No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
44 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from July of 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
7-31-17 Newly discovered lymph hydraulics give tunas their fancy moves
Newly discovered lymph hydraulics give tunas their fancy moves
Long-overlooked anatomy raises fishes’ fins for zigs, zags and tight turns. A sickle-shaped fin on the back of a tuna and one underneath contain shape-shifting systems that scientists have just discovered. In fishes as familiar as tunas, humans have managed to find some unknown anatomy: a hydraulic system based on lymph. Often the underdogs of body parts, vertebrate lymph systems can do vital chores such as fight disease but rarely get the attention that blood systems do. Yet it turns out to be lymph, not blood, that rushes into two sickle-shaped tuna fins and fans them wide during complex swimming maneuvers, says Barbara Block of Stanford University. Tuna bodies are relatively “stiff and only wag at the tail,” she says. That’s efficient for long-distance cruising. For zigs and zags, Pacific bluefin and yellowfin tunas get extra control from muscles, bones and lymph tweaking the shape of a fin on the back and its counterpart underneath, Block and colleagues report in the July 21 Science.
7-29-17 Cricket's summer song making a comeback
Cricket's summer song making a comeback
The cheep, cheep, cheep of a cricket in the grass is the quintessential sound of summer. As I crunch over heathland in search of the elusive insect, the song fills the air, as if conjured up by a magician. My companion, Mike Coates, the warden here at RSPB Farnham Heath, beams with delight. Earlier, before setting out for the reserve, he'd warned me that the insects are rare, and might not perform on cue. "It's not so much looking, we're going to be listening mostly for the sound of male field crickets chirruping in order to attract a mate," he explained, over a mug of tea in the staff portacabin. "It's just a brilliant noise. It's like summer translated into sound - it's fantastic." The song of the field cricket was once a familiar soundtrack on the heaths and grasslands of south east England. However, the sound has fallen silent in many parts of the country. The 18th Century naturalist, Gilbert White, wrote of "field-crickets shrill on the verge of the forest" in his diaries. Here, not far from the village of Selbourne in Hampshire, where White lived, the insects were once common. The founding father of British natural history writing recorded in 1791: "May 29: The race of field crickets, which burrowed in the short Lythe (a field near Selbourne), and used to make such an agreeable shrilling noise the summer long, seems to be extinct. "The boys, I believe, found the method of probing their holes with the stalks of grasses, and so fetched them out and destroyed them." Today the field cricket, Gryllus campestris, faces threats beyond torturous children.
7-28-17 Flatworms can still ‘see’ even after they are decapitated
Flatworms can still ‘see’ even after they are decapitated
Biologically simple they may be, but planarian flatworms have evolved two completely different ways to detect light – and one doesn’t involve their heads. Off with their heads. Light-averse planarian flatworms, known for their incredible ability to regenerate lost body parts, shy away from light even after they have been decapitated. This suggests they have evolved a second way to respond to light that doesn’t involve eyes. Planarian flatworms, which often live in dark, watery environments shielded from direct light, don’t have complex eyes like we do. But many do have two lensless, primitive “eyespots” on their heads that can detect the intensity of light. Akash Gulyani at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bangalore, India, and his colleagues were curious to find out more about flatworm vision. They studied the species Schmidtea mediterranea, confirming that its eyespots encourage the animals to shy away from visible light. Unexpectedly, it turned out that S. mediterranea actually has colour vision of sorts. Even though its eyespots lack wavelength-specific photoreceptors, Gulyani’s team found that the animal was more likely to move away from blue than red light. The researchers think the worms are distinguishing between different colours by comparing the amount of light being absorbed by the two eyespots, rather than seeing the colour of the light itself: for instance, they could override the flatworm’s preference for red over blue light by increasing the intensity of the former.
7-28-17 A third of species face extinction
A third of species face extinction
Five times over the past 450 million years, natural events wiped out 75 percent or more of all species on the planet. In a new study, an international group of scientists warns that the planet is entering another mass extinction event, one that could lead to the “biological annihilation” of three-quarters of all species in the coming centuries. This time, however, the die-off won’t be the result of an asteroid strike, an ice age, cataclysmic volcanic eruptions, or any other natural phenomenon. It’s human activity that’s to blame, as 7.4 billion people crowd other species off the planet. Humanity’s ever-expanding geographic footprint and consumption of resources are causing habitat loss, pollution, overhunting and overfishing, and climate change. In the study, scientists examined 27,600 species of birds, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles, and found about 32 percent are dying off as their habitats shrink. A closer examination of 177 mammal species shows that more than 40 percent have suffered significant population declines, and nearly half have lost 80 percent of their range. Creatures such as cheetahs, lions, and orangutans are dwindling in number. The researchers warn that this “assault on biodiversity” threatens the future of human civilization, which depends on plants, animals, and microorganisms for survival. “The massive loss of populations and species reflects our lack of empathy to all the wild species that have been our companions since our origins,” lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México tells The Washington Post. “It is the prelude to the disappearance of many more species.”
7-26-17 Fish can’t recognise faces if they’re upside down – just like us
Fish can’t recognise faces if they’re upside down – just like us
Just like humans, the medaka fish that lives in rice paddies is good at identifying faces – but, again like us, it struggles when faces are the wrong way up. Are you good with faces? So is the Japanese rice fish – at least, it is if the faces are the right way up. Just like humans, the tiny fish has no problem recognising faces orientated the usual way, but, again like us, it struggles when they are inverted. The finding indicates that the fish may have developed a unique brain pathway for face recognition, just as humans have. We have no problem identifying most objects in our environment – say, a chair – no matter what way up they are. But faces are different. It is relatively easy for us to spot the differences between two faces, even if they are physically similar, if we see them in photographs the right way up. But if the images are upside down, telling them apart gets a bit tricky. “This is because we have a specific brain area for processing faces, and when the face is upside down, we process the image through object processing pathways, and not the face-processing pathways any more,” says Mu-Yun Wang at the University of Tokyo, Japan. Until now, this face-inversion effect was considered exclusive to mammals as it has only been observed in primates and sheep. Enter the Japanese rice fish, also known as the medaka (Oryzias latipes), a 3.5-centimetre-long shoaling fish commonly found in rice paddies, marshes, ponds and slow-moving streams in East Asia. These fish are very social, so identifying the right individuals to associate with is important.
