Do Elephants Weep?
In an Op-Ed column for LiveScience, Professor Marc Bekoff of the University of Colorado at Boulder proposes a more scientific approach to an old question: do elephants (and other animals) weep? While the anecdotal evidence certainly supports the view that elephants and other mammals weep or cry as part of what appears to be an emotional response, more rigorous scientific experimentation is needed. Bekoff suggests that, “as with many other aspects of the cognitive and emotional lives of animals, it turns out that we are not alone, and that human exceptionalism is more a myth than a fact.”
U.N. Report Links Human Behavior and Climate Change.
Using words such as “unequivocal” and “extremely likely,” a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that human activities are the main driving force behind global climate change. The report finds that increases in air temperature (even though the rate of increase has decreased since 1998), ocean temperature, the loss of polar ice and increased concentrations of greenhouse gases are primarily caused by human activity. From an economic standpoint, the cost of green solutions to the world’s economies would be far exceeded by the economic benefits derived from mitigating climate change.
You, Your Dog and Your Oxytocin.
Dog lovers may have a scientifically good reason for feeling happy around their dogs. Scientists have known that a molecule called oxytocin is released in our bodies when we hug or touch someone we love, especially a child. Once released, the molecule enhances our sense of affection and well-being. In one study, it was shown that even when a dog looks at its owner for 2 minutes or more, the owner’s oxytocin levels rose measurably. And in a separate study, blood was drawn from human volunteers right after they petted and hugged their dogs for 30 minutes. Blood analysis showed increases not only oxytocin, but also beta-endorphins and dopamine, among other molecules, all of which are associated with feelings of pleasure and well-being. Interestingly, those chemicals were released not only in the owners, but also in the dogs.
Everything You Need to Know About Salamanders.
Scientific American presents the “Amazing World of Salamanders.” There are 655 salamander species in existence today. But salamanders also were around during the times of the dinosaurs. We have salamander fossils from the Middle Jurassic (176 to 161 million years ago). There are giant salamanders in captivity, and one, called the Giant Chinese Salamander, reaches a length of almost 6 feet. The great diversity of salamanders is also explored in the article, including salamanders without lungs, and species that can detach their rib bones as a means of defense.
The Lake of Death.
Nature is sometimes cruel. In Tanzania, Lake Natron is a perfect example. The still and highly reflective surface of the lake might lure birds and animals to visit, but if they do they are doomed. It turns out that the lake is so filled with volcanic ash, that it is extremely alkaline. As the article explains, the dead birds depicted here were found in the lake and posed by the photographer.
It’s not surprising to find a green lizard. However, on the island of Papua New Guinea, some lizards, called skinks, not only have green coloration, but also green blood, tissue and bones. Two chemical molecules responsible for the skink’s green blood are bilirubin and biliverdin, which can be deadly in comparable concentrations in human blood. Scientists believe that high concentrations of these green pigmented molecules evolved in skinks because they confer some protection against local parasites — the same ones that can cause malaria in humans. Further study of the green-blooded skinks will involve comparing their DNA to those of red-blooded skinks in the area.
First Flowering Plants Older Than Once Thought.
If new evidence uncovered by researchers from the University of Zurich, Switzerland turns out to be correct, paleontologists have been underestimating the time of the first flowering plants by 100 million years. Studying drilling cores, the scientists have found evidence of early flowering plants in the form of pollen grains from layers that go back 240 million years. In all, six different types of pollen grains were identified using “high resolution 3D images.” The plants were probably pollinated by beetles since “bees would not evolve for another 100 million years.”
Honeybees and Diesel Fuel Don’t Mix.
Honeybees use not only their eyesight to locate fragrant flowers to gather nectar, they also use their sense of smell. Researchers wondered whether the gases emitted along with diesel exhaust might be interfering with the bees abilities to locate flowers. In a series of experiments, it turned out that some of the gases given off with diesel fuel emissions did indeed interfere with the honeybee’s ability to locate flowering plants. This finding may have implications for the study of colony collapse disorder among honeybees, as well as even greater implications for the worldwide fertilization of crops.
Lessons From Grandpa Crane.
Listen to your elders is often sound advice, but it seems that with whooping cranes it is essential. Thomas Mueller of the University of Maryland in College Park has been studying whooping cranes and he has extensively studied their migratory routes. He has discovered that the most important factor in how straight and on course a group of cranes flies to its destination is the age of the oldest member of the group. Apparently, the elder cranes, which have flown the route several times, know the way and tend to keep the entire flock on course with less deviation. Chalk up one more for experience.
Scientist Discovers New Tick Species in His Nose.
After a trip to Uganda, professor Tony Goldberg brought home an unwanted memento. Stuck inside his nose was a tick, which he carefully removed with a tweezer and mirror. Since ticks in Uganda frequently crawl up the noses of chimps in order to escape their very thorough grooming procedures, this in itself was no surprise. However, being a scientist, Goldberg decided to identify the creature, and ordered a DNA analysis. It now appears that the tick’s DNA has never been sequenced before and is possibly a new species. Sometimes the best discoveries are right under our noses.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.