No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
37 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from April of 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
4-29-17 Understanding the internal emotions of animals
Understanding the internal emotions of animals
Can we ever know what our animal friends are thinking? In the study of animal behavior, researchers usually try to smooth out individual differences by looking at large data sets. But this performance, staged as part of the Making Nature exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London, turned that method on its head. The characteristic dispositions of pig-kind were not on display; the two pigs and their particular responses were. The humans were invited to indulge the idiosyncrasies of their fellow creatures, and to wonder if we could ever understand what makes them tick. We tend to think of "good science" as being all about samples, statistics, and replicated experiments. These are the fundamental tools with which we determine factual truth. But most people outside the scientific community (and perhaps those who work on large farms) believe that animals have personalities. Most of us never confront a statistically ordered sample of animal behavior. Putative claims such as "Dogs are more intelligent than cats" — a debatable proposition — are met not with scientific counter-evidence, but with "Ah, but you have not met my cat." When it comes to humans, we readily turn a scientific lens on the individual. While demography looks at whole societies and sub-populations, psychology attends to individual minds. Because humans can talk and account for themselves, we have rich descriptions of the kind of creatures we are, all the way from species to groups to families to individuals. With other animals, though, it's impossible to attain this level of insight. A lab rat will never be able to describe its neuroses to us from the comfort of a tiny chaise longue.
4-28-17 Fox experiment is replaying domestication in fast-forward
Fox experiment is replaying domestication in fast-forward
New book recounts nearly 60-year effort to understand taming process. How to Tame a Fox tells the story of a long-running experiment to domesticate silver foxes. In 1959, Lyudmila Trut rode trains through Siberia to visit fox farms. She wasn’t looking for furs. She needed a farm to host an audacious experiment dreamed up by geneticist Dmitry Belyaev: to create a domestic animal as docile as a dog from aggressive, wily silver foxes. Evolutionary biologist Lee Alan Dugatkin helps Trut recount this ongoing attempt to replay domestication in How to Tame a Fox. The mechanics of domestication are still a matter of intense scientific debate. Belyaev’s idea was that ancient humans picked wolves and other animals for docility and that this artificial selection jump-started an evolutionary path toward domestication. Back in the 1950s, testing the idea was dangerous work, and not just because untamed foxes bite. In 1948, the Soviet Union, under the scientific leadership of Trofim Lysenko, outlawed genetics research. Lysenko had risen to power based on fabricated claims that freezing seeds in water could increase crop yields. “With Stalin as his ally, he launched a crusade to discredit work in genetics, in part, because proof of the genetic theory of evolution would expose him as a fraud,” Dugatkin and Trut write. Geneticists often lost their jobs, were jailed or even killed, as was Belyaev’s own brother. So Belyaev cloaked his domestication experiments in the guise of improving the fur-farming business. (Webmaster's comment: Genetics controls basic behavior beyond any doubt.)
4-28-17 Pigeon Roommate
A Brooklyn woman came home from a two-month trip to find she had a new roommate: a pigeon that had laid of couple of eggs in her pasta strainer. Genevieve Roman, 33, said the bird made the nest after sneaking in through an open window. Roman decided to leave the nest untouched, and says she doesn’t mind cohabiting with the bird, because it never poops indoors and has no annoying habits. “She doesn’t get on my nerves such as every other roommate I’ve had.” (Webmaster's comment: Pigeons make good friends.)
4-27-17 The scales of the ocellated lizard are surprisingly coordinated
The scales of the ocellated lizard are surprisingly coordinated
Lizard grows into its flashy skin using a computer-like process. The green and black spots on the back of an ocellated lizard are arranged according to the rules of a cellular automaton, a concept from computer science. Scales flip colors depending on the colors of their neighbors. A lizard’s intricately patterned skin follows rules like those used by a simple type of computer program. As the ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) grows, it transforms from a drab, polka-dotted youngster to an emerald-flecked adult. Its scales first morph from white and brown to green and black. Then, as the animal ages, individual scales flip from black to green, or vice versa. Biophysicist Michel Milinkovitch of the University of Geneva realized that the scales weren’t changing their colors by chance. “You have chains of green and chains of black, and they form this labyrinthine pattern that very clearly is not random,” he says. That intricate ornamentation, he and colleagues report April 13 in Nature, can be explained by a cellular automaton, a concept developed by mathematicians in the 1940s and ’50s to simulate diverse complex systems.
