No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
38 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from May of 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
5-31-17 Brain switch in voles makes them fall in love at first sight
Brain switch in voles makes them fall in love at first sight
Through the activation of brain circuits with light, female voles were tricked into selecting specific partners. Talk about flipping a switch. By simply activating certain circuits in the brains of female prairie voles, researchers made them “fall in love” with specific males. “It’s like remote control of the brain circuitry to create a pair bond,” says Robert Liu at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and a member of the team using technology to play Eros. The team chose to study pair-bonding in prairie voles because they are one of the few species that mate for life. “Pair-bonding in voles is not exactly the same as in people, but we believe that it likely shares many of the underlying neural mechanisms as falling in love in humans,” says Liu. As a first test, the researchers implanted electrodes into the brains of females to identify the circuitry activated when they naturally formed a pair bond and mated. They found that connections in a specific circuit became stronger, especially after mating, and whenever the pair huddled together. “We discovered that rhythmic oscillations of groups of neurons in the prefrontal cortex – an area of the brain involved in decision-making and executive functions – controlled the strength of oscillations in neurons of the neighbouring nucleus accumbens, an area involved in pleasure, reward and addiction,” says Liu. The upshot, he says, is that physical features of the male, such as his odours and vocalisations, become stamped into the reward system, meaning partners become “rewards” in themselves.
5-31-17 Ticks use sticky pads on their feet to cling on to our skin
Ticks use sticky pads on their feet to cling on to our skin
Microscopy images reveal how tick parasites use specialised sticky pads and bendable claws to stick to their hosts while they suck blood. A tick’s sophisticated weaponry doesn’t end with its needle-like mouthparts, capable of piercing through human skin and inflicting itchy agony. Each leg has a pair of claws that can grasp surfaces, and between them – it has now been discovered – is a foldable pad that can spread out like a fan and stick to the smoothest of surfaces. Ticks lie in wait on plants and leaf litter, until they can latch on to a passing warm-bodied bird or animal. They move about on their host and finally clamp down in a suitable place, plunging down their needle-like mouthparts. To do all this, a tick needs legs that can grip a large variety of surfaces, anchor the tick when a host is trying to scratch it out, and support the huge increase in body weight as it feeds – a female tick can swell to 135 times her initial size after a blood meal.
5-31-17 Watch cuttlefish apparently pretending to walk just like crabs
Watch cuttlefish apparently pretending to walk just like crabs
The curious tentacle movements could be performed to fool unsuspecting prey or to ward off predators. Cuttlefish have been caught on film walking like crabs by moving their tentacles in novel ways. Kohei Okamoto at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan, and his team first spotted pharaoh cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis) displaying the unusual behaviour while feeding them in the lab. “We were surprised to see how closely they resemble hermit crabs,” says Okamoto. The molluscs would raise their front arms while they bent their other legs, as if they had joints, while quickly moving them up and down independently. Certain parts of their skin also darkened. The team later filmed the cuttlefish making the same arm movements during experiments in tanks containing small fish that could be prey. Cuttlefish are known mimics. They can change colour, texture, skin patterns and even posture instantly to blend in with their surroundings. They can also make complex movements with their arms, not only to help with camouflage but also to startle or lure prey or grip their partner while mating. Okamoto and his colleagues aren’t sure whether the cuttlefish are intentionally posing as hermit crabs, although there would be clear advantages of doing so. They suggest that impersonating crabs would imply that the soft cuttlefish have a hard shell, which could deter predators.
5-28-17 A third of America's honeybee colonies died in the last year
A third of America's honeybee colonies died in the last year
Beekeepers in the United States saw a third of their honeybee colonies die between April 2016 and April 2017, an annual survey finds. That sounds grim, but it's actually a slight improvement over similar assessments in the last decade, in which an average of 40 percent of the colonies died off annually. "I would stop short of calling this 'good' news," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a University of Maryland professor who is also a project director at the Bee Informed Partnership. "Colony loss of more than 30 percent over the entire year is high. It's hard to imagine any other agricultural sector being able to stay in business with such consistently high losses." Some of the dead colonies may be salvaged, but the process isn't easy. One bumblebee species was added to the federal Endangered Species List earlier this year, and steady decline of bee populations is a serious and widespread problem that is believed to be linked to pesticide use. "Bees are good indicators of the landscape as a whole," said Nathalie Steinhauer, who worked on the new survey. "To keep healthy bees, you need a good environment and you need your neighbors to keep healthy bees. Honeybee health is a community matter."
5-25-17 Monkey mafia steal your stuff, then sell it back for a cracker
Monkey mafia steal your stuff, then sell it back for a cracker
Long-tailed macaques living near an Indonesian temple have learned how to steal human possessions, including cash, and then trade them for food. Long-tailed macaques living near an Indonesian temple have figured out how to run a ransom racket on visiting tourists. The monkeys grab valuables, such as glasses, hats, cameras or, in one case, a wad of cash from the ticket booth, then wait for temple staff to offer them food before dropping their ill-gotten gains and dashing off with the tasty prize. Although this behaviour has been reported anecdotally at Uluwatu Temple on the island of Bali for years, it had never been studied scientifically in the wild. So Fany Brotcorne, a primatologist at the University of Liège in Belgium, and her colleagues set out to discover how and why it has spread through the monkey population. “It’s a unique behaviour. The Uluwatu Temple is the only place in Bali where it’s found,” she says, which suggests it is a learned behaviour rather than an innate ability. Brotcorne wanted to determine whether it was indeed cultural, which could help us better understand the monkey’s cognitive abilities, and even human evolution.
