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!)

27 Intelligence & Zoology News Articles
for January of 2022

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1-20-22 Endangered coho salmon returning to California streams
There has been a very welcome sight in several Northern California streams over the last few months: endangered coho salmon. The salmon's spawning season runs from November to January. Last year, California saw more precipitation between October and December than in the previous 12 months, the National Weather Service said, and this substantial increase in rain and snow helped more fish make it this spawning season from the Tomales Bay watershed to tributaries of the Lagunitas Creek. "We've seen fish in places that they haven't been for almost 25 years," Preston Brown, the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network's director of watershed conservation, told Reuters. California has been experiencing a long drought, and the rain and snow have been beneficial for agriculture and other industries that rely on water. Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, told Reuters that coho salmon "like these really tiny small streams, and that's where their survival is the highest. If we give the fish a fighting chance at survival, they will come back."

1-20-22 These tiny beetles fly fast thanks to wing bristles and a weird, wide stroke
Here’s how the miniature insects match the speed of beetles three times as big. Featherwing beetles are some of the world’s smallest flying insects. Yet they can rocket along with the speed and agility of much larger insects. Now, scientists have figured out how the beetles do it. A wide wing stroke combined with lightweight, bristled wings allow the beetles to efficiently propel themselves through the air, researchers report online January 19 in Nature. Some species of featherwing beetles are particularly tiny; two of the insects set end to end would barely reach a credit card’s thickness. At such small sizes, the air is viscous and air friction becomes a serious obstacle to flight. But previous research from entomologist Alexey Polilov of Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia and colleagues showed that the insects can fly at speeds comparable to that of beetles three times as large. Polilov and his team investigated this flying prowess further, studying one of the smallest featherwing beetles, Paratuposa placentis, using high-speed video and computational simulations. The beetle’s style of beating its wings is unlike anything previously described, the team found. Its wings make a wide, figure-eight pattern, clapping together at the top of their upstroke to reduce drag and meeting again at the bottom of the downstroke. This wide motion gives the beetle extra power to push through the air. Crucially, the beetle’s wings are made of bristles. Because of the air friction at these small sizes, those bristles allow the wings to have the flapping power of wings made of membranes, like those of a housefly, but for a lot less mass. “The bristled wing rows almost as well [as membranous wings] without letting much air through, like the feather of a bird,” Polilov says. Video recordings of some other featherwing beetles show they have a similar flying style, the researchers say. The beetles’ ancestors were larger than their modern kin. The findings give insights into how insects can retain important athletic abilities as they scale down in size.

1-18-22 New-to-science tarantula that lives inside bamboo found by YouTuber
A species of tarantula seems to live exclusively inside hollow bamboo stems, which no other tarantula is known to do. Tarantulas make their homes everywhere from dusty desert burrows to a rainforest canopy. Now, researchers have discovered a tarantula new to science that dwells entirely within the hollow stems of bamboo, a first for this group of colossal, woolly spiders. JoCho Sippawat – a wildlife YouTuber from Thailand – first encountered the spiders while visiting a jungle in Tak province, in the north-west of the country, noticing a brown tarantula with narrow, light bands on the legs dropping from a hollow bamboo stem , or “culm”. Sippawat sent a photo of the tarantula to Narin Chomphuphuang, an arachnologist at Khon Kaen University, who immediately suspected the creature was undescribed. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness! For science, this will be a new tarantula’,” says Chomphuphuang. In July 2020, Chomphuphuang and his colleagues accompanied Sippawat to the forest outside of the village of Mae Tho to find and collect some of the tarantulas. Back at the laboratory, the researchers made detailed measurements of the spiders’ physical features and compared them to other related species. Based on key differences in features of the legs and the shape of the male sexual organs, the team not only assigned the tarantula to a new species, but to a totally new genus: Taksinus. “Taksinus” refers to Taksin the Great, a king who once governed Tak province. The species is also the only member of the Asian “earth tiger” tarantula subgroup found in Thailand that lives and nests in tall vegetation rather than on the ground. Taksinus bambus is the first tarantula species known to live specifically within bamboo stems. Chomphuphuang and his team searched trees and other plants near where they found T. bambus, but the arachnids were strictly confined to bamboo. This pickiness is unusual, says Saoirse Foley at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, since tarantulas are typically flexible in how they meet their habitat needs. It is possible, says Chomphuphuang, that these tarantulas have “adapted to living in bamboo for millions of years”.

1-18-22 Scientists vacuumed animal DNA out of thin air for the first time
Sucking genetic material from the sky could help monitor biodiversity. On a dreary winter day in December of 2020, ecologist Elizabeth Clare strolled through the Hamerton Zoo Park in England wielding a small vacuum pump. She paused outside of animal enclosures, holding aloft a flexible tube attached to the machine. Her mission: suck animal DNA out of thin air. The ability to sniff out animals’ airborne genetic material has been on scientists’ wish list for over a decade. DNA collected from water has been used to track aquatic species, including salmon and sharks (SN: 5/7/18). Scientists knew they could use environmental DNA, or eDNA, in the air to monitor land-based species — if only they could trap it. Now, researchers have done just that by using vacuums, two independent groups report January 6 in Current Biology. “It’s such a crazy idea,” says Clare, of York University in Toronto. “We’re vacuuming DNA out of the sky.” The idea came to Clare, who did the work while at Queen Mary University of London, during a previous experiment in which she sampled air outside naked mole rat burrows. At the zoo, Clare and colleagues ran the vacuum pump for half-hour sessions in and around animal enclosures, collecting 72 samples from 20 sites. Then, the team took the material ensnared in the pump’s filter back to the lab for analysis. Meanwhile, another team at the University of Copenhagen was unknowingly chasing the same idea. Biologist Kristine Bohmann and colleagues sought to trap airborne DNA at the Copenhagen Zoo using tiny fans similar to the ones that cool down computers. The team also experimented with a vacuum. Deploying their contraptions between 30 minutes and 30 hours at the tropical house, stables and in open air, the researchers found that both the fan and vacuum method collected ample animal DNA.