4-26-17 Chimps pass on sponge drinking trick like a family tradition
Chimps pass on sponge drinking trick like a family tradition
After a few chimpanzees started using moss to soak up water from a pond, the behaviour has spread. The pattern might tell us about how early human culture spread. Six years ago, a chimpanzee had the bright idea to use moss to soak up water, then drink from it, and seven others soon learned the trick. Three years later, researchers returned to the site to see if the practice had persisted to become part of the local chimp culture. They now report that the technique has continued to spread, and it’s mostly been learned by relatives of the original moss-spongers. This adds to earlier evidence that family ties are the most important routes for culture to spread in animals. After the first report of chimps using moss as a sponge in Budongo Forest, Uganda, researchers rarely saw the behaviour again, and wondered whether chimps still knew how to do it. So they set up an experiment, providing moss and leaves at the clay pit where the chimps had demonstrated the technique before. Then they watched to see whether chimpanzees would use leaves – a more common behaviour – or moss to soak up the mineral-rich water from the pit. Most of the original moss-spongers used moss again during the experiment, and so did another 17 chimps, showing the practice had become more widespread. The researchers wondered what factors influenced which individuals adopted it: were they connected socially, or through families, for instance?
4-26-17 Wild bears do the twist to communicate through smelly footprints
Wild bears do the twist to communicate through smelly footprints
Brown bears in the mountains of Europe twist their feet into the ground to leave behind a host of scent information for other bears to sniff at. For dancing bears, doing the twist is all about leaving a lasting impression. Wild brown bears have huge overlapping ranges and are solitary, so they could do with a reliable long-distance messaging service. Their solution: scent-marking their footprints for others to sniff. Thanks to chemical signalling, mammals can be informed about things such as identity, sex, social status and reproductive state. “It appears a very important way to exchange information, which is still poorly understood,” says Agnieszka Sergiel at the Institute of Nature Conservation in Krakow, Poland. They found that bears release their scent from glands on their feet when they twist them into the ground. The scent contains at least 20 distinct compounds that probably act as sticky notes for other bears, communicating information such as gender, which can come in handy if they’re looking for a mate.
4-26-17 All mammals big or small take about 12 seconds to defecate
All mammals big or small take about 12 seconds to defecate
A study of defecation finds that all mammals take around the same amount of time to relieve themselves. If it’s taking much longer, you may need to see a doctor. Everyone poops, and it takes them about the same amount of time. A new study of the hydrodynamics of defecation finds that all mammals take 12 seconds on average to relieve themselves, no matter how large or small the animal. The research, published in Soft Matter, reveals that the soft matter coming out of the hind ends of elephants, pandas, warthogs and dogs slides out of the rectum on a layer of mucus that keeps toilet time to a minimum. “The smell of body waste attracts predators, which is dangerous for animals. If they stay longer doing their thing, they’re exposing themselves and risking being discovered,” says Patricia Yang, a mechanical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Yang and colleagues filmed elephants, pandas and warthogs at a local zoo, and one team member’s dog in a park, as they defecated. Though the animals’ body masses ranged from 4 to 4,000 kilograms, the duration of defecation remained constant.
4-26-17 Baby humpback whales 'whisper' to mums to avoid predators
Baby humpback whales 'whisper' to mums to avoid predators
The humpback whale is known for its loud haunting songs, which can be heard 20 miles away. However, new recordings show mothers and calves "whisper" to each other, seemingly to avoid attracting predators. The quiet grunts and squeaks can be heard only at close range. By calling softly to its mother, the calf is less likely be overheard and preyed on by killer whales, scientists believe. Dr Simone Videsen of Aarhus University in Denmark is part of a team of scientists who tracked eight baby whales and two mothers to learn more about the first months of a humpback whale's life. They used special sound and movement recorders, which were attached to the whale's skin via suction cups. "We were really surprised because humpback whales are really vocal normally and they have these long songs," she said. "But when you look at the communication pattern between mother and calf you see that they're often silent and they do produce these weaker signals."
4-26-17 Moth’s disguise is so good, spiders love it instead of eating it
Moth’s disguise is so good, spiders love it instead of eating it
Moth master of disguise fools its own predator with spider-like wing pattern, jerky movements and posturing behaviour. A moth that looks and acts just like a spider is so convincing that it receives elaborate courtship displays from its predator. Many prey species mimic other poisonous prey or blend into the background to escape predators. The metalmark is one of the few that mimics its predator. The impersonator’s black, beady “eyes” are actually patterns on its wings, and its “furry legs” are contorted wings with a striped pattern. This gives the impression that it is a big spider. And instead of fluttering like other moths, the metalmark makes jerky leaps like the jumping spiders it mimics. “It confuses the spider. If the spider is smaller, it even intimidates the spider”, says David Wagner, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, who was not involved in the study. Cannibalism is common in spiders, so smaller ones prefer to run away rather than risk being eaten. The moths also display a peacock-like behaviour. They raise their forewings and twist their hindwings to show off eyespots and stripes to maximum effect. These appear on the upper and lower surface of the wings, so the moth looks like a spider from the back as well as the front.