5-25-17 Tree-climbing goats spit out and disperse valuable argan seeds
Tree-climbing goats spit out and disperse valuable argan seeds
Popular lore has it that goats defecate the seeds of fruits from the argan tree, but instead they must spit them out, helping to effectively disperse them. In south-western Morocco, acrobatic goats climb argan trees to eat their fruit and leaves. A tree full of goats is a striking sight, but the goats’ widely overlooked habit of regurgitating and spitting out the nuts may be important to the life of these forests. Goat herders lead their flocks through the argan (Argania spinosa) forests, where the animals can clamber up trees 8 to 10 metres high and strip them nearly bare. Popular accounts say the goats defecate the nuts of argan fruits, which can then be retrieved from the goats’ manure. Cracking these nuts open is the first step in making argan oil, a valuable export to richer countries where it is used in beauty products and foods. People may also harvest the fruits directly, but the goats save them a step. “Some scientists have accepted the defecation hypothesis, probably because they did not speak to the herders,” says Miguel Delibes, a biologist at Doñana Biological Station in Seville, Spain. The herders say the goats mostly spit the seeds out.
5-25-17 Trump’s budget jettisons ‘irreplaceable’ marine mammals agency
Trump’s budget jettisons ‘irreplaceable’ marine mammals agency
The US Marine Mammal Commission, charged with restoring oceans’ mammal populations, is set for the chop in president Donald Trump’s budget proposal. The US Marine Mammal Commission, an organisation charged with restoring mammal populations in the world’s oceans, is set for the chop in president Donald Trump’s latest budget proposal. The budget, released on 23 May, includes a 16 per cent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s bodies and agencies. This would close down the MMC, an independent federal agency, which costs around US$3.41 million a year, or around one penny per American. The Maryland-based commission sees itself as a “one-stop shop” for marine mammal science and policies, says its chairman Daryl Boness. The commission reviews human activities in the ocean -including shipping, military drills and fossil fuel extraction – and uses the latest science to ascertain the impact of such activities on marine mammals. “The commission’s role as an oversight agency on all issues related to marine mammals is unique; no one else in the world meets this mandate,” Boness told the New Scientist. “This service to the public, marine mammals and their ecosystem would end.”
5-25-17 Quit nature to save wolves and bears? There are better ways
Quit nature to save wolves and bears? There are better ways
Wild predators bounce back as nations modernise, people shift to cities and attitudes change. But we don't have to seal ourselves off to save them, says Niki Rust. Imagine waking up, opening your curtains and seeing a pack of wolves on your patio. How would you feel knowing that these large carnivores had invaded your territory and were just metres away? Both fearful and fascinated, probably. For livestock farmers, fear wins the day – we often dislike things that could harm us, our loved ones or our property. But this is bad news for wildlife: retaliatory and pre-emptive killing of large carnivores is one of their biggest threats and a cause of decline in many places. However, across much of Europe and North America, populations of wolves, bears, cougars and lynxes are increasing. It looks like fascination has won out. How come? A new US study offers an answer. It says that modernisation, traditionally seen as destructive to habitats and their wild species, could be behind this.
5-25-17 Giant octopus suffocates foolhardy dolphin that tried to eat it
Giant octopus suffocates foolhardy dolphin that tried to eat it
Dolphins have a special way of preparing the octopuses they eat – but when that goes awry the consequences can be deadly. A dolphin in Western Australia has bitten off more than it can chew. An attempt to eat a large octopus turned fatal when its airway was obstructed by a mass of tentacles. The Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin – known as “Gilligan” to researchers in the area – was found dead on Stratham Beach near the port city of Bunbury in August 2015. Octopus arms were seen hanging out of the side of its mouth. A post-mortem examination revealed one octopus tentacle extending down the dolphin’s oesophagus, and the other seven stuck in the back of its throat. The tentacle suckers were gripping the throat walls and had blocked off the airway, causing the dolphin to suffocate. The tentacles belonged to a Maori octopus (Macroctopus maorum), the largest species of octopus found in Australian waters and the third largest in the world. It is not unusual for bottlenose dolphins to feed on octopuses, but they normally break the body and tentacles into smaller pieces first using a “shake-and-toss” method. Shaking the octopus helps to kill it and tear it apart, while tossing prevents it from latching on and also weakens the suckers.
