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Pity the insect that tumbles into a pitcher plant's trap. The slippery walls and waiting pool of water ensure it won't clamber back out. There's nothing left to do but wait to be digested.
The California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica) is also called the cobra lily for its curled-over shape that hides its exit from its victims. Unlike other pitcher plants, it doesn't fill its trap from above with rainwater but from below, drawing water up with its roots. But like others, it seems... Read more »
Armitage DW. (2016) Bacteria facilitate prey retention by the pitcher plant Darlingtonia californica. Biology letters, 12(11). PMID: 27881762
"I was at a conference, and a colleague was talking about the locomotion of great apes in the trees," says Lewis Halsey, a physiologist at the University of Roehampton in London. The colleague mentioned that it's tough to measure how these animals use energy. That's when Halsey had an epiphany. "I was working with parkour athletes on another project," he says, studying how much energy the athletes used while jumping and climbing around a city. Why not use these human athletes to stand in........ Read more »
Halsey LG, Coward SR, & Thorpe SK. (2016) Bridging the gap: parkour athletes provide new insights into locomotion energetics of arboreal apes. Biology letters, 12(11). PMID: 27881766
In the forests of West Africa, bands of handsome primates called Diana monkeys roam the tree branches. Each group has just one male and several females with their babies. The tradeoff for his apparently cushy living situation is that the male has to chase off predators. His female companions use specific calls to tell him what kinds of threats are nearby. And he responds to whatever they tell him—even if it goes against his own judgment.
Diana monkeys (Cercopithecus diana) of both sex... Read more »
Stephan, C., & Zuberbühler, K. (2016) Persistent Females and Compliant Males Coordinate Alarm Calling in Diana Monkeys. Current Biology, 26(21), 2907-2912. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.08.033
Is your dog a natural athlete or a couch pup-tato? The answer might depend on how far removed it is from its wild ancestors. Dogs that are more similar to wolves have kept more of their natural athleticism, while breeding has rendered other types of dogs a little...less impressive.
Caleb Bryce, a PhD candidate at UC Santa Cruz, says his study of canine athletes came about serendipitously. "We were just hoping to calibrate a new wildlife collar we’ve developed," he says; he planned to te........ Read more »
Bryce CM, & Williams TM. (2016) Comparative locomotor costs of domestic dogs reveal energetic economy of wolf-like breeds. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 27811300
Superman donned glasses to disguise himself and blend in with other people. One snake hides its identity using a similar trick: when threatened, it changes the shape of its pupils. This makes it resemble a much more dangerous animal.
The mock viper (Psammodynastes pulverulentus) is mild-mannered, not superpowered. It's common across much of Asia, and—as you might have guessed from its name—looks a lot like a viper. Actual vipers are a widespread family of venomous snakes. Like true v........ Read more »
Silva, I., Crane, M., Artchawakom, T., Suwanwaree, P., & Strine, C. (2016) More than meets the eye: change in pupil shape by a mock viper. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(8), 453-454. DOI: 10.1002/fee.1420
Italy's school for water rescue dogs, the Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio, has trained hundreds of animals in canine heroics. The dogs work on Italian police and coast guard boats, and with fire departments and the navy. They can even jump into the ocean from a hovering helicopter to save a person.
They're pros at taking commands from humans. So researchers wondered if the dogs could help them understand what kind of command works best: Words? Or gestures?
Biagio D'Aniello, a biologis... Read more »
D'Aniello B, Scandurra A, Alterisio A, Valsecchi P, & Prato-Previde E. (2016) The importance of gestural communication: a study of human-dog communication using incongruent information. Animal cognition, 19(6), 1231-1235. PMID: 27338818
Don't look now, but this spineless sea creature may be able to count better than your toddler.
Cuttlefish need to be savvy if they want to eat. They're always on the lookout for shrimp, fish or crabs. When a cuttlefish spots a potential victim, it shoots out two specialized, sucker-bearing tentacles and nabs it. Since these hunters have to make constant judgments about which prey are worth targeting, it would make sense for them to have advanced cognitive skills—say, the ability to cou........ Read more »
Yang TI, & Chiao CC. (2016) Number sense and state-dependent valuation in cuttlefish. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 283(1837). PMID: 27559063
"I don't know what you're talking about," said the polar bear. "Everything seems normal to me! Watch out for that puddle."