4-25-17 Family tree of dogs reveals secret history of canines
Family tree of dogs reveals secret history of canines
The largest family tree of dogs ever assembled shows how canines evolved into more than 150 modern breeds. Dogs were first selected and bred for their ability to perform tasks such as herding goats or cattle, say scientists. Later, they were selected for physical features such as their size or colour. The study also unearths evidence that some dogs are descended from an ancient breed that travelled with the ancestors of Native Americans into the Americas. Archaeological evidence points to the so-called "New World dog", which apparently crossed with human settlers over a land bridge from Asia. It had previously been thought that all signs of this ancient breed had been erased as dogs bred in Europe spread around the world. "We think there is still some signature of New World dog hiding in the genome of some of these American breeds," said co-researcher Heidi Parker of the National Institutes of Health, US. Modern hairless breeds such as the Peruvian hairless dog and the Mexican hairless dog are likely descended from this ancient dog.
4-25-17 How a dolphin eats an octopus without dying
How a dolphin eats an octopus without dying
Eating octopus can be dangerous. Some dolphins in Australia, though, have figured out how to do this safely — by shaking or tossing their prey over and over until it goes limp and the sucker-covered arms are relaxed and safe to eat. Most people who eat octopus prefer it immobile, cut into pieces and nicely grilled or otherwise cooked. For some, though, the wiggly, sucker-covered arms of a live octopus are a treat — even though those arms can stick to the throat and suffocate the diner if they haven’t been chopped into small enough pieces. Dolphins risk the same fate when eating octopus — and they can’t cook it or cut it up with a chef’s knife. “Octopus is a dangerous meal,” notes Kate Sprogis of Murdoch University in Australia. Even if a dolphin manages to remove an octopus’ head, it still has to deal with those sucker-covered tentacles. “The suckered arms would be difficult to handle considering dolphins don’t have hands to assist them,” Sprogis says. A group of hungry dolphins off the coast of Western Australia have figured out a solution. They shake and toss their prey until the head falls off, the animal is in pieces and its arms are tender and not wiggling anymore, Sprogis and her colleagues report April 2 in Marine Mammal Science.
4-21-17 Drones listen in on bats to reveal their in-flight secrets
Drones listen in on bats to reveal their in-flight secrets
Using ultrasonic detectors, drones in the air and on the water are detecting bat calls, in the hope of finding out what the mammals get up to when flying. Bat-detecting drones could help us find out what the animals get up to when flying. Ultrasonic detectors on drones in the air and on the water are listening in on bat calls, in the hope of discovering more about the mammals’ lives beyond the reach of ground-based monitoring devices. Drone-builder Tom Moore and bat enthusiast Tom August have developed three different drones to listen for bat calls while patrolling a pre-planned route. Since launching the scheme, known as Project Erebus, in 2014, they have experimented with two flying drones and one motorised boat, all equipped with ultrasonic detectors. The pair’s latest tests have demonstrated the detection capabilities of the two airborne drone models: a quadcopter and a fixed-wing drone. Last month, the quadcopter successfully followed a predetermined course and picked up simulated bat calls produced by an ultrasonic transmitter.
4-21-17 Chlamydia vaccine for koalas slows spread of deadly disease
Chlamydia vaccine for koalas slows spread of deadly disease
First results from trials of single-jab vaccine offer hope that the sexually transmitted disease devastating Australia’s koala population can be halted. A single-jab vaccine could halt the chlamydia epidemic wiping out Australia’s koalas. It may even pave the way for a human chlamydia vaccine. In trials, the new vaccine has been shown to slow the rate of new infections and treat early-stage disease. A third of Australia’s koalas have been lost over the last two decades, largely due to the spread of chlamydia, which now affects between 50 and 100 per cent of wild populations. The sexually transmitted disease causes painful urinary tract inflammation, infertility and blindness. Chlamydia in koalas is caused by Chlamydia pecorum, a bacterium that may have spread from livestock introduced from Europe. A similar bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis, causes chlamydia in humans. Antibiotics can be used to treat chlamydia in koalas, but they only work in early-stage disease, do not prevent re-infection, and they must be administered daily for at least 30 days in captivity. Moreover, some infected koalas remain asymptomatic and are overlooked for treatment while they continue to spread the disease.
