No matter where you look, just about every creature
is obsessed with:
sex, real estate, who's the boss, and what's for dinner.
42 Animal Intelligence News Articles
for October of 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
10-31-17 Sharks now protected no matter whose waters they swim in
126 countries have signed up to cross-border protection measures to conserve whale sharks and many other endangered migratory species. IT’S been a good week for beleaguered sharks. A cross-border conservation pact signed by 126 countries this week promises for the first time to extend extra protection to sharks and several other migratory species, whichever countries they stray into. Among the biggest winners at the global Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) were whale sharks: the world’s largest fish. They are a vulnerable species and their population has been falling. Governments added whale sharks to appendix I of the convention, promising to protect them domestically from killing or capture, and to safeguard their habitats. Conservationists welcomed the move because it means whale sharks will finally be protected at offshore “hotspots” to which they migrate, including Madagascar, Mozambique, Peru and Tanzania. Several other sharks made it on to appendix II, which obliges countries within a species’ migratory range to collaborate on measures to protect them, for example by regulating fishing or banning finning. Conservationists particularly welcomed the new status for blue sharks. “They’re the most highly fished sharks in the world, with 20 million caught around the world each year, but they’re also the most migratory, so they’re vulnerable to fisheries everywhere,” says Matt Collis of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “This puts pressure on countries to commit to international protection.” Other sharks sharing in the same new protections included dusky sharks, angelsharks, white-spotted wedgefish and the bizarrely named common guitarfish.
10-31-17 This sea slug makes its prey do half the food catching
The wily food-theft strategy has a name: Kleptopredation. A food-gathering strategy of eating an organism and the meal it just ate. A wily sea slug has a way to get two meals in one: It gobbles up smaller predators that have recently gulped in their own prey. “Kleptopredation” is the term Trevor Willis of the University of Portsmouth in England and his colleagues propose for this kind of food theft by well-timed predation. Researchers knew that the small Mediterranean nudibranch Cratena peregrina, with a colorful mane of streamers rippling off its body, climbs and preys on pipe cleaner skinny, branched colonies of Eudendrium racemosum hydroids, which are distant relatives of corals. The nudibranchs devour the individual hydroid polyps and, new tests show, prefer them well fed. In experimental buffets with fed or hungry polyps, the nudibranchs ate faster when polyps were fat with just-caught plankton. In this way, at least half of a nudibranch’s diet is plankton. This quirk explains why some biochemical signatures that distinguish predators from prey don’t work out clearly for nudibranchs and hydroids, the researchers report November 1 in Biology Letters. A weird echo of this meal-stealing strategy shows up in certain jumping spiders. The arachnids don’t have the biology to drink vertebrate blood themselves. Instead, they catch a lot of female mosquitoes that have just tanked up (SN: 10/15/05, p. 246).
10-30-17 A legal trade in rhino horn could be twice as big as illegal one
Legalising the trade in rhino horn from South Africa could match black market supply and maybe even double it, with the aim of driving poachers out of business. What is the best way to stop the illegal trade in rhino horn? A new analysis claims South Africa could, legally and sustainably, produce enough of it to meet current demand. But conservationists say it might not prevent poaching. About 25,000 rhinos remain in Africa, most of them white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) in South Africa. However, since 2008 the nation has experienced a wave of poaching. As of July, 529 rhinos have been killed there this year. The main purpose is to obtain rhino horn, which is sold in China and other Asian countries as a traditional “medicine” and a trophy. Such killings take place despite a ban on the rhino horn trade. So in 2013, Duan Biggs at the University of Queensland, Australia, and colleagues suggested creating a legal trade in the horn. Rhino horns can be removed without killing the animal and grow back in a few years, so, in principle, ivory can be obtained sustainably. The idea is to flood the market with a “responsible” product, cutting the price of ivory and reducing the incentive to poach. In April, South Africa ended its eight-year moratorium on trading rhino horn, and some local rhino owners have since started selling. The biggest mogul is breeder John Hume, who has 1500 rhinos and a cache of more than six tonnes of ivory, and who helped end the moratorium with a lawsuit. Hume says his life’s mission is saving rhinos. He partly funds his work by sawing off horns and selling them at auction. In August, he sold 500 kilograms online.
10-30-17 Scary as they are, few vampires have a backbone
Only a handful of the world's vampires are vertebrates. Halloween horror aside, vampires are really pretty spineless. Most have no backbone at all. By one count, some 14,000 kinds of arthropods, including ticks and mosquitoes, are blood feeders. Yet very few vertebrates are clear-cut, all-blood specialists: just some fishes and three bats. Why hasn’t evolution produced more vertebrate vampires? The question intrigues herpetologist Harry Greene of Cornell University, who “can’t think of a single example among amphibians and reptiles,” he says. (Some birds are opportunists, sneaks or outright meat eaters, but they don’t have the extreme specialization of bats.) Kurt Schwenk of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, who studies feeding morphology, comes up empty, as well. As he muses over what animals might have precursor biology that could lead to blood feeding, “a leechlike or lamprey-like blood-sucking tadpole should be a real possibility,” he says. The idea gives him “the heebie-jeebies,” but some tadpole species have already evolved mouths that can cling, and plenty of tadpoles are carnivorous. Looking at the question from a different point of view — asking what would favor, or not, the evolution of blood feeding—he comes up with a less disturbing answer. For carnivorous animals, eating meat is nutritionally better than sipping blood alone, he says. So vampirism might not offer much of an advantage. “If you don’t need to be light and you’re not a parasite,” he says, there’s “no point in limiting yourself to blood.” So maybe vampiric tadpoles aren’t part of some creepy future after all.
10-30-17 Here’s the real story on jellyfish taking over the world
‘Spineless’ searches for the truth about these enigmatic creatures. Jellyfish have gotten a bad rap. In recent years, concerns about rising jellyfish populations in some parts of the world have mushroomed into headlines like “Meet your new jellyfish overlords.” These floating menaces are taking over the world’s oceans thanks to climate change and ocean acidification, the thinking goes, and soon waters will be filled with little more than the animals’ pulsating goo. It’s a vivid and frightening image, but researchers aren’t at all certain that it’s true. In her new book, Spineless, former marine scientist Juli Berwald sets out to find the truth about the jellyfish take-over. In the process, she shares much more about these fascinating creatures than merely their numbers. Among a few of the amazing jellyfish facts and tales throughout the book: Jellyfish have astoundingly complex vision for animals without a brain. They are also the most efficient swimmers ever studied, among the most ancient animals surviving on Earth today and some of the most toxic sea creatures (SN: 9/6/14, p. 16).
