1. Chimp Tool Use Demonstrates Cultural Differences.

    An article in Scientific American explores how different chimpanzee communities develop different cultural habits. In the study, three chimp communities that shared similar gene populations and locations were followed for a season in a national park in Cote d’Ivoire, Africa. All of the chimps enjoy Coula nuts, which are very hard shelled at the beginning of the season and became softer as the season progresses. Each group of chimps uses a hammer-like tool to break open the nuts. However, the tool they choose depends on each communities learned culture. As a consequence, one group uses a stone hammer all season, one transitions gradually to softer tools like wood, while another switches quickly from stone to wood tools.

  2. Evolution Spurred by Color Diversity.

    Some new research suggests that the more varied the coloration of a bird species, the more quickly it evolves into a new species. In studying the Gouldian finch, scientists at the the University of Melbourne in Australia noticed that the finch exhibits a striking variety of color variations, such as red heads in some and black and yellow heads in other members. This variability seems to lead to a much faster pace of speciation, with new species developing from these birds. One theory for the difference is that color variability also signals behavioral and climate adaptive variability, which is associated with new species generation.

    More at dawn.com

  3. Ant Fungus Farmers.

    Ants are dedicated farmers. Some species of ants cultivate fungi in a symbiotic relationship that has lasted millions of years. However, the degree to which each ant species is dedicated to farming a particular fungus species was not fully appreciated until recently. New DNA analysis suggests that the evolution of new ant species can be traced to their association with their particular partner fungus species. As to the fungus, they too are so genetically tied to the ant farmers, so much so that in some cases they do not exist outside of ant colonies.

    More at LiveScience.

  4. Giant Panda Ancestors.

    Did the iconic Chinese giant panda have its roots in Europe? Eleven- million-year-old fossil teeth recovered in Spain suggest that the newly dubbed Agriarctos Beatrix was indeed related to today’s giant panda. From the teeth alone, paleontologists can determine that the animal was certainly a bear, and they can even determine that it belonged to the sub-family of panda-like bears. Still unanswered is if, how and when the panda migrated from Europe to China, and so the hunt is on for more fossils.

    More at National Geographic.

  5. Runner’s High Not Limited to Humans.

    Many long distance runners report a feeling of euphoria after an exhausting run. The responsible chemicals belong to a family of brain chemicals called endocannabinoids. The question posed by scientists is whether other running species, such as dogs, also get a mental lift from running. To find out, University of Arizona’s David Raichlen enlisted ten people to run and also walk on a treadmill. Eight dogs, which are known runners, and eight ferrets, which rarely run, also ran similar routines. Afterwards, the humans gave a blood sample and filled out a mood questionnaire. The animals also provided blood samples (but got no questionnaire). The results showed that both humans and dogs showed increased levels of an endocannabinoid chemical after the run, but the ferrets did not. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that only species that are natural runners actually get satisfaction from running.

    More at National Geographic.

  6. Map of Life.

    A team of researchers from University of Colorado and the Calgary Zoological Society, have produced an interactive “map of life” that can be accessed online. Using this tool, you can find the geographical distribution of many species of the earth’s animal populations.

  7. Lose Your Appetite With Lizard Spit.

    The results are still preliminary, but it appears that lizard spit can curb your appetite, in more ways than one. A new drug called Exenatide is a synthetic form of exendin-4, which has been isolated from the saliva of the Gila monster, a large lizard. Assistant Professor Karolina Skibicka and her team published the results in the Journal of Neuroscience. Exendin-4 influences the part of the brain that motivates us to eat — sort of the appetite center. By suppressing that desire, the drug might be beneficial for general weight loss and for diabetes control. The next question is whether it also suppresses the desire for alcohol.

    More at RedOrbit.

  8. Arthritic Dinosaurs Hobbled in Late Jurassic Period.

    A giant sea creature called a pliosaur, which lived 150 million years ago, left behind a fossil that has surprised scientists. The jaw of this pliosaur shows that in her later years she exhibited clear evidence of arthritis, a disease that strikes mostly in old age and also cripples millions of people today. Of course, today other animals besides humans suffer from this joint disease, but this finding shows that it apparently has been a plague for eons.

    More at RedOrbit.

  9. People and Mammoths Once Shared Florida Real Estate.

    When one thinks of Florida, an image of hairy mammoths roaming a frigid landscape hardly comes to mind. But paleontologists now believe that 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, people and extinct animals like mammoths and mastodons shared the area now called Vero Beach. The scientists found both human and animals bones that seemed to be buried together, suggesting co-existence. The bones that led to this hypothesis could not be carbon-dated, so instead they were examined for rare element concentrations. The similar readings for both the human and animal bones suggest that people indeed co-existed with these large extinct animals in the sunshine state.

    More at Discovery.

  10. Do Pit Bulls Get an Undeserved Bad Rap?

    The highest court in the state of Maryland recently ruled that pit bulls are “inherently dangerous.” Whether that is scientifically defensible, however, is much debated in the dog expert community. Dog experts seem to agree that relatively recently, aggressive behavior has deliberately been bred into the pit bull breed by unscrupulous breeders. In addition, even pit bulls that are more docile by nature can be made aggressive (as can any dog) if they are so trained by their owners. Perhaps the best proposal for determining the legal status of pit bulls was summed up by Betsy McFarland, vice president of The Humane Society of the United States who stated, “The legislature should conduct appropriate fact-finding and hearings, consider the available science, and make a measured, non-emotional decision on this important policy issue.”

    More at Discovery.

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

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