4-20-17 The incredible naked mole rat can survive with hardly any oxygen
The incredible naked mole rat can survive with hardly any oxygen
These animal superheroes get on fine in conditions that would kill us and can go into a kind of suspended animation if oxygen levels drop too low. We already know the naked mole rat is an animal superhero: it is long-lived for an animal of its size, rarely gets cancer and shrugs off some kinds of pain. Now the East African rodent turns out to have a metabolic trick that allows it to survive very low oxygen levels with no apparent ill effects. To investigate how well naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) tolerate low oxygen concentrations, a team of biologists first put them in a chamber with just 5 per cent oxygen, less than a quarter the amount found in air. Such conditions kill mice within 15 minutes (and we wouldn’t survive either) But naked mole rats just carry on as normal. The first test was stopped after 5 hours when nothing happened, says Thomas Park at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “We were blown away.” Next the team put mole rats in pure nitrogen, with no oxygen at all. This kills mice in about a minute. People pass out after a breath or two of pure nitrogen, and would probably die in under 10 minutes. The naked mole rats, however, survived for at least 18 minutes. They stopped breathing after a few minutes, but their hearts kept beating and as soon as they were put back in normal air they revived.
4-20-17 'Perfect storm' threatens Europe's salamanders
'Perfect storm' threatens Europe's salamanders
Urgent action is needed to protect wild salamanders in Europe from a deadly infection, say scientists. The disease may end up wiping out all vulnerable species, with zoos and gene banks the only conservation option, they warn. A fungal infection introduced to northern Europe several years ago behaves as a "perfect storm", say experts. It persists in the environment and may be spread by newts and birds. The fungus, known as B. salamandrivorans, or Bsal, killed almost all fire salamanders in an outbreak in The Netherlands in 2014. Since then, there have been outbreaks in wild salamanders and newts in Belgium and Germany. Researchers led by An Martel of Ghent University in Belgium, are calling for urgent monitoring across Europe. However, they say that there are few options to prevent the disease spreading in the wild, meaning conservation efforts should focus on zoos, captive breeding and gene banks. (Webmaster's comment: More species join the bees in mass extinction.)
4-19-17 Male robins can guess and satisfy their partner’s food cravings
Male robins can guess and satisfy their partner’s food cravings
Female birds incubating eggs get an itch for specific foods, and their male partners somehow know what they want and deliver it to them. It’s not just humans who get pregnancy cravings. The females of one bird species also seem to get an itch for certain foods when they are incubating eggs – and their partners are able to pander to their dietary whims. “For the first time, we tested whether and how males cater to the specific desires of their mates in the wild,” says Rachael Shaw at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, who led the study conducted at Zealandia, a nature sanctuary in the city. The researchers tested 16 pairs of New Zealand robins (Petroica longipes) while the female was incubating. Females were fed mealworms and two types of insect larvae under two conditions: when a male could see what his partner ate and when he couldn’t. The female birds generally preferred a food type if they hadn’t eaten it recently. The males somehow knew what food the females wanted, even when they couldn’t see what they were being fed by the researchers. When a male robin held a preferred food item, his partner begged more intensely for it prior to or during food sharing.
4-19-17 How the house mouse tamed itself
How the house mouse tamed itself
Mice got accustomed to people in the first human settlements 15,000 years ago. The tiny molars in the mouse skull help tell a tale of mice and men, and how humans transitioned from nomadic to sedentary lifestyles. Got a mouse in the house? Blame yourself. Not your housekeeping, but your species. Humans never intended to live a mouse-friendly life. But as we moved into a settled life, some animals — including a few unassuming mice — settled in, too. In the process, their species prospered — and took over the world. The rise and fall of the house mouse’s fortunes followed the stability and instability of the earliest human settlements, a new study shows. By analyzing teeth from ancient mice and comparing the results to modern rodents hanging out near partially settled groups, scientists show that when humans began to settle down, one mouse species seemed to follow. When those people moved on, another species moved in. The findings reveal that human settlement took place long before agriculture began, and that vermin didn’t require a big storehouse of grain to thrive off of us.
4-18-17 Whale's eye view: Footage reveals hidden whale world
Whale's eye view: Footage reveals hidden whale world
In a new study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Oregon State University in March, scientists in remote Antarctica have attached cameras with speedometers and suction cups to the backs of minke and humpback whales. The stunning footage has revealed feeding habits and social interactions, while also shedding light on the way whales use their blow holes to bluster breathing holes through the ice.