1-14-22 The largest group of nesting fish ever found lives beneath Antarctic ice
The unexpected find is much larger than any other known collection of fish nests. Five hundred meters below the ice covering Antarctica’s Weddell Sea sits the world’s largest known colony of breeding fish, a new study finds. An estimated 60 million active nests of a type of icefish stretch across at least 240 square kilometers, nearly the size of Orlando, Fla. Many fish create nests, from freshwater cichlids to artistically inclined pufferfish (SN: 10/13/20). But until now, researchers have encountered only a handful of icefish nests at a time, or perhaps several dozen. Even the most gregarious nest-building fish species were previously known to gather only in the hundreds. The icefish probably have a substantial and previously unknown influence on Antarctic food webs, researchers report January 13 in Current Biology. Deep sea biologist Autun Purser of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, and colleagues stumbled across the massive colony in early 2021 while on a research cruise in the Weddell Sea, which is located between the Antarctic Peninsula and the main continent. The researchers were studying chemical connections between surface waters and the seafloor. Part of the research involved surveying seafloor life by slowly towing a device behind the scientists’ icebreaking research vessel. That device recorded video as it glides just above the bottom of the ocean and used sound to map seafloor features. At one location on the Filchner ice shelf in the Weddell Sea, one of Purser’s colleagues was operating the camera tow and noticed that it kept encountering circular Jonah’s icefish (Neopagetopsis ionah) nests down below. Icefish, of the family Channichthyidae, are only found in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters and have strange adaptations to the extreme cold such as clear blood full of antifreeze compounds (SN: 9/19/98).

1-13-22 Largest ever fish colony hosts 100 billion eggs under Antarctic ice
In the Weddell Sea near Antarctica, scientists have found the largest colony of fish nests in the world, covering 240 square kilometres. The largest colony of fish nests ever seen has been discovered under an ice shelf in the Weddell Sea near Antarctica. Autun Purser at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and his colleagues discovered the breeding ground by chance when they went on a six-week expedition to the polar region in February 2021. They were on board RV Polarstern, a massive polar exploration ship designed to navigate icebergs by breaking through them. Purser’s job was to trail a camera behind the ship to image the seafloor. “It’s a normal Canon camera you can buy in any shop… it’s just housed in a €3.5 million frame,” he says. The researchers were doing a routine analysis of the seafloor when they stumbled upon thousands of nests made by Jonah’s icefish (Neopagetopsis ionah), a type of small ray-finned fish typically found in the Southern Ocean. “And then we kept moving for four hours and kept seeing more fish nests,” says Purser. The nests look like blue circles on the seafloor and are each about 15 centimetres deep. The researchers then spent the next four days documenting the colony. “Some days, we would be travelling for up to 19 hours,” says Purser. He and his colleagues estimate that the colony has more than 60 million nests and covers at least 240 square kilometres. “It looked computer generated how structured these nests were,” says Purser. Each nest had one adult fish and about 1500 to 2000 eggs. “We don’t know how long they take before they hatch or even how many will survive,” he says. While researchers have observed this species of icefish before, they have only been seen in small colonies. We know very little about the fish, says Purser.

1-13-22 Can electric fields help plants grow? New claims met with caution
A study suggests that a small device powered by wind and rain can boost crop yield, but other researchers have cast doubt on the findings. A team of researchers claims to have shown that a high-voltage electric field generated using wind and rain can boost crop yield, but other scientists say the results should be treated with caution. The effectiveness of using electric fields to stimulate crop growth, known as electroculture, is far from established, despite being tested in Europe, the US and China. A “golden age” is dawning for the technology, one Chinese scientist told New Scientist in 2019. Now, Jianjun Luo at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues have grown two sets of peas in a greenhouse, one of which was exposed to an electric field. Previous tests have drawn electricity from the grid to create the field, but Luo’s one used a small device – a triboelectric nanogenerator – to generate it from wind and rainfall. The result: pea yields increased by almost a fifth, and the plants germinated faster than the control peas too. “The main advance is that the self-powered system can boost crop yield by harvesting the wasted wind and raindrop energy in our daily life,” says Luo. He says the generator system they used cost less than $40. The team writes that the approach could be “immediately and widely applied” to increase food production and curb agricultural pollution. Still, Luo concedes that public attitudes to food grown this way could be an issue. “The barriers to rolling this out for commercial food production may be the cost and food safety.” Ellard Hunting at the University of Bristol, UK, says what is really new here isn’t growing crops with an electric field but using rain and wind power to provide the electricity to do it. That could remove one barrier to electroculture: the carbon emissions and cost of energy consumption. “You could also achieve this with wind turbines and solar panels, but their approach is cheaper,” says Hunting.

