No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
36 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from 2nd Half of 2015
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
12-23-15 Crows' tool time captured on camera
Crows' tool time captured on camera
Ecologists have used a tail-mounted "crow cam" to catch wild New Caledonian crows in the act of making and using hook-shaped tools. This species is well-known for its clever tool tricks, but studying its behaviour in the wild is difficult. These tiny cameras peer forwards beneath the birds' bellies and record precious, uninhibited footage. As well as glimpsing two crows making special foraging hooks, the team was able to track their activity over time. (Webmaster's comment: A perfect Christmas present for us Intelligent Animal lovers.)
12-23-15 Crow cameras give a bird's eye view of tool-making in the wild
Crow cameras give a bird's eye view of tool-making in the wild
Bird-borne cameras capture footage of New Caledonian crows making and using hooked tools in the wild. Call it a GoCro. Cameras mounted on the tails of wild New Caledonian crows have caught these renowned tool-makers in the act of creating the hooked foraging implements from plants. New Caledonian crows are the only non-human animals to make hooked tools in the wild. Why they do so is something of a mystery. “The answer to that lies most probably in the ecology of the place and the ecology of these birds,” says Christian Rutz at the University of St Andrews, UK. Filming their natural behaviour may help us get to the bottom of it. Back in 2007, Rutz and colleagues equipped crows with video cameras to film their behaviour in the wild. They were able to transmit live pictures, but the range was short, so they had to follow the birds around and the signal would sometimes cut out. Now Rutz and colleagues have followed the behaviour of 10 crows in a new study with a better camera setup. This enabled them to record about an hour of footage for each bird. They found only four of them used tools during the recording sessions. It’s unclear whether some crows don’t use tools at all, or if they just didn’t in the time recorded. “I think that’s a very interesting lead for future research,” says Rutz.
12-23-15 Canine copycats can mirror other dogs' emotions
Canine copycats can mirror other dogs' emotions
Dogs can copy each other's expressions in a split-second just like people, showing signs of basic empathy, according to Italian researchers. Mimicking each other's facial expressions is a human habit, which helps people to get along. Dogs do the same to bond with other dogs, scientists report in the journal, Royal Society Open Science. They think dogs may be showing a basic built-in form of empathy, enabling them to pick up on emotions. And the phenomenon may have emerged in our canine companions during the process of domestication, say scientists from the Natural History Museum, University of Pisa.
12-22-15 US wild bee numbers decline as land is converted for biofuel
US wild bee numbers decline as land is converted for biofuel
Wild bees in the US have declined in many farming areas according to the first national effort to map their numbers. The study suggests that between 2008 and 2013, the numbers of wild bees went down across almost a quarter of the US. The researchers say that the conversion of land to grow corn for biofuels is a key element in the decline. If the trend continues say the scientists, it could drive up costs and destabilise crop production. Wild bees play an important role in pollinating many US crops and plants. It's estimated that they contribute around $3bn to the value of agriculture every year.
12-18-15 Seismology of elephants investigated
Seismology of elephants investigated
Could putting vibrations into the ground be a way to keep elephants from coming into conflict with humans? Already, attempts have been made to scare the animals away from villages using their own very low-frequency alarm calls - with partial success. Now scientists are studying whether even better results could be obtained if this sound in the air is accompanied also by a seismic signal underfoot. The work is being led by Prof Sue Webb from Wits University in Johannesburg. Sue Webb: "Elephants are incredibly smart; they soon figure out when things are fake"
12-16-15 Parrots use pebble tools to grind up own mineral supplements
Parrots use pebble tools to grind up own mineral supplements
For the first time non-human animals have been seen using grinding tools and passing them around in what seem to be an attempt to get calcium out of seashells. Parrots can dance and talk, and now apparently they can use and share grinding tools. They were filmed using pebbles for grinding, thought to be a uniquely human activity – one that allowed our civilisations to extract more nutrition from cereal-based foods. Megan Lambert from the University of York, UK, and her colleagues were studying greater vasa parrots (Coracopsis vasa) in an aviary when they noticed some of the birds scraping shells in their enclosure with pebbles and date pips. “We were surprised,” says Lambert. “Using tools [to grind] seashells is something never seen before in animals.” Afterwards, the birds would lick the powder from the tool. Some of the parrots even passed tools to each other, which is rarely seen in animals.