4-18-17 Live, long and black giant shipworm found in Philippines
Live, long and black giant shipworm found in Philippines
Scientists have found live specimens of the rare giant shipworm for the first time, in the Philippines. Details of the creature, which can reach up to 1.55m (5ft) in length and 6cm (2.3in) in diameter, were published in a US science journal. The giant shipworm spends its life encased in a hard shell, submerged head-down in mud, which it feeds on. Though its existence has been known for years, no living specimen had been studied until now. Despite its name, the giant shipworm is actually a bivalve - the same group as clams and mussels. The "rare and enigmatic species", also known as Kuphus polythamia, is the longest living bivalve known to man, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).
4-17-17 First living example of giant ancient mollusc found in the wild
First living example of giant ancient mollusc found in the wild
The giant shipworm has mostly been known for its elephant tusk-like shells. Now we’ve finally found some live ones - they eat noxious mud and smell like rotten eggs. The first known living sample of a giant, ancient mollusc that previously was known almost exclusively by its shells has been recovered from the Philippines. A team of researchers have finally come across a live colony of giant shipworms, or Kuphus polythalamia. Washed-up, empty, elephant tusk-like shells first hinted at the existence of this metre-long animal in the 18th century, and there are a few specimens preserved in ethanol in collections around the world. But no one knew exactly what lay within – until now. Daniel Distel at the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University in Boston and his colleagues were made aware of the animal’s potential location in 2010, when a collaborator pointed out a news story from Philippine TV featuring a local trying to eat one for its supposed medicinal properties. “[It was] amazing! I’ve been looking for them for 20 years,” Distel says. “My friend and mentor Ruth Turner looked for her whole career.” The TV footage sparked an international search for the giant shipworm. Local researchers embarked on two expeditions, one in 2010 and one in 2011. During the second expedition, they found live specimens of K. polythalamia and transported them to the University of the Philippines to be analysed. “It’s hard not to be amazed when seeing one in the flesh, even if you know nothing about them,” Distel says. “There is no other animal like them.”
4-17-17 Improbable ‘black swan’ events can devastate animal populations
Improbable ‘black swan’ events can devastate animal populations
Like black swans, black swan events are rare. But for animal populations, they can be devastating. That’s why conservation managers need to keep them in mind, a new study argues. Sometimes, the improbable happens. The stock market crashes. A big earthquake shakes a city. A nuclear power plant has a meltdown. These seemingly unpredictable, rare incidents — dubbed black swan events — may be unlikely to happen on any specific day, but they do occur. And even though they may be rare, we take precautions. A smart investor balances their portfolio. A California homeowner stores an earthquake preparedness kit in the closet. A power plant designer builds in layers of safeguards. Conservation managers should be doing the same thing, scientists warn. Black swan events happen among animals, too, and they rarely have positive effects, a new study finds.
4-17-17 Hawk moths convert nectar into antioxidants
Hawk moths convert nectar into antioxidants
Energetic fliers found a way to reduce muscle damage. Hawk moths use a lot of energy when they hover to slurp flower nectar. Manduca sexta can turn some of that nectar into muscle-protecting antioxidants. Hawk moths have a sweet solution to muscle damage. Manduca sexta moths dine solely on nectar, but the sugary liquid does more than fuel their bodies. The insects convert some of the sugars into antioxidants that protect the moths’ hardworking muscles, researchers report in the Feb. 17 Science.
4-13-17 The bright lights of big cities help blackbirds thrive
The bright lights of big cities help blackbirds thrive
Blackbirds do better when they nest near street lights, but all city birds seem to hate the noise. Light pollution is a problem for many animals, but at least one bird seems to welcome it. European blackbirds choose to nest near street lights, and appear to thrive as a result. “This might be because it protects them from predation by species that don’t like it bright at night,” says Anja Russ at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany. Her team studied the effects of street lights on the European blackbird (Turdus merula), a forest species that has adapted to city life. “Its breeding attempts in urban areas can be dated back in Germany to almost 200 years ago,” says her colleague, Reinhard Klenke. The team found that the city birds laid their eggs almost a week earlier than blackbirds in dark areas such as forests, and were more likely to successfully rear hatchlings. The results are surprising given that other studies have found that lighting harms wildlife. “We usually think that light at night will have detrimental effects,” says biologist Brett Seymoure at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. However, it’s not clear whether light really is the key factor, he says. To be sure of this, the team would need to artificially light forest sites and darken urban sites to see how it affects blackbirds.
