Research News 2010


11 06 10 Birds Use Fake Alarm Calls

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Tom Flower, of the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge. Flower studies wild fork-tailed drongos (Dicrurus adsimilis), small birds that use faked alarm calls to distract meerkats (Suricata suricatta) and steal food from them. Drongos even mimic alarm calls of other species.
Q&Q: Drongo Mimics (includes links to paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and to Flower's web page.)

10 30 10 Moths Mimic Bats

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews John Ratcliffe, of the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. Ratcliffe studies the Toxic Dogbane Tiger Moth (Cycnia tenera), which alters its behavior in response to the presence of insectivorous bat. The moth produces defensive ultrasonic clicks that startle bats.
Q&Q: Moths Mimic Bats (includes link to paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B)

09 18 10 Orangutan Mimes?

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Anne Russon, of York University in Toronto, who studies orangutans being retrained for a life in the wild. She reports of several instances of orangutans apparently demonstrating actions intended to communicate to humans, or to other orangs.
Q&Q: Orangutan Mime (includes links to video at Science News and to research article)

06 05 10 Squirrel Squeaks Convey Family Relationships

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Jamie Gorrell, of the University of Alberta. In discussing five observations of adoption by red squirrel mothers (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), Gorrell explains that these asocial squirrels keep tabs on their neighbors by recognizing calls. Not only that, but they appear to recognize the calls of closely related individuals.
Q&Q: Squirrel Adoption (includes sound and link to research article)

05 29 10 Frogs Use Vibration to Communicate

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Michael Caldwell, of the Department of Biology at Boston University. Caldwell discovered that male red-eyed treefrogs (Agalychnis callidryas) vibrate their hind legs in an aggression display. Furthermore, Caldwell speculates that many other animals will turn out to use vibration as well. Some insects and spiders are known to use vibrational communication.
Q&Q: What's Shakin' Kermit? includes link to Caldwell’s site
ACP: Stoneflies

04 17 10 Caterpillars Drum and Scrape to Communicate

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews Jayne Yack, a neuroethologist in the Department of Biology at Carleton University in Ottawa, who studies the evolution of caterpillar communication.

Q&Q: Caterpillars Walk the Talk
Q&Q: Caterpillar Clicking (2007)
ACP: Caterpillars and Ants

04 17 10 Silent Crickets and Agressive Bahavior

On Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald interviews David Logue, a biologist at the University of Puerto Rico Logue and colleagues studied male crickets that couldn’t sing, either because of a mutation or because of wing “sugery.” Amog these crickets, agressive behaviors continued longer than among crickets that could sing. Apparently, the cricket song declares victory, ending a confrontation.
Q&Q: Silent means Deadly
ACP: Cricket Song

03 09 10 Interspecies Communication: Bird Alarm Calls Alarm Lizards

Henry Fountain, of the New York Times, briefly presents a study of communication between species—in this case, the Madagascan spiny-tailed iguana (Oplurus cuvieri cuvieri) on the receiving end and the Madagascar paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone mutata) sending.
The researchers found that iguanas not only hear and pay attention to flycatcher calls, but can distinguish between flycatcher alarm calls (which are nonspecific) and flycatcher songs. When the researchers played back flycatcher alarm calls, the lizards became more vigilant.
While the lizards and birds share predators—raptors and snakes—they neither compete for resources nor does one species prey upon the other.
“One Reason Lizards Have Ears: To Eavesdrop,” Nicholas Wade, The New York Times (may require registration)
“Vigilance against predators induced by eavesdropping on heterospecific alarm calls in a non-vocal lizard Oplurus cuvieri cuvieri (Reptilia: Iguania),” Ryo Ito, Akira Mori, The Proceedings of the Royal Society B. (abstract free)

02 18 10 Learning to Sing Changes the Brain

Learning to sing increases synaptic activity and promotes structural changes in the brain, a study of juvenile songbirds suggests. The paper, published in the February 18, 2010 Nature, helps establish a physical foundation for learning and memory and suggests a putative mechanism by which youngsters learn culturally transmitted behaviours from their peers.
“Rapid spine stabilization and synaptic enhancement at the onset of behavioural learning,”
Todd F. Roberts, Katherine A. Tschida, Marguerita E. Klein, Richard Mooney (Duke University), Nature
Related research previously reported in Neuron (includes video abstract)

01 12 10 Deciphering the Chatter of Monkeys and Chimps

Nicholas Wade reviews data about monkey and ape communication and presents a little new data:
Klaus Zuberbühler, a psychologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, reported last month that Campbell’s monkeys, which live in the forests of the Ivory Coast, can vary individual calls by adding suffixes, just as a speaker of English changes a verb’s present tense to past by adding an “-ed.”
Even more remarkably, the Campbell’s monkeys can combine two calls to generate a third with a different meaning. The males have a “Boom boom” call, which means “I’m here, come to me.” When booms are followed by a series of krak-oos, the meaning is quite different, Dr. Zuberbühler says. The sequence means"Timber! Falling tree!"
Marc D. Hauser, an expert on animal communication at Harvard, ... and Ansgar Endress reported last year that cotton-top tamarins can distinguish a word added in front of another word from the same word added at the end. This may seem like the syntactical ability to recognize a suffix or prefix, but Dr. Hauser thinks it is just the ability to recognize when one thing comes before another and has little to do with real syntax.
“Deciphering the Chatter of Monkeys and Chimps,” Nicholas Wade, The New York Times (may require registration)