7-26-17 Fungi use water droplet cannons to fling spores into the breeze
Fungi use water droplet cannons to fling spores into the breeze
A pair of merging droplets help fungi to disperse their spores. Now researchers have figured out exactly how. Go for launch. Some fungi shoot out their spores at surprisingly high speed in order to disperse them some way away, but exactly how they accomplish this has remained a mystery until now. “Spore launching is responsible for tens of thousands of fungus species – about one-third of the fungal kingdom,” says Chuan-Hua Chen at Duke University in North Carolina. Biologists have long known that the mechanism involved two drops of water interacting with the half-egg shape of spores launched in this way: an elongated drop that forms on its flat side, and a small spherical drop called a Buller’s drop that sits near the rounded base of the spore. When the drops merge, the loss in surface area releases some of the energy that was maintaining surface tension in the original drops. That is converted into the kinetic energy required to launch the spore away from its parent fungus. Chen and his colleagues mimicked this process in the lab for the first time in order to study the process in fine detail. “For a century there’s been no complete explanation, and we’ve finally come up with a physical model,” Chen says.
7-25-17 Maths explains how bees can stay airborne with such tiny wings
Maths explains how bees can stay airborne with such tiny wings
The tiny wings on bees shouldn’t be able to lift their big bodies. How they fly has eluded mathematicians since the 1930s, but the mystery is now solved. We first realised that bees seem to flout the laws of mathematics in the 1930s. Calculations showed that their wings could not provide enough lift to get their bodies off the ground, but that didn’t stop them. “The bee, of course, flies anyway because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible,” says the narrator at the beginning of 2007’s Bee Movie. Now a new mathematical analysis has put together a complete picture of how bees, as well as other insects and small birds, actually manage to fly. Up until the 1990s it was assumed that bees used a continuous flow of air over their wing to generate lift, similar to how commercial planes fly. But in 1996 it was discovered that bees also have tiny tornado-like airflows that form on the leading edges of their wings, known as leading edge vortices (LEVs). “Initially, everyone thought this was the magical solution we’d been looking for. People worshipped vortices and assumed they must be responsible for the extra lift,” says Mostafa Nabawy at University of Manchester. But after reanalysing eight different experiments with eight different species Nabawy and his colleagues have shown that LEVs don’t actually give any extra lift at all. By creating three mathematical models each with a different mechanism for generating lift and then comparing the models to the original experiments, they were able to work out how the creatures stay in the air.
7-24-17 Restoring Estonian alvar grasslands to save unique species
Restoring Estonian alvar grasslands to save unique species
A huge project to return one of Europe’s most biodiverse habitats to its former glory is already seeing success. Julianna Photopoulos reports from the site. It’s hot and sunny, and the long, flat fields are covered in grasses, with patches of shrubs and trees here and there. In the distance, a large herd of cows is grazing. “The area was overgrown with junipers and pine trees,” says Annely Esko, project coordinator at the Environmental Board of Estonia. “I think we have created the landscape that was here about 40 years ago.” I’m on the island of Muhu in the Baltic Sea. Here, one of the largest wildlife restoration projects in Europe – part of the LIFE+ Nature programme – is under way to make 2500 hectares of alvar grasslands great again. Altogether, there are 25 restoration areas: two on the mainland and the rest spread over three islands: Muhu, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Unusually for a conservation project, the work involves cutting down shrubs and trees, which threaten species – including some unique to this habitat. Only one-third of the restored areas will be left with junipers and pine trees. Estonia used to be home to approximately one-third of the world’s calcareous alvar grasslands, one of the most species-rich plant communities in Europe. However, the total area has plummeted from 43,000 hectares in the 1930s to only 8,000 hectares today. Most of these semi-natural habitats were formed and maintained through long-term grazing by sheep, cows and horses.
7-21-17 Fire ants build towers with three simple rules
Fire ants build towers with three simple rules
Fire ants use a simple set of rules to form a tower, with no leader needed, a new study reveals. When faced with rushing floodwaters, fire ants are known to build two types of structures. A quickly formed raft lets the insects float to safety. And once they find a branch or tree to hold on to, the ants might form a tower up to 30 ants high, with eggs, brood and queen tucked safely inside. Neither structure requires a set of plans or a foreman ant leading the construction, though. Instead, both structures form by three simple rules:
- If you have an ant or ants on top of you, don’t move.
- If you’re standing on top of ants, keep moving a short distance in any direction.
- If you find a space next to ants that aren’t moving, occupy that space and link up.
“When in water, these rules dictate [fire ants] to build rafts, and the same rules dictate them to build towers when they are around a stem [or] branch,” notes Sulisay Phonekeo of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. She led the new study, published July 12 in Royal Society Open Science.
7-21-17 Spider’s web uses optical illusion to lure nocturnal moths
Spider’s web uses optical illusion to lure nocturnal moths
The lace sheet weaver builds a web that seems to fool moths into thinking they are flying into open space – instead of into a trap. You might call it a web of deceit: the webs made by one spider exploit a visual effect to entice nocturnal insects, which then become stuck in the silky threads. Such “lure and trap” dual-function spider webs have never been seen working at night before. The lace sheet weaver (Psechrus clavis) is commonly found in low to mid-elevation subtropical Asian forests. It builds its large horizontal webs just above ground level in shady spots. I-Min Tso at Tunghai University in Taiwan and his colleagues noticed that the silk is highly reflective, giving the web a whitish appearance that may be visible to insects at night. To test whether this had any effect – either advantageous or disadvantageous – on the number of nocturnal insects caught, Tso and his team removed the spiders from 51 webs and used charcoal powder to blacken 22 of them, reducing their reflectance. The team found that the untreated spider webs attracted significantly more prey than the blackened ones. “Spider webs are not usually considered as potential prey lures,” says Tso. Tso’s team speculates that the spiders’ chief prey – moths – have relatively poor eyesight and might mistake the whitish web as an area of open space in the otherwise dark and dense forest. Moths are attracted to such bright, open spaces.
