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Bats Make Use Of Polarized Light To Navigate

Bats Make Use Of Polarized Light To Navigate

Many people wear sunglasses to avoid polarized light, however this type of light for bats is actually pretty useful and they use it to find their way.

According to new research the greater mouse eared bat is the first mammal known to use polarized light to navigate. The bats make use of polarized rays that are scattered at sunset to adjust their internal compass so that they end up flying in the right direction.

“Every night through the spring, summer and autumn, bats leave their roosts in caves, trees and buildings to search for insect prey,” Stefan Greif, a biologist at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

Bats are known to fly hundreds of kilometers in a single night and usually return home before the sun rises so that they avoid predators however according to Dr. Greif until now it was not clear how they achieved their feats of navigation.

It is a well known fact that bats make use of echolocation to communicate with others and sense prey, however this ability only reaches 50 meters, so it is obvious that these animals are making use of another sense in order to look much further ahead the researchers said.

The researchers showed two types of polarization patterns at sunset to a group of 70 adult females. They then released them at two different sites at 1 in the morning when there was no polarization visible. The bats were released roughly 25 kilometers from their roosts and the researchers attached a small radio transmitter to the bats in order to monitor their movements.

The group that was shown shifted polarized light ended up flying at right angles to the direction of the group that were shown non shifted polarized light. This suggests that the bats make use of polarization to navigate. Bats probably make use of a combination of the position of the sun or stars, echolocation, sight and the earth’s magnetic field to find their way.

Image Credit:Flying fruit bat by Tambako The Jaguar, on Flickr

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Seals May Forage For Food At Off Shore Wind Farms

Seals May Forage For Food At Off Shore Wind Farms

New research suggests that offshore wind farms may be adopted by seals for hunting.

As the number of these type of wind farms continues to rise there may be an effect on both seals and their prey, however scientists are unable to tell whether the effects will be positive or negative.

Wind farms are rows of wind turbines that make use of the wind to generate electricity. They tend to be located offshore so they can easily benefit from the strong coastal winds and can generate large amounts of electricity without any carbon emissions. Denmark for example gets 30 per cent of its energy needs from wind power.

In order to understand what the potential impact is environmentally of these wind farms, researchers tagged gray and harbor seals that reside on the Dutch and British coasts in the North Sea.

When they took a look at GPS data the scientists found that harbor seals tend to move in a “in a very striking grid pattern,” said Deborah Russell from the University of St. Andrews who led the study. The grid patterns showed the seals swam in straight lines between two wind farms.

“We could actually pinpoint where the wind turbines were by looking at the paths the seals traveled,” Russell said.

The researchers also noticed that both harbor and gray seals visited offshore oil and gas pipelines.

What the scientists think is happening is that man-made structures are behaving like artificial reefs which provide shelter to potential prey which attracts the seals to hunt. Ms. Russell added that this is the first time sea mammals have shown they make use of such types of artificial structures for hunting.

It is still not clear what the environmental impact of these type of wind farms will be for their seals and the marine life they hunt. The effects may be positive if the farms increase the amount of prey available for these marine mammals. However Russell added that if the farms are simply aggregating existing prey that could result in a depletion of populations.

Researchers in the future plan on tagging more seals in order to find out what percentage of the population source food from offshore wind farms and pipelines.

Image Credit:Seal pup by Tambako The Jaguar, on Flickr

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Fun Facts About The Gazelle

Fun Facts About The Gazelle

The gazelle is a type of antelope that lives in both Asia and Africa. They closely resemble deer but come from the same family as sheep, cattle and goats. You can tell a gazelle by it s ringed curved horns, their white rumps and tan or reddish brown coats.

Habitat

There are 19 different species of gazelle and most live in the hot dry deserts and savannas of Asia and Africa. In order to maintain proper hydration in these harsh environment, the gazelle shrinks its liver and heart. Breathing can result in a loss of water and a smaller liver and heart means there is less of a requirement for oxygen, which means the gazelle needs to breathe less and loses less water in the process.

Habits

In order to escape predators, the gazelle relies on its speed and they are fast animals reaching speeds of 60 mph for short bursts and sustained speeds of 30 to 40 mph.. The gazelle uses a bounded leap whilst running which involves springing into the air with all four of their feet.

These are social animals with some herds numbering as many as 700 though some herds are small and divided by sex. Female Thomson gazelle’s live in herds of between 10 to 30 females with their young. Males in contrast live alone or in very small groups with other males.

Offspring

Mating season usually takes place during the rainy season so that newly born fawns will have lots of water to drink.

