Albatross Mom Still Active at 62.
Biologist Chandler Robbins first tagged a Laysan albatross nicknamed “Wisdom” in 1956. Today, Robbins is 94 and Wisdom is at least 62. More amazingly, Wisdom has hatched another chick in what can only be described as her golden years. Scientists know that this is Wisdom’s sixth hatchling in a row and believe she may have had up to 35 offspring in her career. Longevity among some larger species of birds is well known. Parrots can live into their 80s and one white crane was believed to be 82 when she died. Nor is Wisdom a stay-at-home mom. She regularly circumnavigates the Pacific ocean and is thought to have logged some 2 or 3 million miles in her lifetime.
If You Swamp It They Will Come.
By draining its natural wetlands, Israel realized that it had made a mistake. The thousands of birds that had wintered in Hula Valley had simply bypassed the area and gone elsewhere. In the 1990s, Israel reversed the policy and began restoring water to the wetlands. The response of the wintering birds was immediate. However, in order to protect the crops of local farmers, it instituted an unusual policy providing the birds with tractored-in food. Now, 30,000 cranes make the Hula Valley wetlands their permanent home to the delight of thousands of tourists.
Wasps Being Used to Rescue Citrus Crops.
You probably never heard of the insect called the Asian citrus psyllids. However, citrus farmers are all too aware of its impact on the citrus industry. The insect is an invasive species accidentally imported in the 1990s from China and it carries a bacteria that infects citrus trees. The losses it has caused to the orange growers in Florida have soared into the billions and it is now being seen in California, an even larger orange farming center. Scientists are working on a genetic modification strategy, but in the meantime tiny wasps imported (deliberately) from Pakistan are making a difference. The wasps are released in areas of high psyllids infection where they feed on the insects thereby reducing the resulting infection of the citrus crops.
Puzzle Solving Is Its Own Reward for Humans and Chimps.
When we think of chimpanzees solving human contrived puzzles, we usually assume that a food reward is the prime motivator. However, chimpanzees at the Zoological Society of London’s Whipsnade Zoo were the subject of an experiment to see if success alone could be an adequate incentive. In this experiment, the chimps were given a physical puzzle constructed of pipes and had to use sticks to move 2 tasty Brazil nuts to an exit tunnel. Alternatively, the chimps were also given the same puzzle set up, but this time a set of dice replaced the nuts. The experimenters found that the chimps were equally interested in solving the puzzle whether it contained the nuts or the inedible dice. One of the researchers summed up the conclusion: “This strongly suggests they get similar feelings of satisfaction to humans who often complete brain games for a feelgood reward.”
The Majesty of Owls.
Natalie Angier of the New York Times reports on the many fascinating facts about owls. For example, owl chicks can display surprising acts of altruism towards their siblings. It also appears that owls have an advanced ability to communicate with sounds that seems to be ordered by a sort of actual syntax. Owls are associated with keen eyesight, of course, but in fact it is their hearing that is truly remarkable. An owl’s inner ear is enormous and complex; its face is dishshaped to better collect sounds. It can detect a small rodent in the brush from a considerable distance and even comprehend the prey’s size and physical state from the slightest noise it makes. There are 229 species of owls which inhabit a wide array of climates from frozen tundra to tropical forests.
Floating Like a Hummingbird.
Besides being beautiful and graceful, hummingbirds are interesting to scientists who grapple with the secrets behind their amazing flight abilities. Hummingbirds can dart left and right, fly backwards and even upside down. A University of California, Riverside research team studying the wing performance of hummingbirds has discovered that two separate vortices are created by the bird’s wings which cause a circular flow of air that helps keep the animal aloft. This allows the hummingbird to hover for long periods of time over a specific spot while using minimal energy. Man-made aircraft are far less maneuverable, but the lessons learned from the hummingbird may prove useful in future aircraft design.
Goldfish as an Invasive Species.
They are ubiquitous; they are found in homes everywhere. However, from an environmental point of view, goldfish belong in fishbowls, not in lakes. For example, in Lake Tahoe, a giant goldfish, probably dumped in the lake by a pet owner, was recently caught. It was a foot and a half long and weighed over four pounds. Of course, goldfish are not the only problem. Aquarium owners also dump more exotic fish species into lakes and with them nonnative varieties of seaweed, snails and algae. The result is an menacing cacophony of invasive species that drives out native species and threatens the ecosystem.
Hooked on Bioluminescence.
Velvet belly lantern sharks are small two-foot-long sharks that have to worry about predators, ranging from other sharks to harbor seals. A primary defensive weapon is a sharp spine on its dorsal fins. But over time, another defense developed and this one involved light. Scientists had discovered that the belly of the velvet belly lantern shark can light up through the chemical reaction of bioluminescence. When it does, predators below have a more difficult time distinguishing its silhouette against the sky light above. But still another bioluminescent trick is part of the lantern shark’s arsenal. It can also light up its sharp defensive spines to let all predators in the area know that it can defend itself. Jérôme Mallefet, the author of the new study, commented that the lantern shark is the “MacGyver of bioluminescence.
February 27th is International Polar Bear Day.
The organization Polar Bear International has promoted the idea of making February 27th a day to honor the iconic polar bear, whose numbers are in worldwide general decline. Only 20-25,000 wild polar bears still exist and they are confined to 19 separate populations scattered in five countries. Sea ice breakup caused by rising arctic temperatures is a major problem for the survival of the species.
Bees and Flowers Share Electrical Charges.
There are many things in nature that lie beyond our own senses. For example, we have always known that the fragrance of flowers attracts bees, but recent research has uncovered an invisible (to us) additional connection. It appears that bees while in flight collect a positive electrical charge from contact with air molecules. It also appears that flowers collect a negatively charged pattern on their petal surfaces. Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London speculates that the hairs on the bees body act as electric charge detectors and point the bee to the negatively-charged flower. However, if a flower has recently been visited by another bee, the flower’s negative charge is reduced. This might serve to inform other bees that this flower’s food supply has already been consumed and that they would do better to go find another flower.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.