No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
41 Animal Intelligence News Articles
from August of 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
8-31-17 Otter 'social learning' observed in Anglia Ruskin University study
Otter 'social learning' observed in Anglia Ruskin University study
Otters are capable of watching and learning from each other to solve tasks, according to a study. Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University gave smooth-coated otters food in sealed containers and, when one successfully accessed it, others copied. The study took place at Colchester Zoo in Essex and Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire and is said to be the first time that "social learning" has been observed in otters.
8-31-17 Amazon study discovers 381 new species in two-year period
Amazon study discovers 381 new species in two-year period
Researchers have discovered 381 new species during a two-year study in the Amazon region. The report by the WWF conservation body and Brazil's Mamiraua Institute for Sustainable Development said that on average a new species was discovered every two days. But all the newly discovered animals and plants were found in areas at risk from human activity, the authors warn. More than 2,000 new species were found between 1999 and 2015. The report, published in Sao Paulo on Wednesday, is the third in a series and covers the years 2014 and 2015. The Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world, is famous for its diversity of species and habitats. Ricardo Mello, co-ordinator of the WWF Brazil Amazon programme, said the fact that researchers were still finding hundreds of species was proof that there was much more work to be done in the region.
What species did researchers discover?
- 216 previously unknown plants
- 93 fish
- 32 amphibians
- 20 mammals
- 19 reptiles
- one bird
8-30-17 Invasive earthworms may be taking a toll on sugar maples
Invasive earthworms may be taking a toll on sugar maples
Earthworms are good for soil — when the ecosystem has evolved with the worms. Where worms are newcomers, though, such as in Upper Great Lakes groves of sugar maples, the invaders can cause problems. Earthworms are great for soil, right? Well, not always. In places where there have been no earthworms for thousands of years, foreign worms can wreak havoc on soils. And that can cause a cascade of problems throughout an area’s food web. Now comes evidence that invader worms in the Upper Great Lakes may be stressing the region’s sugar maples. There are native earthworms in North America, but not in regions that had been covered in glaciers during the Ice Age. Once the ice melted, living things returned. Earthworms don’t move that quickly, though, and even after 10,000 years, they’ve only made small inroads into the north on their own. But people have inadvertently intervened. Sometimes they’ve dumped their leftover bait in worm-free zones. Or they’ve accidentally brought worms or eggs in the soil stuck to cars or trucks. And the worms took up residence as far north as Alberta’s boreal forests. Earthworms “are not really supposed to be in some of these areas,” says Tara Bal, a forest health scientist at Michigan Technological University in Houghton. “In a garden, they’re good,” she notes. They help to mix soil. But that isn’t a good thing in a northern forest where soil is naturally stratified and nutrients tend to be found only in the uppermost layer near the leaf litter. “That’s what the trees have been used to,” Bal says. Those trees include sugar maples, which have shallow roots to get those nutrients. But worms mix up the soils and take away that nutrient-rich layer.
8-30-17 Snow leopards aren’t as rare as we thought – but aren’t safe yet
Snow leopards aren’t as rare as we thought – but aren’t safe yet
Snow leopards could soon come off the "endangered" list, but while that looks like a win the move could make it harder to drum up support for protective measures. THE iconic snow leopard might no longer be classed as an endangered species, if some scientists have their way. That may sound like a conservation win, but others warn the move could backfire. Since 1986, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has designated snow leopards as “endangered”. Now the IUCN is considering reclassifying them as “vulnerable”, meaning the risk of extinction is less urgent. The recommendation was written by Rodney Jackson of the Snow Leopard Conservancy and other experts. Estimates published in 2016 put the Asian cat’s population at around 8000, rather than 5300 as previously thought. And although some sub-populations are shrinking, we have no clear evidence of an overall decline (Oryx, doi.org/ccjf). This means they are not as badly threatened as we thought, according to the IUCN’s criteria. Changing the snow leopard’s status will alter public perceptions of the animal. “The word ‘endangered’ carries this aura about it,” says Tom McCarthy of Panthera, a wild cat conservation group. “It’s a powerful, evocative word. What is a ‘vulnerable’ animal?” McCarthy supports the change, however, saying the new listing would still mean snow leopards are in trouble. “It’s slightly better off than we thought, but it’s still facing a high level of extinction.”
8-29-17 Smelly clue to bird navigation skills
Smelly clue to bird navigation skills
They migrate thousands of kilometres across the sea without getting lost. The Arctic tern, for instance, spends summer in the UK, then flies to the Antarctic for the winter. Yet, scientists are still unsure exactly how birds perform such extreme feats of migration, arriving in the right place every year. According to new research, smell plays a key role when birds are navigating long distances over the ocean. Researchers from the universities of Oxford, Barcelona and Pisa temporarily removed seabirds' sense of smell before tracking their movements. They found the birds could navigate normally over land, but appeared to lose their bearings over the sea. This suggests that they use a map of smells to find their way when there are no visual cues. Previous experiments had suggested that removing birds' sense of smell impairs homing ability. However, some had questioned whether sensory deprivation might impair some other function, such as the ability to search for food. ''Our new study eliminates these objections, meaning it will be very difficult in future to argue that olfaction is not involved in long-distance oceanic navigation in birds,'' said study researcher Oliver Padget of Oxford University's Department of Zoology. He said seabirds were among "nature's greatest navigators", finding their way over huge distances.
