32 Animal Intelligence News Articles
for February of 2018
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
2-16-18 Ants practice combat triage and nurse their injured
Mildly injured ants may overact their disabilities to get rescued. No wounded left behind — not quite. Ants that have evolved battlefield medevac carry only the moderately wounded home to the nest. There, those lucky injured fighters get fast and effective wound care. Insect colonies seething with workers may seem unlikely to stage elaborate rescues of individual fighters. Yet for Matabele ants (Megaponera analis) in sub-Saharan Africa — with a mere 1,000 to 2,000 nest mates — treating the wounded can be worth it, says behavioral ecologist Erik Frank at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Tales of self-medication pop up across the animal kingdom. For Matabele ants, however, nest cameras plus survival tests show insects treating other adults and improving their chances of survival, he and colleagues report February 14 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. For treatment boosting others’ survival, Frank says, the closest documented example is humans. In Ivory Coast, Frank studied Matabele ant colonies that staged three to five termite hunts a day. He and colleagues at the University of Würzburg in Germany published research last year showing that members of a hunting party carry injured comrades home.
2-16-18 We thought gorillas only walked on their knuckles. We were wrong
Modern gorillas can walk in a variety of styles, not just the famous “knuckle-walking”, suggesting our common ancestor was similarly resourceful. Our ape ancestors might have been more versatile than we’ve given them credit for. A study of modern gorillas suggests that the common ancestor we share with them may have been able to walk in a variety of ways, not just one or two. Within the last 20 million years, our ancestors split from those of orangutans. Later, we also branched off from the African great apes: first gorillas, then chimpanzees and bonobos. However, we do not know what our common ancestors with these species looked like. One long-standing question is how our ape ancestors moved around, because understanding that would help us understand how our two-legged method of walking evolved. For many years, it was thought that the common ancestors were knuckle-walkers: they walked on all fours, putting much of their weight on the knuckles of their hands. However, more recent evidence suggests that bipedalism evolved early, in the tree-dwelling ancestor we share with orangutans, and not out of knuckle-walking. Now it is being suggested that our ape ancestors had many options at their disposal. A team led by Sergio Almécija of the George Washington University set up high-speed cameras to track mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the forests of Uganda and Rwanda. Over 7 weeks, they filmed 77 gorillas: 8 per cent of the known population.
2-16-18 '100,000 orangutans' killed in 16 years
More than 100,000 Critically Endangered orangutans have been killed in Borneo since 1999, research has revealed. Scientists who carried out a 16-year survey on the island described the figure as "mind-boggling". Deforestation, driven by logging, oil palm, mining and paper mills, continues to be the main culprit. But the research, published in the journal Current Biology, also revealed that animals were "disappearing" from areas that remained forested. This implied large numbers of orangutans were simply being slaughtered, said lead researcher Maria Voigt of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. Dr Voigt and her colleagues say the animals are being targeted by hunters and are being killed in retaliation for crop-raiding - a threat that has been previously underestimated. Prof Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University, UK, also part of the team, told BBC News: "We didn't expect the losses to be so large in standing forest, so these [studies] confirm that hunting is a major issue." "When these animals come into conflict with people on the edge of a plantation, they are always on the losing end. People will kill them. "Just last week, we had a report of an orangutan that had 130 pellets in its body, after being shot at in Borneo. "It's shocking and it's unnecessary. Orangutans might eat farmers' fruit, but they are not dangerous." Prof Wich called for leaders in Malaysia and Indonesia to speak out against this deliberate targeting of the apes. But the research also showed that natural resources were still being exploited in Borneo "at an unsustainable rate". Deforestation alone, the researchers predict, could wipe out a further 45,000 orangutans over the next 35 years.
2-15-18 People are slaughtering orangutans and wiping them out
The population of Bornean orangutans fell by almost half in just 16 years, and it was not a sad by-product of deforestation: many apes were killed deliberately. Borneo’s orangutan population has halved in just 16 years. Worse, it was not a tragic by-product of the growth of farming, as many had believed. Instead, most of the lost orangutans were deliberately killed. “It’s not a good picture,” says study leader Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. “We really need to acknowledge that killing of orangutans is a big issue.” His team studied Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), which as the name suggests live on the island of Borneo in South East Asia. There are two other species of orangutan, both confined to the neighbouring island of Sumatra. Wich and his colleagues gathered data from surveys of Bornean orangutan nests between 1999 and 2015, performed by 38 conservation and research organisations. Orangutans make fresh nests to sleep in each night, so counting nests gives a good measure of orangutan numbers. In 1999, surveyors spotted an average of 23 nests for every kilometre they walked through the forest. But by 2015 they only saw 10 nests per kilometre. Based on that, Wich’s team estimates that the Bornean orangutan population fell from around 300,000 to 150,000. In all, an estimated 148,500 animals were lost over the 16-year period. It has been widely assumed that the main threat to Bornean orangutans is the destruction of their forest habitat, due to deforestation and the expansion of oil palm plantations. But this proved incorrect. The team found that habitat loss to plantations and logging accounted for only 10 per cent of the decline.
