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Rare Albino Dolphin Spotted Off The Coast Of Florida

Rare Albino Dolphin Spotted Off The Coast Of Florida

According to recent reports, a rare albino dolphin was seen in waters off the coast of Florida. If the reports are to be believed, this would be the first time in nearly fifty years an albino dolphin has been spotted. According to biologists, albinism has been confirmed in 20 species of porpoises, dolphins and whales and there have been only 14 previous sightings of an albino bottlenose dolphin.

The dolphin was spotted last month

Daniel Carter who volunteers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shot video footage of the latest sighting last month of the East coast of Florida, in an estuary. An FWC spokesperson said they felt it was worth sharing the video because of how rare the occurrence was, however for the sake of the safety of the animal, they declined to specify its exact location.

Snow white dolphin

Mr. Carter shot a two minute long video showing a bottlenose dolphin that was snow white, surfacing on multiple occasions near a shoreline of mangroves. The best views of the dolphin can be seen towards the end of the video. Albino marine mammals tend to become famous for their fair complexion. One species in particular that is famous for this is the mythological pink river dolphins of Brazil.

Albinism is extremely rare

Albinism is very rare and occurs when recessive genes are passed down from both parents. Whilst most people associate albinism in dolphins with pure white colouring, in actual fact they tend to have a pinkish hue colour, though the very latest sighting appears to be strikingly white. Albinism is also characterised with impaired vision and red eye colouring.

The trait makes animals vulnerable to predation

Because albinism in dolphins is so rare, there has been very little study and researchers are still unsure whether there are any other negative health effects. Greg Bossart, a veterinary pathologist says there is not enough clinical data to suggest whether they are healthy. He adds that it is probably not an adaptive trait because for obvious reasons in the wild, it would make animals more vulnerable to predation.

Pink_Dolphins_2 by Travis, on Flickr

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Weddell Seals May Use Earth’s Magnetic Field As GPS

Weddell Seals May Use Earth’s Magnetic Field As GPS

Antarctic seals whilst hunting, may make use of the Earth’s magnetic field which functions as a kind of natural GPS according to the results of a new study. Weddell seals are uniquely adapted biologically speaking to deep dive whilst hunting, but they also have an amazing ability to locate the breathing holes they need on the ice surface. Scientists have been perplexed by this amazing ability and have sought to find some answers.

First marine mammal with natural GPS

Scientists researching these seals believe they are able to achieve this feat by using the magnetic field of the Earth as a Global Positioning System, which if true would represent the first evidence of such ability in a mammal that spends most of its time in the ocean. Terrie Williams and Randall Davis of the University of California Santa Cruz have been studying how Weddell seals behave for decades along with another colleague Lee Fuiman of the University of Texas.

The theory dates back to the 90’s

The hypothesis that these seals have the ability to track magnetic lines originates as far back as the 1990’s, when the researchers first began working together in Antarctica. Dr Fuiman says he was surprised by data produced from the onset of their study which showed the seals returning to the same dive holes with amazing precision, time and time again. This prompted the team to start thinking about what causes the phenomenon.

The data is still not conclusive

The researchers say that whilst the behaviour from drive profiles is very intriguing, the data is far from conclusive. The researchers will continue to study Weddell seals to determine whether the seals, like homing pigeons, make use of magnetic lines to make their way back home. For the next three years, the team will work with a handful of Weddell seals. All the seals that are being studied will be kitted out with a video and data recorder. The seals will then be released into three different areas in McMurdo Sound over the course of couple of weeks.

The theory will be put to the test

The area was chosen because the researchers have already precisely mapped the magnetic field. The research team is expecting there to be changes in behaviour when the seals are in a different magnetic field. The researchers will then compare the dive profiles of the video and data recorders with the magnetic anomaly maps of McMurdo Sound which they believe should provide some answers. If the theory turns out to be correct, it will be truly astonishing.

fish8459 by NOAA Photo Library, on Flickr

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Rare Elephant Twins Born At South African Game Reserve

Rare Elephant Twins Born At South African Game Reserve

Last month an elephant in South Africa named Curve and aged 31 delivered a set of twins at the Pongola Game Reserve. The birth left conservationists and experts amazed because they say elephant twins are an incredibly rare occurrence. Scientists at the Kruger National Park say that twins occur in less than 1 per cent of elephant births.