7-20-17 Elephant seals recognize rivals by the tempo of their calls
Elephant seals recognize rivals by the tempo of their calls
By recognizing the calls of other individuals, male elephant seals can avoid costly confrontations. The tempo of a male elephant seal’s call broadcasts his identity to rival males, a new study finds. Every male elephant seal has a distinct vocalization that sounds something like a sputtering lawnmower — pulses of sound in a pattern and at a pace that stays the same over time. At a California state park where elephant seals breed each year, researchers played different variations of an alpha male’s threat call to subordinate males who knew him. The seals weren’t as responsive when the tempo of that call was modified substantially, suggesting they didn’t recognize it as a threat. Modifying the call’s timbre — the acoustic quality of the sound — had the same effect, researchers report August 7 in Current Biology. Unlike dolphins and songbirds, elephant seals don’t seem to vary pitch to communicate.
7-20-17 Elephant seals 'recognise vocal rhythm'
Elephant seals 'recognise vocal rhythm'
Male elephant seals recognise the rhythm of one another's voices, researchers say. Scientists in the US "decoded" the calls of male elephant seals, revealing that vocal communication played a crucial part in their social lives. This showed seals communicating their identity with deep, rhythmic calls. In their Current Biology paper, the team says this is the first example of non-human mammals "using rhythm" in everyday life. Just as humans can identify a particular song based on its distinctive rhythm, this research revealed that male elephant seals could identify each other from the pulsing pattern of their calls. "In the colony, everyone knows who is who… they recognise the voice of all the other males in the colony." And this is important in a congested beach colony - at the site the team studied, more than 4,000 seals are packed on to the beach, so it is important to know your neighbours.
7-20-17 Now North Sea cod is sustainable, is it really ok to eat?
Now North Sea cod is sustainable, is it really ok to eat?
The bounceback of North Sea cod means you can now buy guilt-free, but Brexit and climate change could threaten its fragile recovery. North Sea cod is back on the menu. Those were the headlines in the UK this week as the Marine Stewardship Council, an international body that certifies whether fish sold to consumers was caught sustainably, gave its approval to a fish once feared to be headed for extinction. So is cod now guilt-free? Can the UK go back to enjoying its national comfort food – cod and chips – with a clear conscience? First, about the guilt: it was never wrong to eat cod as such. Brits ate sustainably managed cod from Norwegian and Icelandic fisheries even as North Sea catches plummeted after 2000. “The vast majority – around 95% – of cod consumed in the UK is caught in the Barents Sea and off Iceland, where stringent measures have ensured good management of cod stocks,” says Andy Gray of Seafish, which oversees UK fisheries. This week’s verdict means all cod bought by UK consumers should now be sustainable. What hasn’t been trumpeted is that the victory is fragile: it was produced by a management system the UK is planning to leave, the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
7-20-17 Giant deep-sea worms may live to be 1000 years old or more
Giant deep-sea worms may live to be 1000 years old or more
Escarpia laminata lives on the sea floor, where food is plentiful and predators are absent – a perfect environment for longevity. In the depths of the ocean, life can extend far beyond its usual limits. Take the tube worm Escarpia laminata: living in an environment with a year-round abundance of food and no predators, individuals seem to live for over 300 years. And some may be 1000 years old or more – meaning they would have been around when William the Conqueror invaded England. “E. laminata is pushing the bounds of what we thought was possible for longevity,” says Alanna Durkin at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These tube worms live between 1000 and 3300 metres below sea level in aggregations from five to more than 200 individuals around cold seeps. This environment also provides a habitat for brittlestars, shrimps, crabs, mussels, clams, snails, limpets and a huge variety of smaller species of worms. “The tube worms look like oversized plastic straws with a delicate pink flower at the end when the animal extends its petal-like plume – a gill-like organ for gas exchange – out of the top of its tube,” says Durkin. They can measure more than 1.5 metres, and feed through a symbiotic relationship they form with bacteria that thrive in these seeps.
7-20-17 Parrot witness case: Michigan woman guilty of husband's murder
Parrot witness case: Michigan woman guilty of husband's murder
A woman has been found guilty of shooting her husband five times in a Michigan murder case apparently witnessed by a parrot. Glenna Duram shot her husband, Martin, in front of the couple's pet in 2015, before turning the gun on herself in a failed suicide attempt. The parrot later repeated the words "Don't shoot!" in the victim's voice, according to Mr Duram's ex-wife. The parrot, an African Grey named Bud, was not used in the court proceedings. The jury found Mrs Duram, 49, guilty of first-degree murder following a day of deliberations. She will be sentenced next month. She suffered a head wound in the incident in the couple's Sand Lake home in May 2015, but survived. Mr Duram's mother Lillian said it "hurt" to witness Mrs Duram "emotionless" in court as evidence was presented in the case of her son's death, local media report. "It just isn't good; just isn't good. Two years is a long time to wait for justice," she said. Mr Duram's ex-wife Christina Keller, who now owns Bud, earlier said she believed the parrot was repeating a conversation from the night of the murder, which she said ended with the phrase "don't shoot!", with an expletive added. Mr Duram's parents agreed it was possible that the foul-mouthed bird had overheard the couple arguing and was repeating their final words. "I personally think he was there, and he remembers it and he was saying it", Mr Duram's father told local media at the time. (Webmaster's comment: To parrot means to mimic, and that's why parrots are called parrots. There is no good reason not to use this "recording" at a trial.)
7-20-17 Mud eel’s wonky body may help it ambush prey
Mud eel’s wonky body may help it ambush prey
A pair of sea-floor-dwelling eels found off the coast of West Africa have lopsided features that may help them operate as ‘sit-and-wait’ ambush predators. Talk about a crooked character. A small eel appears to have evolved the lopsided look of a flatfish. Mud eels are seldom caught or studied. Past analysis suggested these fish were adapted for burrowing into sediment, but new specimens hint that some of them have evolved for a more specialised lifestyle. While sorting through a shipment of fish trawled off the coast of Guinea in West Africa and sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Christopher Martinez’s attention was brought to a pair of these eels. “As soon as I picked one up, I knew we had something special,” recalls Martinez, who now works at the University of California, Davis. “The connection to flatfishes was immediate.” The strange anatomy of flatfish is well-documented. These bottom-dwellers lie on their sides, hidden from predators and ready to grab passing prey. Their bodies have adapted by becoming totally asymmetrical, with their features shifted to the upward-facing side. What first struck Martinez about the mud eels was that, like flatfish, one side was coloured and the other was white. In flatfish, this “countershading” means the exposed side is camouflaged against the sea floor.