2-15-18 In Borneo, hunting emerges as a key threat to endangered orangutans
Humans target the apes for food, or to prevent them from raiding crops, scientists say. Orangutan numbers on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo plummeted from 1999 to 2015, more as a result of human hunting than habitat loss, an international research team finds. Over those 16 years, Borneo’s orangutan population declined by about 148,500 individuals. A majority of those losses occurred in the intact or selectively logged forests where most orangutans live, primatologist Maria Voigt of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues report February 15 in Current Biology. “Orangutan killing is likely the number one threat to orangutans,” says study coauthor Serge Wich, a biologist and ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University in England. Humans hunt the forest-dwelling apes for food, or to prevent them from raiding crops, the investigators say. People also kill adult orangutans to steal their babies for the international pet trade. Between 70,000 and roughly 100,000 orangutans currently live on Borneo, Wich says. That’s substantially higher than previous population estimates. The new figures are based on the most extensive survey to date, using ground and air monitoring of orangutans’ tree nests. Orangutans live only on Borneo and the island of Sumatra and are endangered in both places.
2-15-18 Invasion of the mutant, clone crayfish
An all-female species of mutant crayfish that can reproduce without mating is taking over lakes and rivers around the world. The marbled crayfish first came to scientists’ attention in the 1990s, when a German aquarium owner bought a bag of “Texas crayfish” from an American pet trader, and found his tank suddenly filling up with the creatures. Researchers discovered that the baby crayfish were all females, and that the species was reproducing through cloning. The self-replicating crayfish weren’t confined to aquariums, reports NationalGeographic?.com. Dumped in the wild by their owners, the creatures thrived in freshwater ecosystems in countries as diverse as Germany, Japan, and Madagascar, where they are displacing native crayfish. A team of scientists has now sequenced the creature’s genomes and discovered that a sex cell mutation in a single slough crayfish—a species native to Florida and Georgia—likely created the marbled crayfish some 25 years ago. When that mutant crayfish mated, it produced a female with three sets of chromosomes instead of the usual two (one inherited from each parent). This first marbled crayfish was able to make clones of itself with eggs unfertilized by sperm, a trick that has helped the species reproduce rapidly and spread across the planet. “That one animal founded the whole species,” said study co-author Wolfgang Stein, “and now we have billions worldwide.”
2-15-18 Say ‘hi’ to talking orcas
Killer whales have been known to mimic the clicks of dolphins and the barks of sea lions—and now they’ve added human speech to their repertoire. To test the aquatic mammal’s vocal abilities, scientists in France worked with a captive 14-year-old female orca named Wikie, who had already been taught a gesture commanding her to “copy” her trainer’s actions, reports TheGuardian?.com. Wikie was asked to repeat human words, including “hello,” “bye-bye,” “one, two, three,” and “Amy.” She said “hello” and “one, two, three” on her first attempt, but other words took longer to master. The feat was especially impressive because unlike humans, who use their larynx, tongue, and lips to speak, orcas make sounds by pushing air through their blowholes. “Even though the morphology [of orcas] is so different,” says study co-author Josep Call, “they can still produce a sound that comes close to what another species, in this case us, can produce.” The research suggests that killer whales might learn vocal patterns from one another in the wild, which could explain why different pods have their own distinct dialects.
2-15-18 Strong winds send migrating seal pups on lengthier trips
The animals may suffer higher rates of mortality in breezy years as a result. Native American fishermen in Alaska have long said that seal pups go with the wind rather than struggle against it. Now, a new study confirms that wisdom. Migrating northern fur seal pups travel hundreds of kilometers farther in blustery years than in milder years, researchers reported February 14 at the American Geophysical Union’s Ocean Sciences meeting. Those epic journeys may be linked to pup deaths. At 4 months old, the pups are weaned and begin a voyage from the Pribilof Islands of Alaska through the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean that can last for 20 months before they return to the islands. Physical oceanographer Noel Pelland and colleagues compared the migrations of 168 seal pups tagged in five different years from 1996 to 2015 with winds matching the pups’ first migration years. Winds were simulated using data from the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction. On average, the pups moved farther downwind when wind speeds were higher, and tended to move to the right of the wind direction — likely following wind-driven ocean currents. Tagging data lasted 130 days on average, but whether the pups died or the tags fell off is unknown. That makes it difficult to draw a definitive link to mortality, says Pelland of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. Still, the lengthier, more physically challenging journeys in some years may explain why populations of these northern fur seals — considered “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act — have not rebounded in recent decades despite a hunting ban.