12-14-15 The dogs that protect little penguins
The dogs that protect little penguins
When foxes discovered little penguins on a small Australian island, they nearly wiped the colony out. But a farmer came up with a novel way to protect the birds - and the story has been made into a hit film. The fairy penguins, as I'm going to call them, faced being wiped out on Middle Island - until a chicken farmer, by the made-for-cinema name of Swampy Marsh, came up with a plan. He suggested sending one of his Maremma dogs to protect the birds. Amazingly, since Oddball and his four-legged successors were introduced 10 years ago, there has not been a single penguin killed by a fox on Middle Island. The project has been such a success that a movie called Oddball has been made about it.
12-4-15 Birds prefer to eat at outdoor cafes with slow plate-clearing
Birds prefer to eat at outdoor cafes with slow plate-clearing
When a bird swoops on your leftovers or a chip from your hand, it might be because of an ancient relationship between our species. Next time a bird is trying to steal part of your al fresco meal, don’t scare it away – you may destroy an ancient relationship. These birds may just be doing what their ancestors have been doing for millions of years, says Paul Haemig, an animal ecologist at the Governing Board of Jönköping province in Sweden. He has visited 80 cafes and restaurants in southern Sweden, recording thousands of visits from our feathered friends. But Haemig saw only 13 species at restaurants – of more than 500 in Sweden. Haemig thinks that foraging where humans are present is a behaviour that evolved several times. And he believes that, in the principal clade to which these birds belong, the behaviour evolved earlier than humans did – because the species in this clade separated genetically before humans emerged.
12-3-15 Orcas seen in unique group ambush-and-kill attack on dolphins
Orcas seen in unique group ambush-and-kill attack on dolphins
A pod of killer whales known for invading beaches to catch baby sea lions has now been spotted using sophisticated ambush tactics to catch dolphins. They’ve definitely earned their name. Frighteningly effective hunting methods have become something of a speciality for a pod of killer whales off the coast of Patagonia, Argentina. The pod became famous when some of them were spotted intentionally beaching themselves to capture baby sea lions, then refloating when the next wave rolled in. Now the same pod has been seen tricking dolphins into an ambush. Orcas have been filmed hunting dolphins before, but never using such a complex group-hunting technique.
11-25-15 Whales make mysterious visits to underwater mountains
Whales make mysterious visits to underwater mountains
SOME whales love mountains. New Caledonian humpbacks migrating between their breeding and feeding grounds pull over for days on end in waters around underwater mountains – though no one yet knows why. It could be that they use them as navigation cues, or spots for feeding or breeding activities, such as singing by males, say Claire Garrigue and her team at Opération Cétacés in Nouméa, New Caledonia. They tracked 34 whales migrating between New Caledonia and Antarctica using satellite tags. “Maybe they stop there to relax and to rest a little bit because they have lots of miles to go to Antarctica,” she says. (Webmaster's comment: Seamounts are where life gathers in otherwise open oceans. It's obviously a place to stop for a snack.)
11-20-15 Capuchin monkeys use sticks as shovels to dig out caiman eggs
Capuchin monkeys use sticks as shovels to dig out caiman eggs
The first-ever record of this tool-wielding behaviour shows the monkeys risking it all for an egg treat hidden deep inside the predator's nest. Capuchin monkeys are renowned tool users – they famously wield hammers and anvils to crack nuts – but the newest addition to their arsenal combines ingenuity with a certain bravado. Quite by chance the monkeys have been spotted using an improvised shovel to steal eggs from caiman nests in the Amazon rainforests of the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in Brazil. The monkeys grab a long stout stick and then dig away at the caiman’s nest mound, flicking the rotting vegetation aside until they reach the eggs. The monkeys then pick up one egg at a time, carry it away to the relative safety of a nearby tree, eat it and then come back for more.