7-20-17 Poaching pushes pangolin closer to extinction
Poaching pushes pangolin closer to extinction
Millions of pangolins are being hunted and killed in Africa, raising fears that they are being pushed to extinction. The pangolin is the world's most trafficked and poached mammal, because of the demand for its meat and scales. Conservationists say an international trade ban announced last year must be strictly enforced. There are concerns that traders are illegally supplying African pangolins to Asian markets. Populations of Asian pangolins have declined dramatically since the 1960s, leaving the creatures highly endangered. Daniel Ingram of the University of Sussex worked with researchers in Africa on the first study to assess hunting levels of pangolins in the forests of Central Africa. "Pangolins have been hunted across Africa for centuries," Dr Ingram told BBC News. "Because we don't have population estimates we can't tell if hunting for food is at sustainable levels or not. "What we can say is that there is widespread pressure on pangolins from hunting in Central Africa, but we can't ascertain whether hunting is at sustainable levels or not because we need biology data and population estimates."
7-20-17 Why dogs are friendly - it's written in their genes
Why dogs are friendly - it's written in their genes
Being friendly is in dogs' nature and could be key to how they came to share our lives, say US scientists. Dogs evolved from wolves tens of thousands of years ago. During this time, certain genes that make dogs particularly gregarious have been selected for, according to research. This may give dogs their distinctive personalities, including a craving for human company. "Our finding of genetic variation in both dogs and wolves provides a possible insight into animal personality, and may even suggest similar genes may have roles in other domestic species (maybe cats even)," said Dr Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University. The researchers studied the behaviour of domestic dogs, and grey wolves living in captivity. They carried out a number of tests of the animals' skills at problem-solving and sociability. (Webmaster's comment: Friendliness genes are in some human beings too, but not in nearly enough of them. Case in point, hate groups in America!)
7-19-17 The eyes have it: How spotting naive prey made fish walk on land
The eyes have it: How spotting naive prey made fish walk on land
SEEN through the right geological lens, the bucolic countryside near Chirnside, a village in south-east Scotland, becomes a tropical swamp. The rocks divulge a picture of a sweltering and soggy landscape, tangled with all manner of tree ferns, horsetails and 30-metre-high clubmosses that look like giant scaly asparagus spears. Here, 350 million years ago, off the edge of a muddy bank, a pair of eyes poked above the water. They belonged to a newt-like creature with a broad head, a wide mouth full of needle-sharp teeth and a long tail. It also boasted four limbs, with which it shuffled awkwardly onto the bank. This amphibious vertebrate, nicknamed Tiny by its discoverers, might be the most important fossil you’ve never heard of. It lived through a time for which our records are sparse, but when one of the most significant transitions in life’s history was taking place. This was the era in which fish-like things hauled themselves out of the water for new life on land, setting the stage for the rise of amphibians, reptiles and mammals like us. Tiny isn’t the only recent discovery challenging our view of this transition. Where once we imagined that a few sturdy pioneers exchanged their fins for limbs, took a gulp of air and never looked back, now we see a haphazard process that relied as much on shifty, swelling eyes as the anatomical prototypes of limbs. (Webmaster's comment: Also see: These fish are evolving right now to become land-dwellers)
7-19-17 First dogs may have been extremely sociable wolves
First dogs may have been extremely sociable wolves
Wolves and dogs that are friendliest to people carry mutations in genes with links to sociability, backing the idea that this was key in dog domestication. The ancestral wolves that evolved into domestic dogs may have carried genetic mutations that made them socialise more readily with people. What’s more, the same genes cause excessive sociability in humans. It was already known that even if wolves have been raised with humans from birth, they never become as close to people or look at them as often as dogs tend to. Several years ago, Bridgett vonHoldt at Princeton University in New Jersey and her colleagues linked this “hypersociability” to a 28-gene stretch of the dog genome that includes canine versions of the genes responsible for Williams syndrome – a human disorder characterised by extreme sociability. However, they had no direct proof that these genes caused it. To find out whether they do, vonHoldt and her team tested the behaviour of 18 domestic dogs and 10 wolves, all of which had been raised identically with constant human contact. Each animal was scored for its hypersociability towards humans. As expected, the dogs scored higher than the wolves. The researchers then sequenced the key region of each animal’s genome in fine detail and searched for structural variations – deletions or insertions of genetic material – that seemed to match well with their social behaviour. They found four, including two in genes called GTF2I and GTF2IRD1. These genes are known to cause the hypersociability involved in Williams syndrome in humans, and GTF2I has also been shown to cause hypersociability in mice.
7-19-17 These genes may be why dogs are so friendly
These genes may be why dogs are so friendly
DNA differences among dogs and wolves hints at how canines came to live with humans. Dogs' friendliness to humans may be tied to tweaks in a few of the animal's genes. A new study examines how variations of these genes may have allowed for the domestication of dogs from wolves. DNA might reveal how dogs became man’s best friend. A new study shows that some of the same genes linked to the behavior of extremely social people can also make dogs friendlier. The result, published July 19 in Science Advances, suggests that dogs’ domestication may be the result of just a few genetic changes rather than hundreds or thousands of them. “It is great to see initial genetic evidence supporting the self-domestication hypothesis or ‘survival of the friendliest,’” says evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare of Duke University, who studies how dogs think and learn. “This is another piece of the puzzle suggesting that humans did not create dogs intentionally, but instead wolves that were friendliest toward humans were at an evolutionary advantage as our two species began to interact.” Not much is known about the underlying genetics of how dogs became domesticated. In 2010, evolutionary geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University and colleagues published a study comparing dogs’ and wolves’ DNA. The biggest genetic differences gave clues to why dogs and wolves don’t look the same. But major differences were also found in WBSCR17, a gene linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans.
