22 Intelligence & Zoology News Articles
for August of 2018
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8-14-18 Palm oil: A new threat to Africa's monkeys and apes?
Endangered monkeys and apes could face new risks if Africa becomes a big player in the palm oil industry. Most areas suitable for growing the oil crop are key habitats for primates, a study suggests. The researchers, who are examining palm oil's possible effect on Africa's biodiversity, say consumers can help by choosing sustainably-grown palm oil. This may mean paying more for food, cosmetics and cleaning products that contain the oil, or limiting their use. "If we are concerned about the environment, we have to pay for it," said Serge Wich, professor of primate biology at Liverpool John Moores University, and leader of the study. "In the products that we buy, the cost to the environment has to be incorporated." Palm oil comes from the oil palm tree, which is native to West Africa. However, most palm oil is currently grown in Indonesia and Malaysia. Environmentalists say the region's forests have paid the price, with native trees cut down to make way for palm trees. Oil palm expansion is a major driver of deforestation, which in turn threatens wildlife, such as the critically endangered orangutan of Borneo.
8-13-18 Orca who carried her dead infant is not alone – many animals grieve
A female orca has been seen carrying the body of her dead calf for 17 days, apparently grieving. Such displays of grief are remarkably common in nature. Over the last few weeks, many people have been deeply moved by the story of a female orca who spent over a fortnight swimming with the dead body of her calf, apparently grieving. The story is a dramatic illustration of something that has become increasingly clear in recent years: many animals grieve for their dead. The orca is called Tahlequah and belongs to a pod known as J, which roams the north-east Pacific Ocean. Her baby died shortly after it was born on 24 July, according to the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington. Tahlequah proceeded to carry the body for at least 17 days, during which time she covered 1600 kilometres. On Saturday 11 August, the Center reported that she was no longer carrying the body. Instead she joined her fellow pod members in chasing a school of salmon, and seemed “remarkably frisky”. Among certain kinds of animal, such grieving behaviours appear to be quite common. Grief seems to be most common in highly social animals that live in tight-knit groups. This makes sense: social animals would come to value their friends and family, and accordingly would feel a loss when they die. In contrast, animals that live solitary lives and do not care for their offspring would have nobody to grieve.
8-13-18 In the animal kingdom, what does it mean to be promiscuous?
There’s little consensus over the use of the word in scientific studies, an analysis shows. When it comes to the sex lives of animals, scientists have a slate of explicit terms to describe the proclivities of species. But researchers may be playing a little fast and loose with one of those words. Just what sort of activity qualifies an animal as promiscuous? A review of almost 350 studies published in scientific journals in 2015 and 2016 found that the label was being applied to a surprisingly wide range of mating behaviors in animals, including humans. “This idea of promiscuity seems to mean different things to different people,” says Sarah Jane Alger, a behavioral neurobiologist at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. Promiscuity was referenced in about half of the studies, says Alger, a coauthor on the study presented August 3 at the annual Animal Behavior Society conference. She and colleagues found that the term was used to describe everything from rats that mate multiple times with any rat of the opposite sex they encounter, to kingbirds that pair up for several years and share parental duties but also mate with other birds, to some populations of lagoon triggerfish that don’t encounter enough potential mates to be choosy. Lumping all of these disparate scenarios under one term “misses the potential to explore some really interesting and complicated patterns in animal mating systems,” says behavioral ecologist Brent Burt of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. (Webmaster's comment: Applying human morality terms to animals is rediculous!)
8-12-18 Killer whale mother finally lets dead newborn calf go, after 17 days
A killer whale has stopped carrying her dead newborn calf after at least 17 days, during which she covered 1,000 miles (1,600km), scientists say. The whale "vigorously chased a school of salmon with her pod-mates in Haro Strait" off Canada's Vancouver Island, the Center for Whale Research said. "Her tour of grief is now over and her behaviour is remarkably frisky." Killer whales have been known to carry dead calves for a week, but scientists believe this mother "sets a record". The mother whale - known as J35 - has captivated the world's attention in the past few days. "Telephoto digital images taken from shore show that this mother whale appears to be in good physical condition," CWR said in a statement on Saturday. "The carcass has probably sunk to the bottom of these inland marine waters of the Salish Sea [between Canada and the US], and researchers may not get a chance to examine it for necropsy (autopsy of an animal)." The mother whale was first spotted carrying her dead calf on 24 July, off the shore of Vancouver Island.
