Sioux Falls Zoologists

"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent!"

The mirror test is an experiment developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. to determine whether an animal possesses the ability to recognize itself in a mirror. It is the primary indicator of self-awareness in non-human animals and marks entrance to the mirror stage by human children in developmental psychology. Animals that pass mirror test are: Humans older than 18 mo, Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Orangutans, Gorillas, Bottlenose Dolphins, Orcas (Killer Whales), Elephants, and European Magpies. Others showing signs of self-awareness are Pigs, some Gibbons, Rhesus Macaques, Capuchin Monkeys, some Corvids (Crows & Ravens) and Pigeons w/training. (Sorry Kitty!)

55 Intelligence & Zoology News Articles
for August of 2021

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8-31-21 Wild cockatoos make utensils out of tree branches to open fruit pits
Some wild cockatoos whittle tree branches into utensils that they use to open and dig into the seed-laden pits, or stones, of tropical fruit. This is the first known instance of wild, non-primate animals making and using tool sets, say Mark O’Hara and Berenika Mioduszewska at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. O’Hara, Mioduszewska and their colleagues regularly study wild Goffin’s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana) in Indonesia. They occasionally capture the small, white parrots and keep them in an outdoor aviary to observe their behaviour before releasing them. In the Indonesian islands, Goffin’s cockatoos are the only known species to eat sea mangos, a small, tropical fruit toxic to humans. The researchers offered the hard-pitted fruit to the 15 cockatoos in their aviary. Immediately, two of the larger and apparently older male birds grabbed a sea mango and flew into a tree to strip wood from the branches with their beaks. They also cut off whole branches and dug into the remaining stump to mine out pulpy wood. Using their tongues and beaks, the parrots crafted the wood slivers into usable tools of three different sizes and thicknesses, O’Hara says. Then, aiming with their beaks, they artfully jabbed their cutlery into the fruit’s pit. “After I gave them the fruit, I looked back and was just blown away seeing a [bird] using tools on it,” says O’Hara. The researchers collected the birds’ discarded tools and created 3D models of them to better understand how they were made and the purposes they served. The thinnest tools were sharp like knives and let the birds pierce the pit’s parchment-like coating, O’Hara says. Medium-sized tools worked like spoons, allowing the birds to dig into the pit and pull out nutritious seeds. Sometimes the cockatoos also used the thickest tool as a wedge, prying the pit apart at its natural crack, which made it easier to shove their knives and spoons inside. “They definitely knew the fruit, and they knew what to do with it,” says O’Hara.

8-31-21 Scorpions have strange joints that can simultaneously bend and twist
Scorpion tails can simultaneously twist and bend thanks to unusual joints, which could inspire new kinds of robots. A detailed analysis of the scorpion tail reveals that its joints move simultaneously in ways similar to both a door hinge and a rotating wheel, providing for highly precise sting strikes, all the while allowing body tissues to run through its hollow structure. “Nobody has ever seen a joint like this before, so it’s really fascinating,” says Alice Günther at the University of Rostock in Germany. After investigating dozens of scorpions representing 16 species, Günther and her colleagues ran microscopic computed tomography (CT) scans of the five tail segments of a laboratory-bred adult female Mesobuthus gibbosus scorpion, a species that has tails typical of the vast majority of scorpions. They used the images to create 3D digital and print models that provided more practical views of the arachnid’s tail joint, which evolved into its current form 400 million years ago. They found that the first four segments have an unusual design. One end of each segment has two small knob-like elevations that look like they could insert into a complementary socket to make a stable hinge joint. Instead, however, the knobs latch into a circular rim in the connecting segment. Because the system isn’t fixed, the segments can slide and twist along that rim as if they were on a rail. Only the fifth segment – the one with the stinger – has sockets for the two knobby joints. The stinger’s joint bends but doesn’t twist, says Günther. Because scorpions have an exoskeleton, their tail segments create a long, jointed tube through which run muscles, nerves and even the intestines all the way up to the anus at the fourth segment. This makes the tail unique because it does what limbs do for other animals – like hunting and digging – while encasing major life systems, says Günther. As such, the tail’s design could be particularly interesting for industries that require transporting fluids through articulated arms, she says.

8-31-21 Streetlights, especially super bright LEDs, may harm insect populations
Turning down some lights or applying filters might benefit nocturnal insects, a study suggests. Moths flock to streetlights, bewitched by their luminous brilliance. But bathing in brightness all night seems to have consequences for the grounded forms of these fliers. Illuminated stretches of English roads housed up to 52 percent fewer moth caterpillars than adjacent dark patches, researchers report August 25 in Science Advances. Streetlights could be contributing to declining insect populations in developed areas, the researchers say. Artificial light is generally not good for nocturnal insects. Recent work hints the glow can mess with mating or disrupt pollination (SN: 5/13/15; SN: 8/2/17). But whether night lights contribute to population decline is understudied, says Douglas Boyes, an entomologist at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, England. Boyes and colleagues compared 27 stretches of road that appeared identical except some parts were lit at night and others remained dark. Instead of looking at moth adults that can fly kilometers during their lives, the researchers counted caterpillars, which traverse just meters. At night, the team knocked dozens of species from roadside hedgerows or swept up larvae from grasses, catching nearly 2,500 caterpillars. Hedgerows under bright LED lights contained 52 percent fewer caterpillars than dark sections, while areas under duller sodium lamps housed 41 percent fewer. On grassy sections, LED lights cut the population by 33 percent, while sodium lamps had little effect. LED lamps emit a broader spectrum of light than other lamps, which may explain their heightened influence. Caterpillars were fatter in lit sections, which probably indicates abnormal development, Boyes says, but how exactly LED light harms caterpillars remains unclear.

8-28-21 Does feeding garden birds do more harm than good?
The regular feathered visitors to the bird feeders I hang in a particularly lovely tree outside my kitchen window are a welcome dose of colourful nature in a sometimes repetitive daily schedule. So the suggestion that my conscientiously topped-up supply of "premium mixed wild bird seed" is anything other than a positive boost for local wildlife has come as something of an unwelcome surprise. But evidence has been building recently that supplementary feeding could disrupt a delicate ecological balance beyond our windowsills and gardens. And now a provocative research paper co-authored by a conservation biologist from Manchester Metropolitan University has posed the question of whether it might, in fact, do more harm than good. According to Alex Lees, who, with his colleague Jack Shutt, published the paper in the journal Biological Conservation, the issue is that there are a few species that are now habitual feeder users - familiar garden visitors including great tits and blue tits. And they appear to be receiving a boost from feeding. "We know from historical research that these species are increasing in number," says Dr Lees. This could, he says, be at the expense of other "subordinate" birds. "A blue tit is a dominant species - it tends to win in interactions and fighting for food or quarrelling for nest sites," explains Dr Lees. "Whereas species like willow and marsh tits are subordinate. They tend to lose those in interactions. "For willow tits, we know that one of the reasons for the decline is that 40% of their nesting attempts fail because blue tits essentially steal their nesting cavities." A constant supply of peanuts and seeds that boosts the number of blue tits and great tits could be helping to drive the continuing decline in the willow tit population. It could also throw off a natural, seasonal ebb and flow in species numbers, Dr Lees says. "Migrant pied flycatchers are in direct competition with great tits for nesting sites," he explains. "So, again, by boosting the population of great tits in the UK, we may be tipping the balance in favour of these resident species over those summer migrants."

8-27-21 Female hummingbirds may sport flashy feathers to avoid being harassed
It’s not all about sex. Pretty plumage can evolve to give other social advantages, scientists say. Some female hummingbirds don flashy feathers to avoid being bothered by other hummingbirds, a new study suggests. Male white-necked jacobin hummingbirds (Florisuga mellivora) have bright blue heads and throats. Females tend to have more drab hues, but some sport the blue coloring too. Appearing fit and fine to impress potential mates can often explain animals’ vibrant colors. But mate choice doesn’t seem to drive these females’ pretty plumage since males don’t appear to prefer the blue females. Instead, bright colors may help lady birds blend in with the guys, and as a result, feed for longer without harassment from other hummingbirds, researchers report August 26 in Current Biology. Beyond vying for mates, animals often also compete for territory, parental attention, social ranks and food (SN: 4/7/16). Mating choices don’t capture all those other interactions and can’t always explain animals’ looks, says Jay Falk, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. To begin investigating why some female jacobins have colorful blue plumage, Falk and colleagues captured and released over 400 of the birds in Gamboa, Panama, using genetics to determine their sex. Most females had drab colors — olive green heads and backs and mottled throats. But nearly 30 percent of females had the shimmery blue noggins that all juveniles have and that are characteristic of adult males. These birds develop the bright colors in their adolescence, when the birds aren’t yet looking for mates, and for some lady hummers, the colors persist into adulthood when most females drop the bright colors. If these colors in females were driven by mate choice, then this is “the exact opposite of what you would expect,” says Falk, who did the work while at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa.

8-27-21 How domesticating the African baobab tree could secure its future
The famous baobab tree is being domesticated. Farmers seldom plant baobabs because they take between eight and 23 years to flower – and potentially begin bearing fruit – but a pair of researchers in Ghana have got them to flower in less than three years. The work could lead to plantations of baobabs springing up all over Africa. “That is our vision,” says Kenneth Egbadzor at Ho Technical University in Ghana. “What we need now is funding.” In parts of Africa, Adansonia digitata, known as the African baobab tree, is already an important food source. Its fruit, seeds, leaves, flowers and roots are edible. Fibre from the bark is used to make mats, ropes and hats, and every part of the tree is used in traditional medicines. The pulp of the fruit has been approved as a food in the US and Europe in recent years, where it is being promoted as a “superfood”, so the fruit is now exported too. However, all harvesting is still done from wild trees. “There are no known commercial plantations,” says Egbadzor. Domesticating the baobab has long been seen as an important goal. The widespread cultivation of the trees would diversify farming and improve food security, say Egbadzor and his colleague Jones Akuaku, also at Ho Technical University. This is especially important in a changing climate. Baobabs store water in their trunks and can keep fruiting during droughts. Because of the value of baobab products, farmers would also be able to earn more money, alleviating poverty, the pair say. In recent years, various teams have tried methods such as grafting – widely used for fruit production globally – to speed up fruit production, and Egbadzor and Akuaku have achieved the best results yet. The pair soaked the baobab’s tough seeds in acid to get them to germinate. When the seedlings were seven months old, branches from mature trees that were already fruiting were grafted onto the seedlings. The first tree started flowering 20 months later, when it was just 1.7 metres high.

