No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
43 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from 2nd Quarter of 2016
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
6-30-16 Roller-coasting birds soar for months and may snooze while aloft
Roller-coasting birds soar for months and may snooze while aloft
With help from mid-ocean air currents, frigatebirds can stay airborne for up to 63 days – and it seems they’re able to snooze while soaring. Riding the winds. The great frigatebird’s ability to fly for weeks without a break has mystified scientists. The birds spend most of their time cruising over the ocean looking for food near the surface. “Frigatebirds are really strange in many aspects of their life history,” says Henri Weimerskirch at the Centre for Biological Studies, Chizé, France. Unlike other long-distance travelling seabirds like albatrosses, frigatebirds’ feathers lack waterproof oil so they can’t take a break on the sea. Instead, they have to save energy by coasting for kilometres while minimising wingbeats. Now Weimerskirch’s team has cracked the frigatebird’s secrets by tracking the migrations of birds native to Europa in the Mozambique Channel, off the coast of south-east Africa, all over the Indian ocean and as far east as South-East Asia.
6-30-16 Frigate birds fly nonstop for months
Frigate birds fly nonstop for months
Skill at exploiting atmospheric air flows allow long-distance treks. Frigate birds, even juveniles, can fly for months without stopping by riding air currents over the ocean. Even Amelia Earhart couldn’t compete with the great frigate bird. She flew nonstop across the United States for 19 hours in 1932; the frigate bird can stay aloft up to two months without landing, a new study finds. The seabird saves energy on transoceanic treks by capitalizing on the large-scale movement patterns of the atmosphere, researchers report in the July 1 Science. By hitching a ride on favorable winds, the bird can spend more time soaring and less time flapping its wings. “Frigate birds are really an anomaly,” says Scott Shaffer, an ecologist at San Jose State University in California who wasn’t involved in the study. The large seabird spends much of its life over the open ocean. Both juvenile and adult birds undertake nonstop flights lasting weeks or months, the scientists found. Frigate birds can’t land in the water to catch a meal or take a break because their feathers aren’t waterproof, so scientists weren’t sure how the birds made such extreme journeys.
6-30-16 Wonder what your plants are ‘saying’? Device lets you listen in
Wonder what your plants are ‘saying’? Device lets you listen in
A small device lets researchers, farmers and amateur plant lovers listen in to electrical changes inside their plants – Penny Sarchet tried it out. I’m concentrating at my computer when my peace lily lets out a wail. It’s a wavering electric howl that finishes as abruptly as it began. But what does it mean? Nigel Wallbridge doesn’t know, but he wants to find out. He’s a co-founder of Vivent, the company whose device is giving my peace lily an electronic voice. His hope is that this new way of tracking plant activity will help us to understand and manage them better. The device, called PhytlSigns, measures voltage in plants using two electrodes, one inserted into the soil and the other attached to a leaf or stem. When the speaker squeals, it means the voltage is changing: the higher the wail, the faster the change. Plant scientists have little idea what’s actually going on inside plants when these shifts happen. “When and why a plant uses electrical signals, and their role in plant communication, is not well understood,” says Gerhard Obermeyer, a plant biophysicist at the University of Salzburg in Austria.
6-29-16 When is an animal a person? Neuroscience tries to set the rules
When is an animal a person? Neuroscience tries to set the rules
Do chimps deserve legal rights? It’s a question that advances in neuroscience mean we can no longer ignore. MONKEYS controlling a robotic arm with their thoughts. Chicks born with a bit of quail brain spliced in. Rats with their brains synced to create a mind-meld computer. For two days in June, some of neuroscience’s most extraordinary feats were debated over coffee and vegetarian food at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science in Philadelphia. The idea wasn’t to celebrate these accomplishments but to examine them. Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, assembled a group of scientists, philosophers and policy-makers to discuss the moral implications for the animals involved. “Neuroscience is remodelling – in sometimes shocking ways – the conventional boundaries between creatures versus organs versus tissue, between machines versus animals, between one species versus blended species,” Farah told New Scientist. “We thought, let’s look at the ways in which advances in animal neuroscience might raise new ethical issues that haven’t been encountered before, or that might have changed enough that they need revisiting.”