2-15-18 Bats’ hairy tongues are perfectly adapted for lapping up nectar
If you're a greedy bat, it helps to have a hairy tongue. The hairs will ensure that you can slurp as much nectar as possible from flowers into your mouth. Some bats use their hairy tongues to slurp up nectar from flowers, and now we know why they’re so good at drinking. The spacing of their tongue hairs has evolved to be almost exactly optimal for sucking up as much nectar as possible. To figure out how the hair-like protuberances on a bat’s tongue help it drink, Alice Nasto at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her colleagues molded rubbery surfaces with differently-spaced nubs on them, and dipped the model tongues into a viscous oil. As they pulled these artificial bat tongues out of the oil, they took pictures to determine how the liquid was flowing out of the forest of hairs and then weighed them to find out how much liquid was left behind. “Their hairs allow them to take out 10 times more liquid than they would be able to if they didn’t have any hairs on their tongue,” Nasto says. It works much like a honey dipper – channels carved into wood trap the honey and force it to flow more slowly, allowing you to transport more honey from the jar onto your toast. Hairs on bat tongues work the same way.
2-14-18 Drone captures humpback whales catching krill with bubbles
A HUMPBACK whale surfaces, its mouth distended with krill and thousands of litres of water. It is the final stage of bubble-net hunting, a sophisticated technique employed by these huge mammals. A whale and its partner, visible just below the water’s surface, have together created a trap for the krill – their main food source – by swimming around exhaling columns of bubbles through their blowholes. The spiral of columns surrounds the crustaceans, creating a barrier they are unwilling to swim through. They move close together, and that’s when the whales dive, turn and swim upwards into the krill, mouths gaping. It is an effective strategy, but not well understood. A drone took this photo as part of a project led by David Johnston of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, to learn more about the whales’ behaviour. A laser altimeter fitted to the drone allows his team to calculate its altitude and thus the sizes of the whales and their bubble nets. The picture was taken about 200 kilometres off the western Antarctic Peninsula. The whales feed here all summer, building up supplies of fat. They need to, because they then migrate to their breeding grounds in the Gulf of Panama and will not eat again until they return to the Antarctic, six months later.
2-14-18 Look to penguins to track Antarctic changes
Shifts in food webs and climate are written in penguin feathers and eggshells. Penguins preserve records of Antarctic environmental change. The birds’ feathers and eggshells contain the chemical fingerprints of variations in diet, food web structure and even climate, researchers reported February 12 at the American Geophysical Union’s 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting. The Antarctic environment has changed dramatically in recent decades. Overfishing has led to a decline in krill, small swimming crustaceans that are a key food source for birds, whales, fish and penguins in the Southern Ocean. Climate change is altering wind directions, creating open water regions in the sea ice that become hot spots for life. These changes have cascading effects on food webs and on the cycling of nutrients. “Penguins are excellent bioarchives of this change,” says Kelton McMahon, an oceanic ecogeochemist at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. Penguins are at the heart of the Antarctic food web, and their tissues are known to capture details about what they’ve eaten. Different food sources contain different proportions of carbon and nitrogen isotopes, forms of the elements with different numbers of neutrons. For example, food sources such as krill and fish have different amounts of nitrogen-15 relative to nitrogen-14. The tissues of penguins, such as feathers and eggshells, preserve these proportions.
2-14-18 Dirty talk: How pollution is snuffing out plants’ scent messages
Plants use a fragrant language but filthy air is messing with their communication lines, which might explain why insects are in decline and roses are losing their scent. IN THE classic post-apocalyptic novel The Day of the Triffids, giant carnivorous plants terrorise humanity. Triffids can walk and are equipped with venomous stingers, but their real power lies in their ability to communicate and so plot against us. It sounds far-fetched, but since John Wyndham’s book was published in 1951, one aspect of this fiction has proved to be science fact: plants do talk to one another. If you stroll through a forest and take a deep breath, you can smell the “words” – complex volatile chemicals such as beta-pinene, which smells fresh and piney. Plants produce thousands of these, combining them to create “sentences”. However, this fragrant language is under threat. Air pollution is disrupting floral scents, turning their messages into gibberish. Not only is this having an impact on plants’ abilities to survive, it is also bad news for pollinating insects – and for us, because it affects everything from crop yields to the smell of our favourite flowers. Luckily, there is a way we can help our botanical friends fight back. It has long been known that insects such as pollinators and pests can distinguish between plants by the unique bouquet of chemicals they release. What’s new is the idea that plants use their emissions to talk among themselves. “Plants release volatile chemicals into the atmosphere – these can be viewed as a language in the sense that a plant releasing the chemicals can be viewed as ‘speaking’ and the plant receiving them as ‘listening’ and then responding,” says chemical ecologist James Blande at the University of Eastern Finland.