8-26-21 Female octopuses throw things at males that are harassing them
An analysis of footage of octopuses off the coast of Australia “throwing” shells and silt suggests that they intentionally target – and often hit – other octopuses. In most cases, it is females that do the throwing, often at males that are harassing them. In 2015, Peter Godfrey-Smith at the University of Sydney and his colleagues filmed several common Sydney octopuses (Octopus tetricus) interacting at a site in Jervis Bay dubbed “Octopolis”. It is one of the few places in the otherwise sandy sea bottom where octopuses can make dens, so there are an unusual number of the animals in a small area. The cameras captured fights, matings and an extraordinary behaviour that the team calls throwing. “It’s hard to know how best to describe it,” says Godfrey-Smith. The octopuses hold silt, algae or objects such as shells under their bodies in their tentacles, then angle their siphons and shoot a jet of water at the projectiles, propelling them up to several body lengths. This throwing behaviour was known to be used for discarding the remains of meals or for excavating dens, but the videos also revealed many instances where octopuses hit other individuals with thrown objects. When Godfrey-Smith described this behaviour in a 2015 talk, he wasn’t sure whether they were intentionally targeting the other octopuses or just accidentally hitting them. Now the team has more footage, and detailed analysis has also revealed differences between the throws targeting others and those used for den clearing, suggesting the octopuses are indeed deliberately targeting others. In 2016, for instance, one female octopus threw silt 10 times at a male from a nearby den who was attempting to mate with her. She hit him on five occasions. “That sequence was one of the ones that convinced me [it was intentional],” says Godfrey-Smith.

8-25-21 From photosynthesis to navigation, life may exploit quantum effects
There is tantalising evidence to suggest that photosynthesis in some bacteria depends on quantum coherence and birds’ amazing feats of navigation rely on entanglement. ONE response to the question “does life use quantum effects?” comes in the form of another question: “why wouldn’t it?”. All life has evolved to make use of the world we happen to find ourselves in, so why should the magic of quantum effects remain off limits? After all, phenomena such as the telepathic connections implied by entanglement or “quantum tunnelling”, in which quantum objects pass effortlessly through energy barriers that on the face of it they shouldn’t be able to surmount, look like useful survival tools. The counterargument is that, as any biologist will tell you, living organisms are wet, warm and very, very noisy: their molecules jiggle and their fluids flow, creating an environment where the phenomenon of decoherence would overpower any quantum effects. In recent years, though, we have been able to map out the delicate connections between atoms and molecules inside cells – and found some tantalising hints that life might indeed exploit quantum weirdness. Take one of the most important innovations in the history of life: photosynthesis, the process by which plants and some bacteria convert sunlight to chemical energy. The reaction starts with photons of light exciting electrons in chlorophyll molecules to generate quasiparticles – packets of energy that move around as if they are particles – called excitons. These are shuttled around until they find “reaction centres” where their energy can be captured and stored. But excitons lose energy as they go, so researchers wondered if they might be able to use quantum effects to simultaneously try out all routes and take only the most efficient one. Sure enough, this phenomenon of quantum coherence has been observed in chlorophyll molecules from green sulphur bacteria and marine algae at physiological temperatures. But just because a quantum effect is detected in a living thing doesn’t mean it offers an evolutionary advantage. Indeed, the importance of coherence in photosynthesis is “more subtle than originally thought”, says Gregory Scholes at Princeton University, who led some of the initial experiments. What we need, he says, is a less ambiguous example.

8-25-21 China's covid-19 lockdowns brought forward spring bloom by eight days
China’s stringent covid-19 lockdowns last year curbed air pollution in many of its cities in a short-lived clean-up estimated to have avoided thousands of deaths. Now, it appears the clearer skies also brought forward China’s spring bloom by around eight days, and led to so much vegetation growth that the country was almost a fifth “greener” than in recent years. Fenzhen Su at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his colleagues used mobile phone location data from technology firm Baidu as a proxy for how much people in large cities were moving around from January to April 2020. Movement dropped by more than half between 23 January and 9 February on pre-pandemic levels, and only began to recover to near-normal levels in mid-March. The team then combined that mobility index with data on nitrogen dioxide – an air pollutant mostly produced by cars – and satellite data on the haziness of the air, the extent of leaf cover and how much sunlight was getting to vegetation for photosynthesis. The spring months of 2020 were found to have more sunlight than previous years, with the biggest relative change occurring between January and February – the same time as the peak of covid-19 restrictions. Across China as a whole, there was estimated to be 17 per cent more “greenness” than the five previous years, as measured by an index of leaf cover per unit of land. Based on that index, the spring bloom arrived 8.4 days earlier than the average date of 6 April for 2015 to 2019. The authors say the timing of the changes matching up with lockdowns suggests that the reductions in air pollution boosted photosynthesis. They say their findings are evidence for the speed with which nature can bounce back across a large area when human pressures are lifted – even if it was only temporary this time.

8-25-21 Frog and toad pupils mainly come in seven different shapes
Analyzing over 3,200 species revealed diamonds, fans and more. Frog and toad pupils come in quite the array, from slits to circles. But overall, there are seven main shapes of these animals’ peepholes, researchers report in the Aug. 25 Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Eyes are “among the most charismatic features of frogs and toads,” says herpetologist Julián Faivovich of the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” in Buenos Aires. People have long marveled at the animals’ many iris colors and pupil shapes. Yet “there’s almost nothing known about the anatomical basis of that diversity.” Faivovich and colleagues catalogued pupil shapes from photos of 3,261 species, representing 44 percent of known frogs and toads. The team identified seven main shapes: vertical slits, horizontal slits, diamonds, circles, triangles, fans and inverted fans. The most common shape, horizontal slits, appeared in 78 percent of studied species. Mapping pupil shapes onto a tree of evolutionary relationships allowed the scientists to infer how these seven shapes emerged. Though uncommon in other vertebrates, horizontal pupils seem to have given rise to most of the other shapes in frogs and toads. All together, these seven shapes have evolved at least 116 times, the researchers say. Pupil shape affects the amount of light that reaches the retina and its light-receiving cells, says Nadia Cervino, a herpetologist also at the Arge Pupil shapes generally didn’t correspond with animals’ lifestyles and habitats. The scientists plan to continue investigating what drives pupil evolution in tree frogs, a smaller group with fewer types of pupil shapes. And the team will consider other lifestyle factors, including how high frogs climb or whether they lay eggs in water, as well as other eye characteristics, such as iris color, to see if those factors matter to pupil shape.

8-25-21 Consultation begins on beaver reintroductions
A consultation is launching to seek people's views on whether beavers should be reintroduced to England's rivers. The creatures were once widespread throughout Britain, but were hunted to extinction 400 years ago. Studies have shown that the return of the mammals could help to restore river habitats. But the National Farmers' Union warned that beavers' dams can cause disruption. The consultation will last for 12 weeks. Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "Today marks a significant milestone for the reintroduction of beavers in the wild. "But we also understand that there are implications for landowners, so we are taking a cautious approach to ensure that all potential impacts are carefully considered." The steps towards bringing beavers back to England follows reintroduction programmes in Scotland, which have led to established wild beaver populations. Trials in Wales and England have also been assessing the mammal's impact on the environment. A five-year study of beavers that were reintroduced to the River Otter in Devon found that the creatures were beneficial to the environment. Beavers are often described as eco-engineers - their dams create wetland habitats where wildlife can flourish. The animals transport logs, branches, stones and mud to build the barriers across rivers. The dams help create pools of deep water that deter predators. The River Otter study found that the natural constructions also act as natural flood barriers, protecting homes downstream. Eva Bishop, from the Beaver Trust, said a national policy for the animals was an important step. "We hope to see beavers accepted back in the countryside like any other native wild animal - particularly as they have a role to play in nature's recovery and British wildlife resilience in the climate emergency," she said. However, the River Otter study also concluded that beavers can cause localised problems for some landowners.

8-25-21 Racism lurks in names given to plants and animals. That’s starting to change
Common names like ‘gypsy moth’ contain ethnic slurs perpetuating racist stereotypes. With lemon and black plumage, the Scott’s oriole flashes in the desert like a flame. But the bird’s name holds a violent history that Stephen Hampton can’t forget. He used to see the orioles often, living in California. Now that he lives outside the bird’s range, “I’m kind of relieved,” he says. Hampton is a birder and registered citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Winfield Scott, a U.S. military commander and the bird’s namesake, drove Hampton’s ancestors and other Native Americans from their land in the 1800s during a series of forced marches now known as the Trail of Tears. The journey killed over 4,000 Cherokee, displacing as many as 100,000 people in the end. “So much of the Trail of Tears is already erased,” Hampton says. “There’s a few historical sites, but you’d have to be an archaeologist to figure out where the actual stockades were.” Linking Scott’s legacy to a bird “is just adding to the erasure by putting another layer over it.” The oriole is just one of dozens of species that scientists are considering renaming because of racist or other offensive connotations. In a groundswell of revision, scientists are wrestling with this heritage. Racist relics can infuse both scientific and common names. But in contrast to scientific names — which are internationally standardized in Latin — common names live in the vernacular. They vary by language and region, and have a smaller scope than scientific names’ international reach, making them arguably simpler to change. Some get immortalized in field guides and formally recognized by scientific societies. These common names provide a useful shared language for scientists and the public, but they can also enshrine harmful legacies. Advocates for change see some names as barriers to inclusion and distractions from the organisms themselves. But those advocates also see opportunities in renaming.

8-24-21 Thieving honeybees offer a glimpse of flowers’ evolutionary origins
Honeybees are championed as valuable pollinators, but sometimes they steal pollen without helping the plant that makes it. Now, a study of pollen theft by honeybees from a type of non-flowering plant is shedding light on why the very first flowers may have evolved. Honeybees’ reputation for diligent pollination is mostly well-deserved, but they aren’t universally good for all plants. Tao Wan at the Fairy Lake Botanical Garden in Shenzhen, China, and his colleagues have discovered that, in the tropical rainforests on the Chinese island of Hainan, the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) steals pollen from a plant called Gnetum luofuense. The bees keep all the pollen they collect from this plant for themselves, to the detriment of the plants that they take it from. “We were totally surprised because this phenomenon has never been described before for this species,” says Wan. G. luofuense is a type of gymnosperm, a group of plants that also includes conifers, ginkgos and cycads. While gymnosperms do produce pollen, they don’t make flowers or fruits, and most species are pollinated by the wind. Before this study, it wasn’t known that honeybees visited G. luofuense. Wan’s team found that honeybees frequently visited male G. luofuense plants at dusk and dawn to collect pollen. But the bees avoided female plants altogether, meaning that they didn’t facilitate any pollination for this species. Bees weren’t the only visitors to the G. luofuense flowers – the team also observed visits from Mecodina cineracea moths, which attended both male and female plants, serving as effective pollinators. However, when honeybees were present, the team found that these moths carried 70 per cent less pollen and the plants produced fewer seeds. These findings provide a glimpse of the time before flowering plants, known as angiosperms, came to dominate, roughly 90 to 125 million years ago. Before angiosperms, gymnosperms were the dominant type of plant life, but only around 1500 species remain today. In comparison, there are more than 350,000 species of angiosperms.

