Scientists Find 21 New Bird Species by Asking the Birds

By Elizabeth Preston | September 15, 2017 1:59 pm

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Same-or-different is the concept behind the most basic toddler games. We encourage kids to put the square block in the square hole, find two cards that match, place the cow in the cow-shaped puzzle slot. But in nature, the cow-shaped slots are harder to see. Deciding whether two animals are the same or different species frequently causes debates among scientists. In Central and South America, researchers tried to find the differences between many pairs of closely related birds by simply asking the birds. The results suggested they’d found 21 new species. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: birds, evolution, language, singing, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Evolution

Don’t Trust Animal Characters to Teach Your Kids Morals

By Elizabeth Preston | August 31, 2017 1:07 pm

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Yes, Frog and Toad Are Friends, but they aren’t moral authorities for your children. That’s the finding of a new, fun-spoiling study on little kids and picture books. It found that kids learned a lesson about sharing from a book with human characters—but not from a book about a cute raccoon.

Many children’s books, of course, feature animals that act like people. And anthropomorphized animals have been imparting moral lessons since the time of Aesop. Nicole Larsen and her colleagues at the University of Toronto wanted to know whether these lessons actually stick. Would human characters, although less adorable, make better teachers? Read More

Even Monkeys See Faces in Things

By Elizabeth Preston | August 25, 2017 1:05 pm

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The impression that your cup of coffee is laughing at you, or that your laundry machine has googly eyes, is uncanny but common. It’s even the subject of a Twitter account called Faces in Things with more than half a million followers. The account has featured winking chairs, moping suitcases and a smug lemon loaf. But this illusion, called face pareidolia, isn’t uniquely human—monkeys can see it too.  Read More

Chimps Understand Rock-Paper-Scissors as Well as Preschoolers

By Elizabeth Preston | August 11, 2017 1:32 pm

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Rock smashes scissors. Scissors cut paper. Paper covers rock. The rules behind the favorite game of schoolyard kids and adults deciding who takes out the trash are pretty simple. But they also represent a kind of logic problem. Four-year-olds can learn the rules, and so can chimpanzees—but the differences in how kids and apes become proficient reveal a little about how their minds work.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: apes, brains, education, top posts

Centuries Ago, New Zealand’s Giant Black Swans Were Repealed and Replaced

By Elizabeth Preston | July 28, 2017 12:53 pm

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The all-black swans that glide across New Zealand’s wetlands today are only a lame replacement for the bulky beasts that lived there in the past, scientists have discovered.

When humans first arrived in New Zealand in the thirteenth century, they found it swimming in black swans. But quickly, it seems, they hunted the birds to extinction. By the time Europeans arrived in the late eighteenth century, the swans were gone. But black swans had lived in Australia all along, and these birds were eventually reintroduced to New Zealand—either intentionally, by humans, or by flying themselves over.

Researchers have assumed that the black swans of the past were the same species that lives there today. Their period of extinction was just a blip in their long-term residency of New Zealand, the story went. But analysis by Nicolas Rawlence of the University of Otago and his colleagues uncovered a different tale. Read More

There’s Nothing Squirrely about a Squirrel’s Memory for Puzzles

By Elizabeth Preston | July 24, 2017 9:39 pm

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While you’re writing down yet another password on the notepad hidden in your desk drawer, a squirrel is retrieving nuts it buried months earlier. It’s no secret these animals have good memories. But they don’t only remember where they stuck stuff: squirrels can remember how to solve a puzzle almost two years after they last saw it. And they can use that knowledge to tackle a problem they haven’t seen before. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: brains, top posts, Uncategorized

This Spider Really Commits to Its Ant Impression

By Elizabeth Preston | July 15, 2017 7:11 pm

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It’s a good thing field sobriety tests don’t exist for bugs, because the jumping spider Myrmarachne formicaria would fail for doing what keeps it alive: walking in a wobbly line. The spider fools predators by imitating an ant. The act is so thorough that it includes how the spider looks, stands and even moves. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: ants, bugs, evolution, top posts, walking
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ecology, Evolution

Dogs Notice When People (or Other Dogs) Sound Sad

By Elizabeth Preston | June 27, 2017 2:11 pm

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Your dog may act like a good listener—but does she really notice when you’re feeling down? Or does she just know how to deploy a wet nose and a tail-wag to earn treats? A new study says negative emotions are contagious for dogs. They’ll pick up a companion’s bad feelings just by sound, whether that companion is human or canine.

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Meerkats Can Thank Bacteria for Their Signature Butt Scents

By Elizabeth Preston | June 19, 2017 9:30 am

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When Disney’s animators were creating Timon, the energetic meerkat sidekick in The Lion King, the part where he turns his anal pouch inside-out and marks his territory must have been left on the cutting room floor. Not once does Timon smear scented butt paste on a branch. But real meerkats use their anal scent glands to communicate with each other. And each animal’s distinctive scent seems to come from its personal community of bacteria. Read More

Don’t Drain That Swamp! Accidental Wetlands Are Good for Cities

By Elizabeth Preston | June 8, 2017 2:32 pm

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 10.33.50 AMWhat’s so bad about wetlands? These mucky, sometimes mosquito-ridden landscapes have a bad reputation, but they offer benefits to their neighborhoods too. Researchers say “accidental” wetlands—pockets of cities that have turned into swamps through flooding and neglect—might be a valuable resource to both the environment and the humans around them. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Ecology
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Like the wily and many-armed cephalopod, Inkfish reaches into the far corners of science news and brings you back surprises (and the occasional sea creature). The ink is virtual but the research is real.
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