The twins gender has yet to be determined

Whilst twin elephant births are indeed rare, typically one of the twins will fail to survive into adulthood. This means conservationists at Pongola are keeping a constant watch on Curve and her cute little offspring to see how they are doing. The experts are making sure Curve has her space though, because they want to ensure there is no unnecessary stress on the animals and as a result, they have been unable to determine the sex of the twins.

“This is the best approach, mortality of one of the twins usually occurs as the increasing demand for milk by two calves cannot be met by the mother, and the less dominant of the two calves usually cannot gain access to its share.” Dr. Ian Whyte said in a news release.

Some twins do survive

However Dr. White went on to add that in Kruger National Park, there was a famous matriarch named MaMerle who delivered a set of twins back in 2002, both of which managed to survive into adulthood. Even more amazing is the fact that the same elephant delivered a second set of twins just four years later, with both twins surviving for more than a year. Twins also face threats from predators such as hyenas and lions.

Curve gets her name from the shape of her tusks

Curve gets her name because of the curved shape of her tusks and has delivered three other baby elephants in the past, all of whom were male. The twins father however is believed to be a 44 year old bull that passed away in 2013. Elephants have a gestation period that last for 22 months so it is quite feasible that this was the case in the event you were wondering.

Pongola has never lost an animal to poachers

Pongola Game Reserve is located in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. Whilst elephant poaching is a rampant problem across Sub Saharan Africa, Pongola is heavily guarded and regularly patrolled and according to the reserve’s marketing manager Donoven Gloy, the reserve has an admirable record of never having lost an animal to poachers.

Out for a stroll. by hyper7pro, on Flickr

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Why Do Cats Purr?

Why Do Cats Purr?

The results of a new study has revealed the changes to the genome of felines that cause kitty cats to purr for treats and snuggle up to their human owners. Genetic changes have reduced the cat’s fear of new situations and altered their motivation to actively seek out rewards according to Dr. Wesley Warren, the co-author of the study. The relationship between humans and cats is an old one, with some studies suggesting the cat was first domesticated approximately 9,000 years ago in the Middle East. Other studies reckon the cat was first domesticated 5,000 years ago in China. Whichever theory you believe, what everyone can agree on is cats and humans go way back.

Domestication is quite rare

Whilst it might seem quite normal to have a relationship with your tabby, the fact of the matter is that in the animal world, domestication of animals is actually quite rare. There are only a handful of animals that have been domesticated such as the dog, cow, horse, chicken, sheep, goat and pig, and scientists were completely in the dark when it came to which genes are responsible for domestication.

Cats have genes linked to fear and motivation

Scientists sequenced the genome of an Abyssinian cat back in 2007 in an attempt to find out which genes were responsible for domestication. Unfortunately they did not manage to complete the analysis so they were not able to say very much about which genes underpin the process. Dr. Warren and his team did a secondary sequence of the same cat’s genome and also sequenced the genomes of a number of other domestic cats and a couple of species of wildcat. They then compared the results with the tiger genome, the dog genome and the genomes of a few other animals. What they found was that domestic cats have genes which are strongly linked to fear and motivation, both of which have evolved over time and resulted in cats becoming less fearful and more driven by rewards Dr. Warren said.

The difference between cats and dogs

In comparison to cats, dogs have lots more copies of genes for smell receptors which is probably the reason why they have such an amazing sense of smell. Felines (both big and small) have strongly selected genes for keen hearing and night vision which goes a long way to explaining why the species are such expert hunters Dr. Warren added. The study is still a inconclusive because it identifies only large gene regions that have been altered in the domestic cat and it is not obvious exactly how those genes are regulated or what those genes do. In order to be able to understand that, researchers will need to focus on very specific gene regions and study animals that have different versions of the genes and come to an understanding of their behavioural effects. So whilst we now have an idea of why the cat purrs, it is still only a general one.