2-14-18 AI does grunt work on China's pig farms
Artificial intelligence technology has been developed to help piglets survive their first months - and then to decide which sows to kill. The scheme is being rolled out in China, the world's biggest producer and consumer of pork. It marks the latest deployment of tech giant Alibaba's ET Brain cloud computing service. China's pig industry is notoriously inefficient, but one expert said the tech could also prove useful elsewhere. For now, the trial is limited to the country's Sichuan province. Alibaba teamed up with local feed provider Sichuan Tequ and the farming group Dekon to develop the solution. It claims that it should on average lead a sow to rear three additional offspring a year, and reduce the death rate by 3%. The system is designed to maintain a profile of each animal, including details of their weight, age, food intake and exercise, among other details. Vision recognition software - which relies on a number tattooed onto each swine's side - is used to keep track of each pig. The sounds of their squeals are analysed to try to determine if any of the young ones are at risk of being suffocated under their mothers' weight. The AI tech also listens out for coughs, which along with infrared temperature readings are used to act as an early warning system for disease outbreaks. This should help farmers know when to provide specialised vaccinations. And when the technology detects a sow's productivity rate has fallen below the norm it suggests she is slaughtered. As China's meat consumption continues to rise, Tequ said the tech was necessary to help farmers keep track of their livestock. "If you have 10 million pigs to raise, you can barely count how many piglets were born on a daily basis when the due date comes," said chief information officer, Zhang Haifeng. (Webmaster's comment: Again China takes the lead.)
2-14-18 Study debunks fishy tale of how rabbits were first tamed
A pope’s proclamation that bunnies are fish, so can be eaten for Lent may never have happened. Domesticated bunnies may need a new origin story. Researchers thought they knew when rabbits were tamed. An often-cited tale holds that monks in Southern France domesticated rabbits after Pope Gregory issued a proclamation in A.D. 600 that fetal rabbits, called laurices, are fish and therefore can be eaten during Lent. There’s just one problem: The story isn’t true. Not only does the legend offer little logic for rabbits being fish, but the proclamation itself is bogus, according to a new study of rabbit domestication. “Pope Gregory never said anything about rabbits or laurices, and there is no evidence they were ever considered ‘fish,’” says Evan Irving-Pease, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford. He and his colleagues discovered that scientists had mixed up Pope Gregory with St. Gregory of Tours. St. Gregory made a passing reference to a man named Roccolenus who in “the days of holy Lent … often ate young rabbits.” The misattribution somehow led to the story of rabbits’ domestication.
2-14-18 Ants care for wounded comrades by licking their wounds clean
If a Matabele ant loses a limb in a battle with termites, its nestmates will tend its injuries - a behaviour never before seen in any non-human animal. A species of ant has become the first known non-human animal to tend the wounds of its fellows. “Nurse” ants lick the wounds of fallen comrades, and this helps them survive. Matabele ants (Megaponera analis) live dangerous lives. Several times a day, parties of 200-600 soldier ants set out to hunt termites, dragging them from their nests and carrying them home. The termites fight back, and their powerful jaws can administer lethal bites, so Matabele ants frequently lose one or more limbs. In 2017, Erik Frank, then at the University of Würzburg, Germany reported that Matabele ants routinely carry their wounded back to the nest. This is odd, as social insects usually treat each other as expendable. The injured ants could “ask” for help by releasing a pheromone, which caused other ants to pick them up and carry them. In a new study Frank, now at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and his colleagues have filmed what happens inside the nest when the injured are brought in. The footage shows “nurse” ants spend several minutes licking their fallen comrades’ wounds. An experiment in which some ants were denied this licking suggests it is a lifesaver. Without it, 80% of ants who had lost limbs died within a few hours. Of those that received medical care, 90% survived. “We don’t know yet if the ants are just cleaning the wound and removing debris, as we do with our wounds to prevent infection, or if they are also applying antimicrobial substances with their saliva,” says Frank. Either way, the treatment works. “The ants are able to reach running speeds similar to healthy ants, despite missing a leg or two,” says Frank. The team also tracked the ants’ raiding parties and found they could tell which injured soldiers were worth saving and which were a lost cause. “The ants were selective in who they picked up,” says Frank. “They didn’t want to help heavily injured ants who had lost 5 legs.” (Webmaster's comment: They even perform triage. Amazing!)
2-13-18 Expedition to uncover hidden life in mystery Antarctic realm
In July 2017 a huge iceberg broke away from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf, revealing a marine world that was concealed for thousands of years. AN EXPEDITION to an unexplored, newly revealed Antarctic ecosystem began this week. An international team set off to study a mysterious area of the ocean that has been concealed for thousands of years. The ecosystem was hidden under the Larsen C ice shelf for 120,000 years. It was exposed when a huge iceberg calved off in July last year. The iceberg, known as A68, is four times the size of London, and weighs in at around 1 trillion tonnes. It is one of the largest ever recorded. Katrin Linse of the British Antarctic Survey, who is leading the scientists, says she wants to investigate the marine life on the seabed, which covers 5800 square kilometres. “It’s important we get there quickly, before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonise,” she says. The team plans to collect animals, microbes and plankton, as well as samples of water and sediments, and will record the movements of marine mammals and birds into the area.
