15 Animal Intelligence News Articles
for December of 2017
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12-11-17 Once settled, immigrants play important guard roles in mongoose packs
But it takes time for residents to fully accept new members. Immigrants, they get the job done — eventually. Among dwarf mongooses, it takes newcomers a bit to settle into a pack. But once these immigrants become established residents, everyone in the pack profits, researchers from the University of Bristol in England report online December 4 in Current Biology. Dwarf mongooses (Helogale parvula) live in groups of around 10, with a pecking order. The alphas — a top male and female — get breeding priority, while the others help with such group activities as babysitting and guard duty. But the road to the top of the social hierarchy is linear and sometimes crowded. So some individuals skip out on the group they were born into to find one with fewer members of their sex with which to compete —“effectively ‘skipping the queue,’” says ecologist Julie Kern. Kern and her colleague Andrew Radford tracked mongoose immigration among nine packs at Sorabi Rock Lodge Reserve in Limpopo, South Africa. The researchers focused on guard duty, in which sentinels watch for predators and warn foragers digging for food.
12-11-17 ‘Scary’ spider photos on Facebook are revealing new species
When people see a big spider they often post a photo on Facebook – and those images have now revealed up to 30 new species. Freaky photos of giant spiders on social media may have revealed dozens of new species. “When people see an animal that they think is frightening or dangerous, the most common response is to take a photo and post it to social media,” says Heather Campbell, previously at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and now at Harper Adams University, UK. In 2013, Campbell got involved with some “massive spider nerds”, who drove around at night watching for spiders on the road and “tickling” tarantulas out of their burrows with blades of grass. “I sort of got drawn into that excitement and enthusiasm,” she says. They focused on baboon spiders, a subfamily of the larger tarantula group found in eastern and southern Africa. About 56 species are known, but Campbell says much remains unknown. To find out more, they built the Baboon Spider Atlas. They combed Facebook, online forums and other social media sites for photos and information about baboon spiders. People also send in photos of spiders they find and ask questions – mostly “is it poisonous?” and “what do I do?” The data shows that many known species range more widely than thought, and that some species that were thought to spend all their time in their burrows actually wander.
12-8-17 Africa’s giraffes are being slaughtered by Joseph Kony’s army
Elephants, giraffes, giant elands and chimpanzees are being decimated by poachers linked to violent militias in a lawless region of central Africa. Joseph Kony and his notorious Lord’s Resistance Army haven’t gone away since US and Ugandan troops ended their campaign to capture him earlier this year. They have decamped to a politically unstable belt of countries near Uganda, where they and other lawless militias are now decimating iconic animals like elephants for food and illegal ivory, as well as terrorising villages and kidnapping children. That’s the grim message from a report issued today by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring agency. Compiled through interviews with 700 people from 87 villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan, the report exposes the threat posed to large species including elephants, giant elands and eastern chimpanzees. Giraffes are reportedly being killed simply to provide the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) with tails for deterring flies. Only 47 now survive in the Garamba complex in the DRC, where there were previously 350. Elephants totalled 22,000 in the 1970s, but are now down to between 1100 and 1400. Rhinos, of which there were once an estimated 500, are gone completely. The report found that the key threats were the LRA, corruption in the DRC state military, armed pastoralists called the Fulani and a multitude of militias, including the Janjaweed, spilling over from the chaos in Southern Sudan.
12-8-17 Record-breaking two-tonne fish is the heaviest of its kind
The record books say that the ocean sunfish is the heaviest bony fish alive, but in fact the specimen in question belongs to a different species. Given that it is 3 metres long, weighs 2300 kilograms and looks like a severed head, you would think there could be no mistaking the identity of the world’s heaviest bony fish. But in fact we have been misidentifying this ocean-going giant for years. The ocean sunfish (Mola mola) is listed in Guinness World Records as the world’s heaviest bony fish. Some sharks are larger, but their skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone. The record has stood since 2002, on the basis of a specimen caught off the Japanese coast in 1996. But now a detailed analysis of photographs and other information about the specimen has revealed that it is not an ocean sunfish, but a relative named Mola alexandrini. Sunfish look extremely peculiar to our eyes. They appear almost disc-shaped from the side and extremely narrow when viewed head-on. They have a curved rudder-like lobe at the rear, where most fish have a tail fin. Many exceed 2000kg and reach 3m long. Etsuro Sawai at Hiroshima University in Japan and his colleagues reviewed the three known Mola species: M. mola, M. ramsayi and the rare M. tecta – which was only discovered in July. They examined 30 specimens of M. mola and M. ramsayi, and trawled through accounts of sunfish sightings and captures going back 500 years.
