Research News 2008


11 15 08 Zebra Finch Song Indicates Intelligence

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Neeltje Boogert, of McGill University who studies zebra finche song complexity. She measured the complexity of male zebra finch songs and then tested each male’s foraging skills when confronted with a novel foraging task. Males with the most complex song—learned, with variations, from their fathers—were also best at foraging.
Q&Q: Zebra Finch IQ (includes links)

11 11 08 Paper Wasps Remember Individuals

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Elizabeth Tibbetts, an Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Michigan. In her most recent study, Dr. Tibbetts wanted to know if, in addition to recognizing one another (ACP: Facial Quality Signal in a Wasp), wasps could form long-term memories of one another. And, it turns out, they can. In fact, the wasps Dr. Tibbetts studied were able to recognize 15 other wasps for at least a week.
Q&Q: Wasp Faces - Friend or Foe
The Quirks article includes links to the research paper, Tibbetts' site and a University of Michigan press release.

11 03 08 Eland Antelope Knee-tendon Clicks
Reporting in the journal BMC Biology, researchers detail how eland antelope males communicate health and size by making clicking sounds with their knees. The sound appears to occur as a tendon in the animals' legs slips over one of the leg bones, and can be heard from hundreds of metres away. A BBC Online article icludes a sound clip.
Jakob Bro-Jørgensen and Torben Dabelsteen. Knee-clicks and visual traits indicate fighting ability in eland antelopes: multiple messages and back-up signals. BMC Biology, (in press as of 11 04 08)

09 06 08 Rufous-and-white Wren Duets

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Dan Mennill, of the University of Windsor, on duetting birds. Mennill uses a microphone array to track the birds by song alone. Doing so, he discovered that the wrens' warblings allow them to keep track of one another in the dense undergrowth, and also act as a warning to couples competing for territory.
Q&Q The Rufous-and-white Wren
Rufous-and-white Wren Songs and Calls
ACP: In Whipbird Duets, Female Song Varies

09 04 08 Tailored Defense Warnings in Tiger Moths
Moth species that emerge in the spring, when birds are the biggest threat, tend to use visual signals such as bright colouration to warn of their unpalatability to predators. In contrast, species that emerge in the summer rely more on ultrasonic clicks, which act as a warding-off message to echolocating bats, which pose the main threat during these later months.

08 25 08 Silent running avoids jamming among bats

Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) frequently cease echolocation whle flying with other Big brown bats. Research suggests that the bat uses silence as a strategy to avoid interference from sonar vocalizations of neighbors.
PNAS full text article, with supporting material, including video

08 11 08 Ultra-quiet ultrasound courtship song

Asian corn borer moth males (Ostrinia furnacalis) produce extremely quiet ultrasonic songs to keep females from flying away. During courtship, the male rubs specialized scales on his wing against scales on the thorax to produce the songs. The low intensity of the songs may avoid eavesdropping by competitors and predators.
PNAS full text article, with supporting material, including video

07 21 08 Frog actively adjusts hearing

Researchers have discovered that the concave-eared torrent frog (Odorrana tormota), which lives near noisy springs in central China, can tune its ears to different sound frequencies. The frogs open and close their Eustachian tubes to modify the frequency of sound reaching their inner ears. It is the only known example of an animal that can actively select what frequencies it hears, the researchers say.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release, includes video.
ACP: Frogs Communicate with Ultrasound

07 17 08 Evolution of speech traced back to ancient species of fish

Cornell University professor Andrew Bass discusses sound communication in midshipman and toadfish.
Cornell University press conference, video and audio on iTunes Store
ACP: Fish and Sound

05 03 08 Young Zebra Finches Babble Before They Sing

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Michale Fee, a neuroscientist at MIT who studies zebra finches, which babble before they sing. Fee has discovered the brain centre responsible for zebra finch babbling. The Quirks page includes links to Fee’s web site, the Scinece article abstract and a news release from MIT.
Q&Q: Babbling Baby Birds
ACP: Male zebra finches respond to the audience

02 02 08 Panamanian Golden Frog Communicates with Hand Waves

The Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki) communicates over the sound of rushing streams by waving its forelimb. A BBC Online article icludes a video clip from David Attenborough’s series Life In Cold Blood.

01 30 08 Anna's Hummingbird Chirps with its Tail

The beeps, chirps and whistles made by some hummingbirds and thought to be vocal are actually created by the birds’ tail feathers, according to a study by two students at the University of California, Berkeley. The students used a high-speed camera to record the dive-bomber display of the Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna)
UC Berkeley Press Release includes images, audio and video.
BBC story, also with audio and video.
Q&Q: Anna’s Hummingbird’s Tail Chirp
ACP: Neotropical Bird “Sings” With Wings

01 26 08 Parasite Causes Ants to Mimic Berries

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Stephen Yanoviak, a tropical insect ecologist at the University of Arkansas. Yanoviak and colleagues discovered the cause of the swollen, red abdomens in certain ants: a nematode parasite. The Quirks page includes a link to a news release from UC Berkeley (with video) as well as other links.
Q&Q Ants Look Berry Nice

01 19 08 Weddell Seal Dialects

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Jack Terhune, a biologist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John. Terhune and colleagues recorded Weddell seals in Antarctica, finding that different populations have calls distinct enough to indentify them. The show includes recordings of seals.
Q&Q Seal Sounds

01 19 08 Eau de Rattlesnake Hide

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews UC Davis graduate student Barbara Clucas, who observed ground squirrels chewing shed rattlesnake skins, and then covering themselves in snake-scented saliva. Further research showed the scent helped protect the ground squirrels from rattlesnakes. It’s not clear that this behavior is signalling—dishonestly claiming, by way of odor, not to be a ground squirrel, but it’s interesting nonetheless. This research comes from the same UC Davis lab that showed squirrels heating their tails to deter rattlesnakes, a sort of infrared communication.
Q&Q Squirrels Eating Snake Skin
Infrared Communication by Squirrels

01 17 08 Mirror Neurons Involved in Vocal Learning in Birds

Researchers at Duke University identifed a certain class of neuron in the Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) forebrain that has similar responses when the bird sings a series of notes, and when it hears a similar sequence sung by another bird. They conclude that these neurons function similarly to so-called morror neurons in primates.