127 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from 1st Quarter of 2017
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3-31-17 Badger filmed burying a whole cow by itself in Utah mountains
Badger filmed burying a whole cow by itself in Utah mountains
An American badger took five days to bury a calf carcass left at a camera trap by researchers. The behaviour could help cattle ranchers by limiting the spread of disease. Want to eat steak for a month? One enterprising badger did, after finding a dead cow in the Utah mountains and burying it by himself. Ethan Frehner of the University of Utah and colleagues left seven calf carcasses in the area with camera traps to see what animals would visit. They were hoping to learn more about vultures and other avian scavengers. When they returned after a week, they found one was missing, and thought it must have been dragged away by a coyote or mountain lion. The photos revealed otherwise. An American badger had buried the entire carcass over the course of five days. Afterwards, it spent two weeks in its underground burrow without leaving, and kept returning to the burrow for several more weeks. Frehner thinks the badger was getting most of its sustenance from the cow for over 50 days. American badgers are known to cache small items like rodents and rabbits, but they have never before been seen burying an animal bigger than itself.
3-31-17 Camera trap catches a badger burying a cow
Camera trap catches a badger burying a cow
Badgers are known to bury their meals, but usually that’s small fare, such as jackrabbits. But researchers in Utah found them caching something much bigger — dead calves. The American badger is known to cache carrion in the ground. The animals squirrel away future meals underground, which acts something like a natural refrigerator, keeping their food cool and hidden from anything that might want to steal it. Researchers, though, had never spotted badgers burying anything bigger than a jackrabbit — until 2016, when a young, dead cow went missing in a study of scavengers in northwestern Utah. That January, University of Utah researchers had set out seven calves (all of which had died from natural causes) weighing 18 to 27 kilograms in the Great Basin Desert, each monitored by a camera trap. After a week, one of the carcasses went missing, even though it, like the others, had been staked in place so nothing could drag it off. But perhaps a coyote or mountain lion managed the feat, the researchers thought. Then they checked the camera. What they found surprised them.
3-31-17 Meet the fish with the heroin-like bite
Meet the fish with the heroin-like bite
Scientists from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the University of Queensland have solved the mystery of how a fish with sharp fangs gives a pain-free bite. The researchers discovered that the fang-blenny, a tiny reef-dwelling fish, has a venom that is laced with pain-killing chemicals. They say the discovery, published in the journal Current Biology, is an example of the medical secrets that are hidden in our oceans.
3-31-17 Snow the cat
Snow the cat
Tokyo street hustlers running the notorious “shell game” had best keep an eye out for Snow the cat. The male feline has an uncanny ability to identify which of several rapidly shuffled cups hides a small plastic ball. Snow became an Instagram celebrity after his Japanese owner posted a video of him staring intently at as many as five moving cups before placing a paw on the right one every time. The cat’s acute sense of sight, hearing, and smell—which evolved for hunting prey—undoubtedly contribute to his shell game prowess. “Gonna bring this boy to a casino with me,” Snow’s owner said.
3-31-17 For glass frogs, moms matter after all
For glass frogs, moms matter after all
Just a few hours of motherly attention help eggs survive. The few hours that a mother Cochranella granulosa glass frog huddles over her brood may be brief, but this previously unknown maternal care boosts offspring survival. Glass frogs often start life with some tender care from a source scientists didn’t expect: frog moms. Maternal care wouldn’t be news among mammals or birds, but amphibian parenting intrigues biologists because dads are about as likely as moms to evolve as the caregiver sex. And among New World glass frogs (Centrolenidae), what little parental care there is almost always is dad’s job — or so scientists thought, says Jesse Delia of Boston University. Months of strenuous nights searching streamside leaves in five countries, however, have revealed a widespread world of brief, but important, female care in glass frogs. In examining 40 species, Delia and BU colleague Laura Bravo-Valencia found that often mothers lingered over newly laid eggs for several hours. By pressing maternal bellies against the brood, moms hydrated the jelly-glop of eggs and improved offspring chances of survival, Delia, Bravo-Valencia and Karen Warkentin, also of BU, report online March 31 in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.
3-31-17 UK plans to bring 20 species back from brink of extinction
UK plans to bring 20 species back from brink of extinction
A major funding boost of by £4.6 million is expected to protect little-known but highly endangered plants and animals across the country. Efforts to save some of the UK’s rarest species from extinction are being backed by £4.6 million in lottery funding. Little-known insects such as the bearded false darkling beetle and the royal splinter cranefly, as well as plants including the prostrate perennial knawel and interrupted brome are among the 20 species being targeted for action. A further 200 threatened species will also be helped by the funding from the National Lottery, including pine martens, large garden bumblebees, lesser butterfly orchids and hedgehogs. The money will support the Back from the Brink initiative to bring together leading charities and conservation bodies in the first nationwide coordinated effort to safeguard species from extinction and deliver conservation measures across England. The scheme aims to boost conservation efforts in 150 key habitats and landscapes, and recruit and teach more than 5,500 volunteers the skills they need to study, identify and look after threatened species.
3-31-17 Why a tiny, fanged fish produces a pain-free bite
Why a tiny, fanged fish produces a pain-free bite
Venom research laboratory scientists have solved the mystery of the pain-free bite from a small, fanged fish. Researchers found that the fang blenny, a reef-dwelling fish, administers a bite that is laced with opioids. These morphine-like compounds cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, apparently disorientating a predator and letting the blenny escape. The findings, published in Current Biology, are an example of medical secrets still hidden in our oceans.
3-30-17 Tiny fish’s venom makes predators zone out and release them
Tiny fish’s venom makes predators zone out and release them
When predators attack, blennies on Pacific coral reefs bite back with a venom that makes the attackers so dizzy that they open their mouths to let the prey out. If you swallow this tropical blenny, you’re likely to have bitten off more than you can chew. It has two prominent fangs on its lower jaws, which it uses to inject a unique venom that sends predators into a limp mess. When a predator engulfs a blenny, the tiny fish bites the predator’s gums. The bigger fish’s blood pressure plummets, its coordination goes hopelessly awry and its mouth gapes involuntarily, allowing the tiny prey to swim out unscathed. “The predators would shake and quiver, and open their jaws and gills really wide,” says Nick Casewell of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK, and joint leader of a team that has established the ingredients of blenny venom. “What’s more, they never eat blennies again, so whatever the effect is, it seems to be very unpleasant for predators.” The researchers have now tested venom from 11 species found in the reefs of the western Pacific Ocean, but many of the insights came from Meiacanthus grammistes (the striped poison-fang blenny) and Meiacanthus atrodorsalis (the forktail blenny).
3-30-17 Flying foxes are facing extinction on islands across the world
Flying foxes are facing extinction on islands across the world
Despite their key role as pollinators, these fruit bats are hunted for food and to protect fruit crops, which could wipe them out on their island homes. Flying foxes are in deep trouble. Almost half the species of this type of fruit bat are now threatened with extinction. The bats face a variety of threats, including deforestation and invasive species, but the main one is hunting by humans, says Christian Vincenot, an ecological modeller at Kyoto University in Japan, who highlights their plight in a perspective article in Science this week. The bats are hunted for food, for their supposed medicinal properties and for sport. They are also killed by farmers to protect fruit crops. Around half of the 90,000 bats on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius have been killed in a government-sponsored cull in the past two years alone. The threats are particularly severe for those species that live on islands scattered across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, which is most of them – 53 of the 65 species of flying fox are island-dwellers. “Islands exacerbate all these issues, because there are fewer places for the animals to hide,” says Vincenot. But it is also islands that have the most to lose if the bats are wiped out. On many islands, fruit bats are the only pollinators and seed dispersers, especially for fruits with large seeds, says Vincenot.
3-29-17 Inside knowledge: What’s really going on in the minds of animals
Inside knowledge: What’s really going on in the minds of animals
Bright animals from chimps to crows know what they know and what others are thinking. But when it comes to abstract knowledge, the picture is more mixed. WORKERS at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, claim that elephants know they will be looked after at its rescue centre, even if the animals have never been there. Elephants that have had no contact with the centre, but know others who have, often turn up with injuries that need attention. That suggests not only abstract knowledge, but relatively sophisticated communication of that knowledge. Either that, or wishful thinking on our part. The extent to which non-human animals “know” things is difficult to assess. The attribute known as “theory of mind” – the ability to know what others are aware of – has been demonstrated, although not always conclusively, in elephants, chimps, parrots, dolphins and ravens, for example. Dolphins are even aware of lacking knowledge. Train a dolphin to answer a question such as “was that a high or low-frequency tone you just heard?” and they give sensible answers, even giving a “don’t know” when the right response isn’t clear. Some primates spontaneously seek further information when posed a question that they can’t answer, suggesting they know both that they don’t know and that they can change that. Things look more mixed when we consider abstract knowledge: the ability we have to understand abstract properties such as weight or force, and squirrel away knowledge gained in one situation to be applied in some future, different context. Great apes instinctively know that, of two identical cups on a seesaw, the lower one is more likely to contain food. “They have a spontaneous preference, from the first time, for the lower cup,” says Christoph Voelter, who researches animal cognition at the University of St Andrews, UK. “They seem to have certain physical knowledge about the world.” New Caledonian crows, on the other hand, don’t have this know-how and make “mistakes” when assessing which stones will exert the most force on a lever to release food. “Crows aren’t using knowledge of force when initially solving the problem,” says Alex Taylor of the University of Auckland, New Zealand – rather, they seem to use trial and error.
3-29-17 Giant octopus wears jellyfish cape after it devours its owner
Giant octopus wears jellyfish cape after it devours its owner
A rarely-seen deep-sea octopus eats zooplankton and a gelatinous, low-calorie food – jellyfish – and may use them as tools to catch food and feed through. An elusive deep-sea giant has been filmed with its prey for the first time. It turns out it eats jellyfish and other gelatinous animals. The octopus, Haliphron atlanticus, was filmed swimming docked on top of a medusa jellyfish, with its beak devouring its innards, while the medusa’s sticky tentacles were still hanging out of its mouth. The researchers think it might even be using the jellyfish tentacles as a handy feeding implement. Little is known about H. atlanticus, and the researchers who filmed it using remotely operated vehicles have only seen it three times in as many decades. Most other octopuses eat more substantial prey such as fish and crustaceans, so it is a surprise to see this large species eating jellyfish.
3-29-17 Sawfish’s fearsome snout evolved to be undetectable to prey
Sawfish’s fearsome snout evolved to be undetectable to prey
The snout of the elusive sawfish doesn’t make vibrations that prey fish can detect as it swims – just like a wind turbine blade through air. Something looked fishy to Sam Evans as he watched a TV show about sawfish. The sawfish’s long, rigid snout – called a rostrum – looked oddly similar to some of the industrial wind turbine blades he had investigated as a professor of engineering at Australia’s University of Newcastle. So he teamed up with biologist David Morgan and fellow engineer Phil Clausen to find out precisely how the sawfish’s rostrum moves underwater. The researchers CT scanned the rostrum of three different species and then tested these 3D models in a computer program to observe water movements around the rostrum. They used existing video footage of the rostrum’s natural movement to ensure the program mimicked it accurately. “These are tools we use every day for engineering problems, but now the technology is able to cross boundaries into biology,” says Clausen. “Essentially, we have the ability to apply engineering principles to something outside the engineering box.” Marine biologists have long known that sawfish use rostrums as weapons to bludgeon their prey, sometimes impaling it on the razor-sharp teeth embedded in them. But Evans and his team found a second feature: the snouts cut through water without creating vibrations — just like wind turbine blades.
3-29-17 Mosquito flight is unlike that of any other insect
Mosquito flight is unlike that of any other insect
Physics of skeeter wingbeats suggests insects may have traded efficiency for alluring buzz. High-speed video and computer modeling detail forces involved in mosquitoes’ wing rotation that help the insects generate enough lift to support their body weight in the air. Mosquitoes take weird insect flight to new heights. The buzzing bloodsuckers flap their long wings in narrow strokes really, really fast — more than 800 times per second in males. That’s four times faster than similarly sized insects. “The incredibly high wingbeat frequency of mosquitoes is simply mind-boggling,” says David Lentink, who studies flight at Stanford University. Mosquitoes mostly hover. Still, it takes a lot of oomph and some unorthodox techniques to fly that slowly. Mosquitoes manage to stay aloft thanks primarily to two novel ways to generate lift when they rotate their wings , Richard Bomphrey and colleagues write March 29 in Nature. The insects essentially recycle the energy from the wake of a preceding wing stroke and then tightly rotate their wings to remain in flight.
3-28-17 How the mouse came to live alongside humans
How the mouse came to live alongside humans
Mice have been living alongside humans for 15,000 years, according to fossil evidence. This is earlier than previously thought - and predates the dawn of agriculture. Scientists believe wild mice crept into settlements in the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) region to steal wild grains and seeds that ancient people had gathered and stored. The rodents became what we know today as house mice, enjoying free food and shelter in human homes. "Nowadays, thanks to this relationship, house mice have colonised almost every corner of the globe to become almost as ubiquitous as humans and also one of the most invasive mammalian species," said Dr Thomas Cucchi of Museum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris. His research is based on studies of teeth from the remains of rodents found in the southern Levant. Mice started their relationship with humans "as soon as our species started to stay put and build houses 15,000 years ago", he said.
3-27-17 Mice lived with us 15,000 years ago even before farming took off
Mice lived with us 15,000 years ago even before farming took off
House mice began to associate with humans when the Natufian people started settling in the eastern Mediterranean, before the advent of farming. The close relationship between mice and humans seems to have begun with the earliest settled people around 15,000 years ago – even before the advent of farming that made our stored crops a draw for the rodents. “The question that interests us is: do house mice become associated with humans due to farming or before farming?” says Lior Weissbrod at the University of Haifa, Israel. To find out, Weissbrod collected 272 mouse molars from 14 archaeological sites in Israel dating from 200,000 to 10,000 years ago, working with Thomas Cucchi of the French National Center for Scientific Research and colleagues. They identified two mice species from these teeth – the house mouse (Mus musculus domesticus) and its wild, short-tailed relative, the Macedonian mouse (Mus macedonicus) – giving an indication of how their distribution changed over time. At that time, people who had previously been mobile hunter-gatherers started to settle in fixed locations in the eastern Mediterranean. These people, called the Natufians, built stone houses with hearths and buried their dead. “This suggests the Natufian people were quite deliberately ‘putting down roots’, placing their ancestors in a particular location,” says Terry O’Connor, an archaeologist at the University of York, UK. But they continued to hunt and didn’t farm.
3-22-17 The rapid spread of Australia's cane toad pests
The rapid spread of Australia's cane toad pests
They are toxic invaders that have conquered swathes of northern Australia as they continue their seemingly irrepressible march west towards the Indian Ocean. Packed with poison and supremely adaptable, the dreaded cane toad, or Bufo marinus, has few friends in Australia, where a massive scientific and community effort has failed to stop their advance. "They probably have moved about halfway through that tropical region of Western Australia," explained Rick Shine, a professor in biology at the University of Sydney. "They are in very inaccessible country now in the Kimberley. It is very hard to get detailed information on exactly where the front is but it seems to be moving at 50 to 60km (31 to 37 miles) per annum." The warty amphibians move only during the wet season. Although tracking studies have shown many hop less than 10 metres a day, those at the front line have grown bigger and faster. "The guys at the invasion front up in the tropics are moving often kilometres in a single night and they have evolved this very distinctive behaviour," Prof Shine told the BBC. "They've actually evolved differences in shape and physiology as well. Essentially they have turned into these dispersal machines and they move as far as they can, as fast as they can." Experts are reluctant to speculate on how many of these unwelcome pests have been unleashed across Australia's north. They are prolific breeders - some estimates put the figure at around 1.5 billion - but it is impossible to know for sure. Australia has a long and depressing history of inadvertently introducing wrecking ball species as pets and livestock, or for sport. Examples include foxes, pigs and rabbits, goats, camels and cats. Invasive plants and fish have also had a dramatic effect on native flora and fauna, but it is the cane toad that is widely reviled above all else.