7-18-17 Viewpoint: Is there such a thing as 'flying ant day'?
Viewpoint: Is there such a thing as 'flying ant day'?
We're all used to ants sprouting wings and taking to the air during summer, but is there really such a thing as a "flying ant day"? A new study appears to have solved the mystery, using data submitted by the public. Here, Prof Adam Hart, one of the report's authors, explains how they did it. No one can guarantee a rain-free Bank Holiday weekend or a sun-drenched Wimbledon but, no matter what the summer weather brings, you can guarantee that flying ants will make their annual appearance at some point. Flying ants are a bit of a surprise for many people. After all, the ants we are used to seeing under stones in our gardens don't have wings and cannot fly. These wingless ants are female workers, toiling to ensure the colony survives and grows. Once the colony has grown large enough though, it can stop investing in growth and start investing in reproduction. The problem for ants is that workers cannot start a new colony; for that you need a larger, fertile, "queen" ant that has mated with a male from a different colony. The flying ants we see in the summer are these potential new female queens and male ants embarking on a mating flight. Once they have mated, on the wing, the females drop to the ground and attempt to start a new colony. Most of them will not make it, becoming bird food or dying before they are able to produce worker ants (their daughters) and develop a new colony. But some will go on to head up new colonies that will eventually produce their own flying ants
7-17-17 Why fast birds, fish and animals are never too small or big
Why fast birds, fish and animals are never too small or big
An animal’s maximum speed is based on how fast it can accelerate, which explains why the largest animals are not the fastest. Most of us know a cheetah can beat an elephant in a footrace. But unravelling the mystery of why certain animals move faster than others is something scientists have struggled with for years. Now it seems size might be the answer. Animals’ speed limits affect how they migrate, interact with their environment – and whether they eat or are eaten. Speed is determined by how far an animal moves in a given amount of time. So, it may seem intuitive that animals with longer limbs or fins will travel further and reach higher speeds. But all the evidence says it isn’t so: today’s fastest animals aren’t the elephants, condors or blue whales of the world, but instead the cheetahs, falcons and marlins. Some scientists have suggested this is because the bones and muscles of very large animals are unable to withstand the forces experienced during rapid locomotion. But Myriam Hirt at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig thinks there is something else going on. By examining data from 474 running, flying and swimming species, Hirt has created a model that seems to confirm that the fastest species in each locomotion category are those with a body mass that falls in the middle of the range. For running and swimming animals that “middle” body mass is about 100 kilograms; for flying animals it is about 1 to 10 grams. Her team suggests being “middle-sized” is advantageous because of basic physical considerations. Animals have a limited amount of time to accelerate up to high speeds before they run out of the quickly available energy stored in muscle fibres called fast twitch fibres.
7-17-17 Why the cheetah is a champion sprinter
Why the cheetah is a champion sprinter
They're the sprinters of the animal world - cheetahs on land, falcons in the air and marlins in the sea. But, why are they so fast when bigger, more muscular animals might be expected to outpace them? Now, scientists have come up with a new theory to explain the gold medal-winning performance of animal athletes. It appears it is all down to the energy required to get off the starting blocks. "Scientists have long struggled with the fact that the largest animals are not the fastest," said Prof Walter Jetz, from the US's Yale University. "In our work, we explain this with the simple fact that animals run out of readily mobilised energy before they are able to get their bodies to the maximum possible speed. "So, while the largest animals in theory could be the fastest, the energy and time required to accelerate their larger bodies keep them from ever attaining it." The theory, outlined in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, explains why lean, medium-sized animals are generally built for speed. (Webmaster's comment: The greater the mass the more muscle and energy it takes to get it going. It's just physics. Smaller rockets can accelerate faster than giant rockets too.)
7-15-17 World's large carnivores being pushed off the map
World's large carnivores being pushed off the map
Six of the world's large carnivores have lost more than 90% of their historic range, according to a study. The Ethiopian wolf, red wolf, tiger, lion, African wild dog and cheetah have all been squeezed out as land is lost to human settlements and farming. Reintroduction of carnivores into areas where they once roamed is vital in conservation, say scientists. This relies on human willingness to share the landscape with the likes of the wolf. The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, was carried out by Christopher Wolf and William Ripple of Oregon State University. "Of the 25 large carnivores that we studied, 60% (15 species) have lost more than half of their historic ranges,'' he explained.
7-14-17 Rats can tell when they’ve forgotten something, just like us
Rats can tell when they’ve forgotten something, just like us
Ever walked into a room then realised you can't remember why you're there? Like people, rats know what they know, and can tell when their memory has failed them. Much like students doing a test, rats tend to skip questions when they have forgotten the answer. A series of smelly experiments suggests rats are aware of what they remember, and behave differently when they can’t recall something. Victoria Templer at Providence College, Rhode Island, and her team trained rats to dig through sand to sniff samples of cinnamon, thyme, paprika or coffee, and then go to a dish smelling of the matching scent. If the rats picked the correct dish, they got a piece of cereal. But there was a twist. Although rats that chose a dish with the wrong scent got no reward, rats that positioned themselves next to a fifth, unscented dish received a quarter-piece of the cereal. This meant that when rats forgot what they had smelled in the sand, their best bet was to pick the unscented dish – provided they could tell that they had forgotten the relevant smell. Nine rats were each tested many times across multiple experiments. In some of these, the unscented dish was not there, forcing the rats to choose a scent even if they couldn’t remember it.
7-14-17 'Truly unique' mother lioness nurses leopard cub in Tanzania
'Truly unique' mother lioness nurses leopard cub in Tanzania
A baby leopard can't change his spots, but this lioness doesn't seem to mind. These beautiful pictures are the first ever taken of a wild lioness nursing a cub from a different species - an extremely rare event. The pair were spotted by Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The scene is the Serengeti; the attentive mother, five-year-old Nosikitok. The lioness has a GPS collar fitted by Kope Lion, a conservation NGO, and three young cubs of her own - born around the 27-28 June.
