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Living world news archive: January-March 2010

Hyena laughs and giggles decoded
(Mar 30, 2010)

The giggling sounds of a hyena contain important information about the animal's status, say scientists. In the first study to decipher the hyena's so-called "laugh", they have shown that the pitch of the giggle reveals a hyena's age. What is more, variations in the frequency of notes used when a hyena makes a noise convey information about the animal's social rank.

Read more. Source: BBC

A large N. raja pitcher
Giant meat-eating plants prefer to eat tree shrew poo
(Mar 11, 2010)

The largest meat-eating plant in the world is designed not to eat small animals, but small animal poo. Botanists have discovered that the giant montane pitcher plant of Borneo has a pitcher the exact same size as a tree shrew's body. But it is not this big to swallow up mammals such as tree shrews or rats.

Read more. Source: BBC

Bonobos opt to share their food
(Mar 8, 2010)

One of our closest primate relatives, the bonobo, has been shown to voluntarily share food, scientists report. This sort of generous behavior was previously thought by some to be an exclusively human trait. But a team has carried out an experiment that revealed that bonobos were more likely to choose to share their food than opt to dine alone.

Read more. Source: BBC

Supercharged swifts take flight speed record
(Mar 2, 2010)

A common swift has taken the title as the fasted bird recorded in level flight. The swift (Apus apus) can power itself to a supercharged speed of 111.6 km/h flying horizontally and even upwards. Other birds, such as peregrine falcons, fly faster while diving in a stoop, but the swift is the fastest accurately recorded flying under its own power.

Read more. Source: BBC

ant stereo smell
Ants are first animal known to navigate by stereo smell
(Mar 2, 2010)

Desert ants in Tunisia smell in stereo, sensing odors from two different directions at the same time. By sniffing the air with each antenna, the ants form a mental 'odor map' of their surroundings. They then use this map to find their way home, say scientists who report the discovery in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Read more. Source: BBC

Clione limacina
The mystery of identical creatures found in both Arctic and Antarctic waters
(Feb 24, 2010)

Two years ago, several research vessels shipped out to the North and the South poles to assemble a census of creatures living under the ice. One of the most surprising results was a discovery that 235 identical species lived on opposite sides of the world but were undocumented anywhere else.

Read more. Source: Scientific American

sperm whale
Sperm whale groups 'may corral deep squid'
(Feb 23, 2010)

Sperm whales may team up and hunt collaboratively, scientists have suggested. A US research team used hi-tech tags to glimpse some of the giant marine mammals' remarkable hunting behavior. This tracking showed how the whales traveled together in groups, but when they hunted, each whale "varied its role" within the group.

Read more. Source: BBC

Elephant 'secret language' clues
(Feb 22, 2010)

Researchers at San Diego Zoo have been studying what has been described as the "secret language" of elephants. They have been monitoring communications between animals that cannot be heard by human ears. The elephant's trumpeting call will be familiar to most people, but the animals also emit growls.

Read more. Source: BBC

A mouse that eats ferns like a dinosaur
(Feb 21, 2010)

The European woodmouse has a unique taste for ferns, a food once eaten by long-extinct dinosaurs, say scientists. The mouse regularly devours the spores of the endemic European fern Culcita macrocarpa, the only small mammal known to do so. It is rare for modern vertebrates to eat ferns, due to the toxic chemical defenses often contained within them.

Read more. Source: BBC

The hirsuta crab is so unusual it warranted a whole new family designation
Census discovers 5,000 marine species
(Feb 21, 2010)

A preview of the Census of Marine Life has revealed that the project has discovered over 5,000 new species. These include bizarre and colorful creatures, as well as many organisms that produce therapeutic chemicals. A panel of scientists presented these early insights at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Diego.

Read more. Source: BBC

elephants moving at speed
Do speedy elephants walk or run?
(Feb 12, 2010)

With their awkward, lumbering gait, elephants moving at high speed are not the most graceful of animals – but are they walking or running? Now scientists believe they have an answer: new research confirms that they do both – at the same time. By observing elephants moving across a hi-tech track, the team found the hefty creatures run with their front legs but walk with their back legs.

Read more. Source: BBC

Giant bizarre deep sea fish filmed in Gulf of Mexico
(Feb 11, 2010)

Extraordinary footage of a rarely seen giant deep sea fish has been captured by scientists. Using a remotely operated vehicle, they caught a rare glimpse of the huge oarfish, perhaps the first sighting of the fish in its natural setting. The oarfish, which can reach 17m long, has previously only been seen on a few occasions dying at the sea surface, or dead washed ashore.

Read more. Source: BBC

Marine algae, like the Chroomonas pictured here, employ quantum coherence to boost the efficiency of photosynthesis. Image: Provasoli-Guillard National Center for Culture of Marine Phytoplankton
Shining a light on plants' quantum secret to boost photosynthesis
(Feb 5, 2010)

In less than one billionth of a second, plants from algae to redwoods transform 95 percent of the sunlight that falls on them – 1017 joules per second bathe the planet – into energy stored chemically as carbohydrates. The quantum key to doing that lies in a phenomenon known to physicists as quantum coherence, according to new research published in Nature on February 4.

Read more. Source: Scientific American

prairie dog
Burrowing prairie dogs use complex language
(Feb 3, 2010)

A tiny rodent may have the most sophisticated language of any animal. This bold claim comes from US-based academic Professor Con Slobodchikoff who has long studied the vocal repertoire of Gunnison's prairie dog. With a single bark, he says, a prairie dog may warn about the type and direction of an encroaching predator, and even describe its color.

Read more. Source: BBC

bottlenose dolphin
'Echoes' in bat and dolphin DNA
(Jan 26, 2010)

Scientists have found a striking similarity in the DNA that enables some bats and dolphins to echolocate. A key gene that gives their ears the ability to detect high-frequency sound has undergone the exact same changes over time in both creatures. The researchers report their findings in the journal Current Biology.

Read more. Source: BBC


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