8-24-21 Endangered bettong reintroduced in Australia after more than a century
Brush-tailed bettongs are back. These tiny endangered marsupials have been reintroduced to mainland South Australia after disappearing more than a century ago. The bettong, also known as a woylie, once occupied more than 60 per cent of Australia, but was almost wiped out when cats and foxes were introduced by Europeans. Only about 15,000 are alive today. Until last week, the only wild woylies left in South Australia were on predator-free islands. On 17 August, 12 male and 28 female woylies were returned to mainland South Australia after being flown in from Wedge Island, which lies within the Turquoise Coast Island Nature Reserves. The woylies were released in an area called Yorke peninsula, which contains large tracts of native vegetation interspersed with farms and small towns. Three-quarters of the animals were fitted with radio-tracking collars so their progress could be monitored. “They seem to have settled in quite well – some are already dispersing from the release site,” says Derek Sandow at the South Australian government’s Northern and Yorke Landscape Board. To protect the new arrivals, rangers have removed as many foxes and feral cats as possible from the peninsula and have put up a fence to create a 1700 square-kilometre protected area. If the woylie homecoming goes well, other locally extinct species like the southern brown bandicoot, red-tailed phascogale and western quoll will also be reintroduced to the area as part of a 20-year rewilding plan. Woylies were the first to be released because they are soil engineers that can improve the habitat for other species, says Sandow. Each animal digs up tonnes of soil each year while searching for underground fungi, tubers and other food, which helps to cycle nutrients and disperse seeds. “We hope this will enhance germination rates for native plants and enhance overall biodiversity,” says Sandow.

8-23-21 Ants use soil physics to excavate metre-long tunnels that last decades
Ant colonies can descend several metres underground, house millions of insects and last for decades, despite being made without the benefit of machinery and reinforcing material. The secrets of these impressive architectural structures are being revealed by three-dimensional X-ray imaging and computer simulations, and could be used to develop robotic mining machines. José Andrade at the California Institute of Technology and his colleagues set up miniature ant colonies in a container holding 500 millilitres of soil and 15 western harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex occidentalis). The position of every ant and every grain of soil was then captured by high-resolution X-ray scans every 10 minutes for 20 hours. The X-ray results gave researchers exact details about the shape of each tunnel and which grains were being removed to create it. The team then created a computer model using those scans to understand the forces acting upon the tunnels. The size, shape and orientation of every grain was recreated in the model and the direction and size of force on each grain could be calculated, including gravity, friction and cohesion caused by humidity. The model was accurate to the 0.07 millimetre resolution of the scanner. The results suggest that forces within the soil tend to wrap around the tunnel axis as ants excavate, forming what the team call “arches” in the soil that have a greater diameter than the tunnel itself. This reduces the load acting on the soil particles within the arches, where the ants are constructing their tunnel. As a result, the ants can easily remove these particles to extend the tunnel without causing cave-ins. The arches also make the tunnel stronger and more durable. “We had naively thought that ants perhaps were playing Jenga, that they were tapping, maybe they were wiggling grains, maybe they were even grabbing the grains of least resistance,” says Andrade. He says it is now clear that the ants appear to know nothing about forces and show no signs of decision-making, but instead follow a very simple behavioural algorithm that has evolved over time.

8-23-21 A giant tortoise was caught stalking, killing and eating a baby bird
New video shows that the lumbering reptiles really are cold-blooded. Justin Gerlach thought there must be some sort of misunderstanding. Tortoises don’t hunt. These gentle, lumbering herbivores spend their days leisurely munching on greenery, not stalking prey. His colleague’s report must be mistaken. But the video was indisputable. On a summer evening in 2020, a female Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) spent several minutes stalking a young noddy tern (Anous tenuirostris) that had fallen from its nest on Frégate Island in the Seychelles, an archipelago off of East Africa. With plodding determination, the tortoise forced the chick’s retreat down a log, like a pirate walking the plank, until the bird had nowhere to go. Several slow, deliberate lunges later, the tortoise’s yawning maw caught the bird, crushing its head. Eventually, she swallowed her prize whole. It’s the first documented instance of a tortoise hunting, researchers report August 23 in Current Biology. “This was totally unexpected,” says Gerlach, a biologist at the University of Cambridge. Watching the video was “amazing and slightly horrifying.” The footage was captured by coauthor Anna Zora, the conservation and sustainability manager of Frégate Island Sanctuary, the island’s nature reserve. Many herbivores will opportunistically scarf down carrion for protein, Gerlach says. And anecdotes of tortoises eating small birds that the reptiles have crushed occasionally surface, “but it’s unclear whether these are deliberate [actions], or they just stepped on something,” he says. Most prey can outrun tortoises, rendering hunting futile. But this grounded noddy tern chick proved easy pickings. While too young to fly, Gerlach says, the bird could have easily escaped on foot. “But because it’s a tree-nesting bird, ground is a dangerous place.” Once on the log, the chick probably clung to what it knew, he says.

8-22-21 Kenya holds biggest ever animal census
Kenya in east Africa is home to vulnerable and endangered species that include lions, giraffes and the world's only two surviving northern white rhino species. It is also a transit route for migratory whales, dolphins and endangered turtles. The BBC’s Ferdinand Omondi reports from the marine parks and forest reserves of coastal Kenya.

8-20-21 Illinois girl brings her fight to protect bees to the statehouse
Scarlett Harper isn't afraid of bees, or asking lawmakers to support a bill protecting them from lethal mosquito pesticides. Harper, 11, noticed earlier this year that there weren't as many bees buzzing around her Winnetka, Illinois, neighborhood, and found out that a pesticide that had been sprayed in the area to get rid of mosquitos had also killed bees. "Bees are completely vital to humans," Harper told CBS News. "They pollinate a third of our food supply and without them, we really can't survive." Wanting to protect bees, she started a campaign to restrict the use of pesticides that can hurt them. State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D) was happy to craft House Bill 3118 — also known as the "Bee Bill" — to curb the use of such pesticides, and Harper worked the phones, calling up lawmakers to ask them to join in the fight. She was able to get 22 state representatives to co-sponsor the bill, and it made it out of the Energy and Environment Committee with a vote of 29-0. There was pushback from landscapers and pesticide companies, and Illinois' legislative session ended before the bill was passed. Harper told CBS News she is certain it will be reintroduced in the next session and "we're going to win." Until then, Harper will continue to spread the good word about bees, educating her community about the value they bring and the best ways to protect them.

8-20-21 Nature: Rattlesnakes' sound 'trick' fools human ears
Rattlesnakes have evolved a clever method of convincing humans that danger is closer than they think, say scientists. The sounds of their shaking tail get louder as a person approaches, but then suddenly switches to a much higher frequency. In tests, the rapid change in sound made participants believe the snake was much nearer than it was in reality. The researchers say the trait evolved to help snakes avoid being trampled on. The sibilant sound of the rattlesnake's tail has long been a movie cliché. The tell tale rattle is made by the rapid shaking together of hard rings of keratin at the tip of the reptiles' tails. Keratin is same protein that makes up our fingernails and hair. The key to the noise is the snake's ability to shake its tail muscles up to 90 times a second. This vigorous shaking is used to warn other animals and humans of their presence. Despite this, rattlesnakes are still responsible for the majority of the 8,000 or so bites inflicted on people in the US every year. Researchers have known for decades that the rattling can change in frequency but there's been little research about the significance of the shift in sound. In this study, scientists experimented by moving a human-like torso closer to a western diamondback rattlesnake and recording the response. As the object got closer to the snake, the rattles increased in frequency up to around 40Hz. This was followed by a sudden leap in sound into a higher frequency range between 60-100Hz. To figure out what the sudden change meant, the researchers carried out further work with human participants and a virtual snake. The increasing rattling rate was perceived by participants as increasing loudness as they moved closer. The scientists found that when the sudden change in frequency occurred at a distance of 4 metres, the people in the test believed it was far closer, around one metre away. The authors believe the switch in sound is not just a simple warning, but an intricate, interspecies communication signal.

8-20-21 Baby bats babble like humans
Scientists who systematically eavesdropped on bat roosts in Costa Rica have discovered baby-bat babbling bears a striking resemblance to that of human infants. The bats produce rhythmic sounds and repeat key "building-block syllables". And this suggests - just like in human infants - their babbling lays the foundations for communication. "They just babble away, sunrise to sunset, practising their sounds," lead researcher Dr Ahana Fernandez said. Dr Fernandez, based at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, studied a particularly vocal species - the greater sac-winged bat, Saccopteryx bilineata. "These bats actually sing like songbirds," she said. "So they have very sophisticated vocal communication - a repertoire of distinct syllable types." Dr Fernandez and her colleagues, who published their findings in the journal Science, analysed recordings of the bat pups babbling in their roosts. Characteristic features included: 1. the repetition of key syllables adults use in their songs. 2. rhythmicity and repetition, very similar to the "da-da-da" sounds of human babies. Human speech requires very precise control over the vocal apparatus. Babbling in infants and toddlers is vital practice in gaining that control. And, the researchers said, the same was true of bats. "We know all the different syllable types produced by adult bats," Dr Fernandez said. "And the ones that appear in pup babbling are really reminiscent of the adult ones - so we can clearly tell." The greater sac-winged bat is the only bat species known to do this so far. But with more than 1,400 bat species in the world, Dr Fernandez "really thinks there will be another that babbles". And while this study has identified a pattern that could be important for many mammals that have to learn to communicate vocally, she also says there is a great deal left to understand about this specific species of singing bat. "The babies really listen to each other when they're babbling," Dr Fernandez said.