8-28-17 The fish in your aquarium may have been stolen from Hawaii's coral reefs
The fish in your aquarium may have been stolen from Hawaii's coral reefs
They think somebody somewhere is raising these fish, and they're not. This is wildlife." After an 11-year campaign, Hawaii state legislators recently passed a bill to ban the capture and trade of wild reef fish within the archipelago. Recently, Gov. David Ige announced he intended to veto it. Ige said, "it would be premature to ban aquarium fish collection before more studies are conducted," according to The Associated Press. Robert Wintner — or, as he's known in Hawaii, Snorkel Bob — has been one of the forces behind the drive to protect the colorful creatures of Hawaii's coral reefs, which are all too often at risk from destructive trafficking that destroys or damages coral reefs and fish populations. He says most fish owners have no idea where their tropical fish actually come from. "Most people don't think about it at all, and if they do think about it, they think somebody somewhere is raising these fish, and they're not. This is wildlife," Wintner explains. "The aquarium trade is a $4 to $5 billion industry. They will say anything they need to say to keep it going. Hawaii has always been low-hanging fruit for the aquarium trade." Wintner says the the aquarium trade is "a last vestige of wildlife trafficking to serve the pet trade in the world." Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resource claims it is sustainable, while simultaneously issuing "an unlimited number of permits to an unlimited number of collectors, and those collectors can take every single fish off any given reef," he argues. (Webmaster's comment: Wiping out wildlife for profit!)
8-26-17 Low-ranked female monkeys band together against their leaders
Low-ranked female monkeys band together against their leaders
Female rhesus macaques have a strict hierarchy, but the subordinates can buck authority and even climb the social ladder if they’re big enough and have enough friends. If you’re trying to overthrow the boss, you might need a friend to back you up. The same is true for female macaques, who need allies to resist authority and take down more powerful members of the group. Most primates have social hierarchies in which some individuals are dominant over the others. For rhesus macaques, these strict hierarchies are organised around female relationships. Lower-ranked females have little social mobility and must silently bare their teeth to higher-ranked females. The signal means “I want you to know that I know that you out-rank me” and is important in communicating social rank, says Darcy Hannibal at the University of California, Davis. “They are ‘bending the knee’.” But Hannibal and her colleagues have discovered that subordinate females can override the status quo. To do this, female macaques form alliances with family, friends or both. These alliances help females maintain or increase their social rank and compete for resources. A female who wants to challenge those higher up needs this help, says Hannibal. To find out what factors affect the rate of insubordination, the team studied 357 captive adult females, who experienced almost 11,000 conflicts. Insubordination events were more likely if the lower-ranked female was older. They were most likely if the subordinate outweighed the dominant female by 7 kilograms and the dominant female had no family allies. The more allies the subordinate female had, and the more days her mother was present in the group, the more often she would exhibit insubordinate behaviour.
8-25-17 What's really the point of wasps?
What's really the point of wasps?
A new citizen science survey aims to shed light on that fixture of summertime in the outdoors: the wasp. Though much maligned, these fascinating creatures perform a vital ecological role, say scientists. The only thing more certain to spoil an August Bank Holiday weekend BBQ than a sudden cloudburst? The arrival of wasps. At this time of the year, it can sometimes seem as if every outdoor activity is plagued by these yellow-and-black striped insects buzzing around your head and landing on your food and drink. Wasps aren't just annoying - if you are unlucky, you might end up with a sharp reminder that wasps, like their close relatives the honeybee, pack a powerful sting. That combination of nuisance and pain makes wasps many people's least favourite animals. Perhaps more than any other insect, wasps are badly in need of a change in public opinion. As well as having fascinating lives, they are extremely important in the environment and face problems similar to those of their cherished, but often no less annoying, cousins the bees. As the summer approaches its end, many will wish for it, but a world without wasps would most certainly not be a better place.
8-24-17 Monkeys can see faces in inanimate things, just like us
Monkeys can see faces in inanimate things, just like us
From Jesus appearing on toast to the man in the moon, we can’t help seeing faces where there are none. Now it turns out monkeys do the same thing. Have you ever seen the Virgin Mary in your grilled cheese? Or a screaming face inside a bell pepper? Seeing faces in inanimate objects is a common phenomenon. Now it seems that we’re not alone in experiencing it – monkeys do too. Pareidolia is the scientific term for erroneously perceiving faces where none exist. Other examples including seeing “ghosts” in blurry photos and the man in the moon. To investigate whether pareidolia was a uniquely human experience, Jessica Taubert at the US National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland and her colleagues trained five rhesus macaques to stare at pairs of photos. Each photo showed either an inanimate object that prompts pareidolia in humans, an equivalent object that doesn’t, or the face of a monkey. We already knew that both people and monkeys will look longer at images of faces than other things. So the team presented each of the photos in every possible pairing – 1980 in all – and measured the time the monkeys spent looking at each. The monkeys did indeed seem to succumb to pareidolia – they spent more time looking at illusory faces than the non-illusory photos they were paired with.
8-24-17 Large non-native species like donkeys can boost biodiversity
Large non-native species like donkeys can boost biodiversity
Many large animals are now living far outside of their native ranges, and that may actually be helping conservation. Moose and water buffalo do a lot of munching and trampling, so it might seem a bad thing that these large animals have escaped their native realms and invaded other regions. But there appears to be an upside to their walkabout across the planet. Beasts like camels, moose, water buffalo and donkeys – known as “megafauna” because of their size – live in large numbers outside their native ranges, thanks mostly to human introductions. Often, ecologists give these aliens the cold shoulder, presuming they do harm. For instance, conservation biologists have called for feral horses in the US – which came over with Europeans within the last 500 years – to be removed from certain areas. But that’s wrong, says Erick Lundgren of Arizona State University. He says it is increasingly hard to tell where such animals “belong”. Lundgren and his colleagues have studied the whereabouts of 76 species of large plant-eating mammals. He found that 22 have significant populations outside their native range. Ten of those travellers are extinct or threatened back home. For instance, there are an estimated 5 million wild donkeys round the world, but only a few hundred of their pre-domesticated ancestors, the African wild ass.