10-30-17 How tsunamis are bringing new species to our coasts
Entire communities of new marine and seashore organisms have arrived in Hawaii and along the West Coast in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Almost 300 species, including fish, snails, sponges, and many microorganisms, survived the 5,000-mile drift as organic clumps around floating islands of the rubble that was swept from the shores of Japan by the tsunami's relentless waves. Such a large and concentrated swarm of new arrivals is highly unusual and presents a potential invasive species threat, according to a new study published in the journal Science. Greg Ruiz, a marine invasive species researcher with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center who co-authored the paper, says floating colonizations by invasive species are rare events. "There are no [previous] records of material coming from the shores of Asia to the shores of North America, and the search record is quite extensive," Ruiz says, adding that earlier colonizations happened via other mechanisms like ship traffic. "One of the things that really blew me away is that so many of these organisms could survive in open ocean for five to six years," Ruiz says, alluding to the journey of a tiny Japanese coastal fish that washed ashore near Long Beach in the stern well of a rusty fishing boat. "We didn't think they would find enough food. Our study shows that's not the case." After studying the accretions of rubble and organisms, Ruiz suggests that the huge amount of plastic debris in the ocean, including material mobilized by the tsunami, made the rafts sturdy enough to withstand the long trip.
10-28-17 Chimpanzees among 33 breeds selected for special protection
A UN-backed wildlife conference held in the Philippines has voted for additional protections for a list of 33 endangered species including chimpanzees, leopards and giraffes. Whale sharks, the world's largest fish, were also included on the list. The six-day long Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) concluded on Saturday, demanding better protections for species that cross country borders. The group's executive secretary said "everybody has to pitch in" to efforts. "It has helped to convey the message that the future of migratory wildlife is integral to our own future and that we all have the responsibility to act," Bradney Chamber said. Governments also made commitments to cooperate on reducing the negative impacts of marine debris, noise pollution and climate change on migratory species. More than 1,000 delegates from 129 countries debated species' protection at the 12th conference of its kind, backed by the United Nations Environment Programme. China is still not part of the delegation, but organisers said the country had made some advances on animal protection, such as committing to shut-down the ivory trade and banning the serving of endangered species, such as shark fin soup, at government events. Hosts the Philippines lobbied for the inclusion of whale sharks, which have become a tourist attraction for the nation. Three other shark breeds were also included in the list.
10-27-17 Female birds that used to be silent are now singing like males
Female birds that used to be silent are now singing like males
When faced with a rival, some female dark-eyed juncos now sing just like males to defend their mates and territories. For the first time, female dark-eyed juncos have been found to burst into song in the wild. Although many female tropical birds sing, singing females are rare among northern, temperate songbirds. However, the behaviour is now becoming more common, and climate change may mean it becomes even more widespread. Dustin Reichard of Ohio Wesleyan University knew that female dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) sometimes sang in captivity, but only after being injected with testosterone. To find out if they sang in the wild, he and his colleagues goaded them by placing a live, caged female in their territories. The researchers also played recordings of a soft trill that females make when they are receptive to mating. In all, 17 females, along with 25 males, interacted with the caged females. Half the females dived and lunged at them, and a minority also performed aggressive tail-spreads not normally seen in females. Three of the females sang songs similar to those of males. “The context in which the songs were observed – responding to a female intruder – suggests these songs have an aggressive, territorial function,” says Reichard. “But we can’t say whether female song is specific to female intruders without also measuring their response to male intruders.” The females also reacted badly to attempts by males to woo the intruder female, both with song and other courtship behaviours such as puffing up their feathers and spreading their tails. Dark-eyed juncos are monogamous, and the females sought to keep their mates faithful by aggressively chasing them away from the rival female.
10-27-17 How a tiny shrimp fires a savage shock wave using just its claw
How a tiny shrimp fires a savage shock wave using just its claw
When pistol shrimp snap their one huge claw shut, the resulting shock wave can stun their foes – now we have seen just how this weapon works. This reef ain’t big enough for the both of us. Two pistol shrimp face each other, each spreading open its giant snapping claw – nearly half the size of its body. One or both of them then snaps the claw shut in its opponent’s direction, firing off a powerful water jet at speeds up to 30 metres per second. These shrimp shootouts are rarely fatal, but can leave the loser retreating with missing claws or puncture wounds. But the high-speed squirt isn’t what harms their target – it’s the resulting shock wave. Now we have glimpsed how this unfolds in fine detail. If you stick your head under coastal tropical waters, you may hear a sound like chestnuts crackling as they roast. At a volume of about 200 decibels – louder than a .22 calibre rifle shot – these pops are some of the loudest in the ocean, second only to sperm whale clicks. Originally, marine scientists thought the sounds were produced by the impact of the shrimps’ claws closing. Now, we know that they ring out when an air bubble collapses around the watery salvo, much as when bubbles form in our joints and rapidly collapse as we crack our knuckles. Prior work didn’t explore precisely how this bubble forms, says Phoevos Koukouvinis at the City University of London. “We knew the bubbles were there, but we didn’t know what they looked like.” So his team sought to unravel the mystery by simulating what happens after the shrimp shuts its claw at different speeds.
10-26-17 Climate change may threaten these bamboo-eating lemurs
Climate change may threaten these bamboo-eating lemurs
Madagascar’s history holds warning for the already critically endangered species. A greater bamboo lemur, the only mammal besides the giant panda to depend on nutrient-poor, yellowing bamboo stems during dry seasons, could suffer more as the climate changes. More nutritious, tender bamboo can feed even a baby lemur. The only lemurs so dependent on bamboo that they gnaw on hardened, nutrient-poor stems during the dry season might dwindle away as those seasons grow longer. Reconstructing the history of the greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus) in Madagascar suggests that drier areas over thousands of years already have lost their populations. As the region dries further due to climate change and the bad-bamboo months in the last holdouts lengthen, remaining populations of these critically endangered lemurs might go hungry and fade away too, an international research team warns online October 26 in Current Biology. Other animals, even another lemur species, will eat lots of bamboo shoots and leaves. But the greater bamboo lemur is the only mammal besides the giant panda that sticks with bamboo during the dry season. That’s when the plants stop sprouting and offer only culm, the tough, old, yellowing stems poor in nutrients. Culm hasn’t reached the hard stage of bamboo that’s used as a building material. “Nobody wants to eat that,” says study coauthor Alistair Evans, an evolutionary morphologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
10-25-17 Oysters can ‘hear’ the ocean even though they don’t have ears
Oysters can ‘hear’ the ocean even though they don’t have ears
These seemingly oblivious shellfish are highly sensitive to sounds, which could help them monitor incoming tides, hear thunder and spot approaching predators. Oysters are the latest creatures shown to “hear” the world around them. It suggests that hearing might be commonplace in molluscs and other simple marine creatures, so the impact of noise pollution from ships and exploration might be far greater than currently assumed. Jean-Charles Massabuau at the University of Bordeaux in France and his colleagues placed 32 Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas) in tanks and exposed them to a range of sounds of varying loudness with frequencies between 10 and 20,000 hertz. Oysters tend to close their valves when stressed or threatened, so they were fitted with accelerometers to track whether they moved. The team found the oysters responded to frequencies between 10 and 1000 hertz. Massabuau says they don’t hear as we would, but instead probably perceive the vibrations created by sound waves using an organ that registers movement and vibration: the statocyst. There are all sorts of potential advantages to being able to hear, says Massabuau. For instance, the oysters might hear the arrival of tidal water, which carries food. “Our results show that in shallow waters, they must be able to hear breaking waves and water currents,” he says. They could then open up ready for the tide’s arrival. Thunderstorms would be audible too, which could explain previous observations that oysters spawn during thunder and lightning. “It could be a trigger to synchronise spawning,” says Massabuau. Oysters might also hear the sound of currents created when predators approach. “Lobsters or fish, which feed on young oysters, produce sounds in the oyster hearing range, if they’re close enough,” says Massabuau.
