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When you look at a kangaroo or a wallaby, it's obvious the animal is well built for bouncing around the outback. What may be less obvious is that its arms are built for fighting—if it's male, that is. Males of these species have disproportionately long arm bones. And the more brawling a species does, the more exaggerated the difference between the beefy-armed males and their normal-limbed mates.
To understand this evolutionary quirk, we'll need to review the rules of fighting in wallabie........ Read more »
Richards, H., Grueter, C., & Milne, N. (2015) Strong arm tactics: sexual dimorphism in macropodid limb proportions. Journal of Zoology. DOI: 10.1111/jzo.12264
We may call someone gutless who's acting afraid. But certain coral-reef dwellers take gutless to a whole other level: they shoot their digestive tracts out of their bodies when they feel threatened. This seems to deter nearby fish from taking a bite. Even more amazing, though, is how quickly the gutless animals grow back their organs.
Polycarpa mytiligera is a little tube-shaped creature called an ascidian, or sea squirt. It resides in tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. Wit... Read more »
Shenkar N, & Gordon T. (2015) Gut-spilling in chordates: evisceration in the tropical ascidian Polycarpa mytiligera. Scientific reports, 9614. PMID: 25880620
There's good news for scientists who study animals that are too small to carry a GPS monitor, or that spit ID tags back out through their arms. A setup using an off-the-shelf camera can precisely capture an animal's path in three dimensions—without anyone touching the animal.
Emmanuel de Margerie, who studies animal behavior at the University of Rennes 1 in France, says there are several reasons to seek new animal-tracking technologies. To put a GPS or other kind of tag on an animal, yo........ Read more »
de Margerie E, Simonneau M, Caudal JP, Houdelier C, & Lumineau S. (2015) 3D tracking of animals in the field, using rotational stereo videography. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 26056245
Scientists already knew starfish have superpowers. They can regenerate entire lost limbs or organs; some can even regrow a whole body from one arm. And these animals have just revealed another bizarre ability. To two Danish students, it first appeared as the power to really wreck an experiment.
At the University of Southern Denmark, students Frederik Ekholm Gaardsted Christensen and Trine Bottos Olsen were asked to tag some starfish. The task was simple: inject the Asterias rubens with ........ Read more »
Olsen TB, Christensen FE, Lundgreen K, Dunn PH, & Levitis DA. (2015) Coelomic Transport and Clearance of Durable Foreign Bodies by Starfish (Asterias rubens). The Biological bulletin, 228(2), 156-62. PMID: 25920718
You snooze, you lose paternity. That's the message of a new study on wild birds in Germany. Males that wake up the earliest are able to sneakily mate with other birds' partners. Males that sleep in, meanwhile, get stuck raising young that aren't their own.
Great tits (Parus major) appear monogamous at first glance. They stick with one partner and cooperate to raise their young. But, like many other birds that scientists call "socially monogamous," they sleep around. Great tit nests often ........ Read more »
Greives, T., Kingma, S., Kranstauber, B., Mortega, K., Wikelski, M., van Oers, K., Mateman, A., Ferguson, G., Beltrami, G., & Hau, M. (2015) Costs of sleeping in: circadian rhythms influence cuckoldry risk in a songbird. Functional Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.12440
What's a scientist to do with 1.2 million photos, most of grass but some containing valuable data about endangered animals? Turn the whole thing over to the public, if you're the creators of Snapshot Serengeti. This project caught the attention of tens of thousands of volunteers. Now their work has produced a massive dataset that's already helping scientists in a range of fields.
Most online citizen science involves a degree of tedium—counting craters, tracing kelp mats. But Snapshot ... Read more »
Swanson, A., Kosmala, M., Lintott, C., Simpson, R., Smith, A., & Packer, C. (2015) Snapshot Serengeti, high-frequency annotated camera trap images of 40 mammalian species in an African savanna. Scientific Data, 150026. DOI: 10.1038/sdata.2015.26
Amputees often feel eerie sensations from their missing limbs. These "phantom limb" feelings can include pain, itching, tingling, or even a sense of trying to pick something up. Patients who lose an eye may have similar symptoms—with the addition of actual phantoms.
Phantom eye syndrome (PES) had been studied in the past, but University of Liverpool psychologist Laura Hope-Stone and her colleagues recently conducted the largest study of PES specifically in patients who'd lost an eye to c........ Read more »
Hope-Stone L, Brown SL, Heimann H, Damato B, & Salmon P. (2015) Phantom Eye Syndrome: Patient Experiences after Enucleation for Uveal Melanoma. Ophthalmology. PMID: 26004080
Let's say you're clever enough to build and use tools, but your species hasn't learned how to manufacture pants. So you can't store your hard-won tools in your pocket, or in a belt or box. What to do? One species of crow is showing scientists how it answers that question—and how it changes its strategy based on how likely its tools are to go missing.
