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Living world news: Animals, plants, and microbes

Plants communicate through fungus network
(May 10, 2012)

Plants can communicate the onset of an attack from aphids by making use of an underground network of fungi, researchers have found. Instances of plant communication through the air have been documented, in which chemicals emitted by a damaged plant can be picked up by a neighbor. But below ground, most land plants are connected by fungi called mycorrhizae.

Read more. Source: BBC

Conlephasma enigma
Weird new type of stick insect discovered
(Sep 4, 2012)

Scientists have found an entirely new type of stick insect on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. The ground-dwelling, wingless insect, vibrantly colored green-blue and orange, sprays a foul-smelling chemical to put off predators. So unusual is it, that researchers have had to place it in a new genus – Conlephasma – and are not sure how it is related to other stick and leaf insects.

Read more. Source: BBC

polar bear
Zoo polar bears infected with virus from zebras
(Aug 20, 2012)

In 2010, at the Wuppertal Zoo, Germany, two Polar Bears fell severley ill. One, a female named Jerka, died of encephalitis. Lars, her male companion, eventually recovered. It's now been discovered that these animals were infected by a recombinant Zebra-derived virus. Viruses spreading unexpectedly between species in zoos could harm conservation experts have warned. Pathogens generally are specific to one species but some jump this barrier. Flu, for instance, is thought to have jumped between pigs, birds and humans in its evolution.

Read more. Source: BBC

Aphids capable of photosynthesis
(Aug 20, 2012)

Aphids – greenfly – are bizarre in a number of ways. For one thing, they can be born pregnant. For another, males may have no mouths so quickly die of starvation. The latest quirkiness of these creatures to be discovered is that they can capture light from the sun and use it in their metabolism; in other words, they can photosynthesize – the first animals known to do so.

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Trogloraptor ("Cave robber") spider discovered in Oregon cave
(Aug 18, 2012)

The newly-discovered Trogloraptor is so unique that is represents not just a new species or genus, but a totally a new family (Trogloraptoridae), related closely possibly to the goblin spiders. It's most amazing feature is razor-like claws, suggesting these spiders are specialized hunters – though their prey and attack behavior isn't known. Measururing about 2 inces wide with legs are extended, it hangs beneath ruudimentary webs on cave ceilings.

Read more. Source: Science Daily

potted plants
Plants' natural circadian rhythm genes revealed
(Mar 12, 2012)

A gene that triggers plants to become dormant at night and controls flowering has been discovered by scientists. Computer models of cress plants genes showed how 12 genes work together to set plants' internal clocks, University of Edinburgh researchers said. They found that a protein, known as TOC1, previously associated with helping plants to wake up, dampened down gene activity at night.

Read more. Source: BBC

Brookesia micra
Tiny lizards found in Madagascar
(Feb 20, 2012)

One of the world's tiniest lizards has been discovered by keen-eyed researchers in Madagascar. The miniature chameleon, Brookesia micra, reaches a maximum length of just 29 mm. German scientists also found a further three new species in the north of the island.

Read more. Source: BBC

Seagrass 'tens of thousands of years old'
(Feb 8, 2012)

Meadows of seagrass found in the Mediterranean Sea are likely to be thousands of years old, a study shows. Researchers found genetically identical samples of Posidonia oceanica up to 15km apart, which suggested that the species was extremely long-lived. The team added that the organism, which provides food and shelter for many species, is under threat from climate change.

Read more. Source: BBC

Right whale
Whales 'stressed by ocean noise'
(Feb 8, 2012)

Noise from ships stresses whales nearby, researchers have shown. Ships' propellers emit sound in the same frequency range that some whales use for communicating, and previous studies have shown the whales change their calling patterns in noisy places. Now, researchers have measured stress hormones in whale faeces, and found they rose with the density of shipping.

Read more. Source: BBC

The 'supergiants' were found in the Kermadec Trench off New Zealand
'Supergiant' crustacean found in deepest ocean
(Feb 2, 2012)

A huge crustacean has been found lurking 7 km down in the waters off the coast of New Zealand. The creature – called a supergiant – is a type of amphipod, which are normally around 2–3 cm long. But these beasts, discovered in the Kermadec Trench, were more than 10 times bigger: the largest found measured in at 34 cm.

Read more. Source: BBC

Hoff crabs
'The Hoff' crab is new ocean find
(Jan 4, 2012)

UK scientists have found prodigious numbers of a new crab species on the Southern Ocean floor that they have dubbed "The Hoff" because of its excessively hairy chest. The animal was discovered living around volcanic vents off South Georgia. Great piles of the crabs were seen to come together.