6-29-16 Empathy for animals is all about us
Empathy for animals is all about us
Extending our feelings and judgments to animal behavior is part of what makes us human. A live web feed of an osprey nest spawned outrage last year when the bird families began to fail. People often judge these animals based on human standards of behavior. For the first few years, few people really noticed. All that changed in 2014. An osprey pair had taken up residence and produced two chicks. But the mother began to attack her own offspring. Brodeur began getting e-mails complaining about “momzilla.” And that was just the beginning. “We became this trainwreck of an osprey nest,” he says. In the summer of 2015, the osprey family tried again. This time, they suffered food shortages. The camera received an avalanche of attention, complaints and e-mails protesting the institute’s lack of intervention. One scolded, “it is absolutely disgusting that you will not take those chicks away from that demented witch of a parent!!!!! Instead you let them be constantly abused and go without food. Yes this is nature but you have a choice to help or not. This is totally unacceptable. She should be done away with so not to abuse again.” By mid-2015, Brodeur began to receive threats. “People were saying ‘we’re gonna come help them if you don’t,’” he recalls. The osprey cam was turned off, and remains off to this day. Brodeur says he’s always wondered why people had such strong feelings about a bird’s parenting skills. (Webmaster's comment: Animals have limited choices. Most have no social network. They have to survive to produce more offspring. If killing their young is the only option to insure their own survival then that's what they'll do. They also often kick out the weaker young or feed the stronger young more food. The objective is always the same. Increasing the odds of passing on their genes.)
6-28-16 Beautifully preserved feathers belonged to tiny flying dinosaurs
Beautifully preserved feathers belonged to tiny flying dinosaurs
Detailed amber fossils of wings from dinosaurs just 3.5 centimetres long suggest they flew like today’s birds. Such finds let us probe how flight evolved. Around 99 million years ago, these tiny dinosaurs had a sticky encounter. Today, their feathered wings look almost exactly as they did when they became stuck in resin. Lida Xing at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, who has led an analysis of the two similar partial amber fossils, says these dinosaurs may only have been 3.5 centimetres in length. Their size suggests they were probably juveniles. The wings are so well preserved it’s possible to tell they were from Enantiornithes – a cousin group to today’s birds. Although this group has a different shoulder structure from birds, their flight feathers are nearly identical, suggesting they flew in the same way birds do today.
6-28-16 Ancient birds' wings preserved in amber
Ancient birds' wings preserved in amber
Two wings from birds that lived alongside the dinosaurs have been found preserved in amber. The finds show that the ancient birds had very similar wing and feather arrangements to living examples. The "spectacular" finds from Myanmar are from baby birds that got trapped in the sticky sap of a tropical forest 99 million years ago. Exquisite detail has been preserved in the feathers, including traces of colour in spots and stripes. The wings had sharp little claws, allowing the juvenile birds to clamber about in the trees. The tiny fossils, which are between two and three centimetres long, could shed further light on the evolution of birds from their dinosaur ancestors.
6-27-16 Parrot squawk 'evidence' in murder trial
Parrot squawk 'evidence' in murder trial
A prosecutor in Michigan is considering whether the squawkings of a foul-mouthed parrot may be used as evidence in a murder trial. Glenna Duram, 48, has been charged with murdering her husband, Martin, in front of the couple's pet in 2015. Relatives of the victim believe that the pet African Grey, named Bud, overheard the couple arguing and has been repeating their final words. The local prosecutor says it's unclear if the bird can be used as evidence. (Webmaster's comment: There is a reason they are called Parrots. To "parrot" is to repeat back mechanically. Parrot was a word before it was used as the name for a bird.)
