118 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from 3rd Quarter of 2017
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9-21-17 Even jellyfish get sluggish if they don’t have enough sleep
Even jellyfish get sluggish if they don’t have enough sleep
Jellyfish show all the signs of going to sleep, even though they do not have brains – which were thought to be an essential requirement for slumber. Birds do it, bees do it, even enervated fleas do it. Sleep is widely believed to be common to all animals with a central nervous system, but it turns out to be even more ubiquitous than that. Jellyfish have been found to enter a sleep-like state at night, and become dozy the next day if their rest is interrupted. This is remarkable for an animal with a simple, diffuse nervous system and no centralised brain. Sleep has been studied in fruit flies and nematode worms, but even they are relatively complex compared with jellyfish. The findings push the origins of slumber further back in our evolutionary past. Cassiopea, also called upside-down jellyfish, are found in shallow seas throughout the tropics. They rarely swim, instead resting their bell on a surface and pointing their tentacles upwards. They continuously pulse by contracting and relaxing their bell about once a second, generating currents that help them to feed and get rid of waste. Ravi Nath and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena observed 23 Cassiopea continuously for six days and nights. They tested whether they met the three standard criteria for being asleep: being less active, being less responsive to stimuli, and becoming tired if they are deprived of rest. They found that the jellyfish were less active at night, pulsing 32 per cent more slowly than during the day. However, if the jellyfish were presented with a food stimulus during the night, they quickly returned to daytime levels of activity.
9-20-17 How bats could help tomato farmers (and the U.S. Navy)
How bats could help tomato farmers (and the U.S. Navy)
Researchers are learning from the flying echolocators to improve undersea sonar and even harvest planning. The U.S. Navy uses sonar to image underwater objects and obstacles, such as this shipwreck in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. Taking inspiration from bats, naval researchers hope to get sharper images with smaller, cheaper sonar equipment. Bats, with their superb ability to echolocate, are inspiring advanced technologies — from better Navy sonar to gadgets that might deliver packages or help farmers manage crops. And engineers aren’t waiting for neuroscientists to work out every detail of how the bats’ brains manage the task. “We think we have enough information to be useful to us, to develop a bio-inspired sensor,” says research engineer Jason Gaudette of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport Division in Rhode Island. Like bats, the Navy uses sonar to find and visualize objects in the deep. But current versions are far less elegant than the flying mammals’ system. The Institute of Agricultural Engineering in Israel is testing algorithms inspired by bat echolocation to count leaves and fruit. Ultimately, the system might help farmers better plan for harvest. The Navy’s sonar arrays can be huge, encompassing hundreds of “ears” that listen for sonar pings from atop a submarine’s dome or trailing behind it in a long tail. Bats, Gaudette notes, dodge obstacles and find mosquito-sized meals with just two ears. He and colleagues have developed a bat-inspired prototype device that they hope can perform more like bats do. Mounted on the nose of a half-meter-long, torpedo-shaped autonomous undersea robot, the sonar system has one sound transmitter and three receivers (Gaudette hopes to eventually get that number down to two or even one).
9-20-17 Bat brain signals illuminate navigation in the dark
Bat brain signals illuminate navigation in the dark
With new tech, researchers track nerve cell activity as bats dodge and weave. Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) participate in experiments at Johns Hopkins University’s high-tech bat laboratory. Ninad Kothari’s workplace looks like something out of a sci-fi film. The graduate student at Johns Hopkins University works in a darkened, red-lit room, where he trains bats to fly through obstacle courses. Shielding within the walls keeps radio and other human-made signals from interfering with transmissions from the tiny electrical signals he’s recording from the bats’ brains as the animals bob and weave. Layers of foam further insulate the cavelike lab against sound waves. An array of cameras and microphones complete the futuristic scene. The high-tech setup has its homemade touches, too: In one obstacle course, bats dodge dangling Quaker oatmeal cylinders. Kothari is part of a small cadre of neuroscientists who are getting the best sense yet of how bat brains work at a cellular level, thanks to modern technologies. Eavesdropping tools, which rely on tiny probes that track the activities of individual nerve cells, or neurons, are now miniaturized enough to outfit bats with head-mounted, wireless sensors. As the animals fly freely around the lab, the researchers can listen in on neurons. Pallid bats, named for the pale fur on their bellies, are gleaners. They use their large ears to listen for rustling prey — beetles, crickets or other crawlers — and zoom down to pick them off the ground.
9-20-17 Nature offers inspiration, and occasionally courage
Nature offers inspiration, and occasionally courage
When Donald Griffin and Robert Galambos first reported that bats use the ricocheting echoes of sound waves to pilot through the environment, some scientists doubted it was possible. The team’s experiments, conducted in the late 1930s at Harvard University and reported in the early 1940s, coincided with World War II and the proliferation of active sonar systems for use on ships and submarines. “The notion that bats might do anything even remotely analogous to the latest triumphs of electronic engineering struck most people as not only implausible but emotionally repugnant,” Griffin later said. But Griffin disagreed. In 1944 in an issue of Science, he proposed the term “echolocation” to cover not only “locating obstacles by means of echoes” in bats, but also by people, including via radar, fathometers and submarines using “apparatus working on the same basic principles.” The word “echolocation” didn’t replace existing technical terms — in fact, it’s sometimes called “biosonar” — but the scientific community quickly came around. Today, a lot of neuroscientists have a deep respect for bats’ impressive abilities, and some are studying how bat brains process the signals necessary for navigating, as freelance writer Amber Dance reports. These insights might lead to improvements to sonar, as well as new, bat-inspired technologies. It makes sense: Humans have been perfecting sonar for more than a century, but evolution has been honing echolocation for much, much longer.
9-20-17 This newfound hermit crab finds shelter in corals, not shells
This newfound hermit crab finds shelter in corals, not shells
Symbiotic find is surprising as these corals already pal up with another critter: marine worms. A newly discovered hermit crab species is the first known to use mobile corals as a covering, rather than scavenged shells. A new species of hermit crab discovered in the shallow waters of southern Japan has been enjoying the perks of living like a peanut worm. Like the worms, the 7- to 8-millimeter-long hermit crab uses corals as a covering, researchers report September 20 in PLOS ONE. Other kinds of hermit crabs live in coral reefs, but typically move in and out of a series of mollusk shells as the crabs grow. Diogenes heteropsammicola is the first hermit crab known to form a mutually beneficial relationship with two species of mobile corals called walking corals. The host coral grows with the crab, providing a permanent home for the crustacean. In exchange, the crab helps the coral “walk.” Walking corals are already known to be in a symbiotic relationship with a different sea creature — flexible, marine peanut worms called sipunculids. A symbiotic shift between such distantly related species as the worms and the crab is rare because organisms in a mutualistic relationship tend to be specialized and completely dependent on one other, says study coauthor Momoko Igawa, an ecologist at Kyoto University in Japan. But similar to the worms, D. heteropsammicola appears to be well-adapted to live in the corals. Its extra slim body can slip inside the corals’ narrow cavity. And unlike other hermit crabs — whose tails curve to the right to fit into spiral shells — D. heteropsammicola’s tail is symmetrical and can curl either way, just like the corals’ opening.
9-20-17 Robots can hitch-hike on sharks thanks to ultrastrong sucker
Robots can hitch-hike on sharks thanks to ultrastrong sucker
A suction cup modelled on how a strange faeces-eater attaches to other fish can withstand a pull of 340 times its weight, letting robots ride sharks and whales. Who are you calling a sucker? Underwater robots could soon hitch rides on sharks and whales thanks to a fish-inspired suction cup that clamps on to shark skin and other surfaces. “Scientists could record data by attaching this robot to animals without hurting them,” says Li Wen at Beihang University in China, whose team developed the sucker. It is designed to cling to a moving surface, like a shark, even as it twists and turns at high speed. The design for Wen’s robotic suction cup is inspired by the slender sharksucker – a marine fish that attaches itself to sharks, rays and turtles using a sucking disc on its head. In the wild, the sharksucker hitch-hikes rides on hosts so it can snack on food scraps, faeces and the crustaceans that live on marine animals, all while expending minimal energy. Hitch-hiking like this on sharks and whales could offer an improvement on existing ways of tracking and tagging animals, which are criticised for possibly causing harm, or for being ineffective as sensors fall off. Saving energy while swimming is big deal for robots too. The handful of existing types of swimming robots aren’t very fast on their fins. Earlier this year, researchers developed a robotic stingray that can reach top speeds of 6 centimetres per second. While slower than even very small fish, it is a recording-breaking pace for robots of its kind.
9-20-17 Owls hold secret to ageless ears
Owls hold secret to ageless ears
Barn owls keep their acute sense of hearing into old age, scientists have discovered. Previously, starlings have been found to have this ability, suggesting birds are protected from age-related hearing loss. Understanding more about the "ageless ears" of barn owls could help develop new treatments for human hearing problems. Birds are able to naturally repair damage to the inner ear. Georg Klump of the University of Oldenburg, Germany, a researcher on the study, said owls keep their hearing into very old age. "Birds can repair their ears like (humans) can repair a wound," he said. "Humans cannot re-grow the sensory cells of the ears but birds can do this." It appears that humans lost these regenerative abilities at some point in evolution. Like all mammals, people commonly suffer from hearing loss in old age. By the age of 65, humans can expect to lose more than 30 dB in sensitivity at high frequencies. Commenting on the study, Dr Stefan Heller of Stanford University School of Medicine, said work was underway to investigate differences between birds and mammals. "To truly utilise this knowledge, we need to conduct comparative studies of birds and mammals that aim to find the differences in regenerative capacity, a topic that is actively pursued by a number of laboratories worldwide," he said. The research, published in the journal, Royal Society Proceedings B, was carried out on seven captive barn owls.
9-19-17 Old barn owls aren’t hard of hearing
Old barn owls aren’t hard of hearing
Barn owls’ hearing may not deteriorate over time the same way human hearing does, a new study suggests. Barn owl ears age well. Unlike other animals, the birds don’t suffer from hearing loss as a hallmark of aging, a new study suggests. Beyond people, age-related hearing loss has been documented in mice, gerbils and chinchillas. Those deficits are linked to deterioration of the tiny hair cells that line the sensory layer of the eardrum. But some evidence hints that birds may not suffer from dips in hearing. Bianca Krumm and her colleagues at the University of Oldenburg in Germany tested the ear sensitivity of seven barn owls (Tyto alba) grouped by age. There weren’t significant differences in what 2-year-old owls could hear versus those age 13 or older, suggesting the birds’ ears remain intact despite age, the researchers conclude September 20 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. While the exact mechanism for this apparent ear agelessness remains elusive, the researchers suspect that the birds must continuously regenerate sensory ear tissue — a process that wanes with age in other species.
9-19-17 Tool-wielding monkeys push local shellfish to edge of extinction
Tool-wielding monkeys push local shellfish to edge of extinction
Long-tailed macaques on an island in Thailand are doing such a good job of cracking shellfish with stone tools, they are driving down their prey's numbers and body size. HUMANS aren’t the only primate to have pushed their prey towards extinction. Monkeys have also over-exploited animals for food. Long-tailed macaques forage for shellfish on islands off Thailand, then crack them open with stone tools. They target the largest rock oysters, bludgeoning them with stone hammers, and pry open the meatiest snail and crab shells with the flattened edges of their tools. These macaques are one of three primates that use stone tools, alongside chimpanzees in Africa and bearded capuchins in South America. “Stone tools open up an opportunity for foods they otherwise wouldn’t even be able to harvest,” says Lydia Luncz at the University of Oxford. Luncz wanted to investigate the impact of the monkeys’ shellfish snacking on the prey themselves. Her team followed 18 macaques on their daily foraging routes along the shores of Koram and NomSao, two neighbouring islands off eastern Thailand, recording their tool selection and use. On Koram – the more densely populated island, home to 80 macaques compared with NomSao’s nine – Luncz’s group saw not only smaller oysters and snails, but also fewer of each species. Multiple prey species were less abundant on Koram than NomSao, with four times as many tropical periwinkles on NomSao as on Koram (eLife, doi.org/cc7d). “It’s been shown that systematic predation causes prey of smaller size,” says Nathaniel Dominy at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The oysters on Koram were about 70 per cent smaller than their counterparts on NomSao, and the periwinkles were less than half the size. A single tool-using monkey on Koram can eat over 40 shellfish a day, so Luncz’s group thinks this predation pressure is driving these shellfish changes.
9-18-17 Sacrificial virgin spiders let their nieces eat them alive
Sacrificial virgin spiders let their nieces eat them alive
In one species of spider, unmated females not only care for other spiders’ offspring, they allow the tiny spiderlings to devour their insides. It takes a lot to be a good aunt if you’re a velvet spider. In fact, it takes your internal organs. After tending lovingly to your sisters’ eggs and regurgitating food for newborns, it’s time to offer yourself as the main course for the spiderlings to suck you dry. “[The] spiders literally start feeding on the female while she is alive,” says Trine Bilde at Aarhus University in Denmark. The spiderlings inject enzymes to dissolve her innards and suck out the semi-digested fluids, leaving only the outer shell. “But there is no apparent aggression. It looks as if females are almost inviting spiderlings to feed on them.” S. dumicola are social spiders that live in large communal nests. Hundreds cooperate to capture prey, defend the nest and take care of the young. The nest is a dense retreat of silk and plant material, with two-dimensional webs to catch prey. Each spider only lives for a year, so can only reproduce once. In the closely related species S. lineatus, only mated females care for spiderlings. In these spiders, the act of mating seems to cause females to care for other offspring as well as their own – an act called “alloparenting”. However, there are limits: they only let their own spiderlings eat them. Letting your kids eat you is a surprisingly common behaviour known as “matriphagy”.
9-17-17 ‘Big Chicken’ chronicles the public health dangers of using antibiotics in farming
‘Big Chicken’ chronicles the public health dangers of using antibiotics in farming
Efforts to raise bigger birds unwittingly spawned drug resistance in bacteria. Thanks in large part to antibiotics, chicken production has become heavily industrialized, as detailed in a new book. ournalist Maryn McKenna opens Big Chicken by teasing our taste buds with a description of the succulent roasted chickens she bought at an open-air market in Paris. The birds tasted nothing like the bland, uniform chicken offered at U.S. grocery stores. This meat had an earthy, lush, animal flavor. From this tantalizing oh-so-European tableau, McKenna hits us with a sickening contrast — scientists chasing outbreaks of drug-resistant Salmonella infections in humans, and ailing chickens living in crowded conditions and never seeing the light of day. Antibiotics are at the root of both nightmares, McKenna argues. She draws clear connections between several dramatic foodborne outbreaks and the industrialization of chicken production, made possible, in large part, by the heavy use of the drugs. That reliance on antibiotics has also spurred the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. In fact, the overuse of antibiotics in livestock is a bigger driver of resistance than the overuse of antibiotics in people. Farmers began using the drugs after studies in the 1940s showed that antibiotics boosted muscle mass. For chickens, that meant the birds got bigger and grew faster with less feed. Today, a meat chicken weighs twice what it did 70 years ago at slaughter and reaches that weight in half the time. Once farmers saw opportunity for growth and packed more birds into barns, the drugs took on a new role: to protect crowded animals from illness.
9-17-17 Why is it so hard to swat a fly?
Why is it so hard to swat a fly?
Try to swat a fly and it will soon become clear that they're faster than you. Much faster. But how on Earth do these tiny creatures - with their minuscule brains - outwit us so easily? You've probably pondered it after chasing a fly around your house and flailing your shoe with repeated, unsuccessful swats. How does it move so fast? Can it read my mind? It was the question put to the BBC World Service CrowdScience team for our most recent episode addressing the apparent super powers of tiny animals. The answer is that, compared with you and me, flies essentially see the world in slow motion. To illustrate this, have a look at a clock with a ticking hand. As a human, you see the clock ticking at a particular speed. But for a turtle it would appear to be ticking at twice that speed. For most fly species, each tick would drag by about four times more slowly. In effect, the speed of time differs depending on your species. This happens because animals see the world around them like a continuous video. But in reality, they piece together images sent from the eyes to the brain in distinct flashes a set number of times per second. Humans average 60 flashes per second, turtles 15, and flies 250. The speed at which those images are processed by the brain is called the "flicker fusion rate". In general, the smaller the species, the faster its critical flicker fusion rate - and flies, in particular, put us to shame. Professor Roger Hardie, from the University of Cambridge, investigates how flies' eyes work, and he has an experiment to determine their flicker fusion rate. "The flicker fusion rate is simply how fast a light has to be turning on and off before it's perceived or seen as just a continuous light" says Prof Hardie. (Webmaster's comment: It's just evolution at work. Their survival depends on seeing movements faster than animals that might harm them so after millions of years of evolution they have evolved a very fast flicker fusion rate.)