Cat by Isabelle Puaut, on Flickr

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The Intricate Mating Dance Of The Flamingo

The Intricate Mating Dance Of The Flamingo

Thanks to its distinctive feathers, the flamingo is one of the most recognisable birds in the world. Flamingo feathers range from bright red to light pink which lends a certain sense of flamboyance to the species in general. However did you know the mating habits of these birds are just as flashy as their looks? In fact the mating ritual of the flamingo is almost as elaborate as the human mating ritual, well not quite, but you get the picture.

Where flamingos live

There are six species of flamingo in the wild today, four can be found in South America whilst the other two live in India, the Middle East and Africa. Flamingos don’t have a designated season for mating and instead tend to breed when food availability and water levels in the wetlands are just right according to Dr. Juan Amat an ornithologist. Flamingos are a very sociable species living in huge colonies that number thousands of birds. However when the conditions are right for mating, the entire colony does not commence with courtship rituals simultaneously. Instead Dr. Amat says the flamingos tend to display in groups which number anywhere between ten to hundreds of individuals.

Mating involves an elaborate dance

In order to attract a mate, both females and males engage in elaborate group dances which are made up of a number of different moves. The mating display typically starts off with the “head flag” where the flamingo makes a series of loud calls and waves its head back and forth. The next move is called the “wing salute” and the dancers stretch out their necks and display their back flight feathers by spreading their wings. This is then followed by the “inverted wing salute” where the flamingo angles its tail upwards and its head downwards which enables their black flight feathers to point upwards.

Nobody knows how flamingos choose their mates

It is not obvious whether the dance performance even matters because nobody really knows how flamingos choose their mates. Dr. Amat says the choice of mate has so far not been studied in detail, though he thinks that the colour of plumage is probably an important factor in choice of mate. In fact a recent study undertaken by Dr Amat and his colleagues found that in order to attract mates during breeding time, flamingos actually apply make-up.

Flamingos apply make up

The vibrant colour of the flamingo feather comes from carotenoids which are a type of pigmented compound that are obtained from small invertebrates and algae that flamingos like to eat. And just like other species of birds, the flamingo’s tail has glands that produce an oily substance rich in these carotenoids which they spread onto their wings. During mating season flamingos ramp up the application of this oil and as soon as the chicks have hatched the birds stop applying their make-up and their wings quickly lose their bright colours.

Monogamous during breeding season

During the breeding season, flamingos tend to be monogamous with mating pairs remaining with one another helping to build nests and incubate eggs. However most adult flamingos tend to look for new mates every year. Despite the fact that flamingos don’t mate for life, which is the case for most species on the planet,  it is unusual for both the male and female of the species to be involved in making sure the eggs are incubated. There is still a lot we don'[t know about the flamingo and hopefully with further study scientists may be able to reveal more of  this amazing species mysteries.

Pink Flamingos by Scott, on Flickr

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Robot Helps Scientists Study Wild Penguins

penguin

If we want to understand why wild animals behave the way they do, then studying them is critical. However one problem this raises is what if the passive act of observation ends up changing the way animals behave? Behavioural ecologists have worried about this problem for decades but according to a recently published paper in Nature Methods, there is a clever new technique for collecting data from wild animals without causing them unnecessary stress.

Lots of ways to study animals in the wild

There are plenty of ways to study how animals behave in the wild. You could for example attempt to gain their trust in the belief that they get so comfortable with your presence that they act as if you aren’t there at all. Alternatively you might want to attach your study group with some kind of device that has the ability to collect and perhaps transmit data in your absence. Even this is not full proof because such devices can end up increasing drag and alter behaviour in the process.

