Wolverines Get New Protection.
Despite their well-deserved reputation for ferocity, the wolverine is one more victim of habitat loss due to climate change. Last week, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the animal be given the legal status of an endangered species. In this case, it is not predators or present-day hunting that threatens the wolverine (although they were hunted to near extinction in the 19th Century), but the warming of its northern Rocky Mountain habitats. If passed, the recommendation would add wolverines to polar bears, elkhorn coral and staghorn coral as part of a growing list of species endangered by climate change.
Dolphin Pod Comes to Rescue of Sick Member.
Humans are not alone in their efforts to care for the sick. Off the coast of Korea, a pod of longbeaked common dolphins was observed acting as a living raft in an attempt to keep a sick member of their pod from drowning. The group was also observed trying to resuscitate the dying dolphin by biting it and otherwise trying to stimulate it. Unfortunately, the dolphin patient ultimately died, but scientists believe this is the first documented case of dolphin life-saving efforts by an entire pod of dolphins.
Pigeons, Just Like Dogs, Were Genetically Shaped by Humans.
City folk might be surprised to learn that there are many domesticated breeds of pigeons, called fancy pigeons. They come in various colors, shapes and sizes and some even sport crests on their heads. Recent genetic research into the origins of pigeon breeds shows the same pattern that exists for domesticated dogs. Slowly, over many generations, humans have bred pigeons for particular characteristics and have consequently created numerous breeds that satisfy those desired traits. The study also reveals that all pigeons have a common ancestor in the common rock dove. Some of the pigeon breeds are centuries old and originated in the Middle East. Of course, this would not have surprised Charles Darwin who suspected as much and conducted experiments on his own pigeons.
There’s Gold in Them Thar Bacteria!
Bacteria are the ultimate adaptors. A species of bacteria that thrives in gold mine sludge has the apparent ability to refine the gold element and store nanoparticles of it inside its cell wall. In fact, one species of bacteria seems to collect it on the outside of its cell wall. Scientists are trying to find out just what sets of genes allows the bacteria to refine gold. If the right enzymes can be duplicated, a cleaner more efficient gold refining industry might be on the horizon.
Neanderthal Fossils May Be Older Than Believed.
Using a new form of radiocarbon testing, researchers are now questioning the previous dating of Neanderthal fossils found in Spain. Fossils as new as 35,000 years ago were previously dated with the old technique. Recently, the same fossils were dated with a new method designed to remove more impurities and that analysis yielded a measurement of around 50,000 years old. The distinction is important because in order for this Neanderthal population to have had contact with the recently arrived modern humans, they would have had to survive to at least 42,000 years ago. If correct, the new findings cast fresh doubt upon theories of Neanderthal-human interbreeding, at least for this population in Spain. Of course, the date that modern humans arrived in the area may also have to be revised and the study does not rule out the possibility that small pockets of Neanderthals survived in other areas of Europe such as the Caucuses.
Insect Mom’s Advice: Clean Your Antennae.
We have all seen pictures of insects vigorously cleaning their antennae, but recently a group of scientists set out to find out exactly what it is that is being removed. Most insects are fastidious about keeping their main sensory organs clean. After all, the antenna is used to sense food, danger and mates it is essential for survival. When the experimenters artificially prevented a cockroach from cleaning its antennae, there was, not surprisingly, a marked decrease in its ability to sense its environment. As to what it being removed during the cleaning process, it turns out that foreign contaminants are just a fraction of the problem. Insects also must remove from their antennae accumulations of the waterproofing waxlike substances that their own bodies produce to keep themselves hydrated.
In an article for Scientific American, Brian Hare discusses his new book, which focuses on the various things that dogs can do that continue to amaze us. Hare describes a dog’s unique ability to read our gestures and follow our gaze both to help us and also to get what it wants. Dogs share our emotions and will even contagiously yawn when their human companion yawns. In his book, Hare tackles the toughest question about dogs: how did they evolve from wolves in a way that made them, unlike wolves, so accepting of people. Hare suggests that we read the book to find out, but hints that it was the unusually timid and friendly wolf who ultimately got to be man’s best friend.
New Life Forms Under Antarctic Sea Confirmed.
Last week’s preliminary reports that living organisms seemed to be present in the borehole water from the Antarctic drilling expedition are now confirmed. Quite alien to anything that exists on earth’s surface, these primitive organism seem to feed upon inorganic materials such as rock and sulfur. Scientists believe that they may presage future discoveries of what the solar system’s icy moons might harbor in terms of primitive life. For the foreseeable future, scientists will be cultivating the many samples and will attempt to learn which life forms are truly unique and which ones duplicate species already encountered in deep ocean samples.
How to Smell in Stereo.
We have two ears in order to hear in stereo, two eyes to take advantage of the parallax effect, but why do we have two nostrils? For humans, there is presently no answer outside of symmetry, but for the common mole two nostrils make all the difference. To the surprise of neuroscientist Kenneth Catania of Vanderbilt University his experiments with moles led to the conclusion that their sense of smell is so sensitive because they use their two nostrils to “stereo sniff” for food. Indeed, when both nostrils are working they can find a food source in seconds. When one nostril is blocked, they veer in the direction of the working nostril and are less effective. And when the two nostrils were experimentally crossed, they could not find food at all. The next question is whether other animals that rely heavily on smell, like dogs and pigs, also use stereo sniffing.
Three Siberian Tiger Kittens Saved from Disaster.
In eastern Russia, one of the last habitats of the Siberian Tiger, which is the largest of the tiger subspecies, poaching is a major problem. Unfortunately, tiger-based products remain even today a part of medical folklore in parts of Asia. In an article in Yale Environment 360, the author tells the story of three Siberian Tiger cubs who lost their mother, probably to poachers. It took skill, experience and patience to recapture all three cubs over a period of several days. By the time the last cub was captured, it had fallen prey to hypothermia and was saved just in time. Now it is up to the Russian professional conservationists to do what tiger mothers do so well: teach the cubs how to kill prey and hunt.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.