3-22-17 This bird has flown: Unravelling the mysteries of bird migration
This bird has flown: Unravelling the mysteries of bird migration
The epic seasonal voyages of migratory birds have long confounded scientists – now satellite tracking technology is revealing precisely how they do it. THE Arctic tern, a black-crowned seabird weighing no more than a bar of soap, flies from the top of the world to the bottom and back again every year. That’s 40,000 kilometres as the crow flies. But when researchers equipped terns with satellite tracking devices, they discovered that these birds don’t take the shortest path. One individual, tracked in 2015, ended up covering close to 100,000 kilometres – equivalent to more than twice around the planet. “Bird enthusiasts have been ringing birds since the 1890s,” says Anders Hedenström at Lund University in Sweden. “But ringing data only tell you where birds have been recaptured. They don’t tell you what they’re up to once they’ve disappeared over the horizon.” Thanks to lightweight trackers, we can now follow even the smallest birds on their spectacular journeys. What we’re finding along the way is amazing, says Hedenström. “In just a few years, we’ve learned more about migration strategies than from a century of ringing.” Meanwhile, mathematical modelling and molecular biology are also bringing fresh insight into why and how they do it. There is still a lot to learn, but from where these birds really go and how they navigate to the tricks they use to prepare for such epic journeys, the story of avian migration is not standing still.
3-22-17 Female fish with bigger brains choose better mates
Female fish with bigger brains choose better mates
Colourful male guppies are healthier and better foragers. But using this information to pick a good mate requires female guppies to use more brainpower. It takes brains to choose a good partner. In one of the first experiments to look at the cognitive demands of choosing a mate, female guppies with big brains showed a preference for more colourful males, while those with smaller brains showed no preference. In guppies, like most animals, females are choosy about who to mate with, since they invest more in their offspring than males, which don’t help care for them. They tend to prefer males with striking colour patterns and big tails, traits that have been linked to good foraging ability and health. By choosing a male with these qualities, female guppies give their offspring a good chance of inheriting the same useful traits. Despite this, females often go on to make different choices. Alberto Corral López and colleagues at Stockholm University wanted to find out if brain size could account for this.
3-22-17 Female guppies with bigger brains pick more attractive guys
Female guppies with bigger brains pick more attractive guys
But the additional mental power has downsides, too. Brain size in a female guppy turns out to affect her taste in males. Bigger brains go with a preference for a colorful guy instead of some dim dud. When choosing more attractive guys, girl guppies with larger brains have an advantage over their smaller-brained counterparts. But there’s a cost to such brainpower, and that might help explain one of the persistent mysteries of sex appeal, researchers report March 22 in Science Advances. One sex often shows a strong preference for some trait in the other, whether it’s a longer fish fin or a more elaborate song and dance. Yet after millions of years, there’s still variety in many animals’ color, size, shape or song, says study coauthor Alberto Corral-López, an evolutionary biologist at Stockholm University. Somehow generations of mate choice have failed to make the opposite sex entirely fabulous. Mate choice could require a certain amount of brainpower, with animals weighing the appeal of suitors and choosing among them. Previous research suggests a smaller brain dims guppies’ mental abilities, and the researchers wondered how brain size might affect the fish’s choice of mate.
3-22-17 Spain's emergency room for wildlife
Spain's emergency room for wildlife
Spring is a busy time for the medical staff at the GREFA wildlife hospital. Just 15 miles from Spain's bustling capital city of Madrid, nestled in a lush public forest, is the GREFA animal hospital, the first stop for the country's injured, ill, or orphaned wildlife. Known as the Group of Rehabilitation of the Native Fauna and its Habitat, this non-governmental nonprofit is dedicated to studying and conserving Spain's native animal species. Spring is a busy season for GREFA. Indeed, warmer temperatures bring thousands of orphaned chicks and baby animals to the hospital. But all year round, the center takes in victims of human-caused injuries, mostly birds of prey, that may have been run over, poisoned, or shot. Often the hospital finds itself caring for rare and endangered species, like black vultures and golden eagles. GREFA works toward recovery and re-release, but when that isn't possible, patients can be sent to zoos, reserves, or other facilities for educational purposes. Since its founding in 1981, GREFA has treated more than 40,000 animals — more than 5,000 in 2016 alone — making it one of the oldest and most important wildlife hospitals in Spain, if not all of Europe.
3-22-17 Sea otters ahead of dolphins in using tools
Sea otters ahead of dolphins in using tools
Sea otters may have been using stone tools for thousands or even millions of years, according to scientists. It appears otters learned how to use tools long before other marine mammals. Sea otters are often seen floating on their backs, using rocks to break open shellfish for food. A genetic study of more than 100 wild sea otters living off the Californian coast suggests their ancestors living millions of years ago showed this behaviour. Dolphins in Australia have been seen to use sponges to protect their noses when scouting for fish on the sea floor. However, this seems to be a relatively new invention, happening less than 200 years ago. Dr Katherine Ralls of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, US, said they were surprised to find sea otters using tools were not from the same family group, suggesting the behaviour originated in the ancestors of modern sea otters. "It's older in sea otters," she told BBC News. "They're very smart; they'll use rocks as anvils and as hammers." Unlike dolphins, using tools seems to be innate in all young sea otters, said the researchers. "Orphaned otter pups raised in captivity exhibit rudimentary pounding behaviour without training or previous experience, and wild pups develop tool-use behaviour before weaning regardless of their mother's diet type," they wrote in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters. (Webmaster's comment: The key is that Otters have hands and Dolphins do not.)
3-21-17 Tool use in sea otters doesn't run in the family
Tool use in sea otters doesn't run in the family
Sea otters use rocks to crack open their food. A new study suggests that a propensity for this behavior is not passed from mother to child. Aside from being adorable, sea otters and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins share an ecological feat: Both species use tools. Otters crack open snails with rocks, and dolphins carry cone-shaped sponges to protect their snouts while scavenging for rock dwelling fish. Researchers have linked tool use in dolphins to a set of differences in mitochondrial DNA — which passes from mother to offspring — suggesting that tool-use behavior may be inherited. Biologist Katherine Ralls of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and her colleagues looked for a similar pattern in otters off the California coast. The team tracked diet (primarily abalone, crab, mussels, clams, urchins or snails) and tool use in the wild and analyzed DNA from 197 individual otters. Otters that ate lots of hard-shelled snails — and used tools most frequently — rarely shared a common pattern in mitochondrial DNA, nor were they more closely related to other tool-users than any other otter in the population.
3-20-17 Parrots find ‘laughter’ contagious and high-five in mid air
Parrots find ‘laughter’ contagious and high-five in mid air
Chortling parrots join humans, apes and rats in elite club of species that find fun infectious and enjoy a laugh or two together. If your parrot is feeling glum, it might be tweetable. Wild keas spontaneously burst into playful behaviour when exposed to the parrot equivalent of canned laughter – the first birds known to respond to laughter-like sounds. The parrots soared after one another in aerobatic loops, exchanged foot-kicking high fives in mid-air and tossed objects to each other, in what seems to be emotionally contagious behaviour. And when the recording stops, so does the party, and the birds go back to whatever they had been doing. We already knew that these half-metre-tall parrots engage in playful behaviour, especially when young. What’s new is that a special warbling call they make has been shown to trigger behaviour that seems to be an equivalent of spontaneous, contagious laughter in humans. Moreover, it’s not just the young ones that respond, adults of both sexes join in the fun too. (Webmaster's comment: Humor is universal! In college I observed that lab rats are especially humorous and laugh, tease and play all the time.)
3-17-17 Stop killing lions for their bones to make bogus aphrodisiacs
Stop killing lions for their bones to make bogus aphrodisiacs
The export of lion skeletons to China for use in 'aphrodisiac' wines threatens the survival of the king of the beasts, says Richard Schiffman. When Cecil the lion, a star attraction in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, was killed for sport in 2015, outrage followed. But there is scant attention for a far bigger threat to the king of the beasts than trophy hunting. Lions are increasingly being destroyed for their bones, which are exported to China for use in a wine sold as an aphrodisiac. For centuries, tiger bones were used in bogus treatments, reputedly meant to boost male libidos. Now, however, as tiger numbers plummet because of habitat loss and poaching – with maybe as few as 3200 left in the wild – cheaper and more plentiful lion skeletons are being used. Proponents of this practice argue that the bones are not from wild animals, but from lions raised in southern Africa’s “canned lion” industry. The way this works is that trophy hunters pay tens of thousands of dollars to legally shoot a captive-bred lion and take the animal’s skull, skin and paws home as grisly keepsakes. Hunters usually leave the skeletons to the bone traders, who sell them for about $2000 to the booming Asian market. In 2016, South Africa alone exported hundreds of sets of lion bones to China and South-East Asia. However, this legal trade is being used as a cover for poachers in other parts of Africa who are anxious to get in on the lucrative act. Kristoffer Everatt, a zoologist and researcher in South Africa, told New Scientist that at least three lions from a population of 70 have been poached for their bones in the past year in Limpopo National Park, Mozambique.
3-17-17 A king snake’s strength is in its squeeze
A king snake’s strength is in its squeeze
Studies suggest how the snake coils matters more than muscle size. King snakes coil around mice like a spring, squeezing tight enough to stop a rodent’s heart. It’s not the size of a snake’s muscles that matter, but how it uses them. King snakes can defeat larger snakes in a wrestling match to the death because of how they coil around their prey, researchers report March 15 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. King snakes wrap around their food and squeeze with about twice as much pressure as rat snakes do, says David Penning, a functional morphologist at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. Penning, along with colleague Brad Moon at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, measured the constriction capabilities of almost 200 snakes. “King snakes are just little brutes,” Penning says. King snakes, which are common in North American forests and grasslands, are constrictor snakes that “wrestle for a living,” Penning says. They mainly eat rodents, birds and eggs, squeezing so hard, they can stop their prey’s heart (SN: 8/22/15, p. 4). In addition, about a quarter of the king snake diet is other snakes. King snakes can easily attack and eat vipers because they’re immune to the venom, but when they take on larger constrictors, such as rat snakes, it has been unclear what gives them the edge. “That’s not how nature goes,” Penning says, because predators are usually larger than their prey. King snakes, though, can eat snakes up to 35 percent larger than themselves. One of the largest king snake conquests on record, from 1893, is of a 5-foot-3-inch rat snake, about 17 percent larger than the 4-foot-6-inch king snake that consumed it, Penning says.
3-17-17 Detachable scales turn this gecko into an escape artist
Detachable scales turn this gecko into an escape artist
Newly discovered lizard leaves predators with a mouth full of the largest scales yet. Geckolepis megalepis lets go of its scales to elude enemies, exposing the pinkish tissue underneath. Large, detachable scales make a newly discovered species of gecko a tough catch. When a predator grabs hold, Madagascar’s Geckolepis megalepis strips down and slips away, looking more like slimy pink Silly Putty than a rugged lizard. All species of Geckolepis geckos have tear-off scales that regrow within a few weeks, but G. megalepis boasts the largest. Some of its scales reach nearly 6 millimeters long. Mark Scherz, a herpetologist and taxonomist at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and colleagues describe the new species February 7 in PeerJ. The hardness and density of the oversized scales may help the gecko to escape being dinner, Scherz says. Attacking animals probably get their claws or teeth stuck on the scales while G. megalepis contracts its muscles, loosening the connection between the scales and the translucent tissue underneath. The predator is left with a mouthful of armor, but no meat. “It’s almost ridiculous,” Scherz says, “how easy it is for these geckos to lose their scales.”
3-16-17 How one enslaving wasp eats through another
How one enslaving wasp eats through another
Parasite that forces trees to do its bidding gets enslaved itself. Springtime for parasitoids in the southeastern United States means a female Euderus set wasp searches oak stems for victims hidden inside. Parasites can drive their hosts to do weird, dumb things. But in certain oak trees, the parasites themselves get played. “Creepy and awesome,” says Kelly Weinersmith of Rice University in Houston, who has helped reveal a Russian doll of nested parasitisms. The saga begins when two majestic live oak species in the southeastern United States send out new shoots, and female crypt gall wasps (Bassettia pallida) arrive to lay eggs. A wasp mom uses the delivery end of her reproductive tract to drill through tree bark, injecting each of her eggs into a separate spot in the oak. Wasp biochemistry induces the tree to form a botanical womb with an edible lining largely free of oak defense chemicals. The tree is hijacked into nurturing each larva, and wasp life is good — until the unlucky ones get noticed by a second exploiter.
3-16-17 Tardigrades turn into glass to survive complete dehydration
Tardigrades turn into glass to survive complete dehydration
Water bears make unique jelly proteins that form a glass-like cocoon to protect them from drought. The find could one day help make drought resistant crops. They are probably the toughest creatures on Earth, and now we know how they manage to survive years of complete dehydration. Water bears, or tardigrades, have been recorded surviving the vacuum of space, high doses of radiation and pressure. These water dwelling creatures can also survive dry environments in a shrivelled-up, dormant state for as long as a decade, reviving within an hour when exposed to water. To pull off this remarkable trick, the animals rely on proteins unique to them, called tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered proteins (TDPs). When there is water around, these anti-dehydration proteins are jelly-like and don’t form into well-defined three-dimensional structures like most known proteins. But when water bears start to dry out, these proteins turn into a kind of glassy sanctuary that cocoons all dehydration-sensitive materials in the animal from harm. “When the animal completely desiccates, the TDPs vitrify, turning the cytoplasmic fluid of cells into glass,” says lead author Thomas Boothby of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We think this glassy mixture is trapping [other] desiccation-sensitive proteins and other biological molecules and locking them in place, physically preventing them from unfolding, breaking apart or aggregating together,” says Boothby.
3-16-17 Chimp filmed cleaning a corpse’s teeth in a mortuary-like ritual
Chimp filmed cleaning a corpse’s teeth in a mortuary-like ritual
The never-before-seen behaviour suggests that chimpanzees can be curious about death and may shed light on the origins of human mortuary practices. For the first time, a chimpanzee has been observed using tools to clean the corpse of a deceased group member. This behaviour could shed light on the evolutionary origins of human mortuary practices. A female chimpanzee, Noel, at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia sat down by the dead body of a young male, Thomas, whom she had previously adopted. She then selected a firm stem of grass, and started to intently remove debris from his teeth. She continued doing this even after the rest of the group had left the corpse. A team of scientists from the University of St Andrews, UK, who observed the behaviour think this could mean that the long-lasting social bonds that chimpanzees form continue to influence their behaviour even after their bonding partner has died. “The report is important because it indicates once more that the human species is not the only one capable of compassion,” says Edwin van Leeuwen, lead author of the study. It appears that chimps, like humans, treat deceased members of their own species sensitively, rather than treating them like inanimate objects – especially when the deceased is a close associate. “This is certainly an interesting and noteworthy observation, another case of chimpanzees showing unusual behaviour in the presence of deceased group members,” says Klaus Zuberbuehler, also at St Andrews, who wasn’t involved in the study. “We have seen similar behaviour in our wild group of chimps in Budongo forest, Uganda, where individuals groomed an adult female, who had just been killed, for an extended period of time.”
3-15-17 Flower-rich habitat boosts survival for bumblebees
Flower-rich habitat boosts survival for bumblebees
At this time of year, bumblebee queens are a familiar sight foraging on spring flowers. After spending the winter hibernating, they need to build up vital energy stores before laying their eggs. According to the largest study of its kind, access to flower-rich habitats from spring through to summer is key to the survival of successive generations of the bees. Scientists have discovered that bumblebees need flowers within a short distance (1km) of their colony. Bumblebees are among the most important insect pollinators, yet they are in decline globally. Until now, aspects of the lifecycle of bumblebees have remained a mystery, said ecologist, Dr Claire Carvell. "Our research was looking to unravel some of these mysteries - and in particular to try and look at how the structure of habitats across a landscape, or the availability of flowers for the bees, affected this one key aspect of their life cycle, which was the survival of their families between years," she told BBC News.