The gestation period is roughly six months and gazelles usually have one or two young at a time.

In order to keep their fawns safe from predators, females will hide their babies in the tall grass. Whilst young gazelles still nurse they remain with their mother’s herd. When they reach the age when they are ready to take care of themselves, male calves transition to the male herd. The lifespan of a gazelle is 10 to 12 years

Diet

Gazelles are herbivores. This means they are strictly vegetarian and subsist on shoots of plants, leaves and grasses. Some gazelles can go their whole lives without drinking any water.

Image Credit:Gazelle by Rex Boggs, on Flickr

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Fun Facts About The Chinchilla

Fun Facts About The Chinchilla

The chinchilla is a species of rodents that reside in the northern Chilean mountain range of the Andes. Chinchillas are prized for their fur, something which almost lead to the extinction of the species.

The species first popped up some 41 million years ago and the ancestors of the chinchilla were the first rodents to inhabit South America. The fur of the species became popular in the 18th century and by the 20th century the species had been nearly hunted to extinction. By 1900 most South American countries banned the practice of hunting wild chinchilla.

Physical characteristics

The chinchilla is closely related to porcupines and guinea pigs. This means they have long muscular hind legs and short forelimbs. Chinchillas look like rabbits though their ears are rounder and much shorter. They have bushy tails and large black eyes with four toes on each foot.

Chinchillas measure between 9 to 15 inches long though their tail can add a further 3 to 6 inches to their length. The average weight of a chinchilla ranges from between 1.1 to 1.8 pounds.

Habitat

There is a reason chinchillas have a thick coat of fur. They usually reside at altitude of between 9,800 to 16,400 feet in the Andes. At those kind of heights it goes without saying that it can get very cold. Whilst the Chinchilla can survive freezing temperatures they are not able to survive at temperatures higher than 27 C.; high temperatures and humidity can cause these rodents to suffer from heat stroke.

The chinchilla is both nocturnal and crepuscular and this means they are at their most active during dusk or dawn and sleep throughout the day. Their homes are usually constructed by nestling in rock crevasses or burrowing down in underground tunnels. They are a very social species and a colony of chinchillas can number in the hundreds.

Female tend to be aggressive towards one another and can be aggressive towards males when they are ready to mate so it comes as no surprise they are the dominant gender. The female chinchilla for the most is monogamous whilst males tend to have a number of female mates.

Offspring

Chinchillas breed between November to May in the Northern Hemisphere whilst in the Southern Hemisphere the breeding season is between May to November.

The gestation period lasts for about 111 days and the female tends to have babies twice a year and give birth to litters of between one to six babies. The babies are called kits and a new born kit is born with its eyes open and with fur. The nursing period is between six to eight weeks and by the time they reach eight months old the chinchilla is sexually mature and able to reproduce. The lifespan of a chinchilla is between 8 to 10 years, though they have been known to live as long as 20 years.

Diet

The chinchilla is omnivorous which means they eat both meat and plants. Their diet mainly consists of seeds and grass but they also eat birds eggs and insect when they have the chance. When they eat, the food is held between their front paws and nibbled on.

Image Credit:baby chinchilla by Michelle Tribe, on Flickr

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It Takes 21 Seconds On Average For Mammals To Pee

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The bladder of an elephant can hold almost 18 litres of fluid but the elephant has the remarkable ability to pee just as fast as a cat.

According to the results of a new study, most mammals greater in size than rats take the same amount of time to urinate, for approximately 21 seconds. This is because urethras are scaled up to become a flow enhancing device the researches said.

It is hoped that the efficient natural design for a system that quickly empties the bladder will serve as an inspiration for smarter engineering of reservoirs, water tanks and fire hoses.

From toddlers to zoo animals

Dr. David Hu of the Georgia Institute of Technology said he has a little child and when changing her diaper began thinking about the amount of urine that an elephant would have which was the inspiration behind the research.

Dr. Hu and his team looked at the two places it is easy to find fauna so that they could compare peeing rates across the animal kingdom. The researches visited zoos and looked at 28 videos of animals urinating on YouTube.

The researchers found that smaller animals who weighed less than 3 kilograms are unable to urinate in streams and instead peeid in a series of quick drops. In contrast, larger animals would release jets of urine and most took roughly 21 seconds to pee.

Dr. Hu said what was most interesting is that larger animals such as elephants took just as much time to relieved themselves as smaller animals such as a cat whose bladder capacity is just 5 millilitres.

