The little auk is a small seabird that would fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. At only about 150 grams, this featherweight bird eats 20% of its body weight in prey each day. And this takes some underwater hunting skills. Diving up to depths of 27 meters, the bird spots and slurps its prey, much as fishes do. Read more about the world’s only slurping seabird here in my first piece for Hakai magazine.
IN an encounter between a hungry frog and its insect food, at first it appears the frog is chasing after the insect but the frog’s been played by the insect all along. Find out how in my first piece for ‘Nature inFocus’.
I have a new video story up at Science magazine about an amazing moth caterpillar that fights off things that try to eat it, including beetles that are called ‘caterpillar hunters’. Check it out, folks!
The accompanying short story is available to read here.
Fan-throated lizards are a group mostly of colorful and some plain lizards that live on sandy beaches and barren plateaus of the Indian subcontinent.
Colourful or drab, all males have a special ornament to lure females – a loose flab of skin under the throat. Doesn’t sound very attractive, does it? But that does it for them. Here’s how: to draw the attention of females, males get their feet on a rock (or any raised platform), stretch their body and extend their loose under-throat into a fan. Hence the name.
The first species of fan-throated lizard was found in India back in 1829. Since, there have been rumours of more species in the scientific community but discoveries have been few. That changed in 2016 when scientists found 5 new species in one go. Now, they have found that there are at least 15 species, including the ones discovered in 2016.
The sheer variety owes itself to changes in climate that happened millions of years ago – with the arrival of monsoons, rains became seasonal and grasslands expanded. This worked in favour of fan-throated lizards as they adapted to these changes and morphed into several species we see today.
Meet the white-spotted bush frog, a species that is fascinating on several counts. For one, it breeds inside bamboos (yes, in the hollows of the fast growing woody grasses).
To convince a female to have kids with him, a male frog first finds a nice spot – a bamboo stem with a tiny hole just big enough to get through – and then sings to impress.
If a female likes it, she enters the bamboo, lays her eggs and immediately calls it quits. Daddy babysits alone (and mamma moves on to make more babies).
A month later, their round see-through eggs hatch directly into mini versions of their parents, instead of tadpoles.
The florescent froglets stay put for a while before going it alone. Until they leave, their doting dad guards them round the clock, forgoing his hunt for food. He eats insects that stray into the bamboo cavity – things like ants and flies.
While daddy does his duty, he aggressively croaks to warn other male frogs against stepping on his patch.
And with good reason: rival males can make a quick meal of his eggs. They are hungry and, it turns out, cannibals. Eggs, as is obvious, are rich in nutrients and if left behind by their dad, have little chance of survival. Scientistsrecently uncoveredthese aspects of the bamboo-breeding frogs using an endoscope – a medical device typically used to peer inside our bodies.
What makes matters worse for the frogs, besides cannibalism, is that they are a critically endangered species existing nowhere but in India’s Western Ghats, a chain of mountains alongside the country’s west coast.
And given the harvesting pressure facing their bamboo nursery, the frogs need all the help they can get. Finding out where the frogs live outside of reserves can identify bamboo stands worth protecting. Another useful thing would be to stop cutting down bamboo during monsoons, which is when the frogs breed. You can do your bit by spreading the word ona more detailed piece I wrote about these frogs for Mongabay-India.
Photo, sound and video credit: Seshadri K.S. (Many thanks to him for sharing the multimedia and giving permissions for use)
Monkeys living on an island have learned to use a startling variety of tools and techniques to obtain the juicy innards of different foods – and to floss their teeth afterwards.
The Nicobar long-tailed macaque is only found on three islands in the eastern Indian Ocean. One of them is Great Nicobar Island. Many of the macaques’ favoured foods are thorny, slimy, hairy or mucky. To get rid of these inedible coatings, the macaques either wash the foods in puddles or wrap them in leaves and rub them clean.
The macaques eat coconuts too, plucking them from the tree by twisting them around or using their teeth to cut them off. If it is tender, the macaques de-husk the coconut using their teeth. (As someone who’s tried husking a coconut at home, it takes some knife skills 🙂 but these monkeys do it with their teeth!)
After eating, macaques clean their teeth – they were seen holding a fine fibre between their teeth and pulling at it. The macaques used a range of materials as dental floss: a tree needle, a bird feather, a blade of grass, a coconut fibre, a nylon thread and a metal wire. (I wondered if the need to floss comes from all that coconut husk getting stuck in the teeth, but no). They did so after eating various foods in different habitats, the researchers told me.
Primates are known both to grieve their loved ones and practice cannibalism, but for the first time, scientists have recorded a Tonkean macaque eating her dead baby.
Researchers studying macaques at the Parco Faunistico di Piano dell’Abatino animal sanctuary observed a new mother named Evalyne “caring” for her deceased infant for weeks, and then consuming its mummified body until nothing but a single bone remained.
Tonkean macaques—which are native to Southeast Asia—tote around their babies’ corpses for hours or, even days. It could be a manifestation of grief, or an absence of understanding that the offspring is dead.
