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News articles on animal behavior
Mongabay.com news articles on animal behavior in blog format. Updated regularly.
(02/04/2010) Researchers have long been fascinated by how insects migrate thousands of kilometers, for example from Britain to the Mediterranean. A new study, published in Science shows that although tiny, insects are not at the mercy of winds as expected. Instead they employ sophisticated flight behaviors to use fast winds to their advantage.
Why top predators matter: an in-depth look at new research
(02/02/2010) Few species have faced such vitriolic hatred from humans as the world's top predators. Considered by many as pests—often as dangerous—they have been gunned down, poisoned, speared, 'finned', and decimated across their habitats. Even where large areas of habitat are protected, the one thing that is often missing are top predators. However, new research over the past few decades is showing just how vital these predators are to ecosystems. Biologists have long known that predators control populations of prey animals, but new studies show that they may do much more. From controlling smaller predators to protecting river banks from erosion to providing nutrient hotspots, it appears that top predators are indispensible to a working ecosystem. Top predators sit at the apex of an ecosystem's food chain. Wolves in Alaska, tigers in Siberia, lions in Kenya, white sharks in the Pacific are all examples of top predators.
Photos: New tropical frog undergoes remarkable transformation
(02/01/2010) Nature never runs out of surprises. Exploring Sudest Island off of Papua New Guinea, researchers discovered a new species of frog that drastically changes its appearance from juvenile to adulthood, a transformation that has never been seen in another frog.The new species, named Oreophryne ezra, is shiny black with bright yellow spots. Yet when it matures, the frog becomes rose-colored and even its eyes change from black to blue.
Indonesia plans to sell endangered tigers as pets to the wealthy
(01/21/2010) Indonesia has a new plan to save the Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger, reports the AFP: sell captive-born tigers as pets. The proposed price is 100,000 US dollars for a pair of Sumatran tigers with the money going to conservation efforts, though it was unclear who would manage these funds.
Natural rafts carried Madagascar's unique wildlife to its shores
(01/20/2010) Imagine, forty million years ago a great tropical storm rises up on the eastern coast of Africa. Hundreds of trees are blown over and swept out to sea, but one harbors something special: inside a dry hollow rests a small lemur-like primate. Currents carry this tree and its passenger hundreds of miles until one gray morning it slides onto a faraway, unknown beach. The small mammal crawls out of its hollow and waddles, hungry and thirsty, onto the beach. Within hours, amid nearby tropical forests, it has found the sustenance it needs to survive: in a place that would one day be named Madagascar.
The Caribbean's wonderfully weird (and threatened) mammals, an interview with Jose Nunez-Mino
(01/18/2010) Not many people know the solenodon and the hutia, yet for the fortunate few that have encountered them, these strange little-studied mammals—just barely holding on in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola—deserve to be stars of the animal kingdom. "I could not quite believe it the first time I held a solenodon; I was in utter awe of this mesmerizing mammal. […] They have a long flexible snout which is all down to the fact that it is joined to the skull by a unique ball-and-socket joint. This makes it look as if the snout is almost independent to the rest of the animal. You can’t help but feel fascinated by the snout and inevitably it does make you smile," Dr. Jose Nunez-Mino, the Project Manager for a new initiative to study and conserve the island's last mammals, told mongabay.com in an interview.
Forgotten species: discovering the shimmer of Maathai's Longleg
(01/13/2010) Few species receive less respect and less conservation attention than insects. This despite the fact that they are some of the most diverse species on the planet andthey provide a number of essential services to humankind, including pollination, pest control, production (for example honey and silk), waster recycling, and indications of habitat health. Scientists are not only unsure just how many species of insects are threatened in world; they are equally uncertain how many insects exist. Currently there are nearly a million insect species described by science, but millions more likely exist. It's probable that innumerable insect species have vanished before even being catalogued by entomologists.
World of Avatar: in real life
(01/13/2010) A number of media outlets are reporting a new type of depression: you could call it the Avatar blues. Some people seeing the new blockbuster film report becoming depressed afterwards because the world of Avatar, sporting six-legged creatures, flying lizards, and glowing organisms, is not real. Yet, to director James Cameron's credit, the alien world of Pandora is based on our own biological paradise—Earth. The wonders of Avatar are all around us, you just have to know where to look.
