Zoology in the News

This post highlights zoology-related articles which have been featured in the news in the last two weeks.

Orangutans gesture and play-act to communicate. Research published in Biology Letters shows that captive great apes may use actions to expand on their messages, particularly when other means of communication fail. After over 20 years of research in Indonesian Borneo, Dr Anne Russon and colleagues have identified 18 different orangutan miming actions, 14 directed to humans and 4 to apes. This research supports the theory that human language first used actions and later added sounds. Read the news articles in the BBC and the Guardian.

Pond skater. Credit: Charles Lam
Pond skater. Credit: Charles Lam

Male pond skaters (Gerris gracilicornis) attract predators to scare females into mating. This unusual mating system is reported in Nature Communications and is thought to have evolved as a counteradaptation to the females’ genitalia shield.  Read the news article on the BBC.

Scientists have found the first fossil evidence of behavioural manipulation by a parasite. The diverse Ophiocordyceps fungi cause insects, such as ants, to die attached to leaf veins leaving a distinctive bite mark which is even visible in fossil foliage. The report, published in Biology Letters, describes a 48 million year old fossil leaf with 29 distinctive bite scars. Read the news articles on ScienceNow and on Nature News.

Research published in Quaternary Science Reviews suggests that climate change rather than human interference may be responsible for the extinction of the woolly mammoth and other large herbivores. After the last ice age, about 21 000 years ago, warmer temperatures resulted in a rapid loss of grassland and is thought to be the reason for the subsequent loss of large mammals such as the woolly mammoth, woolly rhino and cave lion. Read the news articles on the Daily Mail, Telegraph, BBC and Natural History Museum website.

Scientists from the Garden Bird Health initiative have found that outbreaks of trichomonosis have continued to affect finches each year since the emergence of the disease in 2005. In the areas with the highest disease incidence, greenfinch populations have decreased by 35% and chaffinch populations by 21%. The results of the epidemic, caused by the Trichomonas gallinae parasite, are published in PloS ONE. Read the news articles in the Telegraph, Independent, Daily Mail, BBC and the Metro.

by Anne Braae

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