4-13-17 Young eels use magnetic ‘sixth sense’ to navigate
Young eels use magnetic ‘sixth sense’ to navigate
Ability explains how fish find ocean currents that sweep them to Europe’s rivers. Juvenile European eels may use Earth’s magnetic field to help them cross the Atlantic Ocean to reach freshwater rivers in Europe, including these seen in the U.K.’s Bristol Channel. Earth’s magnetic field helps eels go with the flow. The Gulf Stream fast-tracks young European eels from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea to the European rivers where they grow up. Eels can sense changes in Earth’s magnetic field to find those highways in a featureless expanse of ocean — even if it means swimming away from their ultimate destination at first, researchers report in the April 13 Current Biology.
4-13-17 New worm-snail is a super slimer
New worm-snail is a super slimer
Invasive species in Florida Keys shoots ‘copious amounts of mucus’ to catch prey. Thylacodes vandyensis, a new species of worm-snail named after the ship it was found on, oozes out a mucus web to trap prey. It then reels the web back in, eating both prey and the web itself. A new species of worm-snail is rather snotty. Thylacodes vandyensis shoots out strands of mucus that tangle together, building a spiderweb-like trap for plankton and other floating snacks, researchers report April 5 in PeerJ. Other worm-snails use this hunting technique, but T. vandyensis stands out because of the “copious amounts of mucus” it ejects, says coauthor Rüdiger Bieler. This goo net, which can stretch up to 5 centimeters across, exits the animal’s tentacles at, of course, “a snail’s pace,” jokes Bieler, a curator at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
4-12-17 Soldier ants carry comrades wounded in raids back to base
Soldier ants carry comrades wounded in raids back to base
One kind of buccaneering ant carries its wounded nestmates home – so they can live to fight another day. It’s an ant-help-ant world. Ants have been seen carrying their wounded comrades back to the nest after raids on termite colonies - an unexpected behaviour in social insects that usually appear to treat individuals as expendable. The ants don’t help their wounded comrades out of the goodness of their hearts, however: the wounded soldiers are needed for future raids and are soon back in action. Megaponera analis, a species found in sub-Saharan Africa, feeds exclusively on termites, sending armies of 200 to 500 individuals to raid termite nests. First, large ants called majors break open the nest. Smaller ants, called minors, then rush in to kill and pull out termites. However, termite nest are defended by soldiers with big jaws, and the invaders often sustain serious injuries. Ants that lose limbs are severely handicapped immediately after the injury, but after a few hours they adjust and can run almost as fast as uninjured ants – if they are carried back to safety. “At first, they kept tripping over, because they thought they [still] had six legs,” says Erik Frank at the University of Würzburg, Germany. “Inside the nest, they were safe to adapt and change their locomotion.”
4-12-17 Sea urchin emits a cloud of venomous jaws to deter predators
Sea urchin emits a cloud of venomous jaws to deter predators
When predators get too close, this normally serene pincushion releases hundreds of tiny “jaws” that pack a nasty chemical punch. The collector sea urchin looks like a pretty pincushion lying on the ocean floor, going about its business of munching on algae and seaweed. But when threatened, this sedate pincushion has a most extraordinary defence. It releases a cloud of semiautonomous weapons: hundreds of tiny jaws that are still capable of biting and releasing venom even when separated from the sea urchin’s body. Sea urchins have a hard, chalky shell covered in long spikes. Nestled among the spikes are tubular stalks topped with biting jaws known as pedicellariae. One type of these appendages even has venom as well. “The globiferous pedicellariae are minute and terrifying,” says Hannah Sheppard-Brennand at Southern Cross University in New South Wales, Australia. The three-jawed, pincer-like heads bite attacking predators, releasing venom as they do so. They can get torn from the sea urchin but stay attached to the predator. “When they were first observed, they were thought to be parasites, as they give the appearance of independent action from the main animal,” says Sheppard-Brennand.
4-12-17 Volcanic eruptions nearly snuffed out Gentoo penguin colony
Volcanic eruptions nearly snuffed out Gentoo penguin colony
Geochemical evidence of Gentoo penguin poop helped researchers pinpoint volcanoes as an ancient threat to one of today’s most successful Antarctic penguin colonies. Penguins have been pooping on Ardley Island off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula for a long, long time. The population there is one of the biggest and oldest Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) colonies. But evidence from ancient excrement suggests that these animals didn’t always flourish. The Gentoo colony on Ardley Island continues to grow in comparison to other Antarctic penguin species, which have suffered from changes in sea ice extent in other locations. A team of researchers set out to see how the Ardley population responded to past changes in climate to better inform future conservation efforts. They studied the geochemical make-up of lake sediment samples and identified elements from guano or penguin poop. Knowing the fraction of guano in lake sludge over time let the researchers track penguin population changes.