Up in the Arctic, things are getting slushy. But some polar bears are refusing to change their ways. Instead of compromising on where they spend their time, they're clinging to the icy habitats they've always loved. As those habitats keep shrinking, though, the bears will eventually find things too crowded and uncomfortable to ignore.
Researchers divide polar bear... Read more »
Wilson RR, Regehr EV, Rode KD, & St Martin M. (2016) Invariant polar bear habitat selection during a period of sea ice loss. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 283(1836). PMID: 27534959
The goblin shark is a weird deep-sea creature first discovered off the coast of Japan in 1898. It has a ghoulish appearance, thanks to jaws that can stretch well away from the rest of its head. Scientists have assumed the goblin shark uses this trick to eat—but until recently, no one had actually watched one catching prey in the wild.
In 2008 and 2011, divers working with the Japanese television broadcaster NHK managed to capture two goblin sharks (Mitsukurina owstoni). Before rerele........ Read more »
Nakaya, K., Tomita, T., Suda, K., Sato, K., Ogimoto, K., Chappell, A., Sato, T., Takano, K., & Yuki, Y. (2016) Slingshot feeding of the goblin shark Mitsukurina owstoni (Pisces: Lamniformes: Mitsukurinidae). Scientific Reports, 27786. DOI: 10.1038/srep27786
Some babies are born totally useless (I'm looking at you, Homo sapiens). Others can wobble upright shortly after birth and start teetering around. And still other animals are almost frighteningly precocious.
For example, the metallic livebearer, a little golden fish native to Cuba, hatches from an egg while still inside its mother. That means the mom gives birth to live young. The more traditional fish-y way is to lay eggs. But some other fish also bear live young, including guppies a........ Read more »
Lankheet, M., Stoffers, T., van Leeuwen, J., & Pollux, B. (2016) Acquired versus innate prey capturing skills in super-precocial live-bearing fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1834), 20160972. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0972
If you're ever lost in a remote European forest, you might be able to get your bearings by finding a herd of roe deer. These animals like to align themselves roughly north-south, whether they're standing still or fleeing danger.
Roe deer are small, reddish or grayish grazers common in Europe and Asia. Petr Obleser, of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, and his coauthors studied the behavior of these skittish herbivores to look for evidence that they can sense the earth's ma........ Read more »
Most of us don't give much thought to drops of liquid that end up outside our drinking glasses. But physicists care a lot about liquid droplets, and study their whole lifespans—from the first splash or drip to the moment a drop disappears.
Liquids that contain three different substances, though, haven't been studied as much. Detlef Lohse, a physicist at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, and his colleagues took a deep dive into one such liquid: ouzo.
Ouzo is a mixture of wate... Read more »
Tan H, Diddens C, Lv P, Kuerten JG, Zhang X, & Lohse D. (2016) Evaporation-triggered microdroplet nucleation and the four life phases of an evaporating Ouzo drop. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 27418601
In the mountains of Central Africa, scientists who study critically endangered gorillas have a new tool. They've discovered that they can learn what viruses gorillas are carrying by stealthily collecting half-chewed plants the apes leave behind.
If this sounds reminiscent of that class clown at the third-grade lunch table who would ask if you liked seafood and then say "See? Food!" and open his mouth wide to display his sloppy Joe slurry, don't worry—mountain gorillas are vegetarians. ........ Read more »
Smiley Evans T, Gilardi KV, Barry PA, Ssebide BJ, Kinani JF, Nizeyimana F, Noheri JB, Byarugaba DK, Mudakikwa A, Cranfield MR.... (2016) Detection of viruses using discarded plants from wild mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. American journal of primatology. PMID: 27331804
In the open ocean, it's good to have friends. Some young fish like to buddy up with stinging jellies to stay safe from predators. Hiding under the shelter of a jellyfish's bell, they can grow up unharmed (as long as they dodge its tentacles). These fish include some species that humans rely on for food. But in a warming ocean, that buddy system may fall apart.
