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!)

47 Intelligence & Zoology News Articles
for April of 2022

Click on the links below to get the full story from its source


4-30-22 Acoustic camera reveals how calls from male frogs attract females
Using a special acoustic camera, researchers from Dartmouth College have identified how individual songs in wood frog choruses influence mating. Male body size determines the audio frequency and physical size, along with social structures within a chorus, are believed to affect mating. Females are generally attracted to songs in lower frequencies. They may expect to find certain male body types in choruses dominated by specific audio frequencies. “It seems that the chorus calls are used to attract the female wood frogs to a breeding site,” said lead researcher, Ryan Calsbeek. “The individual songs play a role in positioning the male frogs within that site, but it then becomes a physical showdown to decide who mates.”

4-28-22 Your dog's breed doesn’t really determine how it behaves
After examining data from more than 18,000 dogs, researchers have reached a clear conclusion: breed doesn’t explain why dogs behave the way they do. Your dog’s behaviour probably isn’t due to its breed, according to a large-scale genetic analysis. The findings suggest that stereotypes associated with certain breeds have little basis. Kathleen Morrill at the University of Massachusetts and her colleagues studied the DNA of more than 2000 dogs using a genome-wide analysis. The team wanted to determine if any common genetic variations could be linked to behaviours typically associated with particular dog types. In other words, could genetics explain why Rottweilers often seem so aggressive or why Border collies are thought of as sociable? The researchers combined this analysis with survey responses from the owners of more than 18,000 dogs, mostly from the US, who had been asked to detail the behaviour of their pets. Your dog’s behaviour probably isn’t due to its breed, according to a large-scale genetic analysis. The findings suggest that stereotypes associated with certain breeds have little basis. Kathleen Morrill at the University of Massachusetts and her colleagues studied the DNA of more than 2000 dogs using a genome-wide analysis. The team wanted to determine if any common genetic variations could be linked to behaviours typically associated with particular dog types. In other words, could genetics explain why Rottweilers often seem so aggressive or why Border collies are thought of as sociable? The researchers combined this analysis with survey responses from the owners of more than 18,000 dogs, mostly from the US, who had been asked to detail the behaviour of their pets. “Cross-breeds are perfect for sussing out the connections between breed and behaviour,” says Morrill. “We can see whether ancestry from a given breed correlates with behaviour and find out which inheritable behaviours are dependent or independent from breed.”

4-29-22 Dog breed is a surprisingly poor predictor of individual behavior
Our canine companions, it turns out, are as individual as people. Turns out we may be unfairly stereotyping dogs. Modern breeds are shaped around aesthetics: Chihuahuas’ batlike ears, poodles’ curly fur, dachshunds’ hot dog shape. But breeds are frequently associated with certain behaviors, too. For instance, the American Kennel Club describes border collies as “affectionate, smart, energetic” and beagles as “friendly, curious, merry.” Now, genetic information from more than 2,000 dogs, paired with self-reported surveys from dog owners, indicates that a dog’s breed is a poor predictor of its behavior. On average, breed explains only 9 percent of the behavioral differences between individual dogs, researchers report April 28 in Science. “Everybody was assuming that breed was predictive of behavior in dogs,” geneticist Elinor Karlsson of the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School in Worcester said in an April 26 news briefing. But “that had never really been asked particularly well.” Geneticists had asked the question before in different ways. One study in 2019 looked at whether genetics might explain collective variation between breeds and found that genes could explain some of the differences between, say, poodles and chihuahuas (SN: 10/1/19). But Karlsson and her colleagues wanted to learn how much breed can predict variation in individual dogs’ behavior. To study variation at the individual level, the team needed genetic and behavior data from a lot of dogs. So they developed Darwin’s Ark, an open-source database where more than 18,000 pet owners responded to surveys about their dog’s traits and behavior. The survey asked over 100 questions about observable behaviors, which the researchers grouped into eight “behavioral factors,” including human sociability (how comfortable a dog is around humans) and biddability (how responsive it is to commands).

4-29-22 Harbour seals can learn how to change their voices to seem bigger
The vocal gymnastics of harbour seals, including the ability to significantly raise or lower their pitch, seem not to be down to anatomy but learning from one another. Consider the squeak of a mouse and the low rumble of a lion’s roar. In the animal kingdom, bigger animals usually produce lower pitch sounds as a result of their larger larynges and longer vocal tracts. But harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) seem to break that rule: they can learn how to change their calls, according to new research by a team at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands. That means they can deliberately move between lower or higher-pitch sounds, sometimes presenting larger than they really are. “The information that is in their calls is not necessarily honest,” says Koen de Reus, a co-author of the new research. An earlier study had shown that some pinnipeds, a group of animals that includes seals, sea lions and walruses, can learn new sounds or modify sounds that they hear. This new work by de Reus and colleagues reveals that their vocal gymnastics are likely a product of vocal learning, not anatomy. To figure this out, the researchers examined the vocal tracts of 68 seal pups under a year old. The already-deceased seals were provided by Sealcentre Pieterburen, a seal rehabilitation facility in the Netherlands. In addition to looking at the animals’ vocal cords, the team also reviewed a collection of seal sounds to untangle any potential correlation between pitch and body size. Their analysis revealed that there was no anatomical explanation for their tremendous vocal range. “We saw that there was no such structure that could help explain how they actually make and modify sounds,” says de Reus. Seals with as much as a 5 kg difference in body weight produced similar sounding calls. That left one explanation for the vocal gymnastics: they learned how to do it.

4-29-22 Gardeners urged to let lawns go wild to boost nature
Gardeners are being encouraged to let their lawns grow wild in May as part of a campaign to promote biodiversity. Conservation charity Plantlife is urging people to leave their lawnmowers in the shed for a month and to let wild flowers grow instead. It is also asking people to count the flowers that do grow, and record them as part of its No Mow May project. Leaving the grass uncut will create a habitat that will benefit bees and other insects, the organisation says. Plantlife says lawns could be biodiversity hotspots if left alone. It says those who participated in its campaign last year reported the growth of more than 250 plant species on their lawns. Among these were wild strawberry, wild garlic and rarities including adders'-tongue fern. There were also sightings of declining species such as man and green-winged orchids. One gardener who has been enjoying a more relaxed approach is Tom Jennings, 45, from Buckinghamshire. He says it's a chance to reconnect with the natural world. "There's an obsession with neat gardens," says Tom. "And a lot of that uses not only obsessive mowing but also chemicals which aren't compatible with nature." After letting his back garden grow out, Tom witnessed an explosion of dandelions - important for pollinators such as bees. Tom says he's been stunned at how quickly bugs have returned to his back garden: an encouraging signal given the global decline of insect populations. "You could walk through the middle of the garden on a sunny day, and it throbbed with that sound of insects," he says. "That used to be commonplace in the British countryside, but sadly isn't these days." Sarah Shuttleworth, 39, a botanist who works for Plantlife, has also noticed the chirping of crickets getting much more noticeable after allowing her lawn in Somerset to grow wild. "It makes you feel like you're somewhere tropical instead of your own garden," she comments.

4-28-22 French bulldogs are the shortest-lived dog breed in the UK
Life expectancy tables for 18 breeds show that Jack Russells are the top dogs for longevity, while French bulldogs come in last. Jack Russell terriers are the longest-lived breed of dog in the UK and French bulldogs are the shortest-lived, according to life expectancy data for 18 breeds. Dan O’Neill at the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, UK, and his colleagues analysed data from over 30,000 dogs in the UK between 2016 and 2020. The team wanted to go beyond producing an average life expectancy for each breed. “An average lifespan does not give you nuance,” says O’Neill. For example, if your dog has an average life expectancy of 10 years but is already 9 years old, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog is likely to die within the next year, he says. “There’s something about that dog that means it’s probably healthier than the dogs which died before that age,” O’Neill says. “So it might actually be more likely to stay alive for even longer than average.” The researchers produced a life table for each breed, allowing dog owners to estimate how long their pets will continue to live depending on how old they are already. The team determined this by calculating what proportion of dogs died after each year of life. “This has never been done before,” O’Neill says. The large sample size is based on anonymised records provided by 30 per cent of vet surgeries in the country. “It took 10 to 15 years to build these systems,” he says. The researchers found that Jack Russell terriers had the highest average life expectancy of 12.7 years, followed by border collies with 12.1 years. French bulldogs had the lowest life expectancy – just 4.5 years – followed by English bulldogs with 7.4 years. The team found that the more a dog had been bred to suit human aesthetics, the lower its lifespan in general. “French bulldogs have flat faces and are very cute,” O’Neill says. “But this means they live for less time and struggle to blink and breathe for their entire lives.”