4-11-17 Drone spots humpback whales and orcas moving in on cloud of fish
Drone spots humpback whales and orcas moving in on cloud of fish
Aerial photo shows mass of Atlantic herring that will soon be supper for humpback and killer whales in glowing water off the north Norway coast. Shallow waters glow in the midday sun off northern Norway, where a mass of Atlantic herring have caught the attention of humpback whales and killer whales. That large black splotch isn’t a sandbank: it’s a shoal of millions of fish about to be feasted upon. This photograph was shot using a drone last year off the island of Kvaløya. It was taken in January, a time of year when Norway sees little sunshine. Indeed, the light is coming from low on the horizon, despite it being midday. “It’s before we get the sun back,” says wildlife photographer Espen Bergersen. That’s what gives the water its vivid colour. Bergersen says it was -13°C on this day. “We were planning to go out in the boat, but it was freezing cold,” he says. “It was lucky I couldn’t start my boat, I guess. I decided to go up with my drone and got this photograph.” While operating the drone from a nearby bridge, he noticed whales circling its supports. “I haven’t seen them do that before,” he says. The herring populations have migrated northward over the past 10 to 15 years, Bergersen says, leaving behind the fjords of southern Norway and providing a new feeding ground for humpback whales. The whales stop by on their way from Svalbard – an archipelago between the North Pole and mainland Norway – to the Caribbean, where they spend the winter.
4-10-17 Sabre-toothed tigers in ice-age Los Angeles had bad back trouble
Sabre-toothed tigers in ice-age Los Angeles had bad back trouble
Back injuries identified from thousands of fossilised bones probably occurred when the cat wrestled large prey such as bison and camels. The big sabre-toothed cats that roamed Los Angeles 12,000 years ago had bad backs and shoulders, it seems. Meanwhile, the other apex predator that shared its southern California habitat, the dire wolf, was more likely to suffer from headaches and leg pain. The discoveries come from an analysis of thousands of bones from skeletons of these extinct creatures, with the injuries probably sustained as a result of their dining habits. Like other cats, the sabre-toothed Smilodon fatalis ambushed its prey and wrestled them into submission. Modern big cats suffocate their prey, by either biting down on the victim’s snout to clamp it shut or squeezing its throat to crush its trachea so it can’t breathe. Smilodon was more heavily built, and is thought to have used its massive forelimbs to pin down large prey such as bison, horses and camels. It could then quickly kill the animal by ripping out its throat with its long curved canine teeth. Injuries are inevitable in such battles to the death, and are known in modern cats as well as fossils. But no one had looked at enough bones to tell how often they occurred either in the past or present.
4-6-17 The US parrot which mimics other animals
The US parrot which mimics other animals
Watch as Einstein, an African grey parrot, mimics a dog's bark, a wolf’s cry and more. Einstein is kept at a zoo in Knoxville, Tennessee, and recently turned 30 years old. On average, African grey parrots live up to 45 years in captivity and 22.7 years in the wild. They are known for their mimicry and their brains have been compared to three-year-old children.
4-5-17 Apes can see things from your perspective and help you out
Apes can see things from your perspective and help you out
Chimps, bonobos and orangutans help humans when they look for objects in the wrong place - showing they can tell when others believe something that's false. Our closest evolutionary relatives are quite the mind readers. And they can use that knowledge to help people figure things out when they are labouring under a misapprehension, according to the latest research. The ability to attribute mental states to others, aka theory of mind, is sometimes considered unique to humans, but evidence is mounting that other animals have some capacity for it. In a study last year, chimps, bonobos and orangutans watched videos of people behaving in different scenarios as cameras tracked their eye movements. The experiment found that the apes looked where an actor in the video would expect to see an object, rather than towards its true location, suggesting the animals were aware others could hold false beliefs. But that experiment left open the possibility apes were simply predicting that the actor would go to the last place he’d seen the object, without understanding that he held a false belief. Now, David Buttelmann at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues tested 34 zoo chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, in search of more conclusive evidence.