7-14-17 Butterfly numbers facing 'vital' period - Sir David Attenborough
Butterfly numbers facing 'vital' period - Sir David Attenborough
Butterflies in the UK are facing "a vital" period following a worrying decline in their numbers, naturalist Sir David Attenborough has warned. The TV broadcaster said some of the UK's most common species have suffered "significant declines" in recent years. Many have experienced "several poor years", he added, due to cold weather and with their habitats under threat. Warm weather this year has given some species, such as the meadow brown and red admiral "a good start", he said. More than three quarters of the UK's butterflies have declined in the last 40 years, with numbers falling quicker in towns and cities, experts say. Sir David, president of Butterfly Conservation, said that despite a warm summer last year, species like the small tortoiseshell, peacock, meadow brown and gatekeeper had seen numbers fall due to a warm winter and a subsequent cold spring.
7-14-17 What a crow knows
What a crow knows
Crows are incredibly clever birds, capable of using tools and recognizing faces, says writer James Ross Gardner. Researchers have even found that crows mourn their dead and hold ‘funerals.’ Swift, a Ph.D. candidate, is a member of UW’s nationally acclaimed Avian Conservation Lab. If you’ve heard or read a news story in the past decade about Corvus brachyrhynchos—aka the American crow—and what science has to say about its confounding habits and aptitude, there’s a good chance it was thanks to the work conducted by the lab, which is led by a man named John Marzluff. The UW professor and wildlife biologist is the author of numerous popular books on the subject. In 2008, Marzluff and his fellow researchers made national headlines when they tested a hypothesis—that crows recognize individual human faces—by donning Dick Cheney masks. That led to another revelation: Crows teach other crows to detest specific people (and sometimes attack them). This, according to Swift, is what it’s like to attend a crow funeral—an instinctive ritual that evolved generations ago and was just discovered by humans; Swift co-authored an article on her findings in the journal Animal Behaviour in 2015. The gist: Upon spotting one of its dead, the flock attends to the fallen bird en masse with loud shrieking. Given enough time, the throng will mob any predator it thinks is responsible, like, say, a human in a Dick Cheney mask, or in a mask like the one Swift had in her bag. (The lab affectionately refers to that be-soul-patched fellow as Joe.) (Webmaster's comment: The entire article is very much worth reading.)
7-13-17 Ravens pass tests of planning ahead in unnatural tasks
Ravens pass tests of planning ahead in unnatural tasks
Challenges not found in nature strengthen case that certain birds evolved some apelike thinking. Ravens may have a birdlike version of the power to plan ahead — as apes do. Ravens have passed what may be their toughest tests yet of powers that, at least on a good day, let people and other apes plan ahead. Lab-dwelling common ravens (Corvus corax) in Sweden at least matched the performance of nonhuman apes and young children in peculiar tests of advanced planning ability. The birds faced such challenges as selecting a rock useless at the moment but likely to be useful for working a puzzle box and getting food later. Ravens also reached apelike levels of self-control, picking a tool instead of a ho-hum treat when the tool would eventually allow them to get a fabulous bit of kibble 17 hours later, Mathias Osvath and Can Kabadayi of Lund University in Sweden report in the July 14 Science. (Webmaster's comment: Let's turn this around. Birds are much more ancient than apes. Apes may have a apelike version of the power to plan ahead — as Ravens do and probably have done for ten's of millions of years.)
7-13-17 Ravens can plan for future as well as 4-year-old children can
Ravens can plan for future as well as 4-year-old children can
The smart birds seem to have evolved this flexible cognitive ability independently from hominids as the two lineages diverged about 320 million years ago. Ravens can plan for future events at least as well as 4-year-old humans and some adult, non-human great apes. The birds did this in tasks they wouldn’t encounter in the wild, so it isn’t an adaptation to an ecological niche, but rather a flexible cognitive ability that evolved independently in birds and hominids, whose lineages diverged about 320 million years ago. Planning for future events requires the use of long-term memory for some anticipated future gain. For a long time, it was thought to be a uniquely human trait. Children begin showing such abilities when they are about 4. But it turned out that chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans have this ability too, making tools to use later on. In 2007, researchers at the University of Cambridge showed that scrub jays can cache food in places where they anticipate being hungry the next morning. While the behaviour is flexible and requires planning, some argued that it might be an adaptation specific to caching food, which scrub jays and other members of the crow family do habitually, says Mathias Osvath of Lund University, Sweden.
7-13-17 UK animal experiments fall by 5% - annual figures
UK animal experiments fall by 5% - annual figures
Home Office annual figures report that animal experiments carried out in the UK fell by 5% in 2016. The statistics show that 3.94 million procedures were carried out in the course of scientific research - a fall of 206,000 on 2015. Some 51% of the total figure was accounted for by experiments and 49% relates to the breeding of genetically modified animals for research. A charity called on the government to curb "out-of-control" animal breeding. Troy Seidle of Humane Society International said: "We've witnessed this trend toward out-of-control breeding of genetically modified animals developing for more than a decade, and have repeatedly called on the Home Office to take action." Between 2007 and 2016, the number of procedures increased by 23%. The rise in breeding of genetically altered animals was largely responsible for the increase. Of the 2.02 million experimental procedures completed in 2016, the majority involved mice (60%), fish (14%), rats (12%), and birds (7%). As of 2014, the Home Office statistics contain information on the severity of procedures carried out on animals. This year, the majority of experimental procedures (46%) were classed as "mild". This compares with 51% of experiments being categorised as mild the previous year. The proportion of experiments classed as severe (6%) did not change compared with the previous year's figures. The procedures involving specially protected species, such as horses; dogs; cats; and non-human primates, accounted for 0.9% (18,000) of procedures in 2016.(Webmaster's comment: Is all this slaughter really justified?)
