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No one expects a human infant to slide into the world with a good grasp of grammar. Marmosets, another kind of chatty primate, are also poor conversationalists when they're young. But their parents seem to teach them how it's done. Young marmosets learn the cardinal rule of having a conversation: don't interrupt. And if they mess up, their parents give them the silent treatment.
Common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) live in large family groups in the forests of Brazil. "Because marmosets ... Read more »
Chow, C., Mitchell, J., & Miller, C. (2015) Vocal turn-taking in a non-human primate is learned during ontogeny. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1807), 20150069-20150069. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0069
If you're a small animal in a cold environment, being standoffish is a bad survival strategy. That's why animals of many kinds huddle for warmth. They put their furred or feathered bodies right up against their neighbors' and conserve energy that they would otherwise spend heating themselves.
One especially adorable huddler is the degu (Octodon degus), a rodent that lives in Chile and has a tail like a paintbrush. As temperatures drop, degus clump into cuddling groups to keep warm. A new ... Read more »
Sánchez, E., Solís, R., Torres-Contreras, H., & Canals, M. (2015) Self-organization in the dynamics of huddling behavior in Octodon degus in two contrasting seasons. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 69(5), 787-794. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-015-1894-0
Run-ins are on the rise between coyotes and city-dwelling humans, and scientists aren't sure why. Now researchers in Alberta think they've found a piece of the puzzle. Coyotes are more likely to creep into human spaces if they're unhealthy.
Conflict between humans and coyotes has increased during the last 20 years, write University of Alberta graduate student Maureen Murray and her coauthors. Yet coyotes were expanding their range for decades before that. They've spread to inhabit nearly ... Read more »
Murray, M., Edwards, M., Abercrombie, B., & St. Clair, C. (2015) Poor health is associated with use of anthropogenic resources in an urban carnivore. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1806), 20150009-20150009. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0009
Even if you think your parents played favorites among you and your siblings, they probably weren't as blatant as a wasp mother. Unless maybe they put your sister in a locked, secure room and fed you to mountain lions.
To be fair, a queen paper wasp (Polistes chinensis antennalis) is a single mom with a lot on her plate. She sets off alone in the spring, after mating, to found a new colony. She mixes her spit with plant fibers to make a pulp that she shapes into a house of delicate, h........ Read more »
Furuichi, S., & Kasuya, E. (2015) Construction of Nest Defensive Structure According to Offspring Value and Its Effect on Predator's Attack Decision in Paper Wasps. Ethology. DOI: 10.1111/eth.12374
It's a shame snakes can't appreciate irony. If they could, sea snakes in Australia might find some humor in their situation. Despite living in water, they seem to spend much of their time desperately dehydrated.
The true sea snakes, or Hydrophiini, include more than 60 species of almost frighteningly well-adapted reptiles. They swim with a graceful, ribbon-like motion through coastal waters around the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They have a venomous bite. Like many other snakes, they giv........ Read more »
Lillywhite, H., Heatwole, H., & Sheehy, C. (2015) Dehydration and drinking behavior in true sea snakes (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae: Hydrophiini). Journal of Zoology. DOI: 10.1111/jzo.12239
Kelsey Neam was strolling through the trees in Costa Rica and looking for sloths when she spotted something unusual. High on a tree branch, a three-toed sloth was eating leaves at an unhurried pace. It seemed oblivious to three brown jays that perched nearby and were watching it intently. Then one jay scooted closer and plunged its beak into the sloth's fur.
Neam is a graduate student in ecology at Texas A&M University. She was in the Costa Rican cloud forests to study three-toed slot... Read more »
Neam, K. (2015) The odd couple: interactions between a sloth and a brown jay. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 13(3), 170-171. DOI: 10.1890/1540-9295-13.3.170
Think real estate decisions are hard for humans? Imagine if the house you lived in were also your singles bar, your babies' nursery, and your shelter from large animals trying to eat you. And, while you were growing up, your food source, as you nibbled away its floors and shingles.