11-12-15 The first fish seen leaping out of water to attack prey from air
The first fish seen leaping out of water to attack prey from air
Other fish leap out of the water, but only the needlefish is cunning enough to use this acrobatic feat to make itself invisible to the schools of fish it hunts. That’s one small jump for a fish, but a big leap for fish kind. Needlefish have been seen shooting out of the water before smashing into schools of unsuspecting prey in the waters near Heron Island and North Stradbroke Island in Queensland, Australia. “This is, as far as we know, the first time anyone has described a fish jumping out of the water to attack submerged prey,” says Ryan Day of the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia.
11-3-15 Crows might meet up for big dinners to exchange cutlery tips
Crows might meet up for big dinners to exchange cutlery tips
New Caledonian crows usually only hang out with close relatives, except when they come across big meals requiring cutlery. New Caledonian crows are adept tool users, sculpting twigs to hook hidden food. To see how this skill might have spread, Christian Rutz at the University of St Andrews in the UK and his team used radio tags to track 42 wild crows. They found that crows normally spent time nearest to close relatives, keeping their distance from other crow families. But that changed when the team left them a log filled with inaccessible beetle larvae that could only be retrieved using tools. Then the segregation broke down and unrelated crows started associating, says Rutz. Modelling showed that coming together in this way might explain how skills like tool use spread between unrelated crows.
11-3-15 Debate over chimpanzee 'accent' study
Debate over chimpanzee 'accent' study
A debate is unfolding among primatologists about a study, published in February, which reported that chimpanzees can adapt their grunts to communicate with new neighbours. It was based on a group of chimps that moved from a Dutch safari park to Edinburgh Zoo. Now, three researchers have written to the journal Current Biology suggesting the results don't stack up. The original team has responded, and stands by its findings and conclusions.
10-26-15 The math behind the world's great bird migration routes
The math behind the world's great bird migration routes
Birds consider wind patterns when they choose how to fly south for the winter, a new study finds. Many birds may be small, but they're great natural athletes. Every year, birds literally cross mountains, deserts, and seas to reach their favorite breeding and feeding grounds. Arctic terns — each weighing about a fifth of a pound — migrate halfway around the world, flying to Greenland in the spring and Antarctica in the winter. And despite the idiom, birds rarely go "as the crow flies," in a direct line from Point A to Point B. So then, how do they choose their routes? Answering this question would shed light on what's likely a driving force in birds' evolution. Migration can be perilous business, which means those migratory routes that have survived to this day likely have major benefits for those that take them, even if they might seem circuitous at first glance. Bird biologists have already figured out a few factors that make certain, longer routes better for birds, including avoiding the open ocean, and having safe rest stops along the way. Now, a new study offers evidence that birds consider annual wind patterns too. Together, these factors make certain paths appealing to birds of many kinds, creating the world's great migratory flyways.
10-23-15 Beavers parachuted in to wilderness in archive film
Beavers parachuted in to wilderness in archive film
Archive footage of a group of beavers being parachuted into wilderness in the US has been found by historian Sharon Clark. The film, made around 1950, was lost for years; it had been labelled incorrectly and stored in the wrong file. The air drops were conducted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game because they had an overpopulation of beavers in some areas. It is thought all of the animals made it through their flights unharmed. (Webmaster's comment: Go good to pass up. The Invasion By The Beavers From Space.)
10-9-15 Squirrel monkeys teach themselves to eat and drink from a cup
Squirrel monkeys teach themselves to eat and drink from a cup
Tool use seemed so rare in squirrel monkeys that they were considered incapable of such feats, now they've been seen carrying food and water in containers. It’s not exactly the height of good etiquette, but squirrel monkeys at a research facility in California have learned how to eat and drink from plastic cup-like objects. It’s the first time squirrel monkeys have been observed carrying food and water around in containers, and a large number of the animals learned how to do it – 39 out of 57. Previously, reports of tool use in squirrel monkeys have been so rare that they were considered incapable of such a feat. The only other non-human primates that seem able to spontaneously begin using containers are captive chimpanzees, orangutans and capuchin monkeys. In the wild, capuchins and chimpanzees have been seen using leaves to access water from tree cavities.
