Last night, Virginia Tech grad student Ann Hilborn, her labmate Chris Rowe, and their research supervisor Marcella Kelly were posting pictures of animal genitals on their lab’s Twitter account (@Whapavt). When Hilborn added some more from her collection, one of their readers called it a “junk-off”. And thus a hashtag was born. [NSFW?]
Chris Crowe has a girlfriend. She stands a leggy 5 feet tall, weighs a trim 11 pounds, and sports a set of wings like you’ve never seen. Walnut the white-naped crane is the most genetically distinct endangered crane on the block — which means she needs to have been making babies, like, yesterday. Walnut was raised by humans at a zoo, and as a result, she recognizes and trusts humans — and is deeply hostile to other cranes. How hostile? She killed the two male cranes that her former keepers attempted to pair with her. "I like to jokingly tell people that Walnut ‘allegedly’ killed two male cranes," Crowe says. "It’s not like she was tried and convicted. We don’t know her side of the story."
That's right - it's time for Mammal March Madness! "Battle outcome is a function of the two species' attributes within the battle environment. Attributes considered in calculating battle outcome include temperament, weaponry, armor, body mass, fight style, and other fun facts that are relevant to the outcome. These are one on one- head to head combat situations- um except for the mythical mammals that have multiple heads. Some random error has been introduced into calculating battle outcome & the amount of that error is scaled to the disparity in rankings between combatants. Early rounds, the battle occurs in the better-ranked species' habitat (home court advantage). BUT once we get to the ELITE EIGHT, battle location will be random: forest, semi-arid desert, intertidal zone, or snowy tundra." Action kicks off on March 9 with the wildcard match up between the pygmy jerboa and the bumblebee bat (Kitti's Hognosed Bat). You can follow the action on twitter using the hashtag #2015MMM or on the blog Mammals Suck. In the meantime, start filling out your brackets - common names or binomial nomenclature.
African Animals Getting Drunk From Ripe Marula Fruit | Why animals eat psychoactive plants | How catnip gets cats high | Stoned wallabies make crop circles | Dolphins 'chew puffer fish to get high | Fly Agaric: The Psychedelic Secret of Christmas | Jaguar trips on DMT and Reindeer eat Amanita mushrooms | Animals getting high: 10 common drunks | 7 Species That Get High More Than We Do | Tree-shrew is heavyweight boozer | Animals Like to Get Drunk | Lemur gets high | Alcoholic Vervet Monkeys. [more inside]
Whale.fm is a project (which you can contribute to!) to help "marine researchers understand what whales are saying." - really it's a project looking at the effects that manmade sound has on marine life, but what whales are communicating with their songs is still a really interesting question, so I've listed some relevant links in extended description. [more inside]
CreatureCast - Rhizocephala - a charmingly animated look at the lifecycle of rhizocephalan barnacles, one of the more horrifying (non-charming) parasitic crustaceans (likewise). NOT a practitioner of parasitic castration but still disturbing: The bobbit worm. Happy swimming!
A study [PDF] by CUNY Professor Diana Reiss and Rachel Morrison (Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Subprogram in Psychology The Graduate Center of CUNY) was published last week in Zoo Biology detailing for the first time a whisper‐like behavior in a non‐human primate, the cotton top tamarin at the Central Park Zoo. [more inside]
After more than 25 years of studying the calls of prairie dog in the field, one researcher managed to decode just what these animals are saying. And the results show that prairie dogs aren't only extremely effective communicators, they also pay close attention to detail.
Nature constantly engineers new and creative solutions to all sorts of problems—turning our stereotypes about sex upside-down along the way.
Chimp Fights and Trolley Rides from Radiolab's morality episode: "try to answer tough moral quandaries. The questions--which force you to decide between homicidal scenarios--are the same ones being asked by Dr. Joshua Greene. He'll tell us about using modern brain scanning techniques to take snapshots of the brain as it struggles to resolve these moral conflicts. And he'll describe what he sees in these images: quite literally, a battle taking place in the brain. It's 'inner chimp' versus a calculator-wielding rationale."
Do cats always land on their feet? No. Unless...