5-25-17 See-through frog has heart you can see beating through its chest
See-through frog has heart you can see beating through its chest
The beautiful Hyalinobatrachium yaku is a previously unknown glass frog from Ecuador, but its habitat is threatened by oil exploitation. A newly discovered glass frog species whose beating heart is visible through its chest is already feared to be in danger, because its habitat is threatened by oil exploitation. The frog (Hyalinobatrachium yaku), identified through a combination of fieldwork in the Amazonian lowlands of Ecuador and DNA sequencing in the lab, displays unique physical and behavioural traits. The dark green spots on its back and its call and reproductive behaviour mark it out as different from already known frogs. “Males guard the eggs, which are attached below a tree’s leaves, until they hatch and fall on the below water stream,” says Juan Guayasamin, of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, in Ecuador. “I work with frogs every day and this is one of the most beautiful species I have ever seen.” “Not all glass frogs have hearts that are visible through the chest. In some, the heart itself is white, so you don’t see the red blood,” says Paul Hamilton, of US non-profit organisation the Biodiversity Group.
5-24-17 Petite parrots provide insight into early flight
Petite parrots provide insight into early flight
The biomechanics of parrotlet hops has implications for better understanding the evolution of flight and could help engineers design better flight robots. When it comes to hopping between branches, tiny parrots try only as hard as they need to. The finding comes from high-speed video taken to measure how Pacific parrotlets (Forpus coelestis) shift momentum from takeoff to landing. Bird flight is though to have started with jumping and gliding. When traveling short distances, parrotlets get most of their oomph from their legs, probably because it’s a more efficient way to accelerate than pushing against air with their wings. Still, small wingbeats do help support some of the birds' bodyweight. The farther the trip, the more that wings contribute to keeping the birds in the air. The birds also optimize their takeoff angles to apply as little mechanical energy as possible, Diana Chin and David Lentink of Stanford University report May 17 in Science Advances. (Webmaster's comment: Millions of years of evolution leads to a fine tuning of an animal's body at the molecular level. To engineer as well as evolution has done is still beyond our ability.)
5-24-17 Whales reached huge size only recently
Whales reached huge size only recently
Blue whales are the biggest animals that have ever existed on Earth but they only recently* got that way. This is the extraordinary finding from a new study that examined the fossil record of baleens - the group of filter feeders to which the blues belong. These animals were relatively small for most of their evolutionary existence and only became the behemoths we know today in the past three million years. That is when the climate likely turned the oceans into a "food heaven". Favoured prey - such as krill, small crustaceans - suddenly became super-concentrated in places, allowing the baleens with their specialised feeding mechanism to pig-out and evolve colossal forms. "The blue whales, the fins and bowheads, and the right whales - they are among the most massive vertebrates to have ever lived," explained Nick Pyenson from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, US. "Some of the dinosaurs were longer, but these big whales even outweighed the largest dinosaurs. And isn't that surprising? People kind of think of gigantism as being a fact of the geologic past. But here we are, living in the time of giants on Planet Earth," he told BBC News.
5-24-17 Flamingo balancing act saves energy
Flamingo balancing act saves energy
Flamingos expend less energy standing on one leg than in a two-legged stance, scientists have confirmed. It may be their signature pose, but how and why the birds perch on one limb has been a longstanding puzzle. Now, a team from the US has shown that flamingos employ no active muscular effort when they're unipedal, meaning they are also expending less energy. A passive mechanism is engaged in the one-legged position, allowing flamingos to stand proud while having a doze. Previously, researchers had wondered whether the one-legged position might help reduce muscle fatigue, as the birds alternated from standing on one leg to the other. Other teams have proposed that this behaviour helps regulate body temperature. Now, Prof Young-Hui Chang, from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, and Lena H Ting, of Atlanta's Emory University, have uncovered the mechanical secrets behind this impressive trick. The researchers conducted several experiments with both live and dead birds. Amazingly, they found that flamingo cadavers could be made to stand one-legged without any external support. In a paper published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, they describe this phenomenon as a "passive gravitational stay mechanism".
5-23-17 How a flamingo balances on one leg
How a flamingo balances on one leg
Some of the built-in tricks for extreme bird balancers work without muscle effort. Scientists have tackled the question of how a biggish bird can balance, and apparently nap, on just one skinny leg. A question flamingo researchers get asked all the time — why the birds stand on one leg — may need rethinking. The bigger puzzle may be why flamingos bother standing on two. Balance aids built into the birds’ basic anatomy allow for a one-legged stance that demands little muscular effort, tests find. This stance is so exquisitely stable that a bird sways less to keep itself upright when it appears to be dozing than when it’s alert with eyes open, two Atlanta neuromechanists report May 24 in Biology Letters. “Most of us aren’t aware that we’re moving around all the time,” says Lena Ting of Emory University, who measures what’s called postural sway in standing people as well as in animals. Just keeping the human body vertical demands constant sensing and muscular correction for wavering. Even standing robots “are expending quite a bit of energy,” she says. That could have been the case for flamingos, she points out, since effort isn’t always visible. (Webmaster's comment: The Aborigines of Australia could stand on just on leg for hours, but I don't know if they could sleep that way.)
