RESEARCH: Scientists enhance silkworm silk to make it one of the strongest materials on Earth

Scientists have enhanced silkworm silk to make it one of the strongest materials ever – stronger that spider’s silk. But how? 

New Scientist magazine reports in October 2022 on recent research in which standard silkworm silk has been made stronger than spider’s silk, one of the toughest materials on Earth. 

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RESEARCH: Ant numbers – how many Ants are there in the world?

The number of humans in the world is about 8 billion. But how many ants are there? 

Entomologists (insect scientists) from the University of Wurzburg in Germany and the University of Hong Kong published their findings of global ant populations in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in September 2022.

The entomologists studied 489 research papers about ant populations. 

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RESEARCH: Three factors why big-eyed frogs have big eyes

In September 2020, the New Scientist magazine reported on research to determine why frogs have evolved big eyes. 

Some frogs have the biggest eyes of all vertebrates (animals with backbones), in relation to their body size, and zoologists did not know why. Now researchers have found that the size of the eyes of these vertebrates seems to depend upon their environment.

Eyesight requires a lot of energy to function – focusing, adjusting peripheral vision, calculating distance, determing what the object is, and so on. There is a lot of things the eye must do quickly to ‘see’ what is in front and around it. Scientists think this is why animals living in dark environments, such as caves, often evolve to have smaller eyes.

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RESEARCH: Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal but cheetah cub survival rates are low

Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal but cheetah cub survival rates are low. Why is this?   

Previous studies of cheetah cub survival rates on the Serengeti Plains of Kenya and Tanzania in Africa in 1994, 2000, and 2004, found that it was exceptionally low because of the lion population attacking them. The survival rate was only 4.8% of cubs – that is 5 cubs out of every 100 cubs born survived beyond 14 months of age.

Researchers from the Zoology Department of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom conducted a similar study on cheetah cub survival rates in 2013 and published the results in the Journal of Zoology. They compared the cheetah cub survival rate in the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park on the border of Botswana and South Africa with the Serengeti study.

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RESEARCH: The West European Hedgehog is common in mainland Europe but classified as vulnerable in the United Kingdom

The West European Hedgehog is common in mainland Europe but classified as vulnerable in the United Kingdom – in danger of becoming extinct. Why is this the case?

In Europe, the brownish-white West European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is widespread and found from Portugal to Russia. Researchers think that the numbers are high because hedgehogs have a varied diet with an abundant choice in mainland Europe.

However, in the United Kingdom, the numbers of West European Hedgehogs have declined significantly although exact numbers are not available. Scientists think that one main reason may be the high number that are killed on the roads – which is estimated to be thousands each each. In addition, modern farming methods and few hedgerow plants might also contribute to the declining numbers in the United Kingdom. 

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RESEARCH: The Hummingbird is the most colourful bird in the world

A research study published in June 2022 in the Communications Biology journal found that the Hummingbird species, collectively, is more colourful than any other type of bird.

One way to measure colourfulness is to consider the theoretical total number of colours a bird can detect, and then estimate how many of these colours are produced on the feathers of the bird. Most birds can see more colours than humans can see because birds have extra receptors in their eyes to detect light in the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum of colour. Using this method, a 2011 study published in the Behavioral Ecology journal by researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and Yale University in America, found that birds typically produce on their feathers only about 30% of the colours they see. 

In this new 2022 study, Gabriela Venable at the Duke University in North Carolina, America, and her researchers, looked at 114 species of Hummingbirds. It is the first time that a group of related birds have been studied in relation to colourfulness.

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RESEARCH: Turtle Dove numbers are declining in the United Kingdom

A research study in 2021 found that the number of Turtle Doves were declining in the United Kingdom. Volunteers, farmers, study groups, bird clubs, and other organizatios all contributed to the research. 

The first national survey of Turtle Doves in the UK in fifty years showed that there were only 2,100 pairs of Turtle Doves that now breed in the country, which is a decline of 98% from 125,000 pairs in 1970.

The survey found that the Turle Dove is now concentrated in south-eastern and eastern England, and as far north as Yorkshire.

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What is catnip?

What is catnip?

Catnip is not an animal. Catnip is a plant in the mint family. Cats like to like and chew on catnip (Nepeta cataria) and spit it out.

When cats lick and chew on catnip, they help to release iridoid chemicals in the plant. Iridoid chemicals are natural insect repellents. The chemicals repel mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, roaches, and possibly mites.

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RESEARCH: Do American households have more cats or more dogs as pets?

Do American households have more cats or more dogs as pets? A recent 2022 research in America studied the types of pets in a household and whether dogs or cats were more popular as pets.

Studies show that, globally, dogs outnumber cats. The study showed that, in America, cats outnumber dogs. There are about 86.1 million cats and 79.7 million dogs in America. 

However, dogs are more popular as pets than cats in America – 36.6% of households own one or more dogs, whereas 30.4% of households own one or more cats. 

Why did more American households choose a dog instead of a cat? 

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RESEARCH: Dolphins May Be Able to Heal their Own Wounds

Do dolphins heal their own wounds?

Scientists think that dolphins rub against coral to treat wounds on their skin. The New Scientist magazine in May 2022 explained that Bottlenose Dolphins appear to look for specific corals and sea sponges that produce anti-bacterial or hormone-like substances, which may indicate that they are trying to heal their own wounds and infections by rubbing against them.  

Scientists have observed orcas and Beluga whales rubbing their bodies against underwater sand and pebbles, but similar behaviour in dolpins has not been widely observed.

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RESEARCH: Harbour Seals can change their voice to make them sound bigger

Scientific researchers have determined that Harbour Seals can learn to change their voice to make them sound bigger, and that the behaviour is not a result of their anatomy.