6-27-16 Quantum fragility may help birds navigate
Quantum fragility may help birds navigate
Influence of Earth’s magnetic field on retinal chemistry could aid avian sense of direction. Migrating birds may find their way using sensitive quantum mechanical compasses. A new study suggests that such compasses benefit from the delicate nature of quantum weirdness. Harnessing the weirdness of the quantum world is difficult — fragile quantum properties quickly degrade under typical conditions. But such fragility could help migrating birds find their way, scientists report in the June New Journal of Physics. Some scientists believe birds navigate with sensitive quantum-mechanical compasses, and the new study suggests that quantum fragility enhances birds’ sense of direction. Molecules known as cryptochromes, found within avian retinas, may be behind birds’ uncanny navigational skills. When light hits cryptochromes, they undergo chemical reactions that may be influenced by the direction of Earth’s magnetic field, providing a signal of the bird’s orientation. “At first sight, you wouldn’t expect any chemical reaction to be affected by a magnetic field as weak as the Earth’s,” says study coauthor Peter Hore, a chemist at the University of Oxford. Quantum properties can strengthen a cryptochrome’s magnetic sensitivity, but their effect sticks around only for tiny fractions of a second. Any chemical reactions that could signal the bird would have to happen fast enough to skirt this breakdown. But Hore and colleagues’ new simulations of the inner workings of cryptochromes show that a little bit of quantum deterioration can actually enhance the strength of the magnetic field’s effect on the chemical reactions.
6-22-16 Baby birds’ brains selectively respond to dads’ songs
Baby birds’ brains selectively respond to dads’ songs
Young zebra finches have a group of nerve cells that may help them specifically remember their father’s songs instead of those of other adults. Young zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) learn to sing from a teacher, usually dad. Remembering dad’s tunes may even be hardwired into the birds’ brains. Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan measured activity in the brains of male juvenile birds listening to recordings of singing adult males, including their fathers. The team focused its efforts on neurons in a part of the brain called the caudomedial nidopallium that’s thought to influence song learning and memory. A subset of neurons in the caudomedial nidopallium lit up in response to songs performed by dad but not those of strangers, the team reports June 21 in Nature Communications. The more baby birds heard songs, the more their neurons responded and the clearer their own songs became. Sleep and a neurotransmitter called GABA influenced this selectivity. The researchers suggest that this particular region of the brain stores song memories as finches learn to sing, and GABA may drive the storage of dad’s songs over others.
6-17-16 Tropical fish that recognize faces
Tropical fish that recognize faces
Fish can be trained to pick people out of a lineup, a new study suggests. The ability to recognize faces was long thought to be limited to primates and other animals with large, complex brains. But Australian researchers have managed to teach small tropical archerfish to discern between one human and another. Archerfish lack a neocortex or any other brain structure involved in visual processing, and unlike dogs and horses, they’re not domesticated and haven’t faced evolutionary pressure to recognize certain people. What they do have is keen vision and a unique capacity to spit powerful jets of water that can shoot down prey—flying insects, for example, or small lizards perched on foliage—with pinpoint precision. Researchers used food rewards to train these aquatic snipers to direct their fire at images of specific people on a computer screen. When a familiar face was placed among 44 strangers, the fish spat at the face they knew with 81 percent accuracy, reports Vice.com. “I think it’s really fascinating that they have these supposedly simple brains,” says study author Cait Newport. “But they’re still able to use them for really complicated tasks, and we probably just don’t give them enough credit.”
6-17-16 The owl who gave thanks
The owl who gave thanks
An animal rescue worker in Vancleave, Miss., has become an internet star after photos of him receiving a huge hug from an owl went viral online. Doug Pojeky, 40, formed a close bond with GiGi the great horned owl after she was brought into Wild at Heart Rescue with head trauma from a collision with a car. GiGi’s chances looked grim, but Pojeky, a Navy veteran, nursed her back to health. When he returned after a few days away, a delighted GiGi danced around before embracing Pojeky with her wings. “It was pretty cool,” Pojeky said. “The animal trusts me enough to put down its defenses.”
6-15-16 Not such a bird brain
Not such a bird brain
Who’s a clever birdy? Some birds behave far more intelligently than we would expect from their tiny brains. Now we know why – by densely cramming as many neurons into their brains as some primates. The macaw, for example, has more neurons in its forebrain than a macaque, despite its brain being walnut-sized. (Webmaster's comment: This is why birds are so intelligent! Densely cramming the neurons was evolution's way of putting more intelligence in a small package when more intelligence was needed for survival and breeding success.)