10-25-17 Nanoscale glitches let flowers make a blue blur that bees can see
Nanoscale glitches let flowers make a blue blur that bees can see
Imperfectly spaced petal ridges weaken iridescence — but that’s all good. Bees can easily learn to recognize a bluish tinge called a blue halo created by sloppy nanoscale structures on such flowers as Ursinia speciosa. A bit of imperfection could be perfect for flowers creating a “blue halo” effect that bees can see. At least a dozen families of flowering plants, from hibiscuses to daisy relatives, have a species or more that can create a bluish-ultraviolet tinge using arrays of nanoscale ridges on petals, an international research team reports online October 18 in Nature. These arrays could be the first shown to benefit from the sloppiness of natural fabrication, says coauthor Silvia Vignolini, a physicist specializing in nanoscale optics at the University of Cambridge. Flowers, of course, can’t reach industrial standards for uniform nanoscale fabrication. Yet the halo may be a case where natural imperfections may be important to a flower’s display. Tests with artificial flowers showed that the nanoglitches made it easier for bees to learn that a showy petal meant a sugary reward, Vignolini and colleagues found.
10-25-17 Wildlife colonises man-made rockpools
Wildlife colonises man-made rockpools
Mini rock pools are being created by scientists trying to protect sea life from the boom in manmade sea defences. Aberystwyth University researchers have drilled holes the size of a family baked bean can into a breakwater made of smooth granite blocks. The blocks had attracted few intertidal creatures. But the new holes were swiftly colonised by fish, anemones and important reef-building honeycomb worms. The scientists hope that the thousands of miles of manmade sea walls under construction to hold back sea levels will incorporate wildlife-friendly features like this. They have also designed an experimental form of concrete, dubbed Reefcrete. The hope is that this material will attract creatures to colonise sea walls. Conventional sea walls are often inhospitable for sea life because they are smooth; they don't trap water at low tide (unlike a normal rocky shore). They are often also too alkaline. The Reefcrete is made with less cement than usual. It is held together by hemp fibres which act in a similar way to steel re-enforcing bars in buildings. Tests so far have shown that Reefcrete encourages more seaweed to grow than regular sea walls. The seaweed provides a home for a greater variety of animals. Research is continuing to see how the hemp fibres stand up to the test of time. Another form of Reefcrete uses waste shells from a local seafood shelling factory. Discarded shell are classed as waste and must be disposed of in landfill or burned. The scientific team suggests they could be incorporated into sea walls as a binding material instead. The shells would create a rougher surface more suitable for sea life.
10-24-17 How glow worms get their glow on
How glow worms get their glow on
Visitors to certain New Zealand caves are treated to an amazing sight: Thousands of little lights twinkling on the cave walls, like Christmas lights. But the little lights aren't bulbs or even fireflies — they're glow worms. "Technically, a glow worm is actually a glowing maggot, but that doesn't sound as romantic," says Miriam Sharpe, a biochemistry researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Sharpe and her colleague Kurt Krause are working to understand the chemistry behind the glow worm's ghostly blue light — one of at least 40 different bioluminescent systems that animals around the world have evolved to help them hunt or mate. Video producer Chelsea Fiske filmed their research for the Science Friday documentary, Shedding Light on the New Zealand Glow Worm. The first thing you need to know: Glow worms are not larval fireflies. "So fireflies are in the northern hemisphere and it's funny, because fireflies are actually beetles, and these glow worms, they're the larval stage of a fungus gnat, which is more like a fly," Fiske says. "This species was specific to New Zealand; there's also a couple of other species in Australia, and that's it." To capture the glow worms on film, Fiske and her husband set out at night to some of New Zealand's lesser-known glow worm caves. "Oftentimes these caves are in the strangest places, in the middle of a sheep paddock or something," she says. "And so we would trek in with our gear and it's kind of eerie because there are oftentimes eels in the creeks in the caves, which can bite. But it was completely worth it, it's magical."
10-23-17 Geese-like birds seem to have survived the dinosaur extinction
Geese-like birds seem to have survived the dinosaur extinction
A bird group named the Vegaviidae, which resembled modern loons and geese, is the first identified with members that lived before and after the Cretaceous extinction. They looked like loons but honked like geese, and are kin to a group of modern birds that includes ducks, geese and chickens. Meet the Vegaviidae, a newly named group of waterbirds that seemingly lived through the mass extinction that took out the dinosaurs. Although the Vegaviidae are now extinct, they are the first bird group known to have survived the mass extinction, says Federico Agnolin at the Bernardino Rivadavia Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences in Buenos Aires. At the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago, a mass extinction – probably caused by an asteroid impact – wiped out a swathe of species, including all non-avian dinosaurs. Birds survived the disaster, but which groups carried the flame has been unclear. Bird fossils from the end-Cretaceous between 72 and 66 million years ago are few and fragmentary, says Joel Cracraft at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. One of the few known species is Vegavis iaai, discovered on Vega Island off West Antarctica and described in 2005. Vegavis was a fish-eating diving bird that resembled a modern loon. However, Agnolin says its skeleton shows that it was related to ducks and geese, and to land fowl such as chickens. Last year, palaeontologists described a second Vegavis fossil that included a syrinx, the bird version of vocal cords. They concluded that the birds honked like geese.