8-20-21 These baby greater sac-winged bats babble to learn their mating songs
Like human infants, the young bats sing protosyllables until they master their vocalizations. At least 65 million years of evolution separate humans and greater sac-winged bats, but these two mammals share a key feature of learning how to speak: babbling. Just as human infants babble their way from “da-da-da-da” to “Dad,” wild bat pups (Saccopteryx bilineata) learn the mating and territorial songs of adults by first babbling out the fundamental syllables of the vocalizations, researchers report in the Aug. 20 Science. These bats now join humans as the only clear examples of mammals who learn to make complex vocalizations through babbling. “This is a hugely important step forward in the study of vocal learning,” says Tecumseh Fitch, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Vienna not involved in the new study. “These findings suggest that there are deep parallels between how humans and young bats learn to control their vocal apparatus,” he says. The work could enable future studies that might allow researchers to peer deeper into the brain activity that underpins vocal learning. Before complex vocalizations, whether words or mating songs, can be spoken or sung, vocalizers must learn to articulate the syllables that make up a species’s vocabulary, says Ahana Fernandez, an animal behavior biologist at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. “Babbling is a way of practicing,” and honing those vocalizations, she says. The rhythmic, repetitive “ba-ba-ba’s” and “ga-ga-ga’s” of human infants may sound like gibberish, but they are necessary exploratory steps toward learning how to talk. Seeing whether babbling is required for any animal that learns complex vocalizations necessitates looking in other species. Many songbirds babble to learn their songs. Some marmosets babble too (SN: 8/13/15), but only to solicit care, for example, not to learn a complex vocal repertoire, Fernandez says. Another mammal, the greater sac-winged bat, had been heard making babbling-like sounds in 2006. Males of this highly social species combine 25 different syllable types into songs used to defend territories and attract mates, but the babbling behavior wasn’t formally studied. Fernandez sought to change that by getting up close and personal with the bats.

8-19-21 Bat pups babble like human babies do in order to practice vocalising
Young greater sac-winged bats babble just like human babies. A detailed analysis of the sounds has shown that they share many similar features with the babbling of human babies. The greater sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx bilineata) is known for its complex songs. “It has a very large vocal repertoire,” says Ahana Fernandez at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin. Adult males sing to mark their territories before leaving their roosts in the evening and on returning in the morning. They also sing during daily courtship displays to females. During these displays, they hover in front of females and open sacs on their wings to release the scent of the urine and saliva inside – hence their name. In 2006, team member Mirjam Knörnschild, also at the museum, noticed that young bat pups of the species babbled. “It seemed to her very like human babbling behaviour,” says Fernandez. Now Fernandez, Knörnschild and their colleagues have recorded and analysed hundreds of babbling bouts by bat pups, and shown that this resemblance is no coincidence. For instance, all bat pups start babbling at a young age, and the behaviour continues for a while and gradually becomes more sophisticated before ceasing. As with humans, the behaviour appears to be universal and not a result of culture. In the case of bats, babbling starts around two weeks of age and continues for around seven weeks. The babbling pups repeat the same sounds over and over again in a rhythmical pattern, says Fernandez. The babbling isn’t a form of communication with other bats, as the pups don’t respond to each other or to adults. Over time, the babbling starts to include more of the sounds used by adults. All this suggests that bats babble for the same reasons as human babies: to practice making sounds and gain motor control over their vocal apparatus. Female bats stop vocalising when they become adults. But the team speculate that babbling as pups helps them pick the best males that can produce the most difficult courtship songs.

8-19-21 Rattlesnakes use auditory illusion to make us think they are nearby
Rattlesnakes use sudden high-speed rattling to fool humans, and probably also animals, into believing that they are closer to the venomous vipers than they really are. Like warning beeps in cars that get faster as drivers back up towards objects, rattlesnakes start their warning rattle at a slow, gradually increasing pace, then suddenly switch to a constant, high-frequency rattle. This gives the impression that contact is imminent – but in reality, the snakes could still be a full metre away, says Boris Chagnaud at the University of Graz in Austria. This auditory illusion works as a “smart signal”, providing a safety margin that probably protects the snake from getting stepped on or wasting valuable venom, he says. “As you continue to approach the snake, he’s telling you, ‘You’re getting closer, you’re getting closer,’” says Chagnaud. “And then suddenly he says, ‘OK, now you’re way too close!’ even though you’re still a metre or so away. And that’s the trick of the snake.” While visiting rattlesnake terrariums at the Technical University of Munich a few years ago, Chagnaud was intrigued to find that the snakes changed their rattling speed as he approached and backed away. He collaborated with researchers in Munich to test 30 of their Western diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) as they reacted to an approaching dummy human torso set on sliding rails, and to a growing black circle made by light projections onto a screen. In both tests, the team found that the snakes’ rattling frequency would gradually speed up to about 40 rattles per second, then suddenly jump to an unchanging, high-frequency rattle ranging from 60 to 100 rattles per second depending on the snake. The team then ran virtual reality tests on 11 people as they moved through a virtual grass field with different sounds. The researchers asked the participants to push a button when they believed they were within reach of the sound’s source and noted that the listeners were easily fooled by the sudden jump in rattle speed. “They thought they were 1 metre away from the [virtual snake], when actually they were more like 4 metres away,” says Chagnaud.

8-19-21 Reared curlews act like wild counterparts after release in Norfolk
Rare birds that were released into the wild after being reared in captivity are behaving like their wild counterparts, researchers say. Curlews, Europe's largest wading bird, have been "red-listed" due to a significant decline in numbers. Eighty were released at Sandringham and Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk and two fitted with tracking devices. Researchers said the data received so far had provided "an excellent insight" into their behaviour. Dave Slater, director for wildlife licensing and enforcement cases at Natural England, said: "This early data shows that they are acting like their wild counterparts in their movements and mixing with other wild curlew, which is exactly what we wanted to see." The Prince of Wales watched as the curlews were released at the Queen's Sandringham Estate in July. He said he had "always cherished the evocative call of the curlew" and was delighted the Sandringham Estate had been able to assist. The two monitored birds had taken different approaches to life in the wild. One curlew, known as "0E", explored its surroundings in the first few days after being released, while the other, "3A", had mainly stayed around the release site. Bird 0E was behaving like the non-breeding curlew that visit the Wash in large numbers throughout autumns and winter, researchers said. Although 3A had been less adventurous at first, it had began to explore nearby Snettisham Coastal Park, GPS data showed. Due to a loss of habitat and predation, curlew numbers have declined significantly since the 1970s. Those released in Norfolk were reared in captivity after eggs were removed from eight military and civilian airfields as they posed a serious risk to air safety. Dr Sam Franks, senior research ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), said: "These tags have revealed for the first time how young head-started curlew learn about the landscape into which they've been released. "It has been fascinating to observe the different behaviour between individuals. "Just like people with different personalities, some curlew are more adventurous and exploratory, while others are more risk-averse, avoiding novel conditions and sticking with what they know."

8-18-21 Giant anteaters are forced to roam in search of cooling forests
Giant anteaters rely on forests to help them stay cool – so where trees grow sparsely, the animals are forced to roam further. Deforestation and climate change are likely to exacerbate the problem. The anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) are unable to regulate their body temperature as effectively as many other mammals thanks to their exceptionally slow metabolisms, making the cooling shade of forests essential. “Forests work as thermal shelters, offering warmer temperatures than open areas on cold days and cooler temperatures than open areas on hot days,” says Aline Giroux at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil. Giroux and her team wanted to know how anteaters’ home territories might change if forests are in short supply. The researchers caught and weighed 19 anteaters in two southern Brazilian savannas, fastening GPS harnesses on them before their release. This allowed them to record the anteaters’ movements for months. The researchers then used satellite images to determine forest cover in these areas. The team found that the fewer forest patches there were in an anteater’s haunt, the larger the animal’s home range. For every fewer unit of forest area within the territories, the territories were 0.68 area units bigger overall. Increasing their home range size in forest-deficient regions may increase the odds the anteaters’ ranges will overlap with forest, but it comes with downsides, says Giroux. Wider territories may increase an anteater’s risk of being hit by road vehicles, she says. Traffic collisions are a major threat to the species in many parts of its range. Giroux predicts that as deforestation and climate change cause forest patches to dwindle and the world to warm, anteaters will increasingly use forests for refuge from the heat. “Of course,” she says, “this is only possible if there are forest patches available for them.”

8-18-21 EPA bans use of pesticide chlorpyrifos on food crops
The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday it is banning the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on food crops. Chlorpyrifos is linked to cognitive issues in children, including memory loss. In a statement, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency is "taking an overdue step to protect public health. Ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food will help to ensure children, farmworkers, and all people are protected from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide. After the delays and denials of the previous administration, EPA will follow the science and put health and safety first." During the Trump administration, scientists recommended restricting the use of chlorpyrifos on food and vegetable crops, but this guidance was ignored by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who said there needed to be additional studies. The EPA on Wednesday said it is looking into other uses of the pesticide and whether it should be outlawed all together. United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero said in a statement this is a "huge victory" for the "men and women who harvest our food, who have waited too long for a ban on this pesticide. We are relieved that farmworkers and their families will no longer have to worry about the myriad of ways this pesticide could impact our lives."

8-18-21 Cat leads rescuers to owner who fell into a ravine
Thanks to the "quite persistent" meowing of her cat, an 83-year-old woman in Cornwall, England, was rescued over the weekend from the bottom of a ravine. On Saturday, the woman's neighbors began to worry when they couldn't find her at home or in the immediate area, and they called the police for help. The woman owns a black cat named Piran, and one of the neighbors who joined the search effort told BBC News she heard Piran's loud meows coming from the top of a ravine. Piran was "quite persistent," the neighbor said, and when first responders got to her, they were able to see the cat's owner had fallen 70 feet into the ravine. The woman was carried up on a stretcher and taken to an area hospital, where she is in stable condition. The neighbor told BBC News "it's a massive 'well done' to all the emergency services who worked together and to Piran," but Bodmin Police are giving all credit to the cat, saying she is the one who "saved the day."