10-1-15 The birds that fear death
The birds that fear death
Crows will gather around their dead. And the reasons why are intriguing. Crows are now the latest in the small group of animals that are known to recognise, or perhaps even mourn their dead. Elephants, giraffes, chimpanzees and several other corvid species are also known to loiter near recently deceased mates.
9-23-15 Zoologger: The only raptor known to hunt in cooperative packs
Zoologger: The only raptor known to hunt in cooperative packs
Harris's hawks are unique in the raptor world in that they cooperate in groups when hunting, like wolves or humans. But why they do so is still a mystery. Meet the only raptors known to hunt in packs. Some Harris’s hawks work in teams with a whole playbook of tricks – and if you’re a rabbit or a lizard, they’re the last things you want on your tail. “It’s amazing to watch,” says ecologist Jennifer Coulson of the Orleans Audubon Society in Pearl River, Louisiana. Coulson is hoping to understand how cooperative hunting works in the wild, where it’s been observed in groups of two to nine wild Harris’s hawks. But she and her husband, both avid falconers, also have their own trained hunting team, which allows them to see such behaviour up close. First there’s “backstanding”, which looks how it sounds. “Two or three hawks will stand on each other, so they look like a hawk totem pole,” Coulson says. The hawk on top, which is careful to not hurt its living perch by digging in its talons, gets a better vantage point when scanning for prey.
9-18-15 The inner lives of animals
The inner lives of animals
The evidence shows that elephants and apes mourn their dead, becoming listless and depressed. Dolphins can recognize their own reflections, have intricate social structures, and appear to call each other by individual names. Apes and chimps make tools, plan for the future, and display empathy and inferential reasoning. Primatologist Frans de Waal, writing in The New York Times about the recent discovery of a hominin ancestor with both human and ape characteristics, blames human vanity for the belief we are separate and distinct from the "extended family" of creatures on the great continuum of evolution. "The wall between human and animal cognition," de Waal says, "is like a Swiss cheese." If you doubt our kinship with the animal kingdom, I refer you to the daily news coverage of our species' Darwinian struggles for dominance and survival. Evolution is a work in progress: We are still closer to the beasts than to the gods.
9-18-15 Zoologger: Octopus makes own quicksand to build burrow on seabed
Zoologger: Octopus makes own quicksand to build burrow on seabed
Southern sand octopus is first cephalopod found to build underwater hideout by burrowing through quicksand and daubing the walls with mucus. It shoots jets of water into the seafloor creating quicksand that allows it to vanish. A skilled architect, the octopus can build a mucus-lined home - complete with a chimney - 20 centimetres down into the seabed, where it holes up during the day. It only emerges from its underground burrow at night to crawl over the seafloor and snack on small crustaceans.
9-18-15 Apes remember major events in movies, even on a single viewing
Apes remember major events in movies, even on a single viewing
The first evidence that chimpanzees and bonobos can recall recent events comes from experiments that tested their memory of short movie clips. We all have our favourite movie moments, ones we love to watch again from time to time. Now it seems chimpanzees and bonobos, too, have the nous to recall thrilling scenes in movies they have previously seen and anticipate when they are about to come up. The results suggest apes can readily recall and anticipate significant recent events, just by watching those events once. (Webmaster's comment: Dah! If members of an animal species didn't remember major events in their lives after one occurance they would not have survived. They would all be extinct pretty quick.)
9-17-15 Seal spotted surfing humpback whale in Australia
Seal spotted surfing humpback whale in Australia
An Australian photographer has captured a rare moment of animal communion with a shot of a fur seal surfing a humpback whale off the New South Wales coast. (Webmaster's comment: Hanging Ten!)
9-16-15 Have we turned dogs into lazy thinkers through domestication?
Have we turned dogs into lazy thinkers through domestication?