10-23-17 How bird feeders may be changing great tits’ beaks
How bird feeders may be changing great tits’ beaks
Songbirds living in the United Kingdom have evolved longer bills than related birds in the Netherlands. Great tits in the United Kingdom may be evolving longer beaks because of more available food, thanks to the extensive use of bird feeders in the country. Some great tits in the United Kingdom are getting long in the beak — and it may have something to do with a British fondness for bird feeders. Parus major songbirds are thought to be relatively similar throughout Europe. But comparing DNA data from great tits in the United Kingdom with those in the Netherlands revealed key genetic differences between the two populations. The analysis, published in the Oct. 20 Science, linked those genetic differences to a slightly longer beak in U.K. birds seen over the last few decades. Since beak length is known to be associated with food availability, the researchers speculate that the U.K. great tits may be adapting to the widespread use of bird feeders in the country. In other studies, bird beaks have been shown to be sensitive to the environment and capable of rapid change, says coauthor Mirte Bosse, an ecologist at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. This new study demonstrates that even in our own backyards, small evolutionary changes may be happening, she says.
10-20-17 Songbird gets angry when its rivals are brilliant at singing
Songbird gets angry when its rivals are brilliant at singing
Male tui songbirds signal their prowess with complicated songs, so they respond aggressively when they hear a particularly good vocalist. Not in my backyard. Territorial songbirds in New Zealand reacted more aggressively towards males encroaching on their territory if those rivals sang more complicated songs. The tui birds perceived these snappy singers as greater territorial threats than their simpler singing counterparts. Birdsong has two main functions: defending a territory and attracting a mate, says Samuel Hill at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand. For tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), territory defence is a key concern. “There are flowering and fruiting trees year round in New Zealand, so the tui always have resources to defend,” says Hill. This explains why “they natter all year round”. Warbling away takes lots of energy, so males may be showing off their physical endurance to females. Long and complicated songs may also be a sign of skill, as to sing them birds must use superfast vocal muscles to control rapid acoustic changes. In other songbirds, like zebra finches, females prefer males that sing harder songs. This hasn’t been tested in tui, but Hill says the complexity of a male’s song is probably a proxy for more relevant measures of his quality, like body condition and cognitive ability.
10-19-17 Songbirds 'being sold into extinction'
Songbirds 'being sold into extinction'
How Indonesians' love of a good tune threatens to send avian species into oblivion.Sold for a song. The forest birds captured for their tuneful voices. Lush green blankets of vegetation drape over Java's steep mountains. But these dense rain forests - on Indonesia’s most crowded island - are rapidly falling silent. Tuneful songbirds that used to give the mountains a unique melody are being caught and sold. Indonesians are obsessed with birds. Bird-singing competitions are national events. But this is threatening to drive the songbirds to extinction.
10-19-17 Steep decline of wasps and other flying nasties is a bad sign
Steep decline of wasps and other flying nasties is a bad sign
Aphids, midges and wasps are being added to the list of rapidly vanishing insects. It’s another alarming sign of a sixth mass extinction, says Olive Heffernan. It’s not just bees and butterflies that are vanishing. It’s many, many other insects too. In yet more evidence that we are in the throes of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, a new study reports that flying insects have declined precipitously in just 27 years in parts of Germany. We may feel less inclined to save some of these creatures – the midges, aphids and parasitoid wasps – than our trusted pollinators. In fact, motorists might welcome the absence of squashed critters on their windshields. Gardeners may take pleasure in the idea of growing plants free from aphid pests. Even tourists, enthralled by the notion of travel without the midge bites, might see this as a cause for celebration. But if this estimate is right, this loss is huge, both in scale and implication. Previous reports have found a decline of up to 50 per cent of European grassland butterflies, bees and moths in recent decades, but this new work suggests a much higher toll, and possibly across hundreds or even thousands of species that visit nature reserves year on year. In the clearest analysis yet of the plight of flying insects, Dutch and British researchers used data collected over nearly three decades by insect enthusiasts. These hobby biologists sampled 63 German nature reserves, covering a range of habitats including meadows, sand dunes and heathland, from 1989 to 2016.
10-19-17 Dogs really can smell your fear, and then they get scared too
Dogs really can smell your fear, and then they get scared too
There is an urban myth that dogs can smell human emotions, now it seems to be true: dogs can sense a person’s emotional state just by sniffing a sample of their sweat. Dog owners swear that their furry best friend is in tune with their emotions. Now it seems this feeling of interspecies connection is real: dogs can smell your emotional state, and adopt your emotions as their own. Science had already shown that dogs can see and hear the signs of human emotions, says Biagio D’Aniello of the University of Naples “Federico II”, Italy. But nobody had studied whether dogs could pick up on olfactory cues from humans. “The role of the olfactory system has been largely underestimated, maybe because our own species is more focused on the visual system,” says D’Aniello. However, dogs’ sense of smell is far superior to ours. D’Aniello and his colleagues tested whether dogs could sniff out human emotions by smell alone. First, human volunteers watched videos designed to cause fear or happiness, or a neutral response, and the team collected samples of their sweat. Next, the researchers presented these odour samples to domestic dogs, and monitored the dogs’ behaviours and heart rates. Dogs exposed to fear smells showed more signs of stress than those exposed to happy or neutral smells. They also had higher heart rates, and sought more reassurance from their owners and made less social contact with strangers.
10-19-17 Alarm over decline in flying insects
Alarm over decline in flying insects
It's known as the windscreen phenomenon. When you stop your car after a drive, there seem to be far fewer squashed insects than there used to be. Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this. Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years. And the causes are unknown. "This confirms what everybody's been having as a gut feeling - the windscreen phenomenon where you squash fewer bugs as the decades go by," said Caspar Hallmann of Radboud University in The Netherlands. "This is the first study that looked into the total biomass of flying insects and it confirms our worries.'' The study is based on measurements of the biomass of all insects trapped at 63 nature protection areas in Germany over 27 years since 1989. The data includes thousands of different insects, such as bees, butterflies and moths. Scientists say the dramatic decline was seen regardless of habitat, land use and the weather, leaving them at a loss to explain what was behind it. (Webmaster's comment: The great mass extinction caused by human beings continues.)