4-28-22 Dog longevity: How long will my pet dog live?
Do you look at your dog and wonder how long it might live? Do you ponder how many more years you'll get to go for walks or to cuddle on the sofa? A new in-depth study hopes to help by assessing the life expectancy of British canine pets. It shows a newborn Jack Russell Terrier can be expected to live longest at 12.7 years on average, with Border Collies (12.1 years) and Springer Spaniels (11.9 years) not far behind. In contrast, some of those in-vogue dogs popular with social media influencers could break your heart sooner than you think. Four flat-faced breeds were found to have the shortest life expectancy at age zero - with French Bulldogs only expected to live 4.5 years, followed by English Bulldogs at 7.4 years, Pugs at 7.7 years, and American Bulldogs at 7.8 years. These pets are associated with several life-limiting disorders, such as breathing problems, spinal disease, and difficulty in giving birth - all of which will limit the breeds' overall longevity. Age lists like the one above (for 18 selected breeds and crossbred animals) have been produced before but this one is the most sophisticated yet because it's based on an analysis of a giant database of veterinary records called VetCompass. Run by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), this surveillance system currently holds information on 20 million animals. It's allowed Dr Kendy Tzu-yun Teng and colleagues to compile what are called "life tables". Simply put, these are charts that organise a population into age bands, with each band showing the probability of death before the next age grouping. Run by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), this surveillance system currently holds information on 20 million animals. It's allowed Dr Kendy Tzu-yun Teng and colleagues to compile what are called "life tables". Simply put, these are charts that organise a population into age bands, with each band showing the probability of death before the next age grouping. Many factors affect how long your dog will live, making average lifespans only partially useful. Take for example the Chihuahua. Life expectancy from age zero is 7.9 years. You might think therefore that there isn't much point in rescuing a six-year-old Chihuahua at a dogs home because the average age at death for the breed suggests you'll only get to spend less than two years with it. But veterinary records show quite a lot of Chihuahuas will die at a young age, pulling down that average life expectancy. And this means a Chihuahua that's reached six will likely live a lot longer than eight. We know some Chihuahuas will get to 15 or 16. "It's that phrase 'damn lies and statistics'," said study co-author Dr Dan O'Neill.

4-27-22 How a billion dogs, including our pets, are laying waste to wildlifes
There is growing evidence that feral dogs and their domestic cousins have a big ecological impact, from hunting and spooking wildlife to poisoning plants and spreading disease to endangered species. IT WAS shocking,” says biologist Galo Zapata-Ríos, recalling what he saw when he viewed footage from his camera traps. Placed in the Andes, across 2000 square kilometres of forests, grasses and shrublands in Ecuador, these were intended to capture the movements of striped hog-nosed skunks, mountain coatis and other wildlife. Instead, in frame after frame, he saw something he hadn’t anticipated: dogs. “There were so many dogs that I decided to switch my topic,” says Zapata-Ríos, who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ecuador programme, and now studies the ecological impacts of dogs. It isn’t just the Andes: dogs are everywhere. They live on every continent except Antarctica, and inhabit high mountains, tropical rainforests, islands and nature reserves that would otherwise be considered pristine. One calculation put their numbers at a billion, making them the most common carnivore on Earth. That was in 2013 and there are surely more today. India alone has seen an estimated increase of 20 million – to around 80 million – partly because of legislation passed in 2001 forbidding the relocation or killing of street dogs. Meanwhile, during pandemic lockdowns, dog ownership soared in some countries including the UK where there are now some 13 million pet dogs. At a time when nature is under pressure like never before, there is growing evidence that dogs – both free-roaming and home-based – are killing, eating, terrifying and competing with other animals. They pollute watercourses, over-fertilise soils and endanger plants. Such is their impact that some ecologists call them an invasive alien species. They may be our best friends, but some say we need to take dogs in hand.

4-27-22 The world's largest wildlife crossing is now being built in California
Spanning 10 lanes of Highway 101, the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing aims to change the fortunes of mountain lions and other animals living in the Santa Monica Mountains. Last week, crews started breaking ground on the $87 million wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills, California, and once it's completed — the goal is by 2025 — it will be the largest such corridor in the world, CBS News reports. The 165-foot-wide crossing will connect the Santa Monica Mountains with the Simi Hills, about 10 feet above the freeway. To make sure animals use the crossing, it will be surrounded by trees, bushes, and sound barriers, so the cars and traffic below don't scare creatures away. The National Park Service spent 20 years studying the animals in the Santa Monica Mountains, and found that urban development has genetically isolated mountain lions in the region; researchers estimate that the animals will become extinct within 50 years unless there is an influx of genetic diversity, CBS News reports. Freeways not only keep mountain lions from roaming, but are also extremely unsafe, as many mountain lions are hit by cars and killed while trying to cross them. This is the first crossing of its kind in an urban area, Beth Pratt, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, told CBS Los Angeles, and with its special design considerations and use of living trees and plants, the corridor is "an engineering marvel."

4-27-22 One in five reptiles is threatened with extinction
One in five reptiles is threatened with extinction, according to the first comprehensive assessment of more than 10,000 species across the world. Scientists are calling for urgent conservation action for crocodiles and turtles, which are in a particularly dire situation. They say reptiles have long been overlooked in conservation, because they are seen as less charismatic than "furry and feathery" creatures. So far, 31 species have gone extinct. The study, published in Nature, took more than 15 years to complete, because of problems getting funding for the work. "Reptiles to many people are not charismatic and there's been a lot more focus on more furry, feathery species of vertebrates for conservation," said Dr Bruce Young of the international nature organisation, NatureServe. Despite their low publicity profile, the cold-blooded vertebrates play an essential role in the balance of life. "Reptiles are good for people because they help control pests such as insects and rodents," said Prof Blair Hedges of Temple University in Philadelphia, US. By publicising the plight of these "truly spectacular species", the scientists hope to help slow the slide towards oblivion of reptiles such as the loggerhead sea turtle and the gharial, or fish-eating crocodile. And there is a glimmer of hope in that measures put in place to protect rare birds and mammals also safeguard many of the reptiles that share the same land. Speaking at a news conference, the study authors highlighted the need for a new worldwide agreement to stem extinctions. Neil Cox of the IUCN-Conservation International Biodiversity Assessment Unit said negotiations at the upcoming summit on biodiversity in Kunming, China, will be critical for trying to turn the tide on biodiversity loss. "The hope is that we can really start making efforts to reverse this extinction catastrophe," he said. The final version of the draft UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will be negotiated at the COP15 summit, which is expected to take place at the end of August.

4-26-22 Volcano-dwelling mice confirmed as world’s highest-living mammals
Conditions on the peak of Llullaillaco, 6739 above sea level, are cold, dry and hostile – but some mice somehow survive there. The environment near the summit of Llullaillaco — a massive Andean volcano straddling the border of Argentina and Chile — is hostile to animal life: perpetually frigid, exceptionally dry, and oxygen poor. But scientists found mice there in 2020, and their latest research adds to evidence that the tiny rodents may actually make the highest reaches of the volcanic peak their home. A couple of years ago, Jay Storz at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and Thomas Bowen at California State University in Fresno, along with other researchers, reported a new high-elevation record holder among mammals: a leaf-eared mouse now identified as belonging to the species Phyllotis vaccarum, captured atop Llullaillaco’s summit some 6,739-metres above sea level. The discovery was the result of years of repeated expeditions to Llullaillaco, where the rodents had been anecdotally observed on the peak’s highest reaches by mountaineers. However, there were still questions about whether the mice really spent their lives near the peak. Most documentation of altitude records for animals are based on single observations, says Scott Steppan at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “It doesn’t really tell you if [the animals are] adapted to that extreme elevation,” he says. Individuals may visit high elevations briefly, while the population mostly lives and reproduces at a much lower altitude. Now the researchers have pulled together more data to make the case that the mice also sustain populations at – or at least very near – the summit. This includes formally assessing data they had collected between 2011 and 2016, during which time they found more mice slightly further down the flanks of the volcano, about 6200 metres above sea level.

4-26-22 These male spiders catapult away to avoid being cannibalized after sex
Male Philoponella prominens use hydraulic pressure to extend leg joints and launch to safety. An act of acrobatics keeps males of one orb-weaving spider species from becoming their mates’ post-sex snack. After mating, Philoponella prominens males catapult away from females at speeds up to nearly 90 centimeters per second, researchers report April 25 in Current Biology. Other spiders jump to capture prey or avoid predators (SN: 3/16/19). But P. prominens is unique among spiders in that males soar through the air to avoid sexual cannibalism, the researchers say. P. prominens is a social species that’s native to countries such as Japan and Korea. Up to 300 individual spiders can come together to weave an entire neighborhood of webs. While studying P. prominens’ sexual behavior, arachnologist Shichang Zhang and colleagues noticed that sex seemed to always end with a catapulting male. But the movement was “so fast that common cameras could not record the details,” says Zhang, of Hubei University in Wuhan, China. High-resolution video of mating partners clocked the male arachnids’ speed from around 32 cm/s to 88 cm/s, the researchers report. That’s equal to just under 1 mile per hour to nearly 2 mph. The jump looks a little like the start of a backstroke swimming race, Zhang says. Males hold the tips of their front legs against a female’s body. The spiders then use hydraulic pressure to extend a joint in those legs, quickly launching a male off a female before she can capture and eat him. Of 155 successful mating rituals that the researchers observed, 152 males catapulted to survival. The remaining three that didn’t fell victim to their partner. Female spiders also ate all 30 males that the team stopped from jumping to freedom with a paintbrush.