8-24-17 Scientists split over snow leopard status
Scientists split over snow leopard status
Scientists are deeply divided on whether snow leopards are still endangered species, a BBC investigation has found. Some big cat experts say their population has stabilised and increased in a number of places. This, they claim, has slowed the overall rate of decline. Others argue that there has been no robust scientific study to prove either that the population has stabilised. Amid the disagreement, top officials from 12 countries within the snow leopard range are meeting in Kyrgyzstan to further strengthen conservation of the elusive big cats. The differences of opinion among scientists have intensified as a downgrading of the threat to snow leopards - from "endangered" to "vulnerable" - is expected from the IUCN Red List soon. The Red List is the most comprehensive inventory of the conservation status of different species. The list maintained by the international nature conservation body is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the status of biological species. Scientists who believe that the number of snow leopards has gone up say the information is based on people working in the field. "Experts from each range countries were asked to come up with best estimates of snow leopard population by country and the total was between 7,400 and 8,000 animals," says Dr Tom McCarthy, snow leopard program executive director for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organisation.
8-22-17 Wiping out a population of animals might help the species
Wiping out a population of animals might help the species
Mass deaths might not be all bad, because local die-offs could help to ensure the survival of the species as a whole. There’s a bright side to everything, perhaps even mass die-offs of animals. If one population of a species goes rapidly and completely extinct – maybe thanks to a forest fire or hurricane – it may help the species persist in the long run. Members of a species don’t always all live together. Often, a species is split into several small populations, which are almost independent apart from occasion migrations from one to another. For instance, butterflies might live in two meadows, separated by a forest that the butterflies can cross but not live in. Such a collection of populations is called a “metapopulation”. Its survival is thought to depend on how much inter-group movement is happening. Migration has its benefits: individuals can re-populate an area if there has been a mass death. But migration also synchronises breeding and death. All populations cycle between large and small numbers, and if there is too much migration these cycles sync up. That is bad news for metapopulations, says Jeremy Fox at the University of Calgary, Canada. “If one group crashes, they all crash.” Fox has found an unlikely way to prevent this deadly lockstep: an extinction event in which all the individuals in one area are wiped out, de-syncing the metapopulation.
8-21-17 Solving how fish swim so well may help design underwater robots
Solving how fish swim so well may help design underwater robots
Trout, dolphins and killer whales swim in remarkably similar ways – and a model of how they use little energy to do so may help design better aquatic robots. Propeller-free robots may soon be swimming with style. A new model of how fish and other aquatic species are able to propel themselves forward without expending much energy may help create energy-efficient underwater robots that swim just like the real thing. By closely studying and monitoring how fish, dolphins and other sea creatures swim, Mehdi Saadat at Harvard University and his colleagues found that many of them have remarkably similar styles that can be described with a simple model, depending on how fast and far the tail whips back and forth and the length of the animal. Scientists previously homed in on just one parameter that relates the beat of an oscillating fish’s tail and how far it oscillates to the animal’s forward motion. But it turned out to be slightly more complicated. Saadat and his colleagues identified a second important factor: how far the tail goes to and fro relative to the fish’s length. They found that almost all fish – and many other sea creatures – swim in a narrow optimum range of this parameter to generate thrust, with the length of each tailbeat between one and three-tenths the length of the animal.
8-19-17 Meet the turtles surviving an invasion of enormous tractors
Meet the turtles surviving an invasion of enormous tractors
The eastern painted turtles must now live among enormous, noisy machinery – and studying them is offering clues to how animals survive alongside heavy industry. Crouching in the woods, amid a tangle of fallen trees and brush, greenbrier, probably poison ivy and who knows what else, I am acutely aware of two things: sweat is actually a state of being, and cicadas are insanely loud. Suddenly, a new sound grabs my attention, and beside me, Aaron Krochmal holds up a hand like a ranger on recon. From the receiver slung around his neck, a rhythmic beeping signals that a radio transmitter is being picked up. Initially, it can be heard crackling with static, but it grows steadily clearer. There’s a turtle on the move. Not a giant Galapagos tortoise. Not even a monster snapping turtle that, around here in the woods of Maryland’s eastern shore, has been known to reach manhole-cover size. No, what emerges, slogging stoically through the bracken and vine, is an eastern painted turtle, maybe 12 centimetres long, the bright yellow slashes down its neck and red-edged carapace a moving artwork. This particular animal has trudged this same path, forded the same creeks, clambered through these vines and over these fallen trees, every year for at least a decade or so, unwavering. “How do they know? How do they learn how?” I whisper to Krochmal, a biologist at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. Since 2009, he and his colleague Timothy Roth at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania – along with dozens of summer research undergraduates at Washington College – have studied the navigation and spatial learning capabilities of these humble reptiles. He’s about to answer when we, the transmitter, and even the cicadas are drowned out by the roar of a massive tractor rumbling to life, preparing to work the soybean field just beyond our little slice of wilderness.
8-18-17 Grown-up chimps are less likely to help distressed friends
Grown-up chimps are less likely to help distressed friends
Chimpanzees of all ages will comfort upset companions, but adult chimps do it less – perhaps because they are more selective about who they help. There, there! Adult chimpanzees are less likely than younger ones to console their companions in times of distress. The finding raises questions about how the capacity for empathy changes with age in our closest relatives – and us. When a chimpanzee gets upset, perhaps after losing a fight, companions will often sit with them and provide reassurance by kissing, grooming or embracing them. The same is true of young children. By age 2, children typically respond to a family member crying by consoling them in a similar way. We know chimpanzees have personalities: individual differences in their behaviour that are consistent over time. But it was unclear whether their empathetic tendencies are part of their personality, and whether they change over time. Christine Webb at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and her colleagues wanted to find out. The team studied eight years of observations of a group of 44 chimpanzees at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, also in Georgia. They found that individual differences were consistent over their lifespan: chimps who consoled more in their youth, relative to their peers, also consoled more than their peers later in life. This is the first evidence that chimps have “empathetic personalities”, says Webb. But they also found that juvenile chimpanzees console others more than adults, and infants console most of all age groups.