3-15-17 Tropical bedbugs outclimb common bedbugs
Tropical bedbugs outclimb common bedbugs
Climbing tests suggest that tropical bedbugs are more adept climbers than common bedbugs. Some bedbugs are better climbers than others, and the bloodsuckers’ climbing prowess has practical implications. To detect and monitor bedbugs, people use an array of strategies from DIY setups to dogs. Pitfall traps, which rely on smooth inner walls to prevent escape, are highly effective for detecting and monitoring an infestation. The traps are sold around the world, but they have only been tested with common bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) — the most, well, common species in the United States. As it turns out, tropical bedbugs (C. hemipterus) can easily scale the walls of pitfall traps, Chow-Yang Lee, an entomologist at Malaysia’s University of Science, and his colleagues found in lab tests. While 24 to 76 percent of tropical bedbug strains escaped traps, only 0 to 2 percent of common strains made it out. In measurements of vertical frictional force, tropical bedbugs also came out on top. Further investigation of the species' feet revealed extra hairs on the tibial pads of tropical bugs. These may give their legs a better grip on trap walls, the researchers propose March 15 in the Journal of Economic Entomology.
3-15-17 Fiddler crab’s drumming shows off the size of its home
Fiddler crab’s drumming shows off the size of its home
Male fiddler crabs famously wave and drum their claws – but why? It seems the drumming is a sign to females of how big their bodies and burrow are. It’s not just arm waving. Male fiddler crabs use their huge claws to advertise the size of their home – and their fitness — to prospective mates. Male banana fiddler crabs (Uca mjoebergi) try to catch a female’s attention by waving their brightly coloured major claw in the air. They then switch to a drumming signal transmitted through the ground as a series of rapid vibrations. Males that drummed most rapidly had the largest burrows and the highest fitness, a new study has found. Burrow dimensions are important to a female because she stays inside the mated male’s burrow to incubate her eggs. It also found that drumming is physically costly to males. The researchers believe the physical investment required to drum and wave allows females to select the fittest mates. The advantage of drumming as well as waving is that male crabs can still attract females from inside their burrow when they are no longer visible. This could also benefit female crabs because it reduces their risk of being coerced into mating when they enter a male’s burrow to see how big it is.
3-15-17 Spiders top the global predator charts
Spiders top the global predator charts
Biologists have calculated that the global population of spiders consumes 400 million to 800 million tonnes of primarily insect prey every year. Researchers set out to put a value on the ecological importance of the arachnids. They say their appetite for prey means they consume approximately the same amount as the weight of meat and fish eaten every year by humans. The findings are published in the journal the Science of Nature.
3-14-17 Spiders eat twice as much animal prey as humans do in a year
Spiders eat twice as much animal prey as humans do in a year
They may be tiny but spiders chomp through an estimated 800 million tonnes of mainly insect prey a year, compared with our 400 million tonnes of meat and fish. Spiders devour up to 800 million tonnes of prey each year, making them some of the world’s most voracious predators. Most of their victims are insects but the largest tropical species occasionally make a meal of vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, fish and small mammals. There are more than 45,000 species of spider living in all parts of the world with a collective weight of about 25 million tonnes. Together they kill between 400 million and 800 million tonnes of prey annually, a team of Swiss and Swedish scientists has calculated. In comparison, all the humans on Earth consume about 400 million tonnes of meat and fish each year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. The appetite of spiders even exceeds that of whales, which get through an estimated 280 million to 500 million tons of prey a year. “Our calculations let us quantify for the first time on a global scale that spiders are major natural enemies of insects,” says Martin Nyffeler, from the University of Basel in Switzerland. “In concert with other insectivorous animals such as ants and birds, they help to reduce the population densities of insects significantly.”
3-13-17 Luminous frog is the first known naturally fluorescent amphibian
Luminous frog is the first known naturally fluorescent amphibian
Fluorescent compounds make a South American tree frog much brighter at night, and the trait may be more widespread in nature than we realise. Shine on you crazy frog. The polka-dot tree frog is the first amphibian known to be naturally fluorescent. Fluorescence, which happens when a substance absorbs light at one wavelength and emits it at a longer one, is known to occur in some parrots and sea turtles, and a wide variety of fish. The polka-dot tree frog, which is about 3 centimetres long, is pale green and speckled with white, yellow or reddish spots. It is commonly found all over the Amazon basin and is mainly active at dawn, dusk and night. Julián Faivovich at the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, made the discovery unexpectedly while studying a pigment in the frog. “For some things we were planning on doing, we had to illuminate the frog tissues with UV light. Then we realised the whole frog was fluorescing,” he says. He and his colleagues traced the fluorescence to a compound found in the lymph and skin glands. They found that this trait enhances the brightness of the frog by 19 per cent on a night with a full moon and 30 per cent during twilight. The fluorescent compounds absorb light at a wavelength at which frog photoreceptors have low sensitivity, and emit it in a wavelength at which they have high sensitivity. That means it’s likely the frogs themselves can see the fluorescence.
3-10-17 Never-before-seen gatherings of hundreds of humpback whales
Never-before-seen gatherings of hundreds of humpback whales
The marine giants are gathering to feed in super-groups of 200, and no one knows why. It could be their natural behaviour when populations are at normal levels.In a mysterious change to their normal behaviour, humpback whales are forming massive groups of up to 200 animals. Humpbacks aren’t normally considered to be terribly social. They are mostly found alone, in pairs, or sometimes in small groups that disband quickly. But research crews have spotted strange new social behaviour on three separate cruises in 2011, 2014 and 2015, as well as a handful of public observations from aircraft. These super-groups of up to 200 were spotted feeding intensively off the south-western coast of South Africa, thousands of kilometres further north from their typical feeding grounds in the polar waters of the Antarctic. “It’s quite unusual to see them in such large groups,” says Gísli Vikingsson, head of whale research at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Iceland.
3-10-17 Dogs use deception to get what they want from humans (a sausage)
Dogs use deception to get what they want from humans (a sausage)
Who needs enemies with friends like these? Human’s best friend can be sneaky and manipulative – and all for a tasty treat. Dogs are all honest, loyal and obedient, right? Well, not always. Our pets can be sneaky and manipulative when they want to maximise the number of tasty treats they get to eat. Marianne Heberlein, who studies dog cognition at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, wanted to test the animals’ ability to use deception to get what they want from humans. She got the idea to study doggie deception from watching her own dogs. One occasionally pretends to see something interesting in the backyard to trick the other into giving up the prime sleeping spot. “This sort of thing happens quite often, but it is not well studied,” she says. To see if dogs would deceive humans too, Heberlein and her colleagues paired various pooches with two partners – one who always gave the dog treats and another who always kept the treats.
3-9-17 Robber fly: Hunting secrets of a tiny predator revealed
Robber fly: Hunting secrets of a tiny predator revealed
The mid-air hunting strategy of a tiny fly the size of a grain of rice has been revealed by an international team of scientists. Holcocephala, a species of robber fly, is able to intercept and "lock on" to its prey in less than a second. Researchers used high-speed cameras to show exactly how the fly positioned itself to capture a moving target in mid-air. The results are published in the journal Current Biology.
3-9-17 Sneaky beetles evolved disguise to look like ants, then eat them
Sneaky beetles evolved disguise to look like ants, then eat them
At least a dozen species of rove beetles have independently evolved almost identical disguises to dupe their army ant prey into accepting them as one of their own. It’s one of the sneakiest ploys that has ever evolved. Rove beetles blend seamlessly into army ant societies, but instead of helping out, they devour the young of their unsuspecting companions. The deceit is so successful that it has independently evolved in at least 12 parasitic rove beetle species – a phenomenon called convergent evolution. The beetles’ entire body shape evolved to resemble the army ants they prey on, and they smell and act like the ants too. They even go marching on raids with them. “What we found is that multiple times, the ancestors of these rove beetles adapted to life inside army ant colonies,” says Joseph Parker at Columbia University in New York. “Each time, their body shape and behaviour underwent the same radical changes.” Parker discovered the phenomenon with his colleague, Munetoshi Maruyama of Kyushu University Museum in Fukuoka, Japan. He says the finding challenges arguments by famous palaeontologist and author Stephen Jay Gould and others that completely different creatures would evolve if the evolutionary clock was restarted from scratch. Instead, the findings suggest that evolution may take the same predictable path whenever a certain scenario arises. In this case, beetles first prey on army ants directly, but later evolve to sneak into the army itself.
3-9-17 Translucent helmeted cockroach looks like an alien with a halo
Translucent helmeted cockroach looks like an alien with a halo
A new species of cockroach has been found in a lava cave in Vietnam, and has strange behaviours to match its bizarre appearance. It’s one of the weirdest-looking cockroaches ever known, sporting a huge head with a helmet and extra-long legs. “It looks like a forthcoming Star Wars personality,” says Peter Vršanský, who has described the new species. Vršanský and his colleagues found it in the Tan Phu cave, part of a lava-tube cave system running a few metres below the soil surface under a forest in southern Vietnam. Rather than feeding on bat guano like many other cave cockroaches, the new species instead graze on bacteria and fungi. Particles that look like fungal spores were found in the gut of the new species. Guano aside, it may still make use of the bats. Riding on bats could be a useful mode of dispersal for these cave dwellers – and this may partly explain some of their weird appearance. “Morphologically, it is apparently the most bizarre cockroach which has ever lived that we know of,” says Vršanský, who is at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava. It is tiny, at just 3 millimetres long, and largely translucent with reduced eyes. “The most interesting features are hidden at the back,” says Vršanský. One of these is the huge helmet that gives it a halo-like appearance when viewed from below. Others are a big hook and a “nipper” further down its back. These features may help the cockroach attach to a female for reproduction, but they may also help the creatures hook together to piggyback on bats to new caves. In evolutionary terms, there’s little point being the only cockroach in a new cave: much better to bring along a mate.
3-7-17 Bumblebees can tell who visited flowers by smelly footprints
Bumblebees can tell who visited flowers by smelly footprints
The bees leave fragrant footprints on flowers and can tell the difference between their own footprint scent and that of other bees, which may help them hunt for food more efficiently. Smelly footprints left by bumblebees can help them find good sources of food. The insects secrete invisible markers when they touch their feet on a surface, which can be detected by themselves and other bumblebees. Researchers from the University of Bristol, in the UK, found that bees can distinguish between their own scent, the scent of a relative and that of a stranger. This ability can be used to improve their success at finding good sources of food and avoiding flowers that have already been visited and mined of nutrients.
3-7-17 First-ever underwater video of the elusive True’s beaked whale
First-ever underwater video of the elusive True’s beaked whale
The deep-water whale spends most of its life on hour-long dives kilometres below the ocean surface. The new footage is a step towards understanding them better. The sighting of a rare True’s beaked whale came literally out of the blue, and it’s been captured on video. The first underwater footage of this elusive mammal was recorded in the deep coastal waters of the Azores and shows three of the whales surfacing. Just seven live sightings have been reported in Macaronesia, the southernmost part of their north Atlantic range, and some may be misidentifications of other beaked whale species. The new video was taken by a team of educators on an expedition with a group of schoolchildren. The whales surfaced for 10 minutes, which gave the team time to slip out of their inflatable boat with a GoPro camera to record them. “Suddenly this group of whales appear from nowhere and start to surround the boat,” says Natacha Aguilar de Soto, a marine biologist from the University of St Andrews, UK, and the University of La Laguna on the Canary Islands, Spain, who later identified the whales from the footage. “These are whales that very few people in the world have ever seen.” The True’s beaked whale has never been tagged for research purposes, but other beaked whale species have and they all exhibit the same behaviour.
3-5-17 ‘Monkeytalk’ invites readers into the complex social world of monkeys
‘Monkeytalk’ invites readers into the complex social world of monkeys
Researcher shares stories of science and life in the field. In a new book, a primatologist discusses what’s known about intelligence and social behavior in several monkey species, including Barbary macaques. The social lives of macaques and baboons play out in what primatologist Julia Fischer calls “a magnificent opera.” When young Barbary macaques reach about 6 months, they fight nightly with their mothers. Young ones want the “maternal embrace” as they snooze; mothers want precious alone time. Getting pushed away and bitten by dear old mom doesn’t deter young macaques. But they’re on their own when a new brother or sister comes along. In Monkeytalk, Fischer describes how the monkey species she studies have evolved their own forms of intelligence and communication. Connections exist between monkey and human minds, but Fischer regards differences among primate species as particularly compelling. She connects lab studies of monkeys and apes to her observations of wild monkeys while mixing in offbeat personal anecdotes of life in the field. Fischer catapulted into a career chasing down monkeys in 1993. While still in college, she monitored captive Barbary macaques. That led to fieldwork among wild macaques in Morocco. In macaque communities, females hold central roles because young males move to other groups to mate. Members of closely related, cooperative female clans gain an edge in competing for status with male newcomers. Still, adult males typically outrank females. Fischer describes how the monkeys strategically alternate between attacking and forging alliances. (Webmaster's comment: Where it all started.)
3-3-17 Stubborn wasp queens pass their personality on to their colony
Stubborn wasp queens pass their personality on to their colony
The way a queen paper wasp responds to intruders predicts how members of her brood will respond, but it is unknown if nature or nurture is behind it. Annoying and stubborn! That’s how most of us would characterise the wasps that buzz around our food when we try to enjoy a quiet lunch outside. But there may be more to wasp personality than this, according to work led by Colin Wright at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Wright’s team has found that it could predict paper wasp behaviour six weeks before they hatch – by observing the queen. This suggests wasps get their personalities from their mothers, either by nature or nurture. Often, the insect group founder and offspring engage in different day-to-day activities, making it challenging to understand resemblances in their personality. Most studies instead define insect personality based on interactions of the entire group, largely ignoring the founder of the colony.
3-3-17 WW2 bomb craters are a home to rare and vulnerable animals
WW2 bomb craters are a home to rare and vulnerable animals
Ponds created in the holes blasted by second world war bombs are as biodiverse as natural ones, and could help preserve species as the salty pools vanish. Some bombs can help create life. A rich mix of rare saline water species have been found thriving in ponds formed in second world war bomb craters in Hungary. As the number of natural inland ponds dramatically drops throughout Europe due to agricultural land drainage and urbanisation, this discovery backs the case for the inclusion of human-made habitats into conservation initiatives. “These ‘wartime scars’ might be unnatural, but still can be regarded as valuable bioreserves – just like sunken warships or submarines scattered in the ocean that turned into coral reefs giving refugee to many species,” says Csaba Vad of aquatic ecosystem research centre WasserCluster Lunz in Austria, who led the research. A series of miscalculated aerial bombings aimed at a local airport helped to create more than a hundred ponds near the village of Apaj in central Hungary. Similar bomb ponds exist worldwide as a result of war and military training. The bombs in Hungary happened to fall on a type of habitat known as sodic meadows, which give rise to saline habitats when covered in water. Naturally occurring inland saline ponds, called soda pans, are unique to this region of Europe. They form part of wider wetlands that harbour a high number of rare and endemic species — but they have been disappearing.
3-2-17 Climbing plants use taste to avoid clinging to other weak vines
Climbing plants use taste to avoid clinging to other weak vines
Vines seem able to detect chemicals in vines of their own kind when they touch them, and will uncoil their tendrils to seek a sturdier plant to climb up. Vines are antisocial climbers. They send out tendrils to taste nearby plants, identifying and then steering clear of similarly weak-stemmed varieties. Climbing plants are known to have a highly attuned sense of touch, which helps them scale other plants and structures. As soon as their tendrils brush up against a potential scaffold, they coil tightly around it. Yuya Fukano at the University of Tokyo has now shown that some vines can also sense chemicals. If they don’t like the “taste” of the plant to which they are tethered, they will uncoil themselves and retreat. Fukano found that tendrils of the Cayratia japonica vine only stayed wrapped around other plants if they were non-vine species like shrubs. When presented with other C. japonica specimens, they held on for less than 2 hours. Vines probably avoid climbing up other vines because they are flimsier than other plants, says Fukano. Moreover, it is easier to compete with a non-climbing plant for light and space. As for how vines can tell what plants they are in contact with, Fukano showed that C. japonica tendrils can taste a chemical called oxalate. C. japonica itself contains high levels of oxalate, so detecting the chemical tells the tendril whether it is touching a member of its own – or a different – species.