4-26-22 Lab-grown meat and insects 'good for planet and health'
Dining on the likes of lab-grown meat or ground-up insects could lead to big savings in carbon emissions and water, as well as freeing up land for nature. That's the finding of a study calculating the environmental benefits of "greener" foods hitting our plates. Scientists say pressures on the planet could fall by more than 80% with such foods, compared with the typical European diet. But it's not yet clear if consumers will want to shift their eating habits. A host of non-conventional foods are being developed with the aim of providing food rich in protein and other nutrients, while being gentle on the planet by using less water and land. Scientists in Finland studied the nutritional profile of some of these products and looked at three measures of environmental pressure: the use of water, land and potential carbon emissions. They say switching meat, dairy and other animal products for alternative foods could reduce these impacts by more than 80%, while providing a more complete range of essential nutrients than a purely vegetarian or vegan diet. But they also found that relatively low-tech solutions, such as cutting down on meat and eating more vegetables, had a similar impact on the planet. "With significant reductions in animal-sourced foods and substitutions with novel or future foods and plant-based protein alternatives, you can have significant reductions in environmental impacts in terms of global warming potential, land use and water use," said Rachel Mazac of the University of Helsinki. But she said there were "similar savings in impacts in a vegan diet". And in a diet with a 75% reduction in animal-sourced foods, "you can have an approximately 75% reduction across all of your impacts". The research, published in Nature Food, examined new foods that are expected to become a bigger part of our diets in future years, many of which rely on high-tech methods to "grow" animal and plant cells in bioreactors.

4-25-22 Insects and lab-grown meat could cut food emissions by 80 per cent
Switching to "novel foods", like algae and lab-grown milk, could bring huge environmental benefits compared with the typical European diet. Swapping the conventional meat and dairy products that make up a typical European diet for insect meal and laboratory-grown produce could cut food-related greenhouse gases, as well as water and land use, by more than 80 per cent, a study suggests. Food production has huge environmental impacts, resulting in more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. The clearance of land for farms is also a key driver of biodiversity loss, while some lakes, rivers and groundwater supplies are emptied via irrigation. To assess ways to lessen this impact, Rachel Mazac at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and her colleagues have looked at the potential environmental effects of switching to “novel and future foods”. “What we are looking at are foods that are novel in their production technology, like cultured meat or cultured milk,” says Mazac. Mazac is part of a group at the University of Helsinki that has been doing life-cycle assessments of the environmental impacts of such foods, including the effects of their processing, transport and waste disposal. Her team used the analyses to calculate the potential benefits of switching to these foods, assuming people are willing to make the dietary changes, compared with foods that are typically consumed in Europe. Their results suggest that an “optimised diet” of novel foods could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 83 per cent, water use by 84 per cent and land use by 87 per cent. “We are seeing some pretty significant reductions in impacts,” says Mazac. Numerous studies have also shown that eating less meat and dairy would greatly reduce environmental harm. In line with this, the team found swapping to a vegan diet would cut greenhouse emissions by 84 per cent, water use by 82 per cent and land use by 80 per cent.

4-26-22 Lab-grown meat and insects 'good for planet and health'
Dining on the likes of lab-grown meat or ground-up insects could lead to big savings in carbon emissions and water, as well as freeing up land for nature. That's the finding of a study calculating the environmental benefits of "greener" foods hitting our plates. Scientists say pressures on the planet could fall by more than 80% with such foods, compared with the typical European diet. But it's not yet clear if consumers will want to shift their eating habits. A host of non-conventional foods are being developed with the aim of providing food rich in protein and other nutrients, while being gentle on the planet by using less water and land. Scientists in Finland studied the nutritional profile of some of these products and looked at three measures of environmental pressure: the use of water, land and potential carbon emissions. They say switching meat, dairy and other animal products for alternative foods could reduce these impacts by more than 80%, while providing a more complete range of essential nutrients than a purely vegetarian or vegan diet. But they also found that relatively low-tech solutions, such as cutting down on meat and eating more vegetables, had a similar impact on the planet. "With significant reductions in animal-sourced foods and substitutions with novel or future foods and plant-based protein alternatives, you can have significant reductions in environmental impacts in terms of global warming potential, land use and water use," said Rachel Mazac of the University of Helsinki. But she said there were "similar savings in impacts in a vegan diet". And in a diet with a 75% reduction in animal-sourced foods, "you can have an approximately 75% reduction across all of your impacts". The research, published in Nature Food, examined new foods that are expected to become a bigger part of our diets in future years, many of which rely on high-tech methods to "grow" animal and plant cells in bioreactors.

4-26-22 Volcano-dwelling mice confirmed as world’s highest-living mammals
Conditions on the peak of Llullaillaco, 6739 above sea level, are cold, dry and hostile – but some mice somehow survive there. The environment near the summit of Llullaillaco — a massive Andean volcano straddling the border of Argentina and Chile — is hostile to animal life: perpetually frigid, exceptionally dry, and oxygen poor. But scientists found mice there in 2020, and their latest research adds to evidence that the tiny rodents may actually make the highest reaches of the volcanic peak their home. A couple of years ago, Jay Storz at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and Thomas Bowen at California State University in Fresno, along with other researchers, reported a new high-elevation record holder among mammals: a leaf-eared mouse now identified as belonging to the species Phyllotis vaccarum, captured atop Llullaillaco’s summit some 6,739-metres above sea level. The discovery was the result of years of repeated expeditions to Llullaillaco, where the rodents had been anecdotally observed on the peak’s highest reaches by mountaineers. However, there were still questions about whether the mice really spent their lives near the peak. Most documentation of altitude records for animals are based on single observations, says Scott Steppan at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “It doesn’t really tell you if [the animals are] adapted to that extreme elevation,” he says. Individuals may visit high elevations briefly, while the population mostly lives and reproduces at a much lower altitude. Now the researchers have pulled together more data to make the case that the mice also sustain populations at – or at least very near – the summit. This includes formally assessing data they had collected between 2011 and 2016, during which time they found more mice slightly further down the flanks of the volcano, about 6200 metres above sea level.

4-26-22 These male spiders catapult away to avoid being cannibalized after sex
Male Philoponella prominens use hydraulic pressure to extend leg joints and launch to safety. An act of acrobatics keeps males of one orb-weaving spider species from becoming their mates’ post-sex snack. After mating, Philoponella prominens males catapult away from females at speeds up to nearly 90 centimeters per second, researchers report April 25 in Current Biology. Other spiders jump to capture prey or avoid predators (SN: 3/16/19). But P. prominens is unique among spiders in that males soar through the air to avoid sexual cannibalism, the researchers say. P. prominens is a social species that’s native to countries such as Japan and Korea. Up to 300 individual spiders can come together to weave an entire neighborhood of webs. While studying P. prominens’ sexual behavior, arachnologist Shichang Zhang and colleagues noticed that sex seemed to always end with a catapulting male. But the movement was “so fast that common cameras could not record the details,” says Zhang, of Hubei University in Wuhan, China. High-resolution video of mating partners clocked the male arachnids’ speed from around 32 cm/s to 88 cm/s, the researchers report. That’s equal to just under 1 mile per hour to nearly 2 mph. The jump looks a little like the start of a backstroke swimming race, Zhang says. Males hold the tips of their front legs against a female’s body. The spiders then use hydraulic pressure to extend a joint in those legs, quickly launching a male off a female before she can capture and eat him. Of 155 successful mating rituals that the researchers observed, 152 males catapulted to survival. The remaining three that didn’t fell victim to their partner. Female spiders also ate all 30 males that the team stopped from jumping to freedom with a paintbrush.

4-25-22 Insects and lab-grown meat could cut food emissions by 80 per cent
Switching to "novel foods", like algae and lab-grown milk, could bring huge environmental benefits compared with the typical European diet. Swapping the conventional meat and dairy products that make up a typical European diet for insect meal and laboratory-grown produce could cut food-related greenhouse gases, as well as water and land use, by more than 80 per cent, a study suggests. Food production has huge environmental impacts, resulting in more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. The clearance of land for farms is also a key driver of biodiversity loss, while some lakes, rivers and groundwater supplies are emptied via irrigation. To assess ways to lessen this impact, Rachel Mazac at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and her colleagues have looked at the potential environmental effects of switching to “novel and future foods”. “What we are looking at are foods that are novel in their production technology, like cultured meat or cultured milk,” says Mazac. Mazac is part of a group at the University of Helsinki that has been doing life-cycle assessments of the environmental impacts of such foods, including the effects of their processing, transport and waste disposal. Her team used the analyses to calculate the potential benefits of switching to these foods, assuming people are willing to make the dietary changes, compared with foods that are typically consumed in Europe. Their results suggest that an “optimised diet” of novel foods could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 83 per cent, water use by 84 per cent and land use by 87 per cent. “We are seeing some pretty significant reductions in impacts,” says Mazac. Numerous studies have also shown that eating less meat and dairy would greatly reduce environmental harm. In line with this, the team found swapping to a vegan diet would cut greenhouse emissions by 84 per cent, water use by 82 per cent and land use by 80 per cent.