Moths face all these pressures each time they settle down on a plant. That may be why at least one type of moth uses pleasant associations to help with its choices. The plant species where an individual loses........ Read more »
Proffit, M., Khallaf, M., Carrasco, D., Larsson, M., & Anderson, P. (2015) ‘Do you remember the first time?’ Host plant preference in a moth is modulated by experiences during larval feeding and adult mating. Ecology Letters, 18(4), 365-374. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12419
Is it cool or existentially disturbing to think that your personal brain quirks might come from the toys you played with as a toddler?
In a study published earlier this month, psychologists asked 6,588 American synesthetes what colors they associate with each letter of the alphabet. Then they compared these associations to a certain vintage set of Fisher-Price alphabet magnets. They found that at least 6% of their synesthetes had improbably close matches to the colors of the magnets.
T... Read more »
Witthoft, N., Winawer, J., & Eagleman, D. (2015) Prevalence of Learned Grapheme-Color Pairings in a Large Online Sample of Synesthetes. PLOS ONE, 10(3). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118996
Like those breakfast cereals that look healthy on the box but have even more sugar inside than Cocoa Puffs, some rainforest trees engage in false advertising. It's not their fault—it's ours. Climate change has made their leaves less nutritious than they used to be. And the animals who live off of those trees don't exactly have another store to shop at.
Experiments in labs and greenhouses have given scientists mixed answers about what happens to plant tissues in a changing climate. So pr........ Read more »
Rothman, J., Chapman, C., Struhsaker, T., Raubenheimer, D., Twinomugisha, D., & Waterman, P. (2015) Long-term declines in nutritional quality of tropical leaves. Ecology, 96(3), 873-878. DOI: 10.1890/14-0391.1
Travel to the Amazon and flick an ant off a leaf, and you might be surprised what you see. Certain rainforest ant species can control their falls and glide back onto the trunks of the trees they came from. Unlike Superman, though, they're only flying to rescue themselves.
An ant is light enough that a drop to the forest floor might not hurt it. But the other animals cruising the ground for snacks will cause trouble for that ant soon enough. That's why many rainforest ants have evolved to ... Read more »
Munk Y, Yanoviak SP, Koehl MA, & Dudley R. (2015) The descent of ant: field-measured performance of gliding ants. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 25788722
Even the most dismal gardener wouldn't mind taking charge of a plot of Lodoicea maldivica. This palm tree knows how to water itself. It even adds fertilizer. As a result, it rules the forest, turning a bad soil situation into seeds the size of a four-year-old human.
Lodoicea maldivica is commonly called the coco de mer palm. "Commonly" might be the wrong word, though, since the tree grows on exactly two islands in the world, in the Seychelles. It roots itself in soil made from weathered g........ Read more »
Edwards PJ, Fleischer-Dogley F, & Kaiser-Bunbury CN. (2015) The nutrient economy of Lodoicea maldivica, a monodominant palm producing the world's largest seed. The New phytologist. PMID: 25616088
If snails used Facebook, all their relationship statuses would say "It's complicated." It's also slimy, violent, and life-shortening.
Most species of snail that live on land are hermaphroditic—that is, they have a complete set of female and male sex organs. When they mate, both partners inseminate each other. The act may come after a courtship period. And in certain land snails, this courtship includes the launching of "love darts," which are much less cute than they sound.
A love dart........ Read more »
Kimura, K., & Chiba, S. (2015) The direct cost of traumatic secretion transfer in hermaphroditic land snails: individuals stabbed with a love dart decrease lifetime fecundity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1804), 20143063-20143063. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.3063
A drooling baby face is not equally exciting to everyone around it. A new study says that young women who like the idea of motherhood get more enjoyment than their peers from staring at infants' faces. But they don't love all of those chubby mugs equally. Even more than the baby-neutral, wannabe moms are biased toward the cutest ones.
