Sioux Falls Zoologists

"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent!"

The mirror test is an experiment developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. to determine whether an animal possesses the ability to recognize itself in a mirror. It is the primary indicator of self-awareness in non-human animals and marks entrance to the mirror stage by human children in developmental psychology. Animals that pass the mirror test are: Humans older than 18 mo, Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Orangutans, Gorillas, Bottlenose Dolphins, Orcas (Killer Whales), Elephants, and European Magpies. Others showing signs of self-awareness are Pigs, some Gibbons, Rhesus Macaques, Capuchin Monkeys, some Corvids (Crows & Ravens) and Pigeons w/training. (Sorry Kitty!)

117 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from 2nd Quarter of 2017

Click on the links below to get the full story from its source

6-30-17 Magpies recruited to safeguard vineyards
Magpies recruited to safeguard vineyards
A simple perch attracts magpies to vineyards, and their presence deters starlings and thrushes from munching on the fruit. Bring in the big guns. Magpies are being lured in to help ward off smaller birds that feast on grapes. Fruit-eating birds like starlings, rosellas and thrushes cause substantial damage to Australian vineyards, in some cases munching through 80 per cent of the fruit. Farmers try to deter them using balloons that look like predatory birds, gas cannons that let off loud booms, and reflective tape that flutters in the wind. However, the birds soon wise up to these tricks and ignore them. Another strategy is to cover the vines with netting, but this is labour-intensive, expensive and makes the grapes harder to spray. Now, Rebecca Peisley at Charles Sturt University in Australia and her colleagues have come up with a cheap, easy, environmentally friendly alternative that halves bird damage to grapes. In each of six vineyards in Victoria, they installed two wooden perches, each designed to attract large, aggressive birds like magpies and predatory birds like falcons – both of which can scare off small grape-eating birds. In practice, the 5-metre-high perches failed to attract predatory birds, but they did prove popular with magpies. Cameras attached to the platforms recorded almost 40,000 magpie visits to the 12 perches over four months. Fewer grape-eating birds hung out near the perches during this period. Sections of the vineyard without perches experienced damage to 9 per cent of the grapes on average, compared with just 4 per cent in sections with perches. (Webmaster's comment: A smart solution isn’t necessarily a high-tech one.)

6-30-17 Wild ducks caught on camera snacking on small birds
Wild ducks caught on camera snacking on small birds
Wild mallard ducks have been observed attacking and eating migratory birds. This has never been documented before and is probably a new behaviour, say scientists. Zoologists at the University of Cambridge filmed a group of mallard ducks hunting other birds on a reservoir in Romania. Two fledglings - a grey wagtail and a black redstart - were chased and swallowed when they landed in the water. Mallards are one of the most abundant types of wild duck, and a common sight in parks and on lakes. The duck normally snacks on seeds, acorns, berries, plants and insects. It has, on occasions, been seen to eat small fish, but bigger vertebrates are normally strictly off the menu.

6-29-17 Large-scale study 'shows neonic pesticides harm bees'
Large-scale study 'shows neonic pesticides harm bees'
The most extensive study to date on neonicotinoid pesticides concludes that they harm both honeybees and wild bees. Researchers said that exposure to the chemicals left honeybee hives less likely to survive over winter, while bumblebees and solitary bees produced fewer queens. The study spanned 2,000 hectares across the UK, Germany and Hungary and was set up to establish the "real-world" impacts of the pesticides. The results are published in Science. Neonicotinoids were placed under a temporary ban in Europe in 2013 after concerns about their impact on bees. The European Commission told the BBC that it intends to put forward a new proposal to further restrict the use of the chemicals. Prof Richard Pywell, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxfordshire, who carried out the research, told BBC News: "Our findings are a cause for serious concern. "We've shown for the first time negative effects of neonicotinoid-coated seed dressings on honeybees and we've also shown similar negative effects on wild bees. "This is important because many crops globally are insect pollinated and without pollinators we would struggle to produce some foods." However, Bayer, a major producer of neonicotinoids which part-funded the study, said the findings were inconclusive and that it remained convinced the pesticides were not bad for bees. (Webmaster's comment: The same old coorporate bullshit. Deny. Deny. Deny. And keep the money rolling in!)

6-29-17 Strongest evidence yet that neonicotinoids are killing bees
Strongest evidence yet that neonicotinoids are killing bees
Studies in Europe and Canada show that controversial neonicotinoid insecticides have adverse effects on reproduction of honeybees and wild bees. There can be little doubt now that the world’s most widely used insecticides are bad for bees. Two new studies add to the mountain of evidence that neonicotinoids are harmful to pollinators, and add to the pressure for Europe, at least, to introduce a full ban. The European Union has had a temporary moratorium on using three major neonicotinoids on bee-attractive crops since 2013, though farmers can apply for emergency authorisation to keep using them. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is due to rule in November on whether to make the ban permanent, and legislators are already discussing whether to extend it to cover all uses outside greenhouses. One of the studies was the largest field trial to date, involving honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees at 33 oilseed rape sites in the UK, Germany and Hungary. The team were given a licence to use two banned neonicotinoid insecticides (NNIs), clothianidin and thiamethoxam. One of these, or no NNIs at all, was used at each site, with the allocation made at random. Even where no chemical was used, bees’ hives and nests contained NNI residues, including traces of the banned imidacloprid, which was not used in the study. This shows that all three chemicals have remained in the environment even after the moratorium. In wild bees, the study found a link between higher levels of NNI residues and negative effects on reproduction: fewer queens in bumblebee hives and fewer egg cells in solitary bee nests.

6-29-17 What Nemley Jr's death means for fight to protect chimps
What Nemley Jr's death means for fight to protect chimps
The death of the baby chimpanzee Nemley Jr, rescued from wildlife traffickers only to fade away in a zoo in Ivory Coast, has provoked outrage. And after a BBC investigation that lasted more than a year, those of us involved in the work are finding his loss upsetting and also incredibly frustrating. In the wild, infant chimps have a poor survival record. And youngsters rescued from traffickers have endured the trauma of losing their mothers and then being thrust into the unfamiliar world of humans, so many of them do not make it either. In his last few weeks, Nemley Jr was given intensive care and dedicated support, so who or what is to blame for his shocking demise, and how best to save endangered animals such as chimpanzees from extinction? This long and sad story involves the harsh economics of the black market, the corroding influence of corruption, and the impact on the natural world of the mass consumption of which we are all a part. Add to that an indifference to wildlife among some in West Africa that is bewildering to outsiders, and you have a context in which an infant chimp's chances are slim.

6-29-17 How to eavesdrop on urban bats with smart sensors
How to eavesdrop on urban bats with smart sensors
Scientists are studying the urban life of bats in unprecedented detail using sensors installed in a London park. The detectors eavesdrop on the nocturnal chatter of bats, picking up their ultrasonic calls and monitoring bat activity in real-time. The project aims to investigate the health of bat populations at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. The smart devices have the potential to monitor the diversity of all sorts of wildlife, from birds to frogs. Kate Jones, professor of ecology and biodiversity at University College London, is one of the world's leading experts in bat conservation. "We've created this 'Shazam' for bat activity - bat calls - so we have put sensors into the park, which are connected up to the Wi-Fi and power," she explained. "And we've put an intelligent device into the sensors so that they can pick up ultrasonic bat calls and then tell us if it's a bat and what species it is in real time." In what the researchers describe as a living lab, or Internet of Wild Things, smart bat sensors have been installed at 15 sites across the park. The monitors are automatically tracking the species present and their activity levels in real-time.

6-28-17 Canuck the crow's attacks halt Vancouver mail delivery
Canuck the crow's attacks halt Vancouver mail delivery
Postal deliveries have been suspended in part of a Canadian city after a well-known crow called Canuck attacked a mailman. Canada Post said it would not resume deliveries at several addresses in East Vancouver "until such time as the hazard no longer exists". Canuck is said to have drawn blood after biting a letter carrier. The bird is known for riding the city's SkyTrain and stealing shiny objects, including a knife from a crime scene. Canuck was already known to Vancouver police after stealing a button from a computer in a patrol car. In March he was reported stealing horseshoe nails from Vancouver's Hastings Park Race Track. Canada Post spokeswoman Darcia Kmet told the BBC: "Unfortunately, our employees have been attacked and injured by a crow in that Vancouver neighbourhood while attempting to deliver the mail. "Regular mail delivery was suspended to three homes due to it being unsafe for our employees. "We are monitoring the situation when delivering the mail to other residents on the street. If our employees believe it is safe to deliver to those three addresses, they do so."

6-28-17 Male cockatoos have the beat
Male cockatoos have the beat
New study suggests that birds’ drum grooves are analogous to human music. A male cockatoo woos a female with vocal calls, blushing red cheek feathers, head crest erection and rhythmic drum performances in trees, using a self-fashioned drumstick. Like 1980s hair bands, male cockatoos woo females with flamboyant tresses and killer drum solos. Male palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) in northern Australia refashion sticks and seedpods into tools that the animals use to bang against trees as part of an elaborate visual and auditory display designed to seduce females. These beats aren’t random, but truly rhythmic, researchers report online June 28 in Science Advances. Aside from humans, the birds are the only known animals to craft drumsticks and rock out. “Palm cockatoos seem to have their own internalized notion of a regular beat, and that has become an important part of the display from males to females,” says Robert Heinsohn, an evolutionary biologist at the Australian National University in Canberra. In addition to drumming, mating displays entail fluffed up head crests, blushing red cheek feathers and vocalizations. A female mates only every two years, so the male engages in such grand gestures to convince her to put her eggs in his hollow tree nest.

6-28-17 Birds play sick jungle beat with drumsticks they make themselves
Birds play sick jungle beat with drumsticks they make themselves
In behaviour extraordinarily like ours, male palm cockatoos have been filmed making drumsticks and playing regular rhythms on hollow trees, to attract females. Move over Ringo Starr. Male palm cockatoos have got rhythm too – and they also use their drumming skills to impress the ladies. The males have been filmed making drumsticks in the rainforests of northern Australia, and then drumming to a regular beat. The rhythmic drumming was first described in 1984, but this is the first detailed study of it. Palm cockatoos are the only species other than us known to make a musical tool or instrument, perform with that instrument and repeat musical patterns throughout the performance, says Robert Heinsohn at the Australian National University in Canberra. Over a seven-year period, Heinsohn and his colleagues have filmed and analysed more than 60 cockatoo drumming events in Queensland’s Kutini-Payamu National Park. The drumming is part of a complex display that males put on for any watching females. Sometimes the males drum with a large seed pod. On other occasions, they snap off a small branch, trim it down to about 20 centimetres and bring it to the nests they make in tree hollows.

6-28-17 Hen harrier plunges towards extinction in England
Hen harrier plunges towards extinction in England
The hen harrier, an iconic bird of prey, is heading towards the brink of extinction in England, new figures suggest. There are just four breeding pairs left in England and numbers are declining elsewhere in the UK. Scotland is the traditional stronghold of these raptors, but numbers have fallen 9% since 2010. Numbers of hen harrier pairs in Wales fell by more than a third over the same period. The birds of prey live primarily on heather moorland. The males are easily identified by their black wing tips. The females look completely different, with puffy brown plumage that helps camouflage them and their nests. But this iconic species is under severe threat, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). (Webmaster's comment: Wiping out all wildlife, one species at a time.)

6-27-17 Drowned wildebeests can feed a river ecosystem for years
Drowned wildebeests can feed a river ecosystem for years
A small percentage of wildebeests drown as they try to cross the Mara River. But their carcasses can provide resources to the river ecosystem for years, a new study finds. More than a million wildebeests migrate each year from Tanzania to Kenya and back again, following the rains and abundant grass that springs up afterward. Their path takes them across the Mara River, and some of the crossings are so dangerous that hundreds or thousands of wildebeests drown as they try to traverse the waterway. Those animals provide a brief, free buffet for crocodiles and vultures. And, a new study finds, they’re feeding an aquatic ecosystem for years. Ecologist Amanda Subalusky of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., had been studying water quality in the Mara River when she and her colleagues noticed something odd. Commonly used indicators of water quality, such as dissolved oxygen and turbidity, were sometimes poorest where the river flowed through a protected area. They quickly realized that it was because of the animals that flourished there. Hippos, which eat grass at night and defecate in the water during the day, were one contributor. And dead wildebeests were another.

6-27-17 Floral curve test shows what’s great for a moth is not so good for a flower
Floral curve test shows what’s great for a moth is not so good for a flower
3-D printed imaginary flowers reveal hidden pollinator-plant conflict over flower shape. How much a flower throat curves while narrowing to its base turns out to be important — but in opposing ways — to a pollinating hawk moth and the plant itself. A great flower shape for a moth trying to get a drink in the dark turns out to be awful from the plant’s point of view. Offering hawk moths (Manduca sexta) a range of 3-D printed flowers with different curvatures shows that a moderately curved trumpet shape lets moths sip most efficiently, Foen Peng reported June 24 at the Evolution 2017 meeting. That’s a win for a nocturnal flying insect searching for nectar. Yet drinking ease wasn’t best for the plant. During swift sips, the moths did less inadvertent bumping against the artificial flowers’ simulated sex organs than moths struggling to sip from an inconvenient shape. Less contact with real flower parts would mean less delivery and pickup of pollen.

6-27-17 How I saved big cats by introducing ‘magic dogs’
How I saved big cats by introducing ‘magic dogs’
Amy Dickman has had a number of narrow escapes during her years working with big cats, but her closest shave came when tackling lion-killing warriors. It was late evening and Amy Dickman was walking through the bush to a household she suspected was celebrating a lion kill. "It was dark but I suddenly got the feeling I was being watched," Dickman recalls. "I was concerned that a big cat might be lying in wait." For a brief moment the moon appeared from behind the clouds, illuminating the landscape. "I realised I was surrounded by young men carrying spears. Then it went dark again. I was terrified," she says. This was Dickman's first encounter with warriors from the Barabaig - a community with a history of killing non-Barabaig people and still widely feared.

6-26-17 Chimps' strength secrets explained
Chimps' strength secrets explained
The greater strength of chimpanzees, relative to humans, may have been explained by American scientists. A study suggests the difference is mostly due to a higher proportion in chimps of a muscle fibre type involved in powerful, rapid movements. The findings do not support previous work suggesting mechanical aspects of chimp muscles are responsible. But the difference in chimp-human muscle performance is more modest than sometimes depicted in popular culture. In the 1920s, anecdotal evidence along with investigations by the biologist John Bauman, helped feed a perception that chimps were between four and eight times stronger than an adult human. But subsequent studies failed to replicate these figures, as later researchers found that chimps did not greatly outperform adult males when given physical tasks. Writing in PNAS journal, Dr Matthew C O'Neill, from the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, and colleagues reviewed the literature on chimp muscle performance and found that, on average, they are 1.5 times more powerful than humans in pulling and jumping tasks.