New technique causes less stress

Microchips implanted subcutaneously is a much better method for monitoring animals without disturbing them as they go about their business. The problem with this technique is that in order to be able scan the chip so that the individual animal can be identified, you need to get pretty close. There is however a new alternative that researchers have come up with that involves sending in a remote controlled robot that is equipped with a scanning device that can collect all kinds of data on the animal in question and then transmit it. The technique has been tested out on king penguins and it was found that the whole process caused much less stress for the animals.

Penguins not bothered by robot

For example, when the penguins were approached by a human, their heart rate increased by an average of 35 beats per minute. However when the rover approached, the heart rate also rose, but only by around 24 beats per minute, suggesting less stress. Another benefit is that humans tend to cause the target penguins to move much further than the rover and once the robot left the penguins, they were much quicker to return to their original psychological state.

Dressing the robot up

The researchers also tested the robot on a group of emperor penguins to see if they had a similar relaxed reaction. Initially many were wary, but then the researchers dressed the robot up as a baby penguin and everybody was happy. The scientists said they even heard the adults and chicks vocalising at the disguised rover which was able to infiltrate the group without causing a disturbance. This technique is obviously not going to work in every environment, but it does open the door to some exciting possibilities for people who are studying the behaviour of animals in the wild. Not to mention there are going to be some wonderful opportunities for photographs using this method in the future.

Emperor Penguins by Bryn Jones, on Flickr

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Orphaned Baby Sea Otter Rescued

Orphaned Baby Sea Otter Rescued

In October a sea otter pup that had been orphaned was rescued from a beach in California. The camera friendly critter has been given a new start in the Midwest of the United States and will be receiving 24 hour care at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. If you are wondering how on earth they managed to find an orphaned sea otter, it’s a bit of a long story, fortunately that is what we’re here for.

Just out for an evening stroll

When the baby sea otter was rescued, it was just a week old and weighed in at less than a kilogram. An individual who was taking an evening stroll along the beach between Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties in California heard the newborn otter’s cries. The next day officials from the wildlife department visited that site and were unable to locate the mother. As a result the pup was determined to be an orphan and was transported to California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium where she was given the provisional name Pup 681.

Sea otters need a lot of food

For a newborn pup she was quite small and because she and her mother had been separated for at least 16 hours, she was in urgent need of calories officials at the aquarium said. Typically these furry animals remain with their mothers until they are eight months old. Fathers usually disappear soon after mating. In order to maintain their metabolic rate and body temperature, sea otters need to eat at least a quarter of their body weight each day.

She is now doing well

After the pup’s condition stabilised at Monterey she was then moved to her more permanent home in Chicago. Her caretakers say she is doing well and achieving all the right milestones, like eating solid food such as clams and shrimp. She has also learned to regulate her body temperature and groom herself by climbing on to towels to dry off after she has been for a swim. Aquarium officials say Pup 681 will ultimately get a less clinical name. Currently staff are in the process of selecting a number of choices for a permanent name which both members of the aquarium and the general public will have the opportunity to vote on a spokesperson said.

The species is threatened

Southern sea otters tend to be found off California’s coast. The species was almost hunted to extinction in order to feed voracious demand for fur during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 20th century the species began to make a comeback, but according to the U.S Endangered Species List they are still “threatened”. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the population of the sub species at approximately 2,944, barely unchanged from the previous year’s estimate.

Southern Sea Otters Amid Mating Activity by marlin harms, on Flickr

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Meet The Meerkat

Meet The Meerkat

Meerkats are carnivores that are very cat like though they are actually part of the mongoose and civet family. You can tell a meerkat by its ability to stand on its back feet, their short flat ears and long bodies. The coat of a meerkat can be brown, orange, silver or gold. They also usually have dark patches of fur around their eyes. If you have ever looked at these cute little animals and wondered about them, here is a guide to almost everything you ever wanted to know about the meerkat.

  • The meerkat is not a big animal and measures a maximum of 11.75 inches from head to rump.
  • If you include their tails, then another 9.5 inches can be added to their length.
  • They of course do not weigh much either, clocking in at less than 2.2 lbs.