8-11-18 French theme park deploys crows to collect litter
A theme park in France is set to deploy six "intelligent" crows to pick up rubbish and spruce up the grounds. The birds at the Puy du Fou theme park in the west of the country have been taught to collect cigarette ends and other small bits of rubbish. They then deposit the litter into a small box which will deliver some bird food as a reward for their hard work. The first crow cleaners have already been put to work, with the rest set to join them on Monday. Nicolas de Villiers, the head of the park, told AFP news agency that it was not just about keeping the area clean. "The goal is not just to clear up, because the visitors are generally careful to keep things clean". It was also about showing "that nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment". He added that the rooks, which are a member of the crow family that also includes ravens and jackdaws, are "particularly intelligent" and "like to communicate with humans and establish a relationship through play". This is not the first time crows have displayed their intelligence. Earlier this year, scientists created a vending machine that showed the bird's ability to solve problems. The machine required a particular size of paper token to release a treat. Scientists found that the crows could remember the right size of paper, and they even trimmed bigger pieces until they could fit into the machine.
8-10-18 Coral reefs 'weathered dinosaur extinction'
Corals may have teamed up with the microscopic algae which live inside them as much as 160 million years ago, according to new research. The two organisms have a symbiotic relationship, meaning they need each other to survive. But this partnership was previously thought to have developed about 60 million years ago. The new findings suggest that reef algae may have weathered significant environmental changes over time. This includes the mass extinction that wiped out most of the dinosaurs. Algae's resilience to temperature changes has been of concern to scientists recently, as warming events on the Great Barrier Reef have seen the coral "bleached" of its algae. The study, conducted by an international team of scientists, aimed to explore the diversity of algae species co-habiting with corals. Looking at the species group Symbiodinium, the researchers found that it contained more varieties than previously thought. Although scientists had been aware of the algae's diversity, it had not been classified into many separate species - which now appears to be the case. Using DNA analysis, the team found that these algae likely evolved and began their partnership with coral during the Middle Jurassic, well before the extinction event that affected the dinosaurs. "Our recognition of the true origin of those microbes that give corals life is major revelation," lead author Prof Todd LaJeunesse told BBC News. "They are way older than was previously estimated. Meaning that [this partnership has] been around for a hell of a long time!" added the Pennsylvania State University researcher.
8-10-18 Gluten-free dogs? Pets deserve better than this evidence-free fad
Animal owners are increasingly falling for potentially risky fad pet diets or homeopathic alternatives to vaccines, warn vets Danny Chambers and Zoe Belshaw. Despite overwhelming evidence of vaccines’ efficacy and safety, the anti-vaccine lobby is growing. Raw and grain-free diets with unproven health claims are also gaining popularity. Proponents of homeopathy continue to argue that the power of their treatments cannot be validated using traditional scientific methods. Familiar territory, you may think. But we’re not talking about human healthcare. This is pet dogs and cats. Recently, the aggressive promotion of alternative therapies for animal diseases has become widespread. Closed Facebook groups, some with tens of thousands of members, discuss their mistrust of vets and the pharmaceutical industry, urging the use of “safer” options such as homeopathy, reiki, Chinese medicine and chiropractic interventions. In some groups, pet psychics even offer direct therapy via Facebook Messenger. Such is the level of suspicion about animal vaccines, that the British Veterinary Association put out a statement this year to dispel the myth that they are linked to autism in dogs. The most recent manifestation of such distrust is a backlash against supposedly dangerous ingredients in commercially available dog and cat diets. Hence these groups advising members to feed their pets raw meat-based, grain-free, organic, or even vegan diets, echoing human food fads such as gluten-free. For cats, a meat-free diet is lethal if not supplemented with specific amino acids.