4-22-22 Dingo genome suggests Australian icon not descended from domestic dogs
A new analysis helps to unravel the mystery of the Australian dingo’s origins by showing that it is probably descended from a wild dog rather than a domestic breed. The Australian dingo’s genome is substantially different from modern dog breeds, suggesting the canines have never been domesticated in the past, a detailed analysis reveals. The dingo is a type of dog that arrived in Australia around 5000 to 8500 years ago and now roams wild in most of the country. Some researchers believe it is descended from an ancient domestic dog breed that was introduced by Asian seafarers and then turned wild. Others, however, question whether dingoes’ ancestors were ever domesticated. “Way back when I started this whole project, there was debate between myself and a number of other people about whether dingoes are just another domestic dog,” says Bill Ballard at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, who oversaw the latest study. Ballard and his colleagues began sequencing the dingo genome after winning a competition in 2017 to sequence the DNA of the “world’s most interesting” organism. Their competition entry was a pure desert dingo called Sandy, who was rescued from the side of a road in central Australia when she was 3 weeks old and now lives in a sanctuary. “It’s rare to get access to a true wild, desert-born dingo,” says Ballard. To do the sequencing, the researchers took skin and blood samples from Sandy. Then, they compared her genome with those of five domestic dog breeds: German shepherds, boxers, basenjis, Great Danes and Labrador retrievers. They discovered that the dingo differs substantially from these breeds and is a genetic intermediate between domestic dogs and wild wolves. There is more genetic variation between dingoes and domestic dogs than there is between any two human populations, says Ballard.

4-21-22 Dog hair hormone levels can tell us how stressful shelters are
Cortisol levels in dog hair increase when they go into a shelter and decrease when they are adopted, showing a way to measure their long-term stress levels. Measuring levels of the hormone cortisol in dog hairs can indicate how stressful living in a shelter is for the animals, and could help to improve their well-being. “We know there are many stressors in dog shelters, which might be separation of dogs from people they are attached to, or new routines, unfamiliar smells and sounds,” says Janneke van der Laan at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands as a response to stress in many animals, including humans and dogs. It travels around the body in the blood, causing changes – such as increased blood glucose levels – that prepare the animal to deal with the stress. Cortisol can be locked into hair as it grows, so in more stressful conditions, higher levels of cortisol are stored in the hair. While cortisol measurements in urine or blood are sometimes used as a sign of stress at a particular time, hair cortisol levels reflect the longer-term presence of stress. Van der Laan and her colleagues tracked hair cortisol levels in 25 dogs from when they were first put into a shelter until after they were adopted. The dogs were either given up by owners who could no longer care for them or were strays that had spent a few days on the streets. After six weeks in the shelter, hair cortisol levels were 31 per cent higher than when they entered the shelter. After six weeks in the shelter, hair cortisol levels were 31 per cent higher than when they entered the shelter. After being adopted, cortisol levels fell back to pre-shelter levels within six weeks. “Our study validates the use of hair cortisol to measure chronic stress and shows how it can be used to measure stress levels in shelter dogs,” says van der Laan. However, cortisol can be released in response to both positive and negative events, so other measures of stress need to be considered too.

4-21-22 Many protected areas do not benefit wildlife, study says
The largest ever study of protected areas - places "set aside" ostensibly for nature - has revealed that most do not actively benefit wildlife. Scientists examined the impact of 1,500 protected areas in 68 countries, focusing their analysis on wetlands and waterbirds. They found that, in terms of how wildlife fared, success varied hugely around the world and depended a great deal on how an area was managed. The study was published in Nature. Its authors say that habitats need to be managed effectively in ways that provide a boost for nature. "There need to be rules in place and restoration," said lead researcher Dr Hannah Wauchope, from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at University of Exeter. "We can't just draw a line around an area and say, 'you can't build a car park here'." Dr Wauchope explained that the study used population trends of wetland birds as a measure of the success of a protected area, which can be anything from an area of outstanding natural beauty to a carefully managed nature reserve. She and her colleagues also compared sites before and after they were officially protected, and compared the trends of similar bird populations inside and outside protected areas. "In the majority of places we looked, wildlife populations were still stable or were increasing, but they weren't doing any better than in unprotected areas," she told BBC News. "That's disappointing, but not surprising. There seems to be this disconnect between people talking about how much land is protected and whether those areas are actually doing anything positive." According to the UN, one million species of plants and animals are now under threat. Next month, world leaders will gather in China to set the agenda of global conservation efforts for the next decade. Many countries are now aligning themselves with a target of protecting 30% of the Earth's surface by 2030. But this, the scientists say, will not guarantee the preservation of biodiversity. They say that targets need to be set for the quality of protected areas, not just the quantity. Measuring success could include doing species population counts or setting goals for increasing the diversity of plant and animal species in an area.

4-21-22 Climate change and farming driving insect decline
Insect numbers have plunged by half in some parts of the world due to climate change and intensive agriculture, a study has found. The combined pressures of global heating and farming are driving a "substantial decline" of insects across the globe, according to UK researchers. They say we must acknowledge the threats we pose to insects, before some species are lost forever. But preserving habitat for nature could help ensure vital insects thrive. Lead researcher, Dr Charlie Outhwaite of UCL, said losing insect populations could be harmful not only to the natural environment, but to "human health and food security, particularly with losses of pollinators". "Our findings highlight the urgency of actions to preserve natural habitats, slow the expansion of high-intensity agriculture, and cut emissions to mitigate climate change," she added. Plummeting populations of insects around the world - a so-called "insect apocalypse" - have caused widespread concern. However, scientific data gives a mixed picture, with some types of insects showing drastic declines, while others are staying steady. In the latest study, the researchers pulled together data on the range and number of nearly 20,000 insect species, including bees, ants, butterflies, grasshoppers and dragonflies, at about 6,000 different locations. In areas with high-intensity agriculture and substantial warming, insect numbers have plunged by 49% and the number of different species by 27%, compared with relatively untouched places that have so far avoided the most severe impacts of climate change, according to the research, published in Nature. But the researchers said there was some cause for hope in that setting aside areas of land for nature created a refuge for insects, which need shade to survive in hot weather. "Careful management of agricultural areas, such as preserving natural habitats near farmland, may help to ensure that vital insects can still thrive," said Dr Tim Newbold, also of UCL.

4-20-22 Climate change and farming may have halved some insect populations
Warmer temperatures and intense agriculture may be responsible for a 49 per cent decline in insect numbers in some areas, with the tropics worst hit. The combined effects of climate change and agriculture may be responsible for large declines in insect populations around the world, with worst-hit regions seeing a 49 per cent drop in numbers. “In areas where we have high-intensity farming, coinciding with high climate change, we see reductions of [nearly] 50 per cent in the abundance of insects compared to places [with untouched] vegetation, where very little climate change has occurred,” says Charlotte Outhwaite at University College London. The study is the first to measure the effects of both warmer temperatures and agriculture on insect biodiversity on a global scale. “There are a number of studies that looked at a smaller scale, but I’m not aware of any that look at the global effects,” says Outhwaite. Outhwaite and her colleagues analysed data from 264 earlier studies that together tracked insect biodiversity across a total of 6095 sites around the world. The studies covered 17,899 insect species including beetles, wasps, butterflies and crickets, with data collected between 1992 and 2012. The team first classified each of the thousands of sites into groups depending on whether or not they had been disrupted by human activity, including if they had been used for high-intensity or low-intensity agriculture. They defined sites of high-intensity agriculture as those in which only one crop type was grown, or high levels of pesticide were used. By comparing the temperature at each site as recorded some time between 1992 and 2012 with a baseline average temperature measured in the same region between 1901 and 1930, the researchers calculated the extent of local warming over recent decades. They then created a model to assess links between temperature changes and both the number and diversity of insect species.

4-20-22 Dolphins who are hand-fed by tourists are less social than their peers
Tourists can hand-feed some dolphins around the coast of Australia, but dolphins fed this way are less likely to form strong social bonds with their peers. Dolphins that are free-roaming but are fed by hand become less socially involved with their peers. As a result, their calves may grow up lacking vital social skills – which could explain, at least in part, why they are twice as likely to die before reaching adulthood. “Dolphins are a very social species that rely on the social group to protect them from predators and for courtship [in breeding situations],” says Valeria Senigaglia at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. “There’s a lot of alliance behaviour, and there’s a lot of learning that has to be done by observing other dolphins.” Some tourist centres and even recreational boaters train Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) to approach beachside public sighting areas or boats by hand-feeding them small amounts of fish every day. Because hand-fed males aggressively attack each other over the food – putting themselves and nearby humans in danger – tourist centres focus their hand-feeding only on female dolphins, says Senigaglia. But recent studies have shown that only 38 per cent of the calves of hand-fed wild dolphins survive to 3 years of age, which is much lower than the average 77 per cent survival rate for wild calves in general. To better understand why, Senigaglia and her colleagues evaluated the social behaviour of dolphins along the Bunbury coast in Western Australia. In particular, they observed the individual behaviour and movement of 35 dolphins, including 13 that had been hand-fed. Using a small boat, they regularly followed each of the 35 dolphins for periods lasting from 20 minutes to 3 hours for two years in a row, for a total of 180 hours.

