Category Archive: Animals

The end of us

Skulls

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From the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex to the itty-bitty Tobias’ caddisfly, 98% of all species to have ever existed on Earth are now extinct. Whilst it seems unthinkable that humanity is no different to our doomed predecessors, our days are probably numbered too. Unless we can master interstellar travel, the sun’s evolution into a planet-engulfing red giant will ultimately spell the end of humanity. Fortunately it’s a few billion years before we have to worry about that. Unfortunately, there are several other theoretical scenarios that could result in Homo sapiens’ demise well before the sun boils our planet alive. Firstly, and this isn’t so bad, we may just evolve into something else. You might well think that, with all of our medicine and technology, there is no longer any driving force (selection pressure) for the process, but scientists are still recording subtle changes in human biology such as the lengthening of the reproductive period. There are also arguments that advanced civilisation …

Everything you wanted to know about peacock spiders, but were too afraid to ask

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There are famously unexplored parts of the world that promise to harbour as yet undiscovered species for the determined naturalist, but you wouldn’t expect the suburbs of Sydney to be one of them. The species to be discovered aren’t everyone’s cup of tea; they’re Australia’s colourful little jumping spiders. One man isn’t afraid of these little cuties, and we hope you won’t be either by the end of this article. Dr Jürgen Otto has photographed all the wildlife around Sydney, where he works as a government scientist, and was at a loss for what to do next until he stumbled across the tiny Maratus volans in the bush around the city in 2005. Since then he has discovered several new species and found out a lot more about the genus whose members are commonly described as peacock spiders. Dr Otto believes he is the first to capture the peacock spider’s incredible courtship behaviour on film. He has shared these videos …

Weirdest Animals of the Ocean Depths

wizard-of-amphioxus (1)

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Many creatures of the deep are not well known, and we feel that all of them deserve a bit more publicity (even if some of them have faces more suitable for radio than the internet). So, we present our top favourite weird sea creatures that you may not have heard of before.  7. Amphioxus Considering we filmed a video about Scottish wildlife, it’s only fair that the first animal on this list can be found in Scottish waters. Although, it looks like a fish, it is actually a distant relative. Amphioxus doesn’t have a backbone. I don’t mean it’s a cowardly animal, rather, it’s spinal chord is surrounded by  a rod of cells called a notochord. Scientists believe that this arrangement was also found in our earliest vertebrate ancestors. Again, no disrepect to the Amphioxus  but they are very simple creatures. They have no respiratory organs like gills (instead they breathe through their skin). They have no heart and no blood …

Video: Woodland Wildlife

Toad

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Unpopular Science’s Jack Croxall and his chocolate Labrador Archie take a stroll around a springtime forest in search of woodland critters. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeuc4bOCIzI FYI The common toad can live for an astounding 40 years. For information on how you can help protect Britain’s amphibians, check out the Frog Life website. Check out Jack Croxall’s YouTube channel here or website here. Have you found any fascinating wildlife this spring? Let us know in the comments section below.

Victory Is Bitter Sweet

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They are often cited as the one creature likely to survive in the event of all out-nuclear war. But it seems that the lowly cockroach has now found a brand new way to survive. American scientists have discovered that a strain of European cockroach has managed to completely reorganize its sense of ‘taste’. Instead of being attracted to the ‘sweet’ glucose used in traps around the continent, these intrepid little bugs perceive the bait as bitter. The phenomenon was first noted over two decades ago, when pest controllers reported a failure to eradicate the roaches because the insects were stubbornly refusing to eat the bait. Subsequent scientific studies have confirmed these anecdotal observations. When offered a choice between sweet jam or the more savoury peanut butter, hungry cockroaches from the mutant strain showed a much greater aversion to the glucose rich jam, physically jumping back when contact was established. The neural mechanism behind the response was identified using tiny electrodes to …

Warblings about paternity: the divide between narrative and truth

warbler

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There are stories we like to tell ourselves about how birds live their lives. They’re models of loyalty and integrity when it comes to relationships, we like to imagine. They form pair-bonds for life, raise their offspring together, and remain faithful and monogamous, with any interlopers chased off efficiently by the vigilant male partner. Just like us then…right?  Well, maybe not. It turns out things might not be as simple as that, in either case. In a study published in PLOS One this May[i], researchers from the Konrad-Lorenz-Institute of Ethology in Vienna tried to put the stories to the test. They used a caged male reed warbler to simulate an intruder situation, watching how the male-female ‘couple’ reacted to its presence. Some of the results were expected: the male of the pair tried to chase the intruder away. However the males reacted with seemingly much more aggression when their female partner was present, especially if she tried to approach or …

Shark Teeth Weapons

Helmet from the Gilbert Islands made of porcupine fish skin. PRM 1884.32.31  Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

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Natural History Museum collections have been used for a novel study: the past biodiversity of a remote collection of Pacific coral islands. Joshua Drew from Columbia University and colleagues have just published a paper (see below) reporting on their identification of shark teeth used in weapons made by Kiribati people from the Gilbert Islands over a hundred years ago and now in the collection of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Having no metal, but a tradition of hunting the plentiful sharks, the I-Kiribati people used shark teeth to edge coconut wood weapons, both swords and fierce-looking tridents. While the team found plenty of teeth from species of sharks that still roam the local coral reefs, like tiger sharks, two species were represented that no longer exist around the Gilbert Islands, dusky and spottail sharks. The team were excited that museum collections could be used to shed light on past ecosystems, and to highlight changes in those ecosystems over time. …

All you ever wanted to know about Harvestman, but were too afraid to ask

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Harvestman, Daddy Longlegs, Shepherd Spider, Grandfather Greybeard: all colloquial names for members of the Opiliones order. Yes, they have eight legs, but they’re not actually spiders. In fact, according to Chris Buddle, professor of arthropod ecology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, “Comparing a spider to a harvestmen is like comparing a blue whale to a chimpanzee.”   But how do you tell the difference between a harvestman and a spider? Well, harvestmen don’t have a waist or separate abdomen. Cellar spiders are often mistaken for harvestmen because of their long spindly legs, but they have a definite waist and also make silk. And don’t get confused about Daddy Longlegs either. Chris was surprised to learn that in the UK what we call the Daddy Longlegs is actually a crane fly. If you want to know more about these unfamiliar creatures, you can buy the book by Ricardo Pinto-da-Rocha, Glauco Machado and Gonzalo Giribet called Harvestmen: The Biology of Opiliones.  …

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