Researchers catch new cricket species going where no cricket has gone before
(01/13/2010) East of Madagascar, on the small island of Reunion, researchers have made a remarkable discovery: a cricket that pollinates an orchid. The cricket, which is also a species new to science, was caught by a motion sensitive camera pollinating the orchid, Angraecum cadetii. The genus Angraecum orchid is usually pollinated by moths, but cadetti's nectar-spur opening is just the right shape for the cricket, known as the 'raspy cricket'.
Starving hyenas kill and eat 12-foot-long python during drought
(01/05/2010) Members with the conservation group Lion Guardians stumbled on a rare site in the Amboseli area of Kenya recently: six hyenas and a number of jackals were attacking and eating a 12-foot-long python. On their blog at WildlifeDirect, Lion Guardians describe the attack: "[the hyenas and jackals] tore into its body from the back, and were taking their share while the upper part of the python was still alive! The Lion Guardian team was shocked and surprised at the same time, having never seen anything like it before."
A 'dangerous world' for migratory birds, an interview with Sarah Lehnen
(01/04/2010) Sarah Lehnen has worked with America's rich birdlife for a decade: she has studied everything from songbirds inhabiting dwindling shrub land in Ohio to shorebirds stopping over in the Mississippi Rive alluvial valley, always with an eye towards conservation. Most recently she has been involved in testing migratory birds for avian flu. It may come as a surprise, but American birds are in serious decline. In March of last year, US Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced that one-in-three American birds are endangered. Even once common birds are showing precipitous declines. Birds face a barrage of threats, which are only complicated—and heightened—for migratory birds.
Video: Octopus joins elite club of tool-users with coconut sanctuary
(12/15/2009) Highly-intelligent, octopuses have been observed opening containers, navigating mazes, and escaping from cages. Now, researchers have discovered a new intellectual feat for the octopus: tool use. Once the province of humans only, over the last 50 years researchers have discovered that many species—including primates, apes, and birds—employ tools, but the octopus is the first invertebrate.
Photos: ten beloved species threatened by global warming
(12/14/2009) The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has released a list of ten species that are likely to be among the hardest hit by climate change, including beloved species such as the leatherback sea turtle, the koala, the emperor penguin, the clownfish, and the beluga whale. The timing of the list coincides with the negotiations by world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference to come up with an international agreement to combat climate change.
Video: rare footage of the sun bear, the world's smallest, making a nest in the canopy
(12/06/2009) Sun bear expert, Siew Te Wong, has captured rare footage of the world's smallest bear making a nest high in the canopy. The sun bear in the video is a radio-collared individual that Wong is keeping tabs on in Borneo.
Hyenas cooperate more easily than chimpanzees
(12/06/2009) Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) could show chimpanzees a thing or two about working together, according to a new study. Hyenas, prodigious hunters, pull down prey together. Christine M. Drea, an associate professor in the department of Evolutionary Biology at Duke University, started to ask questions about the cooperative hunting habits of hyenas while she was reading The Spotted Hyena: A Study of Predation and Social Behavior by Hanz Kruuk.
Extinctions on the rise in the Galapagos: fishing and global warming devastating islands' species
(12/03/2009) We may never see again the Galapagos black-spotted damselfish, the beautiful 24-rayed sunstar, or the Galapagos stringweed. These species from Galapagos waters may all very well be extinct. Other species are on the brink, such as the Galapagos penguin and the Floreana cup coral. A new report in Global Change Biology reveals that in just a matter of decades, overfishing and climate change has devastated the Galapagos' unique and famous ecosystems.
Forgotten Species: the haunting whistle of the Anjouan scops-owl
(12/03/2009) I know a two-year-old who is already an owl expert. My friends' daughter, Harper, can identify all of North America's owls by photos or drawings; even more impressive she can identify them by call. There is one owl call, however, that she may never hear. The Anjouan-scops owl, native to Anjouan island apart of the Comoros island chain, is on the verge of extinction. It is so rare that for over a century it was believed to have already vanished.