5-22-17 Mouse sperm survive space to spawn
Mouse sperm survive space to spawn
Mice born from sperm that took a nine-month trip to space were healthy despite the gametes being exposed to massive amounts of solar radiation. Mouse sperm could win awards for resilience. Sperm freeze-dried and sent into space for months of exposure to high levels of solar radiation later produced healthy baby mice, researchers report May 22 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If humans ever embark on long-term space flights, we’ll need a way to reproduce. One potential hurdle (beyond the logistical challenges of microgravity) is the high amount of solar radiation in space — it’s 100 times more powerful on the International Space Station than on Earth. Those doses might cause damaging genetic mutations in banked eggs and sperm. To test this, Japanese researchers freeze-dried mouse sperm and sent it up to the ISS, where it spent nine months orbiting the Earth in microgravity. When rehydrated back on Earth, the space sperm did show some evidence of DNA damage compared with earthly sperm, the scientists found. But when researchers used that sperm to fertilize eggs in the lab that were then injected into female mice, the mice birthed pups at a normal rate. Those babies were healthy and were even able to have their own offspring. The researchers suspect that some of the initial DNA damage might have been repaired after fertilization. If mouse sperm can survive a trip to space, perhaps human sperm can, too.
5-22-17 Mouse sperm sent into space produces healthy IVF babies
Mouse sperm sent into space produces healthy IVF babies
The first experiment to test how space travel could affect mammals’ reproduction shows that pregnancy can smooth over DNA damage from cosmic radiation. Freeze-dried mouse sperm that spent nine months in space has successfully impregnated female mice and created healthy offspring. We are starting to consider space colonisation more seriously, but there are still big questions about the viability of human reproduction off Earth. The high levels of cosmic radiation and low gravity could hinder conception or lead to abnormal development of a fetus, scientists say. Experiments have shown that fish and salamanders can reproduce normally on space stations, but research in mammals is scarce. A handful of studies in the 1980s found that male rats produced less sperm in space, but sperm quality was not assessed. To address this, Teruhiko Wakayama at the University of Yamanashi in Japan and his colleagues sent freeze-dried sperm from 12 male mice to the International Space Station (ISS) in August 2013. The samples were kept in a -95°C freezer for nine months, before being flown back to Earth on the SpaceX-3 carrier vehicle. When the sperm returned, Wakayama and his team analysed its DNA. They found that it was severed in several places – most likely due to exposure to cosmic radiation. Radiation levels on the ISS are 100 times greater than levels on Earth because the station is not protected by the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field.
5-22-17 Frozen 'space sperm' passes fertility test
Frozen 'space sperm' passes fertility test
Healthy baby mice have been born using freeze-dried sperm stored in the near-weightless environment of space. The Japanese team behind the gravity-breaking experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) say it shows that transporting the seeds of life away from Earth is feasible. Sperm banks could even be made on the Moon as a back-up for Earth disasters, they told a leading science journal. It is unclear if this will ever help humans populate space, however.Sustaining life in space is challenging to say the least. On the ISS, radiation is more than 100 times higher than on Earth. The average daily dose of 0.5mSv from the cosmic rays is enough to damage the DNA code inside living cells, including sperm. Microgravity also does strange things to sperm.
5-19-17 The Endangered Species Act, explained
The Endangered Species Act, explained
Today is Endangered Species Day. Get smart fast! Today is Endangered Species Day, an annual reminder (falling on the third Friday of every May) to recognize America's conservation efforts. Celebrate by reading up on the Endangered Species Act:
- What is the Endangered Species Act?
- How does the Endangered Species Act work?
- Is the Endangered Species Act effective?
- Are there any problems with the Endangered Species Act?
- What's next for the Endangered Species Act?
Republicans have long pushed for the easing the Endangered Species Act's regulations, and now that the GOP has control of both chambers of Congress, they could finally get some traction. Already, the Senate has held a hearing to discuss how to "modernize" the Endangered Species Act. A proponent of the act warned that in his experience, efforts to "modernize" have "almost always been code to push forward an agenda to weaken or gut" the conservation law.
5-18-17 Mass landfills are saving endangered vultures from extinction
Mass landfills are saving endangered vultures from extinction
Endangered Egyptian vultures thrive near open garbage sites, which have helped some bounce back – but EU regulations threaten to shut the sites down. The endangered Egyptian vulture, which is disappearing in Europe and globally at an alarming rate, could bounce back thanks to the presence of landfills. The Egyptian vulture population has declined in places such as the Iberian peninsula, where it has fallen by 25 per cent over the last two decades because of multiple threats such as poisoning, illegal persecution and collision with power lines. Regulations that prevent farmers from leaving animal carcasses in the open have also deprived the scavengers of their natural source of food. But in central Catalonia in Spain, the Egyptian vulture is defying gloomy predictions. “The birds have been multiplying and even expanding their reach, colonising areas where they were historically absent,” says Joan Real at the University of Barcelona.