9-15-17 There are hardly any old fish left in the ocean – and that’s bad
There are hardly any old fish left in the ocean – and that’s bad
Industrial fishing has disproportionately removed older fish, which tend to be the most adaptable individuals that can best survive environmental change. There are not just fewer fish in the sea: there are disproportionately fewer old fish. A study of fisheries in the seas around the US and Europe has found that their populations of ageing fish have been reduced by an average of 72 per cent. The researchers looked at 63 fisheries, which had records spanning 24-140 years. To determine the age of fish, they used several techniques including examining otoliths: “stones” in the fish’s ears that grow annual rings rather like a tree. “The new statistics revealed that the reduction of older fish populations had actually increased by 180 per cent,” says lead author Lewis Barnett of the University of Washington in Seattle. In some species, such as Pacific cod, Pacific hake, red snapper and Atlantic cod, the populations of older individuals have fallen by more than 95 per cent. A 2010 study that looked at the data from 10 fisheries found declines in the aged population of only 25 per cent. A key difference is that Barnett’s team used models to estimate what the populations were like before large-scale fishing began decades or centuries ago, and compared that to their current state – revealing the starker decline in the population of old fish. Losing older fish may not sound problematic, because older fish might be past the age of reproduction and even on the verge of death. But in fact, old fish tend to be the largest and produce the most offspring. They are also the most flexible in their behaviour, so they can adapt better to environmental changes.
9-14-17 A researcher reveals the shocking truth about electric eels
A researcher reveals the shocking truth about electric eels
Electrical current of a real-life recipient of the fish’s leap attack is measured for the first time. A electric eel may be relatively small, but the pain from its shock is comparable to that from an electric fence, a researcher has learned. Kenneth Catania knows just how much it hurts to be zapped by an electric eel. For the first time, the biologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville has measured the strength of a defensive electrical attack on a real-life potential predator — himself. Catania placed his arm in a tank with a 40-centimeter-long electric eel (relatively small as eels go) and determined, in amperes, the electrical current that flowed into him when the eel struck. At its peak, the current reached 40 to 50 milliamperes in his arm, he reports online September 14 in Current Biology. This zap was painful enough to cause him to jerk his hand from the tank during each trial. “If you’ve ever been on a farm and touched an electric fence, it’s pretty similar to that,” he says. This is Catania’s latest study in a body of research analyzing the intricacies of an electric eel’s behavior. The way electric eels have been described by biologists in the past has been fairly primitive, says Jason Gallant, a biologist who heads the Michigan State University Electric Fish Lab in East Lansing who was not involved in the study. Catania’s work reveals that “what the electric eel is doing is taking the electric ability that it has and using that to its absolute advantage in a very sophisticated, deliberate way,” he says. Electric eels use electric current to navigate, communicate and hunt for small prey. But when faced with a large land-based predator, eels will launch themselves from the water and electrify the animal with a touch of the head.
9-14-17 Christmas Island’s only echolocating bat has gone extinct
Christmas Island’s only echolocating bat has gone extinct
The Christmas Island pipistrelle is no more, and the world's largest antelope is at risk, according to the latest update to the Red List of Threatened Species. The Christmas Island pipistrelle, a bat species found only on an Australian island, has been declared extinct. The final nail in the coffin was hammered in as part of the latest update to the Red List of Threatened Species, which is maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “It’s very difficult to decide when a species definitely has gone extinct,” says Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN’s Red List unit. But the last Christmas Island pipistrelle was seen in 2009. “It’s not a cryptic species, it’s got a distinctive call,” says Hilton-Taylor. “We probably could have declared it extinct earlier, but we’ve been waiting for surveys.” The Thongaree’s disc-nosed bat, a newly-discovered species that lives in a small region of Thailand, entered the list as critically endangered – just one step from going extinct. “If we’d known about it earlier, it would have moved through the categories. That’s just what happened unseen until now,” says Hilton-Taylor. The new list isn’t all bad news for bats. The Rodrigues flying fox moves from critically endangered to endangered. Hilton-Taylor says that’s due to coordinated actions by the government and local organisations, including legal protection and habitat restoration. The outlook isn’t so bright for five species of African antelope. The world’s largest antelope, the giant eland, is considered vulnerable, with a global population of 14,000 at most. Meanwhile the southern lechwe and grey rhebok are near threatened, and the mountain reedbuck and Heuglin’s gazelle are in the endangered category.
9-14-17 Wolves and bears to be slaughtered in Romania once again
Wolves and bears to be slaughtered in Romania once again
In 2016, Romania banned trophy hunting of wolves and bears, but now the government has angered conservationists by permitting hunters to target nuisance animals. The hunting of bears and wolves is back on the agenda in Romania, less than a year after the government banned trophy hunting. Conservation groups have condemned the U-turn and are calling on the government to rescind the decision. The move was announced on 5 September by Romania’s environment minister Gratiela Gavrilescu. It will allow up to 140 bears and 97 wolves to be killed “under supervision” by the end of 2017, if they’re deemed to be “nuisance animals” that threaten livestock on farms or frighten people by encroaching into inhabited areas. But the conservation groups fear that the quotas will be used as an excuse to allow trophy hunting to resume. The government banned that in October 2016. “It’s unclear if hunters will be allowed to keep the bodies, or sell body parts,” says Masha Kalinina of Humane Society International (HSI). She says the government has caved in to pressure from hunters, farmers and communities that feel threatened. It is not clear that killing wolves will protect livestock. “It is basically impossible to draw general conclusions on what works to reduce livestock depredation,” says Ann Eklund of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Eklund published a study in May 2017 that found there is hardly any evidence on whether such interventions work. She says killing predators can sometimes protect livestock, but not if the deceased animals are immediately replaced, or are not part of the population that takes livestock. (Webmaster's comment: Is killing other living creatures our only solution?)
9-11-17 Tackling the canine obesity crisis
Tackling the canine obesity crisis
When it comes to man's best friend, science may finally have solved the mystery of their gluttony - some Labradors, it seems, are genetically predisposed to being hungry. That's according to scientists who were discussing their ongoing mission to improve our favourite pets' health at the British Science Association Festival in Brighton. Several research teams in the UK are on a mission to improve canine health. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have studied the appetite of Britain's favourite dog breed, and suggest Labradors are genetically at risk of becoming overweight. Roughly a quarter of British households own a pet dog, and Labrador retrievers remain our most popular canine companion. However, this stereotypically "greedy" breed often suffers size-related health problems.
9-10-17 How big game hunting is dividing southern Africa
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-41163520">How big game hunting is dividing southern Africa
Drifting down the Zambezi in Zimbabwe, I overheard two American men swapping hunting stories. "First shot got him in the shoulder," a white man in his late sixties explained to his friend. "Second hit him right in the side of the head!" Pointing at his temple, he passed his phone with a picture. The animal in question was a dead crocodile. Crocodiles are easy to find on this part of the Zambezi: lying in the sun on the banks of the river, boats can float just a few feet away. And given that they are motionless for most of the time, not hard to shoot, I imagine. The second American showed his pal a picture of a Cape Buffalo he had killed, and planned to have shoulder mounted. He complained he couldn't afford the $19,000 (£14,500) Zimbabwe demands for the licence to kill an elephant. His buffalo cost him $8,000 (£6,100). "Are they saying an elephant is worth more than two buffalo?" he lamented. "I saw hundreds of elephants today. Far too many. You have to see it here to realise. In California they are saying these animals are endangered!" The first man's wife then talked of the thrill she gets at the kill, discussing how different calibres of bullet explode the vital organs of African wildlife. I left to look at the hippos watching from the river. But, curiously, I have felt obliged to consider the ethics of big game hunting at home in London in the last few months. I'm an Arsenal fan, and it recently emerged that my team's owner, American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke, had launched a TV channel in the UK featuring lion and elephant hunting. The corporate values of family brand Arsenal do not sit easily with pay-to-view videos of hunters shooting animals for fun, and after a couple of days of hostile publicity, Kroenke ordered his channel to stop showing the killing of some big game. But both sides in the hunting debate claim they are the true guardians of animal welfare. Supporters of African trophy hunting, including some in very high places - two of President Trump's sons are avid big game hunters - argue that a ban on hunting would harm wildlife and local people. It would stop much needed revenue reaching some of Africa's poorest communities, discourage conservation and cut funds for wildlife management that would make it easier for poachers to operate, they say. (Webmaster's comment: The American male brute feels the need to kill something, anythng. If he can't kill men, women, or children then animals are the next best thing! It takes ZERO courage and there is little danger. Just the thrill of killing a living creature!)
9-8-17 Unknown species may thrive in Antarctic caves
Unknown species may thrive in Antarctic caves
Animals and plants may be living in warm caves under Antarctica's ice, according to a study. Australian researchers said that Mount Erebus, an active volcano on Antarctica's Ross Island, is surrounded by caves hollowed out in the ice by steam. Soil samples retrieved from the caves have revealed intriguing traces of DNA from mosses, algae and small animals. The research has been published in the journal Polar Biology. "It can be really warm inside the caves - up to 25C in some caves. You could wear a T-shirt in there and be pretty comfortable," said co-author Dr Ceridwen Fraser, from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. "There's light near the cave mouths, and light filters deeper into some caves where the overlying ice is thin." Dr Fraser said that most of the DNA resembles that found in plants and animals from the rest of Antarctica. But that some sequences couldn't be fully identified. Co-researcher Prof Craig Cary, from the University of Waikato in New Zealand, said previous research had found that a range of bacteria and fungi lived in Antarctica's volcanic caves.
9-8-17 Bats 'tricked' into flying into buildings
Bats 'tricked' into flying into buildings
Modern buildings with large expanses of glass or mirrored surfaces are "potentially dangerous" for bats, research suggests. Scientists are calling for monitoring of the risks, particularly in areas where bats congregate in large numbers. Bats have a remarkable ability to fly at high speeds in the dark avoiding natural hazards such as trees. Yet, smooth, vertical surfaces such as glass windows create a "blind spot" for the flying mammals, a study shows. "Bats predominately rely on their echolocation system to forage, orientate, and navigate," says a team led by Dr Stefan Greif of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology near Munich in Germany. "We found that bats can mistake smooth, vertical surfaces as clear flight paths, repeatedly colliding with them, likely as a result of their acoustic mirror properties." Bats use echolocation to detect obstacles in flight, find their way into roosts and forage for food. As they fly, they make calls and listen to the returning echoes to build up a sonic map of their surroundings. Bats can flit through natural obstacles, such as forests, which return some echo back to them. However, vertical mirroring surfaces such as window panes appear to trick them into thinking that the way ahead is clear. Prof Gareth Jones of Bristol University, who is not connected with the study, is an expert on bat echolocation. "Sound reflects away in front of a bat flying over water, and the flight route ahead is often clear, or interrupted with obvious targets like trees that can be detected by echolocation," he explained.
9-7-17 Bats crash into windows because of a glitch with their ‘sonar’
Bats crash into windows because of a glitch with their ‘sonar’
Until bats get very close, their echolocation makes them “see” smooth surfaces like windows as gaps rather than as a solid material – with impactful results. Windows are traps for fast-flying bats. As bats fly towards a building at an angle making echolocating clicks, the lack of echoes that come back from smooth vertical surfaces makes them appear as gaps. “They think it’s an opening,” says Stefan Greif of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. There are many anecdotal reports of bats being found dead or injured near buildings with large windows, Greif says. But no one knows how many bats are killed this way, or if it is one of the reasons why many bat populations are declining. However, bats’ inability to perceive smooth surfaces might partly explain why large numbers are being killed by the blades of wind turbines. “I have always thought that bats have a hard time detecting these smooth blades,” says Greif. But the sheer speed at which the blades move is probably the main killer. Greif made the discovery by accident. In a 2010 study, he showed that bats perceive any smooth horizontal surface as water. This perception appears to be hardwired rather than learned – even juvenile bats that have never encountered water will repeatedly try to drink from a smooth metal plate. Greif left some of the plates standing upright during these experiments, and noticed that bats tended to collide with them. Now he, Sándor Zsebok and their colleagues have done further experiments.
9-7-17 Why bats crash into windows
Why bats crash into windows
Vertical, smooth surfaces could create acoustic traps for mouse-eared bats. Walls can get the best of clumsy TV sitcom characters and bats alike. New lab tests suggest that smooth, vertical surfaces fool some bats into thinking their flight path is clear, leading to collisions and near misses. The furry fliers famously use sound to navigate — emitting calls and tracking the echoes to hunt for prey and locate obstacles. But some surfaces, especially human-made ones, could mess with echolocation. Bats interpret flat, horizontal surfaces as water (attempting to drink from them) and have been observed colliding with glass windows. Stefan Greif of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, and his colleagues put bats to the test in a flight tunnel. Of 21 greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis), 19 crashed into a vertical metal plate at least once, the researchers report September 7 in Science. In some crashes, bats face-planted without even trying to avoid the plate while others swerved, but too late. Bats involved in head-on collisions emitted fewer calls than those that narrowly avoided crashing. Smooth surfaces act as acoustic mirrors, which could present a problem for a bat: They reflect sound at an angle away from the bat, producing fuzzier, harder-to-read echoes than rough surfaces. Infrared camera footage of wild bat colonies inhabited by M. myotis and two other bat species showed that vertical plastic plates trick bats in natural settings, as well. Whether lots of bats are similarly stymied in the wild is unknown.
9-6-17 Pollen hitches a ride on bees in all the right spots
Pollen hitches a ride on bees in all the right spots
Hard-to-groom zones line up with where flower reproductive parts touch the insects. After bees groom pollen off their bodies, there’s still some left over. These overlooked areas correspond to places where flowers’ reproductive parts come in contact with the bees, a new study shows. Bee bodies may be built just right to help pollen hitch a ride between flowers. For the first time, scientists have identified where and how much pollen is left behind on bees’ bodies after the insects groom themselves. These residual patches of pollen align with spots on bees’ bodies that touch flowers’ pollen-collecting reproductive parts, researchers report online September 6 in PLOS ONE. Typically, when honeybees and bumblebees visit flowers for nectar, they brush much of the pollen that powders their bodies into pocketlike structures on their legs to carry home for bee larvae to eat. In fact, bees are so good at stashing pollen that less than 4 percent of a flower’s pollen grains may reach the pollen-receiving parts of a second flower of the same species. Given bees’ pollen-hoarding prowess, researchers wondered how they came to play such a significant role in plant reproduction. So biologist Petra Wester and colleagues put buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) and European honeybees (Apis mellifera) into jars containing pollen grains. As the bees whizzed around, they stirred up the pollen, evenly coating themselves in just a few minutes. When placed in clean jars, the insects groomed themselves. Even after a half hour of grooming, the insects still had pollen caked on some areas of their bodies, including the tops of their heads, thoraxes and abdomens.
9-6-17 Swansea Uni study: African wild dogs 'sneeze to vote'
Swansea Uni study: African wild dogs 'sneeze to vote'
African wild dogs vote over pack decisions by sneezing, a new study has found. The joint research by academics from Swansea, Australia and the United States monitored endangered dogs at the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust. They found the dogs used sneezes to decide when to move off to hunt after making camp for greeting ceremonies called "social rallies". Dr Andrew King, of Swansea University, said the sneezes acted as a "quorum". The study was carried out by zoologists from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, Brown University, in the United States, and Swansea University's College of Science. Previously it had been thought the dogs, which are among the world's most-endangered species, were simply clearing their airways. But, while zoologists recorded the details of 68 social rallies, they noticed the more sneezes there were, the more likely it was the pack moved off and started hunting. Dr King said: "The sneezes act as a type of quorum, and the sneezes have to reach a certain threshold before the group changes activity. "Quorums are also used by other social carnivores such as meerkats." However, the study suggested some sneezes hold more weight than others. Reena Walker, of Brown University, said: "We found that, when the dominant male and female were involved in the rally, the pack only had to sneeze a few times before they would move off. "However, if the dominant pair were not engaged, more sneezes were needed - approximately 10 - before the pack would move off".
9-6-17 Rising temperatures threaten heat-tolerant aardvarks
Rising temperatures threaten heat-tolerant aardvarks
A counterintuitive climate tale of knock-on effects due to hotter, dryer conditions. Night is normal aardvark time to search for dinner. When nocturnal aardvarks start sunbathing, something’s wrong. If the animals are desperate enough to bask like some cold, sluggish turtle, it’s because they’ve got the chills. Robyn Hetem, an ecophysiologist, has the body temperature data to prove it — collected from late 2012 into 2013, the hottest summer the arid Kalahari region in South Africa had seen in more than 30 years. Hotter, drier conditions are predicted to become the norm for southern Africa as the climate changes. Now Hetem and colleagues have used that foretaste of change to show that higher temperatures might hammer the normally heat-tolerant aardvarks by shrinking the animals’ food supply. Aardvarks live their burrow-digging lives just about anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa except the desert. The toothless night-foragers dine by slurping insect colonies. One of Hetem’s students at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg spent two years collecting hundreds of aardvark droppings and can confirm that Orycteropus afer in the Kalahari eat only termites and ants. Yet the solitary, long-snouted, knee-high mammals are more closely related to elephants than to any pointy-nosed South American anteater.
