18 Animal Intelligence News Articles
for January of 2018
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1-11-18 18 new species of pelican spiders discovered
Newly described arachnids are itsy-bitsy spider-killing machines native to Madagascar. Despite their name, pelican spiders aren’t massive, fish-eating monstrosities. In fact, the shy spiders in the family Archaeidae are as long as a grain of rice and are a threat only to other spiders. Discovering a new species of these tiny Madagascar spiders is tough, but Hannah Wood has done just that — 18 times over. Wood, an arachnologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., analyzed the genes and anatomy of live and museum pelican spider specimens to find these new species. She describes them in a paper published online January 11 in ZooKeys.
1-11-18 What's the kindest way to kill a lobster?
"Lobster is one of those rare foods that you cook from a live state," the recipe says. "Quickly plunge lobsters head-first into the boiling water... Boil for 15 minutes," the recipe then instructs. It's the tried-and-trusted method for many of us with any experience of cooking lobster - and there are dozens of similar recipes online. But on Wednesday Switzerland banned the practice and ordered that lobsters be stunned before being despatched to our plates to avoid unnecessary suffering in the kitchen. It comes amid growing scientific evidence that lobsters - and other invertebrates, such as crayfish and crabs - are able to feel pain. So what's wrong with the traditional method? And what are the alternatives? Animal welfare scientists define pain as "an aversive sensation and feeling associated with actual or potential tissue damage", explains Jonathan Birch, assistant professor in philosophy at the London School of Economics. Defined like this, experiments suggest crustaceans do feel pain, Dr Birch explains in his article "Crabs and lobsters deserve protection from being cooked alive". In a series of experiments at Queen's University in Belfast, crabs gave up a valuable dark hiding place after repeatedly receiving an electric shock there. "They were willing to give up their hideaway in order to avoid the source of their probable pain," said Prof Robert Elwood, who led the team carrying out the experiments. He told the BBC that numerous experiments showed "rapid avoidance learning, and [crustaceans] giving up highly valuable resources to avoid certain noxious stimuli" - consistent with the idea of pain. (Webmaster's comment: All animals experience pain. Pain is their signal to avoid what is causing the pain. Imagine the suffering of being boiled alive. Lobsters should killed before being cooked.)
1-11-18 Giant bat: Remains of extinct burrowing bat found in New Zealand
The fossilised remains of a giant burrowing bat that lived in New Zealand millions of years ago have been found on the country's South Island. The teeth and bones of the extinct bat were found to be three times the size of an average modern bat. The bat, which weighed around 40g (1.41oz), not only flew but also scurried about on all fours looking for food. The remains were recovered from ancient sediments near the town of St Bathans. A team of international scientists made the discovery over the course of 15 years. Their findings were published in the Scientific Reports journal on Wednesday. The bat has been named Vulcanops jennyworthyae after research team member Jenny Worthy who found the fossils, and Vulcan the mythological Roman god of fire and volcanoes. The study suggested that the large size of the bat's teeth means it had a "different diet" to Australasian bats today. "[Its] specialised teeth and large size suggest it had a different diet, capable of eating even more plant food as well as small vertebrates - more like some of its South American cousins," said study author Professor Sue Hand of the University of New South Wales.
1-11-18 Meet the butterflies from 200 million years ago
Newly discovered fossils show that moths and butterflies have been on the planet for at least 200 million years. Scientists found fossilised butterfly scales the size of a speck of dust inside ancient rock from Germany. The find pushes back the date for the origins of the Lepidoptera, one of the most prized and studied insect groups. Researchers say they can learn more about the conservation of butterflies and moths by studying their early evolution. They used acid to dissolve ancient rocks, leaving behind small fragments, including "perfectly preserved" scales that covered the wings of early moths and butterflies. "We found the microscopic remains of these organisms in the form of these scales," said Dr Bas van de Schootbrugge from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Intriguingly, they show that some of the moths and butterflies belonged to a group still alive today that have long straw-like tongues for sucking up nectar. "These finds push back the evolution of this group with proboscises - with a tongue - by about 70 million years," said Dr van de Schootbrugge. "Our finds show that the group that was supposed to co-evolve with flowers is actually much older." The Jurassic was a world dominated by gymnosperm plants, such as conifers, which produced sugary nectar to capture pollen from the air. The primitive insects may have fed on this nectar, before flowering plants came along around 130 million years ago.
1-10-18 Are animals conscientious?