Where do meerkats live?

You can find meerkats in the grasslands and deserts of Africa including North and West South Africa, Southern and Western Namibia and South Western Botswana. You can also find the meerkat in the Lesotho’s lowlands and the extreme South West of Angola. The meerkat is social so it lives in large groups with several meerkat families combining to form what is called a clan, gang or mob. These groups have between 3 to 50 members and there is a dominant female meerkat that leads the group according to the National History Museum.

Lying in the sun

The meerkat resides in an intricate system of underground tunnels called burrows. These animals are able to stay safe from predators in these tunnels and remain cool when the day gets hot. A single burrow can have up to 15 entry and exit holes and can measure as long as 6.5 feet. In contrast with other animals which burrow, the meerkat lives in multiple burrows and rotates through several of them. The meerkat begins its day by either lying in the sun or grooming another meerkat. The rest of the day is spent looking for food. The meerkat group is watched by one member of the gang who will sound the alarm if a predator approaches. The guard is replaced every hour so that all meerkats have a chance to look for food.

What do meerkats eat?

Whilst the meerkat is thought of as being carnivorous, their diet consists of more than simply meat. They have been known to eat fruit, bugs, birds and lizards according to National Geographic. Scorpions are also a particular delicacy for meerkats because adults are immune to scorpion venom.

Baby meerkats

Females can give birth to up to eight babies in a single session however on average the number of offspring is four. The meerkat gives birth underground in order to keep them safe from predators. New born pups weigh between 25 to 36 grams and when they are first born they are deaf, blind and almost completely hairless. Everyone helps in raising the new born meerkats including the father and siblings. By the time the pups reach nine weeks old they are weaned and they reach maturity by the age of one and a half years old. This means they will have the ability to have their own offspring and in general a meerkat lives for up to 8 years in the wild and 13 years in captivity.

Conservation status

The population of meerkats is robust and according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature the meerkat is listed as “least concern” which means that there are no major threats to this species and their numbers are incredibly healthy.

Image Credit:Meerkats by Martien Uiterweerd, on Flickr

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Chimps Are Violent And Its Not Because Of Humans

Violent Aggression in Chimps Not Product Of Human Interference

For decades anthropologists have observed wild chimpanzees go crazy and attack one another through a series of coordinated assaults. Scientists did not know until very recently whether the violent behaviour in chimps was as a result of their interaction with human beings or whether it was part of their basic nature. A study conducted over 54 years suggests that chimpanzees are innately aggressive and the behaviour is not linked to human interference. Michael Wilson, the lead researcher in the study says that violence is a natural part of chimpanzee life and there was no requirement for them to be fed bananas to kill one another. Dr. Wilson is an associate professor of anthropology as the University of Minnesota.

Chimp Violence Explains Warfare In Humans ?

Violence in chimpanzees has had an important effect in how we think about the origin of warfare in humans Dr. Wilson said. Some have long argued that human warfare is a cultural invention and the product of a recent development such as agriculture. Jane Goodall a legendary primatologist however challenged the concept that warfare in particular is a modern development arguing that chimpanzees and humans are the only two species in the world that are known to conduct organised attacks on one another. Dr Wilson thinks the behaviour may have come from a common ancestor that lived between 5 to 7 million years ago.

Violence The Product of Human Interaction

Dr. Wilson’s ideas are themselves being challenged with other researchers claiming that the violent behaviour of chimps is the product of human intrusions. As African populations are increasing, they are infringing on habitats of chimpanzees. Hunters kill chimps, farmers clear land for farming and loggers cut down forests and this has put pressure on chimpanzee populations producing increased violence. Dr. Wilson and his colleagues looked at both bonobos and chimpanzees, which are both species that share a common ancestor with humans. The researchers observed 4 bonobo groups and 18 chimpanzee groups that lived in Africa.