8-10-18 What ‘The Meg’ gets wrong — and right — about megalodon sharks
A paleobiologist helps Science News separate fact from fiction in the film. OK, so what if a giant prehistoric shark, thought to be extinct for about 2.5 million years, is actually still lurking in the depths of the ocean? That’s the premise of the new flick The Meg, which opens August 10 and pits massive Carcharocles megalodon against a grizzled and fearless deep-sea rescue diver, played by Jason Statham, and a handful of resourceful scientists. The protagonists discover the sharks in a deep oceanic trench about 300 kilometers off the coast of China — a trench, the film suggests, that extends down more than 11,000 meters below the ocean surface. (That depth makes it even deeper than the Mariana Trench’s Challenger Deep, the actual deepest known point in the ocean). Hydrothermal vents down in the trench supposedly keep those dark waters warm enough to support an ecosystem teeming with life. And — spoiler alert! — of course, the scientists’ investigation inadvertently helps megalodons escape from the depths. The giant living fossils head to the surface, where they terrorize shark fishermen and beachgoers a la Jaws. But could a population of megalodons actually have survived down there? To explore what is and isn’t possible and what we still don’t know about sharks, Science News went to the movies with paleobiologist Meghan Balk of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who studies the ancient predators.
8-10-18 The Meg: real Megalodon shark would eat Jason Statham for breakfast
Jason Statham’s new film The Meg looks gloriously silly and good luck to it, but it got us thinking about what its giant prehistoric shark was really like and why it died out. This week you can go to the cinema and see Jason Statham take on a giant prehistoric shark. The Meg sees the action star face off against a Megalodon, a long-extinct shark far larger than today’s great whites. The film looks gloriously silly and is expected to do well at the box office, partly because it seems to have embraced the inherent daftness of its premise. Unlike Jaws, which featured a living species of shark – albeit with an uncharacteristic taste for human flesh, rather than seal – The Meg is the Jurassic World of shark movies. That’s a good thing. Unlike Jaws, The Meg is unlikely to scare anyone out of the water or encourage a “kill them all” attitude towards sharks – many of which are threatened species in need of protection. For an extinct creature, Megalodon gets a lot of press, which gives the impression we know a lot about it. We don’t, says palaeontologist Darren Naish of the University of Southampton, UK. Pretty much all we have is teeth, which are startlingly big. “The record is 16.8 centimetres from base to tip,” says Naish. Otherwise, their bodies have not been preserved. Being sharks, their skeleton was made of cartilage rather than bone, which doesn’t fossilise. There are a few vertebrae, which were bonier than the rest of the skeleton, but that’s all.
8-9-18 A ghost gene leaves ocean mammals vulnerable to some pesticides
Manatees, for example, don't produce a protein that breaks down organophosphates. A gene that helps mammals break down certain toxic chemicals appears to be faulty in marine mammals — potentially leaving manatees, dolphins and other warm-blooded water dwellers more sensitive to dangerous pesticides. The gene, PON1, carries instructions for making a protein that interacts with fatty acids ingested with food. But that protein has taken on another role in recent decades: breaking down toxic chemicals found in a popular class of pesticides called organophosphates. As the chemicals drain from agricultural fields, they can poison waterways and coastal areas and harm wildlife, says Wynn Meyer, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Pittsburgh. An inspection of the genetic instructions of 53 land mammal species found the gene intact. But in six marine mammal species, PON1 was riddled with mutations that made it useless, Meyer and colleagues report in the Aug. 10 Science. The gene became defunct about 64 million to 21 million years ago, possibly due to dietary or behavioral changes related to marine mammal ancestors’ move from land to sea, the researchers say.
8-7-18 New Scientist Live: dogs and people, a 40,000-year love story
In London this September, Juliane Kaminski will be arguing that dogs have spent so long living alongside humans that they have evolved to think just like us. Man’s best friend is also our oldest friend – DNA suggests that dogs split from wolves 40,000 years ago, and this may have happened multiple times. But it’s only recently that researchers have begun to investigate dogs as a man-made species, uncovering what makes our relationship with them so special. Juliane Kaminski, of the University of Portsmouth, UK, will be arguing at New Scientist Live this September that dogs have spent so long living alongside people that they have evolved to think just like us. The relationship between our species is so close that dogs can see, hear and even smell our emotions, and then adopt them as their own. They are good judges of character, too, preferring people who help others over those who don’t cooperate. And they have been discovered to resort to deception to get treats from unreliable humans. The dog brain processes language in the same way as ours, and dogs can tell when we’re using positive words and encouraging intonation to praise them. Dogs are often better than our closest primate relatives at understanding human gestures, and they know exactly when to make puppy eyes at people.
