnerable animals
Ponds created in the holes blasted by second world war bombs are as biodiverse as natural ones, and could help preserve species as the salty pools vanish. Some bombs can help create life. A rich mix of rare saline water species have been found thriving in ponds formed in second world war bomb craters in Hungary. As the number of natural inland ponds dramatically drops throughout Europe due to agricultural land drainage and urbanisation, this discovery backs the case for the inclusion of human-made habitats into conservation initiatives. “These ‘wartime scars’ might be unnatural, but still can be regarded as valuable bioreserves – just like sunken warships or submarines scattered in the ocean that turned into coral reefs giving refugee to many species,” says Csaba Vad of aquatic ecosystem research centre WasserCluster Lunz in Austria, who led the research. A series of miscalculated aerial bombings aimed at a local airport helped to create more than a hundred ponds near the village of Apaj in central Hungary. Similar bomb ponds exist worldwide as a result of war and military training. The bombs in Hungary happened to fall on a type of habitat known as sodic meadows, which give rise to saline habitats when covered in water. Naturally occurring inland saline ponds, called soda pans, are unique to this region of Europe. They form part of wider wetlands that harbour a high number of rare and endemic species — but they have been disappearing.
3-2-17 Climbing plants use taste to avoid clinging to other weak vines
Climbing plants use taste to avoid clinging to other weak vines
Vines seem able to detect chemicals in vines of their own kind when they touch them, and will uncoil their tendrils to seek a sturdier plant to climb up. Vines are antisocial climbers. They send out tendrils to taste nearby plants, identifying and then steering clear of similarly weak-stemmed varieties. Climbing plants are known to have a highly attuned sense of touch, which helps them scale other plants and structures. As soon as their tendrils brush up against a potential scaffold, they coil tightly around it. Yuya Fukano at the University of Tokyo has now shown that some vines can also sense chemicals. If they don’t like the “taste” of the plant to which they are tethered, they will uncoil themselves and retreat. Fukano found that tendrils of the Cayratia japonica vine only stayed wrapped around other plants if they were non-vine species like shrubs. When presented with other C. japonica specimens, they held on for less than 2 hours. Vines probably avoid climbing up other vines because they are flimsier than other plants, says Fukano. Moreover, it is easier to compete with a non-climbing plant for light and space. As for how vines can tell what plants they are in contact with, Fukano showed that C. japonica tendrils can taste a chemical called oxalate. C. japonica itself contains high levels of oxalate, so detecting the chemical tells the tendril whether it is touching a member of its own – or a different – species.
3-2-17 Mysteries of elephant sleep revealed
Mysteries of elephant sleep revealed
Wild African elephants sleep for the shortest time of any mammal, according to a study. Scientists tracked two elephants in Botswana to find out more about the animals' natural sleep patterns. Elephants in zoos sleep for four to six hours a day, but in their natural surroundings the elephants rested for only two hours, mainly at night. The elephants, both matriarchs of the herd, sometimes stayed awake for several days. During this time, they travelled long distances, perhaps to escape lions or poachers. They only went into rapid eye movement (REM, or dreaming sleep, at least in humans) every three or four days, when they slept lying down rather than on their feet. Prof Paul Manger of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, said this makes elephant sleep unique. "Elephants are the shortest sleeping mammal - that seems to be related to their large body size," he told BBC News.
3-1-17 Elephants sleep for just 2 hours a day – the least of any mammal
Elephants sleep for just 2 hours a day – the least of any mammal
The sleep patterns of wild elephants have been remotely monitored for the first time, revealing they get by with little kip. It’s another sleepless night in the savannah. Wild elephants average just 2 hours of sleep a night, making them the lightest-known snoozers of any mammal. Previous studies have looked at such habits in captive elephants, which sleep for 3 to 7 hours a day. But with more dangers and pressure to find food, wild animals tend to sleep less. So Paul Manger at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in South Africa and his colleagues set out to monitor sleep in wild African elephants in Chobe National Park in northern Botswana. The most reliable way to measure sleep is to use electrical recordings of the brain, but this isn’t possible in elephants. Their thick skulls mean that surface electrodes are ineffective, and putting electrodes under the skull would require invasive surgery. Instead, the researchers fitted motion sensors to elephants’ trunks. The trunk is the most active part of the elephant’s body, and is rarely idle while the animal is awake. “We figured when it hadn’t been used for 5 minutes, the elephant was probably asleep,” says Manger. The team monitored two matriarchs for 35 continuous days. The elephants slept for an average of 2 hours a night, not in a single slumber but in four to five short bursts – a pattern known as polyphasic sleep. Most of their sleep occurred between 1.00 and 6.00 am, and the elephants snoozed in different places every night.
3-1-17 Wild elephants clock shortest shut-eye recorded for mammals
Wild elephants clock shortest shut-eye recorded for mammals
Average snooze of two hours per night deepens mystery of sleep’s role. The first study of electronically monitored sleep in two wild elephants finds a record-breaking low average for mammals. Fitbit-style tracking of two wild African elephants suggests their species could break sleep records for mammals. The elephants get by just fine on about two hours of sleep a day. Much of that shut-eye comes while standing up — the animals sleep lying down only once every three or four days, new data show. Most of what scientists previously knew about sleeping elephants came from captive animals, says neuroethologist Paul Manger of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. In zoos and enclosures, elephants have been recorded snoozing about three hours to almost seven over a 24-hour period. Monitoring African elephants in the wild, however, so far reveals more extreme behavior. Data are hard to collect, but two females wearing activity recorders for about a month averaged less sleep than other recorded mammals. Especially intriguing is the elephants’ ability to skip a night’s sleep without needing extra naps later, Manger and colleagues report March 1 in PLOS ONE.
3-1-17 Tiptoeing termites bang their heads to mimic ant footsteps
Tiptoeing termites bang their heads to mimic ant footsteps
Termites have evolved super-soft footsteps that enable them to forage unnoticed alongside ants – but when threatened they imitate the heavy-footed predators. It pays to tread lightly. Termites have evolved super-soft footsteps and sharp hearing to evade their noisy enemies. Ants are major predators of termites, but they often fail to notice that hungry termites are foraging for food just millimetres away. This is because termites can tiptoe around, says Sebastian Oberst at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia. His team has shown that termite footsteps are up to 100 times quieter than those of ants. Termites are blind, but their hearing is finely tuned to detect the stomping of ant feet, says Oberst. This allows them to keep track of their enemy’s location and dodge them if they get too close. To test this ability, the researchers placed termites in boxes with multiple chambers separated by wood partitions. The termites burrowed through the partitions into adjacent chambers if they were empty or contained dead ants. But they avoided chambers that contained live ants as well as empty chambers that were playing audio recordings of ant footsteps.