Lots of Killings

There were a total of 152 chimpanzee killings of which 41 were inferred, 58 were directly observed and 53 suspected in 15 out of the 18 communities. There was a single killing amongst all the bonobos groups the researchers said and the different acts of violence were not dependent on human impact. The attacks tended to happen at sites where there were lots of males and the population densities were high. It was also found that East African chimpanzees killed more often than chimps living in West Africa according to the results of the study. The bonobos displayed very little violence and the researchers could not find a definitive case of killing, though there was one case where one member of a troop was severely attacked by other members of his group and never heard from again.

Does Evolution Favour Violence?

Because bonobos and chimps do not display the same levels of lethal violence, it is not possible to tell how the common ancestor behaved the researchers say. However it is possible to learn a little about the kind of circumstances where nature may favour the evolution of this kind of aggression.

“Overall, aggression makes [up] a small percentage of their daily lives,” Wilson said, adding that, “our behaviour affects them, but it’s not affecting them as people have suggested in the past, resulting in aggression.”

Image Credit:Chimpanzees by Gabriel Pollard, on Flickr

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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Gorilla

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Gorilla

The gorilla is a large ape that lives in Africa. There are two types of gorilla. The first sub species lives in the mountain regions located in central Africa and is commonly known as the mountain gorilla. The other subspecies is known as the lowland gorilla and lives in the dense and flat forests of western and central Africa. Whilst both types of gorilla have a lot of similarities, there are also some key differences:

  • The lowland gorilla is a little bit lighter than its mountain cousin.
  • Both species measure between 4 to 6 feet.
  • Mountain gorillas have longer hair.
  • The gorilla is the world’s largest primate.

Habitat

The mountain gorilla can be found on green volcanic mountains located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. Lowland gorillas on the other hand dwell in the forests of western and central African countries such as Gabon, Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Angola and Equatorial Guinea. According to National Geographic, the territory of a gorilla group can range up to 16 square miles.

What do gorillas eat?

In general the gorilla is a herbivore and has a diet consisting of tree pulp, tree bark, fruit, roots, shoots and wild celery. They have also been known on occasion to eat insects and small animals. An adult male gorilla is able to eat as much as 40 lbs of vegetation each day.

The exact diet of a gorilla depends on where they live. Roughly two thirds of a lowland gorillas diet consists of fruit, 17 per cent of their diet is made up of stems, seeds and leaves whilst 3 per cent comes from caterpillars and termites. In contrast a mountain gorilla’s diet consists of 86 per cent stems, shoots and leaves. 7 per cent comes from roots and 3 per cent flowers.

Habits

Gorillas are social animals that live in groups known as troops or bands. A gorilla troop can contain as many as 50 members, though it is possible for some troops to have as few as two members. Gorilla troops are typically led by a single dominant male known as a silverback, which is distinctive because he has a streak of grey hair on his back.

Gorilla troops have a routine over the course of the day. The evenings and mornings are usually designated as feeding time. Nap time is during the middle of the day, when they also play with and groom one another. At night time the gorillas goes to sleep on beds made from twigs and leaves.

Offspring

As is the case with humans, female gorillas gestate for nine months and tend to give birth to a single infant at a time. A newly born gorilla weighs approximately 4 lbs when they are born. Baby gorillas ride on their mothers back from about 4 months to 2 or 3 years.

When they reach 7 to 10 years the gorilla reaches sexual maturity and is able to have its own offspring. When this happens, the gorilla will usually leave the group to find its own mate. Gorillas have a lifespan of around 35 years in the wild and over 50 years in captivity.

Conservation status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies both types of gorilla as endangered on its Red List of Threatened Species. Both types of gorilla have suffered from habitat destruction and hunting. It is estimated that there are approximately 680 mountain gorillas left located in two different population groups.

The low land gorilla is also critically endangered though it is not known exactly how many of these gorillas are left. It is thought that their population has fallen by more than 80 per cent over three generations and it is estimated there are about 100,000 lowland gorillas left.

Image Credit:Derek Keats, on Flickr

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