3-2-17 Mysteries of elephant sleep revealed
Mysteries of elephant sleep revealed
Wild African elephants sleep for the shortest time of any mammal, according to a study. Scientists tracked two elephants in Botswana to find out more about the animals' natural sleep patterns. Elephants in zoos sleep for four to six hours a day, but in their natural surroundings the elephants rested for only two hours, mainly at night. The elephants, both matriarchs of the herd, sometimes stayed awake for several days. During this time, they travelled long distances, perhaps to escape lions or poachers. They only went into rapid eye movement (REM, or dreaming sleep, at least in humans) every three or four days, when they slept lying down rather than on their feet. Prof Paul Manger of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, said this makes elephant sleep unique. "Elephants are the shortest sleeping mammal - that seems to be related to their large body size," he told BBC News.
3-1-17 Elephants sleep for just 2 hours a day – the least of any mammal
Elephants sleep for just 2 hours a day – the least of any mammal
The sleep patterns of wild elephants have been remotely monitored for the first time, revealing they get by with little kip. It’s another sleepless night in the savannah. Wild elephants average just 2 hours of sleep a night, making them the lightest-known snoozers of any mammal. Previous studies have looked at such habits in captive elephants, which sleep for 3 to 7 hours a day. But with more dangers and pressure to find food, wild animals tend to sleep less. So Paul Manger at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in South Africa and his colleagues set out to monitor sleep in wild African elephants in Chobe National Park in northern Botswana. The most reliable way to measure sleep is to use electrical recordings of the brain, but this isn’t possible in elephants. Their thick skulls mean that surface electrodes are ineffective, and putting electrodes under the skull would require invasive surgery. Instead, the researchers fitted motion sensors to elephants’ trunks. The trunk is the most active part of the elephant’s body, and is rarely idle while the animal is awake. “We figured when it hadn’t been used for 5 minutes, the elephant was probably asleep,” says Manger. The team monitored two matriarchs for 35 continuous days. The elephants slept for an average of 2 hours a night, not in a single slumber but in four to five short bursts – a pattern known as polyphasic sleep. Most of their sleep occurred between 1.00 and 6.00 am, and the elephants snoozed in different places every night.
3-1-17 Wild elephants clock shortest shut-eye recorded for mammals
Wild elephants clock shortest shut-eye recorded for mammals
Average snooze of two hours per night deepens mystery of sleep’s role. The first study of electronically monitored sleep in two wild elephants finds a record-breaking low average for mammals. Fitbit-style tracking of two wild African elephants suggests their species could break sleep records for mammals. The elephants get by just fine on about two hours of sleep a day. Much of that shut-eye comes while standing up — the animals sleep lying down only once every three or four days, new data show. Most of what scientists previously knew about sleeping elephants came from captive animals, says neuroethologist Paul Manger of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. In zoos and enclosures, elephants have been recorded snoozing about three hours to almost seven over a 24-hour period. Monitoring African elephants in the wild, however, so far reveals more extreme behavior. Data are hard to collect, but two females wearing activity recorders for about a month averaged less sleep than other recorded mammals. Especially intriguing is the elephants’ ability to skip a night’s sleep without needing extra naps later, Manger and colleagues report March 1 in PLOS ONE.
3-1-17 Tiptoeing termites bang their heads to mimic ant footsteps
Tiptoeing termites bang their heads to mimic ant footsteps
Termites have evolved super-soft footsteps that enable them to forage unnoticed alongside ants – but when threatened they imitate the heavy-footed predators. It pays to tread lightly. Termites have evolved super-soft footsteps and sharp hearing to evade their noisy enemies. Ants are major predators of termites, but they often fail to notice that hungry termites are foraging for food just millimetres away. This is because termites can tiptoe around, says Sebastian Oberst at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia. His team has shown that termite footsteps are up to 100 times quieter than those of ants. Termites are blind, but their hearing is finely tuned to detect the stomping of ant feet, says Oberst. This allows them to keep track of their enemy’s location and dodge them if they get too close. To test this ability, the researchers placed termites in boxes with multiple chambers separated by wood partitions. The termites burrowed through the partitions into adjacent chambers if they were empty or contained dead ants. But they avoided chambers that contained live ants as well as empty chambers that were playing audio recordings of ant footsteps.
2-28-17 Nest-boxes no substitute for tree cavities, says study
Nest-boxes no substitute for tree cavities, says study
Conservationists cannot consider nest-boxes to be a substitute for naturally occurring tree cavities, a study has suggested. A study found the artificial nesting sites had higher humidity levels and poorer insulation than tree cavities. Researchers also found some species, such as great tits, favoured nest-boxes while others, such as marsh tits, favoured naturally available sites. The findings are reported in the Forest Ecology and Management journal. The team of scientists from Wroclaw University, Poland, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK, wanted to produce data that highlighted the anecdotal evidence between tree cavities and nest boxes. "The main message from the study is that nest-boxes cannot replicate tree cavities," explained co-author Marta Maziarz. "The microclimate - the temperature, humidity and insulation - from outside conditions is different. The nest-boxes do not insulate well but they are generally warmer and they are drier." She told BBC News: "They are not bad; they are just different. This has consequences for the birds."
2-27-17 De-extinction dilemma: reviving dead species may doom the living
De-extinction dilemma: reviving dead species may doom the living
Diverting precious conservation resources into de-extinction projects could simply mean more threatened species are wiped out, warns Olive Heffernan. The resurrection of extinct species, as depicted in the 1993 film Jurassic Park, was until recently regarded as pure science fiction. Today, de-extinction looks increasingly feasible and is being heralded as a way of turning back the clock on biodiversity loss. But with scarce resources available for conservation, it may have the opposite effect, increasing the rate of extinction. We must tread carefully. It’s easy to see the appeal of bringing back obliterated creatures. While most of us don’t wish to live alongside dinosaurs, who isn’t saddened by the loss in recent decades of the platypus frog – the only species to use its stomach as a womb and give birth from its mouth? And who wouldn’t like to see the skies of North America once again darken with great flocks of passenger pigeons, or wish that the Tasmanian tiger could live another day in the sun? This is not a new idea. But the science to make it possible is suddenly making great strides. Earlier this month, Harvard geneticist George Church claimed he’s just two years away from creating a hybrid woolly mammoth-elephant embryo. If successful, it will be the closest thing to a woolly mammoth that Earth has seen for nearly 4000 years.
2-27-17 Caterpillars vibrate anuses to send food and shelter alerts
Caterpillars vibrate anuses to send food and shelter alerts
Tiny birch caterpillars send messages by making a complex range of sounds – buzzing their bodies and drumming and scraping their mouths and anuses against leaf surfaces. Bees buzz, cicadas sing, but caterpillars are the real musical maestros of the insect world. It turns out they use different parts of their body to get the attention of other caterpillars. The tiny birch caterpillar makes special vibrations, inaudible to human ears, using their mouths, body and anal parts. These appear to send out information about food and shelter to other caterpillars nearby. Within a couple of hours, a small group of some 2-6 individuals forms around the drummer – a behaviour that may provide safety from predators or bad weather. “These tiny caterpillars produce a complex diversity of signals – they shake their bodies, drum and scrape their mouthparts, and drag specialised anal ‘oars’ against the leaf surface to create bizarre signals,” says evolutionary biologist Jayne Yack at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, who led the new study. “I’ve been studying insect sounds for more than 30 years, and I’ve never seen one insect species produce such a diversity of signal types.” The study is the first to provide evidence for the use of vibratory signals for complex acoustic communication in caterpillars, Yack says.
2-23-17 Bees learn to play golf and show off how clever they really are
Bees learn to play golf and show off how clever they really are
Bumblebees have shown they can learn how to push a ball into a hole to get a reward, staking their claim to be considered tool users. It’s a hole in one! Bumblebees have learned to push a ball into a hole to get a reward, stretching what was thought possible for small-brained creatures. Plenty of previous studies have shown that bees are no bumbling fools, but these have generally involved activities that are somewhat similar to their natural foraging behaviour. For example, bees were able to learn to pull a string to reach an artificial flower containing sugar solution. Bees sometimes have to pull parts of flowers to access nectar, so this isn’t too alien to them. So while these tasks might seem complex, they don’t really show a deeper level of learning, says Olli Loukola at Queen Mary University of London, an author of that study. Loukola and his team decided the next challenge was whether bees could learn to move an object that was not attached to the reward. They built a circular platform with a small hole in the centre filled with sugar solution, into which bees had to move a ball to get a reward. A researcher showed them how to do this by using a plastic bee on a stick to push the ball. The researchers then took three groups of other bees and trained them in different ways. One group observed a previously trained bee solving the task; another was shown the ball moving into the hole, pulled by a hidden magnet; and a third group was given no demonstration, but was shown the ball already in the hole containing the reward. The bees then did the task themselves. Those that had watched other bees do it were most successful and took less time than those in the other groups to solve the task. Bees given the magnetic demonstration were also more successful than those not given one.
2-23-17 Score! Bumblebees see how to sink ball in goal, then do it better
Score! Bumblebees see how to sink ball in goal, then do it better
Lesson in six-legged soccer tests power of insect learning. A buff-tailed bumblebee rolls a yellow ball toward a goal as researchers explore just how odd a task bees can learn and how much observing others helps them succeed. Even tiny brains can learn strange and tricky stuff, especially by watching tiny experts. Buff-tailed bumblebees got several chances to watch a trained bee roll a ball to a goal. These observers then quickly mastered the unusual task themselves when given a chance, researchers report in the Feb. 24 Science. And most of the newcomers even improved on the goal-sinking by taking a shortcut demo-bees hadn’t used, says behavioral ecologist Olli Loukola at Queen Mary University of London. Learning abilities of animals without big vertebrate brains often get severely underestimated, Loukola says. “The idea that small brains constrain insects is kind of wrong, or old-fashioned.” He and colleagues had previously challenged bees to learn, in stages, the not very beelike skill of pulling a string to reveal a hidden flower. Bees eventually succeeded. So the researchers devised an even more fiendish protocol to see how far insect learning could go.
2-22-17 Resurrecting nature: Extinct is not forever
Resurrecting nature: Extinct is not forever
Dreams of Jurassic Park are so last century. Now biologists want to use de-extinction biotechnology for conservation. But is it a good idea? KATSUHIKO HAYASHI is playing God. In his lab at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, he recently created eight baby mice using eggs made from reprogrammed mouse skin cells. Now he’s working his magic on the northern white rhino, a species so endangered there are just three individuals left, all with reproductive problems. And he has even bigger plans: he wants to use the technique to resurrect extinct animals. De-extinction isn’t a new idea. But where early attempts owed more to Jurassic Park than to science, Hayashi and others are taking a more high-minded approach. They look at the fast-moving field of biotechnology and see its conservation potential. “Many animals are gone because of human error, so we need to use technology to recover them,” he says. He has a point. With 100 or so species disappearing from the planet every day, we are living through one of the biggest mass extinctions ever. And the causes – from poaching to pollution to climate change – are down to us. At the same time, cutting-edge biotechnology, including genome sequencing, cloning and gene-editing tools like CRISPR, is allowing us to manipulate life. We are now on the verge of being able to undo extinctions, and researchers are racing to get there first. But while some foresee a thrilling new age of conservation and are urging conservationists to embrace it, others are horrified by the prospect of high-tech meddling with nature. (Webmaster's comment: We may be able to recreate the creature, but never the creature's culture, that is lost forever! It would be a creature created forever out of place and forever lost in time. We would learn nothing about how it lived.)
2-22-17 New species of bushbaby found in disappearing forests of Angola
New species of bushbaby found in disappearing forests of Angola
The Angolan dwarf galago is the fifth new primate species found in mainland Africa since 2000, but its habitat is under threat. It’s a dwarf with big eyes, big ears and a big voice. The newly discovered Angolan dwarf galago belongs to the bushbaby family, members of which are found all over sub-Saharan Africa. The creature’s most distinctive characteristic is its call: a chirping crescendo followed by a twitter, report Magdalena Svensson of Oxford Brookes University, UK, and her colleagues. This is similar to calls by made by other members of the dwarf galago genus to keep in contact with their group, and is why the researchers have classed the new animal as another dwarf galago . But the new creature is three times the size of its closest relatives – making it more similar to non-dwarf bushbabies in stature.
2-21-17 Low-status chimps revealed as trendsetters
Low-status chimps revealed as trendsetters
In experiments, apes were more likely to copy subordinates than alpha males. Low-ranking chimpanzees in a captive colony, represented here by a female named Angie, were more successful at spreading a trained, rewarding behavior to other group members than alpha males were, a new study shows. The finding points to the complexity of chimps’ social lives. Chimps with little social status influence their comrades’ behavior to a surprising extent, a new study suggests. In groups of captive chimps, a method for snagging food from a box spread among many individuals who saw a low-ranking female peer demonstrate the technique, say primatologist Stuart Watson of the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, and colleagues. But in other groups where an alpha male introduced the same box-opening technique, relatively few chimps copied the behavior, the researchers report online February 7 in the American Journal of Primatology.
2-21-17 Coconut crab pinches like a lion, eats like a dumpster diver
Coconut crab pinches like a lion, eats like a dumpster diver
The giant crustaceans use their mighty claws to scavenge, hunt. Birgus latro, the largest known crab species on land, scavenges with a mighty left claw strong enough to crack a coconut. A big coconut crab snaps its outsized left claw as hard as a lion can bite, new measurements suggest. So what does a land crab the size of a small house cat do with all that pinch power? For starters, it protests having its claw-force measured, says Shin-ichiro Oka of the Okinawa Churashima Foundation in Motobu, Japan. “The coconut crab is very shy,” he says. It doesn’t attack people unprovoked. But wrangling 29 wild Birgus latro crabs on Okinawa and getting them to grip a measurement probe inspired much snapping at scientists. Oka’s hand got pinched twice (no broken bones). “Although it was just a few minutes,” he says, “I felt eternal hell.”
2-21-17 Lemur facial recognition tool developed
Lemur facial recognition tool developed
A team of researchers has developed a facial recognition system that can identify individual lemurs in the wild with high levels of accuracy. The plan is to use the technology to help radically improve the way the endangered species is tracked. LemurFaceID proved 97% accurate when comparing the faces of two different lemurs. The animals were named the world's most endangered group of mammals in 2012. The system was developed by a team of lemur experts and computer scientists. The researchers have published a paper detailing their work in the journal BioMed Central Zoology.
2-21-17 Meet the frog that can sit on a thumbnail
Meet the frog that can sit on a thumbnail
Four new frogs so tiny that they can sit on a thumbnail have been discovered in the forests of India. Among the smallest frogs in the world, they live on the forest floor and make insect-like calls at night. Three larger species were also found, bringing to seven the number of night frogs discovered in the Western Ghats. The mountain range, which runs parallel to the western coast of India, is home to hundreds of threatened plants and animals. Scientists discovered the new species after several years of exploration in the forests of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
2-17-17 Ant odd couple work together to build and keep a healthy nest
Ant odd couple work together to build and keep a healthy nest
A 15-millimetre-long species of ant happily shares its home with a distantly related species that is one-sixth its size. One is a massive black ant, the other is a tiny, only distantly related, brown ant. But together they form a perfect team to build and guard a shared nest. This insect odd couple is found in the forests of the Lamto Ecological Reserve in Ivory Coast. The 15-millimetre-long Platythyrea conradti is a highly skilled engineer, building nests from the organic material – like leaf mulch – it finds in its environment. Small species then move into the organic matter – providing the large ants with a ready meal. One species the large ant doesn’t eat is the 2.5-millimetre-long Strumigenys maynei. This small ant moves into the nests, where its highly aggressive nature helps deter any unwanted invaders. “This is a remarkable and rare example of cooperation between two ant species that share little in common,” says Thomas Parmentier, an evolutionary biologist from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. “One is large and the other minuscule, they belong to unrelated genera and have markedly different behaviour.” Together, though, they can maintain a safe and efficient home, he says. The rare association was first recorded in 2001, when Christian Peeters and his student Kolo Yéo, from the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, were looking for wingless queens of P. conradti in the Lamto reserve.