8-17-17 Monkeys can be tricked into thinking all objects are familiar
Monkeys can be tricked into thinking all objects are familiar
There is a cluster of neurons in monkeys’ brains that decides whether or not they have seen objects before, and stimulating it makes them see everything as familiar. Seen it, seen it, seen it, seen it, seen it. Most of us instinctively know whether objects are familiar or unfamiliar. Now we may know how we know. It turns out monkeys have a cluster of neurons in their brains that decides whether or not they have seen objects before. The primary visual area, at the back of the brain, does most of the early work in perceiving an object, especially its physical attributes, such as what direction it is moving. However, the temporal lobes – the bits just above our ears – are also heavily involved. In particular, a region of the temporal lobe called the perirhinal cortex has been linked with object recognition, memory and even helping primates recognise familiar faces. But researchers weren’t sure what aspects of an object were encoded by each visual area. To investigate, Yasushi Miyashita at the University of Tokyo, Japan, and his colleagues trained macaques to indicate whether an object was familiar. The monkeys saw some objects once a month, or once every 12,000 trials, and so categorised them as “new”. Meanwhile, other objects were shown in every trial, and so categorised as “old”. Then the team began stimulating different parts of the perirhinal cortex during the recognition tests. They used optogenetics: modifying neurons so they fire when exposed to light. When they stimulated the entire perirhinal cortex with light, the monkeys categorised all objects as old – regardless of whether they really were. This suggests that perirhinal neurons produce a “familiar” signal when they fire.
8-17-17 Freeze-dried dung gives clue to Asian elephant stress
Freeze-dried dung gives clue to Asian elephant stress
"Collecting fresh faecal samples is not as easy as it may sound," says researcher Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel. But her efforts have helped scientists in India devise a unique, non-invasive way to monitor the physiological health of wild elephants. The key has been freeze-drying dung in the field to preserve the elephant's hormones. As a result, scientists found stress levels in females were more conspicuous than in male elephants. Over five years, Sanjeeta and her colleagues collected more than 300 samples from 261 elephants in the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats area. She explained her technique: "I used to hide and observe till the elephant defecated and moved away." She told the BBC: "These samples mean a lot to me." The aim of the research was to evaluate the influence of the elephants' body condition on glucocorticoid metabolites. Animals such as elephants are subjected to various stressors in their lives, with factors including threats from predators, food shortages, drought and illness. Whenever any animal faces stressful events, their body secretes hormones known as glucocorticoids. These hormones are released into the circulatory system which eventually breaks them down into metabolites that are excreted through urine or faeces. The researchers say that collecting blood samples to assess stress levels is neither ethical nor feasible, since immobilising the animals will cause additional stress, thus biasing the study. "So glucocorticoid was measured using faecal or dung samples," said Sanjeeta.
8-17-17 A licence to kill bear cubs?
A licence to kill bear cubs?
Hunters in Alaska can now shoot and bait bear cubs and hibernating bears on national wildlife refuges after President Trump abolished protections put in place by Barack Obama. In this video, reporter Claire Marshall joins hunter and conservationist Christine Cunningham on a bear hunt in the mountains to explore the ethical dilemmas of hunting.
8-16-17 Chimps can play rock-paper-scissors
Chimps can play rock-paper-scissors
Japanese researchers have taught chimps the rules of rock-paper-scissors.
8-16-17 Fish eat bits of plastic because they think they smell good
Fish eat bits of plastic because they think they smell good
Hungry fish are gulping down mouthfuls of plastic, perhaps because it smells like their favourite foods. Hundreds of marine species are known to eat plastic – including those that regularly end up on our dinner plates. But why? It now seems that ocean-borne plastic has a smell that marine animals find appealing. Matthew Savoca at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Monterey, California, explored the dietary preferences of marine life while he was a researcher at the University of California, Davis. He and his colleagues exposed schools of anchovies to seawater that contained odours from plastic. To make this, they left plastic beads in the ocean for three weeks, then stirred the beads into seawater samples before filtering them out – leaving just the associated odour chemicals. In the ocean, plastic quickly becomes covered with a layer of algae that releases smelly sulphur compounds. Foraging fish such as anchovies, which feed on algae-munching marine crustaceans called krill, are thought to use these compounds to help them locate their prey. When analysing videos of the anchovies, the researchers noticed that the fish reacted to the fouled plastic solutions as if they were their crustacean prey. The decision to use solutions that smelled of plastic rather than actual pieces of plastic meant the fish weren’t responding to visual cues; the fish must have smelled the odours. They did not respond to clean plastic. The work builds on Savoca’s earlier research, which suggested that similar sulphurous odours lure tube-nosed seabirds – which are also krill-feeders – into eating plastic.
8-15-17 These spiders crossed an ocean to get to Australia
These spiders crossed an ocean to get to Australia
The ancestors of the trapdoor spider Moggridgea rainbowi may have survived an ocean journey from Africa to Australia, a new study concludes. If you look at a map of the world, it’s easy to think that the vast oceans would be effective barriers to the movement of land animals. And while an elephant can’t swim across the Pacific, it turns out that plenty of plants and animals — and even people — have unintentionally floated across oceans from one continent to another. Now comes evidence that tiny, sedentary trapdoor spiders made such a journey millions of years ago, taking them from Africa all the way across the Indian Ocean to Australia. Moggridgea rainbowi spiders from Kangaroo Island, off the south coast of Australia, are known as trapdoor spiders because they build a silk-lined burrow in the ground with a secure-fitting lid, notes Sophie Harrison of the University of Adelaide in Australia. The burrow and trapdoor provides the spiders with shelter and protection as well as a means for capturing prey. And it means that the spiders don’t really need to travel farther than a few meters over the course of a lifetime. There was evidence, though, that the ancestors of these Australian spiders might have traveled millions of meters to get to Australia — from Africa. That isn’t as odd as it might seem, since Australia used to be connected to other continents long ago in the supercontinent Gondwana. And humans have been known to transport species all over the planet. But there’s a third option, too: The spiders might have floated their way across an ocean.
8-12-17 What do plants and animals do during an eclipse?
What do plants and animals do during an eclipse?