6-26-17 Chimps are not as superhumanly strong as we thought they were
Chimps are not as superhumanly strong as we thought they were
We sacrificed strength for endurance after our split from other apes, but it turns out our muscles are only a third weaker than those of our ape cousins. Chimpanzees do have stronger muscles than us – but they are not nearly as powerful as many people think. “There’s this idea out there that chimpanzees are superhuman strong,” says Matthew O’Neill at the University of Arizona in Phoenix. Yet his team’s experiments and computer models show that a chimpanzee muscle is only about a third stronger than a human one of the same size. This result matches well with the few tests that have been done, which suggest that when it comes to pulling and jumping, chimps are about 1.5 times as strong as humans relative to their body mass. But because they are lighter than the average person, humans can actually outperform them in absolute terms, say O’Neill. His findings suggest that other apes have similar muscle strength to chimpanzees. “Humans are the odd ones,” he says. O’Neill’s team has been studying the evolution of upright walking. To create an accurate computer model of how chimps walk, the researchers needed to find out whether their muscles really are exceptionally strong. So they removed small samples of leg muscle from three chimps under general anaesthetic and measured the strength of individual fibres. The same procedure is used to study human muscles. Comparing the results with the many studies on those revealed that, contrary to the claims of several other studies, there is nothing special about chimp muscle. “Chimpanzee muscle is really no different than human muscle in terms of the force that individual fibres exert,” says O’Neill.

6-26-17 Birds use cigarette butts for chemical warfare against ticks
Birds use cigarette butts for chemical warfare against ticks
Urban house finches incorporate more fibres from cigarette butts into their nests if they have live ticks in them, suggesting the toxic chemicals in the butts may deter the parasites. Is this a cigarette habit with some benefits? A species of urban bird seems to harness the toxic chemicals in cigarette butts in its fight against nest parasites – although there is a downside to the practice. Constantino Macías Garcia at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and his colleagues, have spent several years studying the curious cigarette habit in urban house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus). Initial evidence hinted that nicotine and other chemicals in the butts might help deter insect pests from moving into the nests – nicotine does have anti-parasite properties – but it wasn’t conclusive. To firm up the conclusion, Macías Garcia and his team experimented with 32 house finch nests. One day after the eggs in the nest had hatched, the researchers removed the natural nest lining and replaced it with artificial felt, to remove any parasites that might have moved in during brooding. They then added live ticks to 10 of the nests, dead ticks to another 10 and left 12 free of ticks. They found that the adult finches were significantly more likely to add cigarette butt fibres to the nest if it contained ticks. What’s more, the weight of cigarette butt material added to nests containing live ticks was, on average, 40 per cent greater than the weight of cigarette butt material added to nests containing dead ticks.

6-26-17 Peruvian monkey avoids stomach trouble by adding mud to its diet
Peruvian monkey avoids stomach trouble by adding mud to its diet
Rylands’ saki seems to go out of its way to eat the muddy walls of treetop termite mounds – perhaps to prevent toxic side effects from its seed-rich diet. Are there merits to munching mud? Some monkeys seem to go out of their way to add it to their standard diet of leaves, fruits and insects. In Amazonian Peru, at least, one primate species seems to use mud medicinally, possibly to prevent stomach upsets before they even begin. Why some monkeys eat mud has been much debated, with the main options being to kill parasites, as a mineral supplement or to cure stomach upsets. “Many previous reports involved just a few sightings, or come from accidental encounters,” explains Dara Adams at the Ohio State University in Columbus, who led the study. “We were really focused on answering this question, and that seems to have made the difference.” The team studied Rylands’ bald-faced saki monkey (Pithecia rylandsi), a rainforest canopy specialist. With thick grey fur, it has a similar shaggy appearance and size to a Maine Coon cat. The sakis’ treetop lifestyle means they did not get their mud from the ground, but from the nest casings of tree-living termites. “In 1125 hours, we recorded 76 feeding bouts at 26 termite mounds,” says team member Jennifer Rehg, from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “They ate mound casing – they weren’t focusing on the termites. They even ate inactive mounds.”

6-25-17 Whaling's 'uncomfortable' scientific legacy
Whaling's 'uncomfortable' scientific legacy
It's a curious thing to see a group of early whale foetuses up close - to see beings so small that have the potential to become so big. But what really strikes you, especially in those initial developmental stages, is how familiar the forms look. How like an early human foetus, they appear. "This is something you see time and time again in vertebrates, not just with mammals," says Richard Sabin, the Natural History Museum's top whale expert. "You see these similarities in the early developmental stages and it's really not until you're halfway through the gestation - which for a humpback whale is around 11 months - that you start to see the things that make that foetus characteristically the species that it is."

6-23-17 Watched chimps change their hunting habits
Watched chimps change their hunting habits
Wild chimpanzees have changed their hunting strategies in response to being watched and followed by scientists, observations suggest. Chimpanzees in Uganda may have changed their hunting strategy in response to being watched by scientists. While studying the animals, researchers documented very different hunting habits of two closely neighbouring chimp "tribes". "Sonso" chimps hunt in small groups for colobus monkeys, while those from the "Waibira" troop hunt solo and catch "whatever they can get their hands on". The findings show how sensitive chimp society is to human presence. They are published in the journal PLoS One. Biologists who have followed and studied these animals for years think that work may have disturbed the group hunting that seems key to chasing and catching colobus monkeys. Lead researcher Dr Catherine Hobaiter, from the University of St Andrews, said the Waibira group's behaviour might have changed to a more "opportunistic" strategy because those chimps were much less used to the presence of human scientists.

6-23-17 This glass frog wears its heart for all to see
This glass frog wears its heart for all to see
Other visible organs of the new species include the kidneys and urine bladder. A newly discovered glass frog (Hyalinobatrachium yaku) has skin so transparent that its beating heart is visible. Amazon lowlands is giving researchers a window into its heart. Hyalinobatrachium yaku has a belly so transparent that the heart, kidneys and urine bladder are clearly visible, an international team of researchers reports May 12 in ZooKeys. Researchers identified H. yaku as a new species using field observations, recordings of its distinct call and DNA analyses of museum and university specimens. Yaku means “water” in Kichwa, a language spoken in Ecuador and parts of Peru where H. yaku may also live. Glass frogs, like most amphibians, depend on streams. Egg clutches dangle on the underside of leaves, then hatch, and the tadpoles drop into the water below. But the frogs are threatened by pollution and habitat destruction, the researchers write. Oil extraction, which occurs in about 70 percent of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, and expanding mining activities are both concerns.

6-22-17 Whale body size warning for species collapses
Whale body size warning for species collapses
The shrinking size of whales over the 20th Century could help scientists detect when wildlife populations are in trouble, a study suggests. The analysis shows that the average body size of four whale species declined rapidly during the second half of the 20th Century in response to hunting. But warning signals were visible up to 40 years before whale stocks collapsed. The work appears in Nature Ecology and Evolution journal. Christopher Clements, from the University of Zurich in Switzerland, and his colleagues looked at records on the abundance and body size of whales caught by commercial whaling vessels between 1900 and 1985, after which a global whaling moratorium took effect. "We looked at data on blue, fin, sei and sperm whales and found significant declines in body size, with sperm whales taken in the 1980s four metres shorter on average than those in 1905," said Dr Clements. This probably occurred as the biggest individuals were selectively removed from the ocean through hunting.

6-22-17 Weird amphibians found at record depth in dark underground lake
Weird amphibians found at record depth in dark underground lake
A new sighting of the olm, an amphibious salamander, in a Croatian cave extends our knowledge of this mysterious and vulnerable animal. Olms – amphibious salamanders that live in the western Balkans and Italy – are extreme divers, reaching depths in excess of 100 metres in dark lakes inside limestone caves. A team of divers and biologists has now found the curious creature 113 metres below the surface of such a lake in Croatia. “This was the deepest finding of the olm ever recorded,” says team leader Petra Kovac-Konrad. Proteus anguinus is commonly dubbed the “human fish” because of its pinkish pale skin, and the creatures were once believed to be baby dragons. They are noted for their slow lifestyle and long lifespan: these blind animals can live up to a century. Little is known about olms, and it is a race against time to find out more as the salamanders’ underground habitat is being contaminated by pollution from human activities on the surface. The animals are notoriously difficult to observe in their natural habitat, except through the complex and dangerous skill of cave diving – although technology may be about to change that.

6-21-17 LA’s endangered pumas to be saved by a $60m bridge over highway
LA’s endangered pumas to be saved by a $60m bridge over highway
Pumas in Santa Monica are trapped in small areas bisected by big roads, on which many die – but an ambitious wildlife crossing promises to change that. There are about a dozen pumas (Puma concolor) living in the Santa Monica mountain range, which bisects Los Angeles. These big cats are stuck on an island of habitat, trapped on all sides by freeways on which hundreds of thousands of cars roar past every day. But this may be about to change with an ambitious plan to build a $60 million wildlife crossing. A dozen pumas, which are also known as mountain lions or cougars, have been killed while attempting crossings since 2002. Only one born in the Santa Monica mountains has been successful in leaving the area. Dubbed P-22, that young male is now stuck living under the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park, an oasis of 4300 acres of chaparral habitat in the middle of the city. But although P-22 has prey, he’s alone, with scant chance of finding a mate. Isolation means increased competition for territory and partners. It also means rampant inbreeding and, ultimately, extinction. This subpopulation has among the lowest genetic diversity of any felid in the western US. An adult male puma’s home range can extend over about 500 square kilometres, and the Santa Monica mountains cover 700 square kilometres. With southern Californians frequently building homes in canyons abutting puma habitat, interspecies conflict has led to lions hiding in crawl spaces under homes, and sightings on trails.

6-21-17 Talk radio puts pumas off their meals so they may kill more deer
Talk radio puts pumas off their meals so they may kill more deer
The sound of people’s voices reduces pumas’ feeding time and makes them kill more deer, showing the wide-reaching effect of human activity. Does talk radio put you off your dinner? Pumas in California can sympathise. The animals abandoned their kills and fled at the sound of presenters’ voices in an experiment showing that human activity affects the feeding behaviour of large carnivores. Ecologists are increasingly recognising that fear can change ecosystems – for example, fear of predators can alter the behaviour of prey animals, which has a knock-on effect on other species. In an earlier study, Justine Smith at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and colleagues found that pumas kill more deer in areas more populated by humans, but the reason why was uncertain. So they devised an experiment to see if the presence of humans would intimidate pumas and affect their feeding. Humans are the main cause of death for pumas in the area. They may be killed for eating goats or by traffic, and historically they have been hunted. The team set up motion sensors, speakers and cameras at sites of fresh puma kills in the Santa Cruz mountains. When a puma came to feed, the speakers would play either a talk radio clip or the call of a Pacific tree frog as a control. In 29 trials on 17 pumas, they fled in 83 per cent of tests when human voices were played, and only once in response to the frog sound. The pumas took longer to return to their kills if they heard a human voice, and reduced their time feeding by half compared with if they heard a frog.

6-19-17 DNA reveals how cats achieved world domination
DNA reveals how cats achieved world domination
Analysis of 9,000 years of cat remains suggests two waves of migration. Egyptian cats may have been transported by boat to far-reaching parts of Europe, Africa and Asia, a DNA study suggests. Early Middle Eastern farmers probably brought kitties and agriculture to Europe over land. The cat is starting to come out of the bag when it comes to revealing when and how wild felines became couch kitties. A tale hidden in ancient cat DNA suggests cats were probably first domesticated in the Middle East. They later spread, first by land, then by sea, to the rest of the world, researchers report June 19 in Nature Ecology & Evolution. Early farmers brought domesticated cats with them into Europe from the Middle East by 6,400 years ago, analysis of cat remains suggests. In a second wave of migration — perhaps by ship — Egyptian cats quickly colonized Europe and the Middle East about 1,500 years ago. Exactly where and when the animals were domesticated has been a matter of great debate. Researchers previously had only modern cats’ DNA to go on. Now, new techniques for analyzing ancient DNA are shedding light on the domestication process.

6-19-17 How cats conquered the ancient world
How cats conquered the ancient world
The domestic cat is descended from wild cats that were tamed twice - in the Near East and then Egypt, according to the largest study of its kind. Farmers in the Near East were probably the first people to successfully tame wild cats about 9,000 years ago. Then, a few thousand years later, cats spread out of ancient Egypt along maritime trade routes. Today, cats live on all continents except Antarctica. Scientists think wildcats began hanging around farms to prey on mice attracted to grain stores, starting the long relationship between humans and felines. "There were two taming events - one in the Near East at the beginning and one in Egypt much later," said lead researcher Eva-Maria Geigl. "And then the cat spread very efficiently all over the ancient world as a ship's cat. Both lineages are now present in modern cats."

6-19-17 World’s largest annual wildlife drowning boosts river ecosystem
World’s largest annual wildlife drowning boosts river ecosystem
Thousands of wildebeest drown as they cross the Mara river in Kenya on their yearly migration – creating a boon for the river’s ecosystem. Wildlife deaths don’t come much more dramatic. Every year, thousands of wildebeest drown or are eaten by crocodiles when they try to cross Kenya’s Mara river on their annual migration. Most years, camera crews are on hand to witness the slaughter in the Serengeti. But the good news is that the carnage is a massive boost to local ecosystems. So says Amanda Subalusky at Yale University, who has braved hippo charges and lurking crocodiles to measure the fate of nutrients released into the local ecosystem from the 1100 tonnes of biomass that float downstream from some 6200 wildebeest carcasses in a typical year. That includes 100 tonnes of carbon, 25 tonnes of nitrogen and 13 tonnes of phosphorus – the equivalent, says Subalusky, of the weight of 10 blue whales. Crocodiles and birds benefit from the carrion, particularly vultures. But the slow liberation of nutrients benefits everything in the river from fish to insects. “These are large and very clear effects on the nutrient cycles in the Mara river,” says Grant Hopcraft at the University of Glasgow, UK. “The actual event of a herd crossing the river happens very quickly, in a matter of minutes, and yet the ecological repercussions last for months and over a much larger space.” This creates “ecosystem resilience”, he says.

6-18-17 Trump's divided desert: Wildlife at the border wall
Trump's divided desert: Wildlife at the border wall
Science reporter Victoria Gill joins researchers in Arizona to find out how President Trump's wall could affect endangered desert wildlife. President Trump's promise to build a "great wall" along the US-Mexico border remains one of the central and most controversial promises of his presidency. But scientists from the University of Arizona are starting to unravel the effect that such a wall could have on a desert ecosystem it will cut through. The team is studying wildlife in the Sonoran Desert, which stretches across the border from Arizona into Mexico and is already divided by a barrier at the border. BBC science reporter Victoria Gill joined the team in a search for some of the desert's most endangered animals.

6-16-17 Bizarre new deep-sea creatures discovered off Australian coast
Bizarre new deep-sea creatures discovered off Australian coast
Faceless fish, giant sea spiders, and other strange species have been found 4-km-deep off the east coast of Australia. Faceless fish, giant sea spiders and blobby sea pigs. These are just some of the weird creatures that have been uncovered during the first-ever deep-sea expedition along the east coast of Australia. The discoveries were made by an international team of scientists aboard the research ship Investigator, which is owned by Australia’s Marine National Facility. The ship set sail from Launceston, Tasmania on May 15 and reached its final destination in Brisbane, Queensland today. During the one-month voyage, the ship tracked up the eastern edge of the Australian continental plate, where the ocean suddenly drops to 4-kilometres-deep. Fishing nets and trawling sleds were used to collect creatures at the bottom of this abyss. More than one third of the invertebrates and some of the fishes found during the expedition are completely new to science. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution is the most powerful force in the universe. Anywhere an unused niche can be found that has some kind of food or energy creatures can use, creatures will evole to fill that niche.)