“This kind of behavior has been documented in chimpanzees and a few other primates, with mothers carrying their dead infant until it disintegrates,” notes Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University who was not involved in the new research.
Newborn poison frogs of Peru have quite an appetite. If left home alone in their hatching pool, the ravenous tadpoles will eat each other. To keep the tadpoles from gorging on their siblings, their doting father will carry them one at a time on his back and drop them in separate pools, where other food is available.
Some frog fathers, however, abandon their young. For unknown reasons, these males leave and never return to fetch their developing offspring.
Once a female dragonfly has mated, all she is interested in doing is laying eggs and getting on with her life. So, when stalked by an unwelcome lover (or two), she crashes to the ground and plays dead. When the duped males eventually leave, the female flies off. The behavior was reported recently in the journal Ecology.
This may seem counter-intuitive, for one “purpose” of a species is to leave as many offspring as possible. But female dragonflies “know” what’s best for them. And what’s that? Find out in my story for Live Science.
Birds do it. Chimps do it. Humans do it. We all booze. Some get tipsy, others don’t. Find out why in my latest story here at BBC Earth and if you make it to the end, you might even be rewarded with a smile. Now, I’ll drink to that.
If you like it, share it. The story I mean (and maybe a drink, but please don’t drink and fly).
If there were a horror movie set in the animal kingdom, a turquoise-green insect named the “crypt-keeper wasp” would likely play a starring role. A new study has found that this crafty, parasitic wasp can manipulate other parasitic wasps to finish an assigned task and then become its meal.
The amber-colored victims are known as “crypt gall wasps” (Bassettia pallida). They nest in tiny cavities called “crypts” on their host tree, which provides free nutrition throughout its development. Typically, when the adult wasps are ready to leave, they chew a hole through the trees’ woody tissue and make their way out. But for some gall wasps, things don’t go according to plan.
If you’ve ever lived near a busy road, you’re familiar with the noise of cars whooshing by and ear-piercing honks. Traffic noise is a well-known source of stress in humans. Now, a team of researchers has found that it can cause increased stress levels in frogs too. And aside from a spike in stress, traffic noise can have other negative effects on the European tree frog (Hyla arborea), such as suppressed immunity and a dulling of males’ vocal sacs. The team’s results were published last week (January 11) in Conservation Biology.
To study the effects of road noise on frogs, Thierry Lengagne of the University of Lyon, France, and colleagues first recorded noise from a nearby high-traffic road. The scientists then played back the recording to 20 male frogs in the lab. After 10 days of 24/7 exposure to traffic noise at 76 decibels, the frogs showed signs of increased stress.
The sandfish lizard spends most of its life buried in the sand—emerging only to eat, poop, and mate. This lifestyle helps the lizard evade the sweltering desert heat in the Middle East and North Africa, but it causes another problem: inhaling sand particles. Yet when scientists looked into the respiratory tract and lungs of five dead lizards, they couldn’t find a single grain of sand. They couldn’t find an obvious filter in the lizard’s respiratory system, either.
Puzzled? So were the scientists. To know how they solved the mystery, go to Science.
What harm could a slimy little critter slowly crawling on the forest floor possibly do to a bird? A lot, it turns out. Slugs are shell-less mollusks that have a specialized mouth with a sandpaper-like structure. That rough surface can easily rip the skin and eyes off of a baby bird, leaving the chick to fight for its life.
Many don’t survive.
To be sure, this chick-icide by slugs is rare, European scientists now report. Still, they note, it could become a problem for ground- and shrub-nesting birds if slug numbers climb.
Justyna Chachulska is a graduate student at the University of Zielona Góra in Poland. Katarzyna Turzańska studies at the University of Wrocław, also in Poland. In 2014, both PhD students were monitoring nests of the common whitethroat (Sylvia communis), a mid-size European warbler. They were on the outskirts of the city of Wrocław.
The season was wet and cold. As a result, the ground teemed with slugs. One day, the young scientists noticed a slug in a nest with three newly-hatched chicks. They couldn’t imagine this slug posed a threat to the baby birds. So, they carried on with their work on other nests. But when they returned to the same nest the next day, two nestlings were dead. The third was missing.
Keep calm and carry on building. That’s the motto of 100,000 or so wood ants stranded without food in a nuclear bunker until they starve.
Wood ants (Formica polyctena) typically build a cosy mound nest on the forest floor. They seek out the sugary secretions of aphids living on trees and supplement their diet with insects. Now, scientists have uncovered a population of wood ants that has sustained for years without food and light inside a bunker where temperatures are constantly low.
The ant population was discovered in 2013 by a group of volunteers counting bats overwintering in the bunker, which is part of an abandoned Soviet nuclear base near Templewo in western Poland.
Later, Wojciech Czechowski at the Museum and Institute of Zoology in Warsaw, Poland, and his colleagues, entered the bunker to study the ants more closely. They noticed that the wood ants had built a nest on the terracotta floor of the bunker – right below a ventilation pipe. Looking up through the five-metre-long pipe, they realised where the bunker ants come from.