9-5-17 Northern lights linked to North Sea whale strandings
Northern lights linked to North Sea whale strandings
Large solar storms, responsible for the northern lights, may have played a role in the strandings of 29 sperm whales in the North Sea early in 2016. A new study says these geomagnetic disruptions may have confused the whales' ability to navigate, diverting them into the shallow waters. Trapped and lost, the whales died on European beaches, attempting to escape. The research has been published recently in the International Journal of Astrobiology. Researchers have been puzzled by the losses as autopsies showed that the animals were mainly well fed, young and disease-free. The 29 strandings generated a great deal of public interest and a large number of theories among scientists. These ranged from poisoning, to climatic changes driving prey into the North Sea which the large cetaceans followed to their doom. Sperm whales live in deep, warm-to-temperate waters all around the world. Many groups live around the Azores in the eastern Atlantic. When they are between 10 and 15 years old, young males head north towards the polar region, attracted by the huge quantities of squid found in the colder waters. Their journey sometimes takes them up along the west coasts of the UK and Ireland and into the Norwegian sea. They normally return by the same route. But in less than a month in early 2016, 29 sperm whales were found stranded on the coasts of Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and France. Now a team of researchers say they think they understand what happened to them. The argue that sperm whales navigate using the Earth's geomagnetic field.
9-4-17 It took these monkeys just 13 years to learn how to crack nuts
It took these monkeys just 13 years to learn how to crack nuts
The long-tailed macaques of Thailand already used stone hammers to split open shellfish, and now they have worked out how to use them to crack open nuts. The macaques of southern Thailand have started a new tradition. For at least a century, they have used simple stone tools to smash open shellfish on the seashore. Now the monkeys have begun using stones to crack open oil palm nuts further inland. The finding means they may be the first non-human primates to have begun adapting their Stone Age technology to exploit a new ecological niche. Tool use is common in the animal kingdom, but very few animals make routine use of stones as tools. Among non-human primates, just three species are known to do so: the western chimpanzees of West Africa, the bearded capuchins of Brazil and the long-tailed macaques of Thailand. However, in all three cases biologists thought the primates restricted their stone tool use to a specific environmental setting. “The chimpanzees live in tropical rainforest, and the capuchins in a dry savannah area,” says Lydia Luncz at the University of Oxford. And the macaques spend a lot of time on the beaches of Thailand’s islands, where they use stones to break into shellfish. But the macaques also roam inland. In 2016, Luncz and her colleagues trekked through Yao Noi Island into an abandoned oil palm plantation. They found what appeared to be stones that had been used as hammers and anvils associated with broken oil palm nuts.
9-2-17 ‘Highwaymen’ beetles rob ants of the food in their stomachs
‘Highwaymen’ beetles rob ants of the food in their stomachs
As jet ant workers carry honeydew back to their nests, beetles approach them and trick them into vomiting up the precious food. Karma is very quick sometimes. Jet ants make their nests inside those of other ants, ultimately taking them over. But they are also victimised by pests of their own. Jet ants (Lasius fuliginosus), alternatively known as shining black ants, live in Europe and Asia. When the workers of this species go foraging, they mark their trails with secretions that contain a special blend of pheromones. Many foraging ants commute on these trails, transporting honeydew collected from aphids and other insects in special stomachs called “crops” that they use for storing food. However, sap beetles (Amphotis marginata) spend their lives on these foraging paths and dupe food-laden ants into regurgitating meals for them. This is known as kleptoparasitism, in which one animal steals food gathered by another. Now, Bert Hölldobler and Christina Kwapich at Arizona State University in Tempe have found that the beetles get most of their food this way. The pair observed A. marginata beetles living near ant colonies in the wild and collected both species for experiments in the lab. “Ants feed each other honeydew collected in their crops by essentially vomiting into each other’s mouths,” says Kwapich. “The beetles have capitalised on this behaviour. We call them ‘highwaymen’ because they rob the traffic on the ants’ foraging trails.”
9-1-17 Bee larvae fed beebread have no chance of becoming queen
Bee larvae fed beebread have no chance of becoming queen
Whether a honeybee larva becomes a queen or a worker is down to the food it is given – and the amount of plant RNA in it. A simple meal is all that’s needed to determine the fate of a honeybee larva. It turns out that fragments of genetic material from flowers in their food control the bees’ destinies. When female larvae are fed royal jelly, which is secreted by other bees, they develop into large-bodied, fertile queens. But most larvae eat beebread, a mixture of pollen and nectar. These larvae develop into smaller, sterile worker bees. Xi Chen at Nanjing University in China and colleagues have now found that beebread contains lots of small RNA molecules called microRNAs. These regulate the expression of genes, and in plants they help regulate essential processes like making leaves and flowers. “Plants utilise certain miRNAs to influence the size, morphology, colour and development of flowers,” says Chen. “Such characteristics of flowers guide [honeybees] in pollen collection.” As a result, a lot of these miRNAs end up in beebread, where larvae eat them. The researchers collected pollen, honey, royal jelly and beebread from hives and measured their miRNA levels. They found that beebread and pollen had much higher concentrations of plant miRNAs than royal jelly. The team then reared bee larvae in the laboratory, feeding them a beebread mimic — a lab diet enriched with the same miRNAs as in pollen, at the same amounts. Larvae grown with miRNAs ended up as worker bees, with reduced weight and size, and smaller ovaries.
9-1-17 This sea snake looks like a banana and hunts like a Slinky
This sea snake looks like a banana and hunts like a Slinky
The canary yellow reptile lives in the sea off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. A newly discovered sea snake subspecies is shorter — and a lot brighter — than its yellow-bellied brethren. With its bright hue, this snake was bound to stand out sooner or later. A newly discovered subspecies of sea snake, Hydrophis platurus xanthos, has a narrow geographic range and an unusual hunting trick. The canary-yellow reptile hunts at night in Golfo Dulce off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. With its body coiled up at the sea surface, the snake points its head under the water, mouth open. That folded posture “creates a buoy” that stabilizes the snake so it can nab prey in choppy water, says study coauthor Brooke Bessesen, a conservation biologist at Osa Conservation, a biodiversity-focused nonprofit in Washington, D.C. In contrast, typical Hydrophis platurus, with a black back and yellow underbelly, hunts during the day, floating straight on calm seas. The newly described venomous snake has been reported only in a small, 320-square-kilometer area of Golfo Dulce. After analyzing 154 living and preserved specimens, the researchers described the reptile’s characteristics July 24 in Zookeys. The scientists hope that the subspecies designation will enable the Costa Rican government to protect the sunny serpent, which they worry is already at risk from overzealous animal collectors.
9-1-17 Why the ostrich is the only living animal with four kneecaps
Why the ostrich is the only living animal with four kneecaps
The ostrich appears to be unique in the animal kingdom, because it has two kneecaps on each knee rather than one. The question is why. Some people just achieve too much. For instance, Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson is also a qualified airline pilot, a skilled fencer and a published novelist – which is frankly galling. Ostriches are the Bruce Dickinsons of the bird world. Not only are they the largest living bird species, they also lay the largest eggs of any bird alive and hold a Guinness World Record to that effect. And they can run faster. However, what you may not know is that they are quite possibly the only animal to have two kneecaps in each leg. This we’ve known since at least 1864, but why it should be so has remained a mystery ever since. To find out, Sophie Regnault and her colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College in London, examined a single dead ostrich donated to the college. They alternately bent and straightened the ostrich’s knees, and used an imaging technique called biplanar fluoroscopy to track how the bones moved. Then they built a simple model to understand how the kneecaps affected the leverage of the muscles controlling the knee. “The upper kneecap looks similar to the single bone in ourselves and other animals,” says Regnault. However, “the lower one is very closely attached to the lower leg bone… a bit like the point of your elbow.” Typically, kneecaps improve the leverage of the knee extensor muscles, so they don’t need to produce as much force to straighten the knee. “It’s a bit like putting the door handle further from the hinge,” says Regnault. “It requires less force to open the door.”
9-1-17 Hawks ain't dumb
Hawks ain't dumb
When Houston cabdriver William Bruso returned to his car last week after stocking up on supplies for Hurricane Harvey, he was surprised to find a Cooper’s hawk cowering on his passenger seat. Spooked by the low barometric pressure and high winds, the bird had flown in through an open window and refused to leave when Bruso tried to shoo it away. So the cabbie took the hawk home, fed it some chicken hearts, and called wildlife workers, who collected the bird the next day. Bruso said he felt “honored” that the hawk “chose to hunker down with me.”
8-31-17 Otter 'social learning' observed in Anglia Ruskin University study
Otter 'social learning' observed in Anglia Ruskin University study
Otters are capable of watching and learning from each other to solve tasks, according to a study. Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University gave smooth-coated otters food in sealed containers and, when one successfully accessed it, others copied. The study took place at Colchester Zoo in Essex and Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire and is said to be the first time that "social learning" has been observed in otters.
8-31-17 Amazon study discovers 381 new species in two-year period
Amazon study discovers 381 new species in two-year period
Researchers have discovered 381 new species during a two-year study in the Amazon region. The report by the WWF conservation body and Brazil's Mamiraua Institute for Sustainable Development said that on average a new species was discovered every two days. But all the newly discovered animals and plants were found in areas at risk from human activity, the authors warn. More than 2,000 new species were found between 1999 and 2015. The report, published in Sao Paulo on Wednesday, is the third in a series and covers the years 2014 and 2015. The Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world, is famous for its diversity of species and habitats. Ricardo Mello, co-ordinator of the WWF Brazil Amazon programme, said the fact that researchers were still finding hundreds of species was proof that there was much more work to be done in the region.
What species did researchers discover?
- 216 previously unknown plants
- 93 fish
- 32 amphibians
- 20 mammals
- 19 reptiles
- one bird
8-30-17 Invasive earthworms may be taking a toll on sugar maples
Invasive earthworms may be taking a toll on sugar maples
Earthworms are good for soil — when the ecosystem has evolved with the worms. Where worms are newcomers, though, such as in Upper Great Lakes groves of sugar maples, the invaders can cause problems. Earthworms are great for soil, right? Well, not always. In places where there have been no earthworms for thousands of years, foreign worms can wreak havoc on soils. And that can cause a cascade of problems throughout an area’s food web. Now comes evidence that invader worms in the Upper Great Lakes may be stressing the region’s sugar maples. There are native earthworms in North America, but not in regions that had been covered in glaciers during the Ice Age. Once the ice melted, living things returned. Earthworms don’t move that quickly, though, and even after 10,000 years, they’ve only made small inroads into the north on their own. But people have inadvertently intervened. Sometimes they’ve dumped their leftover bait in worm-free zones. Or they’ve accidentally brought worms or eggs in the soil stuck to cars or trucks. And the worms took up residence as far north as Alberta’s boreal forests. Earthworms “are not really supposed to be in some of these areas,” says Tara Bal, a forest health scientist at Michigan Technological University in Houghton. “In a garden, they’re good,” she notes. They help to mix soil. But that isn’t a good thing in a northern forest where soil is naturally stratified and nutrients tend to be found only in the uppermost layer near the leaf litter. “That’s what the trees have been used to,” Bal says. Those trees include sugar maples, which have shallow roots to get those nutrients. But worms mix up the soils and take away that nutrient-rich layer.
8-30-17 Snow leopards aren’t as rare as we thought – but aren’t safe yet
Snow leopards aren’t as rare as we thought – but aren’t safe yet
Snow leopards could soon come off the "endangered" list, but while that looks like a win the move could make it harder to drum up support for protective measures. THE iconic snow leopard might no longer be classed as an endangered species, if some scientists have their way. That may sound like a conservation win, but others warn the move could backfire. Since 1986, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has designated snow leopards as “endangered”. Now the IUCN is considering reclassifying them as “vulnerable”, meaning the risk of extinction is less urgent. The recommendation was written by Rodney Jackson of the Snow Leopard Conservancy and other experts. Estimates published in 2016 put the Asian cat’s population at around 8000, rather than 5300 as previously thought. And although some sub-populations are shrinking, we have no clear evidence of an overall decline (Oryx, doi.org/ccjf). This means they are not as badly threatened as we thought, according to the IUCN’s criteria. Changing the snow leopard’s status will alter public perceptions of the animal. “The word ‘endangered’ carries this aura about it,” says Tom McCarthy of Panthera, a wild cat conservation group. “It’s a powerful, evocative word. What is a ‘vulnerable’ animal?” McCarthy supports the change, however, saying the new listing would still mean snow leopards are in trouble. “It’s slightly better off than we thought, but it’s still facing a high level of extinction.”
8-29-17 Smelly clue to bird navigation skills
Smelly clue to bird navigation skills
They migrate thousands of kilometres across the sea without getting lost. The Arctic tern, for instance, spends summer in the UK, then flies to the Antarctic for the winter. Yet, scientists are still unsure exactly how birds perform such extreme feats of migration, arriving in the right place every year. According to new research, smell plays a key role when birds are navigating long distances over the ocean. Researchers from the universities of Oxford, Barcelona and Pisa temporarily removed seabirds' sense of smell before tracking their movements. They found the birds could navigate normally over land, but appeared to lose their bearings over the sea. This suggests that they use a map of smells to find their way when there are no visual cues. Previous experiments had suggested that removing birds' sense of smell impairs homing ability. However, some had questioned whether sensory deprivation might impair some other function, such as the ability to search for food. ''Our new study eliminates these objections, meaning it will be very difficult in future to argue that olfaction is not involved in long-distance oceanic navigation in birds,'' said study researcher Oliver Padget of Oxford University's Department of Zoology. He said seabirds were among "nature's greatest navigators", finding their way over huge distances.
8-28-17 The fish in your aquarium may have been stolen from Hawaii's coral reefs
The fish in your aquarium may have been stolen from Hawaii's coral reefs
They think somebody somewhere is raising these fish, and they're not. This is wildlife." After an 11-year campaign, Hawaii state legislators recently passed a bill to ban the capture and trade of wild reef fish within the archipelago. Recently, Gov. David Ige announced he intended to veto it. Ige said, "it would be premature to ban aquarium fish collection before more studies are conducted," according to The Associated Press. Robert Wintner — or, as he's known in Hawaii, Snorkel Bob — has been one of the forces behind the drive to protect the colorful creatures of Hawaii's coral reefs, which are all too often at risk from destructive trafficking that destroys or damages coral reefs and fish populations. He says most fish owners have no idea where their tropical fish actually come from. "Most people don't think about it at all, and if they do think about it, they think somebody somewhere is raising these fish, and they're not. This is wildlife," Wintner explains. "The aquarium trade is a $4 to $5 billion industry. They will say anything they need to say to keep it going. Hawaii has always been low-hanging fruit for the aquarium trade." Wintner says the the aquarium trade is "a last vestige of wildlife trafficking to serve the pet trade in the world." Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resource claims it is sustainable, while simultaneously issuing "an unlimited number of permits to an unlimited number of collectors, and those collectors can take every single fish off any given reef," he argues. (Webmaster's comment: Wiping out wildlife for profit!)
8-26-17 Low-ranked female monkeys band together against their leaders
Low-ranked female monkeys band together against their leaders
Female rhesus macaques have a strict hierarchy, but the subordinates can buck authority and even climb the social ladder if they’re big enough and have enough friends. If you’re trying to overthrow the boss, you might need a friend to back you up. The same is true for female macaques, who need allies to resist authority and take down more powerful members of the group. Most primates have social hierarchies in which some individuals are dominant over the others. For rhesus macaques, these strict hierarchies are organised around female relationships. Lower-ranked females have little social mobility and must silently bare their teeth to higher-ranked females. The signal means “I want you to know that I know that you out-rank me” and is important in communicating social rank, says Darcy Hannibal at the University of California, Davis. “They are ‘bending the knee’.” But Hannibal and her colleagues have discovered that subordinate females can override the status quo. To do this, female macaques form alliances with family, friends or both. These alliances help females maintain or increase their social rank and compete for resources. A female who wants to challenge those higher up needs this help, says Hannibal. To find out what factors affect the rate of insubordination, the team studied 357 captive adult females, who experienced almost 11,000 conflicts. Insubordination events were more likely if the lower-ranked female was older. They were most likely if the subordinate outweighed the dominant female by 7 kilograms and the dominant female had no family allies. The more allies the subordinate female had, and the more days her mother was present in the group, the more often she would exhibit insubordinate behaviour.
8-25-17 What's really the point of wasps?
What's really the point of wasps?
A new citizen science survey aims to shed light on that fixture of summertime in the outdoors: the wasp. Though much maligned, these fascinating creatures perform a vital ecological role, say scientists. The only thing more certain to spoil an August Bank Holiday weekend BBQ than a sudden cloudburst? The arrival of wasps. At this time of the year, it can sometimes seem as if every outdoor activity is plagued by these yellow-and-black striped insects buzzing around your head and landing on your food and drink. Wasps aren't just annoying - if you are unlucky, you might end up with a sharp reminder that wasps, like their close relatives the honeybee, pack a powerful sting. That combination of nuisance and pain makes wasps many people's least favourite animals. Perhaps more than any other insect, wasps are badly in need of a change in public opinion. As well as having fascinating lives, they are extremely important in the environment and face problems similar to those of their cherished, but often no less annoying, cousins the bees. As the summer approaches its end, many will wish for it, but a world without wasps would most certainly not be a better place.