A citizen science project aims to gather data to put science behind anecdotal evidence. Eclipses have been known to make animals and insects behave as if it were nightfall – birds fall silent and bees return to their hives. Many accounts of solar eclipses include tales of animals behaving strangely: Birds fall silent. Bees return to the hive. “There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence for how animals and even plants respond to totality,” when the moon completely blocks the sun, says Elise Ricard, spokesperson for an eclipse project called Life Responds at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. “But [there’s] not a lot of hard science.” Those observations are tantalizing, but they were limited in scope. That could change with the coming eclipse. The ubiquity of smartphones means that crowdsourced research — particularly during the eclipse — can include more and better coordinated observations than ever before.
8-11-17 Goldfish go months without oxygen by making alcohol inside cells
Goldfish go months without oxygen by making alcohol inside cells
Goldfish and crucian carp have evolved enzymes that turn carbohydrates into alcohol when no oxygen is available – helping the fish survive in ice-locked pools. Goldfish and their wild crucian carp relatives can survive for five months without breathing oxygen – and now we know how. The fish have evolved a set of enzymes that, when oxygen levels drop, ultimately helps convert carbohydrates into alcohol that can then be released through the gills. For most animals – including humans – a lack of oxygen can be fatal within minutes. We can metabolise carbohydrates without oxygen, but the process generates toxic lactic acid that quickly builds up in our bodies. On the face of it, this should pose a big problem for crucian carp. They live in ponds and lakes in northern Europe and Asia that freeze over in winter, so the fish have to survive for months without oxygen until the ice melts in spring. But the carp – and their close relative the goldfish – have developed a workaround. When they metabolise carbohydrates anaerobically, the end product is not lactic acid but alcohol, which is easier to remove from their bodies. “The adaptation is very rare among animals,” says Michael Berenbrink at the University of Liverpool in the UK.
8-11-17 Fish sauced? Goldfish turn to alcohol to survive icy winters
Fish sauced? Goldfish turn to alcohol to survive icy winters
Scientists have decoded the secrets behind a goldfish's ability to survive in ice-covered lakes. They've worked out how and why the fish turn lactic acid in their bodies into alcohol, as a means of staying alive. Some goldfish were found to have levels well above legal drink-driving limits in many countries. The researchers say the work may help with the study of some alcohol impacts in humans. Scientists have known about the peculiar survival abilities of goldfish and their wild relatives, crucian carp, since the 1980s. While humans and most vertebrates die in a few minutes without oxygen, these fish are able to survive for months in icy conditions in ponds and lakes in northern Europe. Researchers have now uncovered the molecular mechanism behind this ability. In most animals there is a single set of proteins that channel carbohydrates towards the mitochondria, which are the power packs of cells. In the absence of oxygen, the consumption of carbohydrates generates lactic acid, which the goldfish can't get rid of and which kills them in minutes. Luckily, these fish have evolved a second set of proteins that take over in the absence of oxygen and convert the lactic acid to alcohol, which can then be dispersed through the gills. "The second pathway is only activated through lack of oxygen," author Dr Michael Berenbrink from the University of Liverpool, UK, told BBC News. "The ice cover closes them off from the air, so when the pond is ice-covered the fish consumes all the oxygen and then it switches over to the alcohol." The longer they are in freezing, airless conditions the higher the alcohol levels in the fish become.
8-11-17 Tottering piglets can’t walk at first but learn super-fast
Tottering piglets can’t walk at first but learn super-fast
Video analysis shows that it only takes piglets 8 hours to learn to gain full control over their limbs, allowing them to walk as confidently as adult pigs. Newborn piglets may totter slowly to begin with, but within 8 hours they are trotting with confidence. New evidence suggests that this ability is not something they are born with, and must largely be learned. The finding confirms that walking isn’t entirely innate, even for animals – like pigs – that need to walk soon after birth. Animals such as humans, rats and mice are mostly helpless as newborns. Other species, particularly hoofed animals, must quickly fend for themselves. For instance, baby wildebeest can follow the herd just an hour after birth. Newborn pigs stand and walk within minutes of birth too – but no one was sure whether they are born with all the motor skills they need to walk, or whether they develop them extraordinarily quickly. To try to figure this out, Chris Van Ginneken of the University of Antwerp in Belgium and her colleagues followed 14 toddling piglets over the first four days of life. They filmed each piglet at the same 10 moments in their young existences, walking at their own pace across a rubber mat – used to prevent the animals slipping. Video analysis allowed the researchers to examine the piglets’ speed and stride length, as well as how often they took steps and how long each foot spent touching the ground. The team scaled the data to correct for each animal’s growth, giving them a picture of how gaits altered with age. From birth, the piglets knew the fundamentals of limb coordination: their feet hit the ground in the same order as in adult pigs, the team found. But this doesn’t mean they were confident walkers from birth.
8-11-17 Why midsize animals are the fastest
Why midsize animals are the fastest
New simulation suggests that speed has body mass limits. The speed demons of the animal kingdom are hardly giants. A new study suggests larger animals run out of fuel for their muscles before reaching top speeds. Speed has its limits — on the open road and the Serengeti. Midsize animals tend to be the speedsters, even though, in theory, the biggest animals should be the fastest. A new analysis that relates speed and body size in 474 species shows that the pattern holds for animals whether they run, fly or swim (see graphs below) and suggests how size becomes a liability. This relationship between speed and size has long stumped scientists. Big animals have longer legs or flippers to get from point A to point B. And bigger bodies have higher metabolic rates and more fast-twitch muscle cells, needed to convert chemical energy into mechanical energy and rapidly accelerate. So, why aren’t wildebeests faster than cheetahs? The make-or-break factor is the time it takes an animal to accelerate to its top theoretical speed, an upper limit based on mass and metabolic rate, researchers report July 17 in Nature Ecology & Evolution. Fast-twitch muscle cells provide the power for acceleration but tire quickly. When an animal gets too big, it takes too long to accelerate, and these cells use up their energy before hitting top speeds. More modestly built critters need less time to accelerate to those speeds.
