RESEARCH: Scientists think penguins in Antarctic prefer ice-free conditions

Scientists have been studying penguins in the Antarctic Region.

Polar biologists have seen populations of penguins increase during years when there is not a lot of ice in the region. They have also seen breeding reductions during the years when there is a lot of sea ice. However, they did not know why ice-free conditions made populations increase. But after this recent study, the polar biologists think they know why.

Polar biologists at the Japanese National Institute of Polar Research put electronic global positioning system (GPS) tags on 175 Adelie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) in the Antarctic Region. They also put video cameras in different locations to monitor what happens during the four seasons of the year when there are different sea ice conditions.

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RESEARCH: Tracking Red Pandas in Nepal

Research scientists are satellite tracking the movements of Red Pandas in the mountains of Nepal. 

Red Pandas (Ailurus fulgens) are endangered and there are only a few thousand individuals in their native environment in the eastern Himalayas and in southwestern China. The population numbers are declining due to habitat loss, poaching (illegal hunting), and inbreeding. 

In Nepal, Red Pandas are a protected species. The conservation scientists have put Global Positioning System (GPS) collars on 10 Red Pandas to remotely monitor their range of movements in the forests near Mount Kangchenjunga. 

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RESEARCH: Orangutans scratching is contagious

Contagious behaviour occurs when someone sees a behaviour and then does the same behaviour involuntarily as a reflex action. For example, if we see someone yawn, we yawn. We say that yawning is contagious. 

Scientists have found that orangutans scratch as an involuntary reflex when they see another orangutan scratch. 

Scientist Daan Laméris and a team of researchers studied Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus).

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RESEARCH: Otters juggle stones when they are excited about food

Scientists have shown, in a new study, that otters juggles stones when they are excited about food.  

Scientists think that the behaviour might help to train young otters to learn the skills they will need to help them get food from mussels and clams. For older otters, the behaviour might keep them active and busy. 

The scientists observed zoo otters tossing stones in the air, like juggling stones, while standing or lying on their backs. 

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RESEARCH: Insect numbers are decreasing

German researchers wanted to determine the effects of urbanisation on insect numbers. They found that insects are disappearing more quickly than they expected.

The researchers collected more than one million insects across 300 sites in Germany in 2008. They did the same exercise in the same sites 10 years later in 2018. They wrote about their experiment results in the Nature journal in 2019.

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RESEARCH: African Grey Parrots help other parrots

African grey parrots voluntarily and spontaneously help other parrots to achieve a goal, without obvious immediate benefit to themselves. Research co-author Désirée Brucks of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany, announced this result in January 2020.

Parrots and crows are known for having large brains relative to the size of their bodies, and that they are good at problem-solving. However, earlier studies showed that crows don’t help other crows, so researchers wondered whether parrots help other parrots, explained Désirée Brucks and study co-author Auguste von Bayern.

In their new study, Brucks and von Bayern enlisted several African Grey Parrots and Blue-Headed Macaws to help the research team.

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RESEARCH: Fish can sing, researchers say

Marine biologists have found that fish can sing.

Some marine biologists have recorded fish singing. The sound recordings were captured by two sea-noise loggers (marine biologists) near the Port Hedland shore in Western Australia and also 21 kilometres (13 miles) away from shore. The sounds were recorded for 24 hours a day for seven days a week for 18 months. 

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RESEARCH: Bird feeders – are they good for birds?

Bird feeders are containers filled with birdseed and placed in the garden to attract wild birds.

A British study has found that putting bird feeders in your garden helps the growth of bird populations.

The study, published in May 2019 in the Nature Communications journal, looked at the advantages, disadvantages and impact of bird feeders in people’s garden over the past 40 years.

The researcher, Kate Plummer of the British Trust for Ornithology, and a team of volunteers, have been monitoring the species of birds that feed on seeds and fruit from bird feeders across England since the 1970s. 

The 40-year data shows that about 68 species of birds have always used the bird feeders from the 1970s to the present day. 

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RESEARCH: Dog intelligence – does size matter?

Does size matter when determining the intelligence of a breed of dog? If a bigger dog has a bigger brain, does that make big dogs smarter than small dogs? As dogs increase in size, does their intelligence increase proportionately?

A new study in the Animal Cognition journal examines the intelligence of big dogs and small dogs. 

Daniel Horschler and his research scientists at the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, America, conducted dog experiments with dog owners. He used ‘citizen science’ to help his research team collect dog information – specifically to research the mental capabilities of dogs.

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RESEARCH: Why does the Giant Tortoise live for a century or more?

Why does the Giant Tortoise have a long life span? 

Why does the Giant Tortoise, particularly the Galapagos Island Giant Tortoise, a land tortoise, live for a century – a 100 years – or more? 

An individual Pinta Island Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii), called Lonesome George, died in 2012, at the age of 100 or more. Scientists used his body for research to determine why he lived so long.

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RESEARCH: Why do ostriches have two legs but four knees

Why do ostriches, the largest living bird species, with the largest eggs of any bird, have two legs but four knees? Specifically, ostriches have four kneecaps, and therefore four knees. Emus and cassowaries have no kneecaps.