8-24-17 Monkeys can see faces in inanimate things, just like us
Monkeys can see faces in inanimate things, just like us
From Jesus appearing on toast to the man in the moon, we can’t help seeing faces where there are none. Now it turns out monkeys do the same thing. Have you ever seen the Virgin Mary in your grilled cheese? Or a screaming face inside a bell pepper? Seeing faces in inanimate objects is a common phenomenon. Now it seems that we’re not alone in experiencing it – monkeys do too. Pareidolia is the scientific term for erroneously perceiving faces where none exist. Other examples including seeing “ghosts” in blurry photos and the man in the moon. To investigate whether pareidolia was a uniquely human experience, Jessica Taubert at the US National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland and her colleagues trained five rhesus macaques to stare at pairs of photos. Each photo showed either an inanimate object that prompts pareidolia in humans, an equivalent object that doesn’t, or the face of a monkey. We already knew that both people and monkeys will look longer at images of faces than other things. So the team presented each of the photos in every possible pairing – 1980 in all – and measured the time the monkeys spent looking at each. The monkeys did indeed seem to succumb to pareidolia – they spent more time looking at illusory faces than the non-illusory photos they were paired with.
8-24-17 Large non-native species like donkeys can boost biodiversity
Large non-native species like donkeys can boost biodiversity
Many large animals are now living far outside of their native ranges, and that may actually be helping conservation. Moose and water buffalo do a lot of munching and trampling, so it might seem a bad thing that these large animals have escaped their native realms and invaded other regions. But there appears to be an upside to their walkabout across the planet. Beasts like camels, moose, water buffalo and donkeys – known as “megafauna” because of their size – live in large numbers outside their native ranges, thanks mostly to human introductions. Often, ecologists give these aliens the cold shoulder, presuming they do harm. For instance, conservation biologists have called for feral horses in the US – which came over with Europeans within the last 500 years – to be removed from certain areas. But that’s wrong, says Erick Lundgren of Arizona State University. He says it is increasingly hard to tell where such animals “belong”. Lundgren and his colleagues have studied the whereabouts of 76 species of large plant-eating mammals. He found that 22 have significant populations outside their native range. Ten of those travellers are extinct or threatened back home. For instance, there are an estimated 5 million wild donkeys round the world, but only a few hundred of their pre-domesticated ancestors, the African wild ass.
8-24-17 Scientists split over snow leopard status
Scientists split over snow leopard status
Scientists are deeply divided on whether snow leopards are still endangered species, a BBC investigation has found. Some big cat experts say their population has stabilised and increased in a number of places. This, they claim, has slowed the overall rate of decline. Others argue that there has been no robust scientific study to prove either that the population has stabilised. Amid the disagreement, top officials from 12 countries within the snow leopard range are meeting in Kyrgyzstan to further strengthen conservation of the elusive big cats. The differences of opinion among scientists have intensified as a downgrading of the threat to snow leopards - from "endangered" to "vulnerable" - is expected from the IUCN Red List soon. The Red List is the most comprehensive inventory of the conservation status of different species. The list maintained by the international nature conservation body is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the status of biological species. Scientists who believe that the number of snow leopards has gone up say the information is based on people working in the field. "Experts from each range countries were asked to come up with best estimates of snow leopard population by country and the total was between 7,400 and 8,000 animals," says Dr Tom McCarthy, snow leopard program executive director for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organisation.
8-22-17 Wiping out a population of animals might help the species
Wiping out a population of animals might help the species
Mass deaths might not be all bad, because local die-offs could help to ensure the survival of the species as a whole. There’s a bright side to everything, perhaps even mass die-offs of animals. If one population of a species goes rapidly and completely extinct – maybe thanks to a forest fire or hurricane – it may help the species persist in the long run. Members of a species don’t always all live together. Often, a species is split into several small populations, which are almost independent apart from occasion migrations from one to another. For instance, butterflies might live in two meadows, separated by a forest that the butterflies can cross but not live in. Such a collection of populations is called a “metapopulation”. Its survival is thought to depend on how much inter-group movement is happening. Migration has its benefits: individuals can re-populate an area if there has been a mass death. But migration also synchronises breeding and death. All populations cycle between large and small numbers, and if there is too much migration these cycles sync up. That is bad news for metapopulations, says Jeremy Fox at the University of Calgary, Canada. “If one group crashes, they all crash.” Fox has found an unlikely way to prevent this deadly lockstep: an extinction event in which all the individuals in one area are wiped out, de-syncing the metapopulation.
8-21-17 Solving how fish swim so well may help design underwater robots
Solving how fish swim so well may help design underwater robots
Trout, dolphins and killer whales swim in remarkably similar ways – and a model of how they use little energy to do so may help design better aquatic robots. Propeller-free robots may soon be swimming with style. A new model of how fish and other aquatic species are able to propel themselves forward without expending much energy may help create energy-efficient underwater robots that swim just like the real thing. By closely studying and monitoring how fish, dolphins and other sea creatures swim, Mehdi Saadat at Harvard University and his colleagues found that many of them have remarkably similar styles that can be described with a simple model, depending on how fast and far the tail whips back and forth and the length of the animal. Scientists previously homed in on just one parameter that relates the beat of an oscillating fish’s tail and how far it oscillates to the animal’s forward motion. But it turned out to be slightly more complicated. Saadat and his colleagues identified a second important factor: how far the tail goes to and fro relative to the fish’s length. They found that almost all fish – and many other sea creatures – swim in a narrow optimum range of this parameter to generate thrust, with the length of each tailbeat between one and three-tenths the length of the animal.
8-19-17 Meet the turtles surviving an invasion of enormous tractors
Meet the turtles surviving an invasion of enormous tractors
The eastern painted turtles must now live among enormous, noisy machinery – and studying them is offering clues to how animals survive alongside heavy industry. Crouching in the woods, amid a tangle of fallen trees and brush, greenbrier, probably poison ivy and who knows what else, I am acutely aware of two things: sweat is actually a state of being, and cicadas are insanely loud. Suddenly, a new sound grabs my attention, and beside me, Aaron Krochmal holds up a hand like a ranger on recon. From the receiver slung around his neck, a rhythmic beeping signals that a radio transmitter is being picked up. Initially, it can be heard crackling with static, but it grows steadily clearer. There’s a turtle on the move. Not a giant Galapagos tortoise. Not even a monster snapping turtle that, around here in the woods of Maryland’s eastern shore, has been known to reach manhole-cover size. No, what emerges, slogging stoically through the bracken and vine, is an eastern painted turtle, maybe 12 centimetres long, the bright yellow slashes down its neck and red-edged carapace a moving artwork. This particular animal has trudged this same path, forded the same creeks, clambered through these vines and over these fallen trees, every year for at least a decade or so, unwavering. “How do they know? How do they learn how?” I whisper to Krochmal, a biologist at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. Since 2009, he and his colleague Timothy Roth at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania – along with dozens of summer research undergraduates at Washington College – have studied the navigation and spatial learning capabilities of these humble reptiles. He’s about to answer when we, the transmitter, and even the cicadas are drowned out by the roar of a massive tractor rumbling to life, preparing to work the soybean field just beyond our little slice of wilderness.
8-18-17 Grown-up chimps are less likely to help distressed friends
Grown-up chimps are less likely to help distressed friends
Chimpanzees of all ages will comfort upset companions, but adult chimps do it less – perhaps because they are more selective about who they help. There, there! Adult chimpanzees are less likely than younger ones to console their companions in times of distress. The finding raises questions about how the capacity for empathy changes with age in our closest relatives – and us. When a chimpanzee gets upset, perhaps after losing a fight, companions will often sit with them and provide reassurance by kissing, grooming or embracing them. The same is true of young children. By age 2, children typically respond to a family member crying by consoling them in a similar way. We know chimpanzees have personalities: individual differences in their behaviour that are consistent over time. But it was unclear whether their empathetic tendencies are part of their personality, and whether they change over time. Christine Webb at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and her colleagues wanted to find out. The team studied eight years of observations of a group of 44 chimpanzees at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, also in Georgia. They found that individual differences were consistent over their lifespan: chimps who consoled more in their youth, relative to their peers, also consoled more than their peers later in life. This is the first evidence that chimps have “empathetic personalities”, says Webb. But they also found that juvenile chimpanzees console others more than adults, and infants console most of all age groups.
8-17-17 Monkeys can be tricked into thinking all objects are familiar
Monkeys can be tricked into thinking all objects are familiar
There is a cluster of neurons in monkeys’ brains that decides whether or not they have seen objects before, and stimulating it makes them see everything as familiar. Seen it, seen it, seen it, seen it, seen it. Most of us instinctively know whether objects are familiar or unfamiliar. Now we may know how we know. It turns out monkeys have a cluster of neurons in their brains that decides whether or not they have seen objects before. The primary visual area, at the back of the brain, does most of the early work in perceiving an object, especially its physical attributes, such as what direction it is moving. However, the temporal lobes – the bits just above our ears – are also heavily involved. In particular, a region of the temporal lobe called the perirhinal cortex has been linked with object recognition, memory and even helping primates recognise familiar faces. But researchers weren’t sure what aspects of an object were encoded by each visual area. To investigate, Yasushi Miyashita at the University of Tokyo, Japan, and his colleagues trained macaques to indicate whether an object was familiar. The monkeys saw some objects once a month, or once every 12,000 trials, and so categorised them as “new”. Meanwhile, other objects were shown in every trial, and so categorised as “old”. Then the team began stimulating different parts of the perirhinal cortex during the recognition tests. They used optogenetics: modifying neurons so they fire when exposed to light. When they stimulated the entire perirhinal cortex with light, the monkeys categorised all objects as old – regardless of whether they really were. This suggests that perirhinal neurons produce a “familiar” signal when they fire.
8-17-17 Freeze-dried dung gives clue to Asian elephant stress
Freeze-dried dung gives clue to Asian elephant stress
"Collecting fresh faecal samples is not as easy as it may sound," says researcher Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel. But her efforts have helped scientists in India devise a unique, non-invasive way to monitor the physiological health of wild elephants. The key has been freeze-drying dung in the field to preserve the elephant's hormones. As a result, scientists found stress levels in females were more conspicuous than in male elephants. Over five years, Sanjeeta and her colleagues collected more than 300 samples from 261 elephants in the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats area. She explained her technique: "I used to hide and observe till the elephant defecated and moved away." She told the BBC: "These samples mean a lot to me." The aim of the research was to evaluate the influence of the elephants' body condition on glucocorticoid metabolites. Animals such as elephants are subjected to various stressors in their lives, with factors including threats from predators, food shortages, drought and illness. Whenever any animal faces stressful events, their body secretes hormones known as glucocorticoids. These hormones are released into the circulatory system which eventually breaks them down into metabolites that are excreted through urine or faeces. The researchers say that collecting blood samples to assess stress levels is neither ethical nor feasible, since immobilising the animals will cause additional stress, thus biasing the study. "So glucocorticoid was measured using faecal or dung samples," said Sanjeeta.
8-17-17 A licence to kill bear cubs?
A licence to kill bear cubs?
Hunters in Alaska can now shoot and bait bear cubs and hibernating bears on national wildlife refuges after President Trump abolished protections put in place by Barack Obama. In this video, reporter Claire Marshall joins hunter and conservationist Christine Cunningham on a bear hunt in the mountains to explore the ethical dilemmas of hunting.
8-16-17 Chimps can play rock-paper-scissors
Chimps can play rock-paper-scissors
Japanese researchers have taught chimps the rules of rock-paper-scissors.
8-16-17 Fish eat bits of plastic because they think they smell good
Fish eat bits of plastic because they think they smell good
Hungry fish are gulping down mouthfuls of plastic, perhaps because it smells like their favourite foods. Hundreds of marine species are known to eat plastic – including those that regularly end up on our dinner plates. But why? It now seems that ocean-borne plastic has a smell that marine animals find appealing. Matthew Savoca at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Monterey, California, explored the dietary preferences of marine life while he was a researcher at the University of California, Davis. He and his colleagues exposed schools of anchovies to seawater that contained odours from plastic. To make this, they left plastic beads in the ocean for three weeks, then stirred the beads into seawater samples before filtering them out – leaving just the associated odour chemicals. In the ocean, plastic quickly becomes covered with a layer of algae that releases smelly sulphur compounds. Foraging fish such as anchovies, which feed on algae-munching marine crustaceans called krill, are thought to use these compounds to help them locate their prey. When analysing videos of the anchovies, the researchers noticed that the fish reacted to the fouled plastic solutions as if they were their crustacean prey. The decision to use solutions that smelled of plastic rather than actual pieces of plastic meant the fish weren’t responding to visual cues; the fish must have smelled the odours. They did not respond to clean plastic. The work builds on Savoca’s earlier research, which suggested that similar sulphurous odours lure tube-nosed seabirds – which are also krill-feeders – into eating plastic.
8-15-17 These spiders crossed an ocean to get to Australia
These spiders crossed an ocean to get to Australia
The ancestors of the trapdoor spider Moggridgea rainbowi may have survived an ocean journey from Africa to Australia, a new study concludes. If you look at a map of the world, it’s easy to think that the vast oceans would be effective barriers to the movement of land animals. And while an elephant can’t swim across the Pacific, it turns out that plenty of plants and animals — and even people — have unintentionally floated across oceans from one continent to another. Now comes evidence that tiny, sedentary trapdoor spiders made such a journey millions of years ago, taking them from Africa all the way across the Indian Ocean to Australia. Moggridgea rainbowi spiders from Kangaroo Island, off the south coast of Australia, are known as trapdoor spiders because they build a silk-lined burrow in the ground with a secure-fitting lid, notes Sophie Harrison of the University of Adelaide in Australia. The burrow and trapdoor provides the spiders with shelter and protection as well as a means for capturing prey. And it means that the spiders don’t really need to travel farther than a few meters over the course of a lifetime. There was evidence, though, that the ancestors of these Australian spiders might have traveled millions of meters to get to Australia — from Africa. That isn’t as odd as it might seem, since Australia used to be connected to other continents long ago in the supercontinent Gondwana. And humans have been known to transport species all over the planet. But there’s a third option, too: The spiders might have floated their way across an ocean.
8-12-17 What do plants and animals do during an eclipse?
What do plants and animals do during an eclipse?
A citizen science project aims to gather data to put science behind anecdotal evidence. Eclipses have been known to make animals and insects behave as if it were nightfall – birds fall silent and bees return to their hives. Many accounts of solar eclipses include tales of animals behaving strangely: Birds fall silent. Bees return to the hive. “There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence for how animals and even plants respond to totality,” when the moon completely blocks the sun, says Elise Ricard, spokesperson for an eclipse project called Life Responds at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. “But [there’s] not a lot of hard science.” Those observations are tantalizing, but they were limited in scope. That could change with the coming eclipse. The ubiquity of smartphones means that crowdsourced research — particularly during the eclipse — can include more and better coordinated observations than ever before.
8-11-17 Goldfish go months without oxygen by making alcohol inside cells
Goldfish go months without oxygen by making alcohol inside cells
Goldfish and crucian carp have evolved enzymes that turn carbohydrates into alcohol when no oxygen is available – helping the fish survive in ice-locked pools. Goldfish and their wild crucian carp relatives can survive for five months without breathing oxygen – and now we know how. The fish have evolved a set of enzymes that, when oxygen levels drop, ultimately helps convert carbohydrates into alcohol that can then be released through the gills. For most animals – including humans – a lack of oxygen can be fatal within minutes. We can metabolise carbohydrates without oxygen, but the process generates toxic lactic acid that quickly builds up in our bodies. On the face of it, this should pose a big problem for crucian carp. They live in ponds and lakes in northern Europe and Asia that freeze over in winter, so the fish have to survive for months without oxygen until the ice melts in spring. But the carp – and their close relative the goldfish – have developed a workaround. When they metabolise carbohydrates anaerobically, the end product is not lactic acid but alcohol, which is easier to remove from their bodies. “The adaptation is very rare among animals,” says Michael Berenbrink at the University of Liverpool in the UK.
8-11-17 Fish sauced? Goldfish turn to alcohol to survive icy winters
Fish sauced? Goldfish turn to alcohol to survive icy winters
Scientists have decoded the secrets behind a goldfish's ability to survive in ice-covered lakes. They've worked out how and why the fish turn lactic acid in their bodies into alcohol, as a means of staying alive. Some goldfish were found to have levels well above legal drink-driving limits in many countries. The researchers say the work may help with the study of some alcohol impacts in humans. Scientists have known about the peculiar survival abilities of goldfish and their wild relatives, crucian carp, since the 1980s. While humans and most vertebrates die in a few minutes without oxygen, these fish are able to survive for months in icy conditions in ponds and lakes in northern Europe. Researchers have now uncovered the molecular mechanism behind this ability. In most animals there is a single set of proteins that channel carbohydrates towards the mitochondria, which are the power packs of cells. In the absence of oxygen, the consumption of carbohydrates generates lactic acid, which the goldfish can't get rid of and which kills them in minutes. Luckily, these fish have evolved a second set of proteins that take over in the absence of oxygen and convert the lactic acid to alcohol, which can then be dispersed through the gills. "The second pathway is only activated through lack of oxygen," author Dr Michael Berenbrink from the University of Liverpool, UK, told BBC News. "The ice cover closes them off from the air, so when the pond is ice-covered the fish consumes all the oxygen and then it switches over to the alcohol." The longer they are in freezing, airless conditions the higher the alcohol levels in the fish become.
