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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
"Dance like nobody's watching" is fine advice, unless somebody is watching, and she needs to translate your dance steps into instructions to find food. That's the case for honeybees. But even though the rest of the colony must interpret their dance moves carefully, it turns out honeybees are pretty sloppy dancers.
When honeybees return to the hive after finding nectar or other food, they famously do a "waggle dance" to tell their sisters where the food was. The waggle is a shimmying ........ Read more »
Schürch R, Ratnieks FL, Samuelson EE, & Couvillon MJ. (2016) Dancing to her own beat: honey bee foragers communicate via individually calibrated waggle dances. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 26944504
The Amazons were a mythical race of warrior women who, in one version of the story, removed their right breasts to be more hardcore. But an all-female race of salamanders doesn't suffer from missing body parts. In fact, these animals have super-powered regeneration: when they lose an appendage, they can grow it back much more quickly than other salamanders do.
The secret lies somewhere in the salamanders' bizarre genetics. "They sort of defy definition," says Rob Denton, a graduate studen... Read more »
Saccucci, M., Denton, R., Holding, M., & Gibbs, H. (2016) Polyploid unisexual salamanders have higher tissue regeneration rates than diploid sexual relatives. Journal of Zoology. DOI: 10.1111/jzo.12339
Did you know this is Hedgehog Awareness Week? The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has dedicated May 1 through 7 to the spiny garden animal. The society won't go so far as to call it Hedgehog Appreciation Week—perhaps that would be too much of an imposition?—but it does want to highlight some of the problems faced by hedgehogs. For example, weed whackers, which apparently in the U.K. are called "strimmers."
The society suggests posting pro-hedgehog leaflets around your neighborho........ Read more »
Recio, M. (2016) Crowded house: nest sharing among solitary European hedgehogs in New Zealand. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(4), 225-226. DOI: 10.1002/fee.1269
Sometimes at the climax of a Star Trek episode, the captain would yell out "Battle stations!" and send the crew scurrying frantically through the corridors. It wasn't really clear what those battle stations were. Presumably, crew members headed to posts they'd been previously assigned, and this let the whole ship react to the crisis efficiently.
Certain ants respond to a crisis by binding their bodies together into floating rafts. And like the Star Trek crew, they seem to have designat........ Read more »
Avril, A., Purcell, J., & Chapuisat, M. (2016) Ant workers exhibit specialization and memory during raft formation. The Science of Nature, 103(5-6). DOI: 10.1007/s00114-016-1360-5
If you can't stand the heat, you're not an echidna, as the saying (almost) goes. These egg-laying mammals are unusual for several reasons. One of those reasons, it turns out, is that their ability to lower their body temperatures makes them largely indifferent to their homes burning down around them.
The short-beaked echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus, is one of four living species of echidna. Like the platypus, echidnas are Australian mammals that lay eggs instead of bearing live young. The........ Read more »
A flying insect that's suddenly swallowed by a bat probably doesn't have a lot of time to reflect on its fate. If it did, though, it might wonder how on Earth the swooping mammal managed to grab it with so little warning. The answer is that bats don't hunt just one bug at a time. While scanning the air with echoes, they manage to plan two victims ahead.
Bats aren't blind, despite what you may have read on Twitter. But bats that hunt at night rely on sound, not vision. They send out very h... Read more »
Fujioka, E., Aihara, I., Sumiya, M., Aihara, K., & Hiryu, S. (2016) Echolocating bats use future-target information for optimal foraging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201515091. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1515091113
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