Pigeons May Share Human Ability to Build on Work of Others

A team of researchers at the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology has shown that the elements of the capacity of humans to build on the work of others may also be present in homing pigeons ( Columba livia ).

Single flying pigeon. Image credit: Takao Sasaki.
The ability to gather, pass on and improve on knowledge over generations is known as cumulative culture.
Until now humans and, arguably some other primates, were the only species thought to be capable of it.
“At one stage scientists thought that only humans had the cognitive capacity to accumulate knowledge as a society,” said team member Dr. Takao Sasaki, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow at the Department of Zoology (OxNav Group), the University of Oxford, and first author of a paper reporting the results in the journal Nature Communications . Read more

Elephants Have Surprising Level of Self-Understanding

According to new research, Asian elephants ( Elephas maximus ) are able to recognize their own bodies as obstacles to success in problem-solving, further strengthening evidence of their intelligence.

Once standing on the mat, elephants were instructed to pick up the stick and give it to the experimenter. Image credit: E. Gilchrist.
“Elephants are well regarded as one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, but we still need more empirical, scientific evidence to support this belief,” said Rachel Dale, a Ph.D. student at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, and first author of a paper reporting the results in the journal Scientific Reports on April 12, 2017.
“We know, for example, that they are capable of thoughtful cooperation and empathy, and are able to recognize thems… Read more

Kuphus polythalamia: Marine Biologists Study Giant Mud-Dwelling Shipworm for First Time

An international team of marine biologists, led by researchers at Northeastern University and the University of Utah, is the first to investigate a never before studied species — the giant mud-dwelling shipworm Kuphus polythalamia . According to the researchers, this marine animal doesn’t seem to eat much; instead it gets its energy from a form of sulfur.

Kuphus polythalamia after removal from its shell. Image credit: Marvin Altamia.
Kuphus polythalamia is a member of the common wood-boring and wood-feeding bivalve family Teredinidae, commonly known as shipworms.
It is among the most infrequently observed and least understood of extant bivalves. Its enormous size (specimens may reach 5 feet, or 1.55 m, in length and 2.4 inches, or 6 cm, in diameter), unusual anatomy and habitat, set it apart from… Read more

Klosneuviruses: New Group of Giant Viruses Discovered

Researchers from Austria and the United States have identified a group of giant viruses — Klosneuviruses — that harbor components of many other viruses and proteins, and their analyses suggest that Klosneuviruses acquired the various components in an evolutionarily recent time frame, likely from, and as an adaptation to, their hosts. A paper describing this discovery was published in the April 7 issue of the journal Science .

Transmission electron microscopy image of a candidate Klosneuvirus particle detected in the Klosterneuburg waste water treatment plant biomass. The particle exhibits features reminiscent of Mimiviridae including a faceted, multi-layered envelope surrounding a central core. Scale bar – 50 nm. Image credit: Schulz et al .
Biologists have been fascinated by giant viruse… Read more

Galagoides kumbirensis: New Species of Dwarf Galago Discovered in Angola

An international group of primatologists has discovered a new primate, Galagoides kumbirensis (Angolan dwarf galago), with features not been seen by science before.

The Angolan dwarf galago ( Galagoides kumbirensis ) prefers moist, tall forest, primary, and secondary and semiarid baobab savannah-woodland. Image credit: Elena Bersacola.
Galagos, also known as bushbabies, are small, woolly, long-tailed primates that are widespread over sub-Saharan Africa, and make up the family Galagidae.
Over the last half century, their number of species recognized has slowly climbed from 6 to 19 species (including the new one).
The newly-discovered species, the Angolan dwarf galago, belongs to the genus Galagoides (dwarf galagos, or dwarf bushbabies).
“This new species is a very exciting discovery,”… Read more

Honey Bees Have Better Vision Than Previously Thought

A new study by researchers at the University of Adelaide and Lund University that appears online today in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that honey bees have much better vision than previously thought.

A western honey bee ( Apis mellifera ) in Nagakute, Aichi, Japan. Image credit: Emran Kassim / CC BY 2.0.
Bee vision has been studied ever since the pioneering research of Dr. Karl von Frisch in 1914, which reported bees’ ability to see colors through a clever set of training experiments.
“Today, honey bees are still a fascinating model among scientists, in particular neuroscientists,” said lead author Dr. Elisa Rigosi, a postdoctoral researcher at Lund University, Sweden.
“Among other things, honey bees help to answer questions such as: how can a tiny brain of less than a million neurons achie… Read more

Meet Cave Loach, Europe’s First Cave Fish

A team of scientists and cave divers has discovered and described the first European cave fish — a loach of the genus Barbatula .

Loaches Barbatula sp. Top: two cave loaches in their natural habitat. Center: adult male loach with typical adaptations to living in caves: reduced eyes, enlarged barbels and pale body coloration. Bottom: typical epigean loach from the surface population in the Danube. Image credit: Jasminca Behrmann-Godel et al , doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.02.048.
The cave fish occur in Southern Germany, near the Swabian Alb, home to an elaborate karst region that includes many famous caves.
The fish were found in the 250 sq. km underground karst water system embedded in the limestone formation of the White Jura known as the ‘Danube-Aach system,’ which formed 400,000-450,000 years ago.
“T… Read more

Social Bees Have Kept Symbiotic Gut Bacteria for 80M Years, New Study Says

About 80 million years ago (Cretaceous period), a group of bees began exhibiting social behavior. Today, their descendants — honey bees, stingless bees, and bumble bees — carry ‘stowaways’ from their ancient ancestors.

The stingless bee Trigonisca ameliae in Colombian copal. Image credit: Dr David Penney / University of Manchester.
At least five host-specific species of bacteria, living symbiotically in the guts of social bees, have been passed from generation to generation for 80 million years, according to a study published in the March 29, 2017 issue of the journal Science Advances .
This is the first study to chart the evolution of the gut community of bacteria in a group of animal hosts so far back in time.
“The fact that these bacteria have been with the bees for so long says that they are a key part o… Read more

Lungs Play Previously Unknown Role in Blood Production

Using video microscopy in a living mouse lung, a team of researchers at the Universities of California, San Francisco (UCSF) & Los Angeles (UCLA), has revealed that the lungs play a previously unrecognized role in blood production.

Visualization of resident megakaryocytes in the lungs. Image credit: Emma Lefrançais et al , doi: 10.1038/nature21706.
The team, headed by UCSF Professor Mark R. Looney, found that the lungs produced more than half of the platelets — blood components required for the clotting that stanches bleeding — in the mouse circulation.
In another finding, the team also identified a previously unknown pool of blood stem cells capable of restoring blood production when the stem cells of the bone marrow, previously thought to be the principal site of blood production, are depleted. Read more

New Frog Species Discovered: Ecuadorian Rainfrog

A species of frog that is completely new to science has been discovered in the cloud forests of Ecuador.

The Ecuadorian rainfrog ( Pristimantis ecuadorensis ), adult female. Image credit: J.M. Guayasamin et al , doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172615.
Writing in the journal PLoS ONE , Professor Juan Guayasamin of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and co-authors are calling the new species the Ecuadorian rainfrog, or Pristimantis ecuadorensis .
This frog is known only from three nearby localities on the western slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes, provinces of Cotopaxi and Pichincha.
“The tropics are known to contain many more distinct species per unit area than temperate zones like the United States and Canada, which together have about 110 described frog species,” Prof. Guayasamin and colleagues s… Read more

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