Eat insects to help the environment

From Discover Magazine: Want to Help the Environment? Eat Insects.

David Gracer lifts a giant water bug, places his thumbs in a pre-sliced slit in its underside, and flips off its head. "Smell the meat," he says, sniffing the decapitated creature, and the people gathered around the table willingly oblige. Members of the New York Gastronauts, a club for adventurous eaters, they murmur appreciatively as they scoop out and swallow the grayish, slightly greasy insect flesh.

"Perfumey, tastes like salty apples," one says. "Like a scented candle blended with an artichoke," another adds.

The giant water bug, or Lethocerus indicus, a three-inch-long South Asian insect that looks uncannily like a local cockroach, is just one of the items on the menu of this bug-eating bacchanal. The Gastronauts’ meal may seem more like a reality TV stunt than a radical environmental strategy, but Gracer is on a serious mission to shake up how we all think about our food supply. Gracer, a self-described "geeky poet/nature boy" who teaches composition at a community college in Providence, Rhode Island, has made it his duty to persuade ordinary Americans to eat insects.

Gracer wants people to move away from getting their protein from traditional livestock such as cows, pigs, and chickens because [continue]

Young birds babble like babies

From Young Birds Babble Like Babies.

The happy babbling that entertains parents as their babies try to mimic speech turns out to have a parallel in the animal world.

Baby birds babble away before mastering their adult song, researchers report in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

Michale S. Fee and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the brains of baby zebra finches as the little birds learned the unique song they would use as adults.

The baby birds practiced making sounds incessantly, the team reported.

"Birds start out by babbling, just as humans do," Fee said, while the adult bird produces a very precise pattern of sound. [continue]

Tests confirm T. Rex kinship with birds

From the New York Times: Tests Confirm T. Rex Kinship With Birds.

In the first analysis of proteins extracted from dinosaur bones, scientists say they have established more firmly than ever that the closest living relatives of the mighty predator Tyrannosaurus rex are modern birds.

The research, being published Friday in the journal Science, yielded the first molecular data confirming the widely held hypothesis of a close dinosaur-bird ancestry, the American scientific team reported. The link was previously suggested by anatomical similarities.

In fact, the scientists said, T. rex shared more of its genetic makeup with ostriches and chickens than with living reptiles, like alligators. On this basis, the research team has redrawn the family tree of major vertebrate groups, assigning the dinosaur a new place in evolutionary relationships. [continue]

Elephant as photographer

From the Daily Mail: Smile you’re on ele-vision: How a camera attached to an elephant’s trunk captured amazing jungle views.

We revealed the amazing story of how four tiger cubs were captured on special cameras in logs carried by elephants – giving the most intimate insight into their early lives ever recorded.

Now, we show for the first time other creatures of the jungle caught in this extraordinary – and pioneering – way.

Cheeky langur monkeys, a rare sloth bear, spotted deer and a leopard with her cub are just some of the other animals that film-maker John Downer came across in his fascinating experiment. [continue, see photos]

Mystery solved: this hummingbird chirps with its tail

From the New York Times: Mystery Solved: This Hummingbird Chirps With Its Tail.

When a male Anna’s hummingbird swoops down over a female in an acrobatic mating display, it emits a loud and quick chirp, closely corresponding in tone to the highest C on a piano. For years, the source of the sound has been the subject of debate. Is it a vocal sound, or something else?

Christopher James Clark and Teresa J. Feo of the University of California at Berkeley have settled the question. The sound, they report in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, is produced by air rushing over the bird’s tail feathers. [continue]

Monkeys learn to do arithmetic for peanuts

From NewScientist: Monkeys learn to do arithmetic for peanuts.

It takes a smart monkey to do mathematics, and although Elsa Addessi insists her 10 capuchins aren’t quite doing sums, she admits they must be pretty clever to be able to pass the tests that she has put them through. One can even handle multiplication.

Addessi, a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies in Rome, Italy, tested whether her capuchins could understand the value of monkey money, and then use it to buy the greatest amount of food.

First, all ten capuchins successfully learned that a blue token would "buy" them one piece of peanut whereas a yellow token would get them three, and if offered the choice between one of each token, they would be better off choosing a yellow one.