1-12-22 Why cat-like creatures vanished from North America for 6 million years
Around 23 million years ago, North America's sabre-toothed cat-like animals disappeared, leaving the continent without felines for several million years. Now palaeontologists are solving the mystery of this "Cat Gap". LOOKING out over an expanse of scrubby sagebrush, it is hard to imagine that the high desert in eastern Oregon was once home to large creatures that resembled sabre-toothed cats. The land here is mostly dry and grassy, punctuated by sharp hills. There isn’t a lot to crouch behind while waiting to ambush prey, and little in the way of trees to climb or sharpen claws on: in some places, the only sign of plant life is a layer of lichen on the rust-coloured slopes. But it wasn’t always like this. “These animals made their home here as early as 35 million years ago, when this part of Oregon was covered in dense jungle,” says Nick Famoso, a palaeontologist at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon. “It was such a subtropical land that bananas grew here. We’ve collected their fossilised seeds.” This was part of the territory of the nimravids, ancient beasts also known as false sabre-toothed cats. Fossilised remains indicate that for more than 12 million years, seven of the 10 known nimravid genera inhabited North America from Florida to New Mexico and up beyond what is now the Canadian border. Then, around 23 million years ago, they disappeared. The trail went cold, and the fossil record suggests that there were no cats on the continent for the next 6.5 million years. What caused them to die off? And what allowed felines to finally populate North America 16.5 million years ago? Palaeontologists have long puzzled over this so-called Cat Gap. Finally, they are finding some answers. Nimravids were named by US palaeontologist Edward Drinker Cope in the late 1800s. At first, they were classified as members of the cat family, with whom they share some key traits. One of the characteristic features of cats is that they have teeth specialised for eating meat. “They have knife-blade-looking teeth in the back of the mouth where molars are, and canine teeth up front that are well-adapted for killing things,” says Famoso. Cats also have retractable claws and a tail that helps with balance. “All cat-like things tend to have those three structures,” he says. “True cats do, and nimravids have them, too.”

1-12-22 How bacteria-killing viruses are being used to keep food safe
LISTERIOSIS kills hundreds of people every year in Europe alone. The bacterium that causes it, Listeria monocytogenes, can contaminate all kinds of foods and keeps growing even in fridges. But if you live in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Israel, you probably have a lower risk of infection because you are eating foods sprayed with a cocktail of viruses that kill listeria bacteria. Bacteria-killing viruses, called bacteriophages, are increasingly being used to destroy harmful microbes during food processing, to stop food rotting and to treat plant and animal diseases on farms. One big advantage of this approach is that phages can kill bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics or disinfectants. Bacteriophages are already everywhere. There are an estimated 1031 phages on Earth, more than every other kind of biological entity combined. Your gut alone is thought to hold 1015. Given their multitudes, it is no surprise people have wanted to put them to work. Phages have been used to treat human infections since the 1920s, when the Eliava Phage Therapy Center in Tbilisi, Georgia, was set up. It still treats people today, but phage therapy is seldom used elsewhere. It is much easier to prescribe antibiotics than to find a phage capable of killing the specific bacterium infecting a person. When it comes to food, it is a different matter. Phages are increasingly being used in some countries to kill bacteria that cause food poisoning. The main targets are salmonella, shigella and the O157:H7 strain of E. coli, in addition to L. monocytogenes. These bacteria can lurk on fresh foods such as salads and can also contaminate the surface of foods after cooking. There is no perfect way to get rid of them. For instance, ionising radiation is extremely effective, but it can alter the taste, texture and look of food.

1-12-22 Unusual anglerfish glows with bioluminescent and fluorescent light
We already knew that anglerfish have light-generating bacteria in their tissues – now it turns out that one species, the Pacific footballfish, can also glow by fluorescing green. Deep-sea anglerfish illuminate their pitch-black home using a lure that contains a colony of bioluminescent symbiotic bacteria, but now researchers have discovered that one anglerfish species creates a glow in a second, unexpected way. The Pacific footballfish (Himantolophus sagamius) can also biofluoresce, which means it absorbs one wavelength of light and reflects it as a different colour. It is an ability seldom documented in the ocean’s inky depths, and has never been seen in anglerfish before. In May 2021, a dead female footballfish washed up on the shore of Crystal Cove State Park in California. Park staff transferred the fish to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, much to the excitement of William Ludt, an ichthyologist at the museum. “This is an extremely rare species,” says Ludt. “There’s only around 30 or so large adult females in museum collections worldwide.” Photos of the anglerfish were circulated in news coverage and across social media, thanks to widespread captivation with the animal’s strange, spherical proportions and thorny, black skin, so Ludt could already see the specimen was in “immaculate condition”, he says. Ludt and his colleagues had been assessing other fishes’ relative biofluorescent capabilities. They wondered if this anglerfish might reflect light under certain wavelengths too. “It was a long shot,” says Ludt. “For something to fluoresce, it usually needs a source of light, and this is a deep-sea fish that lives in an area of the ocean that has no natural light.” When the researchers put the anglerfish under a particular shade of blue light, the front of the lure above the fish’s head glowed with faint, green speckles, indicating it was fluorescing.

