Stuffed Animals Help Scientists Learn How Sea Lion Moms Recognize Their Babies

By Elizabeth Preston | November 10, 2017 11:45 am

sea lion models

Tending to a nursing newborn is hard enough, but sea lion moms have an extra challenge. To consume enough calories for themselves and their pups, they have to repeatedly leave their babies behind and swim out to sea to hunt. Each time the mothers return, they have to find their pups again. Australian sea lion moms use a pup’s smell and the sound of its calls to recognize it. They also use sight—which scientists learned by creating fake, stuffed sea lion pups, and leaving them for mothers to either accept or attack.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: parenting, smell, sound, top posts, vision
MORE ABOUT: Animals, Senses

Boo! Lost Salamander Reappears, Dressed for Halloween

By Elizabeth Preston | October 31, 2017 10:59 am


Earlier this month, a guard patrolling a Guatemalan wildlife reserve photographed a young salamander. Its glossy orange-and-black skin made it look like a Halloween decoration. But the salamander’s appearance wasn’t just seasonally appropriate—it was the first time anyone had laid eyes on the species in 42 years. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ecology

Beluga Living with Dolphins Swaps Her Calls for Theirs

By Elizabeth Preston | October 20, 2017 12:43 pm


In November 2013, a four-year-old captive beluga whale moved to a new home. She had been living in a facility with other belugas. But in her new pool, the Koktebel dolphinarium in Crimea, her only companions were dolphins. The whale adapted quickly: she started imitating the unique whistles of the dolphins, and stopped making a signature beluga call altogether.

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MORE ABOUT: Animals, Intelligence, Ocean

Worms Eat Impenetrable Sea Urchins by Crawling into Their Mouths

By Elizabeth Preston | October 12, 2017 1:08 pm

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Sea urchins living in the Mediterranean have a new enemy: the bearded fireworm. This toothless but determined predator has found a way to devour sea urchins, despite their spines and stony shells. And the worms’ appetite for urchins might remake entire ocean ecosystems.

The bearded fireworm, Hermodice carunculata, grows up to a foot long and is fuzzy, not in the cute way but in the “DO NOT TOUCH” way. The white tufts that run along the worm’s body are clusters of stinging bristles. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Animals, Ecology, Ocean

Moth Makes Different Chemical Weapons for Different Predators

By Elizabeth Preston | September 29, 2017 12:56 pm


You should never bring a knife to gunfight, or try to beat a bird with ant repellant. That’s how the expression would go if a wood tiger moth coined it, anyway. Other animals are lucky if they have the resources to make just one poison. But this moth is the first species known to make two different chemical weapons that target different predators.

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

Panda Gut Microbes Change with the Seasons

By Elizabeth Preston | September 22, 2017 2:33 pm


A change in seasons can mean it’s time to take the sweaters out of the back of your closet, plant your garden, or—if you’re a panda—remake your gut microbiome. Scientists have found that pandas, rather than a summer and winter wardrobe, have different sets of gut bacteria for different seasons. The rotating roster of bugs helps pandas make the most of their drab diet of bamboo, bamboo and more bamboo.

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Scientists Find 21 New Bird Species by Asking the Birds

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


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


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


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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@Inkfish on Twitter


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