Human personality theory has long revolved around what we know as the "Big Five" — five dimensions of personality that cover a large swathe of how humans behave across time and contexts. These dimensions are conscientiousness (tendencies to be orderly and rule-abiding), agreeableness (easy to get along with), extraversion (outgoing), neuroticism (tendencies to be anxious, depressed, or hostile), and openness to new experiences (creative and artistic inclinations). It's the consistency in our behavior in different situations that often teases apart why we aren't all alike. Just like physical traits, personality traits meet Charles Darwin's criteria for evolution. First of all, personality traits show variability since the very concept of personality implies that we are all different in specific ways. Second, personality traits are not just influenced by the environment, they are all highly heritable. And finally, in many cases, certain traits make some individuals more likely to reproduce and pass on their genes than others, demonstrating clear fitness benefits. Because human personality evolved, we should expect to find traces of it in other species. But our understanding of animal personality was stalled for years by both the fear of anthropomorphism among animal scientists, and a lack of consensus on how to describe it. Animal personality is sometimes referred to as "temperament," "coping styles," or "behavioral syndromes" (which always struck me as sounding like more of an illness than a way of being). Often, animals are described simply in terms of their levels of boldness and aggressiveness. More recently, however, scientists have started using the Big Five as a framework for the examination of animal personality. (Webmaster's comment: Many animals express all the personality characteristic of humans. Many are self-aware, solve complex problems, make tools, have different personalities, and reward and punish each other for good and bad behaviors by their social standards of behavior!)
1-10-18 A marine biologist says a humpback whale saved her from a shark
Marine biologist Nan Hauser says a 50,000lb (22,700kg) humpback whale protected her from a tiger shark during a recent research expedition in the Cook Islands. She believes it could be the first case on record of a humpback protecting a human.
1-10-18 Smell of death tells undertaker bees it’s time to remove corpses
Undertaker honeybees get rid of the bodies of dead nestmates, but only those with a good sense of smell are able to do it. BRING out your dead! Honeybees pick up dead or diseased nestmates and drag them out of the hive. Removing corpses protects against infection, which can spread like wildfire in densely packed hives. “The honeybees work together to fight off disease,” says Alison McAfee at the University of British Columbia, Canada. But not all hives remove their corpses. McAfee and her colleagues have been figuring out why this is. In a 2017 study, they discovered two pheromones, called oleic acid and beta-ocimene, which are only released by dead bee larvae. When they wafted these “death pheromones” over honeybees, nerve cells in the antennae of corpse-removing bees were more active than those of other bees. This suggested that corpse-removing bees were better able to smell the pheromones. Now the team has added the pheromones to healthy larvae. As expected, worker bees removed dosed individuals from the nest, and bees from corpse-removing colonies removed more larvae than those from other nests (bioRxiv, doi.org/ch36). The corpse-removing bees’ ability to smell death could be down to two proteins on their antennae, OBP16 and OBP18. These are largely absent from bees that don’t remove corpses. “These proteins grab onto the odour molecules, transport them to the neurons and stimulate them, leading to a sense of smell,” says McAfee.
1-9-18 Why some birds of paradise have ultrablack feathers
Tilt in spiky microstructures generates the birds’ exceedingly dark coloring. Some birds of paradise really know how to work their angles. Tilted, microscopic filaments in some of the showy birds’ black feathers make that plumage look much darker than traditional black feathers, researchers report online January 9 in Nature Communications. Dakota McCoy, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, and colleagues measured how much light each type of black feather absorbs. Superblack feathers absorb up to 99.95 percent of light that shines directly on them, while traditional black feathers absorb up to 96.8 percent, the researchers found. Using scanning electron microscopy and nano-CT scanning, the team observed that ultrablack feathers have ragged, spike-studded barbules that curve upward at a roughly 30-degree angle to the tip, creating an array of deep, curved cavities. Traditional black feathers are smoother and lack such detailed microstructures. These spikes and pits scatter light multiple times, allowing for more light absorption and darker plumage, the scientists say. Even when the researchers dusted the feathers with gold, the darkest ones still retained their blackness, while traditional black plumes looked gilded in SEM images.
1-9-18 Invasive toxic pufferfish causes havoc in European waters
A pufferfish that carries the lethal poison tetrodotoxin has entered Europe's seas, and local species are increasingly becoming poisonous as well. AN INVASIVE pufferfish is causing havoc for Mediterranean fishers, and the toxin it carries is turning up in native shellfish. The silver-cheeked toadfish (Lagocephalus sceleratus, pictured) is native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It has thrived in the Mediterranean since arriving this century, apparently via the Suez Canal. It is a pufferfish, the group eaten as the delicacy fugu in Japan. Some of its organs contain tetrodotoxin, a lethal poison. But so far its toxicity isn’t the main problem. Instead, the fish bite through fishing nets that cost thousands of pounds to get at the catch inside. “We showed the fishermen photos of fish and we asked which one do you come across, and they identified [the pufferfish],” says Vahdet Ünal at Ege University in Turkey. “Then we asked how much damage this species causes to their fishing gear.” Ünal has repeatedly surveyed hundreds of Turkish fishers. From 2011 to 2013, the losses reported by small-scale fisheries more than doubled, from about €2 million to €5 million. His latest unpublished data offers no respite. “The problem is increasing,” he says.
