Nov 092012
 

By Ed Yong (Discover) In Australia, a pair of superb fairy-wrens return to their nest with food for their newborn chick. As they arrive, the chick makes its begging call. It’s hard to see in the darkness of the domed nest, but the parents know that something isn’t right. Whatever’s in their nest, it’s not their chick. It doesn’t  know the secret password. They abandon it, flying off to start a new nest and a new family somewhere else.

The bird in their nest was a Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo. These birds are “brood parasites” – they lay their eggs in those of other birds, passing on their parenting duties to some unwitting surrogates. The bronze-cuckoo egg looks very much like a fairy-wren egg, although it tends to hatch earlier. The cuckoo chick then ejects its foster siblings from the nest, so it can monopolise its foster parents’ attention.

But fairy-wrens have a way of telling their chicks apart from cuckoos. Diane Colombelli-Negrel from Flinders University in Australia has shown that mothers sing a special tune to their eggs before they’ve hatched. This “incubation call” contains a special note that acts like a familial password. The embryonic chicks learn it, and when they hatch, they incorporate it into their begging calls. Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoos lay their eggs too late in the breeding cycle for their chicks to pick up the same notes. They can’t learn the password in time, and their identities can be rumbled.

via Fairy wrens teach secret passwords to their unborn chicks to tell them apart from cuckoo impostors | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine.

 November 9, 2012  Posted by at 9:28 am Comments Off
Nov 072012
 

By John Timmer (Ars Technica) Tool use was once thought to be one of the defining features of humans, but examples of tool use were eventually observed in primates and other mammals. But the biggest surprise came when birds were observing tools in the wild. After all, birds are the only surviving dinosaurs, and mammals and dinosaurs hadn’t shared a common ancestor for hundreds of millions of years. In the wild, tool use has been limited to the corvids (crows and jays), which show a variety of other complex behaviors—they’ll remember your face and recognize the passing of their dead.

Parrots, in contrast, have mostly been noted for their linguistic skills, and there has only been very limited evidence that they use anything resembling a tool in the wild (primarily, they seem to use external objects to position nuts while feeding). But a captive cockatoo has now been observed using multiple steps to process a tool, behavior that appears to be completely spontaneous. And it has never been seen in this species in the wild.

via Parrot in captivity manufactures tools, something not seen in the wild | Ars Technica.

 November 7, 2012  Posted by at 8:38 am Comments Off
Oct 302012
 

By Wen Wu, Antonio M. Moreno,  Jason M. Tangen and Judith Reinhard (Journal of Comparative Physiology)  Honeybees (Apis mellifera) have remarkable visual learning and discrimination abilities that extend beyond learning simple colours, shapes or patterns. They can discriminate landscape scenes, types of flowers, and even human faces. This suggests that in spite of their small brain, honeybees have a highly developed capacity for processing complex visual information, comparable in many respects to vertebrates.

Here, we investigated whether this capacity extends to complex images that humans distinguish on the basis of artistic style: Impressionist paintings by Monet and Cubist paintings by Picasso. We show that honeybees learned to simultaneously discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings, and that they do not rely on luminance, colour, or spatial frequency information for discrimination. When presented with novel paintings of the same style, the bees even demonstrated some ability to generalize.

This suggests that honeybees are able to discriminate Monet paintings from Picasso ones by extracting and learning the characteristic visual information inherent in each painting style. Our study further suggests that discrimination of artistic styles is not a higher cognitive function that is unique to humans, but simply due to the capacity of animals—from insects to humans—to extract and categorize the visual characteristics of complex images.

The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00359-012-0767-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

via Honeybees can discriminate between Monet and Picasso paintings.

 October 30, 2012  Posted by at 7:05 am Comments Off
Jun 182012
 

By Trip Gabriel (NY Times) As millions tune in to the Olympics in prime time this summer, just before Mr. Romney will be reintroducing himself to the nation at the Republican convention, viewers are likely to see “up close and personal” segments on NBC about the Romneys and dressage, a sport of six-figure horses and $1,000 saddles. The Romneys declared a loss of $77,000 on their 2010 tax returns for the share in the care and feeding of Rafalca, which Mrs. Romney owns with Mr. Ebeling’s wife, Amy, and a family friend, Beth Meyers.

via Romney Horse Wins Spot on Olympic Dressage Team – NYTimes.com.

 June 18, 2012  Posted by at 5:49 am Comments Off
Mar 102012
 

By David Edwards (RawStory) Republican Georgia state Rep. Terry England says that his experience with cows, pigs and chickens has proven to him that women should be forced to have their babies after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

In a debate over Georgia House Bill 954, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks even if the baby is not expected to live, England recalled the time he had spent with livestock.

“Life gives us many experiences,” he explained. “I’ve had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive — delivering pigs, dead and alive. … It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it.”

House Bill 954 easily passed last week by a vote of 102-65.

Opponents have said that the so-called “fetal pain” bill would force women to carry stillborn fetuses or to have a Cesarean delivery. Doctors could also face 10 years in prison if they are involved in illegal abortions.

via Georgia lawmaker compares women to cows and pigs | The Raw Story.

 March 10, 2012  Posted by at 7:02 am Comments Off