2-17-17 Hens that can lay eggs from other species could save rare birds
Hens that can lay eggs from other species could save rare birds
Like a seed bank for poultry, a 'frozen aviary' will store primordial stem cells for rare breeds of birds so they can be saved. Genetically modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds are helping create a “frozen aviary” to conserve rare and exotic birds. Like a seed bank for poultry, the aviary will store primordial stem cells that give rise to eggs destined to hatch male or female offspring. So far, the team from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have collected more than 500 samples from 25 different breeds. Held in a freezer at minus 150C, the cells will remain viable for decades. The researchers want to preserve rare chicken breeds that may be resistant to infections such as bird flu or have desirable traits such as high meat quality. A first step was to create the GM hens capable of laying eggs from multiple different rare breeds, which include the”rumpless game”, “Scots dumpy”, Sicilian buttercup, and Old English pheasant fowl.
2-17-17 GM hens help build 'frozen aviary' in Edinburgh
GM hens help build 'frozen aviary' in Edinburgh
Genetically-modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds are helping scientists set up a "frozen aviary" to conserve rare birds. The aviary acts like a seed bank for poultry, storing primordial stem cells that produce eggs destined to hatch male or female offspring. The Edinburgh University team have collected more than 500 samples from 25 different breeds. The cells are held in a freezer at -150C and will be viable for decades. The researchers at Edinburgh's Roslin Institute want to preserve rare poultry breeds that may be resistant to infections such as bird flu or have desirable traits such as high meat quality. The first step was to create the GM hens capable of laying eggs from multiple different rare breeds, which include the colourfully-named "rumpless game", "Scots dumpy", "Sicilian buttercup", and "Old English pheasant fowl"
2-16-17 Running ants: Why scientists built an insect treadmill
Running ants: Why scientists built an insect treadmill
Scientists from the University of Freiburg have designed a treadmill specifically for ants - with the aim of revealing their navigation secrets. Desert ants are able to locate and travel to their nest very quickly; with their brains keeping track of the number of steps they have taken and their orientation. The researchers, who published their design in the Journal of Experimental Biology, plan to use their unique set-up to record directly from ants' brains as they navigate - research that could help in the development of miniature robots. (Webmaster's comment: Ants are very simple creatures aren't they? But they aren't. They are small but highly evolved fine-honed living organisms.)
2-15-17 Dormouse might be first tree-climbing mammal shown to echolocate
Dormouse might be first tree-climbing mammal shown to echolocate
It's not just bats that navigate at night using a form of sonar – so might a dormouse, and if so it could tell us whether bats' echolocation preceded flight. A rare rodent isn’t just blind as a bat: it may navigate like one too. The tree-climbing Vietnamese pygmy dormouse seems to make ultrasonic calls to guide its motion. If that’s confirmed, it would be the first arboreal mammal known to use echolocation. Apart from bats, dolphins, whales, rats and shrews – which use calls in the audible range – few mammals echolocate as vision is usually more efficient. But Aleksandra Panyutina at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow and her team thought the dormouse was a good candidate. They had access to two of these seldom-studied, mainly nocturnal rodents at the Moscow zoo, where keepers had noticed that they were able to climb with remarkable agility despite poor eyesight. They also have big, bat-like ears. “We suspected that they use echolocation,” says Panyutina. To find out, the team first confirmed the rodent’s poor vision by analysing the preserved eyes of dead individuals. Then, the two zoo dormice were filmed in cages filled with branches. The soundtrack revealed that they often produced a series of quick, ultrasonic pulses similar in structure to bat echolocation calls but much quieter. Syncing the video and audio showed that they typically made sounds while moving, suggesting that the sounds are for navigation. Gareth Jones, a bat researcher at the University of Bristol in the UK, thinks the results are interesting although further work is needed. “It is important to determine whether the mice can hear echoes from the calls,” he says.
2-15-17 Emergency clause lets European countries beat bee pesticide ban
Emergency clause lets European countries beat bee pesticide ban
About half of the European Union’s member states are making use of an emergency clause to allow the use of banned pesticides that are thought to harm bees. Pesticides that have been banned in Europe for the past three years have still been deployed more than 60 times around the continent during this period, say campaign groups. Since December 2013, it has been illegal to spray the seeds of flowering plants such as oilseed rape, maize and sunflowers with three neonicotinoids and a further pesticide. This is because there is evidence these substances harm bees, and bee populations are in decline. But farmers can apply to their governments for emergency authorisations to use the pesticides for up to four months. About half of the European Union’s member states have made use of this emergency clause, and in most cases the applications have provided little or no evidence in justification, say Bee Life, ClientEarth and Pesticide Action Network Europe, who obtained the paperwork from the European Commission. Romania tops the list with 20 exemptions. Finland has approved nine, Estonia seven and Bulgaria five. The UK has allowed three. A report by campaign groups says that more than 80 per cent of the applications contained nothing to demonstrate that there was a danger to plant production or ecosystems that couldn’t be dealt with by any other reasonable means – despite being required to show this. Many also failed to explain how they would limit or control the use of the pesticides, which is another requirement. And two of the applications were blank apart from administrative information, according to Dominique Doyle, a lawyer with ClientEarth and co-author of the report.
2-14-17 Honeybees let out a ‘whoop’ when they bump into each other
Honeybees let out a ‘whoop’ when they bump into each other
A vibrational pulse that was thought to be a “stop” signal between bees may actually be a startled response when they collide. Whoop whoop! A vibrational pulse produced by honeybees, long thought to be a signal to other bees to stop what they are doing, might actually be an expression of surprise. Bees produce vibrations with their wing muscles that are inaudible to humans but can be detected by accelerometers embedded in the honeycomb. In the 1950s, researchers noticed that this signal was often followed by bees exchanging food, and hypothesised that it was a request for food. Later, it was shown that the signal was produced when one bee tried to inhibit another from performing a waggle dance – a behaviour that tells other bees where to forage. It was interpreted as a “stop” signal that warns colleagues against foraging in a location where there might be problems, such as a predator or a researcher bothering the bees for an experiment. To find out more, Martin Bencsik and colleagues at Nottingham Trent University in the UK used accelerometers to record vibrations inside hives over the course of a year. Then they used software to scan the recordings and identify the signal. Some of these signals have been collected and converted into the sound clip below.
2-14-17 The animal guide to finding love
The animal guide to finding love
Looking for love? The right appearance is important. Female black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys seem to prefer guys with rouged lips. Are you feeling the pressure of Valentine’s Day and in need of advice on how to find someone special? The animal world has some advice for you. (Webmaster's comment: The same advice also works for humans.)
- Make sure you look nice.
- Learn to dance …
- … and how to flirt.
- Attend a party.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Keep an eye on the competition.
- Bring a gift.
2-13-17 Deep-sea squid points a big, bulging eye up and a tiny eye down
Deep-sea squid points a big, bulging eye up and a tiny eye down
Videos reveal that the cock-eyed squid’s two contrasting eyes are adapted for entirely different hunting purposes. Here’s looking at you, squid. Cock-eyed squid have one huge, bulging eye and another normal-sized eye, but the reason has remained a mystery. Now we have an answer. Kate Thomas of Duke University in North Carolina studied 161 videos of the creatures collected over 26 years by remotely operated submarines in Monterey Bay, California. The findings provide the first behavioural evidence that the two eyes are adapted to look in different directions. The large one points upwards to spot prey silhouetted against the sky. The smaller one points downwards to spot bioluminescent organisms against the darkness below. The squid, from the histioteuthid family, live at depths of 200 to 1000 metres, where little light penetrates. The videos show that the squid normally swims with its tail end pointing upwards, but tilted so the large eye is consistently oriented towards the sky.
2-10-17 Monkeys and dogs judge humans by how they treat others
Monkeys and dogs judge humans by how they treat others
Experiments show that both canines and capuchins prefer those of us who help other people, hinting that morality may have a more-ancient origin than thought. Be nice – or your dog may judge you. Both pets and monkeys show a preference for people who help others, and this might explain the origins of our sense of morality. Studies involving babies have previously shown that by the age of one, humans are already starting to judge people by how they interact. This has led to suggestions that children have a kind of innate morality that predates their being taught how to behave. Comparative psychologist James Anderson at Kyoto University and his colleagues wondered whether other species make social evaluations in a similar way. They began by testing whether capuchin monkeys would show a preference for people who help others. The capuchins watched an actor struggle to open a container with a toy inside. Then this actor presented the container to a second actor, who would either help or refuse to assist. Afterwards, both actors offered each capuchin food, and the monkey chose which offer to accept. When the companion was helpful, the monkey showed no preference between accepting the reward from the struggler or the helper. But when the companion refused to help, the monkey more often took food from the struggler.
2-10-17 Foxes seen climbing trees at night to track down and eat koalas
Foxes seen climbing trees at night to track down and eat koalas
Native Australian tree-dwellers may be at risk from European red foxes, which appear to have learnt how to climb trees in pursuit of prey such as koalas. Beware the sly fox. For the first time, red foxes in Australia have been documented climbing trees to look for baby koalas and other unsuspecting creatures to munch on. The European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) was introduced to Australia in the mid-1800s for recreational hunting. It quickly developed a taste for ground-dwelling native species like bilbies, wallabies and numbats, leading to savage declines in their numbers. Until now, tree-dwelling animals have been considered safe. But recent work led by Valentina Mella at the University of Sydney, Australia, suggests this might not be the case. In mid-2016, Mella was studying koalas on a property in the Liverpool Plains, about 250 kilometres north-west of Sydney. As part of her research, she set up cameras to record the animals visiting drinking fountains in eucalyptus trees spaced several kilometres apart.
2-10-17 New Zealand whales: Hundreds more stranded at Farewell Spit
New Zealand whales: Hundreds more stranded at Farewell Spit
The mass stranding of whales on a remote beach in New Zealand has taken a turn for the worse as 240 more arrived. Earlier on Saturday, volunteers had refloated some 100 of the more than 400 pilot whales which beached on Thursday. But a human chain, with volunteers wading neck-deep into the water, failed to prevent a fresh pod making landfall. The whale stranding, at Farewell Spit at the top of South Island, is one of the worst ever in New Zealand. Dozens of volunteers turned out to help. More than 300 of the 400 original arrivals died while medics and members of the public tried to keep survivors alive by cooling them with water. It is hoped that those of the new arrivals that survive can be moved back out to sea during the next high tide in daylight on Sunday.
2-10-17 400 pilot whales stranded on New Zealand’s ‘whale trap’ beach
400 pilot whales stranded on New Zealand’s ‘whale trap’ beach
The reasons for mass strandings of marine animals, like this event in New Zealand, aren’t clear, but NASA is looking into whether solar storms could be involved. More than 400 pilot whales beached themselves on Thursday in one of the worst whale stranding New Zealand has ever seen. The animals washed up on beaches at Farewell Spit on the South Island, a known black spot for whale strandings. At least 300 died overnight before rescuers began trying to refloat animals. Hundreds of volunteers converged on the site to help this morning. The reasons for beachings remain a mystery. Explanations range from marine noise pollution to suicides, and NASA is even investigating whether solar storms could mess with whales’ navigation. But geography could certainly be a factor, considering several known stranding blackspots share characteristics. “Cape Cod in Massachusetts is also notorious, and there’s another in Tasmania,” says Sharon Livermore, at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “They share similar features such as gently sloping beaches, and the coastal configuration as a whole acts as a whale trap.” At Farewell Spit, where 200 whales beached in 2015, the tide can come in for 5 kilometres, creating a vast stretch of water no more than 3 metres deep at any point, a perilous situation for whales used to deep water. “The water gets shallower, and that’s what gets them disorientated,” says Livermore.
2-9-17 Robotic bee could help pollinate crops as real bees decline
Robotic bee could help pollinate crops as real bees decline
With bee populations tumbling, an autonomous drone just 4 centimetres wide could help pollinate crops by flying from flower to flower. Robotic bee could help pollinate crops as real bees decline. A drone that can pollinate flowers may one day work side by side with bees to improve crop yields. About three-quarters of global crop species, from apples to almonds, rely on pollination by bees and other insects. But pesticides, land clearing and climate change have caused declines in many of these creatures, creating problems for farmers. Pollination is needed for reproduction in flowering plants. Male flower parts, or stamens, produce pollen that fertilises female parts, known as pistils, to make seeds. In self-pollinating flowers, the stamen sheds pollen directly onto the pistil. Cross-pollination, however, requires the transfer of pollen from one plant to another. This mostly relies on pollen becoming stuck to the bodies of bees and other insects when they feed on flowers, and then being deposited on the next plant they visit. It has advantages over self-pollination, in that it increases genetic diversity and improves the quantity and quality of crops. Eijiro Miyako at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and his colleagues have used the principle of cross-pollination in bees to make a drone that transports pollen between flowers. (Webmaster's comment: Mankind destroys bees and replaces them with robots. Wouldn't it be better to stop destroying the bees and make for a healthy environment for them.)
2-9-17 Synchronised swimming seems to make dolphins more optimistic
Synchronised swimming seems to make dolphins more optimistic
Having a mate to swim with – and mirror their movements – appears to make zoo dolphins feel more positive about their prospects in life. Bottlenose dolphins that engage in synchronised swimming with their peers tend to see the glass as being half full. Some of these dolphins frequently swim in tight-knit groups, and they’re the ones who appear the most optimistic, according to a study of eight captive animals. In the experiment, individual dolphins were trained to swim towards one of two targets. They were taught that when they reach the left one, they receive applause and eye contact, while the one on the right delivers herring – the jackpot – and dolphins swim faster towards it. When presented with a new and ambiguous middle target, some dolphins still swim rather fast, presumably hoping they’ll receive another tasty herring, although it’s only a 50/50 chance. Those were dubbed the “optimistic” dolphins, and the analysis found that they were the same animals who had participated in the most synchronised swimming recently: moving closely alongside their fellow dolphins and matching their movements.
2-9-17 Endangered snow leopards dine on livestock like goats and horses
Endangered snow leopards dine on livestock like goats and horses
In the Himalayas, goats and horses are especially prominent on the diet of endangered snow leopards, and male leopards tend to attack livestock more. More than a quarter of the animals consumed by snow leopards in the central Himalayas are livestock, according to a new study. The finding comes at a time when the iconic species – categorised as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – faces increasing threats, especially human-wildlife conflict and climate change, and when stakeholders around the world are stepping up conservation efforts. Snow leopards are elusive denizens of alpine habitats up to 5800 metres above sea level in Asia. According to the IUCN, the total population is estimated to be between 4080 and 6590 individuals, which roam over a range of 2 million square kilometres.
2-9-17 Orangutan squeaks reveal language evolution, says study
Orangutan squeaks reveal language evolution, says study
Orangutan kiss squeaks could provide a glimpse of how our ancestors combined vowels and consonants to form the first words. Scientists who spent years listening to the communication calls of one of our closest ape relatives say their eavesdropping has shed light on the origin of human language. Dr Adriano Reis e Lameira from Durham University recorded and analysed almost 5,000 orangutan "kiss squeaks". He found that the animals combined these purse-lipped, "consonant-like" calls to convey different messages. This could be a glimpse of how our ancestors formed the earliest words. The findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.