10-18-17 Museum safari: The myriad unknown species lost in dusty drawers
Museum safari: The myriad unknown species lost in dusty drawers
Millions of animals unknown to science languish in the world's natural history collections. Just open a forgotten cupboard and you could find a new species. A COUPLE of years ago, Stylianos Chatzimanolis received a box of insects in the post. The package came from London’s Natural History Museum: Chatzimanolis was updating the classification of an obscure group of beetles and – as taxonomists often do – had asked to borrow some specimens. The beetles had been collected long ago but never formally described. They were just roughly classified as members of the same genus, Trigonopselaphus. But when Chatzimanolis opened the box, he could see that one of the 24 specimens clearly didn’t fit in. Long-bodied, with a segmented, sinuous abdomen, it was much larger than the others and had a distinctive, iridescent head. As he read the beetle’s yellowed, handwritten label, he realised the specimen had been collected in 1832 in Argentina by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. Somehow it had never been described. It was stored away unnamed, then disappeared into the museum’s vast beetle collection. Finally, after 180 years in limbo, Chatzimanolis gave it a name: Darwinilus sedarisi, in honour of Darwin and the writer David Sedaris, whose audiobooks he listened to while writing the description in his office at the University of Tennessee. The rediscovery of Darwin’s long-lost beetle was a remarkable stroke of fortune, but the wider story – of a new species being found in a museum collection – is surprisingly common. More than 1000 new beetle species are described each year from the Natural History Museum’s collection alone.
10-18-17 The physics of mosquito takeoffs shows why you don’t feel a thing
The physics of mosquito takeoffs shows why you don’t feel a thing
Even when full of blood, the insect’s wings do the heavy lifting, so its legs barely need to push. Discovering an itchy welt is often a sign you have been duped by one of earth’s sneakiest creatures — the mosquito. Scientists have puzzled over how the insects, often laden with two or three times their weight in blood, manage to flee undetected. At least one species of mosquito — Anopheles coluzzii — does so by relying more on lift from its wings than push from its legs to generate the force needed to take off from a host’s skin, researchers report October 18 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The mosquitoes’ undetectable departure, which lets them avoid being smacked by an annoyed host, may be part of the reason A. coluzzii so effectively spreads malaria, a parasitic disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. Researchers knew that mosquito flight is unlike that of other flies (SN Online: 3/29/17). The new study provides “fascinating insight into life immediately after the bite, as the bloodsuckers make their escape,” says Richard Bomphrey, a biomechanist at the Royal Veterinary College of the University of London, who was not involved in the research.
10-18-17 Being a vampire can be brutal. Here’s how bloodsuckers get by.
Being a vampire can be brutal. Here’s how bloodsuckers get by.
What’s most remarkable about real-life bloodsuckers doesn’t show up in movies. Jennifer Zaspel can’t explain why she stuck her thumb in the vial with the moth. Just an after-dark, out-in-the-woods zing of curiosity. She was catching moths on a July night in the Russian Far East and had just eased a Calyptra, with brownish forewings like a dried leaf, into a plastic collecting vial. Of the 17 or so largely tropical Calyptra species, eight were known vampires. Males will vary their fruit diet on occasion by driving their hardened, fruit-piercing mouthparts into mammals, such as cattle, tapirs and even elephants and humans, for a drink of fresh blood. Zaspel, however, thought she was outside the territory where she might encounter a vampire species. She had caught C. thalictri, widely known from Switzerland and France eastward into Japan as a strict fruitarian. Before capping the vial with the moth, “I just for no good reason stuck my thumb in there to see what it would do,” Zaspel says. “It pierced my thumb and started feeding on me.”
10-17-17 Here’s a breakdown of the animals that crossed the Pacific on 2011 tsunami debris
Here’s a breakdown of the animals that crossed the Pacific on 2011 tsunami debris
About two-thirds of the creatures have never been documented off the western coast of North America. Marine sea slugs stowed away on a derelict vessel from Iwate Prefecture in Japan before being washed ashore in Oregon in April 2015. Life’s great diversity has revealed itself in more than 600 pieces of floating tsunami debris that have landed on the western coast of North America. Of nearly 300 living animal and protist species documented on the debris, which crossed the Pacific Ocean following Japan’s destructive 2011 tsunami, researchers analyzed in detail 237 species, which include larger invertebrates and two fish. The critters represent 15 taxonomic groups, as defined by the scientists in the Sept. 29 issue of Science. Most of the species were mollusks, including marine snails, nudibranchs and oysters. Mollusks were followed by annelids (segmented worms), cnidarians (including sea anemones), bryozoans (moss animals that sometimes resemble coral), crustaceans and others. Some species, such as sea anemones and limpets, were able to reproduce and maintain multiple generations on these debris “islands.” The unprecedented marine migration was possible because much of the rubbish caught up in the Pacific currents was durable, made of plastic or fiberglass. “Years ago there were other natural disasters that potentially produced debris, but the debris was, well, organic,” says Nir Barnea, the regional coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine debris program in Washington and Oregon. “Now we have plastic materials, man-made materials that remain in the marine environment for many years.”
10-16-17 'Big, bad wolf' image flawed - scientists
'Big, bad wolf' image flawed - scientists
New research casts doubt on the idea that dogs are naturally more tolerant and friendly than wolves. In tests of cooperation skills, wolves outperformed their domesticated relatives. Scientists say the findings challenge assumptions about how dogs were tamed from wolves and came to live alongside humans. Previous evidence has suggested that the domestication process may have given dogs a more tolerant temperament. "We still have very much this idea of the big, bad wolf and the cuddly pooch on your sofa," Dr Sarah Marshall-Pescini, who led the research, told BBC News. "But, I think the simplest message is that the story is not quite as clear as that." Wolves are highly social animals. They live in close-knit family groups, raise puppies together and hunt in groups. This sort of behaviour is not seen in modern dogs, despite the idea that domestication selected for dogs that were more tolerant and friendly, both of each other, and humans.
10-13-17 Horses bred to look like cartoons are part of a worrying trend
Horses bred to look like cartoons are part of a worrying trend
A colt with googly eyes and a very "dished" head is the latest example of a trend for animals with "cute" looks that raise health risks, says Danny Chambers. Since humans first domesticated animals, they have been selectively breeding for desirable characteristics. To start with, the aims were increased productivity in livestock, size or speed in horses, and better herding or hunting abilities in dogs. In more recent times, this has expanded to include animals with certain aesthetic qualities, resulting in very deformed examples being lauded as having an “ideal” look, despite suffering from serious health and welfare problems. Now it seems horses are joining the list. The most obvious examples of this problem are dogs with flat faces – such as pugs and French bulldogs. These brachysephalic dogs have soared in popularity in recent years, but are at high risk of breathing problems, often requiring surgery to improve airflow to the lungs, sometimes an emergency tracheotomy due to acute respiratory distress. As Pete Weddburn, veterinary columnist for The Telegraph, has pointed out, it would be illegal to smother a dog so it could barely breathe, but it is perfectly legal to breed a dog that collapses, unable to get sufficient oxygen due to narrowed and compressed airways. These pets cannot exercise as normal, they struggle to thermoregulate so are predisposed to overheating in warm weather, have eye problems, skin fold diseases, a screw-shaped tail linked to painful spinal abnormalities, neurological problems and cannot give birth without caesarean section. (Webmaster's comment: The same is true for Persian Cats. They also can hardly breathe. What we do to animals for the sake of how they look is inhuman!)