8-10-17 Primate brains react differently to faces of friends and VIPs
Primate brains react differently to faces of friends and VIPs
Two newly identified brain areas reveal how rhesus macaques recognise the difference between intimately familiar faces and faces that the monkeys know less well. Two newly identified brain areas in rhesus monkeys seem to help the animals recognise familiar faces. Primates, Homo sapiens included, must be able to differentiate between faces and recognise friend from foe because social hierarchies play a large role in daily life. But exactly how primate brains deal with faces is not completely clear. One idea is that the same parts of the brain are involved in recognising both familiar and unfamiliar faces, just with varying efficiency. But Sofia Landi and Winrich Freiwald at Rockefeller University in New York have now cast doubt on that thinking. Their work shows that distinct brain areas are responsible for recognising the primates you know. Many researchers have already shown that certain areas of the temporal and prefrontal cortex are involved in unfamiliar face perception in rhesus monkey brains. Using whole-brain fMRI scans of four monkeys, Landi and Freiwald have now identified two additional brain areas that play a role not only in unfamiliar face perception but also in recognising familiar faces. The two new areas are in the anterior temporal lobe – the part of our brains above and in front of our ears. One is in the perirhinal cortex and one is in the temporal pole. These regions lit up far more when the monkeys recognised a familiar face in a photograph, as opposed to when they were presented with images of a stranger.
8-10-17 Sea snakes are turning black in response to industrial pollution
Sea snakes are turning black in response to industrial pollution
Indo-Pacific sea snakes living in polluted waters near industrial areas have darker bodies – perhaps because pollutants bind better to their dark skin pigment. Pollution from mining activities may be encouraging some sea snakes to evolve black skins – the first evidence of “industrial melanism” in a marine species. Previous studies have observed industrial melanism in invertebrate species, most famously the peppered moth. During England’s Industrial Revolution, the frequency of dark-coloured moths skyrocketed. Schoolchildren are often taught that such insects blended in well with the soot-covered bark of trees in industrial areas, so their odds of surviving and breeding suddenly rose – although this might be an oversimplification. Examples of industrial melanism in vertebrates are vanishingly rare, says Rick Shine at the University of Sydney – but the Indo-Pacific sea snakes he and his colleagues study may provide a good example. The turtle-headed sea snake (Emydocephalus annulatus) is largely found in certain tropical waters near Australia. Usually, the snakes look like black-and-white banded candy canes. But Shine and his colleagues found that individuals living near polluted areas on the French island territory of New Caledonia, north-east of Brisbane – and in a nearby barrier reef atoll used as a bombing range – were entirely black instead.
8-10-17 Exposure to oil sends birds off course
Exposure to oil sends birds off course
Even light exposure to oil from disasters like the Deep Water Horizon oil spill makes flying more difficult for birds, a study has revealed. US biologists used homing pigeons to test the potential impacts of oil spills on birds' flight. "Lightly oiled" pigeons, they found, veered off course and took longer to return and longer to recover than birds with no oil on their feathers. The results are published in the journal Environmental Pollution. It is the first time that the effects of low level exposure to crude oil on long-distance bird flight patterns have been tested and suggests that even small amounts of oil could have serious impacts on migrating birds that are caught up in a spill. The researchers were surprised by their findings, as lead author Dr Cristina Perez explained: "The general notion would be that these birds are 'fine', but in fact we found that even lightly oiled birds are not uninjured." Dr Perez continued: "We expected that the birds would have difficulties with flight and be slower in their arrival, but we did not expect such an obvious flight path difference." The study used crude oil collected from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which was applied onto the wing and tail feathers of some of the homing pigeons with paintbrushes. This pattern of oiling reflected that seen in wild birds from the spill. The pigeons were trained to repeatedly undertake flights of 161km between release points and their home loft, all the while carrying GPS data loggers. After release, most of the oiled birds took different flight courses which were longer in duration and distance than those of un-oiled birds.
8-9-17 Ticks are here to stay. But scientists are finding ways to outsmart them
Ticks are here to stay. But scientists are finding ways to outsmart them
Here are the latest bulletins from the tick wars. You’d be wrong to call a black-legged tick an insect. Ticks have eight legs, like spiders and scorpions, not an insect’s six. Only a few of the world’s 900 or so tick species carry diseases, but those illnesses can be nasty. Thanks, Holly Gaff. Soon, anyone straining to tweeze off a mid-back tick can find answers to the obvious question: What if humankind just went after the little bloodsuckers with killer robots? Gaff, who calls herself a mathematical ecoepidemiologist, at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., is one of the few people collecting real field data on the efficacy of tick-slaying robots. This summer, she’s been supervising a field test of a terminator named TickBot deployed to try making mowed grass safe for children. Researchers will start analyzing results in early fall. Ticks make formidable enemies. “Almost every control measure that has been tried has failed, and has failed miserably,” Gaff says. “We are slowly coming to embrace the fact that you cannot eradicate ticks.” What human ingenuity might do, however, is manage the risks and — dream big! — make ticks irrelevant.
8-9-17 Church floodlights are driving away the bats that roost there
Church floodlights are driving away the bats that roost there
Churches are often floodlit at night to show off their architecture – but the lights are preventing bats from roosting in the ancient buildings. Floodlighting is driving bats from some of their last strongholds in rural churches, according to the first detailed before-and-after study. The towers, attics and belfries of rural churches are ideal roosting spots for a range of bats. But the animals require darkness so they can avoid predators when they venture out on hunting expeditions. So the growing popularity of floodlighting even remote rural churches is threatening their survival, says Jens Rydell of Lund University in Sweden. In a unique study last summer, he revisited 61 rural churches in south-west Sweden that he had originally surveyed for their populations of brown long-eared bats in the 1980s. Back then, none of the churches had been floodlit; but now many were often lit up on all four sides. His findings were stark. All 14 churches that had remained unlit since the 1980s still had their bats. But of those now partially lit, half had lost their bats. And there were no confirmed colonies in a single church fully lit for most of the night, concluded Rydell. A typical example was a small wooden church in Varnum, 60 kilometres east of Gothenburg. “There were bats in the tower in 1983, but no trace in 2016,” says Rydell. In the meantime, “four strong floodlights were installed, one from each direction”. The study only covered long-eared bats, but Rydell says other slow-flying species such as mouse-eared and horseshoe bats will probably show the same pattern.