New Caledonian crows, native to islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, are renowned tool makers and users. They prey on bugs that live ........ Read more »
Klump BC, van der Wal JE, St Clair JJ, & Rutz C. (2015) Context-dependent 'safekeeping' of foraging tools in New Caledonian crows. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 282(1808). PMID: 25994674
One thing you won't find in the story of the Very Hungry Caterpillar is the part where after transforming into a butterfly, he mates with a female who has a Very Hungry Reproductive Tract waiting to devour his sperm. She has a special digestive organ just for this purpose. It's so powerful that it could even compete with the gut that let the caterpillar, in his more innocent days, chew through those five oranges.
This sperm-hungry organ is called the bursa copulatrix. In female butterflie... Read more »
Plakke, M., Deutsch, A., Meslin, C., Clark, N., & Morehouse, N. (2015) Dynamic digestive physiology of a female reproductive organ in a polyandrous butterfly. Journal of Experimental Biology, 218(10), 1548-1555. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.118323
The squash bug mating orgies that biologist Christine Miller began noticing in gardens around Gainesville were nothing unusual. Dozens of insects were crowded together, the petite males along with the bulkier females, to search for partners. The unusual thing was that some males were copulating with females of the wrong species—apparently, they found them irresistible.
When Jen Hamel arrived at Miller's University of Florida lab to do her postdoctoral research, she took up the mystery o........ Read more »
Hamel, J., Nease, S., & Miller, C. (2015) Male mate choice and female receptivity lead to reproductive interference. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 69(6), 951-956. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-015-1907-z
Sure, there are faces only a mother could love. And then there are faces no mother loves, because they belong to animals that fend for themselves from birth. The babies we find cutest—no matter what species they are—may have evolved to look that way because they need a parent's attention. That means even a crocodile can tug on our heartstrings.
Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian zoologist, proposed in the mid-20th century that human infants are cute for a reason. He said evolution has created ad........ Read more »
Kruger, D. (2015) Non-Mammalian Infants Requiring Parental Care Elicit Greater Human Caregiving Reactions Than Superprecocial Infants Do. Ethology. DOI: 10.1111/eth.12391
In the future when touch screens are obsolete and we control our devices by facial gesture, maybe we'll zoom in and out the same way a bat does it. We'll open our mouths wide to narrow our field of focus. To see the bigger picture, we'll purse our lips tightly. But while we'll only be reading the news or shopping online, bats are operating one of the coolest sensory systems owned by a mammal.
An Italian priest, Lazzaro Spallanzani, sent blindfolded bats through obstacle courses in the lat... Read more »
Kounitsky P, Rydell J, Amichai E, Boonman A, Eitan O, Weiss AJ, & Yovel Y. (2015) Bats adjust their mouth gape to zoom their biosonar field of view. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 25941395
Of course there's nothing ordinary about an octopus. It's the animal that showed us spinelessness doesn't have to mean a lack of smarts. But when researchers brought some octopuses into the lab to study exactly how the animals move, their findings were bizarre—both predictably and unpredictably.
Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem studied nine common octopuses (Octopus vulgaris) that fishers had scooped out of the ocean for them. Once the animals got comfortable in the lab, t........ Read more »
Levy G, Flash T, & Hochner B. (2015) Arm Coordination in Octopus Crawling Involves Unique Motor Control Strategies. Current biology : CB. PMID: 25891406
Why would two stubby-legged, blue-tongued Australian reptiles want to stay together not just for a mating season, but for decades? A 31-year study of the reptiles has suggested an answer. While newly formed couples are still getting to know each other, lizards in long-term relationships can start mating earlier in the season. And dispensing with the foreplay might give them a reproductive advantage over their casually dating neighbors.
Tiliqua rugosa is a species of blue-tongued skink tha... Read more »
Leu, S., Burzacott, D., Whiting, M., & Bull, C. (2015) Mate Familiarity Affects Pairing Behaviour in a Long-Term Monogamous Lizard: Evidence from Detailed Bio-Logging and a 31-Year Field Study. Ethology. DOI: 10.1111/eth.12390
It's hard to be a showshoe hare. The northern animals are in a constant race for survival with their predators, always cycling between population booms and busts. In hard years, hares are understandably stressed. And that stress can leave its signature not just on those animals, but on several future generations.
When life is good, populations of showshoe hares (Lepus americanus) can roughly double every year. But the hare's predators—lynx, foxes, coyotes—also increase in numbers as ........ Read more »
Sheriff, M., McMahon, E., Krebs, C., & Boonstra, R. (2015) Predator-induced maternal stress and population demography in snowshoe hares: the more severe the risk, the longer the generational effect. Journal of Zoology. DOI: 10.1111/jzo.12249
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
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