10-13-17 Male chimpanzee seen snatching seconds-old chimp and eating it
Male chimpanzee seen snatching seconds-old chimp and eating it
A rare sighting of a chimpanzee birth ended in infanticide and cannibalism – and probably explains why new mothers often go into hiding for weeks or months. A rare sighting of a chimpanzee giving birth in the wild came to a grisly conclusion. Within seconds of the birth, the baby was snatched away and eaten by a male of the same group. The observation explains why female chimpanzees tend to go into hiding for weeks or months when they have their babies. Little is known about how chimpanzees give birth in the wild because only five births have ever been observed, says Hitonaru Nishie of Kyoto University in Japan. Nishie and his colleagues have been studying chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Mahale mountains for the last few years. One of the reasons so few have been witnessed is that the soon-to-be mothers often leave the group when the baby is due, and don’t return until the infant is weeks or months old. This absence has been described as a chimpanzee’s “maternity leave”. So Nishie and his colleague Michio Nakamura were surprised when, at around 11 am one December day, a female member of the chimpanzee group they were observing began to give birth in front of the 20 other members. As soon as the baby was out – and before the mother had even had a chance to touch it – the baby was snatched away by a male member of the group, who then disappeared into the bush. The researchers found him around 1½ hours later, sitting up a tree and eating the infant from the lower half of its body. He ate the entire body within an hour. This is the first time anyone has reported seeing a newborn chimpanzee cannibalised in this way, says Nishie. He says that his observation provides an obvious clue as to why chimpanzee mothers tend to hide away to give birth.
10-13-17 Penguins die in 'catastrophic' Antarctic breeding season
Penguins die in 'catastrophic' Antarctic breeding season
All but two Adelie penguin chicks have starved to death in their east Antarctic colony, in a breeding season described as "catastrophic" by experts. It was caused by unusually high amounts of ice late in the season, meaning adults had to travel further for food. It is the second bad season in five years after no chicks survived in 2015. Conservation groups are calling for urgent action on a new marine protection area in the east Antarctic to protect the colony of about 36,000. WWF says a ban on krill fishing in the area would eliminate their competition and help to secure the survival of Antarctic species, including the Adelie penguins. WWF have been supporting research with French scientists in the region monitoring penguin numbers since 2010. The protection proposal will be discussed at a meeting on Monday of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The Commission is made up of the 25 members and the European Union. "This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins," Rod Downie, Head of Polar Programmes at WWF, said. "The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adelie penguins for food as they recover from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, is unthinkable. "So CCAMLR needs to act now by adopting a new Marine Protected Area for the waters off east Antarctica, to protect the home of the penguins." (Webmaster's comment: "The Great Die Off" caused by global warming is now truly underway!)
10-11-17 Female dolphins have weaponised their vaginas to fend off males
Female dolphins have weaponised their vaginas to fend off males
Bottlenose dolphins have evolved complicated, folded vaginas that make it difficult for unwanted males to fertilise their eggs. Some female dolphins have evolved a secret weapon in their sexual arms race with males: vaginas that protect them from fertilisation by unwelcome partners. Penises come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, especially in dolphins and other cetaceans. That seems to imply a similar diversity in vaginas, but Dara Orbach of Dalhousie University, Canada, says there is “a huge lag” in our understanding of female genitalia. That is partly because it is tricky to visualise vaginal structure. To overcome this problem, Orbach has created silicone moulds of cetaceans’ vaginas, revealing complex folds and spirals. “There’s this unparalleled level of vaginal diversity that we had no idea existed before,” Orbach says. Similarly complex vaginal structures are found in several species of duck. Orbach’s collaborator Patricia Brennan of Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, has previously found evidence that duck vaginas have evolved to make it harder for males to force copulation. So Orbach wondered if female cetaceans’ unusual vaginas had also evolved to keep out unwanted sperm. Orbach, Brennan and their colleagues obtained genitals from marine mammals that had died of natural causes: common and bottlenose dolphins, common porpoises and common seals. They inflated the males’ penises with saline to see how they looked when they were erect, and compared them with the vaginal moulds. They also took CT scans of penises inserted into the corresponding vaginas, to determine whether they fitted in easily and the best positions.
10-11-17 What modern society can learn from birdsong
What modern society can learn from birdsong
There are a lot of social lessons to be learned from listening to the birds. We are surrounded by cultural products: cities, technologies, the arts, and music. But culture is also deep inside us, in our ability to speak, in our sense of belonging, in our values. The capacity of our brain to adapt to and integrate culture is what makes us human: from birth, your mind was set to absorb concepts, technologies, and social conventions that accumulated over thousands of generations. Feral children, deprived of human society during early life, can rarely recover, and often remain dysfunctional throughout their lives. In contrast, a socially isolated kitten will develop into a fairly normal, functional cat. Yet cultures can be seen (and heard) in many non-human animals. Studying them reveals some of the mechanisms through which our own culture has evolved. Cultures are not just the passive accumulation of customs and traditions; they are formed, and then sustained by a fine balance between social forces. And we can learn from other species about the biological origin of those forces — as well as how these forces are now shaping the future of our culture. What are the social forces through which cultures come about? Culture often starts with an innovation by one animal, which then spreads, as neighbors adopt and modify the successful behaviors they observe. Some cultures, like social norms, are sustained by obedience. Individual vervet monkeys, for instance, can learn fast, but as a group, they have rigid norms: Some food is allowed, while other, perfectly good food is strictly avoided. When juvenile males migrate to a new group, they promptly drop their old feeding habits and obey the new group's norms, with almost 100 percent conformity.