But things became more difficult when they were asked to choose between one yellow and up to five blue tokens. [continue]

Venezuela’s four-legged mobile libraries

From the Beeb: Venezuela’s four-legged mobile libraries.

Chiquito and Cenizo greet me with a bit of a snort and a flick of the tail.

Mules are too tough to bother being sweet. They do a hard job which no other animal or human invention can do as well.

But these mules are rather special.

They are known as bibliomulas (book mules) and they are helping to spread the benefits of reading to people who are isolated from much of the world around them. [continue]

Orangutans use ‘charades’ to talk

From the BBC: Orangutans use ‘charades’ to talk.

Orangutan communication resembles a game of charades, a study suggests.

Researchers from St Andrews University have shown that the animals intentionally modify or repeat their signals to get their messages across.

The scientists said they believed all great apes could have this capability, suggesting that the skill may have evolved millions of years ago. [continue]

Training sheep to clean up vineyards

From Training sheep to clean up vineyards.

Call them mutton mowers. University researchers are training sheep to clean up vineyard weeds but stay off the grapes.

Enthusiastic and unpicky eaters, sheep are already being used in some vineyards as a green alternative to tractors. They don’t use gasoline and keep down weeds — a necessary task to deter pests and keep vines healthy — sans herbicides.

Unfortunately, sheep will chew up thousands of dollars worth of grapes if left to their own devices.

That’s why University of California, Davis researcher Morgan Doran and his colleagues are experimenting with aversion therapy and other techniques to turn sheep into better field hands.

Sheep ranchers get a new market for their flocks while vineyard managers get “another tool in the tool box,” says Doran. "It’s a win-win."

But just how do you teach sheep? [continue]

The goose whisperer

From physorg: ‘Goose Whisperer’ Bonds With Park Birds.

A gaggle of geese runs riot in the Hof van Delft Park. They honk, they hiss, they harass and — it’s hard not to notice — they scatter droppings everywhere. Soon, a lanky young man comes to impose order on the chaos.

Whistling softly and murmuring "tut-tut-tut," he strides straight toward the center of the flock — a place few would dare to tread, especially wearing clean shoes. They call him "The Goose Whisperer," and he has a job to do. [continue]

Found: the giant lion-eating chimps of the magic forest

From the Guardian: Found: the giant lion-eating chimps of the magic forest.

Deep in the Congolese jungle is a band of apes that, according to local legend, kill lions, catch fish and even howl at the moon. Local hunters speak of massive creatures that seem to be some sort of hybrid between a chimp and a gorilla.

Their location at the centre of one of the bloodiest conflicts on the planet, the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has meant that the mystery apes have been little studied by western scientists. Reaching the region means negotiating the shifting fortunes of warring rebel factions, and the heart of the animals’ range is deep in impenetrable forest.

But despite the difficulties, a handful of scientists have succeeded in studying the animals. Early speculation that the apes may be some yeti-like new species or a chimp/gorilla hybrid proved unfounded, but the truth has turned out to be in many ways even more fascinating. They are actually a population of super-sized chimps with a unique culture – and it seems, a taste for big cat flesh. [continue]

Majestic sea eagle to soar again after absence of 200 years

From Majestic sea eagle to soar again after absence of 200 years.

Scotland’s largest and rarest bird of prey, the spectacular sea eagle, is set to soar over the east of the country for the first time in nearly two centuries.

Shortly after noon today, a Norwegian air force cargo plane will touch down at RAF Kinloss in Moray with a cargo of 15 sea eagle chicks, the first phase of an ambitious plan to reintroduce the raptor to the east of Scotland. [continue]

Weapon found in whale makes it more than 100 years old

From the Times Online: Weapon found in whale makes it more than 100 years old.

A fragment of a weapon used by commercial whalers in the late 1800s has been found in a massive bowhead whale caught off Alaska last month – suggesting that the whale was more than a century old.

The tip of a bomb lance thought to have been manufactured in the 1880s was discovered in a bowhead that was harvested in a traditional ‘subsistence hunt’ conducted by the Inupiat, an Alaskan Eskimo tribe.

The fragment shows that the 49ft whale, which weighed about 50 tonnnes, could be nearly 130 years old, said Craig George, an Alaskan wildlife biologist.

"It was probably at least a yearling when it was struck, because the whalemen never took calves," Mr George added.

