It’s a classic David and Goliath story, except there are 90,000 Davids and they all have stings. On the African plains, the whistling-thorn acacia tree protects itself against the mightiest of savannah animals – elephants – by recruiting some of the tiniest – ants.
Elephants are strong enough to bulldoze entire trees and you might think that there can be no defence against such brute strength. But an elephant’s large size and tough hide afford little protection from a mass attack by tiny ants. These defenders can bite and sting the thinnest layers of skin, the eyes, and even the inside of the sensitive trunk. Jacob Goheen and Todd Palmer from Kenya’s Mpala Research Centre have found that ants are such a potent deterrent that their presence on a tree is enough to put off an elephant.
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Image: flickr / ebrelsford
Just when it seemed that there were no more mysteries left in the wild parts of the planet, scientists have turned up a new species of bird–an odd-looking creature that has been named the Barefaced Bulbul because of its mostly bald head. The never-before seen songbird was spotted in a remote forest in Laos, and the find provides a cheerful contrast to the steady drumbeat of endangered species news. Despite the ever-spreading imprint of humanity on this small planet, scientists keep discovering new species, even among relatively conspicuous classes of vertebrates like mammals and birds [The New York Times, blog].
The new bulbul is about the size of a thrush, and sports olive green feathers on most of its body. But it has a bald, pink face with just one line of feathers that ornaments its head like a mohawk. Hardly a shy and retiring bird, the bald-headed bulbul foraged and noisily moved about the researchers during the day, making them wonder how this eye-catching bird went undiscovered for so long. “Certainly one reason is that the bird appears to be truly restricted to some very harsh and inaccessible terrain in Indochina” [Discovery News], said Peter Clyne of the Widlife Conservation Society.