No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
46 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from June 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.