Chimps use tools to get tipsy

Did you hear the one about the drunken monkey? Primates frequently encounter and consume alcohol in their natural environment, most commonly through fermented fruit. But a study published last year showed that some Chimpanzees are actively seeking it out, and have even developed tools to help them access their preferred tipple!

I’ve written before on the topic of animals and recreational drug use. Research has shown that many animals consume alcohol in their diet, from treeshrews drinking alcoholic nectar in Malaysia to Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) drinking fermented berries of the Brazilian Pepper Tree (Schunus terebinthifolius). But deliberate consumption of alcohol – which is, let’s not forget, a poison – is harder to find.

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Cuckolding common in nature, but rare in humans

Fathers can breath a sigh of relief. Although biologists have found cuckolding, where one male unwittingly raises the offspring of another male, is common in animal societies, it appears humans are one of the few exceptions.

A recent review published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution on 5th April claims that across modern and ancient human societies, women tended to be faithful to their partners.

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It’s all about smell:
An Olfactory Arms Race in the Animal Kingdom

Animals use smell to sniff out predators, and to hide from them.

For humans, vision is the dominant sense, and we often overlook the importance of odour (although we’re reminded on those occasions we find ourselves sat next to someone who’s never discovered deodorant, or driving past a particularly pungent farm). But for most animals, it’s all about smell. Two new studies published last month highlight the importance of smell in the lives of animals as different as flies and snakes.

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Evolution Shaped these Plants to Resonate with Bats

A new paper published in Current Biology this month shows how one species of pitcher plant has evolved to attract a species of bat and use it as a source of fertiliser.

The Bornean pitch plant in question (Nepenthes hemsleyana) is part of a mutualistic relationship with the Common woolly bat (Kerivoula hardwickii), in which the pitcher offers the bat a safe place to roost, and in return the bat provides fertiliser in the form of guano (bat poop). Dr Michael Schöner and his team tested the pitcher with a sonar beam and found that it acts as a multidirectional ultrasound reflector. They then experimentally modified the shape of the pitcher, and found that one particular region, known as the orifice, helped bats locate the pitcher.

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Immaculate Conception: Clonal Reproduction in Snakes
(and other animals)

Reproduction takes two, right? Well, not always. Many arthropods and microscopic animals called rotifers reproduce clonally and although it is relatively rare in vertebrates, clonal reproduction has been confirmed in several species of fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles. Known as parthenogenesis, clonal reproduction in vertebrates can occur when an offspring develops from an unfertilised egg. Parthenogenesis has never been observed to occur naturally in mammals, although it is possible to induce it artificially in the lab.
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Sloths Move Slow, Evolve Fast

Sloths might be notorious for their leisurely pace of life, but research published last year shows they are no slow coaches when it comes to evolution.

Sloths, as we know and love them, are small, slow-moving creatures found in the trees of tropical rainforests. But modern sloths are pretty odd compared to their extinct relatives. Sloths (Folivora) are represented today by just six species in two families; the Megalonychidae (two-toed sloths) and the Bradypodidae (three-toed sloths). But 20,000 years ago there were perhaps as many as 50 species of sloth spread across the globe, and most were relatively large, ground-dwelling animals quite unlike modern sloths. While most modern sloths weigh in at a modest 6kg, extinct species such as Megatherium americanum and Eremotherium eomigrans could weigh up to 5 tonnes!

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The Ig Nobel Prizes 2014

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel Prizes, celebrating weird and wonderful science that is making a real difference. This year’s winners, announced at the award ceremony in Massachusetts in September, include pork-based cures for nosebleeds, humans dressed as polar bears, toast that looks like Jesus and defecation from cats, dogs and children. Enjoy!

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Martha: The Last Passenger Pigeon

The passenger pigeon used to be the most numerous bird on Earth. Then, in less than a century, it was driven to extinction at the hands of humans. This month marks the 100th anniversary of Martha, the last passenger pigeon’s death.

There used to be billions of passenger pigeons. Literally. And that’s passenger pigeons, not carrier pigeons by the way, which are still alive and well today. When Europeans arrived in North America, there were between 3 and 5 billion passenger pigeons there. The passenger pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, were highly sociable, living in huge colonies with up to 100 nests in a single tree. Continue reading