Read more. Source: BBC

penguin jumping into the sea
How penguins 'time' a deep dive
(Dec 8, 2011)

Emperor penguins "time" their dives by the number of flaps they can manage with their wings. This is according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. It aimed to show how the birds reached the "decision" that it was time to stop feeding and return to the surface to breathe.

Read more. Source: BBC

Crassicorophium bonellii
Shrimp has 'silk-spinning skills'
(Nov 15, 2011)

A tiny underwater creature spins silk in order to bind together its sand grain house, researchers have discovered. The shrimp, Crassicorophium bonellii, produces fibres that combine barnacle cement biology with spider silk production techniques. The resulting "gossamer threads" are sticky and salt-water resistant.

Read more. Source: BBC

Piranhas communicate with sound, say researchers
(Oct 14, 2011)

Scientists have discovered that piranhas use sounds to communicate – often intimidating their rivals rather than attacking. With underwater microphones, scientists recorded the sounds the fish made when they confronted one another. They reported in the Journal of Experimental Biology that each of these three sounds appeared to contain a different "message".

Read more. Source: BBC

Ant nest-venting turrets
How ants build nest-ventilating turrets
(Sep 27, 2011)

Grass-cutting ants build gigantic nests – underground cities where up to seven million insects live and tend a fungal garden that feeds their young. Scientists have now discovered how the ants build nests that stay at the right temperature for this precious fungus to grow. The ants build porous turrets, specifically to ventilate the nests.

Read more. Source: BBC

Crows seem to recognise food but not themselves
Crows use mirrors to find food
(Sep 20, 2011)

Clever New Caledonian crows can use mirrors to find food, according to scientists. Researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, tested wild-caught crows' reactions to mirrors. The crows did not recognise themselves but found cached food items by studying their reflections.

Read more. Source: BBC

Protoanguilla palau
New Pacific eel is a 'living fossil', scientists say
(Aug 17, 2011)

A newly discovered eel that inhabits an undersea cave in the Pacific Ocean has been dubbed a "living fossil" because of its primitive features. It is so distinct, scientists created a new taxonomic family to describe its relationship to other eels. The US-Palauan-Japanese team say the eel's features suggest it has a long and independent evolutionary history stretching back 200m years.

Read more. Source: BBC

Small fragments have broken off the single giant fungus
Giant fungus discovered in China
(Jul 31, 2011)

The most massive fruiting body of any fungus yet documented has been discovered growing on the underside of a tree in China. The fruiting body, which is equivalent to the mushrooms produced by other fungi species, is up to 10m long, 80cm wide and weighs half a tonne. That shatters the record held previously by a fungus growing in Kew Gardens in the UK.

Read more. Source: BBC

Blainville's beaked whale
Blainville's beaked whales enter stealth mode
(Jul 25, 2011)

Blainville's beaked whales, which are among the world's most enigmatic cetacea, go silent in shallow waters. Researchers have discovered that the whales refuse to communicate with each other near the surface. By becoming silent, the whales enter a stealth mode that prevents them being detected by predatory killer whales.

Read more. Source: BBC

naked mole rat
Naked mole rat's genetic blueprint revealed
(Jul 6, 2011)

The bizarre but fascinating naked mole rat is the latest creature to have its genome sequenced by scientists. A genetic blueprint for this unphotogenic but remarkable rodent could help researchers understand why it is so long-lived and also why they appear to have some resistance to cancer.

Read more. Source: BBC

diving bell spider
Diving bell spiders come up for air just once a day
(Jun 10, 2011)

Diving bell spiders are the only spiders to spend almost their entire lives underwater. New research has shown that the bubble of air to which they are attached while submerged serves as an extra gill and is replensihed only once a day.

Read more. Source: BBC

African gray parrots
Parrots cooperate in problem-solving
(May 20, 2011)

A French study has shown that African gray parrots are able to cooperate on tasks, such as pulling on a string to bring a tray of food towards them. But they don't always choose to do this: some individuals like working as a team, while others prefer to go it alone. Similar experiments, on a larger scale, had earlier revealed the ability of chimpanzees to work together.

Read more. Source: BBC

Bonobos 'chat' about good foods
(May 3, 2011)

Bonobos communicate where to find their favourite food using barks and peeps, scientists have found. In the first study of its kind, researchers in the UK found the apes gave each other specific details about food quality. The combination of five distinct calls into sequences allowed others to concentrate their foraging around areas known to contain preferred kiwi fruits.

Read more. Source: BBC

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