2-9-17 'Dogs mirror owners' personalities'
'Dogs mirror owners' personalities'
The idea that a dog takes on the personality of its owner has received scientific support. Researchers in Austria say dogs can mirror the anxiety and negativity of owners. And dogs that are relaxed and friendly can pass this on to humans, perhaps helping their owners cope with stress. More than 100 dogs and their owners underwent various tests, including measurement of heart rate and their response to threat. Saliva samples were also taken to measure cortisol levels, a marker for stress. The owners were then assessed for the big five hallmarks of personality: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness. The personality of dogs was also assessed with a questionnaire. Dr Iris Schoberl, of the University of Vienna, said both owners and dogs influenced each other's coping mechanisms, with the human partner being more influential than the dog. "Our results nicely fit to experience from practice: owners and dogs are social dyads [a group of two], and they influence each other's stress coping," she told BBC News. She said dogs are sensitive to their owners' emotional states and may mirror their emotions. Dogs have lived alongside humans for more than 30,000 years. Evidence shows they can pick up emotional information from people and adjust their behaviour accordingly.
2-9-17 Row over Indian textbook that tells children how to kill kittens
Row over Indian textbook that tells children how to kill kittens
An animal rights row has erupted in India over a school textbook which tells children how to suffocate kittens. The book, which is used in hundreds of private schools, features a science experiment in which two cats are placed in separate boxes - only one of which has airholes. Activists argued that it endangered the lives of children and animals. Many schools have now scrapped the offending page. The passage in Our Green World: Environment Studies is meant to demonstrate that air is essential for life. It reads: "Put a small kitten in each box. Close the boxes. After some time open the boxes. What do you see? The kitten inside the box without holes has died." The book's publisher has promised it will not appear in the next edition, according to the Indian Express. Parvesh Gupta of PP Publications said: "A parent had called us a couple of months ago and asked us to remove the text from the book because it was harmful for children. We recalled books from our distribution channel and will come out with a revised book next year." Shocked Indians shared their disgust online, saying the book was wholly unsuitable for children. "Person who wrote such experiment must be put in instead of animal. Fools," wrote a tweeter with the handle Thinking Indian.
2-8-17 Why grey wolves kill less prey when brown bears are around
Why grey wolves kill less prey when brown bears are around
We’ve long assumed wolf packs are forced to kill more often to make up for having meals stolen by scavenging bears – but the opposite is true, they kill less. Wolves may be better at sharing their meals with bears than we thought. Biologists have long assumed that when wolves and brown bears share territory, the wolves are forced to kill more often to make up for the food stolen by scavenging bears. But when Aimee Tallian, a biologist at Utah State University, and her colleagues looked for evidence of this, they found the opposite. Where wolves live alongside bears in Scandinavia and Yellowstone National Park in the US, they actually kill less often. “People had this general assumption, because you do see lynx and mountain lions abandon their kills once a bear takes it over, but no one had really looked at this in wolves before,” she says. It’s not yet clear why this might be, but Tallian has a few theories.
2-8-17 Bird lookouts make alarm calls to save themselves, not the group
Bird lookouts make alarm calls to save themselves, not the group
Arabian babbler birds that go it alone continue to sound alarm calls when they see threats, showing there must be selfish motives behind sentinel behaviour. When animals that live in groups take it in turns to keep watch for predators while others forage, it appears to be altruistic. But now it seems they might mainly be out for themselves. Birds called Arabian babblers usually live in territorial and hierarchical groups of up to 20 individuals, but sometimes one low in the pecking order will go it alone. These individuals are called floaters, and they are usually attacked or chased away if seen by the territory-owning group. Roni Ostreiher and Aviad Heifetz at The Open University of Israel have been observing Arabian babblers (Turdoides squamiceps) at the Shezaf Nature Reserve in Israel for 28 years. All birds in the study area are fitted with coloured rings so they can be identified individually. The babbler groups’ sentinel activity has been studied extensively but when the researchers started watching floaters, they were surprised to see them engaging in similar behaviour, scanning their surroundings for several minutes and even uttering alarm calls when they saw approaching predators, especially birds of prey. This suggests that sentinel behaviour is at least partly down to selfish motives. “It doesn’t mean that others can’t benefit, but an individual acts as a sentinel first of all for itself,” says Ostreiher.
2-7-17 Endangered antelope 'may be wiped out'
Endangered antelope 'may be wiped out'
The death of more than 2,000 critically endangered Saiga antelope in Mongolia was caused by a disease that could now threaten the entire population. Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientists, who work in the affected grassland area of Western Mongolia, say the disease originated in livestock. It is a virus known as PPR or Peste des Petits Ruminants. WCS veterinary scientist Dr Enkhtuvshin Shiilegdamba told BBC News that 2,500 Saiga had already died. The animal carcasses are burned to prevent the spread of the disease.
2-7-17 Gecko eludes foes with tearaway skin
Gecko eludes foes with tearaway skin
A newly discovered species of gecko has tearaway skin that leaves predators with nothing but a mouthful of scales when attacked. Many lizards can detach their tails when attacked, but fish-scale geckos have large scales that tear away with ease. The new species is a master of this art, say scientists, having the largest scales of any known gecko. The reptile, named Geckolepis megalepis, is described in PeerJ. The skin of fish-scale geckos is specially adapted to tearing. The large scales are attached only by a relatively narrow region that tears with ease. In addition, beneath the scales there is a pre-formed splitting zone within the skin itself.
2-7-17 Pectoral sandpipers go the distance, and then some
Pectoral sandpipers go the distance, and then some
Males visit multiple breeding grounds all across the Arctic. After a long migration from the Southern Hemisphere, male pectoral sandpipers fly thousands of kilometers more around the Arctic. After flying more than 10,000 kilometers from South America to the Arctic, male pectoral sandpipers should be ready to rest their weary wings. But once the compact shorebirds arrive at a breeding ground in Barrow, Alaska, each spring, most keep going — an average of about 3,000 extra kilometers. Scientists thought males, which mate with multiple females, stayed put at specific sites around the Arctic to breed. Instead, in a study of 120 male pectoral sandpipers in Barrow, most flitted all across the region looking for females. One bird flew a whopping 13,045 kilometers more after arriving, researchers report online January 9 in Nature.
2-6-17 For calmer chickens, bathe eggs in light
For calmer chickens, bathe eggs in light
Incubating eggs in hours of light means chicks less skittish. Shining light on incubating eggs could make adult broiler chickens less fearful, a new study suggests. Fearful, flighty chickens raised for eating can hurt themselves while trying to avoid human handlers. But there may be a simple way to hatch calmer chicks: Shine light on the eggs for at least 12 hours a day. Researchers at the University of California, Davis bathed eggs daily in light for different time periods during their three-week incubation. When the chickens reached 3 to 6 weeks old, the scientists tested the birds’ fear responses. In one test, 120 chickens were randomly selected from the 1,006-bird sample and placed one by one in a box with a human “predator” sitting visibly nearby. The chickens incubated in light the longest — 12 hours — made an average of 179 distress calls in three minutes, compared with 211 from birds incubated in complete darkness, animal scientists Gregory Archer and Joy Mench report in January in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
2-6-17 Being friendly puts monkeys at risk in times of revolution
Being friendly puts monkeys at risk in times of revolution
The young of sociable female capuchin monkeys survive better in times of peace, but are more likely to be killed when the group is going through a change of leadership. Being too friendly can be costly. When a new alpha male takes over, female capuchin monkeys are more likely to lose their offspring to infanticide if they have an extensive network of social contacts than if they don’t. This new finding suggests sociable primates don’t necessarily fare better than non-sociable ones when it comes to raising offspring. Group-living mammals have plenty to gain from being sociable, says Urs Kalbitzer at the University of Calgary in Canada. They can have better access to food and more protection from predators, as they often take up a position near the centre of the group. These advantages should help the most sociable females raise more infants to adulthood. But some researchers have suspected that being sociable carries a cost when the group’s alpha male loses his position to a rival. The usurper can kill offspring he hasn’t fathered so that adult females will become receptive to his sexual advances. One idea is that the alpha male is more likely to kill the offspring of females at the group’s social core, as less sociable females on the periphery may escape his attention. To test the theory, a team led by Kalbitzer and his colleague Linda Fedigan looked at data from wild communities of white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus) in Santa Rosa, Costa Rica, between 2005 and 2011.
2-5-17 The secret trade in baby chimps
The secret trade in baby chimps
A secret network of wildlife traffickers selling baby chimpanzees has been exposed by a year-long BBC News investigation. The tiny animals are seized from the wild and sold as pets. The BBC’s research uncovered a notorious West African hub for wildlife trafficking, known as the “blue room”, and led to the rescue of a one-year-old chimp. In a dusty back street of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city, a tiny chimpanzee cries out for comfort. His black hair is ruffled and his dirty nappy scrapes the concrete floor as he crawls towards the familiar figures of the men who have been holding him captive. The baby chimp, ripped away from his family in the wild, is the victim of a lucrative and brutal smuggling operation, exposed by a 12-month-long BBC News investigation spanning half a dozen countries. (Webmaster's comment: And once they grow up they are extremely dangerous and will try to dominate you and tear you face off. They can never be pets past childhold.)
2-5-17 The dead-bird detective
The dead-bird detective
As the only criminal forensic ornithologist in the U.S., Pepper Trail helps build cases against bird smugglers and poachers. His mission: Protect rare birds by identifying them in death. Pepper Trail is the first to admit he has an unusual skill set. Give him a single feather or a small fragment of a claw or a cooked hunk of breast meat, and he'll tell you the species of bird from which it came. As the world's leading criminal forensic ornithologist, Trail is asked day in and day out to perform these exact tasks. Over the past 18 years he has assisted with hundreds of investigations, testified in federal court 15 times, and handled more bird carcasses than anyone should. "All birders have life lists," Trail says. "I have a death list." Trail isn't joking. He opens a file on his computer and scrolls through a list of 750 species of dead birds he has identified throughout his career. The decor of his work space at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, blends bird-nerd kitsch with macabre relics of closed cases. A "Waddling Penguin Pooper" wind-up toy sits on a bookshelf still in its original packaging. Atop a filing cabinet is a confiscated necklace made from the claws and skull of a cassowary. Nearby is a long, sleek feather ripped from an Andean condor wing and attached to a pin that customs agents seized from a polka dancer coming into Chicago. "There's actually a trade in condor feathers from Peru to Germany to decorate polka hats," Trail says.
2-3-17 Honeybees welcome friendly migrants to hives but repel raiders
Honeybees welcome friendly migrants to hives but repel raiders
Bees use chemical cues to decide which newcomers to allow into their hive, and become more accepting in times of plenty. Honeybees may have a unique system for accepting migrants. “Drifting” bees that wander into a neighbouring hive may be allowed to stay – if the guard bees see fit. Honeybee drift is common in apiaries, where hives are placed closer together. A bee that drifts essentially migrates from its own hive to another, something thought to be unintentional. Morgane Nouvian and her team at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, reviewed 161 papers on defensive behaviour in honeybees to get a comprehensive overview of the phenomenon. They reported that 10 to 15 per cent of honeybees take on nest-guarding roles when they are 2 to 3 weeks old. Their main role involves detecting and dealing with predators, but they are also the first point of contact when drifting honeybees arrive. In an inspection that can last half a minute, the guards check out chemical cues on the newcomer – typically hydrocarbons – that depend on hive-specific genetic factors and comb wax. If this profile matches or nearly matches that of their own hive, the guards will let the drifter in. Around 30 per cent of drifting bees are allowed to stay, experiments show. The guards also have to identify marauding bees that aim to steal honey. “We know now that these robber bees are detected by their flight patterns and speed,” says Nouvian. “Guards can detect an incoming robber and sting it before it even reaches the nest.”
2-1-17 Dragonfish opens wide with flex neck joint
Dragonfish opens wide with flex neck joint
Soft tissue at base of skull helps deep sea fish swallow big. Small but ferocious dragonfish can open their mouths wide using a unique joint at the base of their skulls. Dragonfish are the stuff of nightmares with their oversized jaws and rows of fanglike teeth. The deep sea creatures may be only several centimeters long, but they can trap and swallow sizeable prey. How these tiny terrors manage to open their mouths so wide has puzzled scientists, until now. In most fish, the skull is fused to the backbone, limiting their gape. But a barbeled dragonfish can pop open its jaw like a Pez dispenser — up to 120 degrees — thanks to a soft tissue joint that connects the fish’s head and spine, researchers report February 1 in PLOS ONE.
2-1-17 The great extermination: How New Zealand will end alien species
The great extermination: How New Zealand will end alien species
New Zealand’s unique fauna are under threat from alien invaders. It has ambitious plans to wipe out all rats, stoats and possums by 2050, but can it be done? ENTRY to Zealandia is past a checkpoint where all bags and pockets are turned inside out to stop unwanted stowaways, and then through a double gate. Inside the 2.2-metre-high fence is an ancient world, completely unlike the humming urban environment we just left behind. Bird song soon takes over, the tracks narrow and the forest closes in. We are inside the old water reservoir for New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. Over the past two decades, it has undergone an extraordinary transformation, from urban utility to ecological haven. During the day, large forest parrots called kaka swoop over tuatara, the only survivors of a prehistoric group of reptiles. Night-time visitors have a good chance of crossing paths with a little spotted kiwi. Hihi – small black, white and yellow birds that had once disappeared from New Zealand’s main islands – are flourishing. What you won’t see are many mammals: virtually all have been eradicated. Mice (and humans) are the only exception and pest control keeps mouse numbers low. (Webmaster's comment: It seems to me the most alien species is Homo Sapiens.)
1-30-17 Chimps beat up, murder and then cannibalise their former tyrant
Chimps beat up, murder and then cannibalise their former tyrant
A gang of chimps overthrew their alpha male, ostracised him for years and then killed him when he returned. It was a gruesome scene. The body had severe wounds and was still bleeding despite having been lying for a few hours in the hot Senegalese savanna. The murder victim, a West African chimpanzee called Foudouko, had been beaten with rocks and sticks, stomped on and then cannibalised by his own community. This is one of just nine known cases where a group of chimpanzees has killed one of their own adult males, as opposed to killing a member of a neighbouring tribe. These intragroup killings are rare, but Michael Wilson at the University of Minnesota says they are a valuable insight into chimp behaviour such as male coalition building. “Why do these coalitions sometimes succeed, but not very often? It’s at the heart of this tension between conflict and cooperation, which is central to the lives of chimpanzees and even to our own,” he says. Chimps usually live in groups with more adult females than males, but in the group with the murder it was the other way round. “When you reverse that and have almost two males per every female — that really intensifies the competition for reproduction. That seems to be a key factor here,” says Wilson. Jill Pruetz at Iowa State University, who has been studying this group of chimpanzees in south-eastern Senegal since 2001, agrees. She suggests that human influence may have caused this skewed gender ratio that is likely to have been behind this attack. In Senegal, female chimpanzees are poached to provide infants for the pet trade.