10-8-17 The return of the black-footed ferret
The return of the black-footed ferret
With its silky fur and bandit-masked face, the black-footed ferret cuts a cute — if lethal — figure on the American plains. It's also the star of a great comeback story: The species was thought extinct until 1981, when a small group of ferrets was discovered on a Wyoming ranch. Today, there are more than 500 black-footed ferrets in captivity and the wild, thanks to ongoing breeding and reintroduction efforts. But hard times aren't over for the little predator: It mainly hunts prairie dogs, which are widely considered to be agricultural pests. What's more, both ferrets and prairie dogs are dying from an invasive plague that's slashed ferret numbers from 1,500 just a few years ago. So, can the black-footed ferret prosper again? John Hughes, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's black-footed ferret recovery program, is hopeful — relatively speaking. "Ferrets have always been a rare species," he notes. Their "Achilles' heel," he says, is their dependence on prairie dogs for food and shelter. (Black-footed ferrets live in empty prairie dog burrows.) "And while prairie dogs are much more adaptable to changing conditions, ferrets, due to their territoriality, are not," he says. "As habitat was lost and prairie dog control occurred, ferrets declined along with it." There's also the sylvatic plague to consider. Thought to have been introduced by shipborne rats in San Francisco more than a century ago, Hughes says the invasive bacteria have been marching eastward ever since — straight across the black-footed ferret's native territory. His team has been using insecticides to kill fleas — the plague's primary vector — inside prairie dog burrows.
10-6-17 Seal pups get separated from their mums by icebreaker ships
Seal pups get separated from their mums by icebreaker ships
When icebreakers push through the sea ice on which Caspian seals nurse their young, mothers and pups flee and often get separated in the confusion. Icebreaker ships may be splitting endangered seal mothers from their pups at a critical point in their development. “The route the icebreakers have to take crosses through the area where the seals are breeding,” says Simon Goodman at the University of Leeds, UK. Any disturbance that leads to the mothers separating from the pups is “bad news” for the baby seals. Goodman and his colleagues gathered data from observers who travelled on 39 icebreaker trips from 2006 to 2013 in the northern Caspian Sea. This sea is a major oil and gas drilling site. It is also the only home of the Caspian seals, which are found nowhere else. Caspian seal mothers give birth late in January on the open ice, and suckle their pups for about five weeks. The pups are born with white coats similar to ring seals, and are vulnerable while still dependent on their mothers for nutrition. The mothers often choose thick, solid ice, with features like ice folds to protect the pups from wind. Goodman identified 81 occasions on which icebreakers came within 10 metres of a mother and pup. The mother typically fled and tried to take her pup with her, but sometimes left it behind. In one case, a mother temporarily abandoned a newborn pup. Because the icebreakers were moving, it was not always possible to tell what eventually happened. However, in at least two cases mother and pup ended up a long way apart, and may have lost each other.
10-6-17 Butterfly swarm shows up on Denver radar system
Butterfly swarm shows up on Denver radar system
A colourful, shimmering spectacle detected by weather radar over the US state of Colorado has been identified as swarms of migrating butterflies. Scientists at the National Weather Service (NWS) first mistook the orange radar blob for birds and had asked the public to help identifying the species. They later established that the 70-mile wide (110km) mass was a kaleidoscope of Painted Lady butterflies. Forecasters say it is uncommon for flying insects to be detected by radar. "We hadn't seen a signature like that in a while," said NWS meteorologist Paul Schlatter, who first spotted the radar blip. "We detect migrating birds all the time, but they were flying north to south," he told CBS News, explaining that this direction of travel would be unusual for migratory birds for the time of year.
10-5-17 Neonicotinoid pesticides found in honey from every continent
Neonicotinoid pesticides found in honey from every continent
The discovery of neonicotinoid pesticides in honey means pollinating insects like bees regularly eat dangerous amounts of the pesticides. The evidence has been mounting for years that the world’s most widely used pesticides, neonicotinoids, harm bees and other pollinating insects. Now it seems the problem isn’t limited to Europe and North America, where the alarm was first sounded. It’s everywhere. In 2013 the EU temporarily banned neonicotinoids on crops that attract bees, such as oilseed rape. In November, the European Food Safety Authority will decide if the evidence warrants a total ban. France has already announced one. Starting in 2012, a team led by Alex Aebi of the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, asked travelling colleagues, friends and relatives to bring back honey when they went abroad. In three years they amassed 198 samples from every continent except Antarctica, and tested them for neonicotinoids. They found that three-quarters of the samples contained at least one of the five neonicotinoid pesticides. Of those, nearly half contained between two and five different neonicotinoids. Most worryingly, in 48 per cent of the contaminated samples, the neonicotinoids were at levels that exceeded the minimum dose known to cause “marked detrimental effects” in pollinators. “The situation is indeed bad for pollinators,” says Aebi.
10-5-17 Much of the world’s honey now contains bee-harming pesticides
Much of the world’s honey now contains bee-harming pesticides
Global survey finds neonicotinoids in three-fourths of samples. Neonicotinoid pesticides are turning up in honey on every continent with honeybees. The first global honey survey testing for these controversial nicotine-derived pesticides shows just how widely honeybees are exposed to the chemicals, which have been shown to affect the health of bees and other insects. Three out of four honey samples tested contained measurable levels of at least one of five common neonicotinoids, researchers report in the Oct. 6 Science. “On the global scale, the contamination is really striking,” says study coauthor Edward Mitchell, a soil biologist at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The pesticides are used on many kinds of crops grown in different climates, but traces of the chemicals showed up even in honey from remote islands with very little agriculture. “I used to think of neonicotinoids as being a [localized] problem next to a small set of crops,” says Amro Zayed, who studies bees at York University in Toronto and wasn’t involved in the research. These pesticides “are much more prevalent than I previously thought.”
10-5-17 Pesticides linked to bee deaths found in most honey samples
Pesticides linked to bee deaths found in most honey samples
A new study has found traces of neonicotinoid chemicals in 75% of honey samples from across the world. The scientists say that the levels of the widely used pesticide are far below the maximum permitted levels in food for humans. In one-third of the honey, the amount of the chemical found was enough to be detrimental to bees. Industry sources, though, dismissed the research, saying the study was too small to draw concrete conclusions. Neonicotinoids are considered to be the world's most widely used class of insecticides. These systemic chemicals can be added as a seed coating to many crops, reducing the need for spraying. They have generally been seen as being more beneficial for the environment than the older products that they have replaced. However, the impact of neonics on pollinators such as bees has long been a troubling subject for scientists around the world. Successive studies have shown a connection between the use of the products and a decline in both the numbers and health of bees. Earlier this year, the most comprehensive field study to date concluded that the pesticides harm honey bees and wild bees. This new study looks at the prevalence of neonicotinoids in 198 honey samples gathered on every continent (except Antarctica). The survey found at least one example of these chemicals in 75% of the honey, from all parts of the globe. Concentrations were highest in North America, Asia and Europe.