8-18-21 A well-known wildflower turns out to be a secret carnivore
Triantha occidentalis sets a deathtrap for small insects just beneath its flower. Gleaming, gluey, deathtrap hairs have betrayed the secret identity of a well-known wildflower: It’s a carnivore. A species of false asphodel (Triantha occidentalis)uses enzyme-secreting hairs on its flowering stem to snare and digest insects, researchers report in the Aug. 17 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists have known about T. occidentalis since the 19th century, but its taste for meat has gone undetected until now. Sticky hairs by themselves aren’t unusual — many noncarnivorous plants use them to defend against pests. But T. occidentalis has qualities that some meat-eating plants share: a love of bright, boggy, nutrient-poor habitats and the absence of a gene that fine-tunes how plants get energy from light. Together, those features felt like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle hinting at carnivory, says botanist Sean Graham of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. To solve the puzzle, Graham and colleagues needed to know if the wildflower pulls nutrients from insect corpses. Luckily, T. occidentalis grows along North America’s West Coast, from Alaska to California, and can be found on hikes near Vancouver. “They’re right on our doorstep,” Graham says. The team attached fruit flies fed with nitrogen-15, an isotope that can be used to track changes in nitrogen levels, to the flowering stems of bog-dwelling T. occidentalis plants in British Columbia’s Cypress Provincial Park. Over half of the wildflowers’ nitrogen came from the fruit flies, the team found. Those levels are comparable to known carnivorous plants. What’s more, the wildflowers’ sticky hairs oozed phosphatase, a digestive enzyme that many carnivorous plants secrete to consume prey.

8-17-21 Male chimps with more friends are more likely to have offspring
It’s good to be social. Male chimpanzees with more friends are more likely to father offspring – and there are at least three ways this can occur. “Animals with more social bonds or stronger social bonds have higher reproductive success,” says Joseph Feldblum at the University of Michigan. “We tried to find out how that might happen.” His team focused on chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. They live in groups of around 25 individuals, which are dominated by a powerful alpha male. The alpha sires most of the offspring, while subordinate males struggle to mate at all. Feldblum and his colleagues tracked 32 males and 26 females in the Kasekela chimpanzee community in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. The animals have been studied since 1973, and the researchers had access to detailed behavioural and genetic data collected between 1986 and 2014. They first confirmed, in line with previous studies, that males with more male friends and allies were more likely to father offspring. Then they dug into the data to figure out why. “There are multiple independent routes by which male social bonds seem to help them achieve higher reproductive success,” says Feldblum. One pattern that stood out was that males that formed close relationships with the alpha were more likely to mate, compared with those that didn’t. This may be because the alpha is a little more generous with them, permitting them to mate with receptive females. “We think we understand why forming a strong bond with the alpha male matters,” says Feldblum. Independently of this, males that formed a lot of strong male friendships were more likely to rise in rank and thus become the alpha. Feldblum says this is more of a long-term advantage, but the reproductive pay-off of becoming alpha is enormous. Finally, males that formed a lot of strong ties with other males were more likely to sire offspring, regardless of the rank of anyone involved. This suggests there is an advantage to being part of a friendship group, even if it doesn’t lead to an increase in rank.

8-17-21 Male woodpeckers that share mates with brothers live longer lives
Male acorn woodpeckers that share mates with their brothers live longer lives, have better quality homes and father more baby woodpeckers than those that choose a monogamous lifestyle. Most acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) form lifelong partnerships with a single mate, but about a third of females and half of males opt for breeding in sibling groups, sharing one or more mates with their sisters or brothers. Scientists used to think males in these groups were trading their chance of paternity for comfort – gaining access to bigger, better and safer nests – but now it seems they are actually getting the best of both worlds, says Sahas Barve at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. “We don’t know how much energy they’re saving and how much they’re reducing their stress, but we know these cooperative breeders usually live in higher quality territories with more stored food, which may potentially increase their lifespan and thus their breeding attempts, leading to more total chicks,” says Barve. These better territories – oak trees ready-equipped with thousands of acorns stashed in holes drilled by woodpeckers that lived there before – also tempt young adult offspring to stay in the nest longer as non-breeding helpers, ostensibly reducing the parents’ workload and hence stress levels. “If you’re living in a mansion, you’re going to take longer to move out,” he says. Researchers at Hastings Natural History Reservation in California have been gathering data from free-ranging acorn woodpeckers since 1968 and collecting blood samples from each bird since 1984. The work has allowed them to compile genetic information on thousands of birds over dozens of generations, including many living in polygynandrous communities in which both males and females share partners with their same-sex siblings within stable, lifelong groups.

8-17-21 Birds get angry when their favourite snacks are swapped in magic trick
Jays react angrily when shown a cup-and-balls-style magic trick in which their favourite snack is swapped for a less appealing one. Their responses show cognitive abilities that may come into play when they pilfer food caches hidden by other birds. Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) have impressive memories and show some capacity for imagining the beliefs and intentions of others, known as theory of mind. As such, Alexandra Schnell and her colleagues at the University of Cambridge wondered whether jays would be sensitive to cognitive illusions designed to fool humans. First, they tested six birds to find out which food each one preferred from a choice of worms, cheese and peanuts. Then they showed the birds a version of the cups and balls magic trick, in which food was placed under one of two overturned cups. The cups had string handles so the birds could lift them. The birds had seen a worm or cheese piece go into the cup, but in some cases the researchers swapped it for another type of food. If they expected to get their favourite food and found one they liked less, they were more likely to then look under the second cup, and in some cases rejected the food from the first cup completely. They were also slower to take food that wasn’t their favourite and were more likely to repeat picking up the cup where they expected their favourite to be. Birds with a higher social rank were more likely to reject food they weren’t expecting to find, and tended to show stronger reactions, such as squawking and flying away. “They would get very cross,” says Schnell. “It’s hard not to anthropomorphise, but it’s like you could feel their frustration.” This may be because dominant birds have more access to food, but it also chimes with what magicians say about humans, says Schnell. According to Clive Wilkins, a co-author of the study who performs magic, when magicians use “alpha” audience members as volunteers, they are more likely to react negatively to a trick. “It’s like they don’t want to be the butt of the joke,” says Schnell.

8-17-21 Sunbirds’ dazzling feathers are hot, in both senses of the word
A metallic sheen attracts mates but warms easily, possibly making it harder to keep cool. The birds’ flashy, iridescent feathers heat up more than other types of feathers, possibly making it harder to stay cool in hot, sunny conditions. If so, the colorful plumes may be costly ornaments for luring mates, researchers report August 4 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Many studies on the thermal properties of animal color have previously focused on differences between how dark and light colors derived from pigments react to light and heat, says Svana Rogalla, a biophysicist at the Biofisika Institute in Bilbao, Spain. Less attention has been paid to how heat interacts with structural color — often vibrant, iridescent hues created by light refracting off of microscopic structures. These structures are found in everything from the scales of deep-sea worms (SN: 5/25/20) to spiders’ exoskeletons (SN: 9/9/16). In the new study, Rogalla and colleagues turned to sunbirds, nectar-feeding birds typically smaller than sparrows that are native to Africa, Asia and Australia. Sunbirds have feather colors that come from a mix of sources, including pigments like fiery carotenoids and dark melanin as well as iridescent structural color. The researchers examined 15 sunbird species preserved at the Field Museum in Chicago, heating the specimens under a lamp that mimics sunlight and then measuring the surface temperatures of feathers and the preserved birds’ skin. Iridescent feathers heated up more than feathers that had only pigment-based colors, the team found. In breast feathers, for example, iridescent feathers averaged about 74° Celsius at the feather surface after a few minutes of light exposure, where feathers with yellow to red carotenoid pigments reached just over 63° C. This heat transferred to the skin, too, with skin under iridescent feathers growing about 5 degrees C and 8 degrees C hotter than skin under feathers with olive or yellow to red pigments.

8-16-21 There and back again: The epic adventures of China's wandering elephants
For the past 17 months, a wandering herd of elephants in China has embarked on an adventure of mammoth proportions. Now, after straying hundreds of kilometres from their nature reserve, the animals are on the final leg of their journey home, Chinese officials announced last week. From breaking into villagers' homes to giving birth while on the road, it's been an epic journey that could have been straight out of The Lord of the Rings. This is the story of how the fellowship of elephants journeyed there and back again. Tucked in the bottom end of the southern Yunnan province, the sprawling Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve lies right by the border of Myanmar and Laos. A lush tropical forest that stretches for about 241,000 hectares - about one and a half times the size of London - it is home to most of Yunnan's endangered Asian elephants. Some time in March 2020, a herd of about 14 elephants decided to leave this jungle paradise, heading north. Nobody batted an eyelid at first. Wild elephants are known to roam freely and regularly in the region, such that one city, Pu'er, even runs "elephant canteens" to feed their large visitors. Most don't stray very far, and usually head home after a while. But months after the herd left, officials started to realise that this was no ordinary trip. This realisation literally hit home earlier this year when reports emerged of the elephants crashing into people's houses, munching on their crops, and guzzling their water. CCTV footage of the elephants wandering around the streets of various cities also went viral.

8-12-21 Howler monkeys navigate using adaptable mental maps, just like humans
Black howler monkeys move through their environment using mental maps that they modify and adapt as the landscape changes – a skill previously seen only in humans. In 2016, Miguel de Guinea at Oxford Brookes University, UK, spent a year in Palenque National Park, Mexico, tracking groups of black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) to observe how the primates traverse the complex rainforest landscape. Tagging the monkeys with GPS tracking technology would have been too invasive, so de Guinea and a group of volunteers had to follow them on foot. “It was a bit exhausting at times,” he says. Tracking the monkeys frequently required the researchers to cross rivers and to climb to the pinnacles of ancient Mayan temples. But the results of their endeavours were surprising. “We found that the monkeys follow certain routes,” says de Guinea, “but they structure and combine those routes in an efficient, human-like way.” While most animals move through an environment semi-randomly or by instinct, humans are different. We tend to follow familiar routes encoded in mental maps. We also have a spatial sense of how locations are arranged in the landscape. This means that if an obstacle blocks a familiar path, we can change course – perhaps temporarily switching to another familiar route heading in a different direction – to navigate the obstacle and still reach our desired destination. As de Guinea’s team studied the black howler monkeys, they realised the primates do this too. For example, the monkeys in the study would always approach favourite fruit trees from the same direction. What’s more, while the monkeys would rarely deviate from established routes, they had no problem doing so if, for instance, a tree forming part of a route had fallen down. In such cases, the monkeys quickly worked out how to connect the broken route to another familiar route, so they could navigate the obstacle and still reach their target.