The Creature Connection: Our love for animals can be traced to our capacity to infer the mental states of others, which archaeological evidence suggests emerged more than 50,000 ago. This article is part of a NYTimes series on the relationship between humans and the animals we raise. [more inside]
Five years ago this week, the BBC started broadcasting one of the most extraordinary documentaries ever to grace television: Planet Earth. The culmination of five years of field work, it employed the most cutting-edge of techniques in order to capture life in all its forms, from sweeping spaceborne vistas to shockingly intimate close-ups -- including many sights rarely glimpsed by human eyes. Visually spectacular, it showcased footage shot in 204 locations in 62 countries, thoroughly documenting every biome from the snowy peaks of the Himalayas to the lifegiving waters of the Okavango Delta, a rich narrative tapestry backed by a stirring orchestral score from the BBC Concert Orchestra. Unfortunately, the series underwent some editorial changes for rebroadcast overseas. But now fans outside the UK can rejoice -- all eleven chapters of this epic story are available on YouTube in their original form: uncut, in glorious 1080p HD, and with the original narration by renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Click inside for the full listing (and kiss the rest of your week goodbye). [more inside]
The panda: surprisingly good at life - "New research has revealed that, contrary to popular beliefs, pandas are surprisingly well-equipped for survival." (via ners)
"With most animals, males duke it out and the winner gets the girls," says Holekamp. "But with hyenas, females have 100 percent say." They decide when and under what conditions they will tolerate deferential sperm donors. At age 2 or 3 a male leaves his natal clan and wanders off to beg acceptance into another clan. After vicious rejections, he eventually succeeds and reaps his reward: brutal harassment as the clan's nadir, one of the last in line for food and sex. This probation, which biologists call "endurance rivalry," is a test, Holekamp explains: "The guy who can stick it out the longest wins." The trial lasts about two years, after which some females may grant him access. "You do not want to be a male hyena," Holekamp says.-From an article in Smithsonian Magazine, Who's Laughing Now? Professor Holekamp's hyena site. Also, hyena pictures and The Hyena Pages, a fine site about this fascinating animal.
25 Weirdest Animals. See also: 24 bizarre creatures of the deep. Not responsible for nightmares related to the viperfish, the oarfish, or the star-nosed mole.
The Encyclopedia of Life project will create a compendium of every aspect of the biosphere. It aims to compile data on all of Earth's 1.8 million known species on one Web site, and will include species descriptions, pictures, maps, videos, sound, sightings by amateurs, and links to entire genomes and scientific journal papers. E. O. Wilson is getting his wish. [Via BB.]
Birds that rap and cows with accents. The big picture is urban adaptation, which is pretty cool. (...and the egg wins.)
Seabirds Skull Gallery An amateur birder in Holland is fascinated by the internal structure of various seabirds. [via Incoming Signals]
"Infrasonic Symphony" Intrigued by reports of tsunami-avoidance behavior in Sri Lankan wildlife? Science News offers a timely antidote to simplistic mumbo-jumbo about the "mythical power" of animal earthquake detection with a detailed look at the latest research into low-frequency sound. The Elephant Listening Project is particularly interested in elephant rumblings that produce Rayleigh waves. "Mammals, birds, insects, and spiders can detect Rayleigh waves," notes The Explainer. "Most can feel the movement in their bodies, although some, like snakes and salamanders, put their ears to the ground in order to perceive it."
Cuter than a fangtooth. Beautiful images of bioluminescent sea creatures. Learn the difference between fluorescence, phosphorescence, and bioluminescence, as well as the science behind the amazing chemical reaction. (I like the floppy-eared one the best--okay, the plastic bag looking one is nifty too.)
Birds do it, bees do it... homosexual attachment and lovemaking are widespread in the animal kingdom, say biologists like Bruce Bagemihl, author of "Biological Exuberance." [For a longer, better-edited version of the same article, go here, but NYT reg. required.] Not everyone agrees, particularly those apt to quote the Bible to justify claims of a "natural revulsion to perverse sex."
The Endangered Species Act marked its 30th anniversary this December. Some say we need it while others say we need to change it. Whatever its faults, many species have benefited from it.
Cuba is best known for its legendary cigars and bearded dictators, but it's also home to some of the healthiest ecosystems in the Caribbean. Pygmy owls, bee hummingbirds, and solenodons share the islands of Cuba with tiny tiny tree frogs, trogons, and one of the largest groups of snails in the world. There are problems, though. Many species such as the giant cursorial owl, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the smallest of the giant sloths have been wiped out over the last 5,000 years, and other species are threatened.
The All Species Inventory is a non-profit organization dedicated to the complete inventory of all species of life on Earth within the next 25 years - a human generation. It's an interesting project, based on open-source ideology (check out their "Principles") but seems to be limiting itself to strictly Linnaean methods.
Crows better than chimps at making tools? British scientists were reportedly "astonished" when a captive crow named Betty "spontaneously bent a straight piece of wire and used it to retrieve a snack." But another scientist says crows have been seen making two kinds of hook tools in the wild, although he's not sure we should say they have "insight." It's clear that there are lots of different kinds of animal intelligences, so why are humans so surprised when dolphins recognize themselves in mirrors, chimps demonstrate culture and lions engage in social problem-solving? What explains the reluctance to admit that animal "consciousness" exists?
We're finding new fauna in some of the most heavily-populated areas on earth. It sort of makes you wonder what how many species we never even know about as we slash and burn great hunks of the rain forests, wooded areas, and other biodiverse areas of the world. (And good grief, those bugs are huge!)
Sigh. Apparently it's cruelty when humans hunt and eat "animals," but not when other "animals" do it to each other. (Basic biology flashback: humans are animals!) This is what happens when a species supersaturates its environment. Biological imperative begins to collapse and such furiously futile exercises as "pro-rat protests" are perpetrated in the name of something called ethics (not to mention free publicity).