8-11-17 Tottering piglets can’t walk at first but learn super-fast
Tottering piglets can’t walk at first but learn super-fast
Video analysis shows that it only takes piglets 8 hours to learn to gain full control over their limbs, allowing them to walk as confidently as adult pigs. Newborn piglets may totter slowly to begin with, but within 8 hours they are trotting with confidence. New evidence suggests that this ability is not something they are born with, and must largely be learned. The finding confirms that walking isn’t entirely innate, even for animals – like pigs – that need to walk soon after birth. Animals such as humans, rats and mice are mostly helpless as newborns. Other species, particularly hoofed animals, must quickly fend for themselves. For instance, baby wildebeest can follow the herd just an hour after birth. Newborn pigs stand and walk within minutes of birth too – but no one was sure whether they are born with all the motor skills they need to walk, or whether they develop them extraordinarily quickly. To try to figure this out, Chris Van Ginneken of the University of Antwerp in Belgium and her colleagues followed 14 toddling piglets over the first four days of life. They filmed each piglet at the same 10 moments in their young existences, walking at their own pace across a rubber mat – used to prevent the animals slipping. Video analysis allowed the researchers to examine the piglets’ speed and stride length, as well as how often they took steps and how long each foot spent touching the ground. The team scaled the data to correct for each animal’s growth, giving them a picture of how gaits altered with age. From birth, the piglets knew the fundamentals of limb coordination: their feet hit the ground in the same order as in adult pigs, the team found. But this doesn’t mean they were confident walkers from birth.
8-11-17 Why midsize animals are the fastest
Why midsize animals are the fastest
New simulation suggests that speed has body mass limits. The speed demons of the animal kingdom are hardly giants. A new study suggests larger animals run out of fuel for their muscles before reaching top speeds. Speed has its limits — on the open road and the Serengeti. Midsize animals tend to be the speedsters, even though, in theory, the biggest animals should be the fastest. A new analysis that relates speed and body size in 474 species shows that the pattern holds for animals whether they run, fly or swim (see graphs below) and suggests how size becomes a liability. This relationship between speed and size has long stumped scientists. Big animals have longer legs or flippers to get from point A to point B. And bigger bodies have higher metabolic rates and more fast-twitch muscle cells, needed to convert chemical energy into mechanical energy and rapidly accelerate. So, why aren’t wildebeests faster than cheetahs? The make-or-break factor is the time it takes an animal to accelerate to its top theoretical speed, an upper limit based on mass and metabolic rate, researchers report July 17 in Nature Ecology & Evolution. Fast-twitch muscle cells provide the power for acceleration but tire quickly. When an animal gets too big, it takes too long to accelerate, and these cells use up their energy before hitting top speeds. More modestly built critters need less time to accelerate to those speeds.
8-10-17 Primate brains react differently to faces of friends and VIPs
Primate brains react differently to faces of friends and VIPs
Two newly identified brain areas reveal how rhesus macaques recognise the difference between intimately familiar faces and faces that the monkeys know less well. Two newly identified brain areas in rhesus monkeys seem to help the animals recognise familiar faces. Primates, Homo sapiens included, must be able to differentiate between faces and recognise friend from foe because social hierarchies play a large role in daily life. But exactly how primate brains deal with faces is not completely clear. One idea is that the same parts of the brain are involved in recognising both familiar and unfamiliar faces, just with varying efficiency. But Sofia Landi and Winrich Freiwald at Rockefeller University in New York have now cast doubt on that thinking. Their work shows that distinct brain areas are responsible for recognising the primates you know. Many researchers have already shown that certain areas of the temporal and prefrontal cortex are involved in unfamiliar face perception in rhesus monkey brains. Using whole-brain fMRI scans of four monkeys, Landi and Freiwald have now identified two additional brain areas that play a role not only in unfamiliar face perception but also in recognising familiar faces. The two new areas are in the anterior temporal lobe – the part of our brains above and in front of our ears. One is in the perirhinal cortex and one is in the temporal pole. These regions lit up far more when the monkeys recognised a familiar face in a photograph, as opposed to when they were presented with images of a stranger.
8-10-17 Sea snakes are turning black in response to industrial pollution
Sea snakes are turning black in response to industrial pollution
Indo-Pacific sea snakes living in polluted waters near industrial areas have darker bodies – perhaps because pollutants bind better to their dark skin pigment. Pollution from mining activities may be encouraging some sea snakes to evolve black skins – the first evidence of “industrial melanism” in a marine species. Previous studies have observed industrial melanism in invertebrate species, most famously the peppered moth. During England’s Industrial Revolution, the frequency of dark-coloured moths skyrocketed. Schoolchildren are often taught that such insects blended in well with the soot-covered bark of trees in industrial areas, so their odds of surviving and breeding suddenly rose – although this might be an oversimplification. Examples of industrial melanism in vertebrates are vanishingly rare, says Rick Shine at the University of Sydney – but the Indo-Pacific sea snakes he and his colleagues study may provide a good example. The turtle-headed sea snake (Emydocephalus annulatus) is largely found in certain tropical waters near Australia. Usually, the snakes look like black-and-white banded candy canes. But Shine and his colleagues found that individuals living near polluted areas on the French island territory of New Caledonia, north-east of Brisbane – and in a nearby barrier reef atoll used as a bombing range – were entirely black instead.
8-10-17 Exposure to oil sends birds off course
Exposure to oil sends birds off course
Even light exposure to oil from disasters like the Deep Water Horizon oil spill makes flying more difficult for birds, a study has revealed. US biologists used homing pigeons to test the potential impacts of oil spills on birds' flight. "Lightly oiled" pigeons, they found, veered off course and took longer to return and longer to recover than birds with no oil on their feathers. The results are published in the journal Environmental Pollution. It is the first time that the effects of low level exposure to crude oil on long-distance bird flight patterns have been tested and suggests that even small amounts of oil could have serious impacts on migrating birds that are caught up in a spill. The researchers were surprised by their findings, as lead author Dr Cristina Perez explained: "The general notion would be that these birds are 'fine', but in fact we found that even lightly oiled birds are not uninjured." Dr Perez continued: "We expected that the birds would have difficulties with flight and be slower in their arrival, but we did not expect such an obvious flight path difference." The study used crude oil collected from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which was applied onto the wing and tail feathers of some of the homing pigeons with paintbrushes. This pattern of oiling reflected that seen in wild birds from the spill. The pigeons were trained to repeatedly undertake flights of 161km between release points and their home loft, all the while carrying GPS data loggers. After release, most of the oiled birds took different flight courses which were longer in duration and distance than those of un-oiled birds.
8-9-17 Ticks are here to stay. But scientists are finding ways to outsmart them
Ticks are here to stay. But scientists are finding ways to outsmart them
Here are the latest bulletins from the tick wars. You’d be wrong to call a black-legged tick an insect. Ticks have eight legs, like spiders and scorpions, not an insect’s six. Only a few of the world’s 900 or so tick species carry diseases, but those illnesses can be nasty. Thanks, Holly Gaff. Soon, anyone straining to tweeze off a mid-back tick can find answers to the obvious question: What if humankind just went after the little bloodsuckers with killer robots? Gaff, who calls herself a mathematical ecoepidemiologist, at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., is one of the few people collecting real field data on the efficacy of tick-slaying robots. This summer, she’s been supervising a field test of a terminator named TickBot deployed to try making mowed grass safe for children. Researchers will start analyzing results in early fall. Ticks make formidable enemies. “Almost every control measure that has been tried has failed, and has failed miserably,” Gaff says. “We are slowly coming to embrace the fact that you cannot eradicate ticks.” What human ingenuity might do, however, is manage the risks and — dream big! — make ticks irrelevant.
8-9-17 Church floodlights are driving away the bats that roost there
Church floodlights are driving away the bats that roost there
Churches are often floodlit at night to show off their architecture – but the lights are preventing bats from roosting in the ancient buildings. Floodlighting is driving bats from some of their last strongholds in rural churches, according to the first detailed before-and-after study. The towers, attics and belfries of rural churches are ideal roosting spots for a range of bats. But the animals require darkness so they can avoid predators when they venture out on hunting expeditions. So the growing popularity of floodlighting even remote rural churches is threatening their survival, says Jens Rydell of Lund University in Sweden. In a unique study last summer, he revisited 61 rural churches in south-west Sweden that he had originally surveyed for their populations of brown long-eared bats in the 1980s. Back then, none of the churches had been floodlit; but now many were often lit up on all four sides. His findings were stark. All 14 churches that had remained unlit since the 1980s still had their bats. But of those now partially lit, half had lost their bats. And there were no confirmed colonies in a single church fully lit for most of the night, concluded Rydell. A typical example was a small wooden church in Varnum, 60 kilometres east of Gothenburg. “There were bats in the tower in 1983, but no trace in 2016,” says Rydell. In the meantime, “four strong floodlights were installed, one from each direction”. The study only covered long-eared bats, but Rydell says other slow-flying species such as mouse-eared and horseshoe bats will probably show the same pattern.
8-9-17 Penguin tail feathers reveal secrets of where they swim for food
Penguin tail feathers reveal secrets of where they swim for food
Conservationists need to track penguin populations, but tagging hundreds of birds is impractical. A technique borrowed from forensics offers a solution. A technique from forensic science could revolutionise the tracking of marine species such as penguins. It has been used to uncover exactly where more than 100 of the birds swim in search of food, even though only half that number were fitted with tracking devices. “Understanding the patterns of migration for wide-ranging marine animals is critical to their conservation,” says Michael Polito at Louisiana State University, who led the research while at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Polito and his colleagues focused on chinstrap and Adélie penguins from Livingston Island and King George Island off the coast of the Antarctic mainland. These species are known as “brush-tailed” penguins for their stiff, 40-centimetre-long tail feathers. Polito and his colleagues attached tags to 52 adult penguins to track their locations as they swam in search of food. When the penguins returned, the tags were recovered, along with a tail feather from each. Tail feathers were also taken from 60 untagged penguins. Using a stable isotope technique of forensic scientists, the researchers identified unique chemical signatures in the feathers. The signatures were imprinted from essential amino acids in phytoplankton – tiny plant-like organisms – that the penguins eat. The researchers were able to use the information from the tags to identify the chemical signatures in tail feathers associated with particular regions of the ocean that the penguins visited. They then compared the tail feathers of the untagged penguins for similarities to work out where they had travelled too.
8-9-17 Penguin feathers record migration route
Penguin feathers record migration route
How do you trace where a penguin has swum across the vastness of the Southern Ocean? The surprising answer is from the chemistry of a single tail feather. Incredibly, specific compounds in penguin feather proteins allow scientists to track the birds’ migration over many hundreds of kilometres. The plumage records a kind of "chemical passport" stamped with a signature of the locations visited. Dr Michael Polito, of Louisiana State University, US, told BBC News: "You can say: 'penguins are where they eat,' because a geochemical signature of their wintering area is imprinted into their feathers." Two species of penguin - Chinstraps and Adélies - are the focus of the study published this week in Biological Letters.
8-8-17 Chantek, the orangutan who used sign language, dies at 39
Chantek, the orangutan who used sign language, dies at 39
An orangutan who was one of the first apes to learn sign language has died in Atlanta, Georgia, aged 39. Chantek lived with an anthropologist in Tennessee for about nine years and learned to clean his room, make and use tools and memorise the route to a fast-food restaurant. He spent his later years in Zoo Atlanta where he was treated for heart disease. Zoo officials said he had "an engaging personality" and would be deeply missed. In a statement, Zoo Atlanta said that at 39, Chantek was one of the oldest male orangutans in North American zoos. His cause of death was not yet known, it said, but vets had been treating him for progressive heart disease. Orangutans are considered geriatric after the age of about 35, the zoo added. Chantek was born at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Georgia and was sent to live with anthropologist Lyn Miles at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. A 2014 documentary called "The Ape Who Went to College" showed that Chantek had learned various skills there including cleaning his room and directing a driving route from the university to a restaurant.
8-8-17 These record-breaking tube worms can survive for centuries
These record-breaking tube worms can survive for centuries
One deep-sea species can live more than 300 years, the longest of its kind. Tube worms near seafloor vents eat well and live long. Some deep-sea tube worms get long in the tooth ... er, tube. Living several decades longer than its shallow-water relatives, Escarpia laminata has the longest known life span for a tube worm, aging beyond 300 years, researchers report in the August Science of Nature. E. laminata lives 1,000 to 3,300 meters deep in the Gulf of Mexico, near seafloor vents that seep energy-rich compounds that feed bacteria that feed the tube worms. In 2006, biologists marked 356 E. laminata in their natural habitat and measured how much the creatures had grown a year later. To estimate the ages of tube worms of different sizes, the researchers plugged E. laminata’s average yearly growth rate — along with estimates of birthrates and death rates, based on observations of another 1,046 tube worms — into a simulation. The species’s typical life span is 100 to 200 years, the researchers calculate, but some larger tube worms may be more than 300 years old.
8-8-17 How spiders mastered spin control
How spiders mastered spin control
Their silk subtly changes shape as it twists, slowing rotation. Silk from orb weaver spiders deforms when twisted, enabling a steady dangle. A strange property of spider silk helps explain how the arachnids avoid twirling wildly at the end of their ropes. Researchers from China and England harvested silk from two species of golden orb weaver spiders, Nephila edulis and Nephila pilipes, and tested it with a torsion pendulum. The device has a hanging weight that rotates clockwise or counterclockwise, twisting whatever fiber it hangs from. When a typical fiber is twisted, the weight spins back and forth around an equilibrium point, eventually returning to its original orientation. But unlike several fibers the scientists tested — copper wires, carbon fibers and even human hair — the spider silk deformed when twisted. That distortion changed the silk’s equilibrium point and cut down on the back-and-forth spinning, the scientists report in the July 3 Applied Physics Letters. Eventually, scientists might design spin-resistant ropes for mountain climbers, who, like spiders, should avoid doing the twist.
8-4-17 One creature’s meal is another’s pain in the butt
One creature’s meal is another’s pain in the butt
Kelp gulls eat the feces of fur seal pups infected with hookworms, sometimes wounding the poor pups in their efforts to obtain a meal, a new study reveals. Anyone who’s had a sandwich stolen out of their hands by a gull at the beach knows firsthand how bold and aggressive these birds can be in their quest for food. But there are gulls that do far worse than steal your sandwich. The absolute worst might be the kelp gulls that pick at the skin and blubber on the backs of Southern right whales off the coast of Argentina. The wounds caused by the birds are thought to kill many right whale calves. But a close second may be the kelp gulls and dolphin gulls on Guafo Island in Chilean Patagonia. That’s because these gulls are wounding South American fur seal pups as they eat the pups’ feces — straight from the source, a new study reports. Gulls “are very opportunistic,” says Mauricio Seguel, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Georgia in Athens. “That’s one of the things that is so amazing about these birds. They can adapt so easily to so many different environments.” The kelp and dolphin gulls on Guafo Island have a varied diet, Sequel says. They eat shellfish plucked out of the ocean at low tide. They crack into sea urchins by dropping them from heights onto the rocks. They’ll steal fish or crabs out of the claws of marine otters. But a big portion of their diet comes from cleaning up after the fur seal colony on the island. The gulls eat placentas left behind after pup births as well as dead pups.
8-4-17 Bees are first insects shown to understand the concept of zero
Bees are first insects shown to understand the concept of zero
Zero is not an easy idea to grasp, even for young humans – but experiments suggest bees might be up to the challenge. Bees seem to understand the idea of zero – the first invertebrate shown to do so. When the insects were encouraged to fly towards a platform carrying fewer shapes than another one, they apparently recognised “no shapes” as a smaller value than “some shapes”. Zero is not an easy concept to comprehend, even for us. Young children learn the number zero later than other numbers, and often have trouble identifying whether it is less than or more than 1. Apart from ourselves, some other animals grasp the concept of zero, though. Chimpanzees and monkeys, for instance, have been able to consider zero as a quantity when taught. With their tiny brains, bees may seem an unlikely candidate to join the zero club. But they have surprisingly well-developed number skills: a previous study found that they can count to 4. To see whether honeybees are able to understand zero, Scarlett Howard at RMIT University in Melbourne and her colleagues first trained bees to differentiate between two numbers. They set up two platforms, each with between one and four shapes on it.