Not just the polar bear: ten American species that are feeling the heat from global warming
(12/01/2009) A new report, America’s Hottest Species, highlights a variety of American wildlife that are currently threatened by climate change from a small bird to a coral reef to the world’s largest marine turtle.
Face-to-face with what may be the last of the world's smallest rhino, the Bornean rhinoceros
(12/01/2009) Nothing can really prepare a person for coming face-to-face with what may be the last of a species. I had known for a week that I would be fortunate enough to meet Tam. I'd heard stories of his gentle demeanor, discussed his current situation with experts, and read everything I could find about this surprising individual. But still, walking up to the pen where Tam stood contentedly pulling leaves from the hands of a local ranger, hearing him snort and whistle, watching as he rattled the bars with his blunted horn, I felt like I was walking into a place I wasn't meant to be. As though I was treading on his, Tam's space: entering into a cool deep forest where mud wallows and shadows still linger. This was Tam's world; or at least it should be.
Guyana expedition finds biodiversity trove in area slated for oil and gas development, an interview with Robert Pickles
(11/29/2009) An expedition deep into Guyana's rainforest interior to find the endangered giant river otter—and collect their scat for genetic analysis—uncovered much more than even this endangered charismatic species. "Visiting the Rewa Head felt like we were walking in the footsteps of Wallace and Bates, seeing South America with its natural density of wild animals as it would have appeared 150 years ago," expedition member Robert Pickles said to Mongabay.com.
Transmitters implanted in orangutans for tracking after release into the wild
(11/23/2009) For the first time transmitters have been implanted in orangutans to track their daily movements. The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) has implanted transmitters into three orangutans that have been released back into the wild from Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.
Videos and Photos: over 17,000 species discovered in waters beyond the sun's reach
(11/23/2009) Deep, deep below the ocean's surface, in a world of ever-present darkness, one would expect few, if any, species would thrive. However, recent expeditions by the Census of Marine Life (CoML) have found an incredible array of strange, diverse, and amazing creatures. To date a total of 17,650 species are now known to live in frigid, nearly lightless waters beyond the photic zone—where enough light occurs for photosynthesis—approximately 200 meters deep. Nearly 6,000 of these occur in even harsher ecosystems, below depths of 1,000 meters or 0.62 miles down.
Extinct goat was "similar to crocodiles"
(11/16/2009) It sounds like something out of Greek mythology: a half-goat, half-reptilian creature. But researchers have discovered that an extinct species of goat, the Balearic Island cave goat or Myotragus balearicus, survived in nutrient-poor Mediterranean islands by evolving reptilian-specific characteristics. The goat, much like crocodiles, was able to grow at flexible rates, stopping growth entirely when food was scant. This adaptation—never before seen in a mammal—allowed the species to survive for five million years before being driven to extinction only 3,000 years ago, likely by human hunters.
Forgotten species: Madagascar's water-loving mammal, the aquatic tenrec
(11/12/2009) There are many adjectives one could attach to the aquatic tenrec: rare, mysterious, elusive, one-of-a-kind, even adorable, though one tries to stray from such value-laden titles since it excludes so many other non-adorable inhabitants of the animal kingdom. This small and, yes, cute insectivore, also known as the web-footed tenrec, lives in Eastern Madagascar where at night it spends the majority of its time swimming and diving in fast-moving streams for insects and tadpoles. It sleeps during the day in small streamside burrows. To date that is about the extent of our knowledge of this species.
Hunting across Southeast Asia weakens forests' survival, An interview with Richard Corlett
(11/08/2009) A large flying fox eats a fruit ingesting its seeds. Flying over the tropical forests it eventually deposits the seeds at the base of another tree far from the first. One of these seeds takes root, sprouts, and in thirty years time a new tree waits for another flying fox to spread its speed. In the Southeast Asian tropics an astounding 80 percent of seeds are spread not by wind, but by animals: birds, bats, rodents, even elephants. But in a region where animals of all shapes and sizes are being wiped out by uncontrolled hunting and poaching—what will the forests of the future look like? This is the question that has long occupied Richard Corlett, professor of biological science at the National University of Singapore.