7-13-17 Blue whale takes centre-stage at Natural History Museum
Blue whale takes centre-stage at Natural History Museum
London's Natural History Museum (NHM) has undergone a major revamp with a blue whale skeleton now forming the main exhibit as visitors come through the front door. The marine mammal replaces the much-loved Diplodocus dinosaur, "Dippy", which will soon head out on a tour of the UK. The museum believes the change will give its image a refresh. It wants to be known more for its living science than its old fossils. The museum employs hundreds of researchers who engage in active study on a day-to-day basis. Yes, they use the 80 million-odd specimens kept at the South Kensington institution, but their focus is on learning new things that bear down on the modern world. In that sense, the blue whale is regarded as the perfect emblem. The specimen is being given the name "Hope" as a "symbol of humanity's power to shape a sustainable future". Blue whales are now making a recovery following decades of exploitation that nearly drove them out of existence.
7-12-17 Whales sneak into shallow water to eat salmon from hatcheries
Whales sneak into shallow water to eat salmon from hatcheries
Humpbacks have been spotted feeding on baby salmon bred for release into the wild to restock fisheries for the first time, competing with fishermen. No such thing as a free lunch? Not so for these whales. Humpback whales in south-east Alaska seem to have found their own chain of fast food restaurants: salmon hatcheries. While making a good meal for the whales, the habit may prove harmful to the local fishing industry. Hatcheries aren’t fish farms, but salmon nurseries. The idea is that the juvenile fish released into the ocean from the hatcheries increase the number of salmon available to catch without leading to overfishing of the wild stocks. Wild salmon spend the first part of their lives in streams where competition is fierce and many don’t make it. Hatcheries make sure enough salmon survive this crucial life stage, breeding them in captivity for six to 18 months before releasing them into the wild. Ellen Chenoweth at the University of Alaska Fairbanks first became interested in humpbacks feeding on juvenile salmon when she saw videos that hatchery staff had taken of whales swimming close to their hatchery’s release sites to feed. Normally whales feed at depth, out of sight, which makes their feeding habits difficult to study. They filter water through their baleen to catch krill and small fish – but seem to be equally at home around these new, human-made shallow hatcheries. “Whales are fascinating: mammals like us, but perfectly at home in an alien environment,” she says.
7-12-17 Swinging birds play with rhythm like jazz musicians
Swinging birds play with rhythm like jazz musicians
At least a handful of species of birds swing as they sing, playing with the timing in their songs in a similar way to jazz performers. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, goes the Duke Ellington song. By that logic, some bird songs really do mean something: at least a few bird species can swing in the same way that human musicians do, New Scientist can reveal. This claim has been made based on a mathematical analysis of the songs of one species, the thrush nightingale. Not all of the musicians New Scientist spoke to agree that what the thrush nightingale is doing can be called swing – but several said they have heard other species of birds singing that definitely do swing. The most swinging birdsong of all is that of the veery thrush of North America, says musician and author David Rothenburg of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. This is hard to hear at normal speed, but when the veery’s song is slowed down you can spot how it sings a long note followed by a short one, and then repeats this pattern. In the narrowest sense, swing means delaying the off-beat, says jazz composer and drummer Stuart Brown. This means pairs of notes are played long-short instead of being of equal duration. Dum dum dum dum becomes dum-da, dum-da.
7-12-17 Large carnivores have lost more than 90 per cent of their range
Large carnivores have lost more than 90 per cent of their range
The hunting grounds of lions, tigers and the red and Ethiopian wolves have shrunk dramatically in the past 500 years, but a few species aren't doing as badly. Lions, tigers and the red and Ethiopian wolves have lost more than 90 per cent of their hunting grounds in the past 500 years. But while these charismatic hunters are up against it, hyenas are doing much better, finds the first global study of the ranges of big terrestrial hunters. Chris Wolf and William Ripple at Oregon State University looked at historical accounts of large carnivores and maps of their preferred habitat around AD 1500, and found that they are now present in just a third of the land area they occupied back then. Of the 25 species analysed, all weighing more than 15 kilograms, 15 had lost more than half their range. Up to nine of these species once roamed South and South-East Asia, but today large areas have lost them all. The smallest declines were in the tundra and northern forests, where the relative scarcity of humans gives bears and wolves space to hunt. Most of the big beasts are now skulking on the margins of their former ranges, making them more vulnerable to extinction, says Wolf. But there are exceptions.
7-12-17 Can a robot help solve the Atlantic's lionfish problem?
Can a robot help solve the Atlantic's lionfish problem?
Robots in Service of the Environment has designed an underwater robot to combat a growing problem in the Atlantic Ocean: the invasive lionfish.
7-12-17 Ants build living towers that flow like a fountain in reverse
Ants build living towers that flow like a fountain in reverse
The rules that guide fire ants to make tall towers with their own bodies could be applied to miniature search-and-rescue robots. Some fire ants build towers of their own bodies in an amazing display of acrobatics and collective intelligence. Even more surprisingly, ants circulate through the tower while keeping its overall shape constant, overcoming a tendency for it to sink. The fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), which are found in wetlands, link together to build living rafts to keep the colony afloat during floods. When the water recedes, they cling to exposed plants and form a tower as a temporary shelter until they have a chance to build an underground nest. Craig Tovey of Georgia Tech and colleagues set up a camera to study how the ants build such a tower, and accidentally left it rolling for an hour after it was built. Since the tower appeared to be static once built, they thought the footage would be worthless. But when a PhD student watched it back at 10 times normal speed, he noticed that the middle of the tower was slowly sinking. “When you speed it up, the ants on the surface are a blur and underneath the blur you can see the slow sinking movement of the tower,” says Tovey.
7-12-17 Spider waves its front legs like antennae to mimic warlike ants
Spider waves its front legs like antennae to mimic warlike ants
This sneaky jumping spider performs antics to fool predators in what is an unusual example of mimicry through behaviour, rather than appearance. Get those legs in the air. By mimicking how an ant looks and moves, this spider avoids being eaten by other spiders and insects. “Ants are remarkably well-defended animals,” says Paul Shamble, now at Harvard University, who co-led the work while at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “Ants bite, some sting, many have potent chemical defences such as formic acid, and they tend to be quite aggressive, plus they can often recruit similarly well-armed nest mates.” Shamble’s team recorded high-speed video footage revealing that this jumping spider (Myrmarachne formicaria), also known as the ant-jumper, walks on all eight legs but repeatedly stops – just for about a tenth of a second – and raises its front two legs to make them resemble ant antennae. “Potential predators, whose visual systems are slow, cannot distinguish these stops, but do see the legs go up which, as we suggest, strengthens the mimicry show,” says team member Tsevi Beatus, now at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.