8-4-17 Lazy ants lay eggs for their industrious sisters to eat
Lazy ants lay eggs for their industrious sisters to eat
In 2015, biologists noticed that some ants laze about while their peers are busy – a fresh look suggests the lazy ants might produce eggs for the others to eat. A group of ants labelled as lazy in 2015 may play a more important role in their societies than we thought, possibly helping to feed their hard-working peers. The ants belong to a species (Temnothorax rugatulus) that builds nests under rocks in the forests of western North America. Most individual ants are busy with daily duties, but Daniel Charbonneau and Anna Dornhaus at the University of Arizona noticed in 2015 that some were consistently doing, well… nothing. Now, Charbonneau and Dornhaus, and their colleagues, have studied the lazy ants to find out more. Their analysis of the ants’ anatomy and behaviour suggests they aren’t the freeloaders we might assume them to be. First, these ants don’t simply do nothing all day, despite their lazy label. They simply behave differently from their peers, says Charbonneau. “These ants walk more slowly, are isolated in colony interaction networks and have the smallest behavioural repertoires,” he says. They look different too: Charbonneau says they tend to be plumper and more likely to contain egg cells inside their bodies than their more energetic peers. These observations mean we can rule some things out, he says: lazy ants are not simply old, infirm worker ants, for instance. Instead, lazy ants seem to be immature workers. Their plumper bodies might be evidence that they are storing food in their crops to share with their nest mates later, says Charbonneau. What’s more, the eggs they carry might serve as food for other ants – particularly since other ant species are known to sometimes lay such unfertilised “trophic” eggs.
8-3-17 Pollination threatened by artificial light
Pollination threatened by artificial light
Researchers have discovered a new global threat to pollination - artificial light at night, which was found to reduce visits of nocturnal pollinators to flowers by 62%. The impact of this is a significant reduction in fruit production. Pollinator numbers are declining worldwide so this is not good news for wild plants and crop production. Nocturnal insects are easily distracted from their pollination duties by the lure of bright lights. Fruit begins with a flower, but not every flower results in a fruit. A number of factors result in the remarkable transformation of flower to fruit and one of the most important is insect pollination. But insects are in rapid decline caused largely by an anthropogenic assault including habitat loss and disruption, pesticide use, invasive alien species and climate change. But in a new study reported in Nature, another threat is revealed - artificial light at night. Dr Eva Knop, University of Bern, Switzerland, who led the research said: "Our study suggests that it is quite common for plants to have both night and day pollinators. During night it is often the scent that attracts the nocturnal pollinators but also other cues can be important, such as visual cues as the nocturnal pollinators have often very sensitive eyes." We are all familiar with bees and butterflies pollinating flowers during the day but come sundown a parade of "night-shift" pollinators take over. "In our study, the most abundant night time pollinators were moths (Lepidoptera), followed by beetles (Coleoptera) and bugs (Hemiptera)", said Dr Eva Knop. But, owing to artificial light contamination, from street lamps for example, our nights are no longer properly dark. Artificial light at night is spreading globally at an estimated rate of 6% per year.
8-2-17 Light pollution can foil plant-insect hookups, and not just at night
Light pollution can foil plant-insect hookups, and not just at night
For cabbage thistles, daytime pollinators didn’t make up for missed after-hours seed-making. Artificial light at night upsets pollinating insects and plants, and that disruption may spread into daylight hours. For flowers, too much light at night could lead to a pollination hangover by day. Far from any urban street, researchers erected street lights in remote Swiss meadows to mimic the effects of artificial light pollution. In fields lit during the night, flowers had 62 percent fewer nocturnal visitors than flowers in dark meadows, researchers report August 2 in Nature. For one of the most common flowers, daytime pollination didn’t make up for nightly losses, says ecologist Eva Knop of the University of Bern in Switzerland. In a detailed accounting of the pollination life of cabbage thistles (Cirsium oleraceum), Knop and colleagues found that night-lit plants produced 13 percent fewer seeds overall than counterparts in naturally dark places.
7-31-17 Newly discovered lymph hydraulics give tunas their fancy moves
Newly discovered lymph hydraulics give tunas their fancy moves
Long-overlooked anatomy raises fishes’ fins for zigs, zags and tight turns. A sickle-shaped fin on the back of a tuna and one underneath contain shape-shifting systems that scientists have just discovered. In fishes as familiar as tunas, humans have managed to find some unknown anatomy: a hydraulic system based on lymph. Often the underdogs of body parts, vertebrate lymph systems can do vital chores such as fight disease but rarely get the attention that blood systems do. Yet it turns out to be lymph, not blood, that rushes into two sickle-shaped tuna fins and fans them wide during complex swimming maneuvers, says Barbara Block of Stanford University. Tuna bodies are relatively “stiff and only wag at the tail,” she says. That’s efficient for long-distance cruising. For zigs and zags, Pacific bluefin and yellowfin tunas get extra control from muscles, bones and lymph tweaking the shape of a fin on the back and its counterpart underneath, Block and colleagues report in the July 21 Science.
7-29-17 Cricket's summer song making a comeback
Cricket's summer song making a comeback
The cheep, cheep, cheep of a cricket in the grass is the quintessential sound of summer. As I crunch over heathland in search of the elusive insect, the song fills the air, as if conjured up by a magician. My companion, Mike Coates, the warden here at RSPB Farnham Heath, beams with delight. Earlier, before setting out for the reserve, he'd warned me that the insects are rare, and might not perform on cue. "It's not so much looking, we're going to be listening mostly for the sound of male field crickets chirruping in order to attract a mate," he explained, over a mug of tea in the staff portacabin. "It's just a brilliant noise. It's like summer translated into sound - it's fantastic." The song of the field cricket was once a familiar soundtrack on the heaths and grasslands of south east England. However, the sound has fallen silent in many parts of the country. The 18th Century naturalist, Gilbert White, wrote of "field-crickets shrill on the verge of the forest" in his diaries. Here, not far from the village of Selbourne in Hampshire, where White lived, the insects were once common. The founding father of British natural history writing recorded in 1791: "May 29: The race of field crickets, which burrowed in the short Lythe (a field near Selbourne), and used to make such an agreeable shrilling noise the summer long, seems to be extinct. "The boys, I believe, found the method of probing their holes with the stalks of grasses, and so fetched them out and destroyed them." Today the field cricket, Gryllus campestris, faces threats beyond torturous children.
7-28-17 Flatworms can still ‘see’ even after they are decapitated
Flatworms can still ‘see’ even after they are decapitated
Biologically simple they may be, but planarian flatworms have evolved two completely different ways to detect light – and one doesn’t involve their heads. Off with their heads. Light-averse planarian flatworms, known for their incredible ability to regenerate lost body parts, shy away from light even after they have been decapitated. This suggests they have evolved a second way to respond to light that doesn’t involve eyes. Planarian flatworms, which often live in dark, watery environments shielded from direct light, don’t have complex eyes like we do. But many do have two lensless, primitive “eyespots” on their heads that can detect the intensity of light. Akash Gulyani at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bangalore, India, and his colleagues were curious to find out more about flatworm vision. They studied the species Schmidtea mediterranea, confirming that its eyespots encourage the animals to shy away from visible light. Unexpectedly, it turned out that S. mediterranea actually has colour vision of sorts. Even though its eyespots lack wavelength-specific photoreceptors, Gulyani’s team found that the animal was more likely to move away from blue than red light. The researchers think the worms are distinguishing between different colours by comparing the amount of light being absorbed by the two eyespots, rather than seeing the colour of the light itself: for instance, they could override the flatworm’s preference for red over blue light by increasing the intensity of the former.
7-28-17 A third of species face extinction
A third of species face extinction
Five times over the past 450 million years, natural events wiped out 75 percent or more of all species on the planet. In a new study, an international group of scientists warns that the planet is entering another mass extinction event, one that could lead to the “biological annihilation” of three-quarters of all species in the coming centuries. This time, however, the die-off won’t be the result of an asteroid strike, an ice age, cataclysmic volcanic eruptions, or any other natural phenomenon. It’s human activity that’s to blame, as 7.4 billion people crowd other species off the planet. Humanity’s ever-expanding geographic footprint and consumption of resources are causing habitat loss, pollution, overhunting and overfishing, and climate change. In the study, scientists examined 27,600 species of birds, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles, and found about 32 percent are dying off as their habitats shrink. A closer examination of 177 mammal species shows that more than 40 percent have suffered significant population declines, and nearly half have lost 80 percent of their range. Creatures such as cheetahs, lions, and orangutans are dwindling in number. The researchers warn that this “assault on biodiversity” threatens the future of human civilization, which depends on plants, animals, and microorganisms for survival. “The massive loss of populations and species reflects our lack of empathy to all the wild species that have been our companions since our origins,” lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México tells The Washington Post. “It is the prelude to the disappearance of many more species.”
7-26-17 Fish can’t recognise faces if they’re upside down – just like us
Fish can’t recognise faces if they’re upside down – just like us
Just like humans, the medaka fish that lives in rice paddies is good at identifying faces – but, again like us, it struggles when faces are the wrong way up. Are you good with faces? So is the Japanese rice fish – at least, it is if the faces are the right way up. Just like humans, the tiny fish has no problem recognising faces orientated the usual way, but, again like us, it struggles when they are inverted. The finding indicates that the fish may have developed a unique brain pathway for face recognition, just as humans have. We have no problem identifying most objects in our environment – say, a chair – no matter what way up they are. But faces are different. It is relatively easy for us to spot the differences between two faces, even if they are physically similar, if we see them in photographs the right way up. But if the images are upside down, telling them apart gets a bit tricky. “This is because we have a specific brain area for processing faces, and when the face is upside down, we process the image through object processing pathways, and not the face-processing pathways any more,” says Mu-Yun Wang at the University of Tokyo, Japan. Until now, this face-inversion effect was considered exclusive to mammals as it has only been observed in primates and sheep. Enter the Japanese rice fish, also known as the medaka (Oryzias latipes), a 3.5-centimetre-long shoaling fish commonly found in rice paddies, marshes, ponds and slow-moving streams in East Asia. These fish are very social, so identifying the right individuals to associate with is important.
7-26-17 Fungi use water droplet cannons to fling spores into the breeze
Fungi use water droplet cannons to fling spores into the breeze
A pair of merging droplets help fungi to disperse their spores. Now researchers have figured out exactly how. Go for launch. Some fungi shoot out their spores at surprisingly high speed in order to disperse them some way away, but exactly how they accomplish this has remained a mystery until now. “Spore launching is responsible for tens of thousands of fungus species – about one-third of the fungal kingdom,” says Chuan-Hua Chen at Duke University in North Carolina. Biologists have long known that the mechanism involved two drops of water interacting with the half-egg shape of spores launched in this way: an elongated drop that forms on its flat side, and a small spherical drop called a Buller’s drop that sits near the rounded base of the spore. When the drops merge, the loss in surface area releases some of the energy that was maintaining surface tension in the original drops. That is converted into the kinetic energy required to launch the spore away from its parent fungus. Chen and his colleagues mimicked this process in the lab for the first time in order to study the process in fine detail. “For a century there’s been no complete explanation, and we’ve finally come up with a physical model,” Chen says.
7-25-17 Maths explains how bees can stay airborne with such tiny wings
Maths explains how bees can stay airborne with such tiny wings
The tiny wings on bees shouldn’t be able to lift their big bodies. How they fly has eluded mathematicians since the 1930s, but the mystery is now solved. We first realised that bees seem to flout the laws of mathematics in the 1930s. Calculations showed that their wings could not provide enough lift to get their bodies off the ground, but that didn’t stop them. “The bee, of course, flies anyway because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible,” says the narrator at the beginning of 2007’s Bee Movie. Now a new mathematical analysis has put together a complete picture of how bees, as well as other insects and small birds, actually manage to fly. Up until the 1990s it was assumed that bees used a continuous flow of air over their wing to generate lift, similar to how commercial planes fly. But in 1996 it was discovered that bees also have tiny tornado-like airflows that form on the leading edges of their wings, known as leading edge vortices (LEVs). “Initially, everyone thought this was the magical solution we’d been looking for. People worshipped vortices and assumed they must be responsible for the extra lift,” says Mostafa Nabawy at University of Manchester. But after reanalysing eight different experiments with eight different species Nabawy and his colleagues have shown that LEVs don’t actually give any extra lift at all. By creating three mathematical models each with a different mechanism for generating lift and then comparing the models to the original experiments, they were able to work out how the creatures stay in the air.
7-24-17 Restoring Estonian alvar grasslands to save unique species
Restoring Estonian alvar grasslands to save unique species
A huge project to return one of Europe’s most biodiverse habitats to its former glory is already seeing success. Julianna Photopoulos reports from the site. It’s hot and sunny, and the long, flat fields are covered in grasses, with patches of shrubs and trees here and there. In the distance, a large herd of cows is grazing. “The area was overgrown with junipers and pine trees,” says Annely Esko, project coordinator at the Environmental Board of Estonia. “I think we have created the landscape that was here about 40 years ago.” I’m on the island of Muhu in the Baltic Sea. Here, one of the largest wildlife restoration projects in Europe – part of the LIFE+ Nature programme – is under way to make 2500 hectares of alvar grasslands great again. Altogether, there are 25 restoration areas: two on the mainland and the rest spread over three islands: Muhu, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Unusually for a conservation project, the work involves cutting down shrubs and trees, which threaten species – including some unique to this habitat. Only one-third of the restored areas will be left with junipers and pine trees. Estonia used to be home to approximately one-third of the world’s calcareous alvar grasslands, one of the most species-rich plant communities in Europe. However, the total area has plummeted from 43,000 hectares in the 1930s to only 8,000 hectares today. Most of these semi-natural habitats were formed and maintained through long-term grazing by sheep, cows and horses.
7-21-17 Fire ants build towers with three simple rules
Fire ants build towers with three simple rules
Fire ants use a simple set of rules to form a tower, with no leader needed, a new study reveals. When faced with rushing floodwaters, fire ants are known to build two types of structures. A quickly formed raft lets the insects float to safety. And once they find a branch or tree to hold on to, the ants might form a tower up to 30 ants high, with eggs, brood and queen tucked safely inside. Neither structure requires a set of plans or a foreman ant leading the construction, though. Instead, both structures form by three simple rules:
- If you have an ant or ants on top of you, don’t move.
- If you’re standing on top of ants, keep moving a short distance in any direction.
- If you find a space next to ants that aren’t moving, occupy that space and link up.
“When in water, these rules dictate [fire ants] to build rafts, and the same rules dictate them to build towers when they are around a stem [or] branch,” notes Sulisay Phonekeo of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. She led the new study, published July 12 in Royal Society Open Science.
7-21-17 Spider’s web uses optical illusion to lure nocturnal moths
Spider’s web uses optical illusion to lure nocturnal moths
The lace sheet weaver builds a web that seems to fool moths into thinking they are flying into open space – instead of into a trap. You might call it a web of deceit: the webs made by one spider exploit a visual effect to entice nocturnal insects, which then become stuck in the silky threads. Such “lure and trap” dual-function spider webs have never been seen working at night before. The lace sheet weaver (Psechrus clavis) is commonly found in low to mid-elevation subtropical Asian forests. It builds its large horizontal webs just above ground level in shady spots. I-Min Tso at Tunghai University in Taiwan and his colleagues noticed that the silk is highly reflective, giving the web a whitish appearance that may be visible to insects at night. To test whether this had any effect – either advantageous or disadvantageous – on the number of nocturnal insects caught, Tso and his team removed the spiders from 51 webs and used charcoal powder to blacken 22 of them, reducing their reflectance. The team found that the untreated spider webs attracted significantly more prey than the blackened ones. “Spider webs are not usually considered as potential prey lures,” says Tso. Tso’s team speculates that the spiders’ chief prey – moths – have relatively poor eyesight and might mistake the whitish web as an area of open space in the otherwise dark and dense forest. Moths are attracted to such bright, open spaces.
7-20-17 Elephant seals recognize rivals by the tempo of their calls
Elephant seals recognize rivals by the tempo of their calls
By recognizing the calls of other individuals, male elephant seals can avoid costly confrontations. The tempo of a male elephant seal’s call broadcasts his identity to rival males, a new study finds. Every male elephant seal has a distinct vocalization that sounds something like a sputtering lawnmower — pulses of sound in a pattern and at a pace that stays the same over time. At a California state park where elephant seals breed each year, researchers played different variations of an alpha male’s threat call to subordinate males who knew him. The seals weren’t as responsive when the tempo of that call was modified substantially, suggesting they didn’t recognize it as a threat. Modifying the call’s timbre — the acoustic quality of the sound — had the same effect, researchers report August 7 in Current Biology. Unlike dolphins and songbirds, elephant seals don’t seem to vary pitch to communicate.
7-20-17 Elephant seals 'recognise vocal rhythm'
Elephant seals 'recognise vocal rhythm'
Male elephant seals recognise the rhythm of one another's voices, researchers say. Scientists in the US "decoded" the calls of male elephant seals, revealing that vocal communication played a crucial part in their social lives. This showed seals communicating their identity with deep, rhythmic calls. In their Current Biology paper, the team says this is the first example of non-human mammals "using rhythm" in everyday life. Just as humans can identify a particular song based on its distinctive rhythm, this research revealed that male elephant seals could identify each other from the pulsing pattern of their calls. "In the colony, everyone knows who is who… they recognise the voice of all the other males in the colony." And this is important in a congested beach colony - at the site the team studied, more than 4,000 seals are packed on to the beach, so it is important to know your neighbours.