8-9-17 Penguin tail feathers reveal secrets of where they swim for food
Penguin tail feathers reveal secrets of where they swim for food
Conservationists need to track penguin populations, but tagging hundreds of birds is impractical. A technique borrowed from forensics offers a solution. A technique from forensic science could revolutionise the tracking of marine species such as penguins. It has been used to uncover exactly where more than 100 of the birds swim in search of food, even though only half that number were fitted with tracking devices. “Understanding the patterns of migration for wide-ranging marine animals is critical to their conservation,” says Michael Polito at Louisiana State University, who led the research while at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Polito and his colleagues focused on chinstrap and Adélie penguins from Livingston Island and King George Island off the coast of the Antarctic mainland. These species are known as “brush-tailed” penguins for their stiff, 40-centimetre-long tail feathers. Polito and his colleagues attached tags to 52 adult penguins to track their locations as they swam in search of food. When the penguins returned, the tags were recovered, along with a tail feather from each. Tail feathers were also taken from 60 untagged penguins. Using a stable isotope technique of forensic scientists, the researchers identified unique chemical signatures in the feathers. The signatures were imprinted from essential amino acids in phytoplankton – tiny plant-like organisms – that the penguins eat. The researchers were able to use the information from the tags to identify the chemical signatures in tail feathers associated with particular regions of the ocean that the penguins visited. They then compared the tail feathers of the untagged penguins for similarities to work out where they had travelled too.
8-9-17 Penguin feathers record migration route
Penguin feathers record migration route
How do you trace where a penguin has swum across the vastness of the Southern Ocean? The surprising answer is from the chemistry of a single tail feather. Incredibly, specific compounds in penguin feather proteins allow scientists to track the birds’ migration over many hundreds of kilometres. The plumage records a kind of "chemical passport" stamped with a signature of the locations visited. Dr Michael Polito, of Louisiana State University, US, told BBC News: "You can say: 'penguins are where they eat,' because a geochemical signature of their wintering area is imprinted into their feathers." Two species of penguin - Chinstraps and Adélies - are the focus of the study published this week in Biological Letters.
8-8-17 Chantek, the orangutan who used sign language, dies at 39
Chantek, the orangutan who used sign language, dies at 39
An orangutan who was one of the first apes to learn sign language has died in Atlanta, Georgia, aged 39. Chantek lived with an anthropologist in Tennessee for about nine years and learned to clean his room, make and use tools and memorise the route to a fast-food restaurant. He spent his later years in Zoo Atlanta where he was treated for heart disease. Zoo officials said he had "an engaging personality" and would be deeply missed. In a statement, Zoo Atlanta said that at 39, Chantek was one of the oldest male orangutans in North American zoos. His cause of death was not yet known, it said, but vets had been treating him for progressive heart disease. Orangutans are considered geriatric after the age of about 35, the zoo added. Chantek was born at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Georgia and was sent to live with anthropologist Lyn Miles at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. A 2014 documentary called "The Ape Who Went to College" showed that Chantek had learned various skills there including cleaning his room and directing a driving route from the university to a restaurant.
8-8-17 These record-breaking tube worms can survive for centuries
These record-breaking tube worms can survive for centuries
One deep-sea species can live more than 300 years, the longest of its kind. Tube worms near seafloor vents eat well and live long. Some deep-sea tube worms get long in the tooth ... er, tube. Living several decades longer than its shallow-water relatives, Escarpia laminata has the longest known life span for a tube worm, aging beyond 300 years, researchers report in the August Science of Nature. E. laminata lives 1,000 to 3,300 meters deep in the Gulf of Mexico, near seafloor vents that seep energy-rich compounds that feed bacteria that feed the tube worms. In 2006, biologists marked 356 E. laminata in their natural habitat and measured how much the creatures had grown a year later. To estimate the ages of tube worms of different sizes, the researchers plugged E. laminata’s average yearly growth rate — along with estimates of birthrates and death rates, based on observations of another 1,046 tube worms — into a simulation. The species’s typical life span is 100 to 200 years, the researchers calculate, but some larger tube worms may be more than 300 years old.
8-8-17 How spiders mastered spin control
How spiders mastered spin control
Their silk subtly changes shape as it twists, slowing rotation. Silk from orb weaver spiders deforms when twisted, enabling a steady dangle. A strange property of spider silk helps explain how the arachnids avoid twirling wildly at the end of their ropes. Researchers from China and England harvested silk from two species of golden orb weaver spiders, Nephila edulis and Nephila pilipes, and tested it with a torsion pendulum. The device has a hanging weight that rotates clockwise or counterclockwise, twisting whatever fiber it hangs from. When a typical fiber is twisted, the weight spins back and forth around an equilibrium point, eventually returning to its original orientation. But unlike several fibers the scientists tested — copper wires, carbon fibers and even human hair — the spider silk deformed when twisted. That distortion changed the silk’s equilibrium point and cut down on the back-and-forth spinning, the scientists report in the July 3 Applied Physics Letters. Eventually, scientists might design spin-resistant ropes for mountain climbers, who, like spiders, should avoid doing the twist.