Faced with puzzles with food rewards dogs give up and defer to humans much more than wolves, who persevere until they solve the puzzle. Perhaps this is why our dogs are so happy to see us. When faced with a puzzle to solve for a treat, they give up and defer to humans for help, unlike their wild cousins, wolves. So are dogs just servile beasts whose dependence on humans has made them dumber and lazier than wolves? Or is it a sign of their high social intelligence? Eight out of 10 wolves were able to open the box but only one out of 20 dogs succeeded. Most declined to attempt the task and instead looked to humans for guidance. “Wolves spent almost all of their time engaged on the task trying to get the puzzle open, and dogs spent almost none. That was a pretty striking difference,” says Udell.
9-14-15 Speed dating shows arranged bird marriages lead to bad parenting
Speed dating shows arranged bird marriages lead to bad parenting
Zebra finches who raised chicks with their mate of choice proved to be better parents than those that had an arranged partnership. Birds that are allowed to choose their own partners are more diligent parents, according to a team who arranged “marriages” for zebra finches. Zebra finches are one of many animals that pair up for life with both sharing parental duties. Most research on how animals select their mates has focused on indicators of quality, assuming that all individuals agree what constitutes an attractive partner, with little attention paid to the reasons why individual preferences may vary. One idea is that individuals choose partners whose genes are compatible with their own. Alternatively, they may pick a mate whose behaviour is a good fit.
9-14-15 Bats perform 'vital pest control' on crops
Bats perform 'vital pest control' on crops
Bats provide a service worth an estimated US $1bn (£649m) globally by controlling pests on corn crops, a study has suggested. Scientists carried out a series of experiments to assess the economic and ecological importance of the nocturnal insect-eating mammals to farmers. Globally, bat populations are under pressure as a result of habitat loss and the spread of diseases.
9-10-15 Great tits and blue tits battle by laying eggs in enemy nests
Great tits and blue tits battle by laying eggs in enemy nests
Hostile nest takeovers and sneaky egg laying are all part of the interspecies warfare that can result in chicks with confused identity. Two species of tiny tits have been fighting a quiet war, invading each other’s nests and laying eggs that hatch alongside the enemy’s young. The confused chicks are likely to grow up thinking they are a different species, with potentially far-reaching evolutionary consequences. This all seems to be driven by the limited number of adequate nesting sites. When great tits, Parus major, can’t find a good place to lay their eggs, they simply invade the nests of the smaller blue tit species Cyanistes caeruleus. The blue tits are half the size of the invaders so usually abandon their nests and fly away. That may be a smart move, those that stick around to defend their homes risk being killed in a bloody takeover. But that’s not the end of the story. In some cases the small birds get their revenge by sneaking their own eggs into great tits’ nests.
9-9-15 Social insights from whale chatter
Social insights from whale chatter
Scientists think they have new insights into the different dialects used by groups of sperm whales. These great beasts live in very tight social networks, chatting amongst each other using a system of clicks. The researchers have shown how separate clans - perhaps numbering thousands of animals - will use their own particular subtle sequence of noises. These vocalisations are not innate - they must be learned. (Webmaster's comment: It's obvious. Animals talk. Probably all of them. They use their "talk" to inform others of their species about significant events in their environment, to call for their mates and offspring, to form and enhance social relationships, and much more. They also recognize who's "talking." All of this is evolution driven by the advantage "talking" gives them in surviving and breeding.)
9-3-15 Hawk’s invisible force shield protects hummingbird from jays
Hawk’s invisible force shield protects hummingbird from jays
Small birds can be protected from a predator by the presence of an even bigger predator, which creates a no-go zone. When you’re tiny, it’s good to have big friends in high places. That’s how hummingbirds in Arizona manage to protect their eggs and chicks from being eaten by voracious jays. The hummingbirds can nest safely on low boughs surrounding a tree that has a hawk’s nest at the top. That’s because of the way hawks hunt, swooping on prey like jays horizontally or from higher up. As a result, jays stay away from a zone spreading out and down from the top of any tree where hawks are nesting. Jays are agile and can hop around in foliage to rob hummingbird nests, so the hawks’ presence effectively envelops the hummingbirds in a cone-shaped force field that keeps their eggs safe. “The jays are food for the hawks, and the hummingbird eggs are just too small and take too long for a predator like a hawk to find.”