7-20-17 Now North Sea cod is sustainable, is it really ok to eat?
Now North Sea cod is sustainable, is it really ok to eat?
The bounceback of North Sea cod means you can now buy guilt-free, but Brexit and climate change could threaten its fragile recovery. North Sea cod is back on the menu. Those were the headlines in the UK this week as the Marine Stewardship Council, an international body that certifies whether fish sold to consumers was caught sustainably, gave its approval to a fish once feared to be headed for extinction. So is cod now guilt-free? Can the UK go back to enjoying its national comfort food – cod and chips – with a clear conscience? First, about the guilt: it was never wrong to eat cod as such. Brits ate sustainably managed cod from Norwegian and Icelandic fisheries even as North Sea catches plummeted after 2000. “The vast majority – around 95% – of cod consumed in the UK is caught in the Barents Sea and off Iceland, where stringent measures have ensured good management of cod stocks,” says Andy Gray of Seafish, which oversees UK fisheries. This week’s verdict means all cod bought by UK consumers should now be sustainable. What hasn’t been trumpeted is that the victory is fragile: it was produced by a management system the UK is planning to leave, the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
7-20-17 Giant deep-sea worms may live to be 1000 years old or more
Giant deep-sea worms may live to be 1000 years old or more
Escarpia laminata lives on the sea floor, where food is plentiful and predators are absent – a perfect environment for longevity. In the depths of the ocean, life can extend far beyond its usual limits. Take the tube worm Escarpia laminata: living in an environment with a year-round abundance of food and no predators, individuals seem to live for over 300 years. And some may be 1000 years old or more – meaning they would have been around when William the Conqueror invaded England. “E. laminata is pushing the bounds of what we thought was possible for longevity,” says Alanna Durkin at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These tube worms live between 1000 and 3300 metres below sea level in aggregations from five to more than 200 individuals around cold seeps. This environment also provides a habitat for brittlestars, shrimps, crabs, mussels, clams, snails, limpets and a huge variety of smaller species of worms. “The tube worms look like oversized plastic straws with a delicate pink flower at the end when the animal extends its petal-like plume – a gill-like organ for gas exchange – out of the top of its tube,” says Durkin. They can measure more than 1.5 metres, and feed through a symbiotic relationship they form with bacteria that thrive in these seeps.
7-20-17 Parrot witness case: Michigan woman guilty of husband's murder
Parrot witness case: Michigan woman guilty of husband's murder
A woman has been found guilty of shooting her husband five times in a Michigan murder case apparently witnessed by a parrot. Glenna Duram shot her husband, Martin, in front of the couple's pet in 2015, before turning the gun on herself in a failed suicide attempt. The parrot later repeated the words "Don't shoot!" in the victim's voice, according to Mr Duram's ex-wife. The parrot, an African Grey named Bud, was not used in the court proceedings. The jury found Mrs Duram, 49, guilty of first-degree murder following a day of deliberations. She will be sentenced next month. She suffered a head wound in the incident in the couple's Sand Lake home in May 2015, but survived. Mr Duram's mother Lillian said it "hurt" to witness Mrs Duram "emotionless" in court as evidence was presented in the case of her son's death, local media report. "It just isn't good; just isn't good. Two years is a long time to wait for justice," she said. Mr Duram's ex-wife Christina Keller, who now owns Bud, earlier said she believed the parrot was repeating a conversation from the night of the murder, which she said ended with the phrase "don't shoot!", with an expletive added. Mr Duram's parents agreed it was possible that the foul-mouthed bird had overheard the couple arguing and was repeating their final words. "I personally think he was there, and he remembers it and he was saying it", Mr Duram's father told local media at the time. (Webmaster's comment: To parrot means to mimic, and that's why parrots are called parrots. There is no good reason not to use this "recording" at a trial.)
7-20-17 Mud eel’s wonky body may help it ambush prey
Mud eel’s wonky body may help it ambush prey
A pair of sea-floor-dwelling eels found off the coast of West Africa have lopsided features that may help them operate as ‘sit-and-wait’ ambush predators. Talk about a crooked character. A small eel appears to have evolved the lopsided look of a flatfish. Mud eels are seldom caught or studied. Past analysis suggested these fish were adapted for burrowing into sediment, but new specimens hint that some of them have evolved for a more specialised lifestyle. While sorting through a shipment of fish trawled off the coast of Guinea in West Africa and sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Christopher Martinez’s attention was brought to a pair of these eels. “As soon as I picked one up, I knew we had something special,” recalls Martinez, who now works at the University of California, Davis. “The connection to flatfishes was immediate.” The strange anatomy of flatfish is well-documented. These bottom-dwellers lie on their sides, hidden from predators and ready to grab passing prey. Their bodies have adapted by becoming totally asymmetrical, with their features shifted to the upward-facing side. What first struck Martinez about the mud eels was that, like flatfish, one side was coloured and the other was white. In flatfish, this “countershading” means the exposed side is camouflaged against the sea floor.
7-20-17 Poaching pushes pangolin closer to extinction
Poaching pushes pangolin closer to extinction
Millions of pangolins are being hunted and killed in Africa, raising fears that they are being pushed to extinction. The pangolin is the world's most trafficked and poached mammal, because of the demand for its meat and scales. Conservationists say an international trade ban announced last year must be strictly enforced. There are concerns that traders are illegally supplying African pangolins to Asian markets. Populations of Asian pangolins have declined dramatically since the 1960s, leaving the creatures highly endangered. Daniel Ingram of the University of Sussex worked with researchers in Africa on the first study to assess hunting levels of pangolins in the forests of Central Africa. "Pangolins have been hunted across Africa for centuries," Dr Ingram told BBC News. "Because we don't have population estimates we can't tell if hunting for food is at sustainable levels or not. "What we can say is that there is widespread pressure on pangolins from hunting in Central Africa, but we can't ascertain whether hunting is at sustainable levels or not because we need biology data and population estimates."
7-20-17 Why dogs are friendly - it's written in their genes
Why dogs are friendly - it's written in their genes
Being friendly is in dogs' nature and could be key to how they came to share our lives, say US scientists. Dogs evolved from wolves tens of thousands of years ago. During this time, certain genes that make dogs particularly gregarious have been selected for, according to research. This may give dogs their distinctive personalities, including a craving for human company. "Our finding of genetic variation in both dogs and wolves provides a possible insight into animal personality, and may even suggest similar genes may have roles in other domestic species (maybe cats even)," said Dr Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University. The researchers studied the behaviour of domestic dogs, and grey wolves living in captivity. They carried out a number of tests of the animals' skills at problem-solving and sociability. (Webmaster's comment: Friendliness genes are in some human beings too, but not in nearly enough of them. Case in point, hate groups in America!)
7-19-17 The eyes have it: How spotting naive prey made fish walk on land
The eyes have it: How spotting naive prey made fish walk on land
SEEN through the right geological lens, the bucolic countryside near Chirnside, a village in south-east Scotland, becomes a tropical swamp. The rocks divulge a picture of a sweltering and soggy landscape, tangled with all manner of tree ferns, horsetails and 30-metre-high clubmosses that look like giant scaly asparagus spears. Here, 350 million years ago, off the edge of a muddy bank, a pair of eyes poked above the water. They belonged to a newt-like creature with a broad head, a wide mouth full of needle-sharp teeth and a long tail. It also boasted four limbs, with which it shuffled awkwardly onto the bank. This amphibious vertebrate, nicknamed Tiny by its discoverers, might be the most important fossil you’ve never heard of. It lived through a time for which our records are sparse, but when one of the most significant transitions in life’s history was taking place. This was the era in which fish-like things hauled themselves out of the water for new life on land, setting the stage for the rise of amphibians, reptiles and mammals like us. Tiny isn’t the only recent discovery challenging our view of this transition. Where once we imagined that a few sturdy pioneers exchanged their fins for limbs, took a gulp of air and never looked back, now we see a haphazard process that relied as much on shifty, swelling eyes as the anatomical prototypes of limbs. (Webmaster's comment: Also see: These fish are evolving right now to become land-dwellers)
7-19-17 First dogs may have been extremely sociable wolves
First dogs may have been extremely sociable wolves
Wolves and dogs that are friendliest to people carry mutations in genes with links to sociability, backing the idea that this was key in dog domestication. The ancestral wolves that evolved into domestic dogs may have carried genetic mutations that made them socialise more readily with people. What’s more, the same genes cause excessive sociability in humans. It was already known that even if wolves have been raised with humans from birth, they never become as close to people or look at them as often as dogs tend to. Several years ago, Bridgett vonHoldt at Princeton University in New Jersey and her colleagues linked this “hypersociability” to a 28-gene stretch of the dog genome that includes canine versions of the genes responsible for Williams syndrome – a human disorder characterised by extreme sociability. However, they had no direct proof that these genes caused it. To find out whether they do, vonHoldt and her team tested the behaviour of 18 domestic dogs and 10 wolves, all of which had been raised identically with constant human contact. Each animal was scored for its hypersociability towards humans. As expected, the dogs scored higher than the wolves. The researchers then sequenced the key region of each animal’s genome in fine detail and searched for structural variations – deletions or insertions of genetic material – that seemed to match well with their social behaviour. They found four, including two in genes called GTF2I and GTF2IRD1. These genes are known to cause the hypersociability involved in Williams syndrome in humans, and GTF2I has also been shown to cause hypersociability in mice.
7-19-17 These genes may be why dogs are so friendly
These genes may be why dogs are so friendly
DNA differences among dogs and wolves hints at how canines came to live with humans. Dogs' friendliness to humans may be tied to tweaks in a few of the animal's genes. A new study examines how variations of these genes may have allowed for the domestication of dogs from wolves. DNA might reveal how dogs became man’s best friend. A new study shows that some of the same genes linked to the behavior of extremely social people can also make dogs friendlier. The result, published July 19 in Science Advances, suggests that dogs’ domestication may be the result of just a few genetic changes rather than hundreds or thousands of them. “It is great to see initial genetic evidence supporting the self-domestication hypothesis or ‘survival of the friendliest,’” says evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare of Duke University, who studies how dogs think and learn. “This is another piece of the puzzle suggesting that humans did not create dogs intentionally, but instead wolves that were friendliest toward humans were at an evolutionary advantage as our two species began to interact.” Not much is known about the underlying genetics of how dogs became domesticated. In 2010, evolutionary geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University and colleagues published a study comparing dogs’ and wolves’ DNA. The biggest genetic differences gave clues to why dogs and wolves don’t look the same. But major differences were also found in WBSCR17, a gene linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans.
7-18-17 Viewpoint: Is there such a thing as 'flying ant day'?
Viewpoint: Is there such a thing as 'flying ant day'?
We're all used to ants sprouting wings and taking to the air during summer, but is there really such a thing as a "flying ant day"? A new study appears to have solved the mystery, using data submitted by the public. Here, Prof Adam Hart, one of the report's authors, explains how they did it. No one can guarantee a rain-free Bank Holiday weekend or a sun-drenched Wimbledon but, no matter what the summer weather brings, you can guarantee that flying ants will make their annual appearance at some point. Flying ants are a bit of a surprise for many people. After all, the ants we are used to seeing under stones in our gardens don't have wings and cannot fly. These wingless ants are female workers, toiling to ensure the colony survives and grows. Once the colony has grown large enough though, it can stop investing in growth and start investing in reproduction. The problem for ants is that workers cannot start a new colony; for that you need a larger, fertile, "queen" ant that has mated with a male from a different colony. The flying ants we see in the summer are these potential new female queens and male ants embarking on a mating flight. Once they have mated, on the wing, the females drop to the ground and attempt to start a new colony. Most of them will not make it, becoming bird food or dying before they are able to produce worker ants (their daughters) and develop a new colony. But some will go on to head up new colonies that will eventually produce their own flying ants
7-17-17 Why fast birds, fish and animals are never too small or big
Why fast birds, fish and animals are never too small or big
An animal’s maximum speed is based on how fast it can accelerate, which explains why the largest animals are not the fastest. Most of us know a cheetah can beat an elephant in a footrace. But unravelling the mystery of why certain animals move faster than others is something scientists have struggled with for years. Now it seems size might be the answer. Animals’ speed limits affect how they migrate, interact with their environment – and whether they eat or are eaten. Speed is determined by how far an animal moves in a given amount of time. So, it may seem intuitive that animals with longer limbs or fins will travel further and reach higher speeds. But all the evidence says it isn’t so: today’s fastest animals aren’t the elephants, condors or blue whales of the world, but instead the cheetahs, falcons and marlins. Some scientists have suggested this is because the bones and muscles of very large animals are unable to withstand the forces experienced during rapid locomotion. But Myriam Hirt at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig thinks there is something else going on. By examining data from 474 running, flying and swimming species, Hirt has created a model that seems to confirm that the fastest species in each locomotion category are those with a body mass that falls in the middle of the range. For running and swimming animals that “middle” body mass is about 100 kilograms; for flying animals it is about 1 to 10 grams. Her team suggests being “middle-sized” is advantageous because of basic physical considerations. Animals have a limited amount of time to accelerate up to high speeds before they run out of the quickly available energy stored in muscle fibres called fast twitch fibres.
7-17-17 Why the cheetah is a champion sprinter
Why the cheetah is a champion sprinter
They're the sprinters of the animal world - cheetahs on land, falcons in the air and marlins in the sea. But, why are they so fast when bigger, more muscular animals might be expected to outpace them? Now, scientists have come up with a new theory to explain the gold medal-winning performance of animal athletes. It appears it is all down to the energy required to get off the starting blocks. "Scientists have long struggled with the fact that the largest animals are not the fastest," said Prof Walter Jetz, from the US's Yale University. "In our work, we explain this with the simple fact that animals run out of readily mobilised energy before they are able to get their bodies to the maximum possible speed. "So, while the largest animals in theory could be the fastest, the energy and time required to accelerate their larger bodies keep them from ever attaining it." The theory, outlined in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, explains why lean, medium-sized animals are generally built for speed. (Webmaster's comment: The greater the mass the more muscle and energy it takes to get it going. It's just physics. Smaller rockets can accelerate faster than giant rockets too.)
7-15-17 World's large carnivores being pushed off the map
World's large carnivores being pushed off the map
Six of the world's large carnivores have lost more than 90% of their historic range, according to a study. The Ethiopian wolf, red wolf, tiger, lion, African wild dog and cheetah have all been squeezed out as land is lost to human settlements and farming. Reintroduction of carnivores into areas where they once roamed is vital in conservation, say scientists. This relies on human willingness to share the landscape with the likes of the wolf. The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, was carried out by Christopher Wolf and William Ripple of Oregon State University. "Of the 25 large carnivores that we studied, 60% (15 species) have lost more than half of their historic ranges,'' he explained.
7-14-17 Rats can tell when they’ve forgotten something, just like us
Rats can tell when they’ve forgotten something, just like us
Ever walked into a room then realised you can't remember why you're there? Like people, rats know what they know, and can tell when their memory has failed them. Much like students doing a test, rats tend to skip questions when they have forgotten the answer. A series of smelly experiments suggests rats are aware of what they remember, and behave differently when they can’t recall something. Victoria Templer at Providence College, Rhode Island, and her team trained rats to dig through sand to sniff samples of cinnamon, thyme, paprika or coffee, and then go to a dish smelling of the matching scent. If the rats picked the correct dish, they got a piece of cereal. But there was a twist. Although rats that chose a dish with the wrong scent got no reward, rats that positioned themselves next to a fifth, unscented dish received a quarter-piece of the cereal. This meant that when rats forgot what they had smelled in the sand, their best bet was to pick the unscented dish – provided they could tell that they had forgotten the relevant smell. Nine rats were each tested many times across multiple experiments. In some of these, the unscented dish was not there, forcing the rats to choose a scent even if they couldn’t remember it.
7-14-17 'Truly unique' mother lioness nurses leopard cub in Tanzania
'Truly unique' mother lioness nurses leopard cub in Tanzania
A baby leopard can't change his spots, but this lioness doesn't seem to mind. These beautiful pictures are the first ever taken of a wild lioness nursing a cub from a different species - an extremely rare event. The pair were spotted by Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The scene is the Serengeti; the attentive mother, five-year-old Nosikitok. The lioness has a GPS collar fitted by Kope Lion, a conservation NGO, and three young cubs of her own - born around the 27-28 June.
7-14-17 Butterfly numbers facing 'vital' period - Sir David Attenborough
Butterfly numbers facing 'vital' period - Sir David Attenborough
Butterflies in the UK are facing "a vital" period following a worrying decline in their numbers, naturalist Sir David Attenborough has warned. The TV broadcaster said some of the UK's most common species have suffered "significant declines" in recent years. Many have experienced "several poor years", he added, due to cold weather and with their habitats under threat. Warm weather this year has given some species, such as the meadow brown and red admiral "a good start", he said. More than three quarters of the UK's butterflies have declined in the last 40 years, with numbers falling quicker in towns and cities, experts say. Sir David, president of Butterfly Conservation, said that despite a warm summer last year, species like the small tortoiseshell, peacock, meadow brown and gatekeeper had seen numbers fall due to a warm winter and a subsequent cold spring.