Bigger animals usually have deeper (lower pitched) voices than smaller animals, but the Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina) seems to be different. The Harbour Seal seems to be able to learn to change its voice. 

The Harbour Seal, a marine (saltwater) mammal in the Phocidae family of seals is a pinniped (fin-footed, semi-aquatic mammal such as a seal, sea lion, and walrus) found in the Northern Hemisphere. It is found in the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Baltic Sea, and the North Sea.

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RESEARCH: Birds that live near the Equator are more colourful

Birds that live near the Equator are more colourful than birds living further away from the Equator, thought naturalists Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). In fact, von Humboldt noted that insects and even aquatic creatures, such as crayfish, seemed to be more colourful nearer the Equator.  

The Equator is the imaginary circle at zero degrees latitude that divides the Earth between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. It is a line at the centre of the Earth (the ‘waist line’) halfway between the North Pole and the South Pole. Countries on and near the Equator have tropical climates.

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RESEARCH: Australian Magpies can remove tracking devices from their legs

The Australian Magpie can remove tracking devices placed on their legs, with help from another magpie. Ornithology is the study of birds and bird behaviour. In a study published in February 2022 in the scientific journal, Australian Field Ornithology, the researchers described Australian Magpies helping each other to remove their tracking devices that the researchers had placed on their legs. 

The Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) is a black and white bird in the Artamidae family of butcherbirds. It is not related to the Eurasian or European Magpie (Pica pica) in the Corvidae family of crows. The Australian Magpie is widespread across Australia.

In 2019, animal ecologist Dr. Dominique Potvin and her team of researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, wanted to study magpie social behaviour because they are highly social birds. Social animals, including social birds, are creatures of the same species that live together in family groups, with their own set of behaviour rules, usually with a hierarchy, or order, of interactions. 

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RESEARCH: Social spiders help each other to catch their prey

There are many animal species that hunt in packs to kills their prey, especially when the prey is large. Examples of animals that hunt in packs include wolves, lions, dogs, hyenas, and ants.

Pack hunting is also called cooperative hunting because each individual animal in the pack cooperates with the rest of the pack for the same purpose. 

A new 2021 research study shows that some spider species also practice cooperative hunting to help each other to catch their prey. Researchers at the University of Toulouse in France observed two colonies of a social spider species called Anelosimus eximius. The researchers copied the actions of prey entering a spider web – they created vibrations in different parts of the webs – and filmed the responses of the spiders.

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City animals are changing their physical characteristics

Evolutionary biologist Rob Dunn, in his 2022 book A Natural History of the Future maintains that evolution can occur quicker than people think – mostly unnoticed, right under our noses. Evolution is happening when the physical characteristics of animals change over time, or new types of animals develop, or some animal species disappear.

Rob Dunn first explains how animal species can evolve and change. One way is through isolation – when animals are separated from other species, they can diverge and change some of their physical characteristics. Another way is through a change of diet, and another way is through geographical barriers.

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RESEARCH: Scientists think Chimpanzees can use medicine tools to treat wounds

A previous research paper mentioned in the New Scientist magazine (February 2022) revealed that captive Orangutans can learn how to use stone tools as hammers and knives, but they can’t make the tools. In another study published in the journal Current Biology (February 2022), scientists think that Chimpanzees may be able to use medicine tools to treat their own and other Chimpanzees’ injuries and wounds.

Both Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are mammals in the Hominidae family of apes – primates without a tail that walk on their knuckles. Orangutans are from Asia and Chimpanzees are from Africa.

Since 2005, researchers in the Institute of Cognitive Science, Comparative BioCognition at the University of Osnabruck in Germany studied 45 chimpanzees in the natural habitat in the Loango National Park in Gabon on the west coast of Africa. 

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RESEARCH: The Orangutan can’t make tools but it can use them

The New Scientist magazine (February 2022) documents research on captive orangutans, which reveals that orangutans can learn how to use stone tools as hammers and knives. However, they can’t make the tools.

Researchers at the University of Tubingen in Germany have been studying the behaviour of captive orangutans. 

Alba Motes Rodrigo and her colleagues studied two male orangutans at the Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park in Norway. The Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) are mammals in the Hominidae family of apes.

The orangutans were given a sealed box of fruit (it was sealed with rope), a concrete hammer, and a lump of blunt rock. 

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RESEARCH: A tough early life makes adult female baboons less sociable

A recent 2021 study suggests that a tough early life makes adult female baboons less sociable. They failed to give friendly grunts before social interactions between baboons.

Researchers at the New York University in America and Kenya investigated 50 years of research on three groups of wild female Olive Baboons (Papio anubis). The baboon groups were part of the Uaso Ngiro Baboon Project. The research team also recorded more than 2,600 hours of observations of 31 females from the three groups. The researchers noted their activity, social interactions, social partners, and vocalisations.

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What is a Penguin Tester?

A Penguin Tester was installed at the Zoological Park in Paris, France. What is a Penguin Tester?

A Penguin Tester is a robot for use in the Humboldt Penguin enclosure at the zoo. The Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) is a marine (saltwater) bird. It is also known as the Peruvian Penguin. 

But the robot is not testing the penguins. The penguins are testing the robot. The penguins are helping zoologisits test that the machine works.

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RESEARCH: Albatrosses divorce more often when ocean waters are warm

Research scientists think that albatrosses divorce and seek new partners when conditions are harsher than usual, reported Science News in November 2021. The research was documented in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B.

The albatross is a large seabird in the Diomedeidae family. The albatross is a monogamous bird, which means that it stays with the same partner for life. However, when ocean waters are warmer than average, more of the albatross birds break up and look for a new partner, says a recent study.

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