6-15-17 Wise elk learn to outsmart hunters and tell apart their weapons
Wise elk learn to outsmart hunters and tell apart their weapons
Elk get wiser as they age, learning how to adapt their behaviour to different hunting methods to avoid getting shot. As female elk get older, they also get wiser: they learn how to avoid getting shot by hunters, and appear to adapt their behaviour to the types of weapon the hunters carry. Hunting by humans is known to affect how elk behave, selecting for more cautious behaviours by killing more of the bolder animals. But ecologist Henrik Thurfjell at the University of Alberta, Canada, wondered whether the animals might also learn how to stay safe as they age. Thurfjell and his colleagues put GPS tracking collars on 49 female elk in western Canada, and monitored their behaviour over six years. They found that this varied between elk of different ages. Those aged 4 were more cautious than 2-year-olds, for example, but that was not simply a case of all naturally bold elk being killed at an early age. Over time, the younger elk started acting more like their cautious elders, moving around less during the hunting season and making more use of dense forest or steep, rocky terrain, especially when near roads. In fact, they became so good at avoiding humans that by the time they reached the age of 9, they were almost immune to hunting, says Thurfjell. “It’s remarkable how bulletproof they become around age 8 or 9,” he says.

6-15-17 Watch how spiders use sticky silk to win deadly wrestling match
Watch how spiders use sticky silk to win deadly wrestling match
Instead of building webs, ground spiders ambush other spiders or insects that may be bigger than themselves, by tying them in super-sticky threads. It’s a spider-eat-spider world. High-speed cameras have recorded the first footage showing how ground spiders hunt other spiders – sometimes bigger than themselves – by tying them up with sticky silk. Ground spiders, members of the Gnaphosidae family, include 2000 species found all over the world. Unusually, they don’t build webs, instead chasing down their prey and fighting them head-to-head. To learn more about their hunting technique, Jonas Wolff of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia and his colleagues put ground spiders in a container with other spiders or crickets and filmed them from below. In some cases, the ground spiders didn’t use silk at all, instead gripping the prey directly with their front legs and overwhelming it. More often, they tried this technique first but quickly switched to using silk if the prey turned out to be too large. The spiders stuck silk to the floor of the container before running around their prey quickly, sticking the thread to the prey’s legs as they went.

6-14-17 How bearded dragons switch their sex
How bearded dragons switch their sex
Extreme temperatures might mess with RNA from two genes. Australian bearded dragons (one shown) have two chromosomes that determine their sex. But high incubation temperatures during development can override that information, turning genetically male dragons into functional females. When things get hot, embryonic bearded dragon lizards turn female — and now scientists might know why. New analyses, reported online June 14 in Science Advances, reveal that temperature-induced changes in RNA’s protein-making instructions might set off this sex switch. The findings might also apply to other reptile species whose sex is influenced by temperature. Unlike most mammals, many species of reptiles and fish don’t have sex chromosomes. Instead, they develop into males at certain temperatures and females at others. Bearded dragon lizards are an unusual case because chromosome combinations and temperature are known to influence sex determination, says ecologist Clare Holleley of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Canberra, Australia (SN: 7/25/15, p.7). When eggs are incubated below 32° Celsius, embryonic bearded dragons with two Z chromosomes develop as male, while dragons with a Z and a W chromosome develop as female. But as temperatures creep above 32°, chromosomally male ZZ dragons will reverse course and develop as females instead.

6-14-17 Facial recognition changes a wasp’s brain
Facial recognition changes a wasp’s brain
The ability to recognize specific faces changes the genes at play in a wasp’s brain. Paper wasps have a knack for recognizing faces, and a new study adds to our understanding of what that means in a wasp’s brain. Most wasps of a given species look the same, but some species of paper wasp (Polistes sp.) display varied colors and markings. Recognizing these patterns is at the core of the wasps’ social interactions. One species, Polistes fuscatus, is especially good at detecting differences in faces — even better than they are at detecting other patterns. To zero on the roots of this ability, biologist Ali Berens of Georgia Tech and her colleagues set up recognition exercises of faces and basic patterns for P. fuscatus wasps and P. metricus wasps — a species that doesn’t naturally recognize faces but can be trained to do so in the lab. After the training, scientists extracted DNA from the wasps’ brains and looked at which bits of DNA or genes were active. The researchers found 237 genes that were at play only in P. fuscatus during facial recognition tests. A few of the genes have been linked to honeybee visual learning, and some correspond to brain signaling with the neurotransmitters serotonin and tachykinin. In the brain, picking up on faces goes beyond basic pattern learning, the researchers conclude June 14 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. It’s possible that some of the same genes also play a broader role in how organisms such as humans and sheep tell one face from another. (Webmaster's comment: Think of it. A brain, the size of the head of a pin, can do facial recognition. Life is truly amazing!)

6-14-17 Fish recognise friends and foes through their unique faces
Fish recognise friends and foes through their unique faces
A cichlid in Africa’s Lake Tanganyika uses patterns of facial stripes to distinguish individuals and keep tabs on them. A little striped fish that lives among rocks in Lake Tanganyika in East Africa has the unexpected ability to recognise individual faces, which it uses to keep menacing strangers in sight. The cichlid (Julidochromis transcriptus) identifies unfamiliar individuals by looking at the pattern around their eyes rather than at other body parts such as their fins or trunk, researchers have discovered. While facial recognition has been tested in some mammals, including apes, and in birds, animals such as fish or wasps were erroneously thought to have brains too simple for the task. After recent research showed that aquarium fish can be thought to identify the faces of their human owners, the Tanganyikan cichlid has now demonstrated how facial recognition is used in the wild. Because the fish lives in rock crevices hidden by vegetation on the lakebed, only a small part of its body tends to be visible at any given time. This prompted the researchers to investigate which body element most attracts the fish’s attention. “If this fish used only the face to recognise others, that would show that ‘face’ is an important social cue,” says Takashi Hotta of Osaka City University in Japan. (Webmaster's comment: Very few of human beings' abilities are unique!)

6-13-17 The battle for nesting sites among the birds and the bees
The battle for nesting sites among the birds and the bees
Competition for nesting sites could explain why some birds and bumblebees are declining faster than others. Research suggest animals that build their nests in early spring may win the fight for available habitat at the expense of late breeders. Conservation efforts should focus on ensuring rare species have enough places to nest, say scientists. For example, areas could be left to grow wild between spring and summer to help bumblebees establish nests. Habitats such as hedgerows and hay meadows are being lost in many countries, meaning that fewer nesting sites are available. Competition among animals for a suitable place to nest could explain why some species are struggling to survive. "Ecologists understand why some groups of species are declining more, such as why farmland species are declining more than woodland species," said Dr Andrew Higginson of the University of Exeter. "But an enduring mystery is the big variation in the declines of closely related species. Fighting over nest sites may be part of the reason - when nest sites are hard to come by, the species that will suffer most are those that nest later in the year."

6-13-17 ‘Devil weeds’ threaten wildebeest migrations in Serengeti
‘Devil weeds’ threaten wildebeest migrations in Serengeti
Exotic plants have escaped from tourist lodges, invading and displacing the grasses on which millions of large, wild animals depend for food in East Africa. With names like “devil weed” and “famine weed”, perhaps it’s little wonder that these invasive plant species threaten to disrupt one of the great wonders of the world: the annual migration of 2 million animals across the savannahs of eastern Africa. Initially planted for decoration at tourist lodges in Kenya’s Masai-Mara National Reserve, the invasive species are now spreading into and displacing natural vegetation out on the savannah. The large animals that cross these grasslands each year depend on them for food. That’s the grim message from a new survey of the spread of invasive exotic plants in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, focusing on six species that pose the most serious threat to the migrating animals. “Rampant invasions in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem will certainly reduce forage production, leading to drastic declines in the populations of wildebeest, zebras and other large grazing mammals,” says Arne Witt of CABI Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. “These invasive plants are toxic or unpalatable, meaning there’s less forage available for wildlife to feed on.”

6-12-17 Global hotspots for alien invasions revealed
Global hotspots for alien invasions revealed
Great Britain is in the top 10% of areas for harbouring alien species, according to a study. Animals that have moved in from afar include the grey squirrel, rose-ringed parakeet and the noble false widow spider. The UK also has more established alien plants than elsewhere in Europe, such as Himalayan balsam. Scientists say islands and mainland coastal regions are global "hotspots" for alien species. They are calling for more effective measures to stop further introductions of plants and animals into vulnerable ecosystems. "We need to be much better at trying to prevent the introduction of species that can be harmful in the first place," said Dr Wayne Dawson of Durham University, UK. "Prevention is better than cure with invasive species." Alien species are plants or animals that are non-native (or alien) to an ecosystem and whose introduction is likely to cause harm. International researchers studied data on eight groups of plants and animals across 186 island and 423 mainland regions. They found:

  • Great Britain is 29th out of 540 regions (countries, states or island blocks) in terms of established alien species (of which a subset are invasive)
  • The top three global "hotspots" for alien species are the Hawaiian Islands, the North Island of New Zealand and Indonesia's Lesser Sunda Islands
  • Hawaii has high numbers of alien species in all eight groups studied, including fish such as guppies and mammals such as feral pigs
  • New Zealand is not far behind Hawaii, with about half of plant life being made up of non-native species. Many native birds have suffered from predation by mammals such as rats, cats and possums
  • Among coastal mainland regions, Florida in the US is the top hotspot, with invasive ants and reptiles such as the Burmese python

6-9-17 Dogs and wolves share sense of fair play
Dogs and wolves share sense of fair play
The sense of fair play is an important human trait, but new research suggests that it's a key behaviour for dogs and wolves as well. In tests, if one animal was given a more substantial reward when performing a task, the other one downed tools completely. It had been felt that this aversion to unfairness was something that dogs had learned from humans. But the tests with wolves suggest that this predates domestication of dogs. Scientists have long recognised that what they term a "sensitivity to inequity", or a sense of fairness, played an important role in the evolution of co-operation between humans. Basically, if others treated you badly, you quickly learned to stop working with them. Researchers believe that the behaviour is also found widely in non-human primates.

6-9-17 Flamingos’ balancing act
Flamingos’ balancing act
Biologists have long wondered how flamingos can stand on one leg for so long. Now researchers may have an answer: The birds have a unique anatomy that makes the posture almost effortless. Young-Hui Chang of Georgia Tech and Lena Ting of Emory University had several baby flamingos stand on a force plate, which measure the body’s sway as it maintains stability. They found that when the birds fell asleep on one leg, they actually swayed less than they did on two. In a separate experiment, the researchers held up a flamingo cadaver by one of its shins. To their surprise, the limb locked into place and the dead bird could stand upright unaided—-something it couldn’t do on two legs. “It was a light-bulb moment,” Chang tells The Washington Post. “We weren’t expecting it to be stable.” The pair concluded that whereas humans use muscles to balance on one leg, the flamingo’s unusual skeletal and muscular systems essentially let gravity do all the work. It remains unclear why they stand on one leg, however. Chang and Ting posit that it is to reduce “muscular energy expenditure.” But other researchers believe flamingos may stand on one leg to preserve heat, by keeping their non-standing limb out of water.

6-8-17 How does a duck change its sex?
How does a duck change its sex?
Last year, I was surprised to find my female mandarin duck was turning into a male. Even as a zoology graduate and someone who has kept birds in an aviary since I was 10 years old, I had absolutely no idea this could happen, so I started investigating, and it turns out that the way birds express their sex is a fiendishly complex affair. Mandarin ducks are a small species of tree-nesting duck that originates from China. They have been kept in captivity in the UK for decades after bird keepers became enamoured by the male's incredible breeding plumage. This plumage is a secondary sexual characteristic of the males, and is dependent on the time of year, with males moulting out of a female-like dull brown colouration in the Autumn. My female, being happily paired with a male mandarin in my aviary, bucked this trend by growing male feathers. What happened? In finding out what was actually happening, it's important to know what defines a male and female.

6-7-17 Life aloft: The unexplored ecosystem above your head
Life aloft: The unexplored ecosystem above your head
We have nature reserves on land and at sea, but the sky has never been considered a habitat, let alone one worth preserving, until now. THE Federal Bureau of Investigation has a spectacular view of the city skyline from its Chicago office tower. But when special agent Julia Meredith arrived at work one Monday morning, her eyes were focused firmly on the ground. That’s where the bodies were – more than 10 of them. Some of the dead were Blackburnian warblers, birds with bright yellow and orange plumage that are rarely seen in the city. They had been on their way to their wintering grounds in South America when they had collided with the building’s glass facade. “They had come all this way and here they were, dead,” says Meredith. It’s not an isolated incident. Just last month, 395 migrating birds were killed in one building strike in Galveston, Texas. The world over, wherever humans are extending their buildings, machines and light into the sky, the lives of aerial creatures are at increasing risk. We don’t have very accurate figures, but in the US, casualties are thought to run into the hundreds of millions every year. Yet while efforts to protect areas on land and in water have accelerated since the 1970s, the sky has been almost entirely ignored. That could be about to change if a new wave of conservationists have their way. They want to reclaim the air for its inhabitants, creating protected areas that extend into the sky and designing buildings to avoid death. If this noble aim is to succeed, however, we must first address a more fundamental question: what exactly is it that we are protecting?

6-5-17 Big slimy lips are the secret to this fish’s coral diet
Big slimy lips are the secret to this fish’s coral diet
Imaging study shows how tubelip wrasses slurp coral snot. Scanning electron microscope images show the differences between the lips of a coral-eating wrasse species and one that dines on a more mundane diet of crabs and other invertebrates. While teeth are thought of as a key factor in the evolution of fish feeding strategies, the new study implies that lips are important, too. Tubelip wrasses eat dangerously, daring to dine on sharp corals lined with stinging cells. New images reveal the fish’s secret to safe eating: lubing up and planting a big one on their dinner. “It is like sucking dew off a stinging nettle. A thick layer of grease may help,” says David Bellwood, a marine biologist at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, who snapped the shots with his colleague Victor Huertas. Of roughly 6,000 fish species that roam reefs, just 128 consume corals. These corallivores specialize in different menus. Well-studied butterfly fish, for example, use their long, thin snouts to nip up coral polyps, the tiny animals that build corals. Tubelip wrasses such as Labropsis australis of the South Pacific are known for nibbling coral with their luscious lips, but until now, it was unclear what part of the coral the fish were eating or how they were eating it.

6-3-17 Beaver return 'benefits environment'
Beaver return 'benefits environment'
Beavers should be re-introduced to England to improve water supplies, prevent floods and tackle soil loss, a researcher says. New results from a trial in Devon show muddy water entering a beaver wetland is three times cleaner when it leaves. The farmers' union, NFU, warns that beavers brought back to Scotland have damaged fields and forestry. But Prof Richard Brazier, who runs the Devon trial, says farmers should thank beavers for cleaning up farm pollution. Unpublished preliminary results from his tests for Exeter University showed that a pair of beavers introduced six years ago have created 13 ponds on 183m of a stream. The ponds trapped a total of 16 tonnes of carbon and one tonne of nitrogen - a fertiliser that in large quantities harms water supplies. During heavy rains, water monitored entering the site has been thick with run-off soil from farm fields - but the soil and fertilisers have been filtered out of the water by the network of dams. "We see quite a lot of soil erosion from agricultural land round here (near Okehampton)," he told BBC News. "Our trial has shown that the beavers are able to dam our streams in a way that keeps soil in the headwaters of our catchment so it doesn't clog up rivers downstream and pollute our drinking and bathing waters. "Farmers should be happy that beavers are solving some of the problems that intensive farming creates. "If we bring beavers back it's just one tool we need to solve Britain's crisis of soil loss and diffuse agricultural pollution of waterways, but it's a useful tool."

