Cat Behavior Demystified (almost).
Think you understand your cat? Global Animal offers several explanations for common but still bizarre cat behaviors and antics. For example, if you’ve wondered why your cat insists on following you into the bathroom, consider that from its perspective, you are now a captive audience in a small space.
Komodo Dragon Makes a Home in Florida.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park has a new Komodo dragon. Named Tujah, which means “seven” in the local Indonesian language, he is eight feet long. Komodo dragons are voracious eaters. They can eat up to 90% of their body weight in one sitting. When Tujah was released into his new outdoor home for the first time, he flicked his tongue in order to sniff every corner of the large enclosure. He also quickly found two quails that were placed there as a sort of housewarming gift. Precautions against being bitten are extremely important for human visitors and handlers since Komodo dragons kill their prey by infecting them with a menagerie of bacteria. If all goes well, in October Tujah will be introduced to a female Komodo dragon who has already been chosen for him.
Green Glowing Sheep in Uruguay Pastures.
In what appears to be a scientific first, Uruguayan scientists have successfully implanted “fluorescent” genes from an Aequorea jellyfish into nine sheep. The lambs are developing normally, however, when they are exposed to ultraviolet lights, their skin glows a green color. Although this particular genetic reconfiguration would appear to have little practical value, researchers see this as a step toward introducing genes into sheep that can cause them to secrete into their milk chemicals useful to humans.
In Praise of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
By 1972, scientists knew that many species of marine mammals were in serious trouble, some facing extinction. Congress was able to come together and pass the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which was supported by then president Nixon, and which protected many species of marine mammals. Now, 40 years later, it appears that the MMPA has paid dividends. In a new report, scientists believe that the MMPA has allowed “countless tens of thousands” of sea lions, seals, whales and dolphins to recover to where they now live in sustainable populations. Some sea mammals,such as the right whale, are still critically endangered, but at least are still with us. New challenges, including sonar noise and shipping lanes that overlap whale habitat, will require amendments to the act, but that will require the present Congress to muster the political will it did in 1972.
Coral Pulsate to Keep Fit.
Coral are living sea animals that feed on algae. Day and night, the tops of one species of coral, xeniid corals, can be seen pulsating opening and closing as if breathing. Maya Kremien of Hebrew University of Jerusalem has studied this coral and has concluded that this activity has several purposes. First, because they are so dependent on algae, it is important for coral to keep algae growing at a peak rate. But the oxygenation of the water, a byproduct of photosynthesis of algae, puts a natural brake on algae growth. Enter the coral. By pulsating the water, these animals disperse excess oxygen and hence make the conditions more optimal for the algae. In addition, pulsation confers another advantage which is to improve nutrient supplies by pumping in fresh seawater.
How Old Are the World’s Oldest Trees?
The United States is the proud home of what are believed to be the world’s oldest trees. In California, the previous champ, but now #2, is “Methuselah,” a 4,845-year-old Great Basin bristle cone pine. But recently a new champ was crowned, also in California’s White Mountains. It’s estimated age is an astonishing 5,062-years-old. Around the world there are other very old trees. In Iran, a 4,000-year-old Cypress is considered the oldest tree in Asia. In North Wales, England there is a 4,000-year-old Yew and in Chile there exists a 3,642-year-old Patagonian cypress.
Did the Stars Influence Life on Earth?
Scientists have long puzzled over why almost all the amino acids that make up life on earth have a left-handed and not a right-handed structure. Nature, it would seem, ought to have no particular preference. One new theory looks to the stars. It takes advantage of a recent observation that light from one nebula where many new stars in our galaxy are born exhibits “circular polarization.” That means light from this nebula twists like a corkscrew in one direction more often than it does in the opposite direction. Polarized light can cause molecules, such as amino acids, which are also formed during the birth of stars, to skew toward left-handedness. The theory suggests that these biased amino acids, formed by polarized light, were carried to earth by space rocks and might have seeded the planet with left-handed amino acids, a bias that remains with us today. Scientists are now looking for additional examples of circular polarization in our galaxy to help confirm their findings.
Tracking Seabirds Through Migration.
The Manx shearwater is a seabird that breeds in Great Britain but migrates thousands of miles every year to South America during the winter. In order to get better information about exactly what the bird is doing during it hiatus in the Southern Hemisphere, scientists fit the birds with “miniature geo-locators and lightweight GPS loggers.” Using this new computerized system (called ‘etho-informatics’) over the past three years, University of Oxford researchers now have huge amounts of data. For the most part, the shearwater seems to spend its winters off the coast of Brazil doing what people do resting up before they embark on a busy new breeding season back home.
Elephant Body Language.
For people, especially daters, body language is a complementary form of human communication. But elephant expert Joyce Poole, who has been studying elephants for decades, believes that elephants have their own body language, and that it is just as robust and meaningful as anything humans demonstrate. In this National Geographic article, Joyce explains how elephants use movement, gestures and posturing to communicate meaning to other elephants and how they even employ pratfalls to amuse humans.
In the forests of Madagascar the dwarf lemur has developed a unique form of hibernation. Unlike cold temperature hibernators who need to hibernate to survive a harsh winter, the dwarf lemurs hibernate in order to survive a cool, dry season in the tropics, where food becomes scarce. Before going into hibernation, the dwarf lemur gorges itself on available food. It then hides in a tree hollow or in the ground and goes into an ultra-deep sleep. And, unlike ordinary hibernators, it does not let its body temperature plummet, but rather matches it to the existing local conditions, allowing it to fluctuate as much as 20 degrees C. Most of the lemur’s stored up fat is in its tail, and that becomes its source of nutrition during the hibernation period.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.