World's first video of the elusive and endangered bay cat
(11/05/2009) Rare, elusive, and endangered by habitat loss, the bay cat is one of the world's least studied wild cats. Several specimens of the cat were collected in the 19th and 20th Century, but a living cat wasn't even photographed until 1998. Now, researchers in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, have managed to capture the first film of the bay cat (Catopuma badia). Lasting seven seconds, the video shows the distinctly reddish-brown cat in its habitat.
Photos: Palm oil threatens Borneo's rarest cats
(11/04/2009) Oil palm expansion is threatening Borneo's rarest wild cats, reports a new study based on three years of fieldwork and more than 17,000 camera trap nights. Studying cats in five locations—each with different environments—in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, researchers found that four of five cat species are threatened by habitat loss due to palm oil plantations. "No other place has a higher percentage of threatened wild cats!" Jim Sanderson, an expert on the world's small cats, told Mongabay.com. Pointing out that 80 percent of Borneo's cats face extinction, Sanderson said that "not one of these wild cats poses a direct threat to humans."
California's great white sharks are a distinct population
(11/04/2009) Researchers have long thought that white sharks migrated across oceans, but a new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that the population in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, along California, hasn't mixed with other white sharks for tens of thousands of years.
Wolves keep forests nutrient-rich
(11/02/2009) As hunting wolves is legal again in two American states, Montana and Idaho, researchers have discovered an important role these large predators play in creating nutrient hotspots in northern forest environments. Researchers from Michigan Technological University found that when wolves take down their prey—in this case moose—they do more than simply keep a check on herbivore populations. The corpses of wolf-hunted moose create hotspots of forest fertility by enriching the soil with biochemicals. Due to this sudden up-tick in nutrients, microbial and fungal growth explodes, in turn providing extra nutrients for plants near the kill.
Tsavo lions ate 35 people, not 135
(11/02/2009) A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shown that the two man-killing lions of Tsavo very likely did not kill and eat as many people as claimed. Looking at hair and bone samples from the pair of male lions, now resting in the Chicago Field Museum, researchers were able to determine that the Tsavo lions likely killed and ate approximately 35 people, not 135 as claimed by Lieutenant Colonel John H. Patterson. Patterson became famous for shooting and killing the lions in December 1898. For nine months the two lions terrorized a railroad camp in Kenya.
Language and conservation: why words matter
(10/28/2009) The words we choose matter. Benjamin Lee Whorf, an influential American linguist theorized that the language one speaks directly impacts our thoughts; he is quoted as saying, "language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about". If this is the case then those who believe in conservation must select their words wisely. My wife and I recently traveled to Africa where we visited wildlife parks in both Zimbabwe and Botswana. The animals we encountered and the scenes we were fortunate enough to witness proved so beautiful and wondrous that I have a difficult time describing them—at least in any way that accurately depicts the experience.
Scientists discover that bats practice oral sex
(10/28/2009) The short-nosed fruit bat Cynopterus sphinx is the first bat species to have been observed engaging in oral sex.
The faster, fiercer, and always surprising sloth, an interview with Bryson Voirin
(10/25/2009) Sloths sleep all day; they are always slow; and they are gentle animals. These are just some of the popular misconceptions that sloth-scientist and expert tree-climber, Bryson Voirin, is overturning. After growing up among the wild creatures of Florida, spending his high school years in Germany, and earning a Bachelors degree in biology and environment at the New College of Florida, Voirin found his calling. At the New College of Florida, Voirin "met Meg Lowman, the famous canopy pioneer who invented many of the tree climbing techniques everyone uses today."
The Yangtze River may have lost another inhabitant: the Chinese paddlefish
(10/22/2009) In December of 2006 it was announced that the Yangtze River dolphin, commonly known as the baiji, had succumbed to extinction. The dolphin had survived on earth for 20 million years, but the species couldn't survive the combined onslaught of pollution, habitat loss, boat traffic, entanglement in fishing hooks, death from illegal electric fishing, and the construction of several massive dams. Now, another flagship species of the Yangtze River appears to have vanished.
