‘Laughter’ is Catching in New Zealand’s Kea Parrots

The kea ( Nestor notabilis ) — a large species of parrot endemic to the Southern Alps of New Zealand — has become the first non-mammal to show signs of ‘emotionally contagious’ vocalization.

Specific calls of playing kea trigger playful emotions in other, non-playing birds, just as laughter does for us. Image credit: Raoul Schwing, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.
When people are feeling playful, they giggle and laugh, making others around them want to laugh and play too.
A team of scientists led by Dr. Raoul Schwing, a researcher at the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria, found that the particularly playful kea parrot has ‘play calls’ with a similarly powerful influence.
“We were able to use a playback of these calls to show that it animates k… Read more

Study: Uganda’s Ngogo Chimpanzees Have Surprisingly Long Life Expectancies

A 20-year demographic study of a relatively undisturbed and exceptionally large community of eastern chimpanzees ( Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii ) at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, southwestern Uganda, has revealed that our close primate relatives can lead surprisingly long lives in the wild.

A member of the Ngogo community of chimpanzees in Uganda’s Kibale National Park. Image credit: Brian Wood, Yale University.
The study, led by Yale University researcher Brian Wood, establishes an average life expectancy of about 33 years in its sample of 306 chimpanzees, nearly twice as high as that of other chimpanzee communities and within the 27- to 37-year range of life expectancy at birth of human hunter-gatherers.
“Our findings show how ecological factors, including variation in food supplies and p… Read more

Tatama Tapaculo: New Bird Species Discovered in Colombia

A new species of tapaculo — called the Tatama tapaculo ( Scytalopus alvarezlopezi ) — has been discovered in the cloud forests of Colombia’s Western Andes.

The Tatama tapaculo ( Scytalopus alvarezlopezi ) upon capture at Cerro Montezuma, Risaralda department, Colombia, April 2, 2015. Image credit: Julian Heavyside, doi: 10.1642/AUK — 16-205.1.
The Tatama tapaculo was first spotted in June 1992 in Colombia’s Risaralda department by Dr. F. Gary Stiles, an ornithologist at the Institute of Natural Sciences at the National University of Colombia.
Now studies of the bird’s vocalizations and DNA have confirmed it to be a unique species.
The discovery is outlined in the April 2017 issue of The Auk , the official publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union.
“We take pleasure in naming this species i… Read more

Study: Spiders Eat 400-800 Million Tons of Insects and Other Prey Annually

According to a new study published in The Science of Nature , the annual prey kill of the global spider community is in the range of 400-800 million metric tons (fresh weight), with insects and springtails composing more than 90% of the captured prey.

Jumping spider Phidippus mystaceus feeding on a nematoceran prey. Image credit: David E. Hill, Peckham Society.
Spiders evolved from an arachnid ancestor during the Devonian period around 400 million years ago.
With more than 45,000 species and a population density of up to 1,000 individuals per sq. m., they are among the most common and abundant predators in terrestrial ecosystems.
Due to their secretive lifestyle — many spiders are nocturnal or live well camouflaged in vegetation, it was previously difficult to demonstrate their ecological role.
But… Read more

Bees Have Profound Influence on Plant Evolution, Researchers Say

After only nine generations, the same plant species is larger and more fragrant if pollinated by bumblebees rather than flies, according to University of Zurich evolutionary biologists Florian Schiestl and Daniel Gervasi.

The study by Florian Schiestl and Daniel Gervasi focuses on the role insect pollinators can play in plant evolution, and how speedy that evolution can be. Image credit: Alexas.
For their experiments, Gervasi and Prof. Schiestl used the field mustard ( Brassica rapa ).
They allowed one plant group to be pollinated solely by bumblebees for nine generations, another only by hoverflies, and a third by hand. Afterwards they analyzed the plants, ‘which differed greatly.’
The plants pollinated by bumblebees were larger and had more fragrant flowers with a greater UV color component,… Read more

Researchers Find Potential Cure for Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor Disease

A study led by University of Tasmania researchers Cesar Tovar and Gregory Woods has shown that immunotherapy can cure Tasmanian devils ( Sarcophilus harrisii ) of the devil facial tumor disease. The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports .

Young Tasmanian devil. Image credit: Keres H. / CC BY-SA 4.0.
Tasmanian devils are the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world, reaching 2.6 feet (80 cm) in length and weighing up to 31 pounds (14 kg).
They display significant aggression toward one another, which often involves biting on the face.
This sometimes transmits Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), a nearly 100% fatal and transmissible cancer first detected in northeastern Tasmania in 1996.
“DFTD is a transmissible Schwann cell cancer that has decimated the Tasmanian devi… Read more

Researchers Discover How Animals Measure Annual Time to Reproduce

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals the link between breeding season and the hormone melatonin, made in the pineal gland in the brain during long winter nights.

Castle-Miller et al have discovered how animals link the change in seasons to their fertility.
“Changes during the year in sex hormones made in the pituitary gland control when mammals start reproducing, and other changes like growing new coats or developing antlers,” said senior co-author Prof. David Bates, from the University of Nottingham, UK.
“The length of the day is recognized in most vertebrate animals by the pineal gland in the brain, which produces melatonin.”
“However, until now, it has not been known how melatonin, which is produced at night, signals to the area of the pituita… Read more

Extremely Rare True’s Beaked Whale Caught on Video

The True’s beaked whale ( Mesoplodon mirus ) is a poorly known member of the family Ziphiidae, second largest family of cetaceans (which includes whales, dolphins and porpoises). Little is known about its distribution, abundance and calving rate. However, an international team of researchers has now obtained the first images of a calf along with the first underwater video of this rare whale, and also described a new coloration for the species.

True’s beaked whales ( Mesoplodon mirus ). Image credit: Roland Edler, Duisburg Zoo.
Although True’s beaked whales occur in the North Atlantic and in the Southern Hemisphere, there is a surprisingly large gap in their distribution between these regions. This gap may be real, or might be an artifact of the lack of data.
In a paper published this month in the journa… Read more

Three New Tarantula Species Discovered in South America

Brazilian taxonomists have discovered and described three new species of the ‘bird-eating’ tarantula genus Avicularia from Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.

Avicularia merianae , female. Image credit: H.-W. Auer.
The description is published in a new issue of the journal ZooKeys , authored by Dr. Caroline Sayuri Fukushima and Dr. Rogério Bertani, researchers in the Laboratory of Ecology and Evolution at the Instituto Butantan in São Paulo, Brazil.
“Even though these harmless tarantulas have long been a favorite exotic pet around the world, their identity has remained problematic ever since the first species, the pinktoe tarantula ( Aranea avicularia ), was described back in 1758 by the father of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778),” the scientists explained.
“He described the species based o… Read more

Frogs Have Unique Ability to See Color in Extreme Darkness, Study Shows

Frogs have the ability to see color even when it is so dark that humans are not able to see anything at all, according to a new study published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B .

According to Yovanovich et al , frogs can see color in extreme darkness, down to the absolute threshold of the visual system. Image credit: Sonja Pauen / CC BY 2.0.
Most vertebrates, including humans, have two types of visual cells located in the retina, namely cones and rods.
The cones enable us to see color, but they usually require a lot of light and therefore stop working when it gets dark, in which case the rods take over so that we can at least find our way home, albeit in black and white.
In toads and frogs the rods are a bit special, however.
It was previously known that toads and frogs are unique in having ro… Read more

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