4-19-22 These flowers lure pollinators to their deaths. There’s a new twist on how
Two species of jack-in-the-pulpits may use sex scents to lure male fungus gnats. Fake — and fatal — invitations to romance could be the newest bit of trickery uncovered among some jack-in-the-pulpit wildflowers. The fatal part isn’t the surprise. Jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema) are the only plants known to kill their own insect pollinators as a matter of routine, says evolutionary ecologist Kenji Suetsugu of Kobe University in Japan. The new twist, if confirmed, would be using sexual deception to woo pollinators into the death traps. Until now, biologists have found only three plant families with any species that pretend to offer sex to insects, Suetsugu says online March 28 in Plants, People, Planet. But unlike deceit in jack-in-the-pulpits, those other attractions aren’t fatal, just phony. The orchid family has turned out multiple cheats, some so seductive that a male insect leaves wasted sperm as well as pollen on a flower. Yet he doesn’t get even a sip of nectar (SN: 3/5/08; SN: 3/27/08). Similar scams have turned up among daisies: A few dark bumps that a human in bad light might mistake for an insect can drive male flies to frenzies on the yellow, orange or red Gorteria petals. Enthusiasm wanes with repeated disappointment though (SN: 1/29/14). And among irises, a species dangles velvety purple petals where deluded insects wallow. Two jack-in-the-pulpit species in Japan have now raised suspicions that their family, the arums, should be added to the list of sexual cheats. To visually oriented humans, the 180 or so Arisaema species look like just a merry reminder of evolution’s endless weirdness. Some kind of flappy canopy, sometimes striped, bends over a little cupped “pulpit” with a pinkie-tip stub or mushroom bulge of plant flesh peeping over the rim. Below the rim, swaths of flowers open in succession — male blooms overtaken by flowers with female parts — as the plant grows from slim young jack to big mama.

4-15-22 Releasing sterile male fruit flies in fields cuts crop damage by 90%
Sterile male flies released in fields mate with females that then lay far fewer eggs, drastically reducing the damage the larvae of spotted wing drosophila do to fruit crops. Releasing sterilised males of an invasive fruit fly could make a big impact in curbing its population, which poses a severe threat to global fruit industries. In the first trial of its kind, researchers released male spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii) sterilised with X-rays into tunnel-shaped greenhouses on three commercial strawberry fields in Kent, UK. On two of the sites, control greenhouses didn’t have the sterilised flies let into them. All three sites had seen similar levels of D. suzukii infestation in the three years prior. At the start of the growing season in April, 9000 sterile flies were released per week in treated tunnels, rising to 60,000 in October as production of the flies increased. Numbers of wild females – a problem for growers because they lay eggs in ripening fruit resulting in larval damage to crops – were monitored using sticky traps, with counts taken throughout the season. Compared with the two control sites, populations of wild females were reduced by 71 per cent and 90 per cent in the field where researchers released the sterilised flies. The sterile insect technique (SIT) works because sterilised males that compete to mate with wild females produce few or no offspring and so drive populations down. It has proved successful in controlling harmful insects such as the Mediterranean fruit fly and tsetse fly, and has long been considered a promising option for tackling D. suzukii, for which current control rests on the use of trapping and broad-spectrum pesticides. “SIT has a long track record of being able to outperform, and therefore substitute, chemical insecticides,” says Rafael Homem at BigSis, the UK company leading the work.Sterile spotted wing drosophila are expected to be commercially available in 2023, and while tens of millions of insects would be required to service the UK’s fruit growers, BigSis can produce 5 million specimens a week, says Homem.

4-15-22 Most bats don’t echolocate in broad daylight. Here’s an exception
These Egyptian fruit bats navigate by sound in bright light, despite their excellent vision. Despite their excellent vision, one city-dwelling colony of fruit bats echolocates during broad daylight — completely contrary to what experts expected. A group of Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) in downtown Tel Aviv uses sound to navigate in the middle of the day, researchers report in the April 11 Current Biology. The finding greatly extends the hours during which bats from this colony echolocate. A few years ago, some team members had noticed bats clicking while they flew under low-light conditions. The midday sound-off seems to help the bats forage and navigate, even though they can see just fine. Bats that are active during the day are unusual. Out of the more than 1,400 species, roughly 10 are diurnal. What’s more, most diurnal bats don’t use echolocation during the day, relying instead on their vision to forage and avoid obstacles. They save echolocation for dim light or dark conditions. So that’s why, two years ago, a group of Tel Aviv researchers were surprised when they noticed a bat smiling during the day. They were looking over photos from their latest study of Egyptian fruit bats when they noticed one with its mouth slightly parted and upturned. “When an Egyptian fruit bat is smiling, he’s echolocating — he’s producing clicks with his tongue and his mouth is open,” says Ofri Eitan, a bat researcher at Tel Aviv University. “But this was during the day, and these bats see really well.” When Eitan and his colleagues looked through other photos — thousands of them — many showed smiling bats in broad daylight. The team showed in 2015 that the diurnal Egyptian fruit bats do use echolocation outdoors under various low light conditions, at least occasionally. But the researchers hadn’t looked at whether the bats were echolocating during midday hours when light levels are highest.

4-14-22 Tardigrades can hitch-hike on snails to travel longer distances
Although they are incredibly resilient, tardigrades are also too small to travel very far – unless they hitch a ride on a larger animal. DTardigrades may hitch-hike on passing snails to travel relatively long distances, according to laboratory studies. Sometimes called water bears, tardigrades can survive extreme environments in a dried-out state called a tun. But because they are so small, they can only walk a short distance by themselves. This creates a mystery, though, because tardigrades are found across the world, with a genetic diversity of more than 1400 species. Many small animals can travel long distances by clinging to the body of a larger, more mobile creature. This behaviour has never been observed in tardigrades, so Milena Roszkowska and Zofia Ksiazkiewicz at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland decided to investigate. The pair used lab studies to test whether snails might transport tardigrades. In one box, they placed a number of tardigrades belonging to the species Milnesium inceptum by themselves. In a second container, there were tardigrades plus a species of snail (Cepaea nemoralis) that occurs in their natural habitat, while in a third box there were tardigrades, snails and moss, where tardigrades often reside in nature. After three days, the researchers counted how many tardigrades remained in their original location and how many had moved, and whether they were alive or dead. They found that living tardigrades only left their starting location in the boxes where snails were present without moss. They speculate that this might be because tardigrades are picked up passively by passing snails, and that this process is more unlikely if the tardigrades are embedded in moss. “This emphasises the role of the fine-scale dispersion of tiny animals,” says Roszkowska. “Short-distance transportation of invertebrate animals may have a significant impact on their genetic diversity.”

4-14-22 Brain regions linked to empathy bigger in monkeys with more friends
A study of free-ranging rhesus macaques found that those with more social partners had bigger brain areas involved in social decision-making and empathy. Adult rhesus macaques with bigger social circles have enlarged brain regions associated with social decision-making and bonding, a study has found. Primates, including rhesus macaques and people, live in large, complex social networks. The cognitive demands of navigating these networks is thought to have contributed to the relatively large brain size of primates, but less is known about the influence on internal brain structures. Camille Testard at the University of Pennsylvania and her colleagues studied the relationship between the number of social partners and brain structure in 103 rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) living on Cayo Santiago island in Puerto Rico. The monkeys, aged between 1 month and 25 years old, were supplied with food and water but otherwise left to their own devices so they could socialise freely. The researchers counted how many social partners each adult monkey had – including friends and family members – by observing how many others they groomed or were groomed by over a three-month period. Some monkeys had dozens of social partners while others had none. When the monkeys died, the researchers removed their brains and scanned them using MRI to measure the volumes of different brain structures. The scans showed that two brain regions involved in social behaviour were larger in adults with more social partners: the mid-superior temporal sulcus and the ventral-dysgranular insula. The mid-superior temporal sulcus has previously been shown to be involved in social decision-making, including deciding who to cooperate or compete with. The ventral-dysgranular insula is thought to be involved in bonding and empathy. For example, one study that electrically stimulated this region in monkeys found that it caused them to make friendly lip-smacking gestures.

4-14-22 Blind Mexican cave fish are developing cave-specific accents
The Mexican tetra has evolved to live in a number of dark caves – and now we know that the fish in each cave use clicks to communicate in distinct ways. In the underground caves of north-eastern Mexico, groups of blind fish appear to be developing cave-specific accents. The linguistic split could eventually contribute to ongoing speciation among the fish. The Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) is no stranger to diversification. It exists in two forms: one with good vision that lives in light-drenched rivers, the other blind with a translucent body, which began evolving perhaps only 20,000 years ago as some fish populated dark underground caves. Like many fish, A. mexicanus uses noise to communicate. It produces at least six distinct sounds for this, though their meaning seems to have shifted among the cave-dwellers as they adjusted to living in darkness. A particular form of sharp click used by sighted fish in aggressive encounters, for example, is produced by their blind counterparts while foraging. Carole Hyacinthe at Harvard University wondered if the communication also varied between fish evolving in different caves. Hyacinthe and her colleagues analysed 44 hours of fish chatter recorded in six caves, spread across the three mountain ranges where cave colonisation is thought to have taken place independently. The team focused on clicks and repeated clicks, the two most commonly used sounds. They compared a range of acoustic values, including the length of each click, pitch and the rate at which multiple clicks were produced in sequence. They found several significant, distinct variations between the caves. Clicks were pitched relatively high in a cave called Molino, while they were deep and booming in a cave called Subterráneo. Fish inhabiting a cave called Pachón fired off clicks up to 10 times more rapidly than in other caves, while in a cave called Tinaja, clicks were more drawn out. In a cave called Chica, where hybrid populations of surface and cavefish are thought to live, sounds were more varied than elsewhere.