6-12-16 For harbor porpoises, the ocean is a 24-hour buffet
For harbor porpoises, the ocean is a 24-hour buffet
Harbor porpoises eat hundred of tiny fish every hour, capturing more than 90 percent of what they chase, a new study finds. Harbor porpoises are the world’s smallest cetaceans. The marine mammals, which look something like a small, beakless dolphin, live in colder waters of the Northern Hemisphere and tend to stick closer to shore — a trait that led to their name. Because small bodies would lose heat quickly in cold water, scientists have thought that harbor porpoises must eat a lot, consuming as much as 10 percent of their body weight daily, to stay warm and well fed. Now scientists have figured out just how good harbor porpoises are at finding a meal. These animals can go after hundreds of tiny fish each hour, and they are very successful hunters.
6-10-16 ‘Monkey archaeology’ reveals macaque’s own Stone Age culture
‘Monkey archaeology’ reveals macaque’s own Stone Age culture
One of the first digs searching for stone tools used by monkeys has unearthed evidence that promises to change the way we study the evolution of tool use. The world’s first archaeology dig of an old world monkey culture has uncovered the tools used by previous generations of wild macaques – a group of primates separated from humans by some 25 million years of evolution. The discovery means humans aren’t unique in leaving a record of our past culture that can be pried open through archaeology. Only a few decades ago scientists thought that humans were the only species to have worked out how to turn objects in their environment into useful tools. We now know all sorts of animals can do the same – but the tools of choice are usually perishable materials like leafs and twigs. This makes the origin of these behaviours difficult to study, especially when you consider that the record of hominin stone tool use stretches back more than 3 million years. Burmese long-tailed macaques are a rare exception. They are renowned for their use of stone tools to crack open shellfish, crabs and nuts, making them one of the very few primates that have followed hominins into the Stone Age. (Webmaster's comment: The similar first primitive stone tools made by our hominin ancestors were made 3.3 million years ago.)
6-10-16 Kangaroo and pig share intimate relationship
Kangaroo and pig share intimate relationship
A pig and kangaroo kept in a captivity in northern Australia appear to have formed a rather close physical bond. Animal behaviour scientists say the conduct of the pair, kept at the Aileron Roadhouse in the Northern Territory, is rare and surprising. The owner of the roadhouse, Greg Dick, told the BBC that the animals spent a lot of time together and had "been in love for a while". Experts say the "aberrant" behaviour developed due to years in captivity. Mr Dick said he had seen the kangaroo sleeping with, cuddling and "carrying on too busy" with the female pig, named Apples. (Webmaster's comment: 6-8% of human males have sex across the species line. So do 4% of human females. This is no different.)
6-7-16 Record-breaking Arctic tern migration secrets revealed
Record-breaking Arctic tern migration secrets revealed
A ground-breaking study of birds that breed on the Farne Islands in the UK reveals Arctic terns travel 96,000 km (7,500 miles) – the longest recorded migration in the natural world. The Arctic tern is an incredible traveller. Look beyond that jaunty black hat, the lipstick red stockings, and a fame for pooping on tourists visiting their summer residence, and you will recognise an intrepid explorer that spends much of its life chasing the trajectory of our sun. Thousands of these birds nest on the Farne Islands, just off the coast of Northumberland, and although scientists knew they headed south at the end of the summer, no one knew exactly where they went or what route they took to get there.
6-3-16 Shropshire firm fakes beaver attacks in seed experiment
Shropshire firm fakes beaver attacks in seed experiment
A Shropshire company is banking on an experiment to help increase the seeds it gathers from aspen trees. Forestart gather the seeds of native trees from all over the UK to sell on to nurseries. But they have real problems with the aspen tree, which prefers to send up tiny suckers through the ground around the tree, rather than offer up seeds. BBC Midlands Today Environment Correspondent David Gregory-Kumar met Rob Lees, from Forestart, who explained how they hope to persuade the aspen to give up more of its seeds - by tricking it into thinking it is under attack from beavers.
6-3-16 Snails use 'two brain cells' to make decisions, Sussex University discovers
Snails use 'two brain cells' to make decisions, Sussex University discovers
Snails use two brain cells to make "complex decisions", a team of scientists has found. Researchers at the University of Sussex said one cell told the snail if it was hungry while the other cell told it if food was present. The experiments used electrodes to measure brain activity of the molluscs when searching for lettuce. "Our study reveals for the first time how just two neurons can create a mechanism in an animal's brain which drives and optimises complex decision-making tasks," he said. "It also shows how this system helps to manage how much energy they use once they have made a decision.