12-7-17 AI eavesdrops on dolphins and discovers six unknown click types
Computer program picked out the noises from underwater recordings of 52 million echolocation signals. A new computer program has an ear for dolphin chatter. The algorithm uncovered six previously unknown types of dolphin echolocation clicks in underwater recordings from the Gulf of Mexico, researchers report online December 7 in PLOS Computational Biology. Identifying which species produce the newly discovered click varieties could help scientists better keep tabs on wild dolphin populations and movements. Dolphin tracking is traditionally done with boats or planes, but that’s expensive, says study coauthor Kaitlin Frasier, an oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. A cheaper alternative is to sift through seafloor recordings — which pick up the echolocation clicks that dolphins make to navigate, find food and socialize. By comparing different click types to recordings at the surface — where researchers can see which animals are making the noise — scientists can learn what different species sound like, and use those clicks to map the animals’ movements deep underwater. But even experts have trouble sorting recorded clicks, because the distinguishing features of these signals are so subtle. “When you have analysts manually going through a dataset, then there’s a lot of bias introduced just from the human perception,” says Simone Baumann-Pickering, a biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography not involved in the work. “Person A may see things differently than person B.” So far, scientists have only determined the distinct sounds of a few species.
12-7-17 Narwhals react to certain dangers in a really strange way
‘Unicorns of the sea’ fleeing humans show the physiological signs of also being frozen in fear. When escaping from humans, narwhals don’t just freeze or flee. They do both. These deep-diving marine mammals have similar physiological responses to those of an animal frozen in fear: Their heart rate, breathing and metabolism slow, mimicking a “deer in the headlights” reaction. But narwhals (Monodon monoceros) take this freeze response to extremes. The animals decrease their heart rate to as slow as three beats per minute for more than 10 minutes, while pumping their tails as much as 25 strokes per minute during an escape dive, an international team of researchers reports in the Dec. 8 Science. “That was astounding to us because there are other marine mammals that can have heart rates that low but not typically for that long a period of time, and especially not while they’re swimming as hard as they can,” says Terrie Williams, a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. So far, this costly escape has been observed only after a prolonged interaction with humans. Usually, narwhals will escape natural predators such as killer whales by stealthily slipping under ice sheets or huddling in spots too shallow for their pursuers, Williams says. But interactions with humans — something that will happen increasingly as melting sea ice opens up the Arctic — may be changing that calculus.
12-7-17 Narwhal escape: Whales freeze and flee when frightened
Scientists who fitted heart rate-monitoring tags to Arctic narwhals have discovered a strange paradox in how the animals respond to threats. When these tusked whales are frightened, their hearts slow, but at the same time they swim quickly to escape. Scientists say the response could be "highly costly" - because they exert themselves with a limited blood supply. The findings are published in the journal Science. They raise questions about how the enigmatic "unicorns of the sea" will cope with increasing human intrusion on their Arctic habitat. Historically, narwhals have not come into contact with much human disturbance, because they live mainly hidden among Arctic sea ice. But in recent decades, as the ice has declined, this is changing. "Shipping and exploration for oil and gas is moving into the narwhals' world," said lead researcher Dr Terrie Williams, from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Having developed technology to study the physiology of dolphins at her home institute, she explained that her collaborator on this study - Dr Mads Peter Heide-Jorgensen, from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources - contacted her to see if her tags could be used on wild narwhals. "His research allowed him to work with hunters; instead of the animals being killed, he releases them with satellite tags," Dr Williams explained. "So this was an incredible opportunity to look at the biology of a deep-diving whale." The tags she developed incorporate a heart monitor with depth and acceleration measurement, as well as a satellite tracking device. "We're riding the back of a narwhal for days with this technology and it's just astounding to me," she told BBC News.
12-6-17 Wildebeest no more: The death of Africa’s great migrations
Many of Africa's savannahs are emptying of wildlife as cattle fences kill its charismatic fauna. But we are finding ways to save them. WE DEFLATED our tyres so that they could ooze through the Kalahari sand on our search for herds of wildlife migrating across the savannah. Eager ecologists from Australia, we scanned the horizons for dust clouds or heaving bodies. Instead, we were shocked to find that southern Africa’s great plains were mostly empty. We expected teeming herds of wildlife; we were confronted by a profusion of fences that sliced across the landscape. We had not realised before our holiday visit in April and May this year that Africa’s iconic migrations are dying. Fifteen large mammals used to travel en masse across the continent, but five had already stopped by 2008, when the first migration audit was carried out. Most of those that remain are now in jeopardy, and the fences we encountered over and over again share the blame. My colleagues have warned of disastrous and far-reaching consequences, yet the problem has received relatively little attention from the international community. Long-distance migrations are among the most spectacular and heroic of natural events, and the majority are in Africa. For 10 million years, hoofed animals – ungulates – have evolved in lockstep with its savannah grasses. They thrived thanks to one outstanding characteristic: mobility. In their millions, wildebeest, eland, impala, kob, hartebeest, springbok and many others tracked the shifting seasonal patterns of greening vegetation. Two regions reign supreme: the Serengeti Mara of East Africa and the Kalahari of southern Africa focused on Botswana, which was where we were. The wildebeest is the keystone species in both places: without it predators such as the lion, cheetah and wild dog wouldn’t survive.