Amanda Hahn is a researcher at the University of Glasgow's "Face Research Lab," directed by psychologists Lisa DeBruine and Benedict Jones. (On their websit... Read more »
Hahn, A., DeBruine, L., & Jones, B. (2015) Reported maternal tendencies predict the reward value of infant facial cuteness, but not cuteness detection. Biology Letters, 11(3), 20140978-20140978. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0978
A fellow who hides in his shell until danger has passed may not seem like the epitome of manliness. Yet among hermit crabs, the shyest males have the most to offer the ladies. It's all part of their evolutionary strategy. Crabs that are long on bravery, meanwhile, are short on sperm.
Mark Briffa, an animal behavior professor at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues found the surprising connection between sperm and shyness while studying "life history" in crabs. To........ Read more »
Bridger D, Bonner SJ, & Briffa M. (2015) Individual quality and personality: bolder males are less fecund in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 282(1803). PMID: 25673676
You won't see a chickadee shoveling out a parking space and claiming it with a folding chair, no matter how good your binoculars are. But birds, too, have to be resourceful when they live in inhospitable climates. Travel just 600 meters up a mountain, and you'll find chickadees vastly more clever than their peers living a more comfortable life below.
How do you test the cleverness of birds? Using tubes with tasty worms inside, naturally. Biologists don't like to call animals "smart," thou... Read more »
Kozlovsky, D., Branch, C., & Pravosudov, V. (2015) Problem-solving ability and response to novelty in mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli) from different elevations. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-015-1874-4
Nothing turns your internet procrastination time into feelings of goodwill and teamwork like a citizen science project. You can click through a set of penguin photos or moon craters and know that your data are contributing to real science. As more citizens take part, and more researchers discover the joys of free labor, these projects are gaining popularity. But not all citizen scientists pull their weight. In fact, most do nearly nothing.
Henry Sauermann, a management professor at the G........ Read more »
Sauermann, H., & Franzoni, C. (2015) Crowd science user contribution patterns and their implications. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(3), 679-684. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1408907112
In a world of shy, quiet-as-a-mouse rodents, one lemming is the exact opposite. It attacks when it should retreat to a hole. It squeals and shrieks when it should keep silent. One scientist is working to figure out how evolution created this animal—and wearing thick gloves while he does it.
First, forget what you think you know about lemmings. You've likely heard a rumor that these rodents hurl themselves off of cliffs in droves. It's not true, though the makers of a 1958 Disney documenta... Read more »
Andersson, M. (2015) Aposematism and crypsis in a rodent: antipredator defence of the Norwegian lemming. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-014-1868-7
As anyone who's made valentines for a whole elementary-school class knows, kids are often pushed into social groups not of their choosing. Scientists tried the same thing with wild birds and found it pretty easy to coax them into new cliques. The birds hung out with their new social circles even when they didn't have to. But once the experiment ended, those friendships dissolved faster than a candy conversation heart.
To create new social groups in birds, researchers essentially controlle... Read more »
Firth JA, & Sheldon BC. (2015) Experimental manipulation of avian social structure reveals segregation is carried over across contexts. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 282(1802). PMID: 25652839
Minnesota is the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," at least 13 of which are named Clear. But some of these lakes are clearer and cleaner than others. Does that matter to the tourists who visit them? Researchers found an easy way to answer this question by taking a deep dive into Flickr.
Bonnie Keeler, a scientist at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, explains that it's important to measure how the public is using various lakes, rivers and streams. Agencies that are trying........ Read more »
Keeler, B., Wood, S., Polasky, S., Kling, C., Filstrup, C., & Downing, J. (2015) Recreational demand for clean water: evidence from geotagged photographs by visitors to lakes. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2147483647. DOI: 10.1890/140124
We've all been there: it's easy enough to follow our plans to exercise and eat healthily, until suddenly it's 4:30 in the afternoon and we're ready to plunge our faces into the first dandelion we see. Honeybees, like humans, can exert self-control when making decisions about food. But when they get hungry enough, that control buzzes right out the window.
For a bee, of course, self-control isn't about Pilates and salads. Worker honeybees mostly consume nectar. When they get back to the ........ Read more »
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