6-1-16 Electric bumblebees
Bumblebees can detect and make sense of electric fields using the tiny hairs on their body. Their mechanosensory hairs bend in response to an electric field, triggering neural activity. Since such hairs are common in arthropods, many insects may be equally skilled.
5-31-16 Pandas have ultrasonic hearing
Pandas have ultrasonic hearing
Their hearing exceeds ranges observed in polar bears. Giant pandas have better ears than people — and polar bears. Pandas can hear surprisingly high frequencies. The scientists played a range of tones for five zoo pandas trained to nose a target in response to sound. Training, which took three to six months for each animal, demanded serious focus and patience, says Owen, who called the effort “a lot to ask of a bear.” Both males and females heard into the range of a “silent” ultrasonic dog whistle.
5-31-16 Are Gorillas A Danger To People?
Are Gorillas A Danger To People?
In the wake of the tragic killing of Harambe the gorilla, we explore the evidence for whether these great apes pose a danger to people. However, from the 1970s onwards the primatologist Dian Fossey transformed gorillas' reputation with her pioneering studies of wild mountain gorillas. These are a different species to Harambe, but the differences are subtle. Fossey found that the gorillas were hardly ever violent. For the most part they were peaceful. David Attenborough was filmed with some of Fossey's gorillas for the 1979 television series Life on Earth. The encounter has gone down in television history, because some of the young gorillas started playing with Attenborough. (Webmaster's comment: It's PEOPLE that are dangerous to Gorillas! 100's are killed for meat and body parts every year in Africa! No child has ever died that fell into a Gorilla enclosure. The Gorillas even protect them.)
5-31-16 Orcas are first non-humans whose evolution is driven by culture
Orcas are first non-humans whose evolution is driven by culture
Genomes of 50 whales from different social niches reveal that their varying cultures are also genetically distinct. Many researchers accept that cultural experiences have helped shape human evolution – and evidence has now emerged that the same may be true of killer whales. Human genomes have evolved in response to our cultural behaviours: a classic example is the way that some human populations gained genes for lactose tolerance following the onset of dairy farming. But whether genomes and culture co-evolve in other animal species has been unclear. Andrew Foote at the University of Bern, Switzerland, and his colleagues suspected that killer whales might follow a similar pattern to humans.
5-26-16 Invasive trash-eating jackals save Europe €2 million a year
Invasive trash-eating jackals save Europe €2 million a year
The wolf-like animal now spreading across Europe may not be all bad - it feeds on trash and pest rodents, providing millions in ecosystem services. Golden jackals are often seen as a pest, blamed for the death of livestock and wild animals as they move from south-central Eurasia into northern Europe. But they are in fact saving countries millions of euros in waste management services. “We want to change people’s opinions about jackals,” says Duško Cirovic at the University of Belgrade, Serbia. “They are blamed for hunting wild and domestic animals, but we found that they are only eating the carcasses and remains left by people.”
5-25-16 Compare the meerkat: Animals size each other up in race to top
Compare the meerkat: Animals size each other up in race to top
In the competitive world of meerkats a bit of extra weight goes a long way - they compare their own size to that of rivals and try to match it by eating more. Meerkats have a real hunger to succeed. In the race to the top of the breeding group they pig out to boost their own growth in response to a rival gaining weight. In the strict social hierarchy of meerkats, a dominant pair all but monopolises breeding responsibilities. Up and comers in both sexes can wait for years for the top spot to free up – and when the time comes, it’s usually the fattest meerkat that wins. “There is intense selection to get to the breeding position.” Relatively few females will get the chance to breed, and the dominant female even kills off any rival offspring until she has had her litter. “Those that become dominant and keep their rivals down hit the reproductive jackpot.”