4-13-22 Australia's koalas: Freeze sperm to save species, say researchers
Researchers in Australia say freezing koala sperm could help protect the endangered marsupials from extinction. Scientists at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales have suggested setting up a biolab of collected sperm. This could then be used as part of a breeding programme to future-proof the species and improve its genetic diversity, they say. Bushfires in recent years have killed tens of thousands of koalas. Conservation scientist Dr Ryan Witt said the proposals were a cost-effective way to prevent inbreeding, and therefore help preserve the genetic diversity of koalas beyond small colonies of captive animals: "Currently... we have no insurance policy against natural disasters like the 2019-2020 bushfires that threaten to wipe out large numbers of animals at the one time," he said. "If the koala population dies in these kind of fire events, there is no way to bring them back or preserve their genetics." Live koala young have been born following assisted reproduction using fresh or chilled sperm, the researchers say. "By using frozen sperm, we can reintroduce genetic variation into wild koala populations without having to relocate koalas," said Dr Lachlan Howell, also of the University of Newcastle. "We've identified 16 wildlife hospitals and zoos across Australia that could act as nodes to collect koala sperm," he added.

4-13-22 Rediscovered orchid was presumed extinct for almost a century
The mignonette leek orchid, which was last documented in 1933, has been rediscovered in Australia during surveys conducted after the Black Summer wildfires in 2019-20. A delicate lemon-scented orchid species that was thought to have disappeared in the 1930s has been rediscovered in south-east Australia. “It’s not often that you’re able to come across something you thought was extinct, so it’s really lovely,” says Noushka Reiter at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria in Melbourne. Prasophyllum morganii – commonly known as the mignonette leek orchid – was first documented in 1929 when a cattle grazier called Harry Morgan noticed several on his property near Cobungra, Victoria, and sent some to an amateur botanist called William Henry Nicholls. Nicholls made drawings of the orchids – which he named after Morgan – and preserved some as dried flowers and some in alcohol. Eight of these specimens – including those from 1929 and others collected from the same site in 1933 – were lodged at herbariums in Melbourne and Adelaide. Orchid experts have since tried to track down the species again, but without further sightings, it was presumed extinct. Then, in 2020, after Australia’s east coast was ravaged by the Black Summer wildfires, the Australian government funded detailed surveys of the burnt areas to find out which plants and animals were left. During these surveys, four populations of orchids that looked like they might be P. morganii were discovered at Nunniong Plain and Timbarra North Plain in Victoria and Sawyers Hill and Kellys Plains in New South Wales. Reiter and her colleagues compared these orchids with the old P. morganii herbarium specimens to see if they were the same. They rehydrated the 90-year-old dried flowers to properly visualise their size and shape and found that they matched the newly found specimens.

4-12-22 Common swifts enter hibernation-like torpor on cold nights
A migratory bird that almost never stops flying sometimes slips into a brief, hibernation-like state inside its nest during chilly breeding periods. When not breeding, the common swift (Apus apus), a small European and Arctic bird, spends more than 99 per cent of its time in the air, and even flies while sleeping. However, when cold weather hits breeding sites in Europe, the birds occasionally lie still in their nests for up to 22 hours in an energy saving mode known as torpor, says Arndt Wellbrock at the University of Siegen, Germany. “Swifts are flying almost non-stop 10 months out of the year, even throughout the night,” he says. “So it’s a little bit strange to find the birds sometimes in these torpor states, very cooled down and non-active, when we know that, normally, they need very little time to rest.” Swifts feed on flying insects, Wellbrock says. But during harsh weather, prey species become less active, and thus less available. By going into torpor – which isn’t the same as sleep – swifts temporarily drop their energy needs. This reduces brain and muscle activity, allowing them to survive longer without food. To discover evidence of torpor in the birds, Wellbrock and his colleagues placed miniature temperature loggers in about 50 common swift nests built by the birds beneath a road bridge in Germany. The loggers record the birds’ body temperatures. Over eight annual breeding seasons, the team registered a total of 22,357 night-time temperature readings. Over two of the breeding seasons, the team could also calculate the metabolic rates of birds that took up residency in seven wooden nest boxes equipped with technologically for measuring oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. The researchers found rare, but significant, temperature drops averaging 8.6 °C, bringing the birds’ body temperatures to an average low of 24.3°C. These torpor states lasted 10.8 hours on average, with one bout lasting more than twice this. They occurred on less than 6 per cent of the nights in an entire breeding season, says Wellbrock.

4-11-22 Interoception: Monkeys can sense their own heartbeat just like us
The ability to sense the internal state of the body, known as interoception, may be linked to our mental health, and macaques appear to have similar capabilities to us. Rhesus macaques appear to be as sensitive to their own heartbeats as human babies are, suggesting the monkeys have an awareness of their own bodily systems. The findings could open doors to a better scientific understanding of certain neurological and mental conditions in humans, says Eliza Bliss-Moreau at the University of California, Davis. Sensing one’s own heartbeat is one of the components of interoception, the capacity to detect the internal state of the body. Previous studies have suggested that, at least in humans, individual variations in our sensitivity to internal signals and how they are interpreted in the brain might be linked to our emotions, as well as to certain mental and neurological conditions. Rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) have certain structures in the brain and nervous system that suggest they are capable of interoception, but this hasn’t previously been experimentally tested, says Bliss-Moreau. She and her team came up with a way to test the hypothesis after hearing about a study that found evidence that human babies are sensitive to interoceptive signals. They monitored the heartbeat of four captive-born adult rhesus macaques while they watched videos that showed a blob-like image bouncing with a rhythm that was either slower, faster or the same as each monkey’s own heartbeat. The team repeated the tests until each monkey had voluntarily completed 100 trials in exchange for sips of fruit juice. Eye-tracking technology revealed that the monkeys watched the images for significantly longer when the blob’s beat was out of sync with their heartbeat – suggesting they found it surprising, says Bliss-Moreau. On average, the monkeys watched for long enough to see more than twice as many bounces when the beat was faster than their own heartbeat, and about one-and-a-half times as many when the beat was slower.

4-11-22 How a mound-building bird shapes its Australian ecosystem
The malleefowl has a potentially important role redistributing nutrients across the landscape. Earthen piles built by a chicken-like bird in Australia aren’t just egg incubators — they may also be crucial for the distribution of key nutrients throughout the ecosystem. In the dry woodlands of South Australia, sandy mounds rise between patches of many-stemmed “mallee” eucalyptus trees. These monuments — big enough to smother a parking space — are nests, painstakingly constructed by the malleefowl bird. By inadvertently engineering a patchwork of nutrients and churned soil, the industrious malleefowl may be molding surrounding plant and soil communities and even blunting the spread of fire, researchers report March 27 in the Journal of Ecology. Such ecosystem impacts suggest malleefowl conservation could benefit many species, says Heather Neilly, an ecologist at the Australian Landscape Trust in Calperum Station. The species is currently listed as “vulnerable” and declining by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Some animals — termed “ecosystem engineers” — produce habitats for other species by shaping the environment around them. Beavers build dams that create homes for pond-dwelling lifeforms. In deserts, owls and giant lizards support plant and animal life with their burrows (SN: 10/8/19; SN: 1/19/21). “In Australia in particular, the focus has largely been on our array of digging mammals,” Neilly says. But malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) — found throughout western and southern Australia — also perturb the soil. They and their close relatives are “megapodes,” a group of fowl native to Australasia and the South Pacific that have the unusual habit of incubating their eggs much like alligators do: in a massive pile of rotting compost. Heat from the decaying vegetation — locked in with an insulating sand layer on top — regulates the eggs’ temperature, and the young scratch their way to the surface upon hatching.

4-11-22 Male toad clings to female for 5 months waiting for chance to mate
A tracking study suggests males of one species of toad are prepared to go without food for several months for an opportunity to reproduce A species of endangered toad endemic to Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains is clinging on for dear life. The tiny Santa Marta harlequin toad (Atelopus laetissimus), which is just 4 centimetres long, can cling to the back of a female for five months without feeding until the pair are ready to mate. The grasping behaviour, which is known as “amplexus”, is seen in many other animal species – but rarely continues for such a long period of time, says Luis Alberto Rueda-Solano at the University of Magdalena, Colombia. In some cases, it can even prove fatal. But finding a female early in the breeding season and holding on for the long haul comes with big reproductive benefits, he adds. “It’s very probable that the male will not find another female and have that chance again,” says Rueda-Solano. “And the male who clasps the female first essentially wins access to her.” The Santa Marta harlequin toad is only found in the north-west of Colombia’s isolated Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains on the country’s Caribbean coast. The amphibians are in danger of extinction due to habitat loss. Many other species of harlequin toad across Latin America have already disappeared. The Santa Marta harlequin probably developed its intense and protracted courting practices due to fierce competition, says Rueda-Solano. Males outnumber females three to one, so once a male sights a rare female, he attracts her with his mating call, hops onto her back, slips his front legs around her underbelly and clings on for dear life. It matters little if the female isn’t ready to reproduce: the male can hang on for five months without feeding while he waits for the female to spawn eggs. The researchers were unable to track the toads for the entirety of the amplexus, so estimated its duration based on weight lost during mating.