1-11-22 Female dolphins have a clitoris much like humans’
Similarities between the species suggest female dolphins experience sexual pleasure. Dolphins have active sex lives, with frequent dalliances not just for reproduction. One reason may be that the prominent female dolphin clitoris provides sexual pleasure. A new up-close look at clitoral tissue from common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) reveals many similarities to the human clitoris. Abundant sensory nerves and spongy tissues in the genitalia of our female flippered friends suggest the dolphin clitoris may be highly sensitive to physical contact, researchers report January 10 in Current Biology. The findings suggest that the bottlenose dolphin clitoris likely provides pleasure during sex, which adds up since dolphins have sex all the time, says Patricia Brennan, an evolutionary biologist at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. Heterosexual and homosexual sex is common in wild dolphins, including female-female sex. “What that looks like is females stimulating each other’s clitoris,” with snouts, flippers or flukes, Brennan says. Females also masturbate by rubbing their clitoris against objects on the sea bottom. Like female reproductive anatomy generally, the clitoris — in many species, not just dolphins — is poorly studied in contrast to male genitalia. The first rigorous study of clitoral anatomy in humans wasn’t published until 1998. During Brennan’s recent research on dolphin vaginal anatomy, the large size of the common bottlenose dolphin clitoris aroused her curiosity (SN: 12/15/17). The paucity of prior research prompted Brennan and colleagues to examine the organ and look under the hood — including under the wrinkled clitoral hood — an area of enlarged erectile tissue near the vaginal entrance where contact and penile stimulation during copulation is likely.

1-10-22 What dolphins reveal about the evolution of the clitoris
Patricia Brennan's latest research suggests that bottlenose dolphins have clitorises that evolved for pleasure. She tells New Scientist why it's important to study animal genitalia. Patricia Brennan has forged a controversial career in studying the twist and turns of the evolution of animal genitalia. A biologist based at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, her latest research suggests that bottlenose dolphins have clitorises that have evolved for pleasure – something she says makes sense given the amount of sex the animals have. Brennan tells New Scientist about her latest discovery and why it’s so important to study female genitalia. Jessica Hamzelou: Why study dolphin clitorises? Patricia Brennan: I have been collaborating with a researcher who was studying vaginas in dolphins. Dolphins have very complicated vaginas, which contain many folds. The hypothesis was that these folds were there to exclude salt water during copulation, because it is supposed to be lethal to mammalian sperm. But nobody had actually ever really studied these folds or tried to test the idea. We haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly why they are that way. But when we dissected the vaginas, I would look at these clitorises and be just amazed. I was like: “Oh my gosh, these are pretty big, well-developed clitorises.” And I thought that might be something interesting to look at. We know that dolphins have sex all the time. They have sex for social reasons, not just for reproduction. It makes sense that the clitoris would be functional [and give pleasure when stimulated]. Are dolphins really having sex all the time? Are they more sexually active than other animals? We don’t really know if they are having more sex than other marine mammals. It’s really hard to study sexual behaviour in cetaceans because they’re out there [in the ocean]. But bottlenose dolphins live close to the shore, where scientists can go out on their boats and study them. They see them having sex year-round, even when the females are not receptive, so not ready to get pregnant and have babies.

1-10-22 Fungi that live on eucalyptus roots can control trees' gene activity
Eucalyptus trees rely on root fungi to source nutrients and water – but the fungi actually control the genetic development of the tree roots by releasing tiny chunks of RNA. A root fungus that helps eucalyptus trees get nutrients and water has a surprising way of maintaining this symbiotic relation. It releases tiny bits of RNA that manipulate gene activity in the tree roots. “It is a bit like a key and lock mechanism where the RNA is a key needed to unlock access to the plant,” says Jonathan Plett at Western Sydney University in Australia. Many trees form symbiotic relations with ectomycorrhizal fungi, which wrap around small roots. “Think like a hot dog in a bun, where the root is the hot dog and the fungus is the bun surrounding it,” says Plett. This process stops the root growing, but fungal finger-like projections – hyphae – extend out into the soil far beyond the normal root system of the tree. They gather nutrients that the fungus trades for plant sugars. It is known that ectomycorrhizal fungi “talk” to plants by releasing a variety of proteins. Now Plett and his colleagues have shown that one fungus (Pisolithus microcarpus) also releases a microRNA when it colonises the roots of the flooded gum tree (Eucalyptus grandis). MicroRNAs are small bits of RNA that reduce the production of certain sets of proteins. Cells normally use microRNAs to control their own gene activity, but some pathogens also release microRNAs to turn off genes involved in cellular defence in a potential target organism. microcarpus does something similar. After discovering that P. microcarpus releases a microRNA called Pmic_miR-8, Plett’s team blocked Pmic_miR-8 in the roots of seedlings growing in the lab. They found that previously colonised roots resumed growth, showing that Pmic_miR-8 is essential to maintaining the symbiotic relationship.

1-10-22 Here’s what goldfish driving ‘cars’ tell us about navigation
The animals’ sense of direction is not limited to their natural habitat. It might seem like a fish needs a car like — well, like a fish needs a bicycle. But a new experiment suggests that fish actually make pretty good drivers. In the experiment, several goldfish learned to drive what is essentially the opposite of a submarine — a tank of water on wheels — to destinations in a room. That these fish could maneuver on land suggests that fishes’ understanding of space and navigation is not limited to their natural environment — and perhaps has something in common with landlubber animals’ internal sense of direction, researchers report in the Feb. 15 Behavioural Brain Research. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel taught six goldfish to steer a motorized water tank. The fishmobile was equipped with a camera that continually tracked a fish driver’s position and orientation inside the tank. Whenever the fish swam near one of the tank’s walls, facing outward, the vehicle trundled off in that direction. Fish were schooled on how to drive during about a dozen 30-minute sessions. The researchers trained each fish to drive from the center of a small room toward a pink board on one wall by giving the fish a treat whenever it reached the wall. During their first sessions, the fish averaged about 2.5 successful trips to the target. During their final sessions, fish averaged about 17.5 successful trips. By the end of driver’s ed, the animals also took faster, more direct routes to their goal. Some of the fish — all named after Pride and Prejudice characters — were speedier learners than others. “Mr. Darcy was the best,” says study coauthor and neuroscientist Ronen Segev. In further experiments, the goldfish were still able to reach the pink board when starting from random positions around the room, rather than the center. This finding confirmed that the fish had not merely memorized a choreography of movements to reach their reward, but were planning routes toward their prize each time. When the researchers tried to trick the goldfish by placing decoy boards of different colors on the other walls or moving the pink board to the other side of the room, the fish were not fooled, and navigated to the pink board.