1-9-18 Paraguay lagoon sees giant lily pads return
Giant lily pads have reappeared in a Paraguay lagoon after being listed as endangered in 2006. The aquatic plants, their scientific name is Victoria cruziana, appeared in a tributary of the Paraguay river 25km north of Asunción, the capital. The environment ministry told the Associated Press that the plant had slowly disappeared due to dredging and visitors collecting the plants. Water lilies in the area are known for their 1.5m size, and exceptional shape. Their return has drawn a mass of tourists to Piquete Cue in central Paraguay, where they take pictures and pay for boat rides to see the lilies up close. Agustin Gomez, a tourist, was stunned by their size. "This is something that you just don't see every day, or even every year. You do see lily pads all the time but not so many. And not so enormous! Some are two meters wide," he said. Locals use the aquatic plant to make a medicinal tea that they believe can help combat asthma and bronchial disorders, but the authorities have warned that those who try to harvest it could be fined.
1-5-18 Arsonist falcons suggest birds discovered fire before humans did
Multiple eyewitness accounts describe Australian birds of prey deliberately setting wildfires by carrying burning sticks, in order to flush out prey. Some birds of prey have learned to control fire, a skill previously thought to be unique to humans. The birds appear to deliberately spread wildfires in order to flush out prey. The finding suggests that birds may have beaten us to the use of fire. There are many anecdotes about Australian birds of prey using fire, according to ornithologist Bob Gosford at the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Most come from Aboriginal rangers who manage natural fires in the north Australian tropical savannah, which straddles Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The three species mentioned are black kites (Milvus migrans), whistling kites (Haliastur sphenurus) and brown falcons (Falco berigora). The claim is that the birds pick up burning twigs from existing fires and drop them elsewhere to start new blazes. This would flush out prey hidden in the brush. In effect, the birds are using the burning twigs as tools. At least, that’s the idea. In 2016, Gosford’s claims got worldwide press coverage, but biologists reacted sceptically to the idea of birds deliberately starting fires. Now Gosford and his colleagues have gathered 20 new eyewitness accounts of birds starting fires on purpose. The most dramatic evidence comes from Dick Eussen, a photojournalist and former firefighter who is a co-author on the paper. He recounts fighting and controlling a blaze at the Ranger Uranium Mine near Kakadu, Northern Territory, in the 1980s, only to discover a new one on the other side of the road. As he tried to extinguish that fire, he noticed a whistling kite 20 metres away. The bird was carrying a smoking stick, which it dropped, creating another spot conflagration. In all, Eussen extinguished seven new blazes started by the kites. Similarly, in September 2012, Eussen passed a roadside fire in Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. He spotted a black kite starting a fire on the other side of the road by dropping a flaming stick.
1-5-18 ‘Laid-back’ bonobos take a shine to belligerents
Cozying up to unhelpful peers, not cooperators, may motivate these apes. Despite a reputation as mellow apes, bonobos have a thing for bad guys. Rather than latching on to individuals with a track record of helpfulness, adult bonobos favor obstructionists who keep others from getting what they want. The result may help explain what differentiates humans’ cooperative skills from those of other apes, biological anthropologists Christopher Krupenye of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and Brian Hare of Duke University report online January 4 in Current Biology. Previous investigations indicate that, by 3 months old, humans do the opposite of bonobos, choosing to align more frequently with helpers than hinderers. Humans, unlike other apes, have evolved to seek cooperative partnerships that make large-scale collaborations possible (SN: 10/28/17, p. 7), Krupenye and Hare propose.
1-5-18 How besieged ants decide when it’s time to abandon their nests
Colonies of turtle ants are often attacked by competing species, and the ants understand enough military strategy to decide when certain nests should be abandoned. Colonies of turtle ants behave as if they are playing a game of Risk. They spread out their forces to control more resources, but also retreat if their position is not defensible. “They’re sensitive to changes in the environment. They can change the allocation of their defenses in response to that,” says Matina Donaldson-Matasci at Harvey Mudd College in California. Cephalotes rohweri is a species of turtle ant that lives in trees in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and Arizona. Each colony can hold a few hundred ants, spread out over several nests in tree cavities. The nests are defended by soldiers, which are bigger than workers and have bumpy heads that they use to block the nest entrance. But there aren’t always enough soldiers to go around. So Donaldson-Matasci and her colleagues wanted to see how the ants allocate their soldiers. They tracked wild nests and found that larger nests were less likely to survive, though they lasted a little longer if they had more soldiers.
1-5-18 Rhino poaching: The strange figures behind a secret trade
Between 2007-14, rhino poaching rose 9000%. The very existence of the species is threatened by organised crime. Rhino horn is a substance more valuable than cocaine, heroin or gold. Its trade is a complex smuggling racket that is almost impossible to police because it crosses so many borders and involves countless criminals.