10-5-17 This snake knows how toxic it is and fights only when armed
This snake knows how toxic it is and fights only when armed
Tiger keelback snakes get toxins from their food and always know how much poison they’re carrying – if they don’t have much, they opt for flight instead of fighting. Snakes fed a diet of toxic toads become toxic too — and they seem to know it. While many snakes make their own toxins, not all do. Japan’s tiger keelback snake (Rhabdophis tigrinus) is one of a handful of species that can store toxins it acquires from its food. Tiger keelback snakes are usually less than a metre long, an ideal meal for many birds and mammals. But they eat toxic toads and store the toxins in specialised organs on the backs of their necks called nuchal glands. If a snake is threatened it arches its neck, making the nuchal gland area more prominent. A predator that bit the snake’s neck would probably get a jet of fluid from the glands straight in the mouth or face, which would be distasteful or even painful. But not all keelbacks exhibit this defensive behaviour. Snakes from a toad-free island flee when attacked, rather than standing their ground. Now it seems the snakes know whether or not they are armed with toxins. Akira Mori of Kyoto University, Japan, and Gordon Burghardt of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville reared hatchling snakes from toad-free and toad-rich Japanese islands. The snakes were fed controlled diets containing toxic toads – or not. When snakes from the toad-free island were fed toads, they started responding to threats with nuchal gland displays, rather than slithering away.
10-5-17 We just found nineteen new species of gecko in one tiny area
We just found nineteen new species of gecko in one tiny area
The discovery of so many closely-related vertebrate species within such a small area is unprecedented. The number of known species of geckos has just jumped upwards, with 15 new species being formally described this week. “And if you count the four I’m looking at right now it’s 19,” says Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in California. “When you called I was in the process of describing them.” This is a big increase, as there are only around 1500 known species of these lizards, famed for the sticking power of their feet. The 19 species all live in a small area of Myanmar just 90 by 50 kilometres in size. “That’s the really amazing thing about it,” says Grismer. “They all come from such a small area.” It’s common to find lots of closely-related species of invertebrates like snails or insects in such a small area, but it is unprecedented for a backboned animal, say Grismer. “For lizards, it is remarkable.” The reason is likely to do with the unusual landscape. In an otherwise-flat lowland area, great blocks of limestone rise up to 400 metres high. Their surfaces are highly corrugated and sculpted by erosion, and sometimes riddled with caves. These limestone blocks, some just a kilometre across, are evolutionary islands where isolated geckos have evolved into separate species. The limestone-dwelling geckos tend to have longer legs and toes, and more slender bodies, than their lowland kin. Grismer’s team was asked to explore the area in Myanmar by the charity Fauna & Flora International, which is campaigning to preserve the unusual limestone habitat.
10-4-17 José Dinneny rethinks how plants hunt for water
José Dinneny rethinks how plants hunt for water
Studies probe the very beginnings of root growth. José Dinneny studies how plants grow under stress, with insights that could be helpful in feeding a growing population. José Dinneny wants us to see plants as stranger things. “They’re able to integrate information and make coherent decisions without a nervous system, without a brain,” he points out. Plus, plants find water without sight or touch. For too many of us, however, lawns, salads and pots on a sunny windowsill make plants so familiar we’ve become blind to how exotic they are. “We’re out searching the solar system and the galaxy for extraterrestrial life,” says Dinneny, 39, “and we have aliens on our own planet.” The thrill of discovering plants’ alien ways drives Dinneny to explore how roots search for water. His research group, at the Carnegie Institution for Science labs in Stanford, Calif., “runs on curiosity,” he says. His work could have practical food security and geopolitical consequences. Dinneny is passionate about the molecular whys and hows of regulating plant growth. From a background in basic plant development, he moved to questions of environmental stress. These questions are important in “this huge crisis we face as a species,” says Jonathan Lynch, a root biologist at Penn State and the University of Nottingham in England. Knowing how to grow plants in environments degraded by climate change will be crucial to feeding an exploding human population.
10-2-17 Dolphins that work with humans to catch fish have unique accent
Dolphins that work with humans to catch fish have unique accent
Some bottlenose dolphins cooperate with Brazilian fishers, probably for mutual benefit, and these animals don't whistle like others in their group. Bottlenose dolphins that work together with humans to catch fish have their own distinctive whistle, one that may help them recognise each other. Off Laguna, Brazil, fishers stand in a line in waist-deep water or wait in canoes while, farther out, bottlenose dolphins chase shoals of mullet to the shore. The fishers can’t see the fish in the murky water, so they wait for the dolphins to give a signal — like an abrupt dive or tail slap — then cast their nets. Fishers catch larger and more fish when they work with dolphins. “Dolphins likely reap similar benefits,” says Mauricio Cantor of the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil – it might be easy for them to gobble up fish disoriented by the nets. But only some dolphins, working alone or in small groups, cooperate with humans. To explore the differences between helpful and unhelpful dolphins, Cantor and his colleagues recorded the sounds made by both types while they foraged either on their own or with people. Surprisingly, the whistles of cooperative dolphins were different from those of non-cooperative ones, even when foraging alone. For instance, they used fewer ascending whistles.
10-2-17 Communing with wildlife in Malaysian Borneo
Communing with wildlife in Malaysian Borneo
We next flew across Sabah province to the city of Kota Kinabalu, surprised that the land below was "overwhelmed by palm-oil plantations," not blanketed by rainforest. A two-hour drive brought us to Kinabalu Park, home to one of Malaysia's tallest peaks: 13,500-foot Mount Kinabalu. Thirty-seven of Borneo's 52 endemic bird species live in the mountainous region, and Jessie wanted to log them all. While I explored the park's wide range of trails, she moved slowly, her binoculars trained on the jungle canopy. Later, at a lodge in the Danum Valley, we met up with a few like-minded birders. When one of the group spotted a helmeted hornbill, they rushed in its direction "with the enthusiasm of kindergartners who had glimpsed an ice cream truck." On a cruise down the Kinabatangan River, "we got lucky": Five Bornean pygmy elephants — of just 200 left in the area — emerged from forest to bathe and roughhouse in the water. Proboscis monkeys lounged in the trees as we glided past, and on one nighttime walk, we startled a tarsier — a fist-size, bug-eyed primate that fled from our headlamps into the trees. A different animal sighting made me particularly happy. Though the palm-oil plantations have decimated Borneo's population of orangutans, we finally saw one near dusk, as it clambered up a tree. After noisily constructing a nest for the night, it "lay down, carefree," and scratched its arms. "We watched until the light grew dim." (Webmaster's comment: Better enjoy it now because it will soon be gone forever!)