5-17-17 Orangutans take motherhood to extremes, nursing young for more than eight years
Orangutans take motherhood to extremes, nursing young for more than eight years
Weaning has been tricky to observe in the wild, so researchers turned to lab tests. A baby orangutan could guzzle its mom’s milk for more than eight years, the longest of any wild mammal on record. The supermoms of the mammal world are big, shy redheads. Studying growth layers in orangutan teeth shows that mothers can nurse their youngsters for eight-plus years, a record for wild mammals. Teeth from a museum specimen of a young Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) don’t show signs of weaning until 8.1 years of age. And a Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii) was still nursing during the few months before it was killed at 8.8 years, researchers report May 17 in Science Advances. Tests also show that youngsters periodically start to taper off their dependence on their mother’s milk and then, perhaps if solid food grows scarce, go back to what looks like an all-mom diet. Such on-again, off-again nursing cycles aren’t known in other wild mammals, says study coauthor Tanya Smith, an evolutionary anthropologist at Griffith University in Nathan, Australia. (Webmaster's comment: Black women in Africa often nurse their children until they are 4 years old. Nursing serves as a prophylactic to help prevent them getting pregant again.)
5-17-17 Beaver dams keeps streams cool and protect sensitive fish
Beaver dams keeps streams cool and protect sensitive fish
We used to think that beaver dams warmed up stream waters as felling trees to build them reduces shade. Now it seems the opposite might be true. Beaver dams keeps streams cool and protect sensitive fish Beaver dams could lower maximum water temperatures in streams – keeping temperature-sensitive fish safe from dangerous highs. Previous studies suggested that beaver dams warm up the water, for example by expanding the water’s surface area, cutting the speed of water flow and removing shade by felling trees. Now, a team led by Nicholas Weber from Eco-Logical Research Inc. in the US has shown that the opposite may be the case. They monitored stream temperatures at 23 sites along 34 kilometres of Bridge Creek in Oregon over an eight-year period. The number of beaver dams there increased over this period from 24 to 120. An additional 134 artificial dams were built on a 4 kilometre stretch as part of nature restoration efforts on this creek. “Our goal was to encourage beavers to build on stable structures that would increase dam life spans, capture sediment, raise the stream and reconnect the stream to its floodplain,” says Nicolaas Bouwes, owner of Utah-based Eco-Logical Research, and one of the paper authors. The team looked at the temperature differences between an upstream site with no beaver activity and downstream parts of the creek before and after the proliferation of dams.
5-16-17 Pregnant rays tangled in trawler nets have small, sickly babies
Pregnant rays tangled in trawler nets have small, sickly babies
Rays, and possibly sharks, could suffer reproductive loss from being dragged around by fishing nets before being released. The accidental capture of pregnant rays in fishing trawls harms their unborn babies. Rays often get tangled up in trawling nets dragged behind boats to catch large volumes of fish. They are usually thrown back into the sea, but being trapped and brought up to the surface can be traumatic — and sometimes fatal. Those that survive can experience ongoing health problems and have undersized, sickly babies, found Leonardo Guida at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and his colleagues. The researchers collected 19 pregnant southern fiddler rays (Trygonorrhina dumerilii) from Swan Bay in Victoria off the south coast of Australia, and divided them into two groups. One group was subjected to 8 hours of being dragged in a trawl net, followed by 30 minutes of air exposure in a crate to simulate commercial fishing. The other group served as a control.
5-16-17 Rare Mexican porpoise faces 'imminent extinction'
Rare Mexican porpoise faces 'imminent extinction'
An immediate extension of a fishing ban is desperately needed to save the world's most endangered marine species. Campaigners say there are only 30 vaquita porpoises left, with their population having plummeted by 90% since 2011. These dark-eyed cetaceans are often accidentally killed in gillnets which were banned for two years in 2015. Researchers hope the Mexican government will now extend the ban due to expire at the end of May. The vaquita marina species are found only in the Gulf of California, a world heritage site that sits between the Mexican mainland and the Baja peninsula. The waters are home to a wide array of species, but they also support half of Mexico's total fisheries production.
5-15-17 The tragic price of ivory
The tragic price of ivory
Poachers are now slaughtering up to 35,000 of the estimated 500,000 African elephants every year for their tusks. A single male elephant's two tusks can weigh more than 250 pounds, with a pound of ivory fetching as much as $1,500 on the black market. The ivory is so valuable because all across Asia — particularly in China — ivory figurines are given as traditional gifts, and ivory chopsticks, hair ornaments, and jewelry are highly prized luxuries. "China regards ivory as a cultural heritage; they are not going to ban it," said Grace Gabriel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Many Chinese consumers don't realize that elephants must be killed for their ivory; in one survey, more than two thirds of Chinese respondents said they thought tusks grew back like fingernails. Elephants are highly intelligent, social creatures that live in matriarchal groups, and poaching has ravaged much of their social structure. The biggest tusks are found on the largest breeding males and on the oldest females, who lead the elephant troops. Where these animals are targeted and killed, elephant populations are reduced to leaderless groups of traumatized orphans huddling together. In the past year, even they are being wiped out, as some poachers have started dumping cyanide into watering holes, killing every animal that drinks there. Last year, poachers killed an estimated 300 elephants in Zimbabwe's largest park, Hwange, by lacing watering holes and salt licks with cyanide.