How it all comes out

The most important factor is the how long the urethra is according to the researchers. As the size of an animal gets larger, the urethra gets longer at a predictable ratio.

“All animals have urethras of the same aspect ratio: a length-to-width ratio of 18. This is rare among animals. Usually, body parts change in relative size, such as the eyes and brain.”Dr. Hu said.

A longer urethra means an increased effect of gravity that causes more pressure in the bladder which pushes out the urine faster the researchers said.

Image Credit:Elephant by Doug Wheller, on Flickr

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Highland Zoo Welcomes Litter Of Six Pallas’s Kittens

Highland Zoo Welcomes Litter Of Six Pallas’s Kittens

Recently at a Scottish Zoo, there were six rare kittens that were born whose first steps outside the nest box were caught by hidden cameras.

The baby Pallas’s cats look a little like Persian cats however they are more suited to the mountainous parts of central Asia.

Highland Wildlife Park’s new additions are just under three months old. Though handlers have still not been able to capture up close images of the new offspring, cameras positioned both inside and outside of the nest box have captures images of the kitten’s playing and exploring their home.

This breed of cat is actually quite mysterious in the wild and are notoriously difficult to breed in capacity because the kittens tend to be prone to toxoplasmosis which is parasitic disease that is often fatal.

In their efforts to protect the new litter from becoming sick, keepers at Highland Wildlife Park set up cameras and sound recorders to learn exactly when the kittens parents were mating.

“Monitoring the vocalizations of the cats helped us to identify when mating had taken place and this is the key time that a prevention treatment for toxoplasmosis needs to begin, in the early days of a potential pregnancy. Unlike other treatment programs that can be very intensive and stressful to the cats, our work here has allowed us to implement our veterinary protocol in a completely stress free environment,” David Barclay, senior keeper for the Highland Wildlife Park, said.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the Pallas’s cat as very nearly threatened. This is because they felines are threatened by loss of habitat and hunted by poachers who target them for their fur as well as fat and organs for traditional medicines.

Image Credit:Cat by Isabelle Puaut, on Flickr

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Dogs Are Not Quite Colour Blind

Dogs Are Not Quite Colour Blind

Despite what you may have heard in the past, the vision of a dog is not simply black and white. In fact dogs just like their human owners have multi coloured vision. The only difference is they cannot see as many different colours as their handlers. The reason for this is because the retina of a dog has only two types of colour detecting cells (cones).

In contrast the human retina for the most has three types of cones which allows us to see more wavelengths along the visible spectrum.

Jay Neitz of the University of Washington found that the colour perception of the canine is very similar to a red-green colour blind person. These people just like dogs only have two cones with which to detect colour.

Dogs perceive colour quite differently to humans who have normal vision. Dogs perceive red as darkish brown, whilst green orange and yellow all appear to be yellowish in colour. Something which seems to be blue green to humans such as a pool of water or the ocean just seems grey to a dog whilst purple objects appear to be blue.

The research by Dr. Neitz suggests that just like colourblind people, dogs may use certain types of cues to tell one colour from another.

“A lot of the time there are good cues to help them figure it out; for example, red objects tend to be darker than green objects. So, if it’s a dark apple, a red-green color-blind person would know that it’s probably a red one, and if it’s a lighter apple, it may be a Granny Smith.”Dr. Neitz said

Despite the fact they may be colour blind it does not mean a human’s eye sight is better than their canine counterpart. Researchers have found that dog sight has evolved in such a manner that they are able to see clearly even when light is absent.

Image Credit:DOGS VIZSLA by Robert Hall, on Flickr

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Chimps Love Indian And African Music

Chimps Love Indian And African Music

If you are ever in a record store and you come across a group of chimpanzees you may well find them huddles around the Classical Indian section according to a study which tested the musical taste of mankind’s cousin.

The study found that whilst chimpanzees preferred to avoid the strong beats that are associated with western music they did like Akan tunes from West Africa and Indian ragas.

The study co author Frans de Wall of Emory University said the objective was not to find a preference for different cultures’ music however the researchers used music from Japan India and Africa to see the response of primates to specific acoustic characteristics.

Mr. De Waal and his associates said that previous study’s only tested the reaction of chimpanzees to specifically Western music. However music from other cultures may have fundamentally different properties. For example a typical western song may have one strong beat for every three weak beats. In contrast an Indian raga might have 1 strong beat for as many as 31 weak beats in a long rhythmic cycle.

In past studies, where the focus was Western music, researchers found that the primates preferred silence to any sort of music. For the current study researchers turned to other sorts of music to see if the same trait persisted.