8-12-21 Scientists have a new word for birds stealing animal hair
Species that engage in ‘kleptotrichy’ may use their loot to deter predators. Some tiny birds take bold risks to gather a beakful of hair for their nests. Titmice have been spotted dive-bombing cats, alighting on dozing predators’ backs and plucking strands of hair from people’s heads. Now, there’s a term for the unusual behavior: kleptotrichy. Derived from the Greek words for “to steal” and “hair,” kleptotrichy has rarely been described by scientists, but dozens of YouTube videos capture the behavior, researchers report online July 27 in Ecology. Titmice — and one chickadee — have been caught on video tugging hair from dogs, cats, humans, raccoons and even a porcupine. “Citizen scientists, bird watchers and people with dogs knew this behavior much more than the scientists themselves,” says animal behaviorist Mark Hauber of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Popular observations precede science rather than the other way around, which is a valid way to do science.” Witnessing a bird steal hair from a mammal in the wild is what first inspired Hauber’s colleague, ecologist Henry Pollock, to dig deeper. While counting birds in an Illinois state park in May 2020, Pollock and colleagues spotted a tufted titmouse pluck fur from a sleeping raccoon. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like that,” says Pollock, also of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In South America, palm swifts snatch feathers from flying pigeons and parrots — a behavior already known as kleptoptily. Searching through the scientific literature, Hauber, Pollock and colleagues found only 11 anecdotes of birds stealing hair from live mammals. While most published accounts involve titmice in North America, at least five other bird species get in on the action. Researchers have seen an American crow harvest hair from a cow and a red-winged starling in Africa peck a small antelope called a klipspringer. In Australia, three honeyeater bird species steal fur from koalas.

8-11-21 Here's how to spot invasive plants before they take over
IN THE past, horticulturalists brought thousands of new plant species from distant lands to the UK, and some have became staples in gardens. A few have spread beyond the fence to grow in the wild and are so vigorous they have taken over local ecosystems. Well-known examples include Japanese knotweed, which can poke up through asphalt, and rhododendrons, which colonise woodlands, densely covering the forest floor. Purple pampas grass, from South America, loved in many suburban gardens for its huge, showy plumes, is a menace on rocky coasts where it crowds out native species. Even floating pennywort (pictured), an attractive addition to garden ponds, is now choking some lakes and rivers. Eradication of this is difficult because it can reproduce by regrowing whole new plants from small pieces. Some of these plants are on a list of invasive species that have been declared illegal to sell or distribute in the UK and European Union, although home gardeners aren’t obliged to destroy them if they are already growing on their property. As well as avoiding further damaging introductions, we can all help by joining local control efforts. Where I live, in Greater London, community groups run “balsam bashing” walks, where volunteers beat back the Himalayan balsam plants trying to take over the banks of the Hogsmill river. They have to be beaten because pulling them out by the roots could destabilise the riverbank. Ecologists also want help with their efforts to discover which plant will become the next invasive pest – and that’s where home gardeners come in. It takes an average of 100 years for a non-native plant to spread to the wild from its first use. During that time, home gardeners may have noticed its invasive potential, says Katharina Dehnen-Schmutz at Coventry University, UK.

8-11-21 Here's how to spot invasive plants before they take over
IN THE past, horticulturalists brought thousands of new plant species from distant lands to the UK, and some have became staples in gardens. A few have spread beyond the fence to grow in the wild and are so vigorous they have taken over local ecosystems. Well-known examples include Japanese knotweed, which can poke up through asphalt, and rhododendrons, which colonise woodlands, densely covering the forest floor. Purple pampas grass, from South America, loved in many suburban gardens for its huge, showy plumes, is a menace on rocky coasts where it crowds out native species. Even floating pennywort (pictured), an attractive addition to garden ponds, is now choking some lakes and rivers. Eradication of this is difficult because it can reproduce by regrowing whole new plants from small pieces. Some of these plants are on a list of invasive species that have been declared illegal to sell or distribute in the UK and European Union, although home gardeners aren’t obliged to destroy them if they are already growing on their property. As well as avoiding further damaging introductions, we can all help by joining local control efforts. Where I live, in Greater London, community groups run “balsam bashing” walks, where volunteers beat back the Himalayan balsam plants trying to take over the banks of the Hogsmill river. They have to be beaten because pulling them out by the roots could destabilise the riverbank. Ecologists also want help with their efforts to discover which plant will become the next invasive pest – and that’s where home gardeners come in. It takes an average of 100 years for a non-native plant to spread to the wild from its first use. During that time, home gardeners may have noticed its invasive potential, says Katharina Dehnen-Schmutz at Coventry University, UK.

8-11-21 Real milk, no cows needed: Lab-made dairy products are now a reality
Milk, egg and other animal products can now be brewed in the lab using familiar fermentation processes, requiring regulators to reconsider what truly makes something "milk" or "cheese" BACK IN 2014, bioengineer Ryan Pandya had a demoralising encounter with a bagel. It wasn’t so much the bagel itself as its filling, a “bland and runny” substance made from soya which was supposed to resemble cream cheese. Pandya was a recent convert to veganism and was struggling to give up dairy products. But when life dealt him bad cream cheese, he made ice cream. Today, Pandya’s company Perfect Day is at the vanguard of a food revolution. It makes and sells milk, but has no cows. Its farm is a bioreactor in which it cultivates microorganisms genetically engineered to secrete milk proteins. The proteins don’t resemble milk – they are milk, identical to the real thing. Perfect Day hasn’t quite cracked cream cheese yet, but has arguably gone one better: ice cream. It is the only such milk company to get a product on the market so far, but won’t be the last. The past couple of years have been an absolute beanfeast for people like Pandya who want to give up animal products but also don’t want to give them up. Plant-based burgers from companies such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have proved that vegan “meat” can get pretty close to the real thing. Cultured meat – actual muscle tissue grown from stem cells – is being served in high-end restaurants and is inching closer to the mass market. But between these two extremes, a third revolution has quietly been brewing. Quite literally. It is called “precision fermentation”, which means using genetically engineered microorganisms to produce animal products. Milk is where most of the action is right now, but is by no means all there is on the menu: think of an animal product that isn’t meat, and somebody somewhere is working on brewing it up.

8-11-21 Why is it so hard to say whether plants are toxic or safe?
I AM often approached by people looking for definitive answers about plant toxicity. It seems like an area that needs urgent clarity, given that you see well-being influencers using potentially deadly, exotic flowers as decorations on smoothie bowls or online diet gurus claiming that everyday fruit and vegetables are toxic and should be eliminated from the diet. Surprisingly, however, determining whether a plant is “toxic” or not is actually quite tricky. The first thing you need to know about toxicity is that it isn’t binary, but a sliding scale determined largely by dosage. Take alcohol, for example. A single drop of vodka in a 1-litre jug of water is extremely unlikely to have any measurable biological effect on your body. However, swap that jug for a litre of pure vodka and this obviously becomes a very different story, with a continuum of risk between the two extremes. Now, in plants, the combinations and concentrations of their constituent substances can vary enormously depending on a complex range of factors, including genetics, soil chemistry, sunlight levels, pest damage, harvest stage and even how a fruit or vegetable has been stored and cooked. This can mean that – much like those two jugs – two virtually identical looking peppers sitting on the same shelf can contain a 100,000 fold difference in their levels of capsaicin, the highly irritant compound responsible for the spicy flavour of chillies. Indeed, the mildest peppers and the chillies so fiery that they are used to make pepper spray are the exact same species, just slightly different genetic selections within that. Even on the same plant, apples at the top of the tree, for example, can contain nearly twice the levels of some antioxidant compounds as those closer to the ground. That is because apples generate these compounds partially as a sunscreen to help shield their delicate tissues from the damage associated with ultraviolet light. You can often actually see this phenomenon in action on the same fruit, because these compounds are also pigments. The redder side of any apple is the side that was exposed to higher levels of UV light and is richer in potentially beneficial compounds.

8-11-21 Chameleon-like camouflage made for soft robot
A soft-bodied robot that can change its colour to match its background like a chameleon has been built. Professor Seung Hwan Ko of Seoul National University told the BBC the eventual applications of the technology would probably be as camouflage. But he said it could also be used for "cosmetic" purposes to let clothes or buildings respond to their surroundings. The research is published in Nature Communications. To make the colour-changing skin of the robot, the researchers used "thermochromic liquid crystal ink" which changes colour with temperature, in combination with "silver nanowire heaters". The resulting colour changes were fast enough to be "comparable to the physiological colour change found in animals" the researchers said. The robot has colour sensors underneath, and while it can respond to the surface it crosses, it can't mimic the patterns of complex backgrounds, Instead it has a range of pre-programmed patterns which help it to blend in. But because the colour change is caused by heating and cooling the "skin", some experts have wondered about the effect that ambient temperature may have on its chameleon-like abilities. Professor Ko said that while in the future this type of technology could be used to make military camouflage that matched its background, other applications could include active clothing worn simply for aesthetic reasons. "You may imagine a cloth that changes its colour and patterns according to your taste or environment", he said.

8-10-21 Insect-killing plant found by Australian highway is new to science
A newly described species of wild tobacco that scientists found growing next to a highway truck stop in Western Australia is covered in sticky glands that trap and kill small insects, including gnats, aphids and flies. While a range of carnivorous plants are known across the plant kingdom, this is the first wild tobacco plant discovered to kill insects. Dubbed Nicotiana insecticida, it was uncovered by a project looking for tobacco plants across Australia. The team, which included Mark Chase of London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, collected seeds from the insecticidal plant at a truck stop on the Northwest Coastal Highway, and then cultivated them at Kew, where the plants went on to develop the same sticky glandular hairs and to kill insects inside the greenhouses. The insect-ensnaring hairs resemble those on carnivorous sundew plants, but it isn’t clear if the plant extracts any food from the insects it kills. “We have no evidence that there is any nutritional benefit to the plant,” says Chase, who adds that the team is arranging some tests to see whether the plant absorbs any nutrients. But even if it doesn’t absorb nutrients, killing insects in this way could still be beneficial for N. insecticida. “It definitely protects the plants from insects like aphids,” says Chase. The plants may also benefit when the dead insects decay. Chase says the species may be like South African Roridula plants, which kill insects in the same way. “There is a bug that lives on these plants and is not trapped by the sticky hairs. It eats the trapped insects and defecates on the ground, and the plant benefits from this,” says Chase. However, there is no evidence yet that this is what happens with N. insecticida. The plant hasn’t yet been approved for commercial use by Australia, and the terms of the collecting permits issued to botanists like Chase strictly prohibit them from developing commercial applications. However, Chase says N. insecticida is fairly easy to grow and could perhaps be used as a biological control agent for killing aphids and fungus gnats in greenhouses.