6-2-17 Sooty terns’ migration takes the birds into the path of hurricanes
Sooty terns’ migration takes the birds into the path of hurricanes
Sooty terns that nest in the Dry Tortugas National Park, west of Key West, Fla., migrate along a path that often crosses tropical storms and hurricanes, scientists have found. Hurricane season has officially begun in the North Atlantic, and it’s not just coastal communities that have to worry. A population of sooty terns off the southwest tip of Florida might want to worry, too. Depending on when and where storms hit, the terns could be in for a tough time. Their migratory route overlaps with the general path of hurricanes traveling from the waters off Africa up to the United States, a new study finds. Sooty terns can be found all over the world. But the ones that nest in the Dry Tortugas National Park, west of Key West, are among the best known. The birds have been the subject of a long-term study that started back in 1959, and of other studies that stretch back into the early 20th century. Those studies revealed much about the birds’ growth and behavior, but not much about the terns’ migration.

6-2-17 Giant bumphead parrotfish begin mating in their hundreds
Giant bumphead parrotfish begin mating in their hundreds
The metre-long fish, which live on tropical reefs, usually mate in pairs. An uptick in their numbers around Palau may explain why they have begun mass mating. A group of about 1200 giant bumphead parrotfish have been caught in the act of mating off Palau in Micronesia, turning the water cloudy with their sperm. It’s the first time the species has been seen doing so in such large numbers. George Roff from the University of Queensland in St Lucia, Australia, witnessed the behaviour while diving. “I’ve only ever encountered schools of 30 to 40 individuals before,” he says. Mass spawning events among the fish were first observed in 2011, but never previously involving more than 100 individuals. During the latest event, the fish tended to mate in groups of up to 10 individuals, comprising several males fighting over one or a few females. The activity is usually far more sedate, involving just one member of each sex. “It’s a sharp contrast to the frenzied spawning rushes in the Palau aggregation,” says Roff. Giant bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum), which can grow to a metre or more in length and weigh up to 46 kilograms, play a unique role in their ecosystem. They use their large jaws to graze on reefs, making space for new corals to settle.

6-1-17 The Last Animals - fighting to save animals from extinction
The Last Animals - fighting to save animals from extinction
A new documentary - The Last Animals - looks at efforts to stop vulnerable groups of animals from extinction. The film has been put together by conflict photographer Kate Brooks who has a passion for wildlife.

5-31-17 Brain switch in voles makes them fall in love at first sight
Brain switch in voles makes them fall in love at first sight
Through the activation of brain circuits with light, female voles were tricked into selecting specific partners. Talk about flipping a switch. By simply activating certain circuits in the brains of female prairie voles, researchers made them “fall in love” with specific males. “It’s like remote control of the brain circuitry to create a pair bond,” says Robert Liu at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and a member of the team using technology to play Eros. The team chose to study pair-bonding in prairie voles because they are one of the few species that mate for life. “Pair-bonding in voles is not exactly the same as in people, but we believe that it likely shares many of the underlying neural mechanisms as falling in love in humans,” says Liu. As a first test, the researchers implanted electrodes into the brains of females to identify the circuitry activated when they naturally formed a pair bond and mated. They found that connections in a specific circuit became stronger, especially after mating, and whenever the pair huddled together. “We discovered that rhythmic oscillations of groups of neurons in the prefrontal cortex – an area of the brain involved in decision-making and executive functions – controlled the strength of oscillations in neurons of the neighbouring nucleus accumbens, an area involved in pleasure, reward and addiction,” says Liu. The upshot, he says, is that physical features of the male, such as his odours and vocalisations, become stamped into the reward system, meaning partners become “rewards” in themselves.

5-31-17 Ticks use sticky pads on their feet to cling on to our skin
Ticks use sticky pads on their feet to cling on to our skin
Microscopy images reveal how tick parasites use specialised sticky pads and bendable claws to stick to their hosts while they suck blood. A tick’s sophisticated weaponry doesn’t end with its needle-like mouthparts, capable of piercing through human skin and inflicting itchy agony. Each leg has a pair of claws that can grasp surfaces, and between them – it has now been discovered – is a foldable pad that can spread out like a fan and stick to the smoothest of surfaces. Ticks lie in wait on plants and leaf litter, until they can latch on to a passing warm-bodied bird or animal. They move about on their host and finally clamp down in a suitable place, plunging down their needle-like mouthparts. To do all this, a tick needs legs that can grip a large variety of surfaces, anchor the tick when a host is trying to scratch it out, and support the huge increase in body weight as it feeds – a female tick can swell to 135 times her initial size after a blood meal.

5-31-17 Watch cuttlefish apparently pretending to walk just like crabs
Watch cuttlefish apparently pretending to walk just like crabs
The curious tentacle movements could be performed to fool unsuspecting prey or to ward off predators. Cuttlefish have been caught on film walking like crabs by moving their tentacles in novel ways. Kohei Okamoto at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan, and his team first spotted pharaoh cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis) displaying the unusual behaviour while feeding them in the lab. “We were surprised to see how closely they resemble hermit crabs,” says Okamoto. The molluscs would raise their front arms while they bent their other legs, as if they had joints, while quickly moving them up and down independently. Certain parts of their skin also darkened. The team later filmed the cuttlefish making the same arm movements during experiments in tanks containing small fish that could be prey. Cuttlefish are known mimics. They can change colour, texture, skin patterns and even posture instantly to blend in with their surroundings. They can also make complex movements with their arms, not only to help with camouflage but also to startle or lure prey or grip their partner while mating. Okamoto and his colleagues aren’t sure whether the cuttlefish are intentionally posing as hermit crabs, although there would be clear advantages of doing so. They suggest that impersonating crabs would imply that the soft cuttlefish have a hard shell, which could deter predators.

5-28-17 A third of America's honeybee colonies died in the last year
A third of America's honeybee colonies died in the last year
Beekeepers in the United States saw a third of their honeybee colonies die between April 2016 and April 2017, an annual survey finds. That sounds grim, but it's actually a slight improvement over similar assessments in the last decade, in which an average of 40 percent of the colonies died off annually. "I would stop short of calling this 'good' news," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a University of Maryland professor who is also a project director at the Bee Informed Partnership. "Colony loss of more than 30 percent over the entire year is high. It's hard to imagine any other agricultural sector being able to stay in business with such consistently high losses." Some of the dead colonies may be salvaged, but the process isn't easy. One bumblebee species was added to the federal Endangered Species List earlier this year, and steady decline of bee populations is a serious and widespread problem that is believed to be linked to pesticide use. "Bees are good indicators of the landscape as a whole," said Nathalie Steinhauer, who worked on the new survey. "To keep healthy bees, you need a good environment and you need your neighbors to keep healthy bees. Honeybee health is a community matter."

5-25-17 Monkey mafia steal your stuff, then sell it back for a cracker
Monkey mafia steal your stuff, then sell it back for a cracker
Long-tailed macaques living near an Indonesian temple have learned how to steal human possessions, including cash, and then trade them for food. Long-tailed macaques living near an Indonesian temple have figured out how to run a ransom racket on visiting tourists. The monkeys grab valuables, such as glasses, hats, cameras or, in one case, a wad of cash from the ticket booth, then wait for temple staff to offer them food before dropping their ill-gotten gains and dashing off with the tasty prize. Although this behaviour has been reported anecdotally at Uluwatu Temple on the island of Bali for years, it had never been studied scientifically in the wild. So Fany Brotcorne, a primatologist at the University of Liège in Belgium, and her colleagues set out to discover how and why it has spread through the monkey population. “It’s a unique behaviour. The Uluwatu Temple is the only place in Bali where it’s found,” she says, which suggests it is a learned behaviour rather than an innate ability. Brotcorne wanted to determine whether it was indeed cultural, which could help us better understand the monkey’s cognitive abilities, and even human evolution.

5-25-17 Tree-climbing goats spit out and disperse valuable argan seeds
Tree-climbing goats spit out and disperse valuable argan seeds
Popular lore has it that goats defecate the seeds of fruits from the argan tree, but instead they must spit them out, helping to effectively disperse them. In south-western Morocco, acrobatic goats climb argan trees to eat their fruit and leaves. A tree full of goats is a striking sight, but the goats’ widely overlooked habit of regurgitating and spitting out the nuts may be important to the life of these forests. Goat herders lead their flocks through the argan (Argania spinosa) forests, where the animals can clamber up trees 8 to 10 metres high and strip them nearly bare. Popular accounts say the goats defecate the nuts of argan fruits, which can then be retrieved from the goats’ manure. Cracking these nuts open is the first step in making argan oil, a valuable export to richer countries where it is used in beauty products and foods. People may also harvest the fruits directly, but the goats save them a step. “Some scientists have accepted the defecation hypothesis, probably because they did not speak to the herders,” says Miguel Delibes, a biologist at Doñana Biological Station in Seville, Spain. The herders say the goats mostly spit the seeds out.

Goats climb argan trees to eat their fruit and leaves.

5-25-17 Trump’s budget jettisons ‘irreplaceable’ marine mammals agency
Trump’s budget jettisons ‘irreplaceable’ marine mammals agency
The US Marine Mammal Commission, charged with restoring oceans’ mammal populations, is set for the chop in president Donald Trump’s budget proposal. The US Marine Mammal Commission, an organisation charged with restoring mammal populations in the world’s oceans, is set for the chop in president Donald Trump’s latest budget proposal. The budget, released on 23 May, includes a 16 per cent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s bodies and agencies. This would close down the MMC, an independent federal agency, which costs around US$3.41 million a year, or around one penny per American. The Maryland-based commission sees itself as a “one-stop shop” for marine mammal science and policies, says its chairman Daryl Boness. The commission reviews human activities in the ocean -including shipping, military drills and fossil fuel extraction – and uses the latest science to ascertain the impact of such activities on marine mammals. “The commission’s role as an oversight agency on all issues related to marine mammals is unique; no one else in the world meets this mandate,” Boness told the New Scientist. “This service to the public, marine mammals and their ecosystem would end.”

5-25-17 Quit nature to save wolves and bears? There are better ways
Quit nature to save wolves and bears? There are better ways
Wild predators bounce back as nations modernise, people shift to cities and attitudes change. But we don't have to seal ourselves off to save them, says Niki Rust. Imagine waking up, opening your curtains and seeing a pack of wolves on your patio. How would you feel knowing that these large carnivores had invaded your territory and were just metres away? Both fearful and fascinated, probably. For livestock farmers, fear wins the day – we often dislike things that could harm us, our loved ones or our property. But this is bad news for wildlife: retaliatory and pre-emptive killing of large carnivores is one of their biggest threats and a cause of decline in many places. However, across much of Europe and North America, populations of wolves, bears, cougars and lynxes are increasing. It looks like fascination has won out. How come? A new US study offers an answer. It says that modernisation, traditionally seen as destructive to habitats and their wild species, could be behind this.

5-25-17 Giant octopus suffocates foolhardy dolphin that tried to eat it
Giant octopus suffocates foolhardy dolphin that tried to eat it
Dolphins have a special way of preparing the octopuses they eat – but when that goes awry the consequences can be deadly. A dolphin in Western Australia has bitten off more than it can chew. An attempt to eat a large octopus turned fatal when its airway was obstructed by a mass of tentacles. The Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin – known as “Gilligan” to researchers in the area – was found dead on Stratham Beach near the port city of Bunbury in August 2015. Octopus arms were seen hanging out of the side of its mouth. A post-mortem examination revealed one octopus tentacle extending down the dolphin’s oesophagus, and the other seven stuck in the back of its throat. The tentacle suckers were gripping the throat walls and had blocked off the airway, causing the dolphin to suffocate. The tentacles belonged to a Maori octopus (Macroctopus maorum), the largest species of octopus found in Australian waters and the third largest in the world. It is not unusual for bottlenose dolphins to feed on octopuses, but they normally break the body and tentacles into smaller pieces first using a “shake-and-toss” method. Shaking the octopus helps to kill it and tear it apart, while tossing prevents it from latching on and also weakens the suckers.

5-25-17 See-through frog has heart you can see beating through its chest
See-through frog has heart you can see beating through its chest
The beautiful Hyalinobatrachium yaku is a previously unknown glass frog from Ecuador, but its habitat is threatened by oil exploitation. A newly discovered glass frog species whose beating heart is visible through its chest is already feared to be in danger, because its habitat is threatened by oil exploitation. The frog (Hyalinobatrachium yaku), identified through a combination of fieldwork in the Amazonian lowlands of Ecuador and DNA sequencing in the lab, displays unique physical and behavioural traits. The dark green spots on its back and its call and reproductive behaviour mark it out as different from already known frogs. “Males guard the eggs, which are attached below a tree’s leaves, until they hatch and fall on the below water stream,” says Juan Guayasamin, of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, in Ecuador. “I work with frogs every day and this is one of the most beautiful species I have ever seen.” “Not all glass frogs have hearts that are visible through the chest. In some, the heart itself is white, so you don’t see the red blood,” says Paul Hamilton, of US non-profit organisation the Biodiversity Group.

5-24-17 Petite parrots provide insight into early flight
Petite parrots provide insight into early flight
The biomechanics of parrotlet hops has implications for better understanding the evolution of flight and could help engineers design better flight robots. When it comes to hopping between branches, tiny parrots try only as hard as they need to. The finding comes from high-speed video taken to measure how Pacific parrotlets (Forpus coelestis) shift momentum from takeoff to landing. Bird flight is though to have started with jumping and gliding. When traveling short distances, parrotlets get most of their oomph from their legs, probably because it’s a more efficient way to accelerate than pushing against air with their wings. Still, small wingbeats do help support some of the birds' bodyweight. The farther the trip, the more that wings contribute to keeping the birds in the air. The birds also optimize their takeoff angles to apply as little mechanical energy as possible, Diana Chin and David Lentink of Stanford University report May 17 in Science Advances. (Webmaster's comment: Millions of years of evolution leads to a fine tuning of an animal's body at the molecular level. To engineer as well as evolution has done is still beyond our ability.)

5-24-17 Whales reached huge size only recently
Whales reached huge size only recently
Blue whales are the biggest animals that have ever existed on Earth but they only recently* got that way. This is the extraordinary finding from a new study that examined the fossil record of baleens - the group of filter feeders to which the blues belong. These animals were relatively small for most of their evolutionary existence and only became the behemoths we know today in the past three million years. That is when the climate likely turned the oceans into a "food heaven". Favoured prey - such as krill, small crustaceans - suddenly became super-concentrated in places, allowing the baleens with their specialised feeding mechanism to pig-out and evolve colossal forms. "The blue whales, the fins and bowheads, and the right whales - they are among the most massive vertebrates to have ever lived," explained Nick Pyenson from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, US. "Some of the dinosaurs were longer, but these big whales even outweighed the largest dinosaurs. And isn't that surprising? People kind of think of gigantism as being a fact of the geologic past. But here we are, living in the time of giants on Planet Earth," he told BBC News.

5-24-17 Flamingo balancing act saves energy
Flamingo balancing act saves energy
Flamingos expend less energy standing on one leg than in a two-legged stance, scientists have confirmed. It may be their signature pose, but how and why the birds perch on one limb has been a longstanding puzzle. Now, a team from the US has shown that flamingos employ no active muscular effort when they're unipedal, meaning they are also expending less energy. A passive mechanism is engaged in the one-legged position, allowing flamingos to stand proud while having a doze. Previously, researchers had wondered whether the one-legged position might help reduce muscle fatigue, as the birds alternated from standing on one leg to the other. Other teams have proposed that this behaviour helps regulate body temperature. Now, Prof Young-Hui Chang, from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, and Lena H Ting, of Atlanta's Emory University, have uncovered the mechanical secrets behind this impressive trick. The researchers conducted several experiments with both live and dead birds. Amazingly, they found that flamingo cadavers could be made to stand one-legged without any external support. In a paper published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, they describe this phenomenon as a "passive gravitational stay mechanism".