For 12 consecutive mornings, the researches played 40 minutes of music in the outdoor enclosure of a group of adult chimpanzees. They found that the chimps gravitated to areas where it was possible to listen to the African and Indian music the best. However when researchers played Japanese or Western music with a strong beat, the chimps would flee.

“Chimpanzees may perceive the strong, predictable rhythmic patterns as threatening, as chimpanzee dominance displays commonly incorporate repeated rhythmic sounds such as stomping, clapping and banging objects,” Mr. de Waal said.

Image Credit:Chimp Chimpanzee Ape by Doug Wheller, on Flickr

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The Weird Mating Habits of The Koala Bear

The Weird Mating Habits of The Koala Bear

Koalas live a pretty idyllic life and spend up to 22 hours a day sleeping, so the obvious question becomes how on earth do they reproduce?
Koalas are solitary animals that can be found throughout the eucalypt woodlands of Australia. Each bear sets up home in an area that can range to just a few acres or in some cases hundreds of acres. Koala bears rarely run in to each other and on the odd occasion when two territorial males cross each other’s pass things can get kind of ugly.

“The fights that the males have are pretty ferocious up in the trees. We think that, by and large, the fighting is a really significant biological event for them, and that’s probably why they are not so common.” said Bill Ellis, a koala researcher with the University of Queensland in Australia.
The mating season takes place during the spring and summer and at that time interactions between animals do rise but not by much Mr. Ellis says. During the mating season roughly between midnight and 4 A.M. the male koala makes loud mating calls which are known as bellows.

In the past scientists used to believe that the most dominant male was able to mate with all the females who would seek out the dominant male by seeking out his tell tale bellow. However when Dr. Ellis took a closer look at the paternity of newborn bears in the wild they found out female koalas actually mate with a different male every years and the females use the male bellow to search for a unique mate.

Whilst it is not completely clear, scientists reckon that when a female listen to a bellow she finds attractive she will then seek out the male who made the call in his home range. When the male finds a female in his territory he will try to approach her in a tree.

Researchers still have no idea how a female decides whether she is interested in a specific male or not however if it turns out that she doesn’t want to mate with a particular male she will cry out. Males are much larger than females and they can at times try and force themselves on unwilling females who will respond by either biting, scratching and climbing away or even jumping to another tree.

Ellis adds that females seem to reject males successfully more often than they accept them in the wild. However when female does accept a particular business, no time is wasted and the pair quickly get down to business.

“It’s not a particularly gentle process,” Mr. Ellis said.

The male mounts the female from behind and bites the back of her neck before copulating with her very briefly. Like most other marsupials including kangaroos the male koala has a double headed penis. The female koala has two vagina and a third vagina forms at a later stage for the process of birthing and closes back up after.

Image Credit:Koala by John White, on Flickr

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Scientists Discover Ancient Zebra Migration Route

Scientists Discover Ancient Zebra Migration Route

Conservationists have observed a 300 mile zebra migration in the grasslands and floodplains of Southern Africa, which is the longest known trek of any land mammal.

The discovery offers an astonishing glimpse of how wildlife is able to endure despite declining populations.

“We’re living in an age where the great migrations are declining. Songbirds in the United States are not migrating like they used to. Large mammals in southern Africa are declining. It’s fascinating to discover this one migration that nobody’s known about until now, and especially in such a well-known, well-studied animal.” said Robin Naidoo, a researcher for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the lead author of the new study.

For the purposes of the study which was published last month, Dr. Naidoo and his team collared eight female Burchell zebras for two years with GPS tracking devices. The eight sample zebras were part of a population of thousands of zebras that have travelled back and forth between Botswana and Namibia over a number of months. The zebras travelled for 300 miles and traced a migratory route that was marked by food supply, water, wet and dry season, which the authors claim could well be an ancient route.

What the researchers found most surprising for the researchers were that the zebras travelled along a straight line point to point, and the route is longer than any of the routes travelled by previous record holders, the mammals of the Serengeti.

Currently the most serious threats to migrating wildlife is the construction of guarded borders between different countries as well as highways and railroad tracks that stop animals from moving and end up changing their environments. According to a study published in 2011, there was a 15000 year old zebra migration in Botswana that simply vanished following the construction of fences back in 1968. The migration reappeared again when the fences were removed in 2004.

The new study which was a collaboration suggests that in spite of human intervention, some migratory traditions can persevere.

Image Credit:zebra by Timothy P. Icture, on Flickr

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