8-9-21 Seemingly harmless plant is a carnivore with flowers that eat insects
A plant that grows in bogs along the west coast of North America has been spotted using its flowers to eat insects. Until now, researchers had no idea it was carnivorous. Carnivorous plants absorb nutrients from insects and sometimes vertebrates. Before now, there were 11 known groups of such plants, with the last being described in 2012. Now, Qianshi Lin and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Canada have demonstrated that a small flowering plant called Triantha occidentalis is also a meat-eater. “It is not just another species of known carnivorous plants,” says Lin. “This is a totally new group of carnivorous plants.” The researchers decided to look at T. occidentalis after previous research found the plant had lost genes that were also missing in carnivorous plants. They examined the concentration of nitrogen within the plant and found it comparable to carnivorous plants, suggesting it could be acquiring the nitrogen from insects. To find out more, the researchers placed fruit flies that had been fed nitrogen-15 isotopes onto the clustered flowers on the plant’s stems, which are known as inflorescences and had previously been noted to have sticky hairs that could be used for trapping insects. They later found this isotope inside the plant at higher concentrations than before the fruit flies were introduced, which indicated that it had consumed the fruit flies. “Somewhat unique is that they capture insects with inflorescences,” says Gerhard Gebauer at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. “Most carnivorous plants capture insects with their leaves so this is unexpected in a certain way.” Gebauer had previously suspected that plants within Triantha are carnivorous after observing that the nitrogen concentrations of Tofieldia calyculata, a plant in the same family found in the Austrian Alps, were different to those of non-carnivorous plants in the region.

8-6-21 Dolphins spotted trapping fish in mud rings in the Caribbean
Bottlenose dolphins are clever hunters. Some work alongside human fishers, coaxing fish ashore. Others use shells to catch their food. In the Florida Keys, some use “mud rings” – and now the behaviour has been documented in the Caribbean too. The mud ring hunting strategy is a case of blindsiding prey. A “ring maker” dolphin circles near the ocean floor and traps fish behind a ring of mud as others lie in wait with mouths open, and lunge to catch any fish attempting to escape the mud by jumping out of the water. This behaviour had been seen only in the Keys. Now, Eric Ramos at the City University of New York and his colleagues have found that dolphins living in the Chetumal-Corozal Bay in Mexico and Belize, in the Caribbean Sea, also use this technique. Their research used footage obtained from drones operating from boats. The researchers hope using drones in this way will advance the study of foraging behaviour. “A couple years ago, my friend sent me a drone video from the Bay. I said, ‘Oh, crap.’ That’s exactly what my colleague Zoe had shown me – pictures of circles in the mud from planes years ago. But at the time we did not see dolphins and I thought, ‘but they only do that in Florida’,” says Ramos. “In the new videos, we clearly see dolphins making the rings,” he says. “They’re also feeding in a bunch of rings. I thought maybe we can see them in satellite images, went to Google Earth and sifted through historical imagery in Mexico. We saw a picture of a mother and her calf [generating a mud ring] and we compared that to satellite imagery in the Florida Bay.” The comparison revealed that, while the dolphins in the Caribbean tend to lie in wait outside the plume to catch the fish, dolphins in the Florida Keys will often dive into the plume.

8-6-21 Squirrels use parkour tricks when leaping from branch to branch
Speedy rodents balance tree limb flexibility and distance when zipping through the forest. Parkour enthusiasts need look no further than up in the trees for inspiration. Squirrels’ aerial acrobatics make the rodents masters of the form, a new study suggests. A detailed look at how squirrels navigate narrow branches that bend and sway with the wind — where the smallest error could spell death — shows that the rodents make split-second calculations to balance trade-offs between branch bendiness and the distance between tree limbs. And for particularly tricky jumps, squirrels improvise parkour-style moves in midair to stick the landing, researchers report in the Aug. 6 Science. This study is “a great example of how cool ‘normal’ animals can be in their biomechanics,” says Michelle Graham, a graduate student in biomechanics at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg who was not involved with the research. “We’ve all seen squirrels do crazy stuff in nature, but no one ever pays any attention to it.” That is unless you’re like Nathaniel Hunt, who has been mesmerized by watching squirrels flash through the overstory since graduate school. “Tree canopies are incredibly challenging environments to navigate,” says Hunt, an integrative biologist at the University of Nebraska Omaha. When jumping between bendy branches, a squirrel must assess how far it has to jump and know when to leap. Jump too early and the squirrel will fall short. Too late, and the squirrel will find itself on a branch too flimsy from which to launch. Hunt wondered, “How are they sensitive to that trade-off, managing to make accurate leaps?” To find out, he and his colleagues designed an artificial forest obstacle course on the outskirts of the University of California, Berkeley campus. Then, the team used peanuts to coax free-ranging fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) into running and jumping through a series of acrobatic tests (SN: 1/29/19).

8-6-21 Will Turkey's bees return after the wildfires?
Wildfires have devastated Turkey's coastline and left at least eight people dead. But people in Marmaris region are also mourning the loss of their bees. This corner of Turkey produced most of the world’s pine honey, a special kind of honey that depends on a delicate ecosystem, now largely destroyed. BBC Turkish has spoken to beekeepers, who are facing a bleak future.

8-5-21 Scientists have worked out how to send viable mouse sperm on postcards
A simple way to transfer sperm in the mail could find an application in scientific studies and animal husbandry. Sperm is often transported nationally and internationally, but the glass vials typically used for transport are vulnerable to breaking in transit. A team led by Daiyu Ito at the University of Yamanashi in Japan has now come up with a way to deliver sperm that removes the risk of sample loss. The method involves placing sperm on a sheet of paper and popping it in the post. “Until now, sending mouse sperm to other researchers has required a freezing environment such as liquid nitrogen or a freezer,” says Ito. “Not only is the constant supply of liquid nitrogen and electricity needed for transportation expensive to maintain, but if there is a road disruption or power outage due to an earthquake, all the sperm will melt and become unavailable.” The researchers thought that an alternative might be to freeze-dry sperm onto a surface and send it through the standard mail. After testing several materials, including filter paper and vinyl sheets, the team discovered that weighing paper – a form of paper used to hold samples being weighed in scientific analyses – was the best option. Mouse sperm could be freeze-dried onto the paper and still remain viable when it was retrieved later. Thousands of mouse sperm samples could be stored this way in a single book, which the researchers have called a “sperm book”. To put the method to the test, the researchers freeze-dried mouse sperm to a sheet of weighing paper, before sandwiching the paper between plastic sheets for easier handling and sending it through the Japanese postal service, either in an envelope or attached to a postcard. When the samples were retrieved after travelling 200 kilometres – from the University of Tokyo to the University of Yamanashi – over the course of two days, the researchers could use the sperm to produce healthy mice.

8-5-21 Farm pesticides killing more bees - study
Agricultural pesticides sold to farmers ready-mixed into "cocktails" can kill twice as many bees, according to an analysis of 90 studies. Each measured the impact of environmental stresses such as pesticides and poor nutrition. Researchers used that data to quantify how combinations of those stresses affected the pollinating insects. And they say commercial formulas, which contain multiple chemicals, should now require their own licences. "Exposure to multiple pesticides is the norm, not the exception," Dr Harry Siviter, from the University of Texas at Austin, who led the study, told the BBC Radio 4's Inside Science programme. One 2016 study showed bee colonies containing larger numbers of pesticides were much more likely to die. "If you have a honeybee colony exposed to one pesticide that kills 10% of the bees and another pesticide that kills another 10%, you would expect, if those effects were additive, for 20% of the bees to be killed," Dr Siviter said. But a "synergistic effect" could produce 30-40% mortality. "And that's exactly what we found when we looked at the interactions," he said. "So we really should consider the interaction between those chemicals" when licensing commercial formulas for use, Dr Siviter said. "We don't continue to monitor pesticides once they're licensed for use, so we're proposing post-licensing observations. "If those pesticides [used in combination] harm bees, that harm is recorded." Another study published this week, however, suggests bees around the world are developing the ability to "clear out" a particularly damaging parasite - varroa, a mite that lives and feeds on honeybees and larvae. Bees already have complex organised hygienic behaviours, such as removing infected broods of larvae from the hive. And now, data published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B, from 40 years of research into colonies that survive infestations, without any chemical treatment, reveals they are evolving to "repurpose" that behaviour against varroa.

8-5-21 Why whales in Alaska have been so happy
The Covid pandemic brought tourism to a near-halt in Alaska last year. What will happen to the majestic humpback whale when cruise ships and visitors return in August? Christine Gabrielle sat at her desk at the Glacier Bay National Park headquarters in Gustavus, Alaska, and turned up the volume on her computer. The sound of gurgling and bubbling water enveloped the room. The lull was occasionally punctuated by the hollow roar of a male harbour seal, seeking to impress potential mates. Gabrielle's computer is at the end of a five-mile underwater cable that stretches into the frigid waters of the bay, a national preserve teeming with fish, birds, sea otters, dolphins, lovelorn seals and the area's feature attraction - several hundred humpback whales, who migrate to Alaska from the waters around Hawaii during summer months. What has been notable for the past 18 months was what she hadn't heard nearly as much of - ships. During a normal summer, Glacier Bay and the surrounding area buzzes with traffic, as vessels of all sizes, from massive, 150,000-tonne cruise liners to smaller whale-watching boats, ply the waters as part of Southern Alaska's massive tourism industry. The Covid-19 pandemic brought all of that to a sudden halt. In 2019, more than 1.3 million people visited Alaska on cruise ships. In 2020, there were 48 - not even enough to fill a New York City subway car. Overall marine traffic in Glacier Bay declined roughly 40%. It takes about a dozen minutes of listening to the soothing hydrophone audio on a Thursday morning in late May to hear traces of human activity - in this case, the high-pitched whine of a small boat's propeller. According to research by Gabrielle and Cornell University Professor Michelle Fournet, the level of manmade sound in Glacier Bay last year dropped sharply from 2018 levels, particularly at the lower frequencies generated by the massive cruise ship engines. Peak sound levels were down nearly half. All this afforded researchers an unprecedented opportunity to study whale behaviour in the kind of quiet environment that hasn't existed in the area for more than century.