8-6-18 The first detailed map of red foxes’ DNA may reveal domestication secrets
For nearly 60 years, scientists in Russia have bred tame and aggressive Vulpes vulpes. For nearly 60 years, scientists in Siberia have bred silver foxes in an attempt to replay how domestication occurred thousands of years ago. Now, in a first, researchers have compiled the genetic instruction book, or genome, of Vulpes vulpes, the red fox species that includes the silver-coated variant. This long-awaited study of the foxes’ DNA may reveal genetic changes that drove domestication of animals such as cats and dogs, the team reports online August 6 in Nature Ecology & Evolution. At the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk, Russia, researchers bred one group of foxes for ever-tamer behavior, while another group was bred for increasing aggressiveness toward humans (SN: 5/13/17, p. 29). Rif, the male silver fox whose DNA serves as the example, or reference, genome for all members of the species, was the son of an aggressive vixen and a tame male. Geneticist Anna Kukekova of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and colleagues also conducted less-detailed examinations of 30 foxes’ DNA: 10 foxes each from the tame and aggressive groups and 10 animals from a “conventional” group that hadn’t been bred for either friendliness or aggression. Those genomes are an invaluable resource for researchers studying domestication, behavioral and population genetics and even human disorders such as autism and mental illness, says Ben Sacks, a canid evolutionary geneticist at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. “It makes all kinds of research possible that weren’t before,” he says.
8-6-18 This killifish can go from egg to sex in two weeks
Unpredictable and rapidly vanishing rain-puddle nurseries dictate this need for speed. A fish that lives in rain puddles has beaten its own record for the fastest known sexual maturity among vertebrates. Turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri) that hatch after unpredictable deluges in Mozambique can go from hatchling to ready-to-breed adult in 14 days, researchers announce August 6 in Current Biology. Killifish in cushy lab conditions had already grown up faster than other vertebrates, developing fully in 18 days. Some other vertebrates come close, but they take shortcuts, says coauthor Martin Reichard, an evolutionary ecologist at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Brno. House mice, for instance, sometimes grow up in 23 to 30 days. Yet they’re born at a more advanced stage of development than the hatchling fish, Reichard says, and get a boost from mouse milk. And a kind of goby fish “matures” in 23 days by just growing a gonad on a larval body. Tramping around the killifish’s natural savannah habitat showed that these fish manage a more impressive feat. Hatchlings can grow from just 5 millimeters up to 54 millimeters with functional gonads in just two weeks. When puddles dry, fertilized eggs can stay alive without hatching for months until it rains again. These fish “do not waste time with anything,” Reichard says. “Mating does not involve much elaborate courtship.” A male briefly extends his fins, and if he’s accepted, the female lays one egg before swimming off to find another mate. She manages 20 to 100 eggs a day, “typically before noon,” he says.
8-4-18 US wildlife refuges end ban on neonics and GM crops
The Trump administration has overturned bans on the use of pesticides linked to declining bee populations and the cultivation of genetically modified crops in US national wildlife refuges. The move, reversing a policy adopted in 2014, has attracted heavy criticism from environmentalists. It was announced in a memo by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Limited agricultural activity is allowed on some national wildlife refuges. The Fish and Wildlife Service's deputy director, Greg Sheehan, said in the memo that the blanket ban on neonicotinoid pesticides and GM crops on refuges would end, with decisions about their use being made on a case-by-case basis. He said genetically modified organisms helped "maximise production", and that neonics might be required "to fulfil needed farming practices". Mr Sheehan added that the move on GM crops would improve the supply of food for migratory birds including ducks and geese, which are shot by hunters on many of the nation's refuges. The memo names more than 50 national wildlife refuges where the new policy now applies, covering about 150 million acres across the US. (Webmaster's comment: Given time Trump will destroy all protection of the environment and wildlife in favor of profits for corporate executives.)
