1. Chimps Raised as Orphans Lack Social Skills.

    A recent study serves to underline the importance of mothers in forming the important social skills of chimpanzees. Several orphaned chimps which were raised by humans until their 2nd birthday were compared to a group of chimps raised by their own mothers at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia. The orphaned chimps liked to play but their interactions with other chimps were less successful and led more often to aggressive encounters. Anthropologist Edwin van Leeuwen who authored the study commented that “Although the orphaned chimps were motivated to play … it seems that they were less able to coordinate their play bouts and prevent them from resulting in aggression.”

    More at Red Orbit.

  2. Picket Fence Mystery.

    A Georgia Tech doctoral student has stumbled upon an amazing construction in the Amazon. One thing’s for certain: it was not created by humans. The miniature object appears to be an intricate picket fence-like arrangement that surrounds and possibly protects what looks like an egg in the center. The two centimeter object looks like it was constructed by a spider, but so far no entomologist has been able to identify it or point to a similar discovery.

    More at National Geographic.

  3. Worms to the Rescue.

    Our immune systems are still adapted to an era when parasites were a common problem. In the industrialized world, the general absence of parasites or helminths such as worms, leaves us with an immune system that is somewhat trigger happy and may underlie autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease and lupus. Research by William Gause at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School shows that reintroducing parasitic worms into the human body, or at least worm byproducts, might control the body’s immune system and stem the destructive and uncontrolled autoimmune response of such serious diseases.

    More at Science Daily.

  4. Lava-Tube Caves Add New Species.

    Lava-tube caves are formed by lava flows under the earth’s surface. In New Mexico, these caves can extend for miles and are home to strange new species of arthropods. Recently, researchers from Northern Arizona University did a systematic survey of some of these caves and have catalogued new species of spiders, mites, beetles and crickets. The species that inhabit these unusual caves are as unique as the conditions that formed the caves, and sport features such as “limited vision, light-colored pigmentation and long appendages adept at speedily navigating cave terrain.

    More at Live Science.

  5. Elephant Poisonings.

    In an exceptionally cruel twist, elephant poachers in Zimbabwe have turned to putting cyanide poison in watering holes as a way of killing elephants. Over 40 elephants died in Zimbabwe — its worst known case of poaching. Six individuals hauling 17 elephant tusks were arrested but the damage does not stop with the elephants. Cyanide will lingers in the animals’ carcasses and it will continue to kill all animals that feed off of the poisoned elephants as well as the animals that feed off of them. As one official explained, “We have what we call the fourth generation effect due to the potency of cyanide as a poison. Animals that feed on the dead elephants will die, and those that feed on the dead animals will also die.”

    More at Salon.

  6. How Apes See Other Animals.

    A new study on how orangutans and gorillas perceive and categorize other animals was recently conducted by Oakland University’s Department of Psychology. Using pictures, the researchers had the subjects differentiate between animals of different taxonomic classes (reptiles or mammals) and between different species of the same class. The orangutans were able to match animals of different classes more accurately than they were able to match individual species of the same family. The researchers conclude that these apes were able to apply abstract reasoning to solely visuals clues and formulate categories in a manner very similar to that employed by humans.

    More at Red Orbit.

  7. Crocodile History.

    It is said that if you live long enough you will see everything. That is certainly true for crocodiles. Crocodiles lived through eras before, during and after the dinosaurs. A recent analysis of a variety of fossilized crocodile jaws demonstrates how the animals evolved to the changing environments over this long stretch of biological history. Some of the greatest variation in the lower jaw structure of the crocodile can be seen in the Cretaceous period, when they shared a varied environment with the dinosaurs. No doubt the ability to evolve appropriate jaws has enabled the crocodile to be one of the great survival stories of large animals.

    More at Science Daily.

  8. Battling Dinosaurs Frozen in Time.

    An iconic fossil of two dinosaurs engaged in mortal combat is being auctioned off in November. The fossil distinctly shows a predator Nanotyrannus locked in battle with a similarly sized and well defended Chasmosaurine, a plant eater whose structure is similar to that of Triceratops. Close examination of the fossils shows that one of the Nanotyrannus’ teeth in embedded in the head of the Chasmosaurine. But the Nanotyrannus shows crushing damage to its chest and skull, probably from kicks dished out by the Chasmosaurine. The estimated auction price is from $7 to $9 million.

    More at New Scientist.

  9. Turtle Tears.

    In the Amazon, butterflies are always on the lookout for a good source of salt in their diet. Enjoy some great photographs of butterflies flocking over a line of turtles to drink their salty tears. The consensus among experts is that this does the turtles little harm, beyond blocking their view during the visits.

    More at Live Science.

  10. Frog Antifreeze.

    Ever wonder how frogs can survive freezing temperatures without becoming frog-sicles? The answer is natural antifreeze in the form of chemicals that lower the frog’s freezing point.

    More at Science News.

“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.

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