5-23-17 How a flamingo balances on one leg
How a flamingo balances on one leg
Some of the built-in tricks for extreme bird balancers work without muscle effort. Scientists have tackled the question of how a biggish bird can balance, and apparently nap, on just one skinny leg. A question flamingo researchers get asked all the time — why the birds stand on one leg — may need rethinking. The bigger puzzle may be why flamingos bother standing on two. Balance aids built into the birds’ basic anatomy allow for a one-legged stance that demands little muscular effort, tests find. This stance is so exquisitely stable that a bird sways less to keep itself upright when it appears to be dozing than when it’s alert with eyes open, two Atlanta neuromechanists report May 24 in Biology Letters. “Most of us aren’t aware that we’re moving around all the time,” says Lena Ting of Emory University, who measures what’s called postural sway in standing people as well as in animals. Just keeping the human body vertical demands constant sensing and muscular correction for wavering. Even standing robots “are expending quite a bit of energy,” she says. That could have been the case for flamingos, she points out, since effort isn’t always visible. (Webmaster's comment: The Aborigines of Australia could stand on just on leg for hours, but I don't know if they could sleep that way.)

5-22-17 Mouse sperm survive space to spawn
Mouse sperm survive space to spawn
Mice born from sperm that took a nine-month trip to space were healthy despite the gametes being exposed to massive amounts of solar radiation. Mouse sperm could win awards for resilience. Sperm freeze-dried and sent into space for months of exposure to high levels of solar radiation later produced healthy baby mice, researchers report May 22 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If humans ever embark on long-term space flights, we’ll need a way to reproduce. One potential hurdle (beyond the logistical challenges of microgravity) is the high amount of solar radiation in space — it’s 100 times more powerful on the International Space Station than on Earth. Those doses might cause damaging genetic mutations in banked eggs and sperm. To test this, Japanese researchers freeze-dried mouse sperm and sent it up to the ISS, where it spent nine months orbiting the Earth in microgravity. When rehydrated back on Earth, the space sperm did show some evidence of DNA damage compared with earthly sperm, the scientists found. But when researchers used that sperm to fertilize eggs in the lab that were then injected into female mice, the mice birthed pups at a normal rate. Those babies were healthy and were even able to have their own offspring. The researchers suspect that some of the initial DNA damage might have been repaired after fertilization. If mouse sperm can survive a trip to space, perhaps human sperm can, too.

5-22-17 Mouse sperm sent into space produces healthy IVF babies
Mouse sperm sent into space produces healthy IVF babies
The first experiment to test how space travel could affect mammals’ reproduction shows that pregnancy can smooth over DNA damage from cosmic radiation. Freeze-dried mouse sperm that spent nine months in space has successfully impregnated female mice and created healthy offspring. We are starting to consider space colonisation more seriously, but there are still big questions about the viability of human reproduction off Earth. The high levels of cosmic radiation and low gravity could hinder conception or lead to abnormal development of a fetus, scientists say. Experiments have shown that fish and salamanders can reproduce normally on space stations, but research in mammals is scarce. A handful of studies in the 1980s found that male rats produced less sperm in space, but sperm quality was not assessed. To address this, Teruhiko Wakayama at the University of Yamanashi in Japan and his colleagues sent freeze-dried sperm from 12 male mice to the International Space Station (ISS) in August 2013. The samples were kept in a -95°C freezer for nine months, before being flown back to Earth on the SpaceX-3 carrier vehicle. When the sperm returned, Wakayama and his team analysed its DNA. They found that it was severed in several places – most likely due to exposure to cosmic radiation. Radiation levels on the ISS are 100 times greater than levels on Earth because the station is not protected by the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field.

5-22-17 Frozen 'space sperm' passes fertility test
Frozen 'space sperm' passes fertility test
Healthy baby mice have been born using freeze-dried sperm stored in the near-weightless environment of space. The Japanese team behind the gravity-breaking experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) say it shows that transporting the seeds of life away from Earth is feasible. Sperm banks could even be made on the Moon as a back-up for Earth disasters, they told a leading science journal. It is unclear if this will ever help humans populate space, however.Sustaining life in space is challenging to say the least. On the ISS, radiation is more than 100 times higher than on Earth. The average daily dose of 0.5mSv from the cosmic rays is enough to damage the DNA code inside living cells, including sperm. Microgravity also does strange things to sperm.

5-19-17 The Endangered Species Act, explained
The Endangered Species Act, explained
Today is Endangered Species Day. Get smart fast! Today is Endangered Species Day, an annual reminder (falling on the third Friday of every May) to recognize America's conservation efforts. Celebrate by reading up on the Endangered Species Act:

  • What is the Endangered Species Act?
  • How does the Endangered Species Act work?
  • Is the Endangered Species Act effective?
  • Are there any problems with the Endangered Species Act?
  • What's next for the Endangered Species Act?

Republicans have long pushed for the easing the Endangered Species Act's regulations, and now that the GOP has control of both chambers of Congress, they could finally get some traction. Already, the Senate has held a hearing to discuss how to "modernize" the Endangered Species Act. A proponent of the act warned that in his experience, efforts to "modernize" have "almost always been code to push forward an agenda to weaken or gut" the conservation law.

5-18-17 Mass landfills are saving endangered vultures from extinction
Mass landfills are saving endangered vultures from extinction
Endangered Egyptian vultures thrive near open garbage sites, which have helped some bounce back – but EU regulations threaten to shut the sites down. The endangered Egyptian vulture, which is disappearing in Europe and globally at an alarming rate, could bounce back thanks to the presence of landfills. The Egyptian vulture population has declined in places such as the Iberian peninsula, where it has fallen by 25 per cent over the last two decades because of multiple threats such as poisoning, illegal persecution and collision with power lines. Regulations that prevent farmers from leaving animal carcasses in the open have also deprived the scavengers of their natural source of food. But in central Catalonia in Spain, the Egyptian vulture is defying gloomy predictions. “The birds have been multiplying and even expanding their reach, colonising areas where they were historically absent,” says Joan Real at the University of Barcelona.

5-17-17 Orangutans take motherhood to extremes, nursing young for more than eight years
Orangutans take motherhood to extremes, nursing young for more than eight years
Weaning has been tricky to observe in the wild, so researchers turned to lab tests. A baby orangutan could guzzle its mom’s milk for more than eight years, the longest of any wild mammal on record. The supermoms of the mammal world are big, shy redheads. Studying growth layers in orangutan teeth shows that mothers can nurse their youngsters for eight-plus years, a record for wild mammals. Teeth from a museum specimen of a young Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) don’t show signs of weaning until 8.1 years of age. And a Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii) was still nursing during the few months before it was killed at 8.8 years, researchers report May 17 in Science Advances. Tests also show that youngsters periodically start to taper off their dependence on their mother’s milk and then, perhaps if solid food grows scarce, go back to what looks like an all-mom diet. Such on-again, off-again nursing cycles aren’t known in other wild mammals, says study coauthor Tanya Smith, an evolutionary anthropologist at Griffith University in Nathan, Australia. (Webmaster's comment: Black women in Africa often nurse their children until they are 4 years old. Nursing serves as a prophylactic to help prevent them getting pregant again.)

5-17-17 Beaver dams keeps streams cool and protect sensitive fish
Beaver dams keeps streams cool and protect sensitive fish
We used to think that beaver dams warmed up stream waters as felling trees to build them reduces shade. Now it seems the opposite might be true. Beaver dams keeps streams cool and protect sensitive fish Beaver dams could lower maximum water temperatures in streams – keeping temperature-sensitive fish safe from dangerous highs. Previous studies suggested that beaver dams warm up the water, for example by expanding the water’s surface area, cutting the speed of water flow and removing shade by felling trees. Now, a team led by Nicholas Weber from Eco-Logical Research Inc. in the US has shown that the opposite may be the case. They monitored stream temperatures at 23 sites along 34 kilometres of Bridge Creek in Oregon over an eight-year period. The number of beaver dams there increased over this period from 24 to 120. An additional 134 artificial dams were built on a 4 kilometre stretch as part of nature restoration efforts on this creek. “Our goal was to encourage beavers to build on stable structures that would increase dam life spans, capture sediment, raise the stream and reconnect the stream to its floodplain,” says Nicolaas Bouwes, owner of Utah-based Eco-Logical Research, and one of the paper authors. The team looked at the temperature differences between an upstream site with no beaver activity and downstream parts of the creek before and after the proliferation of dams.

5-16-17 Pregnant rays tangled in trawler nets have small, sickly babies
Pregnant rays tangled in trawler nets have small, sickly babies
Rays, and possibly sharks, could suffer reproductive loss from being dragged around by fishing nets before being released. The accidental capture of pregnant rays in fishing trawls harms their unborn babies. Rays often get tangled up in trawling nets dragged behind boats to catch large volumes of fish. They are usually thrown back into the sea, but being trapped and brought up to the surface can be traumatic — and sometimes fatal. Those that survive can experience ongoing health problems and have undersized, sickly babies, found Leonardo Guida at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and his colleagues. The researchers collected 19 pregnant southern fiddler rays (Trygonorrhina dumerilii) from Swan Bay in Victoria off the south coast of Australia, and divided them into two groups. One group was subjected to 8 hours of being dragged in a trawl net, followed by 30 minutes of air exposure in a crate to simulate commercial fishing. The other group served as a control.

5-16-17 Rare Mexican porpoise faces 'imminent extinction'
Rare Mexican porpoise faces 'imminent extinction'
An immediate extension of a fishing ban is desperately needed to save the world's most endangered marine species. Campaigners say there are only 30 vaquita porpoises left, with their population having plummeted by 90% since 2011. These dark-eyed cetaceans are often accidentally killed in gillnets which were banned for two years in 2015. Researchers hope the Mexican government will now extend the ban due to expire at the end of May. The vaquita marina species are found only in the Gulf of California, a world heritage site that sits between the Mexican mainland and the Baja peninsula. The waters are home to a wide array of species, but they also support half of Mexico's total fisheries production.

5-15-17 The tragic price of ivory
The tragic price of ivory
Poachers are now slaughtering up to 35,000 of the estimated 500,000 African elephants every year for their tusks. A single male elephant's two tusks can weigh more than 250 pounds, with a pound of ivory fetching as much as $1,500 on the black market. The ivory is so valuable because all across Asia — particularly in China — ivory figurines are given as traditional gifts, and ivory chopsticks, hair ornaments, and jewelry are highly prized luxuries. "China regards ivory as a cultural heritage; they are not going to ban it," said Grace Gabriel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Many Chinese consumers don't realize that elephants must be killed for their ivory; in one survey, more than two thirds of Chinese respondents said they thought tusks grew back like fingernails. Elephants are highly intelligent, social creatures that live in matriarchal groups, and poaching has ravaged much of their social structure. The biggest tusks are found on the largest breeding males and on the oldest females, who lead the elephant troops. Where these animals are targeted and killed, elephant populations are reduced to leaderless groups of traumatized orphans huddling together. In the past year, even they are being wiped out, as some poachers have started dumping cyanide into watering holes, killing every animal that drinks there. Last year, poachers killed an estimated 300 elephants in Zimbabwe's largest park, Hwange, by lacing watering holes and salt licks with cyanide.

  • How extensive is the poaching?
  • What impact has the slaughter had on the elephants?
  • Who are the poachers?
  • Why is the price so high?
  • What steps are being taken to stop poaching?
  • Is China cooperating?
  • Why is the ban so hard to enforce?
  • Endangered Asian elephants

5-15-17 Vultures smear their faces in red mud which they use as makeup
Vultures smear their faces in red mud which they use as makeup
The endangered Egyptian vultures have taken to mud baths and painting their faces at their stronghold in the Canaries. But why do they care about cosmetics? A species of vulture has been filmed putting on make-up for the first time – a rare phenomenon in birds, known as cosmetic colouration. The Egyptian vulture normally has a yellow wrinkled face surrounded by a halo of white hair. But on Fuerteventura island in the Canaries off the coast of Africa, many vultures sport reddish heads and necks, with the colour varying from pale brown to deep crimson. These vultures dip their heads in red soil and swipe from side to side, carefully dyeing their head, neck and chest red. It is a well-studied population, so almost every vulture on the island is marked with plastic rings, allowing researchers to study individual differences in this curious behaviour. “It’s the first documentation of this behaviour in wild birds that are individually marked,” says Thijs Van Overveld of Doñana Biological Station in Spain. To see it up-close, Overveld and his colleagues kept two bowls in the island’s feeding station, one filled with red soil dissolved in water, the other with just water. As the hidden researchers watched, the vultures took their mud baths. The birds examined the muddy water, scratched about with their legs, and then gently swiped both sides of their heads in the mud, emerging with red head, neck and chest feathers. Out of about 90 birds that visited over one day, 18 took mud baths. A couple of vain individuals even had two baths.

5-11-17 Watch male cuttlefish fight over a female in the wild
Watch male cuttlefish fight over a female in the wild
Violence and escalation may typify mating-related conflict. Field footage hints that male cuttlefish conflicts over who gets to mate with a female may be more violent in the wild than those observed in captivity. The Bro Code apparently does not exist among wild cuttlefish. The first field video of male European cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) getting physical over a female shows that they are not above stealing another guy’s girl. Cuttlefish, cephalopods known for their ability to alter their skin color, have complex and competitive courtship rituals. While scientists have extensively studied common European cuttlefish fights over mates, observing such altercations has proven elusive outside of the lab. In 2011, biologists Justine Allen of Brown University in Providence, R.I., and Derya Akkaynak of the University of Haifa in Israel lucked out. They were in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey following a female cuttlefish with an underwater camera to study camouflage, when a male cuttlefish approached the female, and the pair mated. Soon after, another male appeared on the scene and edged in on the female. A battle of ink and arms ensued. “I just remember there being a lot of ink everywhere — so much ink,” Allen recalls.

5-11-17 Hanging on: In search of the bat that returned from the dead
Hanging on: In search of the bat that returned from the dead
The Cuban greater funnel-eared bat was thought extinct until a small population was spotted in a forgotten corner of the island – surviving, but only just. In the pitch dark, the beam of a head torch illuminates hundreds of bats encircling a silhouetted figure in front of us. It’s Jose, telling us he’s spotted the species we have travelled thousands of miles to a remote underground cave in western Cuba to find – the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat. We move deeper into the cave, treading carefully. Dozens of Cuban boas – some of them 3 meters long – lie strewn across the lunar-like floor. Giant crabs, centipedes and tarantulas scuttle back into their burrows. The wildlife down here is well fed – some of it feasting on guano and unfortunate newborn bats that lose their grip. There are 13 species of bat in this cave – but the greater funnel-eared bat (Natalus primus) is special. Seen only as fossils, the species was thought to be extinct. In 1992, it came back from the dead. Two Cuban scientists stumbled on an apparently sizeable population of the species in a remote cave in western Cuba, nicknamed Cueva la Barca (“the boat cave”). The cave is a crucial habitat as it provides the humid and hot conditions – 40°C in the deepest chamber – that some bat species seem to require for breeding. It might just be the most important cave for bat conservation in the Caribbean.

