Viral Science: New Caledonian Crow – Not So Bird Brained

Viral Science: New Caledonian Crow – Not So Bird Brained

Behavioural Ecology Research Group © Simon Walker

The New Caledonian Crow is a remarkably smart species of bird. They are the “only non-human species with a record of inventing new tools by modifying existing ones, then passing these innovations to other individuals in the cultural group”

This weeks viral science video part of research carried out by the Behavioural Ecology Research group in Oxford . This video below is the first time these birds were presented with this challenge:

p.s. apologies for the lack of posts recently, I shall return to regular blogging shortly.

Say Cheese #2: Gibraltar’s Barbary Macaques

Say Cheese #2: Gibraltar’s Barbary Macaques

Gibraltar is an interesting & unusual place. You realise this the first time you touch down in the airport and notice that your are landing on a motorway that has been closed at both ends like a level crossing. The unusual qualities only become more apparent after more time spent there. It is a peninsular, that whilst attached to Spain is under British Sovereignty. This means that you get amazing Mediterranean weather in a place that has police in British uniforms, UK style post boxes and the Queen on its money. Oh and also they have monkeys! In fact the hotel we stayed in at the time had notices in the rooms saying not to leave your windows open as they will get in and trash the rooms.

Unfortunately, during the visit we had only seen them in the distance cavorting up the Rock of Gibraltar. However, just as we were leaving a few came and had a little sit down in the car park. This is the photo taken below.

Click for high-res version

The Barbary macaque is (other than humans) the only free living primate in Europe. They are unusual in Monkey populations in that they do not have a tale. This means that they were originally classified as being more closely related to apes than monkeys. However, due to the rise of the genetics we now know they are closer to monkeys than apes. They are one of the “Old World Monkeys”.

Research Quote of the Week: Alcohol, Nudity & Himalayan Bears

Research Quote of the Week: Alcohol, Nudity & Himalayan Bears

As a bit of a new theme I am going to each week post up an odd or fascinating quote from a peer reviewed research article. I hope that this will show how awesome science can be and publicise research is not in mainstream consciousness.

This week the quote is:

“We had no logical explanation for the fact that he was found naked in the cage”

This sentence came from an unusual piece of research  detailing what happened when a Serbian man got drunk and decided to climb inside an enclosure with some Black Himalayan Bears. He was found, naked and half eaten the next day.

The research mainly concerned itself with the unusual way in which the bears attacked the individual. In the wild their normal focus of attack is the face but, in this instance it was the individuals torso and legs that appeared to have taken the brunt of the attack.  As well as this, it was found that the bears had consumed a proportion of the individual which is not typical bear attack behaviour. They theorised that the differences in behaviour may be due to living in captivity in a major city (Belgrade).

Would you like to see what happened to the man? Well due to the rather gruesome nature of the photos, I felt I should have them a little hidden. If you want to see, click on the image of the bear below:

Click on the image to see the effects of the attack

Mihailovic Z, Savic S, Damjanjuk I, Stanojevic A, & Milosevic M (2011). A Case of a Fatal Himalayan Black Bear Attack in the Zoo. Journal of forensic sciences PMID: 21361947

Viral Science: Lion Vs Cape Buffalo Vs Crocodile

Viral Science: Lion Vs Cape Buffalo Vs Crocodile

A three way interspecies fight

This weeks viral science video is one of the most popular science videos on youtube. Filmed in South Africa’s Kruger Parks the events took place at a watering hole between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza camps, an area often frequented by a variety of species.

It is a quite lengthy video but is amazing footage and well worth a watch:

 Apparently the commeradery of the Buffalo is not an unusual occurence. Dr McDonnell from the University of Pennsylvania described their actions:

“The larger herd is broken down into smaller harems, with a dominant male and several females and their babies. If a youngster is threatened, both the harem males and bachelor males – which usually fight with one another – will get together to try to rescue it.”

Giant Penguin Discovered in Peru

Giant Penguin Discovered in Peru

A more unusual example of penguin plumage

This was originally posted on the I,Science Blog

The dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman and the journey of the Emperor penguins warmed the hearts of millions following the release of March of the Penguins. However, the evolutionary trail of the species is equally as interesting.

A new study, published in the journal Science, tells of the discovery of a ‘Giant Penguin’ fossil discovery with implications for our knowledge of the ancestry of the penguin. Found in Peru, the 5ft specimen shows several plumage features present in modern day penguins.

Known as Inkayacu paracasensis, or Water King, it lived in the late Eocene period, approximately 36 million years ago.  The study was led by Julian Clarke of the University of Texas who said, “Before this fossil, we had no evidence about the feathers, colours and flipper shapes of ancient penguins.”

Despite several differences between the fossil, affectionately named “Pedro”, and its modern descendents the shapes of the flippers and feathers have helped to identify the passage of the common penguin from being bird with flight to being able to travel in a medium 800 times more dense and 70 times more viscous than air.

However, this isnt the only time that a ‘Giant penguin’ discovery has been reported. In 1948 several people reported observing a 15ft penguin first on Clearwater Beach, Florida then further affleild. Sightings reported included  zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson who theorised that it had been somehow driven away from its natural habitat. It was later revealed that ‘Giant Penguin Hoax’ was a prank with the original sightings faked and the following sightings either observer error or more faked reports. For more faked penguin discoveries this video by the BBC is well worth a watch.

Fish Go Mad for Ginger Gene

This was originally published in ‘The Nerve’ the Southampton Biological Society Paper:

The different pigmentation of Medaka: (a,g) HN1 – Wild Type (b,h) b98 – orange (c,i) ci – grey

There may be plenty of fish in the sea but the medaka knows what it likes. A single gene mutation that causes the Japanese Killifish to be born a drab grey colour has proved to be a turn-off to members of the opposite sex.

Found commonly in Southeast Asia, the medaka exists in a wide range of colours; from brown, to more uncommon orange and grey variations. The grey medaka were often observed to be rejected in favour of their brown or orange rivals. “This is the first demonstration of a single gene that can change both secondary sexual characteristics and mating preferences” said Shoji Fukamachi, who led a team of researchers from the University of Konstanz, Germany and the University of Tokyo.

The greys, however, need not be completely despondent at these findings, as the study also showed that they were preferentially selective for each other. The attraction seen in the different coloured fish for their colour counterparts, suggests a potential window for sympatric speciation.

The orange colour observed in medaka is due xanthophores, a type of pigmented structure. The grey fish have a mutation in the xanthophore gene resulting in under-expression.

By over-expressing this same gene ‘super attractive’ bright orange medaka were created . These fish induced hyperactivity in members of the opposite sex resulting in the other potential mates being ignored almost completely.

The new study published in the open access journal BMC Biology concludes, “This discovery should further facilitate molecular dissection/manipulation of visual-based mate choice”.

Dual control by a single gene of secondary sexual characters and mating preferences in medaka

Shoji Fukamachi et al; BMC Biology 2009, 7:64;

September  29th