- How extensive is the poaching?
- What impact has the slaughter had on the elephants?
- Who are the poachers?
- Why is the price so high?
- What steps are being taken to stop poaching?
- Is China cooperating?
- Why is the ban so hard to enforce?
- Endangered Asian elephants
5-15-17 Vultures smear their faces in red mud which they use as makeup
Vultures smear their faces in red mud which they use as makeup
The endangered Egyptian vultures have taken to mud baths and painting their faces at their stronghold in the Canaries. But why do they care about cosmetics? A species of vulture has been filmed putting on make-up for the first time – a rare phenomenon in birds, known as cosmetic colouration. The Egyptian vulture normally has a yellow wrinkled face surrounded by a halo of white hair. But on Fuerteventura island in the Canaries off the coast of Africa, many vultures sport reddish heads and necks, with the colour varying from pale brown to deep crimson. These vultures dip their heads in red soil and swipe from side to side, carefully dyeing their head, neck and chest red. It is a well-studied population, so almost every vulture on the island is marked with plastic rings, allowing researchers to study individual differences in this curious behaviour. “It’s the first documentation of this behaviour in wild birds that are individually marked,” says Thijs Van Overveld of Doñana Biological Station in Spain. To see it up-close, Overveld and his colleagues kept two bowls in the island’s feeding station, one filled with red soil dissolved in water, the other with just water. As the hidden researchers watched, the vultures took their mud baths. The birds examined the muddy water, scratched about with their legs, and then gently swiped both sides of their heads in the mud, emerging with red head, neck and chest feathers. Out of about 90 birds that visited over one day, 18 took mud baths. A couple of vain individuals even had two baths.
5-11-17 Watch male cuttlefish fight over a female in the wild
Watch male cuttlefish fight over a female in the wild
Violence and escalation may typify mating-related conflict. Field footage hints that male cuttlefish conflicts over who gets to mate with a female may be more violent in the wild than those observed in captivity. The Bro Code apparently does not exist among wild cuttlefish. The first field video of male European cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) getting physical over a female shows that they are not above stealing another guy’s girl. Cuttlefish, cephalopods known for their ability to alter their skin color, have complex and competitive courtship rituals. While scientists have extensively studied common European cuttlefish fights over mates, observing such altercations has proven elusive outside of the lab. In 2011, biologists Justine Allen of Brown University in Providence, R.I., and Derya Akkaynak of the University of Haifa in Israel lucked out. They were in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey following a female cuttlefish with an underwater camera to study camouflage, when a male cuttlefish approached the female, and the pair mated. Soon after, another male appeared on the scene and edged in on the female. A battle of ink and arms ensued. “I just remember there being a lot of ink everywhere — so much ink,” Allen recalls.
5-11-17 Hanging on: In search of the bat that returned from the dead
Hanging on: In search of the bat that returned from the dead
The Cuban greater funnel-eared bat was thought extinct until a small population was spotted in a forgotten corner of the island – surviving, but only just. In the pitch dark, the beam of a head torch illuminates hundreds of bats encircling a silhouetted figure in front of us. It’s Jose, telling us he’s spotted the species we have travelled thousands of miles to a remote underground cave in western Cuba to find – the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat. We move deeper into the cave, treading carefully. Dozens of Cuban boas – some of them 3 meters long – lie strewn across the lunar-like floor. Giant crabs, centipedes and tarantulas scuttle back into their burrows. The wildlife down here is well fed – some of it feasting on guano and unfortunate newborn bats that lose their grip. There are 13 species of bat in this cave – but the greater funnel-eared bat (Natalus primus) is special. Seen only as fossils, the species was thought to be extinct. In 1992, it came back from the dead. Two Cuban scientists stumbled on an apparently sizeable population of the species in a remote cave in western Cuba, nicknamed Cueva la Barca (“the boat cave”). The cave is a crucial habitat as it provides the humid and hot conditions – 40°C in the deepest chamber – that some bat species seem to require for breeding. It might just be the most important cave for bat conservation in the Caribbean.
5-11-17 Lions face same extinct threats as Ice Age cats - study
Lions face same extinct threats as Ice Age cats - study
Two big cats - the African lion and the Sunda clouded leopard - are most at risk from extinction caused by loss of prey, according to a new analysis. Lack of food was a factor in why seven big cats, including sabre-toothed tigers, went extinct at the end of the last Ice Age, say scientists. The trend is continuing, threatening a range of modern big cats, they warn. If the prey of big cats continues to decline it will add to other pressures such as habitat loss, a study found. Dr Chris Sandom from the University of Sussex said: "I think it adds an extra pressure for these animals. They are already suffering quite heavily from other conflicts with humans." He said the lesson from the past was that even if Ice Age big cats had survived conflicts with humans and the changing climate, they would not have had much left to eat. "We're in a continued decline of big, exciting animals," he added. "These charismatic predators are facing this consistent threat that started in the Ice Age and continues to this day and we need to turn that trend around." The research, led by scientists at Sussex and Oxford universities, looked at the causes of extinction in seven big cats - four different types of sabre-toothed cats, the cave and American lions, and the American cheetah.