8-5-21 Scuba-diver photographs Scotland's colourful marine life
Ross McLaren has completed more than 300 scuba-dives off the coast of Scotland and captured thousands of photos of marine plants and animals. Juggling his hobby with his day job as a chemistry teacher, Mr McLaren dives about once a week, with the Kilmarnock Sub-Aqua Club. He has explored waters in the River Clyde and sea-lochs around Oban, Argyll and Bute. "People look at Scotland's seas and lochs and for the most part see dark water and can't imagine much living in there," Mr McLaren tells BBC News. "But we have some absolutely incredible and diverse marine life that, if allowed, can flourish and thrive. "You might not expect it but it can be just as colourful as the amazing things you see on TV from places like the Great Barrier Reef." Mr McLaren and his wife learned to dive in 2016, so that they could visit Australia and dive around the Great Barrier Reef. They have yet to make that trip - but he has now completed about 320 dives, at depths up to 25m (80ft), in Scotland. "Underwater photography isn't easy - and I am absolutely no expert," he says. "My favourite photo is also my luckiest photo - I managed to capture an amazing image of a fireworks anemone [below] that ended up looking like a face, due to the movement of the current. The strangest photo I've ever taken is also my least favourite… a plastic bag. "From a distance, I could see a shape emerging - and I was absolutely convinced it was a nice big jellyfish. "As it started to materialise out of the gloom, my torch picked up the writing, 'I'm back.' "It was pretty clear that, unless jellyfish started getting tattoos, it was a plastic bag. "Sadly, I've now seen first-hand how easy it is for marine life to mistake plastic for food." Mr McLaren also discovered diving helped him manage his mental health and anxiety. "When I dive, despite it being classed as one of the riskiest activities in the world, I'm never anxious," he says.

8-4-21 Amazing images show butterfly mouthparts up close
THESE colourful and startlingly detailed appendages may look otherworldly, but they are actually proboscises, straw-like butterfly mouthparts used for feeding. The images were taken by Jan Michels at the University of Kiel, Germany, co-author of a recent study on butterfly feeding (Functional Ecology, doi.org/gp7x). He created the picture by stitching together multiple images taken using confocal laser scanning microscopy, an optical imaging technique that reveals the tiny intricacies of the proboscis by using mirrors to direct a laser beam across the field of view. The research showed that flower-feeding butterflies have a smoother, more tapered and less bendable proboscis than species that don’t feed on flowers. This allows the flower-feeders to penetrate nearly twice as deep. Michels and his colleagues tested how well both types of butterfly could use their proboscis to enter funnel-shaped glass tubes filled with a sugar solution. They found that non-flower-feeding individuals, such as mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa), tended to get their mouthparts stuck 90 per cent of the time, while flower-feeding species like the eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) never got them stuck. The work reveals how evolution shaped butterfly proboscises to allow some species to be able to feed via narrow floral tubes easily and efficiently.

8-4-21 Snake-eating spiders are surprisingly common
Spiders from at least 11 different families feed on serpents many times their size. A spider’s typical dinner menu might include insects, worms or even small lizards and frogs (SN: 2/3/21). But some arachnids have more adventurous tastes — they can eat snakes up to 30 times their size. Take the Australian redback. Not including legs, a female of this species of spider is only about the size of an M&M candy. But she can take down relatively big prey such as juvenile eastern brown snakes, which are among the most venomous serpents in the world. A snake that gets trapped in a redback’s web — a messy tangle of long, sticky silk threads that dangle to the ground — is quickly set upon by the spider, which subdues the struggling victim with more sticky silk before delivering a toxic bite that eventually kills the snake. “I find it cool that tiny Australian redback spiders can kill brown snakes,” says spider biologist Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland. “[It’s] very fascinating and a little frightening!” But redbacks are far from the only spiders with an appetite for snake. At least 11 different families of spiders feed on snakes, Nyffeler and herpetologist Whit Gibbons report May 11 in The Journal of Arachnology. Nyffeler and Gibbons, of the University of Georgia in Athens, searched for reports of snakes eating spiders in all sorts of places — from research journals and magazine articles to social media and YouTube videos. In all, the team analyzed 319 accounts from all over the world. Most reports came from Australia and the United States, but these spiders live on every continent except Antarctica. “I didn’t realize how common this was. I don’t think anybody did,” says evolutionary biologist Mercedes Burns of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who was not involved in the research.

8-3-21 Harvestman genome helps explain how arachnids got grasping legs
Some spider-like animals grow long legs that wrap and grasp like a monkey’s tail – and a genetic study has helped establish how they develop. Harvestmen, or daddy-long-legs, are arachnids, but they aren’t spiders: they instead belong to a closely related group called the Opiliones. They have eight extraordinarily long legs that can measure up to 28 times their body length, and they can bend the tips of them to wrap around and grasp objects. However, harvestmen – like spiders, ticks and scorpions – actually have 12 limb-like appendages in total. The four at the head end develop into short jaws or pincers, or short limbs called pedipalps, which are unique to arachnids and can often detect tastes. Fascinated by the way these appendages develop differently, Guilherme Gainett at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues teamed up with genome specialists at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC to draft a sequence of the genome of a lab-raised harvestman (Phalangium opilio). After identifying three genes they thought might affect how the animal’s legs develop, they engineered dozens of harvestmen embryos with different combinations of modified ways of expressing those genes. Some of the harvestmen developed deformed legs that more closely resembled the first four appendages, says Gainett. And when the team interfered with specific genetic pathways, the legs lacked the kind of segmentation – similar to joints in vertebrates – that normally allows harvestmen to curl their legs around objects. “We’ve shown… how the combinations of these genes create a blueprint in the embryo to differentiate between what’s going to be a leg that is used for walking and what is going to be a pedipalp, which can be used to manipulate food and assess the surroundings,” says Gainett.

8-3-21 Lake Tahoe closes some areas due to plague-infected chipmunks
A few areas on the south shore of Lake Tahoe will be closed to visitors this week after some chipmunks tested positive for plague, officials in California's El Dorado County said. The plague-carrying chipmunks had no contact with people, an El Dorado County spokesman said, and the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, Kiva Beach, and their parking areas will probably be open by Friday, after the U.S. Forest Service conducts its eradication treatments. Plague, an infectious bacterial disease spread by chipmunks, squirrels, and other wild rodents, is naturally present in many parts of California, and it can spread to humans via fleas. The plague can be very serious in the rare cases it infects humans, and it can be treated with antibiotics if caught early enough. One person contracted plague in California last year, but there were no recorded cases in the five years before that. The symptoms of plague include fever, nausea, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes, El Dorado County officials say, and it can be prevented by avoiding wild rodents, keeping your pets away from them, and treating cats and dogs with flea medicine. Hundreds of miles away in Monrovia, California, at least two women contracted Typhus after coming in contact with dead rats. Like plague, Typhus has symptoms that resemble COVID-19. "First, it was exhaustion and then a fever and then a headache," Margaret Holzmann, who got a breakthrough case while cleaning a dead rat from her yard, told local news stations. "I couldn't do anything, I was just so exhausted." And like plague, Typhus is spread to humans through infected fleas. "If you see something in your yard, call someone who can dispose of it safely and don't try to do it yourself," Holzmann advised.

8-2-21 Inside the fight to stop destructive fishing in marine protected areas
Greenpeace campaigners aboard their ship, the Sea Beaver, are crowded around a screen showing a trawler sitting on the edge of the Bassurelle Sandbank, a marine protected area in the Channel between England and France. The ship is licensed for an especially destructive type of fishing that has grown rapidly in the last year. The vessel is the latest in the sights of the campaigners. They have spent the past few months off the English south coast to document and deter examples of industrial fishing in England’s 178 marine protected areas (MPAs), which are meant to relieve pressure on marine life and habitats by restricting environmentally harmful activities. “We’re doing this because the government has repeatedly failed to properly protect these MPAs,” says Chris Thorne of Greenpeace. As the Sea Beaver slowly leaves Newhaven harbour, the crew revisit their map. The outline of the trawler is hovering on the border of the MPA, which has been modified by Greenpeace’s captain with a line of skull and crossbones. Thorne’s suspicions are raised further by the trawler having apparently switched off the satellite-based automatic identification system that helps authorities monitor vessels. The crew decide to speed to its location. Fishing is legally allowed in England’s MPAs. There are no authorities to call if the target trawler is found inside Bassurelle with its nets in the water. Instead, the Sea Beaver’s crew are prepared for direct action. If their French-flagged target is found fishing in the protected area, Thorne explains that they will first call on it and ask it to stop. Failing that, the activists will buzz past their target in the rigid inflatable boat (RIB) being towed behind the Sea Beaver, repeating their request. As a last resort, they will interfere with fishing equipment, potentially using the big, bright yellow metal buoy sitting on their deck. That would put the Greenpeace crew at risk of arrest for criminal damage.

8-2-21 A hammerhead shark baby boom near Florida hints at a historic nursery
The nursery of endangered sharks would be the first known in U.S. Atlantic waters. It seems like an unlikely place for a nursery of endangered hammerhead sharks, but a recreational hot spot just off the coast of Miami may host a school of these precious babies. If confirmed, the nursery would be the first ever identified in U.S. Atlantic waters for this iconic shark species. Finding an endangered shark nursery in a vast ocean is like finding a needle in a haystack. While scientists have used satellites to track migrations of adult great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran), where the sharks breed and give birth and where babies grow up is still “a bit of a mystery,” says shark scientist Catherine Macdonald of the University of Miami. Macdonald investigates where and how sharks can thrive in areas that are heavily impacted by humans. One of those areas is Florida’s Biscayne Bay, a popular spot for fishing and boating that is polluted by urban runoff. There, she and colleagues regularly survey shark abundance and diversity using a catch-and-release system: Sharks that get hooked on baited lines are reeled in, documented, tagged and put back into the water. Discovering a potential hammerhead shark nursery was an accident. The team got its first inkling of something special in June 2018, when researchers caught a juvenile great hammerhead — an interesting anomaly. In a decade of surveying, the team had never captured a hammerhead in these waters, says David Shiffman, a marine biologist at Arizona State University who is based in Washington, D.C. Several months later, the team caught another young hammerhead. Over the next year and a half, “we kept catching them … every few months,” Macdonald says. So far, the team has documented nine baby great hammerheads, Macdonald, Shiffman and colleagues report July 11 in Conservation Science and Practice. Based on the sharks’ sizes — all under 200 centimeters long — they were less than 5 years old. The area where the young sharks have been found is fairly shallow and carpeted with seagrass, which probably provides protection and is rife with small fish to eat, the researchers suspect.


55 Animal Intelligence & Zoology News Articles
for August of 2021

Animal Intelligence News Articles for July of 2021