Many types of fish take advantage of hop-on jelly trolleys. Ivan Nagelkerken, a marine biologist at the University of Adelaide in ... Read more »
Nagelkerken I, Pitt KA, Rutte MD, & Geertsma RC. (2016) Ocean acidification alters fish-jellyfish symbiosis. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 283(1833). PMID: 27358374
How do you know when a farm animal is unhappy? Animal welfare researchers wish they had easy ways to measure malaise in pigs, or stress in cows. But those tools are lacking—which is why scientists in Australia studied sheep they'd dosed with Valium.
"Animals are not able to talk to express their emotions," says Caroline Lee, an animal welfare scientist at CSIRO in New South Wales. "We need to use other ways of understanding how they are feeling."
One such way is to look for changes in ... Read more »
Lee C, Verbeek E, Doyle R, & Bateson M. (2016) Attention bias to threat indicates anxiety differences in sheep. Biology letters, 12(6). PMID: 27277950
"Not tonight, honey," says the female burying beetle, chewing up a mouthful of mouse carcass before spitting it into the mouth of a begging larva.
For the first few days of their babies' lives, burying beetles co-parent. They devote themselves to keeping their squirming larvae alive. That means mating and laying more eggs would be a waste of energy. And to make sure males get that message, females emit a pheromone that turns them off.
"It is quite surprising," says University of Ulm be... Read more »
Engel KC, Stökl J, Schweizer R, Vogel H, Ayasse M, Ruther J, & Steiger S. (2016) A hormone-related female anti-aphrodisiac signals temporary infertility and causes sexual abstinence to synchronize parental care. Nature communications, 11035. PMID: 27002429
How do you know when animals are working together? Just because two animals got something done jointly doesn't mean they cooperated. They might have succeeded by dumb luck, or trial and error. Scientists who study animal minds, though, would really like to know when cooperation happens on purpose—and how animal partners manage to communicate with each other.
Studies in capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees hinted that the primates coordinated their actions by glancing at each other. (But this ........ Read more »
Eskelinen HC, Winship KA, Jones BL, Ames AE, & Kuczaj SA 2nd. (2016) Acoustic behavior associated with cooperative task success in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Animal cognition, 19(4), 789-97. PMID: 27022973
Like Snapchat abstainers or reluctant Slack users, adult parrots have a hard time learning new tricks. Older birds stay set in their ways while young birds innovate and try new things. Researchers say that's just as it should be—even if it means the grownups miss out on a treat now and then.
Young animals might be better at creative problem-solving because they're fearless and like to explore. On the other hand (or paw, or claw), older animals might do better because they have more knowle... Read more »
Loepelt, J., Shaw, R., & Burns, K. (2016) Can you teach an old parrot new tricks? Cognitive development in wild kaka ( ) . Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1832), 20153056. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.3056
Smashing out of its egg is only the first step in a baby sea turtle's grueling early days. The turtle fights free of its eggshell only to find itself buried underground. It has to intuit which way is up, then dig out of the packed sand. As soon as it breaks onto the surface of the beach, it begins a mad sprint to the ocean. All around are its brothers and sisters, flailing toward the water as fast as their own flippers will carry them. In the sea they'll keep swimming frantically, trying ........ Read more »
Rusli, M., Booth, D., & Joseph, J. (2016) Synchronous activity lowers the energetic cost of nest escape for sea turtle hatchlings. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 219(10), 1505-1513. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.134742
People with sleep apnea are at war with their windpipes. But they might be able to get some help from a different kind of wind pipe—namely, the Australian Aboriginal instrument called the didgeridoo.
In sleep apnea, obstructed airways stop a person's breathing over and over at night. It's normal for the throat muscles to relax during sleep, but for sleep apnea sufferers this relaxation combines with other factors to make breathing impossible. Apnea leads to broken sleep, snoring, and exh........ Read more »
Puhan MA, Suarez A, Lo Cascio C, Zahn A, Heitz M, & Braendli O. (2006) Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: randomised controlled trial. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 332(7536), 266-70. PMID: 16377643
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