Scientists uncover mystery of how frog plague kills its victims
(10/22/2009) One hundred and twenty species of frogs are reported to have gone extinct since 1980 (although the number is likely even higher). While devastated by habitat loss, pollution, and climate change, a baffling disease may be the biggest factor behind the alarming extinctions of frogs. Called chytridiomycosis, the disease is caused by the microscopic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis which kills its tiny victims indiscriminately.
World's largest golden orb weaving spider discovered in South Africa and Madagascar
(10/21/2009) Golden orb weaving spiders have been garnering media attention recently. Last year stunning photographs of a golden orb weaver eating a bird in Australia made world coverage. Now, over a century after the last legitimate species of golden orb weaver was discovered, researchers have announced the discovery of a new and rare species of golden orb weaving spider in Africa and on the island of Madagascar. On average the new species is the largest of all golden orb weavers known.
Kenya's pain, part two: decades of wildlife decline exacerbated by drought
(10/20/2009) Not many years ago if you were planning a trip to Africa to see wildlife, Kenya would be near the top of the list, if not number one. Then violent riots in late 2007 and early 2008 leaving a thousand dead tarnished the country's image abroad. When calm and stability returned, Kenya was again open for tourism, and it's true that most travelers were quick to forget: articles earlier this year announced that even with the global economic crisis Kenya was expecting tourism growth. However, a new disaster may not be so quickly overcome.
Palm oil industry pledges wildlife corridors to save orangutans
(10/03/2009) In an unlikely—and perhaps tenuous—alliance, conservationists and the palm oil industry met this week to draw up plans to save Asia's last great ape, the orangutan. As if to underscore the colloquium's importance, delegates on arriving in the Malaysian State of Sabah found the capital covered in a thick and strange fog caused by the burning of rainforests and peat lands in neighboring Kalimantan. After two days of intensive meetings the colloquium adopted a resolution which included the acquisition of land for creating wildlife buffer zones of at least 100 meters along all major rivers, in addition to corridors for connecting forests. Researchers said such corridors were essential if orangutans were to have a future in Sabah.
Working to save the 'living dead' in the Atlantic Forest, an interview with Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes
(09/23/2009) The Atlantic Forest may very well be the most imperiled tropical ecosystem in the world: it is estimated that seven percent (or less) of the original forest remains. Lining the coast of Brazil, what is left of the forest is largely patches and fragments that are hemmed in by metropolises and monocultures. Yet, some areas are worse than others, such as the Pernambuco Endemism Centre, a region in the northeast that has largely been ignored by scientists and conservation efforts. Here, 98 percent of the forest is gone, and 70 percent of what remains are patches measuring less than 10 hectares. Due to this fragmentation all large mammals have gone regionally extinct and the small mammals are described by Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes, a professor and researcher at the Federal University of Pernambuco, as the 'living dead'.
New species of ghostshark discovered off California's coast
(09/22/2009) The discovery of Eastern Pacific black ghostshark Hydrolagus melanophasma is notable for a number of reasons. It is the first new species of cartilaginous fish—i.e fish whose skeletons are made entirely of cartilage, such as sharks, rays, and skate—to be described in California water since 1947. It is also a representative of an ancient and little-known group of fish.
Whale skeleton reveals species unknown to science
(09/22/2009) The importance of a whale to the oceanic ecosystem does not end with its life. After dying, a whale's body sinks to the bottom of the ocean and becomes food for many species, some of whom specialize on feeding on these corpses.
Employing dogs to save endangered species and places, an interview with Megan Parker
(09/21/2009) For millennia dogs have been helpers to humans: they have herded and protected livestock, pulled sleds, hunted game, led the blind, located people after disasters, and sniffed out drugs. Now a new occupation can be added: conservation aide. Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC) was begun by Megan Parker in 2000: the idea, to use dogs' impeccable scent capabilities for conservation initiatives, appears so logical and useful when Parker talks about it, one is surprised it took environmentalists so long to realize the potential of dogs.