8-4-17 One creature’s meal is another’s pain in the butt
One creature’s meal is another’s pain in the butt
Kelp gulls eat the feces of fur seal pups infected with hookworms, sometimes wounding the poor pups in their efforts to obtain a meal, a new study reveals. Anyone who’s had a sandwich stolen out of their hands by a gull at the beach knows firsthand how bold and aggressive these birds can be in their quest for food. But there are gulls that do far worse than steal your sandwich. The absolute worst might be the kelp gulls that pick at the skin and blubber on the backs of Southern right whales off the coast of Argentina. The wounds caused by the birds are thought to kill many right whale calves. But a close second may be the kelp gulls and dolphin gulls on Guafo Island in Chilean Patagonia. That’s because these gulls are wounding South American fur seal pups as they eat the pups’ feces — straight from the source, a new study reports. Gulls “are very opportunistic,” says Mauricio Seguel, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Georgia in Athens. “That’s one of the things that is so amazing about these birds. They can adapt so easily to so many different environments.” The kelp and dolphin gulls on Guafo Island have a varied diet, Sequel says. They eat shellfish plucked out of the ocean at low tide. They crack into sea urchins by dropping them from heights onto the rocks. They’ll steal fish or crabs out of the claws of marine otters. But a big portion of their diet comes from cleaning up after the fur seal colony on the island. The gulls eat placentas left behind after pup births as well as dead pups.
8-4-17 Bees are first insects shown to understand the concept of zero
Bees are first insects shown to understand the concept of zero
Zero is not an easy idea to grasp, even for young humans – but experiments suggest bees might be up to the challenge. Bees seem to understand the idea of zero – the first invertebrate shown to do so. When the insects were encouraged to fly towards a platform carrying fewer shapes than another one, they apparently recognised “no shapes” as a smaller value than “some shapes”. Zero is not an easy concept to comprehend, even for us. Young children learn the number zero later than other numbers, and often have trouble identifying whether it is less than or more than 1. Apart from ourselves, some other animals grasp the concept of zero, though. Chimpanzees and monkeys, for instance, have been able to consider zero as a quantity when taught. With their tiny brains, bees may seem an unlikely candidate to join the zero club. But they have surprisingly well-developed number skills: a previous study found that they can count to 4. To see whether honeybees are able to understand zero, Scarlett Howard at RMIT University in Melbourne and her colleagues first trained bees to differentiate between two numbers. They set up two platforms, each with between one and four shapes on it.
8-4-17 Lazy ants lay eggs for their industrious sisters to eat
Lazy ants lay eggs for their industrious sisters to eat
In 2015, biologists noticed that some ants laze about while their peers are busy – a fresh look suggests the lazy ants might produce eggs for the others to eat. A group of ants labelled as lazy in 2015 may play a more important role in their societies than we thought, possibly helping to feed their hard-working peers. The ants belong to a species (Temnothorax rugatulus) that builds nests under rocks in the forests of western North America. Most individual ants are busy with daily duties, but Daniel Charbonneau and Anna Dornhaus at the University of Arizona noticed in 2015 that some were consistently doing, well… nothing. Now, Charbonneau and Dornhaus, and their colleagues, have studied the lazy ants to find out more. Their analysis of the ants’ anatomy and behaviour suggests they aren’t the freeloaders we might assume them to be. First, these ants don’t simply do nothing all day, despite their lazy label. They simply behave differently from their peers, says Charbonneau. “These ants walk more slowly, are isolated in colony interaction networks and have the smallest behavioural repertoires,” he says. They look different too: Charbonneau says they tend to be plumper and more likely to contain egg cells inside their bodies than their more energetic peers. These observations mean we can rule some things out, he says: lazy ants are not simply old, infirm worker ants, for instance. Instead, lazy ants seem to be immature workers. Their plumper bodies might be evidence that they are storing food in their crops to share with their nest mates later, says Charbonneau. What’s more, the eggs they carry might serve as food for other ants – particularly since other ant species are known to sometimes lay such unfertilised “trophic” eggs.
8-3-17 Pollination threatened by artificial light
Pollination threatened by artificial light
Researchers have discovered a new global threat to pollination - artificial light at night, which was found to reduce visits of nocturnal pollinators to flowers by 62%. The impact of this is a significant reduction in fruit production. Pollinator numbers are declining worldwide so this is not good news for wild plants and crop production. Nocturnal insects are easily distracted from their pollination duties by the lure of bright lights. Fruit begins with a flower, but not every flower results in a fruit. A number of factors result in the remarkable transformation of flower to fruit and one of the most important is insect pollination. But insects are in rapid decline caused largely by an anthropogenic assault including habitat loss and disruption, pesticide use, invasive alien species and climate change. But in a new study reported in Nature, another threat is revealed - artificial light at night. Dr Eva Knop, University of Bern, Switzerland, who led the research said: "Our study suggests that it is quite common for plants to have both night and day pollinators. During night it is often the scent that attracts the nocturnal pollinators but also other cues can be important, such as visual cues as the nocturnal pollinators have often very sensitive eyes." We are all familiar with bees and butterflies pollinating flowers during the day but come sundown a parade of "night-shift" pollinators take over. "In our study, the most abundant night time pollinators were moths (Lepidoptera), followed by beetles (Coleoptera) and bugs (Hemiptera)", said Dr Eva Knop. But, owing to artificial light contamination, from street lamps for example, our nights are no longer properly dark. Artificial light at night is spreading globally at an estimated rate of 6% per year.
8-2-17 Light pollution can foil plant-insect hookups, and not just at night
Light pollution can foil plant-insect hookups, and not just at night
For cabbage thistles, daytime pollinators didn’t make up for missed after-hours seed-making. Artificial light at night upsets pollinating insects and plants, and that disruption may spread into daylight hours. For flowers, too much light at night could lead to a pollination hangover by day. Far from any urban street, researchers erected street lights in remote Swiss meadows to mimic the effects of artificial light pollution. In fields lit during the night, flowers had 62 percent fewer nocturnal visitors than flowers in dark meadows, researchers report August 2 in Nature. For one of the most common flowers, daytime pollination didn’t make up for nightly losses, says ecologist Eva Knop of the University of Bern in Switzerland. In a detailed accounting of the pollination life of cabbage thistles (Cirsium oleraceum), Knop and colleagues found that night-lit plants produced 13 percent fewer seeds overall than counterparts in naturally dark places.