Sophie Regnault, and her research colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College in London, examined a dead ostrich donated to the college.

They bent and straightened the ostrich’s knees, and used an imaging technique called biplanar fluoroscopy to track how the bones moved. Then they built a simple model to understand how the kneecaps affected the leverage of the muscles controlling the knee.

Kneecaps help animals to flex the extensor muscles in their knees, so that they don’t need to exert force to straighten their knees.

However, ostriches have an upper kneecap and a lower kneecap on each leg that act differently from the kneecaps of other animals.

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RESEARCH: Larks and Owls – Chronotypes: early riser or late to bed?

The lark – a small diurnal songbird – rises early and is active during the day, whereas the owl – a large nocturnal bird – is active at night.

Psychology Today has documented a recent study on chronotypes – whether a person is a morning person (up with the lark) or a late night person (to bed with the owl) and who they attract as partners.

Many studies have been previously conducted on personality traits, but there has been limited studies on chronotypes. Chronotypical behaviour is a preference for rising early or going to bed late. Morning people are called larks (and they reach peak performance early in the day) and late night people are called owls (who perform well in the afternoon or evening).

However, there is a continuum, with most people clustering around the middle – a neutral chronotype.

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RESEARCH: Pets may help people beat mental health problems

Scientists at the University of Liverpool in England have conducted a study on the benefits of pets for people with mental health problems.

Researcher Helen Brooks, and her colleagues at the University of Liverpool, studied 17 international research papers on pets and human benefits, particularly involving people with mental health problems. They studied the extent, nature, and quality of the evidence of pet ownership.

They found positive, negative, and neutral impacts of pets on people with mental health problems. However, there were many ways in which pets contributed to the work associated with managing a mental health condition, particularly in times of crisis, trauma, or stress.

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RESEARCH: Primate group size is not random

Scientists have learned that the size of groups of primates is not random. There is a preferred group size.

Excluding humans, primates are mammals that have two arms and two legs, with the ability to climb trees (with most having five digits on each limb and an opposable thumb). Primates have large brains, and forward-facing eyes. Primates include apes, monkeys, lemurs, tarsiers, and lorises.

Susanne Shultz at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, and her research colleagues, compared group sizes in 215 primate species.

The researchers found that the average number in a group varied between species but was always clustered around five distinct sizes.

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RESEARCH: Dogs help improve the health of people – and some more than others

Dogs help improve the health and longevity of people’s lives – and some dogs help more than others, says a new study. New research shows that certain dog breeds are more beneficial for humans than other breeds.

Previous studies have shown that dogs, and dog ownership, can reduce people’s risk of heart disease. A study published in Scientific Reports confirms this and explores which dog breeds are more conducive to improved health for humans.

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RESEARCH: Sheep can recognize faces – of owners and celebrities

A recent British study shows that sheep have a highly developed ability to recognize the faces of celebrities.

Although it has long been known that sheep are able to recognize the faces of their human owners and handlers, scientists have now shown that sheep can be trained to recognize images of famous people.

Professor Jenny Morton, the lead scientist in the Cambridge University study, said that the study showed that sheep have face-recognition abilities comparable with those of humans or monkeys.

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RESEARCH: Why do some animals have wet noses?

Dogs have a lot more nerve cells in their nasal (nose) cavities (their nostrils) than humans do. Dogs also have and a wider variety of receptors that attract odour molecules.

A research team led by Brent Craven of Pennsylvania State University in University Park in 2008 has shown that dogs can sort smells into categories before the information gets to their brains. The brain then identifies the smell.

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A taxonomist classifies and categorizes plants and animals. The profession is called taxonomy.

It can be a difficult job, because their task is to look at the similarities and differences in animals, and to determine which animals are related.

Sometimes, when the taxonomist recieves more information, he or she may change the category of an animal.

For example, the taxonomic classification of the Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) has been very difficult. Is it related to the Giant Panda or is it related to the raccoon?

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RESEARCH: The wing of a bird may determine the shape of her eggs

Eggs can be big or small, round or pointy.

There are many explanations for the variety of birds’ egg shapes.

Mary Caswell Stoddard and her researchers of Princeton University analysed the shape almost 50,000 eggs from around 1,400 species of birds in museum collections. She thinks the shape of a female bird’s wing determines the shape of the eggs.

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RESEARCH: Kenya’s wildebeest migration is good for the ecosystem

Every year thousands of wildebeest drown or are eaten by crocodiles when they cross Kenya’s Mara river during their annual migration.

The mass annual journey of 1.2 million wildebeest (also known as gnus) from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Mara in Kenya in Africa is the largest mammal migration in the world, and certainly the largest annual mass drowning of wildebeest.

Amanda Subalusky at Yale University has measured the nutrients released into the river ecosystem from the 1100 tonnes of biomass from about 6,200 wildebeest carcasses (dead bodies) that float downstream in the Mara river each year. That includes 100 tonnes of carbon, 25 tonnes of nitrogen and 13 tonnes of phosphorus.

Subalusky says that crocodiles and birds benefit from the carrion (decomposing bodies), particularly vultures.  But the slow release of nutrients benefits everything in the river from fish to insects.

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