8-27-15 Birds circle and stick together to help them fly in dense fog
Birds circle and stick together to help them fly in dense fog
A rare observation of cranes flying in foggy conditions reveals that they circle cautiously and make noise to stay in touch with the rest of the flock. This provided a rare opportunity to study how birds behave when flying in heavy fog. The cranes flew cautiously, staying close to the roost, and went in circles rather than straight lines. They also vocalised much more frequently and loudly than normal. This is common among birds flying in low-visibility conditions, says Graham Martin at the University of Birmingham in the UK. It probably allows them to stay in touch when they cannot be seen.
8-26-15 Darwin's fast-evolving finches use a natural insect repellent
Darwin's fast-evolving finches use a natural insect repellent
Four species of the iconic birds on the Galapagos Islands rub themselves with leaves that deter mosquitoes and parasitic flies. Mosquitoes and parasitic flies can be as deadly for birds as they can for humans. Stowaway mosquitoes brought on tourist planes pose a deadly threat to the iconic birds on the Galapagos Islands. But the innovative birds – Darwin’s finches – have worked out a way to fight them. Birds from four species of Darwin’s finches were picking leaves from a Galapagos guava tree, Psidium galapageium, and rubbing them into their feathers. The leaves repel mosquitoes and inhibit the growth of the bloodthirsty parasitic larvae.
8-24-15 Octopuses seen throwing things may be using shells as weapons
Octopuses seen throwing things may be using shells as weapons
The gloomy octopuses crowded at Jervis Bay, Australia, appear to spit and throw debris such as shell at each other in what could be an intentional use of weapons. Octopuses have been recorded gathering up armfuls of debris – and remember, they have eight arms – before taking pot shots at one another. Whether it’s a case of “get off my turf” or merely “oops, didn’t mean to hit you” is still a puzzle. Gloomy octopuses throw things at each other in what may be the first use of projectile weapons seen in octopuses. “Very few animals have been reported to throw things at one another, so it would be significant if the octopuses are doing it.”
8-4-15 Bonobo squeaks hint at earlier speech evolution
Bonobo squeaks hint at earlier speech evolution
Wild bonobos use a single high-pitched call in a variety of contexts, showing a flexibility in their communication that was thought to be uniquely human. Bonobos are just as closely related to humans as chimpanzees, but their wild communication is much less studied. Researchers say the new findings push back the development of context-free vocal calls to our shared ancestor with bonobos, 6-10 million years ago.
7-22-15 Two dolphin species band together to form unprecedented alliance
Two dolphin species band together to form unprecedented alliance
Atlantic bottlenose and spotted dolphins are cooperating in unique mixed-species groups that are mostly platonic, but sometimes cross-species sex is involved. The dolphins of the Bahamas forage and play together and forge alliances – even though they belong to two distinct species. They’re not the only example of mixed-species dolphin groups, but this level of interaction is unprecedented.
7-7-15 Bonobos use a range of tools like stone-age humans
Bonobos use a range of tools like stone-age humans
The chimps' randy relatives have been seen using tools as shovels and levers in captivity, and even fashioning a spear to jab at a researcher. Bonobos can be just as handy as chimpanzees. In fact, bonobos' tool-using abilities look a lot like those of early humans, suggesting that observing them could teach anthropologists about how our own ancestors evolved such skills.
7-6-15 Humans are nowhere near as special as we like to think
Humans are nowhere near as special as we like to think
Humans have long believed that we are somehow special. But many traits once considered uniquely human are shared with animals. We once viewed ourselves as the only creatures with emotions, morality, and culture. But the more we investigate the animal kingdom, the more we discover that is simply not true. Many scientists are now convinced that all these traits, once considered the hallmarks of humanity, are also found in animals.