2-13-18 Shipping noise can disturb porpoises and disrupt their mealtime
Researchers tagged seven porpoises with sensors that were attached via suction cups, which detached harmlessly after about a day. Harbor porpoises are frequently exposed to sounds from shipping vessels that register at around 100 decibels, about as loud as a lawnmower, scientists report February 14 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Sounds this loud can cause porpoises to stop echolocation, which they use to catch food. While high-frequency submarine sonar has been found to harm whales (SN: 4/23/11, p. 16), low-frequency noise from shipping vessels is responsible for most human-made noise in the ocean, the researchers say. Porpoises have poor hearing in lower frequencies, so it was unclear if they were affected. In the first study to assess the effects of shipping vessel noise on porpoises, researchers tagged seven harbor porpoises off the coast of Denmark with sensors that tracked the animals’ movement and echolocation usage in response to underwater noise over about 20 hours. One ship created a 130 decibel noise — twice as loud as a chainsaw — that caused a porpoise to flee at top speed. These initial results indicate that ship noise could affect how much food porpoises hunt and consume.
2-12-18 New crayfish that doesn't need males to mate becomes all-powerful
A new species of all-female crayfish able to reproduce without males is multiplying rapidly and invading ecosystems across the world. A new study found that the marbled crayfish is descended from a single female with a mutation that allows it to reproduce by itself. The self-cloning creatures are for sale in Canada, despite a warning against keeping the pests as pets. The ten-legged mutant is already banned by the European Union. Procambarus virginalis did not exist three decades ago but they have now been found in the wild in Japan, Madagascar, Sweden and the US. A new study published in Nature, Ecology and Evolution describes the invasive species as a threat to wild ones, including seven native species in Madagascar. "If you have one animal, essentially, three months later, you will have 200 or 300," Dr Wolfgang Stein, one of the researchers, told Canadian public broadcaster CBC. Curiously, by studying the freshwater crayfish's successful ability to self-clone, scientists may be able to better understand how cancer spreads. While there is not yet a wild population of marbled crayfish in Canada, the department of fisheries and oceans warned that it would be illegal to release any unwanted crayfish into the wild. "Based on what is known about the reproductive behaviour of the marbled crayfish, we do not recommend Canadians keep these animals as pets," Becky Cudmore, of the fisheries and oceans department, told CBC.
2-9-18 Birds ‘dream sing’ by moving their vocal muscles in their sleep
Zebra finches sing during the day, and at night while they sleep their vocal organs act out the motions of singing, a bit like a sleepwalking person. Practice, they say, makes perfect. Zebra finches are such dedicated musicians that they appear to rehearse their songs during sleep. It has been known for some time that, while zebra finches sleep, their brains spontaneously reproduce the activation patterns they make when they sing during the day. Now it seems the birds’ vocal muscles actually move in response to these neural signals. Gabriel Mindlin of the University of Buenos Aires and his colleagues surgically attached electrodes to the vocal muscles of ten zebra finches. In a study published in November, they observed spontaneous twitching similar to that detected during daytime singing (PeerJ, doi.org/ckb9). However, the song patterns detected were highly variable. It was as if the muscles were rehearsing alternate versions of the songs. In a second study posted online in January, the team found they could trigger these night-time movements in one vocal muscle, simply by playing songs to the birds while they slept. They tried this with recordings of the birds’ own songs as well as synthetic versions of the melodies.
2-8-18 Trove of hummingbird flight data reveals secrets of nimble flying
Trove of hummingbird flight data reveals secrets of nimble flying. Lab-grade flight tracking has gone wild, creating a broad new way of studying some of the flashiest of natural acrobats, wild hummingbirds. One of the findings: Bigger hummingbird species don’t seem handicapped by their size when it comes to agility. A battleship may not be as maneuverable as a kayak, but in a study of 25 species, larger hummingbirds outdid smaller species at revving or braking while turning. Measurements revealed these species have more muscle capacity and their wings tended to be proportionately larger for their body size than smaller species. Those boosts could help explain how these species could be so agile despite their size, researchers report in the Feb. 9 Science. Adapting a high-speed camera array and real-time tracking software to perform in field conditions let the researchers analyze more than 200 wild birds swerving and pivoting naturally. With over 330,000 bird maneuvers recorded, the researchers could compare the agility of the different species. It’s the first comparative study of natural flight moves in wild birds, says coauthor Roslyn Dakin, who is based in Ottawa with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
2-8-18 Monkeys cloned for the first time
More than 20 years after Scottish researchers cloned Dolly the sheep, scientists in China have cloned two monkeys—the first time the technique has been used on primates. Since the landmark procedure that produced Dolly in 1996, 22 other mammal species have been cloned, including cows, dogs, horses, and rabbits. But the cloning of long-tailed macaques Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong makes it technically possible to use the “Dolly method”—somatic cell nuclear transfer—to clone humans. Born several weeks ago, the monkeys are identical female twins. For the cloning process, scientists transferred DNA taken from fetal monkey cells into eggs that had had their own DNA removed. They then stimulated these eggs to develop into embryos, which they implanted in female surrogates. The resulting 79 viable embryos led to six pregnancies, yielding two live births. The researchers called their advance a “breakthrough for biomedicine,” reports Reuters?.com. Producing large groups of genetically identical monkeys could revolutionize research on diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. But some bioethicists fear the breakthrough could lead to human cloning—concerns the researchers are dismissing. “The technical barrier is now broken,” says Mu-ming Poo, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “But we’re not going to do it. There’s absolutely no plan to do anything on humans.”