After declining 95% in 15 years, Saiga antelope begins to rebound with help from conservationists
(09/20/2009) In a decline on par with that suffered by the American bison in the Nineteenth Century, in the 1990s the saiga antelope of the Central Asian steppe plummeted from over one million individuals to 50,000, dropping a staggering 95 percent in a decade and a half. Since then new legislation and conservation measure have helped the species stabilize in some areas but in others the decline continues. Working for six years with the Saiga Conservation Alliance, Founding Member and Executive Secretary Elena Bykova has helped bring the species back from the very brink of extinction.
Saving gorillas by bringing healthcare to local people in Uganda, an interview with Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka
(09/16/2009) How can bringing healthcare to local villagers in Uganda help save the Critically Endangered mountain gorilla? The answer lies in our genetics, says Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, wildlife veterinarian and director of Conservation through Public Health (CTPH). "Because we share 98.4% genetic material with gorillas we can easily transmit diseases to each other." Therefore, explains Kalema-Zikusoka "our efforts to protect the gorillas will always be undermined by the poor public health of the people who they share a habitat with. In order to effectively improve the health of the gorillas we needed to also improve the health of the people, which will not only directly reduced the health threat to gorillas through improvement of public health practices, but also improved community attitudes toward wildlife conservation."
Vlad the Impaler of the bird world now at Bronx Zoo: skewers prey on thorns and barbed wire
(09/15/2009) The loggerhead shrike, also known as the 'butcher bird', employs a feeding strategy that would have been right at home in 15th Century Transylvania. Like the infamous Vlad the Impaler (the brutal prince which Bram Stoker based Dracula off), the loggerhead shrike is truly skilled at impaling. Using its hooked beak to break the spines of insects, lizards, rodents, and even other birds it then impales them on thorns or barbed wire to hold them while it disembodies them. Now, the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Bronx Zoo has brought the loggerhead shrike into its collection, but the shrike is there to illustrate more than its unique feeding practices.
World’s only Sumatran rhino to give birth in captivity dies at Cincinnati Zoo
(09/10/2009) Emi, the world’s only Sumatran rhino to give birth in captivity, died on Saturday at the Cincinnati zoo. She successfully gave birth to three offspring, one of which has been released back into the wild in Indonesia.
Hunger drives great tits to kill and eat bats as they hibernate
(09/09/2009) A common bird in Europe, great tits tend to stick to insects and seeds as a food source with caterpillars as a particular favorite. However, a new paper in Biology Letters found that the song bird employs unique feeding behavior in a cave in Hungary: they kill and eat hibernating pipistrelle bats. This is the first instance ever recorded of a song bir preying on bats.
South Korea's frogs have avoided amphibian crisis so far, an interview with Pierre Fidenci
(09/09/2009) Frogs are on the edge. Blasted by habitat loss, pollution, and a terrible disease, the chytrid fungus, species are vanishing worldwide and those that remain are clinging to existence, rather than thriving. However, an interview with Pierre Fidenci, President of Endangered Species International (ESI), proves that there are still areas of the world where amphibians remain in abundance. South Korea is not a country that is talked about frequently in conservation circles. Other nations in the region attract far more attention, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. But it was just this neglect that drove Pierre Fidenci to visit the nation and survey the amphibians there.
Crowned sifaka population on the verge of local extinction: dispatch from the field
(09/08/2009) A small group of crowned sifaka lemurs Propithecus coronatus have been located in the corridor d’Amboloando-Dabolava, Miandrivazo district-Madagascar, but are immediately threatened with local extinction. The small, fragmented, and isolated forest shelters a group of only six adults and one baby. Interviews with local people revealed that once several groups of the species resided in the corridor, and even last year, about 20 individuals were still found there. However, within one year, the population dropped from 20 to 6 individuals.
New non-invasive painkiller developed for the world's biggest cats
(09/01/2009) The world's big cats are not easy patients, especially when trying to give them pain killers after a procedure. They will tear off transdermal patches; they are too powerful to restrain for easy—and safe—injections or pills; and when in pain they generally refuse food, making it impossible to hide the drugs in their dinner. Now, however, veterinarian researchers from Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo and the University of Tennessee believe they have found a solution: a surgically implanted, mini-pump that provides pain relief, and can be easily removed after the patient makes a full recovery.
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