1-30-17 Goat plague wipes out 10 per cent of endangered antelopes
Goat plague wipes out 10 per cent of endangered antelopes
The Mongolian saiga antelope population has been decimated by a disease that usually affects livestock – the first instance in wild antelopes. Save the saiga. Hundreds of Mongolia’s iconic antelopes have died after contracting a deadly virus that normally affects sheep and goats. Saiga antelopes (Saiga tatarica) were once widespread across the grasslands of Europe and Asia. But hunting and disease have reduced their numbers from 1.25 million to 50,000 over the last four decades. Now, a further 900 saiga – almost 10 per cent of the endangered Mongolian subspecies (Saiga tatarica mongolica) – have perished in the country’s Khovd province, and thousands more are at risk. The carcasses tested positive for Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), a highly contagious virus that usually affects sheep and goats, also known as goat plague. Symptoms of the disease, which kills up to 90 per cent of infected animals, are severe diarrhoea, fever, pneumonia and mouth sores. First reported in Côte d’Ivoire in 1942, PPR has since spread between domestic sheep and goats across Africa, the Middle East and Asia. But outbreaks in wild animals are rare, and have never before been seen in free-ranging antelopes. Mongolia had its first ever outbreak of PPR in sheep and goats in September 2016 after the virus spread from China. It may then have crossed to saiga during close contact at shared grazing grounds, says the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
1-30-17 We don’t need a huge blue grab to save sharks and rays
We don’t need a huge blue grab to save sharks and rays
Amid calls to ring-fence nearly a third of oceans to protect marine life, it now seems a fraction of that could save key species, says Lesley Evans Ogden. Conservationists are still arguing about exactly how much of the world’s oceans should be protected to ensure marine life does well. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity has a goal of 10 per cent by 2020. And at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress last year, a headline-grabbing target of 30 per cent by 2030 was endorsed. But such targets may miss the point. Are our existing marine protected areas (MPAs) doing a good job of conserving the biodiversity they were designed to safeguard? Are they always in appropriate places? A new analysis focusing on one important class of species suggests not (Nature Ecology and Evolution, DOI: 10.1038/s41559-016-0040). It also concludes that to prevent extinctions for these creatures, much could be done by shielding just 3 per cent more of the oceans, above and beyond the 3.5 per cent already protected.
1-27-17 Yellow fever outbreak is killing off rare monkeys in Brazil
Yellow fever outbreak is killing off rare monkeys in Brazil
Up to 90 per cent of brown howler monkeys in one area may have died already and fear of them spreading yellow fever to humans has led to reprisal attacks. Rare monkeys in the forests of Brazil are being decimated by yellow fever. The outbreak started in late 2016 and, as is often the case in South America, it has spread to humans, killing at least 50 since the start of 2017. The authorities have rushed vaccines to hospitals, where long queues await inoculation. But there is no vaccine for monkeys who are dying en masse in Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais, the two states so far worst hit. “Some 80 to 90 per cent of the brown howler monkeys are infected or have already died,” says Sergio Mendes at the Federal University of Espírito Santo in Vitoria, Brazil. “This is a true catastrophe. These outbreaks happen periodically, but this is the worst I’ve ever seen.” Mendes knows of 400 howler monkey deaths in the state, and he believes this is likely to be only 10 per cent of the total, with the greatest losses happening largely unseen in remote forested areas. Atlantic titis and geoffroy’s marmosets found dead last week in Espirito Santo are also being tested for yellow fever. Both are unique to the Mata Atlantica, one of the world’s most species-rich and most-endangered tropical forests.
1-25-17 Parasite turns wasp into zombie then drills through its head
Parasite turns wasp into zombie then drills through its head
It’s Russian dolls of nature’s manipulators: a wasp that fools oak trees to make it a crypt to live in is in turn made to drill a route out of the crypt by another wasp. The crypt gall wasp (Bassettia pallida) is a master manipulator. It parasitises the sand live oak tree, encouraging it to form hollow galls – or “crypts” – in its woody stems. Young wasps develop inside the crypts through the second half of the year, chewing their way out to emerge as adults the following spring. At least, most of them do. Some crypt gall wasps don’t make it: they begin to chew their way out several months earlier than expected, but stop while the exit is still only as large as their head. Then they die, with their head blocking the hole. Now it appears that the manipulator is itself manipulated into an early death. Kelly Weinersmith at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and her colleagues examined about a dozen of the “head blocked” crypts. In all but one case they found the larvae or pupae of a smaller wasp – Euderus set – living as a parasite inside the larger B. pallida wasp, slowly eating it.
1-25-17 New hermit crab has candy-stick legs and a giant spoon-like claw
New hermit crab has candy-stick legs and a giant spoon-like claw
A previously unknown Caribbean crab has been seen – it’s just a few millimetres long, sports bright red and white stripes, and has a large scoop-like claw. How about a little eye candy? A new species of hermit crab, discovered in the Caribbean, is just the ticket. It’s called the candy striped hermit crab, named for the bright red stripes that run up its white claws and legs. Ellen Muller, a photographer and naturalist on the island of Bonaire off the coast of Venezuela, inadvertently snapped a photo of one of these little critters while taking a picture of a flaming reef lobster on a night dive in Bonaire National Marine Park. “I was photographing the lobster and that’s the photo that started the whole thing rolling,” she says. “I saw a strange crab that I’d never seen before and I do a lot of night diving, so I’d seen all the normal things. This wasn’t normal.”
1-25-17 Cats may be as intelligent as dogs, say scientists
Cats may be as intelligent as dogs, say scientists
The idea that dogs are more intelligent than cats has been called into question. Japanese scientists say cats are as good as dogs at certain memory tests, suggesting they may be just as smart. A study - involving 49 domestic cats - shows felines can recall memories of pleasant experiences, such as eating a favourite snack. Dogs show this type of recollection - a unique memory of a specific event known as episodic memory. Humans often consciously try to reconstruct past events that have taken place in their lives, such as what they ate for breakfast, their first day in a new job or a family wedding. These memories are linked with an individual take on events, so they are unique to that person. (Webmaster's comment: Cats are just as smart as dogs but they are not as obedient and are too independent. That's why many men don't like them as much as dogs. And that's also why many men have issues with women.)
1-23-17 Whale sharks’ secrets revealed by live-tracking aquatic drones
Whale sharks’ secrets revealed by live-tracking aquatic drones
Whale sharks dive deep and swim far, making them hard to monitor. A Honduras project is using aquatic drones to track the world’s biggest fish in real time. Wave-powered drones are being used to provide live tracking of the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, for the first time. Researchers at the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center (WSORC) on the island of Utila, Honduras, have just finished a year-long project using autonomous “Wave Glider” drones to patrol for whale sharks and report back on their movements. The team was able to follow along in real-time as the drones relayed the depth and minute-by-minute position of individual sharks. They found whale sharks feeding off the coast of Utila at unexpected times of year, which shows the potential for this technology to fill some significant gaps in our understanding about the endangered species. Konrad Madej, former research director at WSORC and lead researcher on the Wave Glider project, says the drones spotted one shark at a depth of 90 metres in July, when it was thought the whale sharks had migrated north toward Mexico. “With the turbulent weather during these months, it’s difficult to find whale sharks feeding as rough waters prevent the plankton, roe and coral spore they feed on from settling at the surface,” he says. “So it’s great to see they’re still swimming at depth, for the first time, via the Wave Glider.”
1-23-17 Bird is evolving to be less flashy in response to global warming
Bird is evolving to be less flashy in response to global warming
White patches on male collared flycatchers' heads have been shrinking, as climate change mysteriously makes those with big patches less likely to survive. Sex may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of climate change. But for the collared flycatcher, the two seem to be linked in some mysterious way. As temperatures have risen, male flycatchers’ brilliant white forehead patches have changed from a valuable sexual signal into a liability. Since 1980, ecologist Lars Gustafsson at Uppsala University in Sweden has been monitoring a population of collared flycatchers on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Every year, he and his colleagues have marked every bird in the population with numbered leg-bands, allowing the parentage, reproductive success and survival of many generations of birds to be tracked. In recent years, Gustafsson’s team has noticed that the males’ forehead patches have been shrinking. Team member Simon Evans wondered whether this change was just a response by individual birds to changing conditions, or whether the population as a whole was evolving. So Evans combed through 34 years of records. He found that early on, birds with larger forehead patches were more likely to contribute genes to future generations than their small-patched neighbours, but this edge reversed in the second half of the study period. Further analysis showed that this change was associated with higher springtime temperatures, a result of changing climate.
1-20-17 Spitting archerfish shoot at prey above and beneath the water
Spitting archerfish shoot at prey above and beneath the water
“If we understand how the mosquito reduces the parasite to begin with, we hope we can boost these mechanisms to completely eliminate these parasites [in mosquitoes],” says Kristin Michel, an insect immunologist at Kansas State University in Manhattan who wasn’t part of the study. Spit and it’s a kill. Archerfish are famous for shooting mouthfuls of water at insects to dislodge them from vegetation above the water. New experiments show that they also use the jets to hunt underwater – disturbing sediment where prey is lurking and snapping up the spoils. “Our study adds support to the view that archerfish use their jets as tools,” says study leader Stefan Schuster of the University of Bayreuth in Germany. “They’re not simple all-or-nothing events, but the jets can be adapted to serve both in aerial and underwater hunting.” Schuster’s team decided to investigate after observing the behaviour of wild fish on arrival in the lab. “We usually get wild-caught fish from Thailand, and when they first arrive in the lab we often see them ‘shooting’ at things on the ground of their tanks, such as leaves or small fragments of wood,” he says. The team presented five fish in a lab with prey hidden in bowls of various types of sediment, and then filmed the behaviour. They found that the fish use the same mouth manoeuvres underwater as they do at the surface to produce jets that can dislodge insects as far as 2 metres away.
1-19-17 How desert ants navigate walking backward
How desert ants navigate walking backward
Foraging species like Cataglyphis velox and Myrmecia piliventris use celestial cues and visual memory to walk backward — helpful when dragging a big dinner home. Some ants are so good at navigating they can do it backward. Researchers think that foraging ants memorize scenes in front of them to find their way back to the nest. But that only works when facing forward. Still, some species have been observed trekking in reverse to drag dinner home. To find out how the ants manage this feat, Antoine Wystrach of the University of Edinburgh and his colleagues captured foraging desert ants (Cataglyphis velox) near a nest outside Seville, Italy. In a series of tests, they gave the ants cookie crumbles and released them at a fork in the route back to their nest.
1-19-17 Ants use Sun and memories to navigate
Ants use Sun and memories to navigate
Ants are even more impressive at navigating than we thought. Scientists say they can follow a compass route, regardless of the direction in which they are facing. It is the equivalent of trying to find your way home while walking backwards or even spinning round and round. Experiments suggest ants keep to the right path by plotting the Sun's position in the sky which they combine with visual information about their surroundings. "Our main finding is that ants can decouple their direction of travel from their body orientation," said Dr Antoine Wystrach of the University of Edinburgh and CNRS in Paris. "They can maintain a direction of travel, let's say north, independently of their current body orientation." Ants stand out in the insect world because of their navigational ability. Living in large colonies, they need to forage for food and carry it back to their nest. This often requires dragging food long distances backwards. Scientists say that despite its small size, the brain of ants is remarkably sophisticated. "They construct a more sophisticated representation of direction than we envisaged and they can incorporate or integrate information from different modalities into that representation," Dr Wystrach added.
1-19-17 Foxes may confuse predators by rubbing themselves in puma scent
Foxes may confuse predators by rubbing themselves in puma scent
Gray foxes in the mountains of California rub in the scent of pumas, possibly to absorb their smell and confuse predators to give themselves a chance to run. They have a reputation as cunning creatures, and some foxes appear to be living up to it as masters of disguise. Gray foxes living in the mountains of California have been filmed deliberately rubbing themselves in the scent marks left by mountain lions. They may be using the scent of the big cats, also known as pumas or cougars, as a sort of odour camouflage against other large predators such as coyotes. Coyotes often kill gray foxes, which are half their size, to reduce competition. Max Allen, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, had been studying pumas visiting sites known as “community scrapes”, where males leave scent “signposts” to communicate with others.
1-18-17 Majority of primate species may vanish in next 25 to 50 years
Majority of primate species may vanish in next 25 to 50 years
The latest review of primate survival prospects shows that habitat loss from farming and human expansion is putting our closest evolutionary relatives at risk. The majority of the world’s primates are in deep trouble. There are as few as 20 or 30 Hainan gibbons left in China, and the trapdoor of extinction is gaping for the Javan slow loris. Even numbers of Madagascar’s iconic ring-tailed lemur have slumped to around 2000. These could be the next primates to disappear from our planet. But overall, the picture is even bleaker, with 60 per cent of all primate species globally predicted to vanish within between 25 and 50 years. That’s the gloomy conclusion from the largest ever review of the survival prospects of the world’s 504 known species of non-human primate, 85 of them discovered since 2000. “This paper is a synthesis of the factors, at all scales, that are causing declines and extinctions,” says Anthony Rylands of Conservation International, joint lead author of the report. The biggest harbinger of doom is clearance of forests for agriculture, both by local farmers and by big agro-industrial producers of commodities such as palm oil and rubber. Between 1990 and 2010, for example, agricultural expansion into primate habitats was estimated at 1.5 million square kilometres, an area three times that of France. (Webmaster's comment: This problem will be solved if the first primite we get rid of is us!)
1-18-17 Primates facing 'extinction crisis'
Primates facing 'extinction crisis'
The world's primates face an "extinction crisis" with 60% of species now threatened with extinction, according to research. A global study, involving more than 30 scientists, assessed the conservation status of more than 500 individual species. This also revealed that 75% of species have populations that are declining. The findings are published in the journal Science Advances. Professor Jo Setchell from Durham University, a member of the team, explained that the main threats were "massive habitat loss" and illegal hunting. "Forests are destroyed when primate habitat is converted to industrial agriculture, leaving primates with nowhere to live," she told BBC News. "And primates are hunted for meat and trade, either as pets or as body parts." Other threats - all driven by human behaviour - are forest clearance for livestock and cattle ranching; oil and gas drilling and mining. "The short answer is that we must reduce human domination of the planet, and learn to share space with other species," Prof Setchell commented. (Webmaster's comment: FAT CHANCE OF THAT! In the end all that will be left is 100 billion robotic monsters thinking they are somehow human beings pleasing themselves with push button orgasms on a sterile planet.)
1-18-17 Seals hunt down hidden fish by sensing their breath in the sand
Seals hunt down hidden fish by sensing their breath in the sand
The only way for flatfish hidden under the sand on the sea floor to avoid harbour seal predators might be to hold their breath. It’s a slasher film scenario playing out in nature. Harbour seals use their whiskers to follow underwater vibrations rippling away from gills of fish so they can home in on prey. Until now we didn’t know how seals manage to locate and catch bottom-dwelling fish that are hidden beneath the sand. “We have solved a longstanding riddle,” says Wolf Hanke, the biologist at the University of Rostock in Germany who led the study. “These flatfish are very cryptic. They burrow in the ground and they’re covered with sand or silt, but the seals still grab them.” The only way to avoid being eaten would be to stop breathing until the seal swims on – although it’s not clear if flatfish do this.
1-17-17 Antelope revived in Sahara years after going extinct in the wild
Antelope revived in Sahara years after going extinct in the wild
Scimitar-horned oryx were hunted to extinction in the 1990s, but are now returning to the wild, thanks to breeding in captivity and reintroduction efforts in Chad. They’re back. Scimitar-horned oryx have been reintroduced to the wild after a two-decade absence and are flourishing in their old stomping grounds. The desert antelopes were once widespread across northern Africa, but were hunted to extinction in their natural habitat in the 1990s. Since then, the species has been kept alive in captivity in the United Arab Emirates, the US, Europe and Australia. Several hundred have also been reintroduced to fenced areas in northern Africa. To test whether scimitar-horned oryx could survive in the wild once again, 23 individuals were released into a remote part of Chad last August. Based on early signs of success, another 23 will be released this week. The animals have been fitted with GPS collars to monitor their movements. “So far, the animals look exceptionally healthy,” says Jared Stabach from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington DC, who is involved in the project. “They seem to be adapting to the environment really well.”
1-16-17 Female shark learns to reproduce without males after years alone
Female shark learns to reproduce without males after years alone
Some fish and reptiles can reproduce asexually, but a shark in an Australian aquarium is a rare case of this in an animal that once had a mate. Who needs men? A female shark separated from her long-term mate has developed the ability to have babies on her own. Leonie the zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) met her male partner at an aquarium in Townsville, Australia, in 1999. They had more than two dozen offspring together before he was moved to another tank in 2012. From then on, Leonie did not have any male contact. But in early 2016, she had three baby sharks. One possibility was that Leonie had been storing sperm from her ex and using it to fertilise her eggs. But genetic testing showed that the babies only carried DNA from their mum, indicating they had been conceived via asexual reproduction. Some vertebrate species have the ability to reproduce asexually even though they normally reproduce sexually. These include certain sharks, turkeys, Komodo dragons, snakes and rays.