8-3-18 Small dogs urinate higher up lamp posts to make themselves seem bigger
It seems when smaller dogs urinate on objects they might be using this opportunity to deceive, by making it look like their mark was left by a bigger dog. Call it small dog syndrome. It seems when smaller dogs urinate on objects on their walks they might be using this opportunity to deceive, by aiming higher to give the impression that their mark was made by a much bigger animal. When male dogs spray urine, they are “scent marking”: laying down an odour-based message to other dogs that communicates health, sex, and age. In this way, scent marking is considered an “honest signal,” relaying accurate information to potential competitors and mates about the animal’s attributes. But when Betty McGuire at Cornell University looked at how body size influenced scent marking, she and her team noticed a curious pattern. Small dogs urinated more frequently than larger dogs, and they were more likely to urinate towards vertically-oriented targets. “Small males seemed to make an extra effort to raise their leg high—some small males would almost topple over”, says McGuire. “So, we wondered whether small males try to exaggerate their body size by leaving high urine marks.”
8-2-18 A bird's eye view: Songbirds perceive colour like humans
Faced with a glorious spectrum of colour, songbirds, just like humans, look for the big picture. They can lump nearby hues in the colour spectrum into categories, such as shades that are generally red, or generally orange. A study now shows that this affects their ability to distinguish between certain colours. The findings, by a team from Duke University in North Carolina, are published in the journal Nature. Female songbirds were rewarded with food if they flipped over a circular disc of two colours. The two-colour discs had different pairs of colours selected from an orange-to-red spectrum. This mirrors the colour range found in the male songbird beak. One idea was that the birds would be able to pick up on all detectable differences in colour across the spectrum. But instead, the birds do something known as "categorical perception". This means that they respond more if the difference in colour between the two halves of the disc is between distinct colour categories, so that one is distinctly orange and the other distinctly red. However, shades that were close to one another on the spectrum did not get such an obvious reaction. It happens in primates, including humans, but this is the first time that another animal has been shown to exhibit categorical perception of colour.
8-2-18 Lemur extinction: Vast majority of species under threat
Almost every species of lemur, wide-eyed primates unique to Madagascar, is under threat of extinction. That is the conclusion of an international group of conservationists, who carried out an assessment of the animals' status. This "Primate Specialist Group" reviewed and compared the latest research into lemur populations and the threats to their habitat and survival. Lemurs, they concluded, are the most endangered primates in the world. In a statement, Russ Mittermeier, from the charity Global Wildlife Conservation, who is chair of the Primate Specialist Group which delivered the alarming conclusions, said that it highlighted the "very high extinction risk to Madagascar's unique lemurs" and was "indicative of the grave threats to Madagascar biodiversity as a whole". "Madagascar's unique and wonderful species are its greatest asset," he added. The animals face a variety of threats, primarily the destruction of their tropical forest habitat, from so-called slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging, charcoal production and mining. The hunting of lemurs for food, and their live capture for the pet trade has also emerged as a serious threat to their survival. Specialist Group. He told the BBC: "More and more, we are seeing unsustainable levels of lemur poaching. "We see commercial hunting as well - probably for local restaurants. And this is a new phenomenon for Madagascar - we didn't see it at this scale 15 years ago." There are 111 known species and subspecies of lemur, all endemic to Madagascar, and this group concluded that 105 of those were under threat.
8-2-18 Modified mosquitoes wipe out whole city’s dengue for the first time
Anti-dengue mosquitoes have eliminated the virus from Townsville, Australia - the first successful large-scale use of modified mosquitoes to wipe out disease. Dengue virus has effectively been wiped out in Townsville, Australia, following the release of anti-dengue mosquitoes in 2014. The Queensland city has recorded zero cases of locally-transmitted dengue in the four years since the modified mosquitoes were released, compared to 54 cases in the previous four years. The trial represents the first successful use of modified mosquitoes to eliminate a mosquito-borne virus across a whole city. Scott O’Neill at Monash University and his colleagues infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with naturally-occurring Wolbachia bacteria, which hamper the mosquitoes from transmitting the dengue virus. They released 4 million of the infected mosquitoes across Townsville over a two-year period. Once the infected mosquitoes were released, they bred with wild mosquitoes and passed on the Wolbachia bacteria, so that these became protected against dengue too, says O’Neill. The global incidence of dengue infections has increased 30-fold in the last 50 years, and 390 million people now contract the virus each year, leading to 25,000 deaths.