1-8-22 Drug-resistant bacteria evolved on hedgehogs long before the use of antibiotics
Fungi on the animals produce natural antibiotics that may have promoted the evolution of resistance. Beneath the prickly spines of European hedgehogs, a microbial standoff may have bred a dangerous drug-resistant pathogen long before the era of antibiotic use in humans. It’s no question that antibiotic use accelerates drug-resistance in bacteria that colonize humans, says Jesper Larsen, a veterinarian at Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen. But, he says, these microbes had to get the genes to give them resistance from somewhere, and scientists don’t know where most of these genes come from. Now, for one type of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, Larsen and colleagues have tracked its evolution to hedgehogs hundreds of years ago. On the skin of these critters, a fungus that produces natural antibiotics may have created the environment for drug resistance to evolve in the bacteria, the researchers report January 5 in Nature. One of the most common drug-resistant pathogens, MRSA infects hundreds of thousands of people worldwide each year, and these infections can be hard to treat. The specific type of MRSA that the new study focuses on causes a fraction of the cases in humans. The team first found MRSA in hedgehogs by coincidence years ago when biologist Sophie Rasmussen, who was part of the new work and is now at the University of Oxford, approached Larsen’s team about sampling a freezer full of dead hedgehogs. Of these animals collected from Denmark, 61 percent carried MRSA. “We found this extremely high prevalence in hedgehogs,” Larsen says, suggesting that the animals were a reservoir for the drug-resistant superbug. In the new work, the scientists surveyed hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus and Erinaceus roumanicus) from 10 European countries and New Zealand. Workers at wildlife rescue centers swabbed the noses, skin and feet of 276 animals. MRSA was prevalent in hedgehogs in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and the Czech Republic.

1-8-22 See stunning fossils of insects, fish and plants from an ancient Australian forest
New specimens show a parasitoid wasp, fish that have dined on phantom midges and more. A new trove of plant, insect, fish and other fossils offers an unprecedented snapshot of Australia’s wetter, forest-dominated past. McGraths Flat in New South Wales contains thousands of beautifully preserved specimens of flowering plants, ferns, spiders, insects and fish, vertebrate paleontologist Matthew McCurry and colleagues report January 7 in Science Advances. Images of the fossils’ soft tissues, captured with scanning electron microscopy, reveal them in astonishing detail, from the facets of a crane fly’s compound eye to phantom midges trapped in a fish’s stomach. Once upon a time, Australia was carpeted with rainforests. During the Miocene Epoch, about 23 million to 5 million years ago, Earth underwent a climatic upheaval. For Australia, that meant drying out, with shrubs, grasses and deserts expanding into once-lush territory. McGraths Flat formed during that transition, between 16 million and 11 million years ago. At the time, it was part of a temperate forest around a small lake, new analyses of fossil pollen and leaves suggest. The fossils were cemented within fine layers of goethite, an iron hydroxide mineral that probably formed as acidic groundwater circulated through basalt rocks, leaching out their iron, the researchers suggest. As the groundwater seeped into the lake, the iron became oxidized and precipitated out as goethite particles. The tiny particles encased plants, insects and other creatures in the water — possibly while they were still alive — and later replaced some of the organisms’ interior structures. “Until we studied these fossils, we wouldn’t have thought to look for well-preserved fossils in this type of rock,” says McCurry, of the Australian Museum Research Institute in Sydney. At other fossil-rich sites known for preserving soft tissues, such as Canada’s Burgess Shale or China’s Qingjiang biota, the organisms tend to be encased in the sort of soft mud found at the bottom of a sea (SN: 11/28/11; SN: 3/21/19). But, McCurry says, this site shows that goethite “has everything you need to create exceptionally well-preserved specimens.”

1-7-22 Spider fossil sheds light on Australia’s ancient rainforest ecosystem
A suite of plant and animal fossils from a site in New South Wales date back about 16 million years to a time when the region was blanketed in lush rainforests. An immaculately preserved fossil of a mygalomorph spider (Mygalomorphae) has been uncovered by researchers excavating at the McGraths Flat, a fossil site in New South Wales, Australia. The 4-centimetre-long spider (pictured above) lived some 11 million to 16 million years ago when the area was dominated by rainforest. “It’s unlike anything that we have seen alive today in Australia,” says co-author Matthew McCurry at the Australian Museum Research Institute in Sydney. “One of the characteristics that’s quite different is the size of this first set of legs – it’s an extremely large spider.” A suite of equally well-preserved fossils of plants, insects and vertebrates were found at the McGraths Flat site, giving researchers an unprecedented insight into what Australia would have looked like during the Miocene Epoch. “These are sites that preserve even soft tissue structures inside the specimens,” says co-author Michael Frese at the University of Canberra. By analysing the properties of several leaf fossils from the site, McCurry, Frese and their colleagues reconstructed the region’s past climate using a computer model. The mean annual temperature of the area was estimated to have been around 17°C. They also found that during the three wettest and driest months of the year, rainfall was around 962 millimetres and 254 mm per month, respectively. Additionally, the researchers found evidence of interactions between organisms. For example, they discovered a freshwater mussel attached to the fin of a fish, which means the mussel used the fish to move around and feed. They also discovered a microscopic, parasitic nematode that appears to have hitched a ride on the back of a longhorn beetle.