1-13-17 Harvester ants farm by planting seeds to eat once they germinate
Harvester ants farm by planting seeds to eat once they germinate
The ants’ unusual trick lets them snack on seeds that are too big from them to crack. They just let the seeds crack themselves. They’ve cracked it. Small ants carry home large seeds to eat all the time, but no one knew exactly how they managed to break through the seeds’ tough exterior. It turns out that Florida harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex badius, have developed a clever farming strategy to do so – they plant seeds, wait for them to germinate and then eat the soft spoils. Some 18 genera of ants harvest seeds, and colonies of some species can store more than 300,000 seeds in their underground granaries. So far, scientists thought that ants must be able to break the seeds open and just ate them as they were. “The reality is a lot more interesting,” says Walter R. Tschinkel at the Florida State University. “There are many studies of seed choice by forager harvester ants, but none of the authors asked the question of whether the ants can open the seeds,” says Tschinkel. “This may be in part because most of these studies were done on western harvester ants whose deep nests are in hard soil, so the seed chambers are not easily excavated.”
1-13-17 Alien bird risk from pet trade
Alien bird risk from pet trade
The trade in caged birds poses a risk to native species if the pets escape into the wild, UK researchers say. They identified almost 1,000 species of bird introduced into new areas by human activity over the past 500 years. More than half of these arrived after 1950, probably driven by the trade in exotic birds. Global demand for parrots, finches, starlings and other exotic birds has soared. "Areas that are good for native birds are also good for alien birds," said Prof Tim Blackburn, of University College London and the Zoological Society of London, who worked on the study. "It's a worry because aliens may threaten the survival of native species."
1-11-17 Wild vampire bats are now sucking blood from humans at night
Wild vampire bats are now sucking blood from humans at night
Bats in Brazil exclusively feed on bird blood, but new arrivals in their territory are now on the menu – they have been caught feasting on human blood. Human blood is now on the menu. Wild vampire bats that were thought to exclusively feed on bird blood have been caught feeding on people for the first time, raising health concerns. Enrico Bernard from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, and his team analysed 70 faeces samples from a colony of hairy-legged vampire bats, D. ecaudata, living in Catimbau National Park in north-east Brazil. They found that three samples out of the 15 they managed to get DNA from had traces of blood from humans. “We were quite surprised,” says Bernard. “This species isn’t adapted to feed on the blood of mammals.” The bats typically target large birds at night-time, sucking a spoonful of blood from a single animal as a meal. They are adapted to process fat, the main component of bird blood, as opposed to the thicker, high-protein blood of mammals. Previous experiments showed that when only pig and goat blood was available, many bats opted to fast, sometimes starving to death. But human encroachment may be driving the species to try new blood. The park is now home to several human families and the bat’s usual prey, such as guans and tinamous, are disappearing due to deforestation and hunting.
1-11-17 Baboons recorded making key sounds found in human speech
Baboons recorded making key sounds found in human speech
A claim that baboons are capable of five vowel-like sounds could mean key features of spoken language emerged with the common ancestor of monkey and humans. Baboon grunts and barks have more in common with human speech than we thought. The monkeys routinely produce five of the distinct vowel sounds found in our languages. Researchers typically link our ability to produce a range of vowels with the low position of the human voice box, or larynx, in the throat. Non-human primates have a high larynx, hence are thought to be incapable of producing many vowel sounds. But according to Joël Fagot at Aix-Marseille University and Louis-Jen Boë at the Grenoble Alps University, both in France, this standard explanation is wrong. They point out, for instance, that infants can produce a similar range of vowels to adults even though the larynx only begins to descend midway through childhood. Fagot, Boë and their colleagues have now analysed 1300 baboon vocalisations, recorded at a primate research centre in Rousset-sur-Arc in southern France. They extracted vowel-like sounds from the calls and used software to identify the key resonant frequencies, or “formants”. The lowest two formants — denoted F1 and F2 — are known to give a reasonable indication of the position of the tongue, and can help computers classify the associated vowel sound.
1-11-17 'Star Wars gibbon' is new primate species
'Star Wars gibbon' is new primate species
The gibbons live high up in the canopies of the tropical rainforests of China. A gibbon living in the tropical forests of south west China is a new species of primate, scientists have concluded. The animal has been studied for some time, but new research confirms it is different from all other gibbons. It has been named the Skywalker hoolock gibbon - partly because the Chinese characters of its scientific name mean "Heaven's movement" but also because the scientists are fans of Star Wars. The study is published in the American Journal of Primatology.
1-10-17 Primate tool-use: Chimpanzees make drinking sticks
Primate tool-use: Chimpanzees make drinking sticks
Researchers have used camera traps to film tool-use that is unique to chimpanzees in Ivory Coast. The footage revealed that the clever primates habitually make special water-dipping sticks - chewing the end of the stick to turn it into a soft, water-absorbing brush. Primate researchers examined the "dipping sticks" and concluded they were made specifically for drinking. The findings are reported in the American Journal of Primatology. Lead researcher Juan Lapuente, from the Comoe Chimpanzee Conservation Project, in Ivory Coast, explained that using similar brush-tipped sticks to dip into bees' nests for honey was common in chimpanzee populations across Africa. "But the use of brush-tipped sticks to dip for water is completely new and had never been described before," he told BBC News. "These chimps use especially long brush tips that they make specifically for water - much longer than those used for honey." The researchers tested the chimps' drinking sticks in an "absorption experiment", which showed that the particularly long brush-tips provided an advantage. "The longer the brush, the more water they collect," said Mr Lapuente.
1-10-17 Wild monkey filmed mounting deer and trying to have sex with it
Wild monkey filmed mounting deer and trying to have sex with it
The unusual inter-species sex may be down to a lack of females pushing Japanese macaques to search for pleasure elsewhere – on the backs of furry Sika deer. Oh deer! A male Japanese macaque monkey has been caught in the act of trying to mate with two Sika deer by leaping on their backs, rodeo-style. Captured in November 2015 by researchers monitoring the macaque monkeys – made famous by videos of them bathing in hot springs – the footage shows that both attempts at copulation were unsuccessful, the only genital contact being with the deer’s back. The monkey’s first attempt met with no resistance from the deer. But when he tried it with a second deer, she did her best to shake him off. Afterwards, he also appeared to try and “guard” the deer against rival monkeys. Such observations are rare but not unheard of. In the 1990s, forest rangers reported orphan elephants attempting to mate with rhinos, and in 2008 footage was taken of a chimpanzee attempting to mate with a frog. In 2014, there were reports of sea otters attempting to mate with cormorants. Also in 2014, an Antarctic fur seal was observed attempting to mate with king penguins, some of which he subsequently ate. In this latest example, on Yakushima Island south of Japan, the perpetrator was a young male macaque – one of the more peripheral members of a larger group. This means he was probably frustrated by not having a mate. (Webmaster's comment: Just like 6-8% of human males, many male animals will mate with any female animal of another species that does not kill them.)
1-10-17 Japanese monkey tries to mate with deer
Japanese monkey tries to mate with deer
A male Japanese monkey has been filmed trying to mount and mate with a Sika deer. Researchers saw the primate attempting to mate with at least two deer in November 2015, during the macaque breeding season. The macaques regularly bathe in hot springs in snow-covered parts of Japan, and live side-by-side with the deer. The macaques have previously been observed grooming the deer or riding them in a playful manner. The curious behaviour is outlined in a study published in the journal Primates. (Webmaster's comment: No more curious than the 6-8% of men and 4% of women that have mated with animals. The drive to breed with something, anything is unbelievably strong.)
1-9-17 The trunk trick that lets elephants pick up almost anything
The trunk trick that lets elephants pick up almost anything
Kelly the elephant has shown how trunks can grip and lift anything from fine granules to 350-kilogram logs – it’s all in the kink. A captive African elephant called Kelly has helped to shed light on one of nature’s great mysteries: how elephant trunks that can grip and carry heavy logs a metre across can also handle tiny, fragile objects. Jianing Wu at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and his colleagues, offered Kelly items of food in four different sizes – powdered bran, cubed bran, cubed swede and largest of all, cubed celery. “We wanted to know how she would grab food items of different size,” says Wu. They offered the food on a table that measured the downward force her trunk generated during gripping, and took detailed measurements of Kelly’s trunk manoeuvres to find out how she varied the shape of her trunk and the forces it applied to grip each target. Kelly’s secret, it turns out, was her ability to create a kink at any point along her 2-metre-long trunk that would provide exactly the right downward force to grip each size of food item. The kink acted like a joint that subdivided her trunk into two sections: a long section that supported the weight of the trunk and a short tip pointing vertically downwards for dexterous gripping.
1-6-17 Oxytocin surge before a fight helps chimps bond with their group
Oxytocin surge before a fight helps chimps bond with their group
A spike in the “cuddle hormone” helps chimp comrades bond for war with rival groups, and something similar seems to happen in humans. Is the fabled “cuddle hormone” really a “warmone”? Oxytocin levels surge in troops of chimpanzees preparing for conflict with rival groups to defend or expand their territory. The finding is at odds with the prevailing image of oxytocin as something that helps strengthen bonds between parent and infant, or foster friendships. But given its capacity to strengthen loyalty, oxytocin could also be a warmonger hormone that helps chimps galvanise and cooperate against a common enemy. Catherine Crockford of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and her colleagues monitored two rival groups of chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Ivory Coast, each containing five males and five females, for prolonged periods between October 2013 and May 2015. Thanks to trust built up between the team and the chimps, the team could safely track and video the groups – even during conflict, observing at close quarters what was happening. Crucially, the team was also able to pipette up fresh samples from soil when chimps urinated.
1-6-17 Unusually loose skin helps hagfish survive shark attacks
Unusually loose skin helps hagfish survive shark attacks
Slip-sliding outer covering also aids in Houdini escapes. Remarkably loose-fitting skin could help hagfish survive a shark bite. Skin that mostly hangs loose around hagfishes proves handy for living through a shark attack or wriggling through a crevice. The skin on hagfishes’ long, sausage-style bodies is attached in a line down the center of their backs and in flexible connections where glands release slime, explained Douglas Fudge of Chapman University in Orange, Calif. This floating skin easily slip-slides in various directions. A shark tooth can puncture the skin but not stab into the muscle below. And a shark attack is just one of the crises when loose skin can help, Fudge reported January 5 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.
1-4-17 China’s ivory ban is great, now for shark fins and tiger bone
China’s ivory ban is great, now for shark fins and tiger bone
Beijing's ban on ivory is very welcome and could save the African elephant, but it must do the same for rhinos, pangolins and more, says Richard Schiffman. China made a New Year’s resolution that caused elephant lovers around the world to rejoice: the government announced it will shut down its domestic ivory market this year. Poaching experts estimate that up to 70 per cent of all illicit ivory passes through China. It is turned into statues and ivory trinkets, which are either sold as status symbols to its growing middle class or exported. The news is a game changer, says elephant behaviour expert Joyce Poole. Poole’s finding that poaching destroys not just individual elephants but their family and social structure was instrumental in the decision of the global wildlife authority CITES to ban the international ivory trade in 1989. Sadly, that ban flopped, due in large part to China’s failure to comply, or even admit culpability. During a trip to Beijing in 2013, senior government officials told Poole that China had no role in the poaching crisis. Since then, however, China has changed its tune. Under increasing pressure from a world incensed by the slaughter of tens of thousands of African elephants a year and talk of possible extinction, China’s leader Xi Jinping vowed in 2015 to end the ivory trade. In a joint statement, president Barack Obama promised to do the same in the US. But until last week, China – unlike the US – hadn’t committed to a concrete plan and timetable to accomplish this.
1-3-17 Largest lake in southern Europe under threat from “eco-resort”
Largest lake in southern Europe under threat from “eco-resort”
The largest lake in southern Europe is under threat from a double whammy. Environmentalists say that the development of an “eco-resort” on its shores and several hydropower projects on its major tributary will damage biodiversity and harm endemic species found nowhere else. Lake Skadar, shared by Albania and Montenegro, is the westernmost breeding ground of the vulnerable Dalmatian pelican, and is recognised as an area of international importance for birds. More than 280 bird species are found at this largely pristine lake, as well as nearly 50 fish species, 18 of which are found nowhere else, earning it a place on the Ramsar Convention list of Wetlands of International Importance. But new developments in Montenegro are putting the lake’s status and its unique wildlife at risk, says Nataša Kovacevic of Green Home, a non-governmental organisation focused on conservation based in Podgorica, Montenegro. Green Home started a petition with several other NGOs in late December asking the government to save the lake. The government is seeking to build several hydropower dams on the river Moraca, which provides most of the lake’s water, and which is a biodiversity hotspot itself. Similar hydropower developments also threaten to damage what’s been dubbed Europe’s last truly wild river, in neighbouring Albania. “Building dams on the Moraca would have unprecedented impacts on the biodiversity of Lake Skadar, the biggest lake in the Balkans and one of the biggest hubs of biodiversity in Europe,” says Kovacevic. She says some 20 per cent of bird nesting habitat in the northern part of the lake could be destroyed by changes in the water regime brought about by the dams.
1-3-17 New beginning for illegally traded endangered species
New beginning for illegally traded endangered species
Illegally traded endangered species that escape, forming secondary populations, offer hope for their long-term survival, a study suggests. These secondary populations could also be utilised in a way to reduce or halt the pressure on species' native populations, say researchers. Adopting a more creative approach to conservation could help slow global biodiversity loss, they added. The findings appear in the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment journal. "This first came to my attention when I read a news story about the seizure of an illegal shipment of 23 yellow crested cockatoos," said co-author Luke Gibson from the University of Hong Kong. "Each individual had been stuffed inside a plastic water bottle."
1-2-17 The macabre life of Russia's Arctic reindeer herders
The macabre life of Russia's Arctic reindeer herders
Killing thousands of reindeer each year is controversial, but it's part of a herder's job. Russia's Arctic North is home to the largest reindeer herd in the world: An estimated 730,000 reindeer reside there. But such a dense population can threaten the fragile landscape of Siberia's northern Yamal region and cause more frequent epidemics within the local nomadic communities of the Nenet people. To protect the landscape and their people, Nenet herders take part in an annual "slaughter campaign," a government program that provides herders with a stipend for participation. During November and December, herders across the region will kill up to 70,000 reindeer. This year, for the first time, the culling season will stretch through January to encourage even higher numbers. Reindeer herding among the Nenet people is a tradition that goes back centuries — the Nenets relied on the reindeer hide and meat for survival during the brutal winters. Now, the annual cull, which was instituted by the Russian government during the Soviet era, provides the Nenets with a sustainable income from the stipend and the commercially-sold meat. But the cull is not without its critics. "It is an unequivocal tragedy for both people and animals," said one coordinator for Greenpeace in Russia. "It will end up with nomadic reindeer herders turning into settled reindeer farmers. This is a completely different form of husbandry, and means the loss of a culture."
1-2-17 The scientific reason you should be watching Planet Earth
The scientific reason you should be watching Planet Earth
2016 was rough. America's grueling presidential campaign was full of anger, searing accusations, and fear. In its wake, our country's darkest differences have been brought to light. Many families and friends have been pitted against one another. We are exhausted. We are divided. We are perhaps even a little bit depressed. So allow me to offer you some good news. I'm here to tell you, downtrodden countrymen (and women), that there is a remedy for our particular affliction. It can be found in the flutter of a hummingbird's wings, or the determined eyes of a crouching snow leopard. It's in the gallop of a giraffe as it's pursued across the tundra, and the heroic leap of a penguin from razor-sharp cliffs. Mix in a cinematic score by Hans Zimmer and the soothing sounds of David Attenborough's voice, and the formula is complete. Lift your eyes to the TV screen, my weary friends. What we need now, perhaps more than ever, is a hefty dose of Planet Earth.
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