12-6-17 Japan’s refusal to stop ivory trade undermines bans elsewhere
Even though other countries are clamping down on illegal ivory, the unconstrained trade in Japan may offer loopholes for criminals to keep selling ivory – fuelling elephant poaching. Japan has got out of implementing tough measures to clamp down on domestic sales of ivory. The move could undermine the international effort to halt the ivory trade. Elephants are poached for the ivory in their tusks, which is sold on to consumers in Asian countries like China and Vietnam. As a result, the ivory trade is a significant threat to elephants’ survival. Last week, the standing committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the global body that regulates trade in animal parts, met in Geneva. Several countries, particularly from Africa where elephants are poached, lobbied for CITES to force Japan to introduce a national ivory action plan. This would have forced the country to take concrete steps to clamp down, possibly including a ban on the domestic trade in antique ivory. However, Japan managed to sidestep the proposal. “It’s let Japan off the hook,” says Matthew Collis, director of international policy at the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “It leaves this huge loophole where new material can be brought in.” In contrast, China plans to close all such loopholes by the end of the year. The US is also working towards a comprehensive ban, although in November President Donald Trump announced that he might continue to allow hunting trophies to be imported.
12-5-17 Sumatran tigers fall 17 per cent and have just two strongholds
There are now only two viable populations of Sumatran tigers left in the wild, so if the cats are to be saved those areas have to be protected. Sumatran tigers are running out of places to live. Their population fell by 16.6 per cent between 2000 and 2012, and the remaining tigers are trapped in shrinking forests. “We’re really at a tipping point in terms of how much habitat is left that tigers need for their long-term survival,” says Matthew Luskin at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is a subspecies of tiger, only found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is critically endangered, due to poaching, the expanding oil palm industry and rampant deforestation. Luskin and his colleagues spent a year tracking tigers through Sumatran forests, using cameras to track each individual animal. They combined their data with other scientists’ results, allowing them to accurately estimate how many Sumatran tigers are left. They focused on the number of females able to reproduce, which is a crucial indicator of the tigers’ long-term chances. Conservationists tend to focus on protecting populations that have at least 25 breeding females, to avoid inbreeding. Luskin’s team found that there are now only two habitats with viable populations, down from the 12 thought to have existed 70 years ago. Gunung Leuser in the north and Kerinci Seblat farther south have 48 and 42 breeding females respectively. The researchers say the population decline is driven by the rapid loss of the tigers’ habitat. Indonesia has the fastest deforestation rate of any country: it lost 60,000 square kilometres (37 per cent) of its primary forest between 2000 and 2012. During that period, 16.5 per cent of tiger-occupied forest vanished.
12-5-17 How UK's birds are being affected by a changing climate
Migratory birds are arriving in the UK earlier each spring and leaving later each autumn, a report has confirmed. Some visitors are now appearing more than 20 days earlier than they did in the 1960s, according to the state of the UK's birds 2017 report. The swallow, for instance, is arriving 15 days earlier than 50 years ago. Ongoing monitoring is essential to track the future effects of a changing climate on birds, says a coalition of wildlife organisations. The report is by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) , the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the UK's nature conservation bodies. It pulls together data from the latest bird surveys and monitoring studies. The report warns that there will be winner and losers in a changing world, with opportunities for some bird species but higher extinction risks for others. Some, such as the night heron, are breeding in the UK for the first time as their range expands north, while others, such as the snow bunting are in decline. Dr Daniel Hayhow, lead author of the report, said familiar species such as swallows and sand martins are changing their migratory behaviour. ''We need to take that almost as a warning sign,'' he told BBC News. ''The report is aiming to show to people that these changes are happening and there is potential for such changes in timing to cause a mismatch between the time when the chicks need to be fed and the food that's available for them, meaning they may be less successful in their breeding.''