1-7-22 World's smallest land snail could fit inside a grain of sand
A newly discovered snail has stolen the record for the smallest known on land. Angustopila psammion, discovered in cave sediment in northern Vietnam, has a shell just 0.48 millimetres tall and a shell volume of only 0.036 cubic millimetres. This makes the snails so small that you could fit about five of them inside the average grain of sand. Unsurprisingly, they are hard to spot. To find them, Barna Páll-Gergely, a land snail taxonomist at the Eötvös Loránd Research Network in Budapest, Hungary, and his colleagues gathered soil samples from caves and placed them in a bucket of water. They then removed the floating debris, dried it, sieved it and examined it under a microscope. “I cleaned the shells under the microscope with very precise brushes used by nail artists,” says Páll-Gergely. The snails probably didn’t live in the caves though, says Páll-Gergely. “We assume that the sediment had fallen in through crevices in the rock, because it contains bleached, opaque shells of surface-dwelling terrestrial gastropods. The living snails presumably live deep in limestone crevices close to or on root systems.” The researchers also discovered a not-quite-so-tiny snail in Laos, which they named Angustopila coprologos, which means dung gatherer in Ancient Greek. Standing a mighty 0.51 mm tall, it seems to arrange tiny granules of mud – possibly its own faeces – in a pattern of radial lines on the surface of its shell. Why they do it is unknown. “If it is camouflage, what would prey on these tiny snails?” asks Páll-Gergely. “If not camouflage, then what? It was surprising to see that in face of their extremely small size, these tiny snails have complex behavioural mechanisms that evolved as a response to certain environmental factors that we know nothing about.” The snails’ miniature size does give them advantages. “It is probable that by being small, these snails can reach food particles no other species can consume, and enter very narrow rock crevices,” says Páll-Gergely. They could also avoid predation by being smaller than what their predators normally look for, he says.

1-6-22 Newly identified tree species named in honour of Leonardo DiCaprio
An evergreen tree native to Cameroon’s tropical Ebo forest has been given the scientific name Uvariopsis dicaprio and is the first new plant species to be described in 2022. A tropical, evergreen tree from Cameroon, the first plant species to be named as new to science in 2022, has officially been labelled Uvariopsis dicaprio today in honour of the actor Leonardo DiCaprio. It adds to the list of the strange and spectacular plants that scientists have named in the past 12 months. Martin Cheek at the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and his colleagues – including researchers at the National Herbarium of Cameroon and the University of Yaounde´ I, Cameroon – analysed photos and specimens of the tree, which is found in Cameroon’s tropical Ebo forest. They determined it was previously unknown to science, and also appears to be unknown among local communities. The team named the species after actor and environmental activist DiCaprio to commemorate his campaigning efforts to protect Ebo forest from logging. Standing at around 4 metres tall, U. dicaprio can be identified by the distinctive and vibrant glossy yellow-green flowers that grow on its trunk. It is closely related to the ylang-ylang tree (Cananga odorata) which is native to India, South-East Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia. “This is a plant which, for a botanist, just jumps out at you,” says Cheek. “It’s so spectacular.” Currently, fewer than 50 individual trees have been spotted, and they are all confined to a single, unprotected area of Ebo forest. As a result, U. dicaprio is considered critically endangered. Over the past year, there have also been many other newly named plant species. In March 2021, 14 new species of blue-berried shrubs were named. These are all in the genus Chassalia, which belongs to the coffee family, and they include the species C. northiana, named after renowned Victorian artist Marianne North, who depicted the shrub in an 1876 oil painting.

1-6-22 Kew scientists name new tree after Leonardo DiCaprio
A tree that is new to science has been named after Leonardo DiCaprio. Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, say they wanted to honour the star for his help in saving a rainforest from logging. The tree, which has been given the official name, Uvariopsis dicaprio, grows only in the Cameroon forest known for its incredible biodiversity. "We think he was crucial in helping to stop the logging of the Ebo Forest," said Dr Martin Cheek of Kew. Scientists and conservationists were horrified when they heard of plans to allow vast swathes of the Ebo Forest to be opened up for logging. One of the largest relatively untouched rainforests in Central Africa, it is home to the Banen people and an array of unique flora and fauna, including threatened gorillas, chimps and forest elephants. International experts wrote a letter to the government documenting the precious animal and plant species at risk of extinction. The issue was picked up by DiCaprio, whose social media posts to his millions of followers added momentum to the campaign. The government later revoked plans to allow logging, although the forest has yet to be officially designated a national park. "This could just be a stay of execution," Dr Cheek added. The "dicaprio" tree is the first plant new to science to be officially named by Kew scientists in 2022, through publication in the scientific journal, PeerJ. The small tropical evergreen tree has glossy yellow flowers that grow from its trunk. A member of the ylang ylang family, it has been found only in a small area of the forest and is critically endangered. Last year, more than 200 plants and fungi from across the word were officially named by Kew scientists and their collaborators, including a pink lily from the same forest, an insect-trapping wild tobacco plant found in Australia and an orchid with star-like flowers from the island of Madagascar that can grow in darkness. Several of these new species are already extinct and many are threatened due to deforestation, land clearance and droughts, floods and fires driven by climate change. Of 16 new species of orchids found in Madagascar, three are thought to be extinct in the wild due to destruction of their habitat. One has disappeared due to forests being chopped down to grow plants for geranium oil used in the aromatherapy industry in Europe. And a new Cape primrose from Katanga in Congo is at risk from copper mining.