1-4-18 ‘Thrill-seeking’ genes could help birds escape climate change
Some birds may escape extinction if their genes favour exploring newer, more hospitable habitats. Study of yellow warblers across North America suggests birds may be better able to adapt to global warming if their genes favour exploring newer, more hospitable habitats. Should I stay or should I go? That’s the question facing all wildlife when climate change makes home territory unsuitable. A study has now found that having variants of two novelty-seeking genes might help some warblers survive by making lifesaving migration more attractive to them than to peers who risk local extinction by staying put. Both genes, called DRD4 and DEAF1, have already been linked with novelty-seeking in people, fish and other birds. After screening DNA from 229 yellow warblers in 21 diverse populations spread throughout North America, researchers led by Rachael Bay of the University of California at Los Angeles identified the pair of genes as having the strongest effect on survival. The variants, identified through a DNA-marker on chromosome 5, were least common in declining populations already threatened by climate change, such as the drought-ravaged Rocky Mountains in the western US. “If their finding stands up that there are two specific genes associated with migration and novelty-seeking behaviour, it will be a big step forward in understanding adaption to climate change,” comments Marcel Visser of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
1-3-18 Robot fish shows how the deepest vertebrate in the sea takes the pressure
Goo inside this snailfish keeps its flimsy body from being squashed. It’s like having “an elephant stand on your thumb.” That’s how deep-sea physiologist and ecologist Mackenzie Gerringer describes the pressure squeezing down on the deepest known living fish, some 8 kilometers down. What may help these small, pale Mariana snailfish survive elephantine squashing, says Gerringer of the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs, is a body bulked up, especially at the rump, with a watery goo. The snailfish family gets its nickname from the way some shallow-water species in thundering tides grip a rock with a little suction cup on the belly and curl up. “Quite cute,” Gerringer says, and maybe, if you squint, somewhat like a snail. She and colleagues discovered the deepest fish in 2014 in the western Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench and described the newly named Psuedoliparis swirei November 28 in Zootaxa. To catch specimens, Gerringer and colleagues turned to extreme trapping. They weighted a boxy, mesh-sided trap with steel plates to sink it. It took about four hours to fall to the bottom.
1-1-18 China's ban on ivory trade comes into force
China has long been one of the world's biggest markets for ivory, but as of 2018 all trade in ivory and ivory products in the country is illegal. The move is being hailed as a major development in efforts to protect the world's elephant population. Wildlife campaigners believe 30,000 African elephants are killed by poachers every year. State media said there had already been a 65% decline in the price of raw ivory over the past year. There had also been an 80% decline in seizures of ivory entering China, said Xinhua. The ban was announced last year and came into effect on Sunday, the last day of 2017. Sixty-seven official factories and shops dealing in ivory had already been closed by March 2017, said Xinhua, and the remaining 105 were to have shut down by Sunday. "From now on, if a merchant tells you 'this is a state-approved ivory dealer'... he is duping you and knowingly violating the law," the forestry ministry said on its Weibo microblog. Xinhua said "one of the largest ever public awareness campaigns" had been carried out in the run-up to the ban, with support from celebrities including superstar basketball player Yao Ming. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) said it was "delighted to see the doors of the world's largest ivory market close". "This is a significant step that should prove to be a huge boost to elephant protection efforts in Africa," said WWF's Africa director Fred Kumah in a blog post.
1-1-18 How bats could unlock the future of self-driving cars
Scientists are studying echolocation to improve automotive technology. Venture near a cave at night, and you may glimpse a phenomenon that still stymies scientists: Thousands of bats streaming out of the cave at high speeds, using echolocation to avoid in-air collisions. "All we know about science, physics, biology says that [bats are] doing an impossible task by echolocating in these large groups," says Laura Kloepper, an assistant professor of biology at Saint Mary's College in Indiana. "What we know about how echolocation works is that when they're in these groups, the signals from each bat should be interfering with each other." In a swarm, the bats "should be jamming their sonar and colliding and falling to the ground," she adds. "But despite what we think is impossible, the bats are doing this — and they've been doing it this way for millions of years, so that just means we're missing part of the equation." Figuring out how bats use their biological sonar to move through swarms could someday help us engineer safer self-driving cars, for example, or improve other sonar and radar devices. But to get there, Kloepper says scientists need to better understand what it's like to be a bat. And doing that takes diving right into the swarm, using some very creative methods. "Now, I can't put on my Batman costume and fly into the swarm of the bats," Kloepper says. But her team does put recorders on a zip line and send them through the bat swarm. They also use drones to record the bats — and even a hand-raised hawk named Belle, who flies through the swarm wearing a custom-built microphone and video system.
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18 Animal Intelligence News Articles
for January of 2018
Animal Intelligence News Articles for December of 2017