5-9-17 Seabirds use preening to decide how to divvy up parenting duties
Seabirds use preening to decide how to divvy up parenting duties
Grooming issues can signal health, other problems. Common murres take turns brooding their chick and foraging for fish. Preening each other acts as a health check and way to negotiate parental duties if one bird is in poorer condition, new research suggests. Seabirds called common murres appear to use preening as a way to negotiate whose turn it is to watch their chick and who must find food. And when one parent is feeling foul, irregularities in this grooming ritual may send the other a signal that all is not well, researchers report in the July issue of The Auk: Ornithological Advances. “The fascinating part of this study is the inference that communication between mates allows murres to negotiate the level of effort that each member of the pair puts into the breeding effort,” says John Piatt, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska. “Reproductive success of this species requires a high degree of cooperation by each mate as they switch duties.” Common murres (Uria aalge) lay only one egg each breeding season. Parental roles aren’t determined by gender for the birds; mothers and fathers take turns watching over their chick and foraging for fish. When one parent returns with a fish for the chick, the couple preen each other and switch roles. This swapping ceremony typically happens three to four times a day.
5-7-17 France bans captive breeding of dolphins and killer whales
France bans captive breeding of dolphins and killer whales
Pools for animals such as bottlenose dolphins must also be made significantly bigger under the rules. France has banned the breeding in captivity of dolphins and killer whales, in a move hailed by campaigners as a major victory. The government also banned the keeping of all whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity, except for orcas and bottlenose dolphins already held. The association of French zoos complained they had not been consulted on the ban. But animal rights activists said it was a "historic French advance". The ban on captive breeding would eventually lead to the end of "marine circuses" in the country, a joint statement from five conservation groups including Sea Shepherd said. Environment Minister Segolene Royal had signed a version of the legislation on Wednesday, but decided to tighten the rules further and ban captive breeding completely after finding out that "some animals were drugged" in aquariums, the ministry told the AFP news agency. Jon Kershaw, who heads the Marineland Antibes park in the French Riviera, told local media that government's decision was a "bombshell". The new rules also ban direct contact between animals and the public, including swimming with dolphins, and require pools holding the animals to be made significantly larger. Establishments have six months to comply with some of the rules, and must expand their pools within three years. (Webmaster's comment: Zoos are an atrocity perpetuated on innocent and helpless animals because humans have the power to treat an animal anyway they want for the pleasure of humans. By What Right! Imprisoned creatures often become psychotic and go insane! Zoos are torture pure and simple. Who cares about how they make the animal feel. We don't seem to care. An animal wants to be free just as much as we do.)
5-5-17 Trackers may tip a warbler’s odds of returning to its nest
Trackers may tip a warbler’s odds of returning to its nest
Cerulean warblers wearing geolocators on their backs may be less likely to complete the usual return flight from South America to their breeding grounds in the eastern United States. Strapping tiny trackers called geolocators to the backs of birds can reveal a lot about where the birds go when they migrate, how they get there and what happens along the way. But ornithologists are finding that these cool backpacks could have not-so-cool consequences. Douglas Raybuck of Arkansas State University and his colleagues outfitted some Cerulean warblers (Setophaga cerulea) with geolocators and some with simple color tags to test the effects the locators might have on breeding and reproduction. This particular species globe-trots from its nesting grounds in the eastern United States to wintering grounds in South America and back each year. While the backpacks didn’t affect reproduction, birds wearing the devices were less likely than those wearing tags to return to the same breeding grounds the next year. The birds may have gotten off track, cut their trips short or died, possibly due to extra weight or drag from the backpack, the team reports May 3 in The Condor. (Webmaster's comment: We have no right to kill birds just to satisty our desired to know more about them. They are conscious beings and have every right to live free of our interference.)
5-5-17 Menopause-causing bait is curbing rat populations in New York
Menopause-causing bait is curbing rat populations in New York
Generations of childless rats are living to ripe old age as their overall numbers plummet thanks to new contraceptive baits. It is pest control without poison. A new type of bait that stops rats from having babies is helping to tackle infestations in several US cities. The bait – known as ContraPest – was approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency last August. It makes rats infertile by triggering early menopause in females and impairing sperm production in males. There are no side effects and the rats eventually die of natural causes. The technique is considered more benign than other control strategies being investigated, such as gene drive, which can be used to spread infertility genes through pest populations. A recent report by the US National Academies of Sciences warned that gene drive could have unforeseen consequences. The first field trial of ContraPest, conducted in the New York City Subway in 2013, halved the resident rat population in three months. Two more trials have now been completed in the US – one at a large-scale farm and one in an urban area – both in East Coast cities. Rat numbers at the farm fell by one-third over three months. In the urban area, population growth was suppressed during the peak breeding season so that the population expanded at only one-third the expected rate. “You’ll never wipe out rats completely – they’re too smart,” says Brandy Pyzyna from SenesTech, the biotechnology company in Arizona that developed the bait.