1-5-22 Winter is purple spouting broccoli's time to shine
IN THE depths of the UK winter, most of my vegetable beds are bare, except for my star performer: purple sprouting broccoli. It is in the middle of its fabulous January growth spurt. This giant of a broccoli plant is arguably the queen of the brassica family of vegetables. Also known as winter sprouting broccoli, it is very tolerant of cold, and requires several weeks of cold weather before it puts forth its flower buds and becomes ready to harvest. Unlike ordinary broccoli plants, which have a single large head and are usually harvested by autumn, purple sprouting broccoli has multiple small florets as side shoots from the main one. The chief eating pleasure, however, comes from the stalk, which is sweet and delicious after the cold drives its cells to convert their starch to sugar, lowering their freezing point. The brassica family is diverse and eaten all over the world. Just one species, Brassica oleracea, includes two kinds of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi and more, as people have bred it for the development of different traits. B. oleracea’s origins have long been debated, but last year an international collaboration solved the mystery when it genetically sequenced 14 different brassica crops and nine potential wild ancestors. The researchers found that the ancestor was most likely to be a close relative of a plant called Brassica cretica, a gangly weed with cabbage-like leaves that grows on the rocky shores of Greece, Turkey and Lebanon. The shoots of this wild plant are edible. Similar-looking plants found on the coasts of the UK and other parts of western Europe turned out to be “escapees” that reverted in the wild to their ancestral forms – a sort of “feral cabbage”, says Makenzie Mabry, now at the University of Florida, who was involved in the work.

1-5-22 Do house spiders released outside survive, or navigate back?
I often catch house spiders and release them some distance away. Can they navigate back? If not, what are their chances of survival? The only place to release a house spider is a house. That’s their habitat. First, it depends on the type of spider. If it is one of the more active ground spiders, like a wolf or sac spider, it would appreciate being released outdoors. This is because these spiders often accidentally come into homes, where there isn’t a lot of prey for them. If they become trapped for too long, they can perish, so letting them go live back outside can be a huge favour for them. Other spiders, like cobweb spiders and cellar spiders, tend to do well in our homes for their entire life. In this case, they can be left alone, but if removed from the house, they will often find the nearest area that is suitable and do their best to survive. Such spiders don’t have good ways to find their way back to your house, and it would require a lot of energy and drive to do so. I would also caution that removing spiders from a home, with a specific temperature and humidity, into an environment that may be drastically different could harm the spider. For instance, if the temperature outside is too cold or hot, it may have negative effects. However, spiders are pretty hardy animals, so moving them usually doesn’t cause problems. All said, spiders are fairly adaptable to local habitats, and most don’t require special spaces, except places to build webs or areas to hunt for food.

1-5-22 A type of MRSA evolved in hedgehogs long before the first antibiotics
A strain of the antibiotic-resistant bacterium MRSA seems to have colonised the skin of hedgehogs more than 200 years ago – and many other similarly evasive bugs might exist in nature. A strain of the antibiotic-resistant bacterium MRSA seems to have evolved in hedgehogs in the early 1800s – long before the introduction of antibiotics. The finding demonstrates how antibiotic resistance can occur in nature – and underlines the need for cautious use of antibiotics. Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that can live harmlessly on our skin and up our noses. But it can sometimes cause infections of the skin and gut. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of these bacteria that can’t be killed with antibiotics like methicillin. As a result, it can cause infections that can be difficult to treat. Most cases are picked up in hospitals, and some are fatal. Over the past decade or so, researchers have begun to find a type of MRSA known as mecC-MRSA in all sorts of wildlife, including boars, storks, snakes and hedgehogs. While mecC-MRSA seems to be relatively uncommon in most of these species, researchers have found it in plenty of hedgehogs. To find out why, Ewan Harrison at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues studied swab samples from 276 European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) from 10 European countries and New Zealand. Hedgehogs from Greece, Romania, France, Italy and Spain didn’t seem to have any mecC-MRSA on their skin. But others did – 66 per cent of hedgehogs from England and Wales tested positive for the bacteria, for example. These animals also had a fungus called Trichophyton erinacei living on their skin. This fungus is known to produce chemicals that can kill bacteria. In experiments, the team found that T. erinacei made an antibiotic called KPN that could kill mecC-MRSA only when the bacterium’s genes for antibiotic resistance were removed. This suggests that the antibiotic resistance genes are key for the bacteria to survive alongside the fungus on the hedgehog’s skin.

1-6-22 Antibiotic-resistant superbug evolved on hedgehogs
An antibiotic-resistant superbug - a type of MRSA - evolved naturally as a result of a battle between a fungus and bacteria on the skin of wild hedgehogs. The evidently "hedgehog-derived" bacteria developed in nature long before the antibiotics we are familiar with were discovered. An international research team found that a skin fungus common in hedgehogs naturally produces antibiotics. Bacteria on the animals' skin developed antibiotic resistance in response. The researchers say their findings, published in the journal Nature, shows how natural biological processes - not antibiotic use - drove the emergence of this particular superbug about 200 years ago. The specific bacterium, called mecC-MRSA, was first found in dairy cattle and it had been assumed that the use of antibiotics on dairy farms had caused it to develop its resistance. This is, though, just one, relatively rare example of antibiotic resistance arising naturally. And the discovery "represents a tiny fraction of the risks compared to overuse of antibiotics in a human medical context", one of the lead researchers, Prof Mark Holmes from the University of Cambridge, told BBC News. MecC-MRSA causes about one in 200 human MRSA infections. The overuse of antibiotics, both in humans and farm animals, continues to drive the emergence of other, resistant, disease-causing strains. The study itself has solved a long-standing mystery about the source of this particular type of MRSA, which veterinary scientists from the University of Cambridge discovered a decade ago. "We tried to work out how much of a problem it was - so we looked in wildlife and in farm animals and found that it was clearly very widely distributed in nature," explained Prof Holmes. "When we looked at hedgehogs in particular, about half of the animals we sampled had this type of MRSA." Teaming up with biologists, wildlife researchers and with hedgehog rescue centres all around Europe, the scientists then focused their investigations on hedgehogs