4-5-17 Japan and Norway set off on annual whale hunt despite opposition
Japan and Norway set off on annual whale hunt despite opposition
The countries continue whaling, Norway for food, and Japan claiming it is for scientific research, an argument now dismissed as unjustified by another report. THE harpoons are out. Norway’s whaling fleet is setting sail this week, with a kill quota of 999 minke whales. The mammals will be caught for meat, and 90 per cent are likely to be pregnant females. And Japan’s fleet has just returned to port with its cargo of 333 minkes, but will be heading out again soon to catch endangered sei whales in the north Pacific Ocean, claiming it is for scientific research. This comes as yet another report condemns as unnecessary the killing of whales for scientific research. Issued by a panel of the International Whaling Commission – the body that introduced a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1996 – the report rejects the rationale behind Japan’s proposal for killing whales in the north Pacific for scientific research. “The proposal does not adequately justify the need for lethal sampling,” the report says. The panel recommends no whales should be killed until additional work is undertaken and reviewed. Conservation groups say the panel’s report adds to mounting evidence that Japan’s “scientific whaling” programme has no scientific justification. “It’s yet another example that when an independent panel looks at the science, they can’t see any value in it,” says Matt Collis, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “It’s so utterly pointless.” Norway, meanwhile, continues whaling for commercial purposes.
4-5-17 How smaller snakes strangle bigger snakes and swallow them whole
How smaller snakes strangle bigger snakes and swallow them whole
Kingsnakes feed on other snakes, sometimes much bigger than themselves. Now the mystery of their feeding feat is out. How can a predator catch and consume prey bigger than itself? That’s one of the marvels and mysteries of the appropriately named kingsnake. Kingsnakes can kill and consume rat snakes at least 20 per cent larger than themselves. Now we may finally know how they manage to ensnare their quarry in the first place. Imagine trying to fit a large garden hose inside a small one. The kingsnake faces a similar challenge in engulfing a bigger tube-shaped animal. We know that they achieve this with flexible jaws and by crushing prey inside S-bends, like squeezing spaghetti through a pasta machine. But a lingering mystery was how these smaller snakes have the power to subdue and handle those bigger than themselves – an extra-challenging feat because unlike mammals that suffocate and become unconscious quickly, snakes survive anoxia for much longer and can thus put up a fight. Perplexed by this puzzle, David Penning at Missouri Southern State University, Joplin, and Brad Moon at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette used three experiments to investigate.
4-5-17 World’s largest canary discovered on island of giants and dwarfs
World’s largest canary discovered on island of giants and dwarfs
An odd-looking bird named the “new finch” is actually the planet’s biggest canary – and it lives with other largest and smallest species on an isolated island. Deep within the rainforests of São Tomé, an odd-looking bird with burnished brown feathers and a grey, outsized, parrot-like beak lives in the canopy, making occasional forays into the world below for a fruit snack. The setting – inaccessible forest on a small volcanic island that is one of the wettest places on Earth – only increases the mystique around this bird, which is one of the least observed of them all. Now it turns out the species was also misidentified, and it is actually the largest canary on the planet, 50 per cent heavier than the next largest species. Although it is small for a bird, being only about 20 cm long, the size of a common or European starling, the canary is a giant compared with other members of its genus, which are slightly smaller than house sparrows. It is found only on São Tomé and is critically endangered. In 1888, Francisco Newton, a Portuguese naturalist, collected the first three specimens. The bird then vanished from popular record until 101 years later, when a couple of birdwatchers chanced upon it. Its size, strange flattened head and large beak caused confusion among ornithologists. As a result, it was placed in a separate genus, Neospiza, which simply means “new finch”.
4-4-17 Dolphins 'shake and toss' octopus prey, research finds
Dolphins 'shake and toss' octopus prey, research finds
Octopuses can be a perfect meal for dolphins, but they can also pose a deadly choking hazard. So dolphins have developed elaborate behaviours to turn larger prey into more bite-size pieces, according to marine biologists in Australia. The researchers filmed dolphins shaking octopuses and tossing them through air in preparation for consumption. The findings, compiling years of observations, have been described in the journal Marine Mammal Science. "Everyone relates it to seafood preparation," lead author Dr Kate Sprogis told the BBC. "They've got skills to prepare their meal."
4-3-17 First fluorescent frogs might see each others’ glow
First fluorescent frogs might see each others’ glow
Natural Day-Glo may play a role in amphibian’s fights and flirtations. A polka dot frog, the first amphibian shown to fluoresce under ultraviolet light, has complex courtship and male fights. Could fluorescence matter to a frog? Carlos Taboada wondered. They don’t have bedroom black lights, but their glow may still be about the night moves. Taboada’s question is new to herpetology. No one had shown fluorescence in amphibians, or in any land vertebrate except parrots, until he and colleagues recently tested South American polka dot tree frogs. Under white light, male and female Hypsiboas punctatus frogs have translucent skin speckled with dark dots. But when the researchers spotlighted the frogs with an ultraviolet flashlight, the animals glowed blue-green. The intensity of the glow was “shocking,” says Taboada of the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” in Buenos Aires.