5-5-17 When Squirrels Were One of America’s Most Popular Pets
When Squirrels Were One of America’s Most Popular Pets
Benjamin Franklin even wrote an ode to a fallen one. In 1722, a pet squirrel named Mungo passed away. It was a tragedy: Mungo escaped its confines and met its fate at the teeth of a dog. Benjamin Franklin, friend of the owner, immortalized the squirrel with a tribute. “Few squirrels were better accomplished, for he had a good education, had traveled far, and seen much of the world.” Franklin wrote, adding, “Thou art fallen by the fangs of wanton, cruel Ranger!” Mourning a squirrel’s death wasn’t as uncommon as you might think when Franklin wrote Mungo’s eulogy; in the 18th- and 19th centuries, squirrels were fixtures in American homes, especially for children. While colonial Americans kept many types of wild animals as pets, squirrels “were the most popular,” according to Katherine Grier’s Pets in America, being relatively easy to keep. By the 1700s, a golden era of squirrel ownership was in full swing. Squirrels were sold in markets and found in the homes of wealthy urban families, and portraits of well-to-do children holding a reserved, polite upper-class squirrel attached to a gold chain leash were proudly displayed (some of which are currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Most pet squirrels were American Grey Squirrels, though Red Squirrels and Flying Squirrels also were around, enchanting the country with their devil-may-care attitudes and fluffy bodies.
5-3-17 Big dads carry weight among wandering albatrosses
Big dads carry weight among wandering albatrosses
Wandering albatrosses are known for their coparenting skills. An albatross dad’s body mass may have weighty implications for other traits among these birds, new research suggests. Dad bod is a big deal for albatrosses. Bigger male wandering albatrosses live longer and are more likely to breed successfully compared with lighter birds, while mass has no observable effect on female breeding or survival, researchers report May 3 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Climate change could shift the degree to which some seabirds pack on the pounds. It’s unclear how those shifts will play out in species like wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans), in which males are much bigger than females. To investigate, Tina Cornioley of the University of Zurich and her colleagues examined how body mass affects certain aspects of an albatross’s life — survival, odds of mating, having chicks, chick size and chick survival. From 1988 to 2013, the team tracked 662 adult albatrosses on Possession Island in the southern Indian Ocean. Albatross parents take turns sitting on their eggs, but dads actually invest more energy in rearing chicks after they hatch.
5-3-17 'Shocking' levels of PCB chemicals in UK killer whale Lulu
'Shocking' levels of PCB chemicals in UK killer whale Lulu
Lulu was one of the most contaminated killer whales ever found. One of the UK's last killer whales was contaminated with "shocking" levels of a toxic chemical, scientists say. The animal, called Lulu, was found dead on the Isle of Tiree in Scotland last year after becoming entangled in fishing lines. But tests now reveal her body contained among the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, ever recorded. The chemicals were banned from the 1970s but are still in the environment. Researchers now fear that other animals in Lulu's pod also have similarly high levels of contamination. The group, which is found off the west coast of Scotland, is thought to consist of just eight animals. Dr Andrew Brownlow, head of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme and veterinary pathologist at Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), told BBC News that Lulu had "shocking levels of PCBs". He said: "The levels of PCB contamination in Lulu were incredibly high, surprisingly so. They were 20 times higher than the safe level that we would expect for cetaceans to be able to manage. "That puts her as one of the most contaminated animals on the planet in terms of PCB burden, and does raise serious questions for the long-term survivability of this group (of UK killer whales)." (Webmaster's comment: Human beings are currently a clear and present danger to all life on earth. We need to change what we are doing!)
5-3-17 Bumblebees: Pesticide 'reduces queen egg development'
Bumblebees: Pesticide 'reduces queen egg development'
Use of a common pesticide in spring could have an impact on wild bumblebees by interfering with their life cycle, a UK study suggests. The team, who looked at wild bumblebees caught in the English countryside, say the insecticide, thiamethoxam, reduces egg development in queen bees. They say this is likely to reduce bee populations later in the year. Thiamethoxam is one of three neonicotinoid insecticides currently restricted for use by the EU. They have been restricted amid concerns about their impact on wild bees. The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, investigated the impact of thiamethoxam on four species of bumblebee queen which had been captured in the wild in spring.
5-3-17 Busy shipping lanes could cause 'seal hearing loss'
Busy shipping lanes could cause 'seal hearing loss'
Seals could suffer temporary hearing loss according to the research study. Seals may experience hearing loss from underwater vessel noise, researchers at the University of St Andrews have said. The study compares seals inhabiting the UK's busy shipping lanes to humans living in noisy cities. Lead author Esther Jones said noise could affect how sea mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals find food and communicate with each other. Eleven out of 25 conservation areas linked with seals were at high risk of overlap with shipping, the study found. The paper has been published by the Journal of Applied Ecology.
5-1-17 Seven animals that eat their own kind
Seven animals that eat their own kind
- Sand tiger sharks
- Sand tiger sharks
- Parasitic wasps
- Tiger salamanders