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: 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: Waxbill birds have a social ranking based on the redness of their feathers

Researchers have found that the bird, the Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild), chooses its leader based on the redness of its chest feathers. Leadership is not dependent upon intelligence, or size, or size of its family, or stress tolerance, or aggressiveness, or the wealth of the objects it collects – it is based on the colour of its feathers.

The study, reported in The New Scientist magazine in November 2021, found that a Waxbill’s social rank or dominance is linked to how richly red its chest feathers are. The rich red feathers are thought to be a signal of health. The redder the feathers, the healthier the bird, and the most likely it is to be a strong leader. 

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RESEARCH: Elephant trunks use extreme suction to suck up water quickly: faster than a human sneeze

Extreme suction helps elephants suck up water quickly, and to hold water and food in their trunks. Extreme suction enables elephants to inhale water at speeds nearly 30 times faster than humans exhale air during a sneeze.

New Scientist magazine, on 2 June 2021, announced recent research results on the effectiveness of elephants using extreme suction. Elephants use their trunks, which weigh more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds), in a variety of ways: to forage through vegetation for food, to drink, and even as a snorkel when wading through deep water.

To better understand the trunk in action, scientist Andrew Schulz at the Georgia Institute of Technology in America, and his colleagues, filmed a 34-year-old female African Savannah Elephant (Loxodonta africana) while she completed a series of tests at a zoo in Atlanta.

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RESEARCH: Lions yawn when it’s time to get moving

In research conducted in 2020, scientists think that lions have contagious yawns – when one lion yawns, nearby lions yawn too. This is shown in human behaviour too. Also, scientists noticed that a lion’s yawn signals to other lions that it is time to get moving.

Scientist Elisabetta Palagi at the University of Pisa in Italy, and her research students, were collecting hyena data in South Africa. The New Scientist magazine in April 2021 reported that the researchers also filmed lion behaviour. Elisabetta Palagi noticed, when she watched the videos, that the lions were yawning one after the other and then got up and moved in near-synchroncity – that is, they all made similar movements. 

Palagi’s research students, Grazia Casett and Andrea Paolo Nolfo, observed 19 lions living in two social groups at the Siyafunda Wildlife & Conservation Camp, which is a research camp in the Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve in Limpopo province in South Africa. They took about five hours of video for each lion, day and night, over four months in 2020. 

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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: 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: 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: 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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