7-14-17 What a crow knows
What a crow knows
Crows are incredibly clever birds, capable of using tools and recognizing faces, says writer James Ross Gardner. Researchers have even found that crows mourn their dead and hold ‘funerals.’ Swift, a Ph.D. candidate, is a member of UW’s nationally acclaimed Avian Conservation Lab. If you’ve heard or read a news story in the past decade about Corvus brachyrhynchos—aka the American crow—and what science has to say about its confounding habits and aptitude, there’s a good chance it was thanks to the work conducted by the lab, which is led by a man named John Marzluff. The UW professor and wildlife biologist is the author of numerous popular books on the subject. In 2008, Marzluff and his fellow researchers made national headlines when they tested a hypothesis—that crows recognize individual human faces—by donning Dick Cheney masks. That led to another revelation: Crows teach other crows to detest specific people (and sometimes attack them). This, according to Swift, is what it’s like to attend a crow funeral—an instinctive ritual that evolved generations ago and was just discovered by humans; Swift co-authored an article on her findings in the journal Animal Behaviour in 2015. The gist: Upon spotting one of its dead, the flock attends to the fallen bird en masse with loud shrieking. Given enough time, the throng will mob any predator it thinks is responsible, like, say, a human in a Dick Cheney mask, or in a mask like the one Swift had in her bag. (The lab affectionately refers to that be-soul-patched fellow as Joe.) (Webmaster's comment: The entire article is very much worth reading.)
7-13-17 Ravens pass tests of planning ahead in unnatural tasks
Ravens pass tests of planning ahead in unnatural tasks
Challenges not found in nature strengthen case that certain birds evolved some apelike thinking. Ravens may have a birdlike version of the power to plan ahead — as apes do. Ravens have passed what may be their toughest tests yet of powers that, at least on a good day, let people and other apes plan ahead. Lab-dwelling common ravens (Corvus corax) in Sweden at least matched the performance of nonhuman apes and young children in peculiar tests of advanced planning ability. The birds faced such challenges as selecting a rock useless at the moment but likely to be useful for working a puzzle box and getting food later. Ravens also reached apelike levels of self-control, picking a tool instead of a ho-hum treat when the tool would eventually allow them to get a fabulous bit of kibble 17 hours later, Mathias Osvath and Can Kabadayi of Lund University in Sweden report in the July 14 Science. (Webmaster's comment: Let's turn this around. Birds are much more ancient than apes. Apes may have a apelike version of the power to plan ahead — as Ravens do and probably have done for ten's of millions of years.)
7-13-17 Ravens can plan for future as well as 4-year-old children can
Ravens can plan for future as well as 4-year-old children can
The smart birds seem to have evolved this flexible cognitive ability independently from hominids as the two lineages diverged about 320 million years ago. Ravens can plan for future events at least as well as 4-year-old humans and some adult, non-human great apes. The birds did this in tasks they wouldn’t encounter in the wild, so it isn’t an adaptation to an ecological niche, but rather a flexible cognitive ability that evolved independently in birds and hominids, whose lineages diverged about 320 million years ago. Planning for future events requires the use of long-term memory for some anticipated future gain. For a long time, it was thought to be a uniquely human trait. Children begin showing such abilities when they are about 4. But it turned out that chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans have this ability too, making tools to use later on. In 2007, researchers at the University of Cambridge showed that scrub jays can cache food in places where they anticipate being hungry the next morning. While the behaviour is flexible and requires planning, some argued that it might be an adaptation specific to caching food, which scrub jays and other members of the crow family do habitually, says Mathias Osvath of Lund University, Sweden.
7-13-17 UK animal experiments fall by 5% - annual figures
UK animal experiments fall by 5% - annual figures
Home Office annual figures report that animal experiments carried out in the UK fell by 5% in 2016. The statistics show that 3.94 million procedures were carried out in the course of scientific research - a fall of 206,000 on 2015. Some 51% of the total figure was accounted for by experiments and 49% relates to the breeding of genetically modified animals for research. A charity called on the government to curb "out-of-control" animal breeding. Troy Seidle of Humane Society International said: "We've witnessed this trend toward out-of-control breeding of genetically modified animals developing for more than a decade, and have repeatedly called on the Home Office to take action." Between 2007 and 2016, the number of procedures increased by 23%. The rise in breeding of genetically altered animals was largely responsible for the increase. Of the 2.02 million experimental procedures completed in 2016, the majority involved mice (60%), fish (14%), rats (12%), and birds (7%). As of 2014, the Home Office statistics contain information on the severity of procedures carried out on animals. This year, the majority of experimental procedures (46%) were classed as "mild". This compares with 51% of experiments being categorised as mild the previous year. The proportion of experiments classed as severe (6%) did not change compared with the previous year's figures. The procedures involving specially protected species, such as horses; dogs; cats; and non-human primates, accounted for 0.9% (18,000) of procedures in 2016.(Webmaster's comment: Is all this slaughter really justified?)
7-13-17 Blue whale takes centre-stage at Natural History Museum
Blue whale takes centre-stage at Natural History Museum
London's Natural History Museum (NHM) has undergone a major revamp with a blue whale skeleton now forming the main exhibit as visitors come through the front door. The marine mammal replaces the much-loved Diplodocus dinosaur, "Dippy", which will soon head out on a tour of the UK. The museum believes the change will give its image a refresh. It wants to be known more for its living science than its old fossils. The museum employs hundreds of researchers who engage in active study on a day-to-day basis. Yes, they use the 80 million-odd specimens kept at the South Kensington institution, but their focus is on learning new things that bear down on the modern world. In that sense, the blue whale is regarded as the perfect emblem. The specimen is being given the name "Hope" as a "symbol of humanity's power to shape a sustainable future". Blue whales are now making a recovery following decades of exploitation that nearly drove them out of existence.
7-12-17 Whales sneak into shallow water to eat salmon from hatcheries
Whales sneak into shallow water to eat salmon from hatcheries
Humpbacks have been spotted feeding on baby salmon bred for release into the wild to restock fisheries for the first time, competing with fishermen. No such thing as a free lunch? Not so for these whales. Humpback whales in south-east Alaska seem to have found their own chain of fast food restaurants: salmon hatcheries. While making a good meal for the whales, the habit may prove harmful to the local fishing industry. Hatcheries aren’t fish farms, but salmon nurseries. The idea is that the juvenile fish released into the ocean from the hatcheries increase the number of salmon available to catch without leading to overfishing of the wild stocks. Wild salmon spend the first part of their lives in streams where competition is fierce and many don’t make it. Hatcheries make sure enough salmon survive this crucial life stage, breeding them in captivity for six to 18 months before releasing them into the wild. Ellen Chenoweth at the University of Alaska Fairbanks first became interested in humpbacks feeding on juvenile salmon when she saw videos that hatchery staff had taken of whales swimming close to their hatchery’s release sites to feed. Normally whales feed at depth, out of sight, which makes their feeding habits difficult to study. They filter water through their baleen to catch krill and small fish – but seem to be equally at home around these new, human-made shallow hatcheries. “Whales are fascinating: mammals like us, but perfectly at home in an alien environment,” she says.
7-12-17 Swinging birds play with rhythm like jazz musicians
Swinging birds play with rhythm like jazz musicians
At least a handful of species of birds swing as they sing, playing with the timing in their songs in a similar way to jazz performers. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, goes the Duke Ellington song. By that logic, some bird songs really do mean something: at least a few bird species can swing in the same way that human musicians do, New Scientist can reveal. This claim has been made based on a mathematical analysis of the songs of one species, the thrush nightingale. Not all of the musicians New Scientist spoke to agree that what the thrush nightingale is doing can be called swing – but several said they have heard other species of birds singing that definitely do swing. The most swinging birdsong of all is that of the veery thrush of North America, says musician and author David Rothenburg of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. This is hard to hear at normal speed, but when the veery’s song is slowed down you can spot how it sings a long note followed by a short one, and then repeats this pattern. In the narrowest sense, swing means delaying the off-beat, says jazz composer and drummer Stuart Brown. This means pairs of notes are played long-short instead of being of equal duration. Dum dum dum dum becomes dum-da, dum-da.
7-12-17 Large carnivores have lost more than 90 per cent of their range
Large carnivores have lost more than 90 per cent of their range
The hunting grounds of lions, tigers and the red and Ethiopian wolves have shrunk dramatically in the past 500 years, but a few species aren't doing as badly. Lions, tigers and the red and Ethiopian wolves have lost more than 90 per cent of their hunting grounds in the past 500 years. But while these charismatic hunters are up against it, hyenas are doing much better, finds the first global study of the ranges of big terrestrial hunters. Chris Wolf and William Ripple at Oregon State University looked at historical accounts of large carnivores and maps of their preferred habitat around AD 1500, and found that they are now present in just a third of the land area they occupied back then. Of the 25 species analysed, all weighing more than 15 kilograms, 15 had lost more than half their range. Up to nine of these species once roamed South and South-East Asia, but today large areas have lost them all. The smallest declines were in the tundra and northern forests, where the relative scarcity of humans gives bears and wolves space to hunt. Most of the big beasts are now skulking on the margins of their former ranges, making them more vulnerable to extinction, says Wolf. But there are exceptions.
7-12-17 Can a robot help solve the Atlantic's lionfish problem?
Can a robot help solve the Atlantic's lionfish problem?
Robots in Service of the Environment has designed an underwater robot to combat a growing problem in the Atlantic Ocean: the invasive lionfish.
7-12-17 Ants build living towers that flow like a fountain in reverse
Ants build living towers that flow like a fountain in reverse
The rules that guide fire ants to make tall towers with their own bodies could be applied to miniature search-and-rescue robots. Some fire ants build towers of their own bodies in an amazing display of acrobatics and collective intelligence. Even more surprisingly, ants circulate through the tower while keeping its overall shape constant, overcoming a tendency for it to sink. The fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), which are found in wetlands, link together to build living rafts to keep the colony afloat during floods. When the water recedes, they cling to exposed plants and form a tower as a temporary shelter until they have a chance to build an underground nest. Craig Tovey of Georgia Tech and colleagues set up a camera to study how the ants build such a tower, and accidentally left it rolling for an hour after it was built. Since the tower appeared to be static once built, they thought the footage would be worthless. But when a PhD student watched it back at 10 times normal speed, he noticed that the middle of the tower was slowly sinking. “When you speed it up, the ants on the surface are a blur and underneath the blur you can see the slow sinking movement of the tower,” says Tovey.
7-12-17 Spider waves its front legs like antennae to mimic warlike ants
Spider waves its front legs like antennae to mimic warlike ants
This sneaky jumping spider performs antics to fool predators in what is an unusual example of mimicry through behaviour, rather than appearance. Get those legs in the air. By mimicking how an ant looks and moves, this spider avoids being eaten by other spiders and insects. “Ants are remarkably well-defended animals,” says Paul Shamble, now at Harvard University, who co-led the work while at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “Ants bite, some sting, many have potent chemical defences such as formic acid, and they tend to be quite aggressive, plus they can often recruit similarly well-armed nest mates.” Shamble’s team recorded high-speed video footage revealing that this jumping spider (Myrmarachne formicaria), also known as the ant-jumper, walks on all eight legs but repeatedly stops – just for about a tenth of a second – and raises its front two legs to make them resemble ant antennae. “Potential predators, whose visual systems are slow, cannot distinguish these stops, but do see the legs go up which, as we suggest, strengthens the mimicry show,” says team member Tsevi Beatus, now at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.
7-11-17 Whales feast when hatcheries release salmon
Whales feast when hatcheries release salmon
Crowded prey makes humpback whale feeding worth the effort — and helps explain a whale innovation: going out to dinner at fish hatcheries. Humpback whales, those innovative foodies, have discovered their own pop-up restaurants. Migrant humpbacks returning to southeastern Alaska in spring are the first of their kind known to make routine visits to fish hatcheries releasing young salmon into the sea, says marine ecologist Ellen Chenoweth. The whales are “40 feet long and they’re feeding on fish that are the size of my finger,” says Chenoweth, of the Juneau fisheries center of University of Alaska Fairbanks. For tiny prey to be worthwhile to humpbacks, it’s good to find crowds — such as young salmon streaming out of hatchery nets. Six years of systematic observations of whales at five hatcheries at Baranof Island reveal a pattern of humpbacks visiting during springtime releases, Chenoweth and her colleagues report June 12 in Royal Society Open Science. (Webmaster's comment: They've just learned where the food is.)
7-10-17 Spiders lure bees for dinner by making flowers look flashier
Spiders lure bees for dinner by making flowers look flashier
Crab spiders that sit on flowers and reflect UV light could be attracting bees, making them easier prey. Ambush hunters normally rely on the element of surprise, opting to stay hidden until the moment of attack. But some spiders go for a flashier strategy. They reflect UV light, which makes the flowers they sit on appealing to bees – a bizarre strategy that has evolved multiple times in crab spiders, which ambush their prey instead of catching it in webs. Felipe Gawryszewski at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil and his team collected individuals from 68 species of crab spider in Australia, Europe and Malaysia. All of the species hunted insects using a sit, wait and pounce strategy, but some did so on drab substrates like bark and leaves while others hunted on flowers. Using genetic information from all these species, the team pieced together a “family tree”, which showed that the flower-based hunting strategy evolved multiple times. What’s more, flower-dwelling crab spiders reflected more UV light than non-flower dwellers. This appears to be an effective hunting strategy as bees are more likely to visit flowers when UV-reflecting spiders are perched atop them.
7-6-17 Elephant tourism is 'fuelling cruelty'
Elephant tourism is 'fuelling cruelty'
Millions of people want selfies riding elephants, or washing them, or patting their trunks. But according to a study carried out by World Animal Protection (WAP) across Asia this is helping to fuel a rise in elephants captured from the wild and kept for entertainment. The number in Thailand has increased by almost a third over the last five years. WAP researchers assessed almost 3,000 elephants and found that more than three quarters were living in "severely cruel" conditions. Many were bound with chains less than 3m long and were forced to stand on concrete floors close to loud roads, crowds and music. Some 160 travel companies have already committed to stop selling tickets to or promoting venues offering elephant rides and shows. In 2016, TripAdvisor announced that it would end the sale of tickets for wildlife experiences where tourists come in to direct contact with wild animals, including elephant riding. Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, Global Wildlife and veterinary adviser at World Animal Protection (WAP), said: "The cruel trend of elephants used for rides and shows is growing - we want tourists to know that many of these elephants are taken from their mothers as babies, forced to endure harsh training and suffer poor living conditions throughout their life. "There is an urgent need for tourist education and regulation of wildlife tourist attractions worldwide. Venues that offer tourists a chance to watch elephants in genuine sanctuaries are beacons of hope that can encourage the urgently-needed shift in the captive elephant tourism industry." (Webmaster's comment: BY WHAT RIGHT! This is part of the EVIL Christian teaching that man has dominion over animals!)
7-3-17 Cuckoos mimic the sound of musk hogs to avoid being eaten
Cuckoos mimic the sound of musk hogs to avoid being eaten
The ground cuckoo makes a noise very similar to that used by pig-like peccaries to warn off predatory cats, which could be evidence of acoustic mimicry. Bird or beast? A cuckoo seems to have learned how to mimic the sounds made by the pig-like peccaries it lives alongside, perhaps to ward off predators. The Neomorphus ground cuckoos live in forests in Central and South America, where they often follow herds of wild peccaries so they can feed on the invertebrates that the peccaries disturb as they plough through the leaf litter. Ecologists have noticed that when the cuckoos clap their beaks together they sound a lot like the tooth clacks the peccaries make to deter large predatory cats. To find out whether this is just coincidence or evidence of mimicry, Cibele Biondo at the Federal University of ABC in Brazil and her team analysed the cuckoo and peccary sounds, and compared them with the beak clapping sounds made by roadrunners – close relatives of the ground cuckoos. Logically, the cuckoos should sound most similar to roadrunners, given that the two are closely related. But the analysis suggested otherwise. “The acoustic characteristics are more similar to the teeth clacking of peccaries,” says Biondo.
7-1-17 Vaquita porpoise: Dolphins deployed to save rare species
Vaquita porpoise: Dolphins deployed to save rare species
Mexico's government says it plans to use dolphins trained by the US Navy to try to save the world's most endangered marine species, the vaquita porpoise. Environment Minister Rafael Pacchiano said that the dolphins would be deployed to locate and herd vaquitas into a marine refuge. Mexico also permanently banned fishing nets blamed for the vaquitas' decline. Scientists estimate that fewer than 40 of the mammals are still alive in their habitat, in the Gulf of California. Mr Pacchiano said the dolphin project would begin in September. "We've spent the past year working alongside the US Navy with a group of dolphins they had trained to search for missing scuba divers," he told Formula radio. "We've been training them to locate the vaquitas. "We have to guarantee we capture the largest possible number of vaquitas to have an opportunity to save them." The Mexican government also said on Friday it was imposing a permanent ban on gillnets, used to catch totaba, which are highly valued in Chinese traditional medicine. The nets are designed to trap the heads of fish but not their bodies, but are blamed for trapping and killing the porpoises as well.
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