1-5-22 Fairywren birds can nest out of breeding season to boost numbers
Purple-crowned fairywrens are more flexible in their breeding behaviour than we thought, which has helped the bird population to grow in one wildlife sanctuary in Western Australia. For the second year in a row, researchers have spotted purple-crowned fairywrens – small birds that dwell near creeks and rivers in northern Australia – reproducing outside their usual breeding season. The findings indicate that the reproductive behaviour of the birds is more flexible than we had previously thought. Purple-crowned fairywrens (Malurus coronatus) are light-brown birds with pale bellies and long blue tails. Breeding males can be identified by their vibrant purple crown and black cheek patches. Females have grey heads and reddish-brown cheek patches. The birds typically breed during the Australian wet season, between December and April. However, Niki Teunissen at Monash University in Melbourne and her colleagues have found that dry season breeding has become more widespread among the western subspecies of the bird (M. coronatus coronatus) in recent years. During their 2020 and 2021 surveys of the birds at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, they found extensive evidence of fairywren reproduction throughout the dry months, from May to November. “I found that over half of the groups had young fledglings at the end of the dry season, which means that they had bred successfully during the dry season,” says Teunissen. “In addition, nearly half of the dominant females that I caught had a brood patch – a bare patch on the belly that they use to keep eggs warm – which is evidence of them having an active nest.”mThe extended breeding period has resulted in a substantial rise in the fairywren’s population at the sanctuary, from 143 individuals in November 2020 to 204 in November 2021.

1-5-22 The microscopic beauty of plankton and their predators
Plankton form the base of marine and freshwater food webs. They consist of phytoplankton (plants) and zooplankton (animals). Their name derives from the Greek word for “drifter”, since they are too tiny to fight tides or currents. Phytoplankton oxygenate the ocean through photosynthesis, enabling marine animals to thrive, and produce about half the world’s oxygen. Yet despite their abundance and fundamental role for life on Earth, their microscopic nature makes them easy to ignore. “The most exciting thing of the whole project was the discovery of this parallel, beautiful, strange, complex world, ” says photographer Jan van IJken, “there’s so much beauty around the corner that you’re not aware of”. Inspired by the microscopic beauty of plankton – and their predators, van IJken embarked on a photo and film project called Planktonium. Over a year, he collected a diverse array of species from various Dutch waters, including puddles, lakes and seas, “Every time it was [a] new discovery”, he says. “There’s such a diversity, it makes you humble”. Back in his studio, Van IJken used various microscope and photography techniques, including dark field microscopy and timelapse photography to capture the “beauty, fine detail and incredible shapes” of his subjects. To add impact to the film, he commissioned Norweigan musician, Jana Winderen to create a soundscape, made using aquatic audio recordings including of fish, icebergs, small crustaceans which made crackling sound and even the sounds of “fish howling to the moon”. Whilst van IJken’s project is artistically led, there is a serious side to his work. Plankton is threatened by climate change, and van IJken hopes by showcasing these microscopic organisms, he can inspire people to understand more about them. “It would be great if people just realise that there’s so much wonder, so much beauty around the corner”, he says, “hopefully it will touch people.”

1-5-22 Here’s how spider geckos survive on Earth’s hottest landscape
Migrating insects are key to the reptiles’ survival in Iran’s Lut Desert. A handful of small, nocturnal geckos have spilled their guts for science, revealing how the creatures get by in a part of Earth’s hottest landscape. Surface temperatures in the Lut Desert in Iran, home to the Misonne’s spider gecko (Rhinogecko misonnei), soar past 65° Celsius more frequently than anywhere else on the planet. The extreme heat makes it difficult for life to thrive, and for years, ecologists have regarded the desert as mostly barren. To find out how the geckos sustain themselves in this desolate oven, entomologist Hossein Rajaei of the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany and colleagues analyzed the stomach contents of six geckos using DNA metabarcoding (SN: 4/18/16). The technique compares chunks of DNA with a species identification database, like a bar code scanner in a grocery store. “It’s very accurate, very comprehensive and very trustable,” Rajaei says. Within the geckos’ digestive soup stewed DNA from 94 species, about 81 percent of which hail from outside the Lut Desert, the team reports November 18 in the Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research. The majority of these outsiders were winged insects such as flies, moths and wasps that migrate through the desert from bordering temperate landscapes. The remaining species — arachnids, arthropods and more moths — are endemic to the Lut, but are elusive in its heart, where the geckos were collected. The unexpected diversity highlights that there’s more living in this desert than meets the eye, Rajaei says. The findings underscore the importance of intertwined food webs for animals to survive in hostile habitats, says Robert Pringle, an ecologist at Princeton University who was not involved in the research. “The movement of insects from outside the immediate area subsidizes the geckos and helps them to persist in this extreme desert environment,” he says.

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uary of 2022

Animal Intelligence News Articles for December of 2021