2-8-18 Deep-sea fish lay eggs near hydrothermal vents to keep them warm
Pacific white skate lay their eggs onto the sizzling hot rocks of hydrothermal vents in the depths of the sea, possibly because the heat speeds up their development. One species of deep-sea fish has chosen to incubate its eggs in a seemingly impossible place: the baking hot rocks of hydrothermal vents. Such vents are openings in the seabed that spew sulphurous gases and fluids from the bowels of the Earth out into the ocean. “This is the first time this egg-incubating behaviour, using heat from active hydrothermal vents, has been recorded in the marine environment,” says study leader Pelayo Salinas de León of the Charles Darwin Foundation on Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos. He suspects the fish do it “to speed up egg incubation time”. Salinas and his colleagues were exploring the Iguanas-Pinguinos hydrothermal vents, 45 kilometres north of Darwin Island and three kilometres under the sea. They were using a remotely operated vehicle called Hercules. A few metres from a “black smoker” vent, the team spotted 157 eggs. Each was about the size of a mobile phone and looked like a hot water bottle with fingers at each corner. They used one of Hercules’s arms to collect a handful of egg cases. “We found they were at a very early developmental stage,” says Salinas. Closer examination revealed that the eggs belonged to a deep-sea fish called the Pacific white skate (Bathyraja spinosissima).
2-7-18 Beetles escape alive after almost 2 hours in a toad’s stomach
Bombardier beetles sometimes get eaten by toads, but they can squirt hot, toxic jets of liquid from their backsides so the toads often vomit them right back up. Imagine spending almost two hours wallowing in the stomach juices of a toad. Bombardier beetles do just that, but they have found a way to escape alive. A swallowed bombardier beetle squirts so much hot, toxic fluid into the toad’s stomach that the animal is sick, ejecting the beetle to freedom. Shinji Sugiura and Takyua Sato of Kobe University fed Asian bombardier beetles (Pheropsophus jessoensis) to Japanese common toads (Bufo japonicus) and Japanese stream toads (Bufo torrenticola). 43 per cent of the beetles escaped, some after 107 minutes. Bombardier beetles famously produce explosive jets of hot, corrosive and toxic chemicals from their rear ends when threatened. Reaching temperatures of 100°C, the jets make loud popping noises and generate clouds of smoke and steam. To find out if this is how the beetles escape, Sugiura and Sato fed single bombardier beetles to toads. They provoked half the beetles to jettison their toxic loads beforehand, depriving them of this means of defense. Only 3 out of 37 disarmed beetles survived, whereas 16 out of 37 fully-armed beetles escaped. “We showed that the bombardier beetle ejects toxic chemicals inside the toad, forcing it to vomit,” says Sugiura.
2-6-18 It’s a bad idea for a toad to swallow a bombardier beetle
Even when swallowed, this insect can spray hurl-inducing hot chemicals from its rear. Toad versus bombardier beetle is almost a fair fight. Toads are hugely bigger, can tongue-strike in an eyeblink and swallow all kinds of nasty stuff. But bombardier beetles can shoot hot steam and noxious chemicals from their back ends. In a lab face-off, 43 percent of Pheropsophus jessoensis bombardiers escaped alive after being swallowed by toads, a pair of researchers at Kobe University in Japan report February 7 in Biology Letters. These lucky beetles were vomited up — in one case, 107 minutes after being gulped — covered with goo, but still able to pull themselves together and walk away. Fifteen of the 16 beetles coughed up into daylight lived for at least 17 days, with one still going 562 days later. Scalding internal beetle blasts proved vital in persuading the toads to spit the bugs up, ecologists Shinji Sugiura and Takuya Sato report. The pair prodded beetles into spraying until no more defensive chemicals remained, and then fed defenseless beetles to toads. The toads kept almost all of these beetles down.