5-23-16 Monkey seen caring for dying mate then grieving after she dies
Monkey seen caring for dying mate then grieving after she dies
It’s a tear-jerker worthy of Hollywood – and one of the first examples of compassionate care and grief in a wild monkey. The alpha male of a group of snub-nosed monkeys and his dying partner spent a final, tender hour together beneath the tree from which she had fallen minutes earlier, cracking her head on a rock. Before she succumbed, he gently touched and groomed her. And after she was dead he remained by her side for 5 minutes, touching her and pulling gently at her hand, as if to try and revive her (for a full account of what happened, see “A monkey tends to his dying mate – as it unfolded”). “The case we’ve reported is particularly important because of the exclusively gentle nature of the interactions, and the special treatment of the dying female shown by the adult male,” says James Anderson of Kyoto University, Japan. “The events suggest that in the case of strongly bonded individuals at least, monkeys may show compassionate behaviour to ailing or dying individuals.” The study follows a recent report of a quasi-funeral for an adult captive chimpanzee at a sanctuary in north-west Zambia, and evidence of death-related behaviour in crows. Together, the reports add to evidence that humans may not be the only species to display grieving behaviour following bereavement, or to show respect for dead individuals with whom they have forged ties. They also hint that animals have some recognition of the finality of death. (Webmaster's comment: All of us animals share a common ancestry so we all share many of the same emotions and values and much of the same understanding of how nature works.)
5-20-16 Dog risked his life to protect his family
Dog risked his life to protect his family
Just two months after Haus the German shepherd was adopted from an animal shelter, the 2-year-old rescue dog risked his life to protect his new family. Molly DeLuca, 7, was playing in her backyard in Tampa last week when a venomous Eastern diamondback rattlesnake slithered up. The heroic dog leaped in front of the girl, barking and snapping at the snake. Haus got three painful bites and is still recovering in the ICU, but strangers have donated more than $50,000 to cover the huge vet bills. “He was willing to give his life for our family,” said Molly’s mom, Donya.
5-20-16 Mother Goose saves her child
Mother Goose saves her child
A mother goose turned to Cincinnati police for help last week when one of her goslings got tangled up in string. Officer James Givens was sitting in his police cruiser near a city creek when the distraught bird started tapping at the door with its beak. “It kept pecking,” he said. “Normally they don’t come near us.” Curious, Givens got out of the car, and the bird led him to a gosling that was tied up in a discarded balloon string. Givens’ partner carefully untangled the baby bird, which ran off to rejoin its happily honking mom. (Webmaster's comment: There is nothing dumb about animals. They observe their environment and draw inferences and conclusions same as we do.)
5-18-16 Chimps filmed grieving for dead friend
Chimps filmed grieving for dead friend
An extraordinary film reveals never-before-seen behaviour. A unique, remarkable and intimate film may change the way we think about animals, and their ability to feel grief. The newly-published film captures the solemn reactions of a group of chimpanzees who discover the dead body of a friend. For 20 minutes, the chimpanzees quietly gather around their friend, despite offers of food to tempt them away. They gently touch and sniff his body, with chimps who were closer friends with the deceased appearing to be the most upset. An older female chimp then attends to the dead ape, tenderly attempting to clean his teeth with a stem of grass.
4-25-16 The eerie wilds of Chernobyl
The eerie wilds of Chernobyl
Thirty years after the devastating nuclear disaster, animals are thriving where people no longer live. In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Soviet Union exploded. Radiation fumes were released into the air traveling northwest, across the nearby town of Pripyat, up to the border with Belarus, and beyond. Today, 30 years after the Chernobyl disaster, while the rotting towns surrounding the nuclear site remain largely abandoned, Chernobyl has welcomed some new breeds of residents. The dense woodlands are now home to thriving populations of bison, wolves, boars, eagles, and other animals. Defying scientific expectations, these animals are reproducing. Indeed, there are more animals living there now than before the explosion. Scientists are studying the animals to see if people could eventually safely repopulate the site of the world's biggest nuclear disaster. Below, a look at the eerie beauty of the wild Chernobyl. (Webmaster's comment: Animals quickly "breed through" the effects of radiation. Offspring with mutations quickly die and healthy offspring survive. With most animals producing a new litter every year the population quickly returns to normal, except with maybe a heightened resistance to radiation poisoning. What does not kill you makes you stronger.)