7-11-17 Whales feast when hatcheries release salmon
Whales feast when hatcheries release salmon
Crowded prey makes humpback whale feeding worth the effort — and helps explain a whale innovation: going out to dinner at fish hatcheries. Humpback whales, those innovative foodies, have discovered their own pop-up restaurants. Migrant humpbacks returning to southeastern Alaska in spring are the first of their kind known to make routine visits to fish hatcheries releasing young salmon into the sea, says marine ecologist Ellen Chenoweth. The whales are “40 feet long and they’re feeding on fish that are the size of my finger,” says Chenoweth, of the Juneau fisheries center of University of Alaska Fairbanks. For tiny prey to be worthwhile to humpbacks, it’s good to find crowds — such as young salmon streaming out of hatchery nets. Six years of systematic observations of whales at five hatcheries at Baranof Island reveal a pattern of humpbacks visiting during springtime releases, Chenoweth and her colleagues report June 12 in Royal Society Open Science. (Webmaster's comment: They've just learned where the food is.)
7-10-17 Spiders lure bees for dinner by making flowers look flashier
Spiders lure bees for dinner by making flowers look flashier
Crab spiders that sit on flowers and reflect UV light could be attracting bees, making them easier prey. Ambush hunters normally rely on the element of surprise, opting to stay hidden until the moment of attack. But some spiders go for a flashier strategy. They reflect UV light, which makes the flowers they sit on appealing to bees – a bizarre strategy that has evolved multiple times in crab spiders, which ambush their prey instead of catching it in webs. Felipe Gawryszewski at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil and his team collected individuals from 68 species of crab spider in Australia, Europe and Malaysia. All of the species hunted insects using a sit, wait and pounce strategy, but some did so on drab substrates like bark and leaves while others hunted on flowers. Using genetic information from all these species, the team pieced together a “family tree”, which showed that the flower-based hunting strategy evolved multiple times. What’s more, flower-dwelling crab spiders reflected more UV light than non-flower dwellers. This appears to be an effective hunting strategy as bees are more likely to visit flowers when UV-reflecting spiders are perched atop them.
7-6-17 Elephant tourism is 'fuelling cruelty'
Elephant tourism is 'fuelling cruelty'
Millions of people want selfies riding elephants, or washing them, or patting their trunks. But according to a study carried out by World Animal Protection (WAP) across Asia this is helping to fuel a rise in elephants captured from the wild and kept for entertainment. The number in Thailand has increased by almost a third over the last five years. WAP researchers assessed almost 3,000 elephants and found that more than three quarters were living in "severely cruel" conditions. Many were bound with chains less than 3m long and were forced to stand on concrete floors close to loud roads, crowds and music. Some 160 travel companies have already committed to stop selling tickets to or promoting venues offering elephant rides and shows. In 2016, TripAdvisor announced that it would end the sale of tickets for wildlife experiences where tourists come in to direct contact with wild animals, including elephant riding. Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, Global Wildlife and veterinary adviser at World Animal Protection (WAP), said: "The cruel trend of elephants used for rides and shows is growing - we want tourists to know that many of these elephants are taken from their mothers as babies, forced to endure harsh training and suffer poor living conditions throughout their life. "There is an urgent need for tourist education and regulation of wildlife tourist attractions worldwide. Venues that offer tourists a chance to watch elephants in genuine sanctuaries are beacons of hope that can encourage the urgently-needed shift in the captive elephant tourism industry." (Webmaster's comment: BY WHAT RIGHT! This is part of the EVIL Christian teaching that man has dominion over animals!)
7-3-17 Cuckoos mimic the sound of musk hogs to avoid being eaten
Cuckoos mimic the sound of musk hogs to avoid being eaten
The ground cuckoo makes a noise very similar to that used by pig-like peccaries to warn off predatory cats, which could be evidence of acoustic mimicry. Bird or beast? A cuckoo seems to have learned how to mimic the sounds made by the pig-like peccaries it lives alongside, perhaps to ward off predators. The Neomorphus ground cuckoos live in forests in Central and South America, where they often follow herds of wild peccaries so they can feed on the invertebrates that the peccaries disturb as they plough through the leaf litter. Ecologists have noticed that when the cuckoos clap their beaks together they sound a lot like the tooth clacks the peccaries make to deter large predatory cats. To find out whether this is just coincidence or evidence of mimicry, Cibele Biondo at the Federal University of ABC in Brazil and her team analysed the cuckoo and peccary sounds, and compared them with the beak clapping sounds made by roadrunners – close relatives of the ground cuckoos. Logically, the cuckoos should sound most similar to roadrunners, given that the two are closely related. But the analysis suggested otherwise. “The acoustic characteristics are more similar to the teeth clacking of peccaries,” says Biondo.
7-1-17 Vaquita porpoise: Dolphins deployed to save rare species
Vaquita porpoise: Dolphins deployed to save rare species
Mexico's government says it plans to use dolphins trained by the US Navy to try to save the world's most endangered marine species, the vaquita porpoise. Environment Minister Rafael Pacchiano said that the dolphins would be deployed to locate and herd vaquitas into a marine refuge. Mexico also permanently banned fishing nets blamed for the vaquitas' decline. Scientists estimate that fewer than 40 of the mammals are still alive in their habitat, in the Gulf of California. Mr Pacchiano said the dolphin project would begin in September. "We've spent the past year working alongside the US Navy with a group of dolphins they had trained to search for missing scuba divers," he told Formula radio. "We've been training them to locate the vaquitas. "We have to guarantee we capture the largest possible number of vaquitas to have an opportunity to save them." The Mexican government also said on Friday it was imposing a permanent ban on gillnets, used to catch totaba, which are highly valued in Chinese traditional medicine. The nets are designed to trap the heads of fish but not their bodies, but are blamed for trapping and killing the porpoises as well.