Zoology in the News

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

Flamingos apply “makeup” to improve their plumage colour and increase their attractiveness to potential mates. Researchers discovered that Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) rub uropygial (preen gland) secretions rich in carotenoids over their plumage and that this behaviour is increased during the breeding season. Their results are published in Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology. Read the news articles on the New Scientist, Telegraph and the BBC.

Whale shark. Credit: Jon Hanson
Whale shark. Credit: Jon Hanson

New research into the feeding biology of the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) suggests that they are particularly vulnerable to oil spills. Researchers investigated the filtering apparatus of these large filter feeders and published their results in Zoology. They found that these sharks may use a delicate cross-flow filtration system which reduces clogging and is similar to the systems used by industrial manufacturers. Read the news articles on the Washington Post or Underwater Times.

“Blind spots” in the vision of birds prevents them from seeing power lines. Scientists publishing in Biological Conservation looked at three species particularly prone to flying into power lines: kori bustards (Aerdeotis kori), blue cranes (Anthropoides paradisea) and white storks (Ciconia ciconia). They discovered that all these bird species fly forwards without being able to see in the direction of travel. See the news articles on the BBC , Phenomenica and Conservation Magazine.

The slave-making ant, Protomognathus americanus, preferentially attacks strong, well defended host colonies when looking for new slaves. Researchers publishing in Animal Behaviour, show that slavemaker ants prefer to attack larger, well defended colonies, a result which initially surprised researchers. However, by raiding the larger colonies, the ants can steal more host pupae; thereby reducing the number of raids they need to make and so reducing the overall risk. Read the news article on the BBC and the New Yorker blog.

Whales can suffer from sunburn too! Researchers studied over 150 whales in the Gulf of California and found that whales suffered from lesions commonly associated with severe sun damage. Paler whales, with less melanocytes, were more affected than darker whales suggesting that darker pigmentation is advantageous and that whales and humans may have a similar cellular response to UV damage. Their findings, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that whales and other wildlife may be at risk from increased UV radiation due to ozone depletion. Read the news articles on Discovery News, e! Science News, Daily Mail and the BBC

by Anne Braae

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