4-8-22 How do we know what emotions animals feel?
Animal welfare researchers are getting creative to pin down subjective experiences. A dog gives a protective bark, sensing a nearby stranger. A cat slinks by disdainfully, ignoring anyone and everyone. A cow moos in contentment, chewing its cud. At least, that’s what we may think animals feel when they act the way they do. We take our own lived experiences and fill in gaps with our imaginations to better understand and relate to the animals we encounter. Often, our assumptions are wrong. Take horse play, for example. Many people assume that these muscular, majestic animals are roughhousing just for the fun of it. But in the wild, adult horses rarely play. When we see them play in captivity, it isn’t necessarily a good sign, says Martine Hausberger, an animal scientist at CNRS at the University of Rennes in France. Hausberger, who raises horses on her farm in Brittany, began studying horse welfare about three decades ago, after observing that people who keep horses often misjudge cues about the animals’ behavior. Adult horses that play are often ones that have been restrained, Hausberger says. Play seems to discharge the stress from that restriction. “When they have the opportunity, they may exhibit play, and at that precise moment they may be happier,” she says. But “animals that are feeling well all the time don’t need this to get rid of the stress.” Scientists studying animal behavior and animal welfare are making important strides in understanding how the creatures we share our planet with experience the world. “In the last decade or two, people have gotten bolder and more creative in terms of asking what animals’ emotional states are,” explains Georgia Mason, a behavioral biologist and animal welfare scientist at the University of Guelph in Canada. They’re finding thought-provoking answers amid a wide array of animals.

4-8-22 Why is there a sunflower oil shortage and what can I use instead?
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has led to a fall in sunflower oil exports, but vegetable oil prices were already at an all-time high. One of the global consequences of Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a shortage of sunflower oil. Some restaurants in Germany have reportedly even stopped selling chips because cooking oil has become so difficult to get hold of. Here is what you need to know. Why are supplies of sunflower oil running low in some countries? About 80 per cent of sunflower oil exports come from Ukraine and Russia. Exports from Ukraine have fallen 95 per cent due to Russia’s attack, Ievgen Osypov at trading company Kernel told Bloomberg TV on 5 April. Russia is still exporting the oil, but has said it will impose a quota from 15 April. Can’t we just use other vegetable oils instead? Many food producers are already doing this. But global vegetable oil prices were already at an all-time high before the war, and increased demand for other oils – the most common are rapeseed (canola), soybean and palm – is driving up their prices even further. Palm oil is likely to be the main substitute globally as it is the cheapest, says Thomas Alcock at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. Why were prices already so high? A combination of rising demand around the world due to people becoming wealthier and the growing use of vegetable oils as biofuels, and supply issues related to the pandemic and extreme weather. For instance, extreme heat in Canada last year hit rapeseed yields. Can anything be done to relieve the shortage? Yes. Globally, around 15 per cent of vegetable oils are turned into biofuels because of government subsidies and mandates. For instance, the European Union converts around 3.5 million tonnes of palm oil into biodiesel each year, almost equivalent to the amount of sunflower oil exported by Ukraine and Russia. Suspending or ending biodiesel subsidies could increase the amount available for food use.

4-7-22 Male crossbills grow redder feathers when they exercise harder
The red feathers of male crossbills are brighter in birds that find it more physically challenging to fly, suggesting exercise influences plumage colour. In a kind of post-workout glow, male crossbills that work harder when flying will grow redder plumage. The findings reveal that the processes that generate red feather pigments in the birds may be partly driven by the revving of the metabolic engines inside cells, called mitochondria. Many animals acquire their bright colours from compounds in their diet. Male common crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) take in yellow carotenoid pigments from their food and use enzymes to convert the pigments into vibrant, red ketocarotenoids, stored in the feathers. Scientists have long interpreted this blush of colour as a signal males use to advertise their good health to prospective mates. Foraging for food to make red pigments is a costly investment, says Carlos Alonso-Alvarez at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid. The thinking is also that carotenoids may provide various health benefits to the males, like antioxidant protection, and so serve as a convincing signal of a red male’s fitness. “Only the highest quality animals should be able to express [the colour],” says Alonso-Alvarez, of the idea. “This was the mainstream in the last decades.” But research in the 1950s showed that male crossbills kept in cages began growing only yellow feathers when they moulted. This, and more recent research suggesting that yellow-to-red carotenoid conversion may occur in the inner membrane of the mitochondria, made Alonso-Alvarez and his colleagues wonder if red feathers were partially a result of exercise and not just markers of diet and foraging skills. Between October 2019 and February 2020, the team captured 295 male crossbills in central Spain, taking measurements of their colour, size and weight. To make flight a bit more physically and metabolically taxing, the researchers clipped some wing feathers from about half the crossbills. They also plucked feathers from all of the males’ rumps and released them back into the wild.

4-7-22 How a western banded gecko eats a scorpion
The lizards shake and incapacitate their venomous prey. Western banded geckos don’t look like they’d win in a fight. Yet this unassuming predator dines on venomous scorpions, and a field study published in the March Biological Journal of the Linnean Society shows how the lizards take down such perilous prey. Geckos bite the scorpion and thrash their heads and upper bodies back and forth, body-slamming the scorpion against the ground, new high-speed video reveals. “The behavior is so fast that you can’t see what’s actually happening,” says San Diego State University biologist Rulon Clark. “[You] see the gecko lunge and then see this crazy blur of motion … like trying to watch the wings of a hummingbird.” Clark first noticed the behavior in the 1990s, during undergraduate fieldwork in the Sonoran Desert near Yuma, Ariz. When he returned with colleagues to study kangaroo rats and rattlesnakes, the team filmed geckos as well. The researchers captured western banded geckos (Coleonyx variegatus) and dune scorpions (Smeringurus mesaensis) in the desert at night (along with harmless arthropods, like field crickets and sand roaches, to compare), and documented the showdowns. Normal gecko feeding behavior usually involves lunging out, grabbing prey with their mouth, and chomping it, says Clark. With scorpions, it’s totally different after the initial lunge. Such shake feeding is a known method for carnivores and adventurous eaters. For instance, dolphins shake (and toss) octopuses before eating (SN: 4/25/17). The fact that this delicate, cold-blooded species not known for speed can achieve such physical gyrations is impressive, Clark says. Songbirds called loggerhead shrikes whip larger predators in circles (SN: 9/7/18), but at a lower frequency (11 hertz compared to 14 Hz in geckos). Whiptail lizards also violently shake scorpions, but at unknown speeds. The closest documented match to the speed of gecko shake feeding is small mammals shaking themselves dry; guinea pigs clock in at around 14 Hz, as well.

4-7-22 Female weta insects have two sets of genitals and eat male ejaculate
Female short-tailed ground wetas have two sets of genitals, one to receive sperm and the other to receive extra ejaculate that they eat to survive parenting. Females of a cricket-like insect found in New Zealand consume male ejaculate after sex to give them enough energy for the following six months of parenting, when they don’t eat. The size of the secondary genitals they use to collect ejaculate may be related to their success in mating. Short-tailed ground wetas (Hemiandrus pallitarsis) are found on North Island in New Zealand. Darryl Gwynne at the University of Toronto in Canada has spent decades studying the insects after first observing their unique sexual repertoire in a relative’s garden. “I thought, ‘What the hell is going on?’” he says. An adult male and female of the species first drum their abdomens on leaves to signal their readiness for mating. Things then get weird when they pair off for sex due to the female’s two sets of genitals. Her primary genitals receive and sometimes store the male’s sperm, while her secondary genitals allow her to receive extra ejaculate in the form of a “food gift”. The secondary genitals are shaped like a bent elbow with a forked tip, and the male uses his genitals to grab onto them while he deposits the extra ejaculate on her abdomen. The extra ejaculate doesn’t contain any sperm but is full of nutritious proteins. After mating, the female pulls the sticky blob into her mouth and eats it. Gwynne believes the insects do this to sustain themselves for the next six months while they go underground to care for eggs and newly hatched offspring. “She doesn’t eat at all during this time, probably because there’s no food underground and she can’t leave her eggs in case a natural enemy comes and does something nasty to them,” he says.