5-11-17 Lions face same extinct threats as Ice Age cats - study
Lions face same extinct threats as Ice Age cats - study
Two big cats - the African lion and the Sunda clouded leopard - are most at risk from extinction caused by loss of prey, according to a new analysis. Lack of food was a factor in why seven big cats, including sabre-toothed tigers, went extinct at the end of the last Ice Age, say scientists. The trend is continuing, threatening a range of modern big cats, they warn. If the prey of big cats continues to decline it will add to other pressures such as habitat loss, a study found. Dr Chris Sandom from the University of Sussex said: "I think it adds an extra pressure for these animals. They are already suffering quite heavily from other conflicts with humans." He said the lesson from the past was that even if Ice Age big cats had survived conflicts with humans and the changing climate, they would not have had much left to eat. "We're in a continued decline of big, exciting animals," he added. "These charismatic predators are facing this consistent threat that started in the Ice Age and continues to this day and we need to turn that trend around." The research, led by scientists at Sussex and Oxford universities, looked at the causes of extinction in seven big cats - four different types of sabre-toothed cats, the cave and American lions, and the American cheetah.

5-9-17 Seabirds use preening to decide how to divvy up parenting duties
Seabirds use preening to decide how to divvy up parenting duties
Grooming issues can signal health, other problems. Common murres take turns brooding their chick and foraging for fish. Preening each other acts as a health check and way to negotiate parental duties if one bird is in poorer condition, new research suggests. Seabirds called common murres appear to use preening as a way to negotiate whose turn it is to watch their chick and who must find food. And when one parent is feeling foul, irregularities in this grooming ritual may send the other a signal that all is not well, researchers report in the July issue of The Auk: Ornithological Advances. “The fascinating part of this study is the inference that communication between mates allows murres to negotiate the level of effort that each member of the pair puts into the breeding effort,” says John Piatt, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska. “Reproductive success of this species requires a high degree of cooperation by each mate as they switch duties.” Common murres (Uria aalge) lay only one egg each breeding season. Parental roles aren’t determined by gender for the birds; mothers and fathers take turns watching over their chick and foraging for fish. When one parent returns with a fish for the chick, the couple preen each other and switch roles. This swapping ceremony typically happens three to four times a day.

5-7-17 France bans captive breeding of dolphins and killer whales
France bans captive breeding of dolphins and killer whales
Pools for animals such as bottlenose dolphins must also be made significantly bigger under the rules. France has banned the breeding in captivity of dolphins and killer whales, in a move hailed by campaigners as a major victory. The government also banned the keeping of all whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity, except for orcas and bottlenose dolphins already held. The association of French zoos complained they had not been consulted on the ban. But animal rights activists said it was a "historic French advance". The ban on captive breeding would eventually lead to the end of "marine circuses" in the country, a joint statement from five conservation groups including Sea Shepherd said. Environment Minister Segolene Royal had signed a version of the legislation on Wednesday, but decided to tighten the rules further and ban captive breeding completely after finding out that "some animals were drugged" in aquariums, the ministry told the AFP news agency. Jon Kershaw, who heads the Marineland Antibes park in the French Riviera, told local media that government's decision was a "bombshell". The new rules also ban direct contact between animals and the public, including swimming with dolphins, and require pools holding the animals to be made significantly larger. Establishments have six months to comply with some of the rules, and must expand their pools within three years. (Webmaster's comment: Zoos are an atrocity perpetuated on innocent and helpless animals because humans have the power to treat an animal anyway they want for the pleasure of humans. By What Right! Imprisoned creatures often become psychotic and go insane! Zoos are torture pure and simple. Who cares about how they make the animal feel. We don't seem to care. An animal wants to be free just as much as we do.)

5-5-17 Trackers may tip a warbler’s odds of returning to its nest
Trackers may tip a warbler’s odds of returning to its nest
Cerulean warblers wearing geolocators on their backs may be less likely to complete the usual return flight from South America to their breeding grounds in the eastern United States. Strapping tiny trackers called geolocators to the backs of birds can reveal a lot about where the birds go when they migrate, how they get there and what happens along the way. But ornithologists are finding that these cool backpacks could have not-so-cool consequences. Douglas Raybuck of Arkansas State University and his colleagues outfitted some Cerulean warblers (Setophaga cerulea) with geolocators and some with simple color tags to test the effects the locators might have on breeding and reproduction. This particular species globe-trots from its nesting grounds in the eastern United States to wintering grounds in South America and back each year. While the backpacks didn’t affect reproduction, birds wearing the devices were less likely than those wearing tags to return to the same breeding grounds the next year. The birds may have gotten off track, cut their trips short or died, possibly due to extra weight or drag from the backpack, the team reports May 3 in The Condor. (Webmaster's comment: We have no right to kill birds just to satisty our desired to know more about them. They are conscious beings and have every right to live free of our interference.)

5-5-17 Menopause-causing bait is curbing rat populations in New York
Menopause-causing bait is curbing rat populations in New York
Generations of childless rats are living to ripe old age as their overall numbers plummet thanks to new contraceptive baits. It is pest control without poison. A new type of bait that stops rats from having babies is helping to tackle infestations in several US cities. The bait – known as ContraPest – was approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency last August. It makes rats infertile by triggering early menopause in females and impairing sperm production in males. There are no side effects and the rats eventually die of natural causes. The technique is considered more benign than other control strategies being investigated, such as gene drive, which can be used to spread infertility genes through pest populations. A recent report by the US National Academies of Sciences warned that gene drive could have unforeseen consequences. The first field trial of ContraPest, conducted in the New York City Subway in 2013, halved the resident rat population in three months. Two more trials have now been completed in the US – one at a large-scale farm and one in an urban area – both in East Coast cities. Rat numbers at the farm fell by one-third over three months. In the urban area, population growth was suppressed during the peak breeding season so that the population expanded at only one-third the expected rate. “You’ll never wipe out rats completely – they’re too smart,” says Brandy Pyzyna from SenesTech, the biotechnology company in Arizona that developed the bait.

5-5-17 When Squirrels Were One of America’s Most Popular Pets
When Squirrels Were One of America’s Most Popular Pets
Benjamin Franklin even wrote an ode to a fallen one. In 1722, a pet squirrel named Mungo passed away. It was a tragedy: Mungo escaped its confines and met its fate at the teeth of a dog. Benjamin Franklin, friend of the owner, immortalized the squirrel with a tribute. “Few squirrels were better accomplished, for he had a good education, had traveled far, and seen much of the world.” Franklin wrote, adding, “Thou art fallen by the fangs of wanton, cruel Ranger!” Mourning a squirrel’s death wasn’t as uncommon as you might think when Franklin wrote Mungo’s eulogy; in the 18th- and 19th centuries, squirrels were fixtures in American homes, especially for children. While colonial Americans kept many types of wild animals as pets, squirrels “were the most popular,” according to Katherine Grier’s Pets in America, being relatively easy to keep. By the 1700s, a golden era of squirrel ownership was in full swing. Squirrels were sold in markets and found in the homes of wealthy urban families, and portraits of well-to-do children holding a reserved, polite upper-class squirrel attached to a gold chain leash were proudly displayed (some of which are currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Most pet squirrels were American Grey Squirrels, though Red Squirrels and Flying Squirrels also were around, enchanting the country with their devil-may-care attitudes and fluffy bodies.

5-3-17 Big dads carry weight among wandering albatrosses
Big dads carry weight among wandering albatrosses
Wandering albatrosses are known for their coparenting skills. An albatross dad’s body mass may have weighty implications for other traits among these birds, new research suggests. Dad bod is a big deal for albatrosses. Bigger male wandering albatrosses live longer and are more likely to breed successfully compared with lighter birds, while mass has no observable effect on female breeding or survival, researchers report May 3 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Climate change could shift the degree to which some seabirds pack on the pounds. It’s unclear how those shifts will play out in species like wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans), in which males are much bigger than females. To investigate, Tina Cornioley of the University of Zurich and her colleagues examined how body mass affects certain aspects of an albatross’s life — survival, odds of mating, having chicks, chick size and chick survival. From 1988 to 2013, the team tracked 662 adult albatrosses on Possession Island in the southern Indian Ocean. Albatross parents take turns sitting on their eggs, but dads actually invest more energy in rearing chicks after they hatch.

5-3-17 'Shocking' levels of PCB chemicals in UK killer whale Lulu
'Shocking' levels of PCB chemicals in UK killer whale Lulu
Lulu was one of the most contaminated killer whales ever found. One of the UK's last killer whales was contaminated with "shocking" levels of a toxic chemical, scientists say. The animal, called Lulu, was found dead on the Isle of Tiree in Scotland last year after becoming entangled in fishing lines. But tests now reveal her body contained among the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, ever recorded. The chemicals were banned from the 1970s but are still in the environment. Researchers now fear that other animals in Lulu's pod also have similarly high levels of contamination. The group, which is found off the west coast of Scotland, is thought to consist of just eight animals. Dr Andrew Brownlow, head of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme and veterinary pathologist at Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), told BBC News that Lulu had "shocking levels of PCBs". He said: "The levels of PCB contamination in Lulu were incredibly high, surprisingly so. They were 20 times higher than the safe level that we would expect for cetaceans to be able to manage. "That puts her as one of the most contaminated animals on the planet in terms of PCB burden, and does raise serious questions for the long-term survivability of this group (of UK killer whales)." (Webmaster's comment: Human beings are currently a clear and present danger to all life on earth. We need to change what we are doing!)

5-3-17 Bumblebees: Pesticide 'reduces queen egg development'
Bumblebees: Pesticide 'reduces queen egg development'
Use of a common pesticide in spring could have an impact on wild bumblebees by interfering with their life cycle, a UK study suggests. The team, who looked at wild bumblebees caught in the English countryside, say the insecticide, thiamethoxam, reduces egg development in queen bees. They say this is likely to reduce bee populations later in the year. Thiamethoxam is one of three neonicotinoid insecticides currently restricted for use by the EU. They have been restricted amid concerns about their impact on wild bees. The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, investigated the impact of thiamethoxam on four species of bumblebee queen which had been captured in the wild in spring.

5-3-17 Busy shipping lanes could cause 'seal hearing loss'
Busy shipping lanes could cause 'seal hearing loss'
Seals could suffer temporary hearing loss according to the research study. Seals may experience hearing loss from underwater vessel noise, researchers at the University of St Andrews have said. The study compares seals inhabiting the UK's busy shipping lanes to humans living in noisy cities. Lead author Esther Jones said noise could affect how sea mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals find food and communicate with each other. Eleven out of 25 conservation areas linked with seals were at high risk of overlap with shipping, the study found. The paper has been published by the Journal of Applied Ecology.

5-1-17 Seven animals that eat their own kind
Seven animals that eat their own kind

  1. Sand tiger sharks
  2. Sand tiger sharks
  3. Spiders
  4. Hamsters
  5. Parasitic wasps
  6. Chickens
  7. Tiger salamanders

4-29-17 Understanding the internal emotions of animals
Understanding the internal emotions of animals
Can we ever know what our animal friends are thinking? In the study of animal behavior, researchers usually try to smooth out individual differences by looking at large data sets. But this performance, staged as part of the Making Nature exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London, turned that method on its head. The characteristic dispositions of pig-kind were not on display; the two pigs and their particular responses were. The humans were invited to indulge the idiosyncrasies of their fellow creatures, and to wonder if we could ever understand what makes them tick. We tend to think of "good science" as being all about samples, statistics, and replicated experiments. These are the fundamental tools with which we determine factual truth. But most people outside the scientific community (and perhaps those who work on large farms) believe that animals have personalities. Most of us never confront a statistically ordered sample of animal behavior. Putative claims such as "Dogs are more intelligent than cats" — a debatable proposition — are met not with scientific counter-evidence, but with "Ah, but you have not met my cat." When it comes to humans, we readily turn a scientific lens on the individual. While demography looks at whole societies and sub-populations, psychology attends to individual minds. Because humans can talk and account for themselves, we have rich descriptions of the kind of creatures we are, all the way from species to groups to families to individuals. With other animals, though, it's impossible to attain this level of insight. A lab rat will never be able to describe its neuroses to us from the comfort of a tiny chaise longue.

4-28-17 Fox experiment is replaying domestication in fast-forward
Fox experiment is replaying domestication in fast-forward
New book recounts nearly 60-year effort to understand taming process. How to Tame a Fox tells the story of a long-running experiment to domesticate silver foxes. In 1959, Lyudmila Trut rode trains through Siberia to visit fox farms. She wasn’t looking for furs. She needed a farm to host an audacious experiment dreamed up by geneticist Dmitry Belyaev: to create a domestic animal as docile as a dog from aggressive, wily silver foxes. Evolutionary biologist Lee Alan Dugatkin helps Trut recount this ongoing attempt to replay domestication in How to Tame a Fox. The mechanics of domestication are still a matter of intense scientific debate. Belyaev’s idea was that ancient humans picked wolves and other animals for docility and that this artificial selection jump-started an evolutionary path toward domestication. Back in the 1950s, testing the idea was dangerous work, and not just because untamed foxes bite. In 1948, the Soviet Union, under the scientific leadership of Trofim Lysenko, outlawed genetics research. Lysenko had risen to power based on fabricated claims that freezing seeds in water could increase crop yields. “With Stalin as his ally, he launched a crusade to discredit work in genetics, in part, because proof of the genetic theory of evolution would expose him as a fraud,” Dugatkin and Trut write. Geneticists often lost their jobs, were jailed or even killed, as was Belyaev’s own brother. So Belyaev cloaked his domestication experiments in the guise of improving the fur-farming business. (Webmaster's comment: Genetics controls basic behavior beyond any doubt.)

4-28-17 Pigeon Roommate
Pigeon Roommate
A Brooklyn woman came home from a two-month trip to find she had a new roommate: a pigeon that had laid of couple of eggs in her pasta strainer. Genevieve Roman, 33, said the bird made the nest after sneaking in through an open window. Roman decided to leave the nest untouched, and says she doesn’t mind cohabiting with the bird, because it never poops indoors and has no annoying habits. “She doesn’t get on my nerves such as every other roommate I’ve had.” (Webmaster's comment: Pigeons make good friends.)

4-26-17 Chimps pass on sponge drinking trick like a family tradition
Chimps pass on sponge drinking trick like a family tradition
After a few chimpanzees started using moss to soak up water from a pond, the behaviour has spread. The pattern might tell us about how early human culture spread. Six years ago, a chimpanzee had the bright idea to use moss to soak up water, then drink from it, and seven others soon learned the trick. Three years later, researchers returned to the site to see if the practice had persisted to become part of the local chimp culture. They now report that the technique has continued to spread, and it’s mostly been learned by relatives of the original moss-spongers. This adds to earlier evidence that family ties are the most important routes for culture to spread in animals. After the first report of chimps using moss as a sponge in Budongo Forest, Uganda, researchers rarely saw the behaviour again, and wondered whether chimps still knew how to do it. So they set up an experiment, providing moss and leaves at the clay pit where the chimps had demonstrated the technique before. Then they watched to see whether chimpanzees would use leaves – a more common behaviour – or moss to soak up the mineral-rich water from the pit. Most of the original moss-spongers used moss again during the experiment, and so did another 17 chimps, showing the practice had become more widespread. The researchers wondered what factors influenced which individuals adopted it: were they connected socially, or through families, for instance?