12-4-17 Macho, macho monkey: female monkeys gaze more at masculine faces
Female monkeys spend more time staring at males that have highly masculine facial features, but we don’t know if they fancy them or fear them. Female monkeys spend more time staring at males with strong masculine facial features. But it’s not clear why their gaze lingers like this. Face structure often varies between male and female members of a species. In humans, men tend to have heavier brows, squarer jaws, deeper-set eyes and thinner lips than women. Some researchers believe that facial masculinity signals mate quality, but this is hotly contested. To find out, Kevin Rosenfield, who was at Roehampton University in the UK when the study was performed, and his colleagues examined facial preference in monkeys. They studied 107 free-ranging female rhesus macaques on the island of Cayo Santiago in Puerto Rico. Each female was simultaneously shown two photos of male faces, one of which was more masculine than the other. Masculine features included bigger jaws, longer noses, and smaller eyes. When the two faces had similar levels of masculinity, the females spent equal time observing them. But when the differences were more obvious, they spent an average of 1.9 seconds staring at the more masculine face, compared to 1.5s looking at the less masculine one. They may have been attracted to them, perhaps because they associated them with better genes. Alternatively, they may have been scared of them because they associated them with aggression. (Webmaster's comment: The same happens in human females. The more of a brute he is the better his genes are for making offspring that will survive.)
12-2-17 Chief vet defends support of larger hen cages
Some cages for hens provide a "necessary defence" against bird flu, the government's chief vet has said. In a tweet, Nigel Gibbens said the larger pens, which replaced so-called battery cages in 2012, have welfare benefits and offer more space. It comes after 10 leading British vets, who believe caging hens is unethical, said his "brazen endorsement" was "extremely disappointing". They said the restricted space was "seriously detrimental to welfare". Battery cages for chickens were banned in the EU in 2012. The ruling said that if laying hens were to be held they must be in enriched - also known as colony - cages instead. The enriched cages provided extra space to nest, scratch and roost and the guidance from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), is that each bird in an enriched cage must have at least 750 square centimetres of space. The minimum for battery cages was 550 square centimetres. (Webmaster's comment: That's a space 9 1/4 by 9 1/4 inches. How can you grow anything healthy in that space?) Despite the banning of battery cages, a number of leading retailers have announced that they are moving towards selling free-range eggs only. But at the Egg and Poultry Industry Conference in October, Mr Gibbens called this a "regrettable move" and said cages "have a lot going for them".
12-1-17 Dogs boost longevity
Any dog owner can tell you a canine companion makes life better. But new research has found a pooch can also make life longer and healthier—particularly if you live alone. Scientists in Sweden examined the health and dog-ownership records of some 3.4 million people between 40 and 80 years old. They found that for those who live alone, owning a dog is associated with a 33 percent lower risk of death and a 36 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease over a 12-year period. The study found that dog ownership was also beneficial for those who didn’t live alone, cutting their overall risk of death by 11 percent, reports CNN.com. The researchers say it’s unclear whether the companionship and emotional support a dog provides alone explains their findings, or whether lifestyle changes associated with owning a dog—including taking Fido out for walks—are also a factor. “There are numerous studies showing that dog owners get more physical activity, which could help to prolong a healthy life,” says senior researcher Tove Fall. It’s also possible that exposure to a dog’s germs, fur, and slobber could also strengthen the immune system.
12-1-17 Hummingbirds have massive hearts to power their hovering flight
Birds that hover in front of flowers have huge hearts to power their energy-intensive flight, and even birds that glide effortlessly need fairly big hearts to keep it up. How well a bird flies depends on how big its heart is. The best flyers, like hummingbirds that dexterously hover in front of flowers, have the largest hearts. But unexpectedly, soaring and gliding turns out to be almost as much work as flapping wings. Previous research had suggested this, because sustained flight requires more aerobic power, which depends on heart size. The heart is like a carburetor pumping fuel into an engine: the bigger the heart, the more blood a bird can pump to its flight muscles. Hummingbirds have the biggest hearts for their body size, about three per cent of their mass. In contrast, a pelican’s heart is just 0.8 per cent of its mass. When a hummingbird hovers in place, air doesn’t move past its wings to generate the lift needed to keep it aloft. Instead, it beats its wings in a figure-of-eight pattern up to 80 times per second to generate its own airflow, much like a helicopter. This is energetically costly, says Roberto Nespolo at the Austral University of Chile in Valdivia. “A helicopter uses a hundred times or more fuel than an airplane of the same size, because all the sustainability given by aerodynamics of wings is paid by the rapid hovering of the rotor.” But most birds don’t fly this way. Some flap their wings up and down to provide thrust, like geese. Others, like eagles and woodpeckers, soar and glide on updrafts of hot air. Finally, some ground-dwelling birds, like pheasants, take occasional “short flights: short strong bursts of flapping flight.
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15 Animal Intelligence News Articles
for December of 2017
Animal Intelligence News Articles for November of 2017