4-6-22 We must pay more attention to plants and trees in times of crisis
Our ability to recover from catastrophic events like storms and wildfires is deeply tied to the natural world, says Beronda L. Montgomery. SPRING is springing in Michigan, where I live, and I am scheduling frequent walks to welcome the vibrant wildflowers that will soon emerge – beautiful white trilliums, marsh marigolds and bright red wild columbine. After two years of mostly working at home due to the pandemic, I have been limited to observing the plants growing in my own house, flower and vegetable gardens and the neighbourhood. I have also been soaking up other plants virtually, through social media. Monstera Mondays, Houseplant Hour, Black Botanists Week, Plantstagram and many other plant communities have flourished online during the pandemic. While some initially thought they might need to grow their own vegetables, others have drawn comfort and peace from caring for plants or simply observing them. As I recently began to travel again, the practising plant biologist in me has been fascinated to encounter plants that have also endured, and were likewise endeavouring to emerge from challenging times. I have seen devastated plant communities, destroyed alongside the humans living in the same spaces. In late 2021, I encountered many of the hundreds of trees in Iowa whose entire top canopy had been severed by a derecho in 2020. This long-lasting storm ravaged parts of the Midwest, causing a tragic loss of human life and massive physical damage to buildings and natural spaces. I saw evergreen trees with completely flat tops, as their distinctive points had been obliterated. The abruptly shortened trunks of deciduous oak and maple trees were more stark evidence of the damage caused by the storm. Many of the millions of trees damaged by the Midwest derecho, one of the most costly storms in US history, were removed due to the threat their skeletons posed. Other badly injured trees are now on a path to recovery. For trees, an initial rest and recovery phase is followed by a period of actively forging new paths of branch and leaf growth.

4-4-22 Songbirds are more colourful the closer they live to the equator
Computer analysis has shown that 19th-century naturalists including Charles Darwin were right: birds near the equator are more colourful. Songbirds that dwell in tropical regions closer to the equator are more colourful than those living in milder climates. The findings support the idea that tropical animals are generally more colourful than those that live at high or low latitudes. The idea that life in the tropics is more colourful was first introduced by 19th-century naturalists such as Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt. Until recently, however, it has been hard to prove this hypothesis due to difficulty in quantifying colouration. Now, equipped with more advanced image analysis techniques, Chris Cooney at the University of Sheffield, UK, and his colleagues decided to test the hypothesis on songbirds – birds in the group Passeriformes – which comprise around 60 per cent of all bird species. The researchers created a deep learning AI program to analyse images of birds based on how colourful their plumage was. They defined colourfulness as the “range of colours that are perceptually different from one another”. So, a highly colourful bird would be one whose plumage had a diverse variety of colours. The team then input images of more than 24,000 individuals representing 4527 songbird species. After mapping the habitats of each species against its colourfulness, the researchers found that both male and female songbirds that lived close to the equator tended to be more colourful than their temperate counterparts. They also found that species that live in forests were more colourful than those that don’t. This may be because in a darker, busier forest environment, birds need to be “brighter and showier for attracting others and signalling their identity”, says Cooney.

4-4-22 Genomes of hundreds of extinct species revealed by rewinding evolution
Thanks to the growing collection of genomes for species alive today, researchers have been able to partially reconstruct the genomes of extinct ancestors for which no physical record exists on Earth. The genomes of more than 600 plants, animals and fungi that went extinct tens or even hundreds of millions of years ago, leaving no physical trace on Earth, have been partially reconstructed by rewinding the evolutionary history of their living descendants, in the largest ever study of its kind. This has given us the best pictures so far of the genomes of various ancient human ancestors, from the 45-million-year-old ancestor of monkeys and apes all the way back to the ancestor of the first amphibians and of all vertebrates. This approach will never allow us to completely reconstruct the genomes of extinct plants and animals, or bring them back to life, but it can help reveal the evolutionary history of life on Earth. It might one day even give us a better idea of what ancestral plants and animals were like physically. “Going from the genome to what the animal looked like, that’s something we can hope for,” says Hugues Roest Crollius at the Institute of Biology of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Almost all that we know about past life on Earth comes from fossils. As important as they are, most fossil species aren’t the direct ancestors of the organisms alive today. For instance, almost all dinosaurs died out, with just one branch surviving in the form of birds. “It’s not easy to connect a fossil to modern species, because you don’t know where it is in the tree of life,” says Crollius. Unlike fossils, however, the genomes of living creatures give us a direct link to their ancestors, he says. Genomes are a record of evolutionary history going back to the dawn of life. And by comparing the genomes of two or more related species, it is possible to effectively rewind those historical changes to work out what the genome of that shared ancestor was like.

3-30-22 The Loneliest Whale review: A moving search for an elusive beast
IN 1989, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts detected an unknown sonic presence at 52 hertz. It was initially thought to be from a submarine, but marine biologist William Watkins later determined that it was the sonar signature of a whale, which he gave the nickname “52”. It is an unusually high frequency for whale vocalisations, and Watkins was intrigued enough to search for 52 until his death in 2004. But despite picking up 52’s call every year, Watkins never found the mysterious whale. In The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52, US film-maker Joshua Zeman picks up the search where Watkins left off, and sets out to find a whale that has since taken on almost mythical proportions. Why 52 calls at this frequency is also a mystery – the whale’s species hasn’t been confirmed, and it is possible that it is the only one of its kind in the ocean. The one thing we do know is that 52 is almost certainly a he: male whales do the singing. The reason for 52’s presumed loneliness has nothing to do with the fact that he has always been detected swimming alone. Instead, it is because the unique frequency of his call means that other whales can’t understand to respond. With 52’s unique call as the only lead, Zeman launches a seven-day search mission with bioacoustics specialist John Hildebrand and research biologist John Calambokidis. They begin in the waters off California, at the Port of Los Angeles – the busiest container port in the western hemisphere. Their initial hopes aren’t high: the Pacific Ocean is deep and wide and the chances of finding 52 seem roughly the same as those of 52 finding a mate. Zeman’s documentary has a strong sense of exploration and ambition: he believes he can locate 52, who has become the Moby Dick to Zeman’s Ahab. Although there is an underlying sense of excitement as to whether 52 can finally be found, there is a human aspect to the search and a personal story behind Zeman’s fascination.

4-1-22 Crows may owe their intelligence to an abundance of certain neurons
Corvids such as rooks and crows seem to have a unusually high number of interneurons, brain cells involved in processing information. Crows can recognise themselves in mirrors, use tools and plan for the future, all cognitive abilities more similar to non-human primates than to those of most other birds. This intelligence may be related to an unusually high number of brain cells involved in processing information. Felix Ströckens at the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany and his colleagues analysed the brains of ostriches (Struthio camelus), brown warren chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus), racing homer pigeons (Columba livia domestica) and three members of the corvid family: carrion crows (Corvus corone), hooded crows (Corvus cornix) and rooks (Corvus frugilegus). The animals had all been killed for food or pest control. The researchers ground up the birds’ brains in such a way that the nuclei of all the brain cells were kept intact using a method called isotropic fractionation. This allowed the team to categorise the types of cells present in each brain and estimate how many there were of each. The team found that crows had the highest number of interneurons, small cells that pass on local signals and are involved in cognitive processing. These cells process information received from sensory neurons and send inputs to motor neurons. They are involved in tasks such as decision masking, future planning and risk assessment. “Many studies have shown that different subsets of interneurons are extremely important in behaviours that are termed ‘intelligent’ in both mammals and birds,” says Ströckens. The crows each had about 290 million interneurons, compared to 124 million in ostriches and around 40 million in the pigeons and chickens. Humans have about 1.3 billion interneurons. The difference was especially stark between ostriches and crows because the brain of an ostrich weighs nearly double a crow’s brain.

4-1-22 Butterfly survival reduced by warmer and longer autumns
Pupae of the green-veined white butterfly use more energy if autumn is long and warm, which leaves them too weak to emerge as butterflies in spring - and the results might apply to other butterfly species too. Longer and warmer autumns resulting from climate change may reduce the number of butterflies that emerge the following spring. Many butterfly species are declining due to rising global temperatures, but most research has focused on how changes to spring affect these insects. “Our study shows that fall [also] has really strong effects on mortality that only appear the following spring,” says Matthew Nielsen at the University of Oulu in Finland. Shortening daylight hours in the autumn causes the pupae – or chrysalises – of some butterfly species to enter a dormant state that enables them to avoid harsh winter conditions. At the end of winter, these pupae exit the dormant state and continue to develop before emerging as butterflies. Nielsen and his colleagues collected 459 dormant pupae of the green-veined white butterfly (Pieris napi) – which is found in Europe and Asia – before exposing groups of them to different autumnal conditions. The team transferred the pupae to chambers kept at either 15, 20 or 25°C for periods of between one and 16 weeks. After the simulated autumn, the researchers transferred the pupae into dark chambers at 2°C for 24 weeks to mimic winter. When they measured the rate of carbon dioxide produced by pupae during the simulated autumn period, the team found that pupae kept in warmer conditions for longer had a higher metabolic rate and therefore used more energy, compared with pupae kept in cooler conditions for shorter periods.By measuring the weight of the pupae at the start and end of the experiment, they discovered that the pupae exposed to longer and warmer simulated autumns also lost more weight than those that had undergone shorter and cooler simulated autumns. “These pupae are just using more energy when it’s warmer, which causes them to lose more weight. Exposing them to warm conditions for longer also causes more weight to be lost,” says Nielsen.


47 Animal Intelligence & Zoology News Articles
for April 
of 2022

Animal Intelligence News Articles for March of 2022