8-1-18 With one island’s losses, the king penguin species shrinks by a third
It’s unclear what has happened to what was the largest of king penguin colonies in the 1980s. What was once the king of the king penguin colonies has lost 85 percent or more of its big showy birds since the 1980s, a drop perhaps big enough to shrink the whole species population by a third. In its glory days, an island called Île aux Cochons in the southern Indian Ocean ranked as the largest colony of king penguins. Satellite data suggest numbers peaked at around 500,000 breeding pairs amidst a total of 2 million birds in the 1980s, says seabird specialist Henri Weimerskirch based at University of La Rochelle with CNRS, the French national research service. A 2015 satellite analysis and a 2016 helicopter survey, however, respectively showed only 77,000 and 51,000 breeding pairs on the island, Weimerskirch and colleagues report in the August Antarctic Science. The International Union for Conservation of Nature ranks king penguins in the category of least concern for risk of extinction. That may change, Weimerskirch says, “since the species has lost nearly one third of its population.” The second tallest penguins after the emperors, Aptendodytes patagonicus can densely pack themselves into the breeding space with about two per square meter. The panorama of so many birds once was “breathtaking,” Weimerskirch says, with underlying ridges in the terrain creating the illusion of waves in a sea of penguins.
8-1-18 Jellyfish sting dozens as Germany and Sweden battle plague
Ninety people at a single beach in Germany were treated for jellyfish stings in just three days, amid a surge of the creatures in European waters. Regional newspaper Ostsee Zeitung said "tens of thousands" of lion's mane jellyfish washed ashore at the weekend. The lion's mane is the largest jellyfish species, and while its sting is rarely fatal it often requires medical attention. One of the 90 people affected had a severe allergic reaction. Jellyfish numbers have dropped since the weekend peak, but the relief may only be temporary. Germany's lifeguard association said only a few specimens had been counted on Tuesday. But jellyfish tend to drift on currents, meaning water temperatures or a change in the wind could wash them ashore in droves again. Sudden plagues of jellyfish have been spotted across Europe in recent weeks. Sweden's west coast has suddenly found itself home to the clinging jellyfish - a species that Swedish broadcaster SVT said had not been seen there in 88 years. The tiny creatures are barely a few centimetres in diameter, and were only discovered when a marine biologist investigated reports of bathers being stung in the waters off Tjörn.
8-1-18 Trial to test if GM fed salmon are more nutritious
Researchers in the Highlands of Scotland are giving farmed salmon feed made from genetically modified crops. The aim of the scientific trial is to increase the nutritional value of the fish. The feed is rich in healthy fish oils, which the team hope will be absorbed by the salmon. Critics argue that GM technology is "propping up" an unsustainable system of industrial food production. Tests have shown that levels of an oil called omega-3 have decreased by half in farmed salmon in the past 10 years. It is what makes the fish so healthy. The oil is thought to be involved in brain development and reduces the risk of heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. Even at current levels, farmed salmon is still a rich source of omega-3 - but levels are continuing to fall. The salmon get their omega-3 from eating other oily fish, such as anchovies, that have been ground up and added to pellets that are sprayed into their pens. But there's a limited supply of anchovies and a growing demand for the salmon. So that means that all across the world there's less oily fish to go round to make food for salmon. (Webmaster's comment: Wild caught salmon have a deepeer color and are much tastier than farm raised salmon. I am willing to bet they are much more nutritional and much better for you to eat too!)