4-22-16 The interior lives of animals
The interior lives of animals
Scientists used to view animals as simple bundles of instincts and learned behaviors, but in recent years, those who closely study species such as apes, crows, dolphins, and even octopuses have become quite certain that our evolutionary brethren think and feel, solve problems creatively, and have inner lives of some mysterious kind. Elephants and sea lions mourn their dead. Dogs and dolphins communicate their feelings, and empathize with their own kind and with humans. Chimps outperform people in instantly memorizing a series of numbers. The human mind did not spring into being overnight when we began farming or writing or putting on pants. "How could our species arrive at planning, empathy, consciousness, and so on," de Waal asks, "if we are part of a natural world devoid of any and all stepping-stones to such capacities?"
4-22-16 Inky the Octopus: The consciousness question
Inky the Octopus: The consciousness question
“Inky is out,” said Scott Simon in NPR.org. A wild octopus by that name escaped his tank at the National Aquarium of New Zealand, and his ingenuity and daring have made him a global folk hero. Late one night, while the aquarium was deserted, the basketball-size mollusk squeezed through a narrow gap at the top of his tank, flopped to the floor, and slithered to the opening of a drainpipe. Sensing freedom, he dropped down the 164-foot-long pipe into the sea, and is now “at large somewhere in Hawke’s Bay.” Marine biologists “are not surprised.” Octopuses, they say, are remarkably intelligent creatures that monitor their environments closely, learn quickly, and solve problems. They have been observed opening jars to get at food and using makeshift tools. Each octopus has a distinct personality, said Rob Yarrell, the aquarium director, and Inky “liked to push boundaries. He is such a curious boy.”
4-20-16 Baboons form orderly queues, researchers say
Baboons form orderly queues, researchers say
Baboons form an orderly queue for access to a patch of food, waiting until a dominant male has investigated it, research has shown. The order in which the animals queue is probably based on their position in the social hierarchy, according to lead researcher Dr Alecia Carter from the University of Cambridge. Baboons live in complex societies, with close bonds that are strengthened by activities like play and grooming. Scientists want to understand these primate societies in order to understand the evolution of our own.
4-15-16 Dolphins have a language that helps them solve problems together
Dolphins have a language that helps them solve problems together
When faced with a puzzle that two can solve better than one, bottlenose dolphins chatter away, suggesting that they have a specific vocalisation for working together. Bottlenose dolphins have been observed chattering while cooperating to solve a tricky puzzle – a feat that suggests they have a type of vocalisation dedicated to cooperating on problem solving. Holli Eskelinen of Dolphins Plus research institute in Florida and her colleagues at the University of Southern Mississippi presented a group of six captive dolphins with a locked canister filled with food. The canister could only be opened by simultaneously pulling on a rope at either end. The team conducted 24 canister trials, during which all six dolphins were present. Only two of the dolphins ever managed to crack the puzzle and get to the food.
4-15-16 Math models predict mysterious monarch navigation
Math models predict mysterious monarch navigation
Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) use their internal clock and the sun to guide them 4,000 kilometers south on their annual fall migration from eastern North America to central Mexico. Scientists have struggled to determine how butterfly brains combine visual cues from the sun with molecular timekeeping in their antennae to make the epic journey.
4-14-16 Great monarch butterfly migration mystery solved
Great monarch butterfly migration mystery solved
Scientists have built a model circuit that solves the mystery of one of nature's most famous journeys - the great migration of monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico. Monarchs are the only insects to migrate such a vast distance. So, by teaming up with biologists, mathematicians set out to recreate the internal compass they use to navigate on that journey. "We identified that the input cues depend entirely on the Sun," explained Prof Shlizerman. "One is the horizontal position of the Sun and the other is keeping the time of day. "This gives [the insects] an internal Sun compass for travelling southerly throughout the day."
4-13-16 Rattlesnake plans attack by clearing path for its deadly strike
Rattlesnake plans attack by clearing path for its deadly strike
A snake has been caught on film pushing grass out of the way near a ground squirrel burrow as if in preparation for an attack on its prey. It’s a premeditated attack. A deadly rattlesnake seems to be planning attacks by clearing a path for its strike in advance. Northern Pacific rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus) have been filmed manipulating vegetation near the burrows of ground squirrels. It’s the first time they have been captured on video moving grass in such a way, says Breanna Putman at San Diego State University in California.
