DJ frogs remix tunes on the hop

Deep in the evergreen forests of Vietnam, curious little green-blooded frogs spend monsoon nights performing vocals, improvising new melodies each time they sing.

Known popularly as “frogs that sing like birds”, male Gracixalus treefrogs perform to attract females and to ward off other males.

But these are not your average frogs, croaking out the same old tunes. Gracixalus frogs shuffle notes to compose a new melody every single time they sing.

To human ears, songs of the three related species – G. quangi, G. supercornutus and G. gracilipes – sound like birds chirping.

They randomly mix high-pitched, long notes called “whistles” with short, sharp “clicks” to compose new tunes.

Each song is unique in its complexity, duration, amplitude, frequency and structure, as opposed to being specific to an individual or a species as it is in most frogs.

Listen to their songs in my story for New Scientist.

Photo credit: Jodi Rowley

The 13 most shielded eggs laid by birds

Birds prepare their eggs for the worst, whether the risk comes from predators or just the location of their nests. This Easter I wrote about some of these amazing eggs for BBC Earth. Here’s one of the birds eggs I highlighted in my piece for their sheer camouflage (besides their beauty): 

Japanese Quail (Coturnix japonica)

A female Japanese quail is selective about where she lays her eggs. She chooses a background that matches either the colour of her eggs or their pattern, whichever is more striking.

If her eggs have only a faint pattern, the female chooses a site that matches their colour. But if they have a strong pattern, she goes for a site that blends with it, and which hides the contour of the egg. This means the female must know the pattern of her own eggs.

To read about other wonderful bird eggs, click here!

The 16 most amazing nests built by birds

Birds build some staggering structures, from nests the size of walnuts to makeshift rafts and even apartment complexes.

European Bee Eater (Merops apiaster):

This bird digs a horizontal cavity into the sand on a river embankment. To build a nest, a bee eater hovers over a suitable site, drills a hole with its bill, alights and then excavates a burrow using its feet to scoop out sand. The bird chooses the nest site with the utmost care, as the soil has to be soft, yet safe from caving in.

Read about other utterly amazing bird nests over at BBC Earth.

Being a bird

Written by an ornithologist, Bird Sense is a fascinating account of the senses that enable birds to carry out their day-to-day activities like feeding or avoiding predators. Author Tim Birkhead, who has studied zebra finches and common guillemots for most of his scientific career, has successfully hinted at what it’s like to be a bird. Every chapter in the book deals with one sense—seeing, hearing, touch, taste, smell, magnetic sense and emotions—in birds as varied as owls and hummingbirds, making the science that goes into the discovery and understanding of the senses accessible to lay persons.

The book familiarises its readers with the amazing diversity of behavioural and anatomical adaptations that can be found in birds. A case in point is asymmetrical ears in some owl species that help owls locate the source of sound and find prey in the dark. 

Bird Sense also informs its audience about the scientific process, suggesting how science builds on previous work. It talks about the debates and controversies some senses, such as those of smell and taste in birds, have sparked in the community of ornithologists. In author’s words, ‘For some inexplicable reason ornithologists have found it hard to accept that birds might have a sense of smell.’ Whether birds could have a sense of taste was debated for long, too. And even now, the idea of consciousness in birds remains controversial. 

Read the rest of the review in Current Conservation.