4-27-17 The scales of the ocellated lizard are surprisingly coordinated
The scales of the ocellated lizard are surprisingly coordinated
Lizard grows into its flashy skin using a computer-like process. The green and black spots on the back of an ocellated lizard are arranged according to the rules of a cellular automaton, a concept from computer science. Scales flip colors depending on the colors of their neighbors. A lizard’s intricately patterned skin follows rules like those used by a simple type of computer program. As the ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) grows, it transforms from a drab, polka-dotted youngster to an emerald-flecked adult. Its scales first morph from white and brown to green and black. Then, as the animal ages, individual scales flip from black to green, or vice versa. Biophysicist Michel Milinkovitch of the University of Geneva realized that the scales weren’t changing their colors by chance. “You have chains of green and chains of black, and they form this labyrinthine pattern that very clearly is not random,” he says. That intricate ornamentation, he and colleagues report April 13 in Nature, can be explained by a cellular automaton, a concept developed by mathematicians in the 1940s and ’50s to simulate diverse complex systems.

4-26-17 Wild bears do the twist to communicate through smelly footprints
Wild bears do the twist to communicate through smelly footprints
Brown bears in the mountains of Europe twist their feet into the ground to leave behind a host of scent information for other bears to sniff at. For dancing bears, doing the twist is all about leaving a lasting impression. Wild brown bears have huge overlapping ranges and are solitary, so they could do with a reliable long-distance messaging service. Their solution: scent-marking their footprints for others to sniff. Thanks to chemical signalling, mammals can be informed about things such as identity, sex, social status and reproductive state. “It appears a very important way to exchange information, which is still poorly understood,” says Agnieszka Sergiel at the Institute of Nature Conservation in Krakow, Poland. They found that bears release their scent from glands on their feet when they twist them into the ground. The scent contains at least 20 distinct compounds that probably act as sticky notes for other bears, communicating information such as gender, which can come in handy if they’re looking for a mate.

4-26-17 All mammals big or small take about 12 seconds to defecate
All mammals big or small take about 12 seconds to defecate
A study of defecation finds that all mammals take around the same amount of time to relieve themselves. If it’s taking much longer, you may need to see a doctor. Everyone poops, and it takes them about the same amount of time. A new study of the hydrodynamics of defecation finds that all mammals take 12 seconds on average to relieve themselves, no matter how large or small the animal. The research, published in Soft Matter, reveals that the soft matter coming out of the hind ends of elephants, pandas, warthogs and dogs slides out of the rectum on a layer of mucus that keeps toilet time to a minimum. “The smell of body waste attracts predators, which is dangerous for animals. If they stay longer doing their thing, they’re exposing themselves and risking being discovered,” says Patricia Yang, a mechanical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Yang and colleagues filmed elephants, pandas and warthogs at a local zoo, and one team member’s dog in a park, as they defecated. Though the animals’ body masses ranged from 4 to 4,000 kilograms, the duration of defecation remained constant.

4-26-17 Baby humpback whales 'whisper' to mums to avoid predators
Baby humpback whales 'whisper' to mums to avoid predators
The humpback whale is known for its loud haunting songs, which can be heard 20 miles away. However, new recordings show mothers and calves "whisper" to each other, seemingly to avoid attracting predators. The quiet grunts and squeaks can be heard only at close range. By calling softly to its mother, the calf is less likely be overheard and preyed on by killer whales, scientists believe. Dr Simone Videsen of Aarhus University in Denmark is part of a team of scientists who tracked eight baby whales and two mothers to learn more about the first months of a humpback whale's life. They used special sound and movement recorders, which were attached to the whale's skin via suction cups. "We were really surprised because humpback whales are really vocal normally and they have these long songs," she said. "But when you look at the communication pattern between mother and calf you see that they're often silent and they do produce these weaker signals."

4-26-17 Moth’s disguise is so good, spiders love it instead of eating it
Moth’s disguise is so good, spiders love it instead of eating it
Moth master of disguise fools its own predator with spider-like wing pattern, jerky movements and posturing behaviour. A moth that looks and acts just like a spider is so convincing that it receives elaborate courtship displays from its predator. Many prey species mimic other poisonous prey or blend into the background to escape predators. The metalmark is one of the few that mimics its predator. The impersonator’s black, beady “eyes” are actually patterns on its wings, and its “furry legs” are contorted wings with a striped pattern. This gives the impression that it is a big spider. And instead of fluttering like other moths, the metalmark makes jerky leaps like the jumping spiders it mimics. “It confuses the spider. If the spider is smaller, it even intimidates the spider”, says David Wagner, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, who was not involved in the study. Cannibalism is common in spiders, so smaller ones prefer to run away rather than risk being eaten. The moths also display a peacock-like behaviour. They raise their forewings and twist their hindwings to show off eyespots and stripes to maximum effect. These appear on the upper and lower surface of the wings, so the moth looks like a spider from the back as well as the front.

4-25-17 Family tree of dogs reveals secret history of canines
Family tree of dogs reveals secret history of canines
The largest family tree of dogs ever assembled shows how canines evolved into more than 150 modern breeds. Dogs were first selected and bred for their ability to perform tasks such as herding goats or cattle, say scientists. Later, they were selected for physical features such as their size or colour. The study also unearths evidence that some dogs are descended from an ancient breed that travelled with the ancestors of Native Americans into the Americas. Archaeological evidence points to the so-called "New World dog", which apparently crossed with human settlers over a land bridge from Asia. It had previously been thought that all signs of this ancient breed had been erased as dogs bred in Europe spread around the world. "We think there is still some signature of New World dog hiding in the genome of some of these American breeds," said co-researcher Heidi Parker of the National Institutes of Health, US. Modern hairless breeds such as the Peruvian hairless dog and the Mexican hairless dog are likely descended from this ancient dog.

4-25-17 How a dolphin eats an octopus without dying
How a dolphin eats an octopus without dying
Eating octopus can be dangerous. Some dolphins in Australia, though, have figured out how to do this safely — by shaking or tossing their prey over and over until it goes limp and the sucker-covered arms are relaxed and safe to eat. Most people who eat octopus prefer it immobile, cut into pieces and nicely grilled or otherwise cooked. For some, though, the wiggly, sucker-covered arms of a live octopus are a treat — even though those arms can stick to the throat and suffocate the diner if they haven’t been chopped into small enough pieces. Dolphins risk the same fate when eating octopus — and they can’t cook it or cut it up with a chef’s knife. “Octopus is a dangerous meal,” notes Kate Sprogis of Murdoch University in Australia. Even if a dolphin manages to remove an octopus’ head, it still has to deal with those sucker-covered tentacles. “The suckered arms would be difficult to handle considering dolphins don’t have hands to assist them,” Sprogis says. A group of hungry dolphins off the coast of Western Australia have figured out a solution. They shake and toss their prey until the head falls off, the animal is in pieces and its arms are tender and not wiggling anymore, Sprogis and her colleagues report April 2 in Marine Mammal Science.

4-21-17 Drones listen in on bats to reveal their in-flight secrets
Drones listen in on bats to reveal their in-flight secrets
Using ultrasonic detectors, drones in the air and on the water are detecting bat calls, in the hope of finding out what the mammals get up to when flying. Bat-detecting drones could help us find out what the animals get up to when flying. Ultrasonic detectors on drones in the air and on the water are listening in on bat calls, in the hope of discovering more about the mammals’ lives beyond the reach of ground-based monitoring devices. Drone-builder Tom Moore and bat enthusiast Tom August have developed three different drones to listen for bat calls while patrolling a pre-planned route. Since launching the scheme, known as Project Erebus, in 2014, they have experimented with two flying drones and one motorised boat, all equipped with ultrasonic detectors. The pair’s latest tests have demonstrated the detection capabilities of the two airborne drone models: a quadcopter and a fixed-wing drone. Last month, the quadcopter successfully followed a predetermined course and picked up simulated bat calls produced by an ultrasonic transmitter.

4-21-17 Chlamydia vaccine for koalas slows spread of deadly disease
Chlamydia vaccine for koalas slows spread of deadly disease
First results from trials of single-jab vaccine offer hope that the sexually transmitted disease devastating Australia’s koala population can be halted. A single-jab vaccine could halt the chlamydia epidemic wiping out Australia’s koalas. It may even pave the way for a human chlamydia vaccine. In trials, the new vaccine has been shown to slow the rate of new infections and treat early-stage disease. A third of Australia’s koalas have been lost over the last two decades, largely due to the spread of chlamydia, which now affects between 50 and 100 per cent of wild populations. The sexually transmitted disease causes painful urinary tract inflammation, infertility and blindness. Chlamydia in koalas is caused by Chlamydia pecorum, a bacterium that may have spread from livestock introduced from Europe. A similar bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis, causes chlamydia in humans. Antibiotics can be used to treat chlamydia in koalas, but they only work in early-stage disease, do not prevent re-infection, and they must be administered daily for at least 30 days in captivity. Moreover, some infected koalas remain asymptomatic and are overlooked for treatment while they continue to spread the disease.

4-20-17 The incredible naked mole rat can survive with hardly any oxygen
The incredible naked mole rat can survive with hardly any oxygen
These animal superheroes get on fine in conditions that would kill us and can go into a kind of suspended animation if oxygen levels drop too low. We already know the naked mole rat is an animal superhero: it is long-lived for an animal of its size, rarely gets cancer and shrugs off some kinds of pain. Now the East African rodent turns out to have a metabolic trick that allows it to survive very low oxygen levels with no apparent ill effects. To investigate how well naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) tolerate low oxygen concentrations, a team of biologists first put them in a chamber with just 5 per cent oxygen, less than a quarter the amount found in air. Such conditions kill mice within 15 minutes (and we wouldn’t survive either) But naked mole rats just carry on as normal. The first test was stopped after 5 hours when nothing happened, says Thomas Park at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “We were blown away.” Next the team put mole rats in pure nitrogen, with no oxygen at all. This kills mice in about a minute. People pass out after a breath or two of pure nitrogen, and would probably die in under 10 minutes. The naked mole rats, however, survived for at least 18 minutes. They stopped breathing after a few minutes, but their hearts kept beating and as soon as they were put back in normal air they revived.

4-20-17 'Perfect storm' threatens Europe's salamanders
'Perfect storm' threatens Europe's salamanders
Urgent action is needed to protect wild salamanders in Europe from a deadly infection, say scientists. The disease may end up wiping out all vulnerable species, with zoos and gene banks the only conservation option, they warn. A fungal infection introduced to northern Europe several years ago behaves as a "perfect storm", say experts. It persists in the environment and may be spread by newts and birds. The fungus, known as B. salamandrivorans, or Bsal, killed almost all fire salamanders in an outbreak in The Netherlands in 2014. Since then, there have been outbreaks in wild salamanders and newts in Belgium and Germany. Researchers led by An Martel of Ghent University in Belgium, are calling for urgent monitoring across Europe. However, they say that there are few options to prevent the disease spreading in the wild, meaning conservation efforts should focus on zoos, captive breeding and gene banks. (Webmaster's comment: More species join the bees in mass extinction.)

4-19-17 Male robins can guess and satisfy their partner’s food cravings
Male robins can guess and satisfy their partner’s food cravings
Female birds incubating eggs get an itch for specific foods, and their male partners somehow know what they want and deliver it to them. It’s not just humans who get pregnancy cravings. The females of one bird species also seem to get an itch for certain foods when they are incubating eggs – and their partners are able to pander to their dietary whims. “For the first time, we tested whether and how males cater to the specific desires of their mates in the wild,” says Rachael Shaw at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, who led the study conducted at Zealandia, a nature sanctuary in the city. The researchers tested 16 pairs of New Zealand robins (Petroica longipes) while the female was incubating. Females were fed mealworms and two types of insect larvae under two conditions: when a male could see what his partner ate and when he couldn’t. The female birds generally preferred a food type if they hadn’t eaten it recently. The males somehow knew what food the females wanted, even when they couldn’t see what they were being fed by the researchers. When a male robin held a preferred food item, his partner begged more intensely for it prior to or during food sharing.

4-19-17 How the house mouse tamed itself
How the house mouse tamed itself
Mice got accustomed to people in the first human settlements 15,000 years ago. The tiny molars in the mouse skull help tell a tale of mice and men, and how humans transitioned from nomadic to sedentary lifestyles. Got a mouse in the house? Blame yourself. Not your housekeeping, but your species. Humans never intended to live a mouse-friendly life. But as we moved into a settled life, some animals — including a few unassuming mice — settled in, too. In the process, their species prospered — and took over the world. The rise and fall of the house mouse’s fortunes followed the stability and instability of the earliest human settlements, a new study shows. By analyzing teeth from ancient mice and comparing the results to modern rodents hanging out near partially settled groups, scientists show that when humans began to settle down, one mouse species seemed to follow. When those people moved on, another species moved in. The findings reveal that human settlement took place long before agriculture began, and that vermin didn’t require a big storehouse of grain to thrive off of us.

4-18-17 Whale's eye view: Footage reveals hidden whale world
Whale's eye view: Footage reveals hidden whale world
In a new study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Oregon State University in March, scientists in remote Antarctica have attached cameras with speedometers and suction cups to the backs of minke and humpback whales. The stunning footage has revealed feeding habits and social interactions, while also shedding light on the way whales use their blow holes to bluster breathing holes through the ice.

4-18-17 Live, long and black giant shipworm found in Philippines
Live, long and black giant shipworm found in Philippines
Scientists have found live specimens of the rare giant shipworm for the first time, in the Philippines. Details of the creature, which can reach up to 1.55m (5ft) in length and 6cm (2.3in) in diameter, were published in a US science journal. The giant shipworm spends its life encased in a hard shell, submerged head-down in mud, which it feeds on. Though its existence has been known for years, no living specimen had been studied until now. Despite its name, the giant shipworm is actually a bivalve - the same group as clams and mussels. The "rare and enigmatic species", also known as Kuphus polythamia, is the longest living bivalve known to man, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

4-17-17 First living example of giant ancient mollusc found in the wild
First living example of giant ancient mollusc found in the wild
The giant shipworm has mostly been known for its elephant tusk-like shells. Now we’ve finally found some live ones - they eat noxious mud and smell like rotten eggs. The first known living sample of a giant, ancient mollusc that previously was known almost exclusively by its shells has been recovered from the Philippines. A team of researchers have finally come across a live colony of giant shipworms, or Kuphus polythalamia. Washed-up, empty, elephant tusk-like shells first hinted at the existence of this metre-long animal in the 18th century, and there are a few specimens preserved in ethanol in collections around the world. But no one knew exactly what lay within – until now. Daniel Distel at the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University in Boston and his colleagues were made aware of the animal’s potential location in 2010, when a collaborator pointed out a news story from Philippine TV featuring a local trying to eat one for its supposed medicinal properties. “[It was] amazing! I’ve been looking for them for 20 years,” Distel says. “My friend and mentor Ruth Turner looked for her whole career.” The TV footage sparked an international search for the giant shipworm. Local researchers embarked on two expeditions, one in 2010 and one in 2011. During the second expedition, they found live specimens of K. polythalamia and transported them to the University of the Philippines to be analysed. “It’s hard not to be amazed when seeing one in the flesh, even if you know nothing about them,” Distel says. “There is no other animal like them.”

4-17-17 Improbable ‘black swan’ events can devastate animal populations
Improbable ‘black swan’ events can devastate animal populations
Like black swans, black swan events are rare. But for animal populations, they can be devastating. That’s why conservation managers need to keep them in mind, a new study argues. Sometimes, the improbable happens. The stock market crashes. A big earthquake shakes a city. A nuclear power plant has a meltdown. These seemingly unpredictable, rare incidents — dubbed black swan events — may be unlikely to happen on any specific day, but they do occur. And even though they may be rare, we take precautions. A smart investor balances their portfolio. A California homeowner stores an earthquake preparedness kit in the closet. A power plant designer builds in layers of safeguards. Conservation managers should be doing the same thing, scientists warn. Black swan events happen among animals, too, and they rarely have positive effects, a new study finds.