4-12-16 Octopus makes great escape from New Zealand aquarium
Octopus makes great escape from New Zealand aquarium
An octopus has made a successful dash for freedom from a New Zealand aquarium and is now thought to be roaming the Pacific Ocean. Inky the octopus took his chance to escape through a small gap in his enclosure at the National Aquarium in the coastal city of Napier. After managing to squeeze his way out, Inky slid across the floor and found a 15cm-wide (6in) drain pipe which - luckily for him - led to the sea. (Webmaster's comment: The octopus also had to be smart enough to not do this when people were around. Octopuses are probably the smartest of the invertebrates.)
4-8-16 A sperm whale’s head is built for ramming
A sperm whale’s head is built for ramming
The large head of a sperm whale is filled with two organs, the spermaceti organ and the junk. Connective tissue inside the junk, a new study proposes, may help to protect the whale’s brain when ramming other whales — or ships. The sperm whale is one of the odder-looking cetaceans swimming the oceans. Its massive, blocky head is unlike anything sported by other whales. The space above the mouth holds two large, oil-filled organs stacked one on top of the other — the spermaceti organ on top, and another below it called the (we did not make this up) junk. And in the last couple of decades, scientists have determined that the two organs amplify and direct the sonar clicks that the whales use to navigate in the water. But there have long been suggestions that the massive head could serve another purpose — to ram other whales. The hypothesis dates back to the 19th century, when sperm whales sometimes rammed — and even sank — whaling vessels. “The structure and strength of the whale's head is admirably designed for this mode of attack,” wrote Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex, which was sank by a whale and inspired the tale of Moby Dick.
4-6-16 Mama birds pay attention to more than chicks’ begging
Mama birds pay attention to more than chicks’ begging
Spring has finally arrived, and birds’ nests all over the country will soon be filling up with eggs and then nestlings. Watch a nest long enough (the Science News staff is partial to the DC Eagle Cam) and you’ll see itty bitty baby birds begging for a meal. But mama birds don’t always reward that begging with food. In some species, like the tree swallow, birds that beg more will get more food. But in others, like the hoopoe, mom ignores who is begging and gives more food to the biggest chicks, researchers have found. This lack of an overall pattern has confounded ornithologists, but it seems that they may have been missing a key piece of the puzzle. A new study finds that the quality of the birds’ environment determines whether a mama bird can afford to feed all of her kids or if she has to ignore some to make sure the others survive.
4-2-16 How do cats always land on their feet?
How do cats always land on their feet?
This cat not only defies gravity but lands again safely and it all happens in less than a second. The exact mechanism by which cats always land on their feet kept scientists arguing for over a century. A cat needs to turn around, but to do that it has to push against something else – but there’s nothing there. Super slow motion video, however, reveals exactly how these flexible cats are able to twist their spine in opposite directions. By spinning in two different directions at the same time, the caracal is effectively pushing against itself.
4-1-16 In the Coral Triangle, clownfish figured out how to share
In the Coral Triangle, clownfish figured out how to share
Clownfish and anemones depend on one another. The stinging arms of the anemones provide clownfish with protection against predators. In return, the fish keep the anemone clean and provide nutrients, in the form of poop. Usually, several individual clownfish occupy a single anemone — a large and dominant female, an adult male and several subordinates — all from the same species. But with 28 species of clownfish and 10 species of anemone, there can be a lot of competition for who gets to occupy which anemone. In the highly diverse waters of the Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia, however, clownfish have figured out how to share, researchers report March 30 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Anemones in these waters are often home to multiple species of clownfish that live together peacefully.
4-1-16 Wolves or bears? Threatened caribou mothers’ catch-22 dilemma
Wolves or bears? Threatened caribou mothers’ catch-22 dilemma
By avoiding habitats populated by their age-old enemy, threatened caribou are putting their young in danger of a more recent foe. Caribou mothers move their calves to habitats with fewer wolves – only to put them at much greater risk of being eaten by bears instead. Woodland caribou populations in the boreal forests of northern Canada have declined sharply in recent decades, and the government now lists the subspecies as threatened. Logging and oil extraction may be to blame. Human activities have fragmented the caribou’s habitat, shifting the ecological balance. Where once wolves were the main danger to young caribou, black bears now seem to be their greatest threat.