For male Houbara bustards, extravagant sexual displays come with a price: rapid sexual aging. By studying over 1,700 North African Houbara bustards, researchers in France have learned that the birds, by age six, already begin producing smaller ejaculates with a large number of dead and abnormal sperm. The more showy the bustard, the quicker he burns himself out. As lead researcher Brian Preston said in a prepared statement:
This is the bird equivalent of the posers who strut their stuff in bars and nightclubs every weekend. If the bustard is anything to go by, these same guys will be reaching for their toupees sooner than they’d like.
[Read more about these peculiar birds and see a video of one of their seductive dances at the BBC.]
Image courtesy of Frank. Vassen / Flickr
Up-close views of Typton carneus‘s shear-like tools.
In Hansel and Gretel, two ravenous children stumble upon a house made entirely of sugary goodness, and begin to chow down with abandon. But the kids’ journey quickly turns sour, as the owner of the house, a wicked witch, tries to cook them for dinner.
While the story seems to be a cautionary tale, it turns out that finding and living in an edible house can actually be pretty sweet—at least in the animal kingdom. Researchers in Prague have now learned that some tiny shrimp in the Belize Barrier Reef dine on fire sponges, their homes, by first tearing off pieces of tissue with claws not unlike those of Edward Scissorhands.
While there are many different specific personality types, people are often categorized as either introverted or extroverted. Some like to keep to just a few close friends, rarely leaving their small comfort zones, while others are more outgoing, collecting friends wherever they go; most of us fall somewhere the middle. But we’re not the only mammals with this type of social diversity. Researchers in Sri Lanka have now found that many female Asian elephants—previously believed to be kind of antisocial—are social butterflies, changing their circle of friends as the seasons pass. Moreover, they maintain close ties with pals even after extended periods of separation.
Some people like to say that men are always ready (and eager) for sex. Whether or not that’s true for humans, Stanford University researchers have recently learned that it is the case for certain male fish. Downtrodden male African cichlids, whose reproductive systems are so suppressed that biologists thought the fish couldn’t produce sperm, can successfully spawn within hours of rising to power, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Like many other animal species, a single leader—the biggest, baddest male—runs each group of African cichlids. This alpha male, which often sports vibrant blue scales, monopolizes the females and beats down other, weaker males in the community. (High school, anyone?) Because of this sexual exclusion, subordinate males suffer a noticeable pallor, decreased levels of reproductive hormones, and severely shrunken testes. Essentially, the fish trade sperm production for growth spurts, in hopes of someday overtaking the alpha male. Why waste energy making sperm if you can’t use it, right?
Spotted hyenas are sometimes portrayed as cowardly scavengers, always laughing, always up to some kind of mischief. If you’ve ever seen Disney’s The Lion King, then you may already have that image in your head. Here in the non-Disney universe, spotted hyenas are actually fascinating creatures. For example, they hang out in matriarchal “clans,” and the females, with their aggressive behavior and pseudo-penises (large clitorises), are very difficult to tell apart from the males. But it turns out that spotted hyenas may be even stranger than we initially thought: they may use bacteria to help communicate with one another, suggests Michigan State University zoologist Kay E. Holekamp in a recent, amusing New York Times blog post.
Sometimes sex just isn’t worth your life.
For male black widow spiders, standing at just a quarter of the size of their mates, sex involves a very real danger: females of the species have no qualms about turning cannibalistic if they’re hungry after getting down and dirty. But it seems that it’s more than just a game of chance for horny male spiders. Researchers at Arizona State University have now learned that simply walking on the webs of female spiders can provide males with chemical cues telling them if their potential mates are ravenous enough to eat them.
Stegoceras “Steel Skull” validum
It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves, watching nature “red in tooth and claw”: Which animal, in all evolution’s bounty, would win in a head-butting fight?
We don’t have to wonder anymore. In a new study, researchers have rounded up the likely contenders for head-butting champ, living or dead, ranging from long-extinct domeheaded dinosaurs to modern-day musk oxen. Since some animals had an obvious advantage, what with being currently alive, the scientists settled for a virtual throwdown. They used CT scans to suss out the precise shape and size of each creature’s noggin, then relied on computer models to see how they’d hold up when the animals went head to head.
Don’t worry, this is for science.
It’s not easy being a parent. There are the constant feedings, the sleepless nights—and of course, the time-consuming task of shimmying into that unwieldy animal suit.
When the offspring of endangered species are orphaned or abandoned, scientists and vets fill the pawprints of the missing parents. But animals raised by humans can develop all sorts of issues; they’re not prepared to fend for themselves in the wild, they don’t play well with others, and they have an unhealthy interest in humans, cozying up to hikers and hunters.
You might not be able to pick them out, but in the hectic noisiness of a movie’s battle scene there are a few primordial sounds of distressed animals. These types of sounds are used by audio engineers, knowingly or not, to elicit emotional reactions from viewers, researchers have found.
The research, published in Biology Letters, studied the films for the presence of “nonlinear” sounds, which are frequently found in the animal kingdom as cries for help or warning signals. Our ears are tuned to pick out these types of sounds and our brains are primed to respond to them, which made Daniel Blumstein wonder if they were also being used to evoke emotion. Wired’s Brandon Keim explains:
The harshness and unpredictability of these sounds is thought to be a vocal adaptation fine-tuned for quickly capturing a listener’s attention. And if that’s true, then “we might expect them to be also used by film score composers and audio engineers to manipulate the emotions of those watching a film,” hypothesized University of California, Los Angeles biologist Daniel Blumstein and his Biology Letters co-authors.
In some monkey species, monkey moms use snuggle time with their babies as a commodity. Mothers will “sell” time with their children to other females in their colony for the price of several minutes of grooming. As Science News puts it, they have a “do my hair before you touch my baby” rule.
The research team who made this discovery, which was described in the journal Animal Behaviour, studied vervet monkeys and sooty mangabeys in the Ivory Coast’s Tai National Park. Newborn infants draw crowds of female monkeys who want to touch, hold, and make lip-smacking noises at the babies. Touching of the baby can be had for a price of a few minutes spent grooming its mother, though it’s not really known why female monkeys are so drawn to the young of others.