4-17-17 Hawk moths convert nectar into antioxidants
Hawk moths convert nectar into antioxidants
Energetic fliers found a way to reduce muscle damage. Hawk moths use a lot of energy when they hover to slurp flower nectar. Manduca sexta can turn some of that nectar into muscle-protecting antioxidants. Hawk moths have a sweet solution to muscle damage. Manduca sexta moths dine solely on nectar, but the sugary liquid does more than fuel their bodies. The insects convert some of the sugars into antioxidants that protect the moths’ hardworking muscles, researchers report in the Feb. 17 Science.

4-13-17 The bright lights of big cities help blackbirds thrive
The bright lights of big cities help blackbirds thrive
Blackbirds do better when they nest near street lights, but all city birds seem to hate the noise. Light pollution is a problem for many animals, but at least one bird seems to welcome it. European blackbirds choose to nest near street lights, and appear to thrive as a result. “This might be because it protects them from predation by species that don’t like it bright at night,” says Anja Russ at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany. Her team studied the effects of street lights on the European blackbird (Turdus merula), a forest species that has adapted to city life. “Its breeding attempts in urban areas can be dated back in Germany to almost 200 years ago,” says her colleague, Reinhard Klenke. The team found that the city birds laid their eggs almost a week earlier than blackbirds in dark areas such as forests, and were more likely to successfully rear hatchlings. The results are surprising given that other studies have found that lighting harms wildlife. “We usually think that light at night will have detrimental effects,” says biologist Brett Seymoure at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. However, it’s not clear whether light really is the key factor, he says. To be sure of this, the team would need to artificially light forest sites and darken urban sites to see how it affects blackbirds.

4-13-17 Young eels use magnetic ‘sixth sense’ to navigate
Young eels use magnetic ‘sixth sense’ to navigate
Ability explains how fish find ocean currents that sweep them to Europe’s rivers. Juvenile European eels may use Earth’s magnetic field to help them cross the Atlantic Ocean to reach freshwater rivers in Europe, including these seen in the U.K.’s Bristol Channel. Earth’s magnetic field helps eels go with the flow. The Gulf Stream fast-tracks young European eels from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea to the European rivers where they grow up. Eels can sense changes in Earth’s magnetic field to find those highways in a featureless expanse of ocean — even if it means swimming away from their ultimate destination at first, researchers report in the April 13 Current Biology.

4-13-17 New worm-snail is a super slimer
New worm-snail is a super slimer
Invasive species in Florida Keys shoots ‘copious amounts of mucus’ to catch prey. Thylacodes vandyensis, a new species of worm-snail named after the ship it was found on, oozes out a mucus web to trap prey. It then reels the web back in, eating both prey and the web itself. A new species of worm-snail is rather snotty. Thylacodes vandyensis shoots out strands of mucus that tangle together, building a spiderweb-like trap for plankton and other floating snacks, researchers report April 5 in PeerJ. Other worm-snails use this hunting technique, but T. vandyensis stands out because of the “copious amounts of mucus” it ejects, says coauthor Rüdiger Bieler. This goo net, which can stretch up to 5 centimeters across, exits the animal’s tentacles at, of course, “a snail’s pace,” jokes Bieler, a curator at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

4-12-17 Soldier ants carry comrades wounded in raids back to base
Soldier ants carry comrades wounded in raids back to base
One kind of buccaneering ant carries its wounded nestmates home – so they can live to fight another day. It’s an ant-help-ant world. Ants have been seen carrying their wounded comrades back to the nest after raids on termite colonies ­- an unexpected behaviour in social insects that usually appear to treat individuals as expendable. The ants don’t help their wounded comrades out of the goodness of their hearts, however: the wounded soldiers are needed for future raids and are soon back in action. Megaponera analis, a species found in sub-Saharan Africa, feeds exclusively on termites, sending armies of 200 to 500 individuals to raid termite nests. First, large ants called majors break open the nest. Smaller ants, called minors, then rush in to kill and pull out termites. However, termite nest are defended by soldiers with big jaws, and the invaders often sustain serious injuries. Ants that lose limbs are severely handicapped immediately after the injury, but after a few hours they adjust and can run almost as fast as uninjured ants – if they are carried back to safety. “At first, they kept tripping over, because they thought they [still] had six legs,” says Erik Frank at the University of Würzburg, Germany. “Inside the nest, they were safe to adapt and change their locomotion.”

4-12-17 Sea urchin emits a cloud of venomous jaws to deter predators
Sea urchin emits a cloud of venomous jaws to deter predators
When predators get too close, this normally serene pincushion releases hundreds of tiny “jaws” that pack a nasty chemical punch. The collector sea urchin looks like a pretty pincushion lying on the ocean floor, going about its business of munching on algae and seaweed. But when threatened, this sedate pincushion has a most extraordinary defence. It releases a cloud of semiautonomous weapons: hundreds of tiny jaws that are still capable of biting and releasing venom even when separated from the sea urchin’s body. Sea urchins have a hard, chalky shell covered in long spikes. Nestled among the spikes are tubular stalks topped with biting jaws known as pedicellariae. One type of these appendages even has venom as well. “The globiferous pedicellariae are minute and terrifying,” says Hannah Sheppard-Brennand at Southern Cross University in New South Wales, Australia. The three-jawed, pincer-like heads bite attacking predators, releasing venom as they do so. They can get torn from the sea urchin but stay attached to the predator. “When they were first observed, they were thought to be parasites, as they give the appearance of independent action from the main animal,” says Sheppard-Brennand.

4-12-17 Volcanic eruptions nearly snuffed out Gentoo penguin colony
Volcanic eruptions nearly snuffed out Gentoo penguin colony
Geochemical evidence of Gentoo penguin poop helped researchers pinpoint volcanoes as an ancient threat to one of today’s most successful Antarctic penguin colonies. Penguins have been pooping on Ardley Island off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula for a long, long time. The population there is one of the biggest and oldest Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) colonies. But evidence from ancient excrement suggests that these animals didn’t always flourish. The Gentoo colony on Ardley Island continues to grow in comparison to other Antarctic penguin species, which have suffered from changes in sea ice extent in other locations. A team of researchers set out to see how the Ardley population responded to past changes in climate to better inform future conservation efforts. They studied the geochemical make-up of lake sediment samples and identified elements from guano or penguin poop. Knowing the fraction of guano in lake sludge over time let the researchers track penguin population changes.

4-11-17 Drone spots humpback whales and orcas moving in on cloud of fish
Drone spots humpback whales and orcas moving in on cloud of fish
Aerial photo shows mass of Atlantic herring that will soon be supper for humpback and killer whales in glowing water off the north Norway coast. Shallow waters glow in the midday sun off northern Norway, where a mass of Atlantic herring have caught the attention of humpback whales and killer whales. That large black splotch isn’t a sandbank: it’s a shoal of millions of fish about to be feasted upon. This photograph was shot using a drone last year off the island of Kvaløya. It was taken in January, a time of year when Norway sees little sunshine. Indeed, the light is coming from low on the horizon, despite it being midday. “It’s before we get the sun back,” says wildlife photographer Espen Bergersen. That’s what gives the water its vivid colour. Bergersen says it was -13°C on this day. “We were planning to go out in the boat, but it was freezing cold,” he says. “It was lucky I couldn’t start my boat, I guess. I decided to go up with my drone and got this photograph.” While operating the drone from a nearby bridge, he noticed whales circling its supports. “I haven’t seen them do that before,” he says. The herring populations have migrated northward over the past 10 to 15 years, Bergersen says, leaving behind the fjords of southern Norway and providing a new feeding ground for humpback whales. The whales stop by on their way from Svalbard – an archipelago between the North Pole and mainland Norway – to the Caribbean, where they spend the winter.

4-10-17 Sabre-toothed tigers in ice-age Los Angeles had bad back trouble
Sabre-toothed tigers in ice-age Los Angeles had bad back trouble
Back injuries identified from thousands of fossilised bones probably occurred when the cat wrestled large prey such as bison and camels. The big sabre-toothed cats that roamed Los Angeles 12,000 years ago had bad backs and shoulders, it seems. Meanwhile, the other apex predator that shared its southern California habitat, the dire wolf, was more likely to suffer from headaches and leg pain. The discoveries come from an analysis of thousands of bones from skeletons of these extinct creatures, with the injuries probably sustained as a result of their dining habits. Like other cats, the sabre-toothed Smilodon fatalis ambushed its prey and wrestled them into submission. Modern big cats suffocate their prey, by either biting down on the victim’s snout to clamp it shut or squeezing its throat to crush its trachea so it can’t breathe. Smilodon was more heavily built, and is thought to have used its massive forelimbs to pin down large prey such as bison, horses and camels. It could then quickly kill the animal by ripping out its throat with its long curved canine teeth. Injuries are inevitable in such battles to the death, and are known in modern cats as well as fossils. But no one had looked at enough bones to tell how often they occurred either in the past or present.

4-6-17 The US parrot which mimics other animals
The US parrot which mimics other animals
Watch as Einstein, an African grey parrot, mimics a dog's bark, a wolf’s cry and more. Einstein is kept at a zoo in Knoxville, Tennessee, and recently turned 30 years old. On average, African grey parrots live up to 45 years in captivity and 22.7 years in the wild. They are known for their mimicry and their brains have been compared to three-year-old children.

4-5-17 Apes can see things from your perspective and help you out
Apes can see things from your perspective and help you out
Chimps, bonobos and orangutans help humans when they look for objects in the wrong place - showing they can tell when others believe something that's false. Our closest evolutionary relatives are quite the mind readers. And they can use that knowledge to help people figure things out when they are labouring under a misapprehension, according to the latest research. The ability to attribute mental states to others, aka theory of mind, is sometimes considered unique to humans, but evidence is mounting that other animals have some capacity for it. In a study last year, chimps, bonobos and orangutans watched videos of people behaving in different scenarios as cameras tracked their eye movements. The experiment found that the apes looked where an actor in the video would expect to see an object, rather than towards its true location, suggesting the animals were aware others could hold false beliefs. But that experiment left open the possibility apes were simply predicting that the actor would go to the last place he’d seen the object, without understanding that he held a false belief. Now, David Buttelmann at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues tested 34 zoo chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, in search of more conclusive evidence.

4-5-17 Japan and Norway set off on annual whale hunt despite opposition
Japan and Norway set off on annual whale hunt despite opposition
The countries continue whaling, Norway for food, and Japan claiming it is for scientific research, an argument now dismissed as unjustified by another report. THE harpoons are out. Norway’s whaling fleet is setting sail this week, with a kill quota of 999 minke whales. The mammals will be caught for meat, and 90 per cent are likely to be pregnant females. And Japan’s fleet has just returned to port with its cargo of 333 minkes, but will be heading out again soon to catch endangered sei whales in the north Pacific Ocean, claiming it is for scientific research. This comes as yet another report condemns as unnecessary the killing of whales for scientific research. Issued by a panel of the International Whaling Commission – the body that introduced a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1996 – the report rejects the rationale behind Japan’s proposal for killing whales in the north Pacific for scientific research. “The proposal does not adequately justify the need for lethal sampling,” the report says. The panel recommends no whales should be killed until additional work is undertaken and reviewed. Conservation groups say the panel’s report adds to mounting evidence that Japan’s “scientific whaling” programme has no scientific justification. “It’s yet another example that when an independent panel looks at the science, they can’t see any value in it,” says Matt Collis, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “It’s so utterly pointless.” Norway, meanwhile, continues whaling for commercial purposes.

4-5-17 How smaller snakes strangle bigger snakes and swallow them whole
How smaller snakes strangle bigger snakes and swallow them whole
Kingsnakes feed on other snakes, sometimes much bigger than themselves. Now the mystery of their feeding feat is out. How can a predator catch and consume prey bigger than itself? That’s one of the marvels and mysteries of the appropriately named kingsnake. Kingsnakes can kill and consume rat snakes at least 20 per cent larger than themselves. Now we may finally know how they manage to ensnare their quarry in the first place. Imagine trying to fit a large garden hose inside a small one. The kingsnake faces a similar challenge in engulfing a bigger tube-shaped animal. We know that they achieve this with flexible jaws and by crushing prey inside S-bends, like squeezing spaghetti through a pasta machine. But a lingering mystery was how these smaller snakes have the power to subdue and handle those bigger than themselves – an extra-challenging feat because unlike mammals that suffocate and become unconscious quickly, snakes survive anoxia for much longer and can thus put up a fight. Perplexed by this puzzle, David Penning at Missouri Southern State University, Joplin, and Brad Moon at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette used three experiments to investigate.

4-5-17 World’s largest canary discovered on island of giants and dwarfs
World’s largest canary discovered on island of giants and dwarfs
An odd-looking bird named the “new finch” is actually the planet’s biggest canary – and it lives with other largest and smallest species on an isolated island. Deep within the rainforests of São Tomé, an odd-looking bird with burnished brown feathers and a grey, outsized, parrot-like beak lives in the canopy, making occasional forays into the world below for a fruit snack. The setting – inaccessible forest on a small volcanic island that is one of the wettest places on Earth – only increases the mystique around this bird, which is one of the least observed of them all. Now it turns out the species was also misidentified, and it is actually the largest canary on the planet, 50 per cent heavier than the next largest species. Although it is small for a bird, being only about 20 cm long, the size of a common or European starling, the canary is a giant compared with other members of its genus, which are slightly smaller than house sparrows. It is found only on São Tomé and is critically endangered. In 1888, Francisco Newton, a Portuguese naturalist, collected the first three specimens. The bird then vanished from popular record until 101 years later, when a couple of birdwatchers chanced upon it. Its size, strange flattened head and large beak caused confusion among ornithologists. As a result, it was placed in a separate genus, Neospiza, which simply means “new finch”.

4-4-17 Dolphins 'shake and toss' octopus prey, research finds
Dolphins 'shake and toss' octopus prey, research finds
Octopuses can be a perfect meal for dolphins, but they can also pose a deadly choking hazard. So dolphins have developed elaborate behaviours to turn larger prey into more bite-size pieces, according to marine biologists in Australia. The researchers filmed dolphins shaking octopuses and tossing them through air in preparation for consumption. The findings, compiling years of observations, have been described in the journal Marine Mammal Science. "Everyone relates it to seafood preparation," lead author Dr Kate Sprogis told the BBC. "They've got skills to prepare their meal."

4-3-17 First fluorescent frogs might see each others’ glow
First fluorescent frogs might see each others’ glow
Natural Day-Glo may play a role in amphibian’s fights and flirtations. A polka dot frog, the first amphibian shown to fluoresce under ultraviolet light, has complex courtship and male fights. Could fluorescence matter to a frog? Carlos Taboada wondered. They don’t have bedroom black lights, but their glow may still be about the night moves. Taboada’s question is new to herpetology. No one had shown fluorescence in amphibians, or in any land vertebrate except parrots, until he and colleagues recently tested South American polka dot tree frogs. Under white light, male and female Hypsiboas punctatus frogs have translucent skin speckled with dark dots. But when the researchers spotlighted the frogs with an ultraviolet flashlight, the animals glowed blue-green. The intensity of the glow was “shocking,” says Taboada of the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” in Buenos Aires.

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