The find adds to recent evidence that bowhead whales have [continue]

Antarctic ‘treasure trove’ found

From the BBC:: Antarctic ‘treasure trove’ found.

An extraordinarily diverse array of marine life has been discovered in the deep, dark waters around Antarctica.

Scientists have found more than 700 new species of marine creatures in seas once thought too hostile to sustain such rich biodiversity.

Groups of carnivorous sponges, free-swimming worms, crustaceans and molluscs were collected. [continue, see photos]

French beekeepers brace for Asian sting

From French Beekeepers Brace for Asian Sting.

Ambushing locals as they return home from work, foreign invaders are dismembering French natives and feeding them to their young.

This horror scenario is playing out in France’s beehives, where an ultra-aggressive species of Asian hornets – who likely migrated in pottery shipped from China – may be threatening French honey production. [continue]

Hidden fossil, flying dragon

From the Guardian: Hidden fossil, flying dragon.

Around 120m years ago, as the dinosaurs neared the climax of their dominion, high above their heads an extraordinary creature flitted from tree to tree. The bizarre lizard, named the "flying dragon" by its Chinese discoverers, glided using a flap of skin spread over eight ribs.

The find is remarkable because almost all gliding species, such as "flying" frogs and squirrels, use a membrane spread between their toes or between their body and legs to generate lift. Only two other species evolved the rib-gliding tactic. Xianglong zhaoi is also the first lizard fossil with gliding ribs to be found. [continue]

Metacognition in rats

From EurekAlert: Metacognition: Faced with a test, rats can check their knowledge first.

Researchers have found evidence that rats are capable of metacognition — that is, they can possess knowledge of their own cognitive states. This ability, which can also be thought of as the capacity to assess or reflect on one’s own mental processes, was previously only recognized in humans and other primates. The findings are reported by Allison Foote and Jonathon Crystal of the University of Georgia and appear online in the journal Current Biology, published by Cell Press, on March 8th.

Assessing metacognition skills in non-human animals is made difficult by our limited ability to communicate with animals about abstract information or concepts. But in past work, metacognition in primates had been successfully probed by employing an ingenious technique: Animals were familiarized with a test that assessed a certain kind of knowledge that they may or may not have obtained during a “study period,” and were then given a choice of taking the test or declining it. Animals were taught that by electing to take the test and passing it, they would receive a large reward, but that failing the test would yield no reward. Declining the test would yield a small reward. Therefore, animals faced with the decision of taking or declining the test would, in principle, have the chance to weigh the likelihood that they would pass the test (and receive a large reward) against the option of declining the test and receiving a certain, but smaller, reward. [continue]

Researchers decipher the buzzing of bees

From Researchers Decipher The Buzzing Of Bees.

Everyone has heard of the canary in the coal mine, which sways or drops dead in the presence of poisonous gas, alerting miners to get out. Now a University of Montana research team has learned to understand the collective buzzing of bees in their hives, which can provide a similar biological alert system.

But bees evidently provide a lot more information than canaries. The researchers, who work for a UM spin-off technology company called Bee Alert Technology Inc., have found that the insects buzz differently when exposed to various poisonous chemicals.

"We found bees respond within 30 seconds or less to the presence of a toxic chemical," said Research Professor Jerry Bromenshenk. "The military is interested in that for countering terrorism. But the real surprise was that the sounds bees produce can actually tell what chemical is hitting them." [continue]

Chimpanzees ‘hunt using spears’

From the BBC: Chimpanzees ‘hunt using spears’.

Chimpanzees in Senegal have been observed making and using wooden spears to hunt other primates, according to a study in the journal Current Biology.

Researchers documented 22 cases of chimps fashioning tools to jab at smaller primates sheltering in cavities of hollow branches or tree trunks. [continue]

Thanks to cricket for telling me about this story.

Ancient chimps ‘used stone tools’

From the BBC: Ancient chimps ‘used stone tools’.

Chimpanzees in West Africa used stone tools to crack nuts 4,300 years ago.

The discovery represents the oldest evidence of tool use by our closest evolutionary relative.

The skill could have been inherited from a common ancestor of chimps and humans, the authors say, or learnt from humans by imitation.

Alternatively, humans and chimps may have developed [continue]

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry

This is from Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno.

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.

For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself. [continue]