Having a bee brain might not be so bad after all, since new research shows that bees are faster than supercomputers when it came to solving one of those dreadful “word problems” from (probably very advanced) high school math class.
“There is a common perception that smaller brains constrain animals to be simple reflex machines. But our work with bees shows advanced cognitive capacities with very limited neuron numbers.”
The problem is called the traveling salesman problem, and the bees’ lives actually depend on solving it every day. The traveling salesman needs to visit a number of cities in the shortest amount of time, without repeating a visit. The traveling bumblebee needs to visit a number of flowers everyday, while expending as little energy as possible. Queen Mary University of London researcher Lars Chittka explained in the press release why studying bees’ habits is important:
Two researchers have found that, as these male fish prepare to breed, they ignore the group and go off alone to explore their environment in the hunt for food. At the same time, egg-bearing female fish do the opposite, sticking more closely to the pack and copying others’ behaviors to find food.
The researchers from the University of St. Andrews published these findings today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B. They suspect that staying with the group helps save the females from predators and conserve their energy, while venturing out alone might help males find other food sources more efficiently. Coauthor Kevin Laland explains:
“While copying others is less risky, it can also be less accurate, compared to collecting firsthand information. The hormonal changes that cause a male to enter his reproductive phase may also be responsible for this transition to more antisocial behaviour.”
Mike Webster of the University of St. Andrews, who coauthored the study with Laland, invoked the clichéd male driver refusing to ask for directions–but with a twist.
“We are all familiar with the stereotype of males refusing to ask for directions–this might apply to fish too, but only when they are preparing to breed.”
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Image: Press Office, University of St Andrews
Some damselfish have sensitive stomachs, but they certainly aren’t in distress. They can hold their own, researchers have recently determined, by diligently farming their preferred algae crops.
We’re not that special.
At least, not for the reasons we thought we were. Our knack for acting altruistically, for communicating, for putting a complicated brain to good use: We’ve claimed all these as our own, as the things that set humans apart from every other species.
But recently, science has shown that we have a lot more in common with other animals, from bonobos to bees, than you might expect. On Saturday, five researchers helped set the public record straight by busting up a few humanocentric myths during “All Creatures Great and Smart,” a panel event at the World Science Festival in New York.
Myth #1: Humans are the only altruistic animals.
From proffering a shovel in the sandbox to writing a check to our favorite charity, humans commit altruistic acts whenever they do something for someone else without any concrete benefit for themselves. But you can cross sharing off the “uniquely human” list; in a simple experiment, anthropologist Brian Hare demonstrated that bonobos do it, too.
Alone in a room with some delectable snacks, each bonobo in the study had two choices: Enjoy the snacks on his own, or open a door to let another bonobo in an adjoining room come share the feast. Hare found that, time and again, bonobos in this situation chose to voluntarily share.
“It could be that they feel bad for the other guy, or maybe they’re just being politicians,” sharing now with the expectation they’ll be shared with later, Hare said. “Or maybe they just want to go on a blind date.” The fact that altruism might come with an agenda doesn’t make the bonobos’ actions any less remarkable, Hare added. These same motivations prompt a lot of the sharing we do, too.
Chalk up another mark of chimpanzee intelligence–they not only use tools for gathering food, but also to improve their sex lives.
The chimps don’t have to duck into a sex shop to gather their erotic implements—the tools they use literally grow on trees. Researchers have documented chimps in a Tanzanian colony using brittle leaves in their mating rituals.
In a botanical bit of foreplay, the male chimps grab dry leaves and break them apart with their hands or mouths, creating a distinctive raspy sound that signals their sexual readiness. Think of it as the chimp equivalent of putting “Let’s Get It On” on the stereo.
As researcher William McGrew explains (slightly graphically) to The New York Times:
We’ve all seen this scene being played out in the local park: When a guy walks a cute dog, people don’t hesitate to approach him to strike up a conversation about schnauzer breeds. Or there’s the guy-with-a-baby scenario, in which the baby-hauling dad is perceived as friendly and non-threatening (not to mention irresistible to some women).
Now, new research from France suggests that male Barbary macaques may be onto the same “baby effect” strategy. The study found that male macaques with an infant were more likely to make male monkey buddies, as the presence of a tiny, defenseless baby immediately breaks down barriers.
The study, which is due to be published in the journal Animal Behavior, is also the first to demonstrate that infants can serve as social tools for some primates, writes Discovery News.
Many cat owners worry/wonder about what their buddies are up to while the humans are away at work. Are they eating the houseplants? Sleeping on the kitchen counter? Prowling next door to bother the neighbors’ pet bird?
Now, researchers in Japan hope to bridge the gap between humans and their pets by rigging cats with sensing devices that help owners track their felines’ activities.
Cat@Log, one such sensing device, allows you to snoop on your cat as he goes about his daily schedule.
You can track his movements, map his territory, and even see what he sees thanks to a bulky device that can be strapped on your kitty’s collar. The tech site Recombu says that Cat@Log comes loaded with a camera, microphone, microSD card, an accelerometer, Bluetooth, and GPS.
Saturday was a big day for the world’s worm charmers: The 30th annual World Worm Charming Championships took place in the U.K. Competitors aimed to draw as many earthworms out of the soil as possible using techniques from tap dancing to rock music, and a 10-year-old girl emerged victorious after raising a record 567 of the wigglers in half an hour.
Research shows that creating vibrations draws worms from the soil to the surface by mimicking the sensation of a burrowing mole, which feeds on worms, according to an NPR interview with Mike Forster, the chief wormer and founder of the International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes . The Telegraph reports:
“The weather is a big factor,” says Mike Forster, a retired policeman. “When it’s warm, with a bit of moisture in the air like today you’d expect a good score, but there are still a lot of things we don’t understand.” Including, precisely, how the art of charming works. For many years it was presumed that the vibrations created by noise, fooled the worms into thinking it was raining. Apparently uncomfortable in wet soil they instinctively head for the surface.
But, recently, this theory has come under scientific challenge. Last year, in a breakthrough piece of research, Professor Kenneth Catania, an American neuroscientist, specialising in sonic phenomena, argued that the vibrations created by the best charmers, uncannily replicated those produced by moles. Moles are a worm’s worst nightmare, with the shovel-footed beasts able to eat their weight in worm every day.
Worm charming is not for the faint of heart; sometimes it requires tap dancing on a plank to the Star Wars theme song, and apparently new techniques continue to emerge.
The forests of Africa can be a rough place to keep a family together. How do female gorillas keep everyone in line? They clap their hands!
A new study shows that adult female lowland gorillas clap their hands to attract the attention of adult silverbacks and infants. The researchers saw one infant stop playing upon hearing its mother’s clap, while the other adults stopped foraging. Four other mothers were observed clapping their hands twice in rapid succession when infants were present.
Mormon crickets have no taste in music, and Nevadans are using it against them. Residents of Tuscarora are getting ready to blast their boomboxes to ward off the crickets’ semi-annual invasion, after the townsfolk realized three years ago that the pests don’t like Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones.
Mormon crickets are a real problem in northern Nevada and other parts of the Great Basin: They march in columns up to two miles long and one mile wide from about May through August. They hatch in April and invade all aspects of life before they finally lay eggs and die. They destroy crops, invade people’s homes (one resident said, “You’ll wake up and there’ll be one sitting on your forehead, looking at you”), and clog roadways—even requiring snowplows to clear out their piled-up carcasses.