2-6-18 Pollinators are usually safe from a Venus flytrap
Out of the hundreds of species of carnivorous plants found across the planet, none attract quite as much fascination as the Venus flytrap. The plants are native to just a small section of North Carolina and South Carolina, but these tiny plants can now be found around the world. They’re a favorite among gardeners, who grow them in homes and greenhouses. Scientists, too, have long been intrigued by the plants and have extensively studied the famous trap. But far less is known about the flower that blooms on a stalk 15 to 35 centimeters above — including what pollinates that flower. “The rest of the plant is so incredibly cool that most folks don’t get past looking at the active trap leaves,” says Clyde Sorenson, an entomologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Plus, notes Sorenson’s NCSU colleague Elsa Youngsteadt, an insect ecologist, because flytraps are native to just a small part of North and South Carolina, field studies can be difficult. And most people who raise flytraps cut off the flowers so the plant can put more energy into making traps.
2-5-18 Plastic pollution: Scientists' plea on threat to ocean giants
Scientists say there needs to be more research into the impact of plastic pollution on sharks, whales and rays. A study, in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, says the creatures may be swallowing hundreds of tiny bits of plastic a day. Microplastic pollution has the potential to further reduce the population sizes of the large filter feeders, they say. Yet, there is very little research being carried out into the risks. Researchers from the US, Australia and Italy looked at data on threats to large filter feeders from microplastics. These small plastic pieces less than five millimetres long can be harmful to the ocean and aquatic life. The Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Coral Triangle are priorities for monitoring, according to a review of studies. "The full magnitude of risks of ingesting microplastics are yet to be fully investigated," said Elitza Germanov of Murdoch University, Australia, and researcher at the US Marine Megafauna Foundation. Possible risks include reduced nutritional uptake and damage to the digestive system when microplastics are ingested, she said. In addition, toxin exposure through plastic ingestion could affect many biological processes, such as growth and reproduction, putting filter feeding populations "under even more strain", she added.
2-3-18 How children are fighting to save tortoises from climate change
Kids and teens are an important force in conservation efforts on the Galapagos Islands. e teens are huddled, hushed, peering at a motionless giant tortoise that lies at their feet. Is it alive? The tortoise's shell glistens, but it doesn't move. No one dares to talk. And then, ever so slowly, the huge creature begins to lift its scaley, elongated head, and exhales — an incongruously loud gushing sound — and the students squeal with relief and shock. They've found their first tortoise, and it's time to get to work. The students are from Cazares High School on the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz. As part of their studies they are working with the Galapagos National Park and an NGO, Ecology Project International (EPI), to collect data on the land tortoise population of the Santa Cruz highlands. It's part of a program that is embedded in the Galapagos school system to involve youth in the critical environmental conservation work that is most often the terrain of adults. EPI trainers, María Fernanda Sevallos and Andres Holguín, have spent two days with the teens up in a highland camp building their knowledge base about tortoise ecology and its importance to the Galapagos Islands. Now it's time to meet the creatures and begin the work of finding, tracking and counting them. Careful notes are being taken at every step. Is the tortoise male or female? Does it already have a little implanted tracking chip? What are its measurements and its weight? It's not work for the faint of heart, nor does the GNP allow anyone except its own people to actually touch a tortoise. But the Cazares students are with a national park ranger who is overseeing and helping with every step of the process.
2-2-18 Shark-free world? That’s a wish that would come back to bite us
Sharks may be hard to love for many people, including the US president, but these animals are essential to the health of our oceans, says Lesley Evans Ogden. “I hope all the sharks die.” Those, reportedly, are the words of Donald Trump, now US president. Fear of these animals is common, down to the way they are often portrayed in movies and on television. For example, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is often criticised for portraying them as scary monsters that pose a much greater danger to us than their true risk. Fortunately, not everyone takes the bait. Sharks “instantly captivated me with their sheer power and how misunderstood they were”, says marine biologist Melissa Marquez. Marquez, based in Australia, is studying how our perception of these creatures sways support for conservation, and how sharks feature in indigenous legends, myths and folklore. In myths, sharks are often far from bad. In many indigenous cultures, they are not the terrifying Jaws of Hollywood. In traditional Hawaiian culture, for example, they are benevolent protectors or guardians. That reflects reality. Scientists have learned that sharks play a critical ecological role. In Shark Bay, Australia, for example, it’s not just being eaten, but fear of being eaten by tiger sharks that prevents dugongs and sea turtles from overgrazing meadows of seagrass. Sharks thus provide top-down protection for the biodiversity that flourishes in such oceanic life-support systems. A world without sharks would be bad in many ways. We still have a long way to go in understanding the intricacies of marine ecosystems and predicting what happens when they get messed up, says Steven Campana at the University of Iceland.