8-1-18 Dengue fever outbreak stopped by special mosquitoes
Australian researchers say for the first time an entire city has been protected from viral disease dengue. Captive-bred mosquitoes with a naturally occurring bacteria were released in the city of Townsville, where they mated with local mosquitoes. By spreading the bacteria Wolbachia, which hinders dengue transmission, the city has been dengue-free since 2014. Researchers from Monash University also believe their work could stop mosquito-borne diseases Zika and malaria. "Nothing we've got is slowing these diseases down - they are getting worse," said Scott O'Neill, director of the World Mosquito Program, quoted by the Guardian. "I think we've got something here that's going to have a significant impact and I think this study is the first indication that it's looking very promising." Over four monsoon seasons, researchers released the Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes across 66km sq (25 sq miles) in the Queensland tropical town of 187,000 people. The community embraced the project, with even school children releasing the special mosquitoes that passed on their bacteria to the local population of mosquitoes. "At a cost of around A$15 (£8.50) per person, the Townsville trial demonstrates the approach can be rolled out quickly, efficiently and cost effectively to help provide communities ongoing protection from mosquito-borne diseases," Professor O'Neill said. The programme is currently working in 11 countries and aims to deploy the Wolbachia mosquitoes in larger and poorer parts around the world with a target of reducing the cost to just US$1 (75p) per person.
8-1-18 Lemurs self-medicate by rubbing toxic millipedes over their bottoms
Red-fronted lemurs sometimes pick up a millipede, give it a chew to make it secrete toxins, then rub it on the skin around their anus - but why? Lemurs have been spotted chewing on toxic millipedes then rubbing the leggy critters all over their genitals and anuses. The bizarre behaviour may be a way to combat parasites that would otherwise set up home in the lemurs’ guts. In November 2016, Louise Peckre of the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen, Germany was observing red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons) in a forest in central Madagascar. The first heavy rains had just arrived, prompting many millipedes to emerge from underground. Peckre watched as an adult female rubbed her tail, genitals and anal region with a millipede she was holding in her hand. The lemur then gave the millipede a quick chew before rubbing it on herself again. She repeated this several times. At one point she dribbled a large volume of orange liquid from her mouth. Eventually she ate the millipede. “This was a completely opportunistic observation,” says Peckre. Over the course of that day, five other lemurs did the same thing: they picked up a millipede and alternated chewing it and rubbing it on their bodies around their anuses. All the millipedes belonged to the genus Sechelleptus, which like many millipedes can secrete defensive toxins. Peckre and her colleagues suspect the lemurs were self-medicating. Red-fronted lemurs are exposed to a range of gastrointestinal parasites, many of which are transmitted through faeces that the lemurs unwittingly eat. Smothering their anal regions with millipede toxins might kill these parasites, helping the lemurs either treat an infection or avoid contracting it in the first place.
8-1-18 An Amazonian snake has two types of venom that kill different prey
The Amazon puffing snake has evolved to deliver two kinds of venom with one bite – one kills lizards and birds but doesn’t harm mammals, and the other does the opposite. The venomous fangs of the Amazon puffing snake are a double-edged sword. This South American tree snake has developed a venom with toxins that target different prey – one for killing small mammals like rodents, and another that targets birds and lizards. “Other tree snakes, when they feed on mammals, they use constriction,” says Stephen Mackessy at the University of Northern Colorado, who studied the venom produced by Spilotes sulphurous. “These Amazon puffing snakes are not very good constrictors, so they’re at a disadvantage,” he says. But he found that the snakes’ venom gives them a different kind of advantage. Mackessy and his team extracted the venom from three Amazon puffing snakes – no easy feat, as they can grow as long as 2.7 metres in length and their venom flows fairly slowly – and then analysed the toxins present. They also tested the dosage lizards or mammals could withstand using house geckos and mice. They found both sulditoxin, which is highly toxic to lizards and birds, but non-toxic to mammals even when the dose is 22 times higher than what would be delivered by the bite of an Amazon puffing snake. They also found sulmotoxin 1, which works the opposite way around: it is lethal to mammals but not birds or lizards. While other snakes have developed prey-specific neurotoxins in their venom, this is the first time such a pattern has been shown, says Bryan Fry at the University of Queensland in Australia, who was not involved in this work.
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22 Animal Intelligence & Zoology News Articles
for August of 2018
Animal Intelligence News Articles for July of 2018