The tarsiers of the Philippines are the smallest primates on the planet, at about five inches tall. They tend to keep their hind legs, which are twice as long as their bodies, folded up frog-style, except when leaping on their insect prey. And a tarsier eyeball, at just over half an inch wide, is as large as a tarsier brain.
But the weirdness doesn’t stop there. No, it most certainly does not.
Scientists had previously remarked that tarsiers were unusually quiet. And they also seemed to yawn quite a lot. Aww, cute, right? Sweepy wittle pwimates! But then, some scientists studying tarsiers made a startling discovery. Zoe Corbyn at New Scientist sums it up well: “Placing 35 wild animals in front of an ultrasound detector revealed that what [the scientists] assumed to be yawns were high-pitched screams beyond the range of human hearing.”
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.
To avoid enemy crafts, naval submarines will often run silently, shutting down nonessential functions and cutting crew chatter. Now, an international team of researchers has found that Blainsville’s beaked whales also go into stealth mode to avoid being eaten by their mortal enemies, orcas.
While they normally click, buzz, and whistle to one another in the deep, the aquatic mammals stop all gab when they enter waters shallower than about 550 feet, presumably because killer whales typically hunt in shallow water. This is surprising considering that the beaked whales spend only 40 percent of their lives in the deeper waters—scientists expected that the animals would need frequent communication to maintain social ties.
Makes you wonder: How often do the whales leave the deep to get away from all the gossiping?
[Read more at BBC.]
All the single ladies, all the single ladies…
Whales catch earworms, too, show scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia in a new study. Each breeding season, males start out singing a new tune, which might incorporate bits of golden oldies or be entirely fresh. These new songs are then passed from whale to whale for 4,000 miles, usually starting from the western edge of the Pacific near Australia, a veritable humpback metropolis, to French Polynesia in the east, a comparative hinterland: a possible cetacean case of cultural trends starting in the big city and propagating to the country. Another hypothesis from the Hairpin:
What if Michael Jackson was reincarnated as a whale and is now living off the coast of eastern Australia?
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.
Remember how plants communicated with each other to exact revenge on humans in The Happening? Although the film didn’t exactly thrill critics, the science may have been more accurate than we think. New research indicates that plants that are genetically related can, in fact, distinguish which plants are in their “family,” just like people or animals. In fact, they can even warn relatives of impending danger.
Researchers at UCSD and Kyoto University cut off shoots from sagebrush plants, thereby creating a genetic copy of the parent plant, and re-planted the copies nearby. After damaging the copy the way a natural predator like a grasshopper would, the researchers waited a year, and found that the parent plants suffered 42 percent less herbivore damage than those that grew next to plants that weren’t genetically related. The researchers say this indicates that plants with family members nearby somehow knew to prepare themselves for an herbivore attack, thereby fending off threats more effectively.