2-2-18 Polar bears 'running out of food'
High-tech tracking collars on nine female polar bears have measured the animals' efforts to find food on the diminishing Arctic ice. Each bear wore a collar - recording video, location and activity levels - for 8-12 days, while metabolic tracers tracked the bears' energy use. This revealed that most of the animals were unable to catch enough prey to meet their energy needs. The team says wild bears have higher metabolic rates than thought. Moreover, climate change appears to be having dramatic effects on the Arctic sea-ice, forcing polar bears to move greater distances as they hunt, and making it harder for them to catch prey. The vision of a polar bear plucking a vulnerable seal off an ice floe is something familiar to wildlife documentary fanatics. Earlier this winter, though, an image of an emaciated polar bear went viral, with many asking if this was the telltale image of climate change. The authors of this study, published in the journal Science, point out that the animals do now need to travel further to find seals, and that this is likely to be an "important factor explaining declines in their body condition and survival" of polar bears.
2-1-18 Polar bears waste lots of their energy and it could be a problem
We thought polar bears had neat tricks for conserving energy in lean periods, but it turns out they are not that thrifty, which could cause them trouble in the future. Being a polar bear is harder work than biologists thought. As the bears roam the Arctic sea ice hunting seals, they use more energy than expected. That has ominous implications for a future in which sea ice is ever scarcer. Anthony Pagano of the US Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska, and his colleagues studied 9 adult female polar bears on the Beaufort Sea ice north of Alaska. They fitted the bears with collars carrying GPS trackers, accelerometers and video cameras. They also injected the bears with water labelled with stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen. When the team recaptured the bears 8 to 11 days later, changes in the ratio of isotopes in their blood gave a measure of metabolic rate. The researchers could compare this with the bears’ activity and hunting success. Researchers already knew that polar bears are inefficient walkers, but many assumed that they also saved energy by sitting quietly waiting for seals, and by reducing their metabolic rate when fasting. However, it seems these savings are small at best. The bears’ average metabolic rate during the study period was 1.6 times more than most previous estimates. This means the bears must kill and eat more seals over the course of a year, to pay for this higher metabolic rate. But as climate change melts ever more sea ice, the bears are likely to have to walk farther to find prey. “That has a cost, and the animal has to find the energy to do that – or take it out of growth, reproduction, or survival,” says polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher.
2-1-18 A peek into polar bears’ lives reveals revved-up metabolisms
In a world with declining Arctic sea ice, that could be a problem. Female polar bears prowling springtime sea ice have extreme weight swings, some losing more than 10 percent of their body mass in just over a week. And the beginnings of bear video blogging help explain why. An ambitious study of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in Alaska has found that their overall metabolic rate is 1.6 times greater than thought, says wildlife biologist Anthony Pagano of the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage. With bodies that burn energy fast, polar bears need to eat a blubbery adult ringed seal (or 19 newborn seals) every 10 to 12 days just to maintain weight, Pagano and his colleagues report in the Feb. 2 Science. Camera-collar vlogs, a bear’s-eye view of the carnivores’ diet and lifestyle secrets, show just how well individual bears are doing. The study puts the firmest numbers yet on basic needs of polar bears, whose lives are tied to the annual spread and shrinkage of Arctic sea ice, Pagano says. As the climate has warmed, the annual ice minimum has grown skimpier by some 14 percent per decade (SN Online: 9/19/16), raising worries about polar bear populations. These bears hunt the fat-rich seals that feed and breed around ice, and as seal habitat shrinks, so do the bears’ prospects.
2-1-18 It’s time to label all meat as stunned or unstunned at slaughter
One solution to concern over how animals are killed for our plates is labelling that makes this welfare distinction plain on all meat, says Danny Chambers. The call for a ban is becoming a perennial one, but the continual focus on the religious element of slaughter is getting in the way. It simply heightens emotions and diverts attention from the key concern, which is animal welfare. It is the distinction between stunned and non-stunned slaughter, not religious vs non-religious, which should be front and centre. As they stand, the calls for change are often enthusiastically shared online by far-right groups. In a post-Brexit climate in which many ethnic and religious minorities feel victimised, allowing people with a xenophobic, Islamophobic or anti-Semitic agenda to hijack this is making sensible debate difficult. It’s nigh on impossible when people feel as though their religion is being attacked. Why is this an issue at all? Animals in the UK are legally required to be stunned immediately before slaughter to render them unconscious during the procedure, unless being slaughtered for religious reasons. Animals stunned immediately before slaughter are unconscious when their throats are cut. This means they are not aware of the severing of the major blood vessels that allows rapid bleeding out and death. Animals not stunned are fully conscious and die when enough blood has been lost. Not only is bleeding out while still conscious stressful, inducing panic, but the animal will inhale blood through the severed trachea, and animals undoubtedly experience pain. Conscious sheep retain consciousness for up to 20 seconds once their throats are cut, cattle for up to 2 minutes, and poultry even longer. (Webmaster's comment: Barbaric Jewish and Islamic Religious Practice. Ban It! Arrest those do it!)
Total Page Views
32 Animal Intelligence News Articles
for February of 2018
Animal Intelligence News Articles for January of 2018