Thursday, 30 June 2016

From 'guard cats' to monkeys who shop: our favourite urban animal stories

More than two years after the launch of Guardian Cities, it seems high time for a round-up of all the animal-related stories that have kept us amused along the way. Here’s our top 10 – now tell us yours

Venkman, named after one of the Ghostbusters, guards the grain at the Empirical brewery in Chicago

Thursday 9 June 201607.30 BSTLast modified on Thursday 9 June 201613.27 BST

Four feral cats, named after the original Ghostbusters, are being “employed” in a Chicago brewery to guard the grain from rats. In exchange, they are paid a daily rate in the only currency they understand: dry cat food.

As Medill Reports Chicago explains, the owners of the Empirical brewery in Chicago decided to employ these cats, rather than pest control companies, because they are both cheaper and, to quote verbatim, “adorable”.

The programme is part of a wider strategy to release 3,500 feral cats to deal with Chicago’s unaccountably virulent rat problem. Chicago is apparently the“rattiest” city in the US.

That same charity, Tree House, is also raising funds to build a “cat house”: a large apartment building in which 200 cats would live alongside a vet and other feline-specific facilities. Naturally, Tree House has produced a reality TV show to drum up cash for this initiative – mainly featuring cats behaving cattily towards each other.

Fur flies during the Real Tree House Cats of Chicago
If all this makes you think that Chicago is undergoing a kind of collective delusion brought on by those parasites that supposedly live in cat litter and embed themselves into the brain stems of their hosts, to slowly shift human behaviour over time in pro-cat ways, all we can observe is that it’s not just Chicago, or cats. Increasingly, wild animals are making their mark on urban environments in a host of new and inventive ways. Behold ...

Pigeons with backpacks
In London, pigeons have been equipped with little backpacks to measure air pollution. The ones over Victoria Park wear Fjallraven. No, not really.

Vultures with Go-Pros
Lima, Peru has a rubbish dumping problem so topographically dynamic that it actually needs to be mapped aerially. So what better animal to track garbage mounds from the skies (caw!) than a vulture?

Lima’s black vultures, or gallinazo, are also large enough to wear Go-Pro video cameras, and well-trained enough by Alfredo Correa at Lima’s Huachipa zoo to return with said cameras. 

Colorado mother fights off mountain lion that attacked five-year-old son

Boy playing outside home suffers injuries to face, head and neck
Lion killed as presumed to be ‘either injured or very ill’, authorities say

Associated Press in Denver
Saturday 18 June 201614.07 BSTLast modified on Saturday 18 June 201619.57 BST

Authorities say a mother fought off a mountain lion that attacked her five-year-old son in Colorado on Friday night.

The Pitkin County sheriff’s office told ABC7 the boy had been playing outside with his older brother about 8pm when the mountain lion attacked, near their home about 10 miles north-west of Aspen.

The mother heard screams from outside and “physically removed her son from the mountain lion”, according to a police statement.

The sheriff’s office said the boy’s mother ran outside when she heard screaming; the boy’s face, head and neck were injured. He was taken to an Aspen area hospital and county undersheriff Ron Ryan told the Aspen Times the boy was conscious and alert.

His mother sustained minor injuries to her hands and legs. An Aspen Valley hospital spokesperson told NBC News she was “released in good condition”.

Sheriff’s deputies and forest service officers found the mountain lion under some trees by the family’s home, near toys and bicycles. The forest service officer killed the lion, the sheriff’s department said.

“Since it was still there, it was either injured or very ill, so they dispatched it,” Ryan said.
Mountain lions are not often seen in Colorado, and attacks are rare. The stateparks and wildlife department says there have been “fewer than a dozen fatalities in North America in more than 100 years”.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Chameleons’ Secret Hunting Weapon: Super-Sticky Mucus

A thick, honey-like adhesive at the tip of a chameleon’s tongue lets it bring its prey to its mouth after snagging it, scientists discover.

 By Carrie Arnold


Chameleons have a sticky problem.
To catch their insect dinner, their tongues unfurl forward faster than a jet plane. It’s a precise attack, and it’s remarkably successful. But snagging prey with their tongue is only the first step. In order to eat, they have to bring the prey back to their mouth.

There lies the problem, says physicist Pascal Damman of the University of Mons in Belgium. Chameleons don’t wrap their tongues around their prey, which means that the food they catch must somehow stick to their tongue.

In a new paper in Nature Physics, Damman and colleagues show that chameleons produce a viscous, sticky mucus on the tip of their tongue that’s 400 times thicker than human saliva. Tiny amounts of this syrupy goo with the thickness of honey is what lets these animals catch prey that can weigh up to one-third their body weight.

“It’s a very simple mechanism, and it shows things don’t have to be very complex to be very effective,” he said.

Predictive model to analyse the reproductive status of wolf packs

June 20, 2016

Researchers at the Universitat de València's Cavanilles Institute of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology evaluated the usefulness of bioacoustic tools as a means of establishing the reproductive status of wolf populations.

Population monitoring is crucial for wildlife management and conservation. Wildlife researchers have increasingly applied tools that mimic the sounds of animals in order to establish ecological parameters such as distribution and abundance. The wolves respond to the simulated calls with what are known as chorus howls, which can then be analysed.

What the scientists are working on is the development of tools that can analyse the acoustic structure of chorus howls to ascertain the presence of wolf pups, as an indicator of the reproductive health of the pack. The complexity of the wolf chorus is such that this is a difficult task even for experienced observers, creating the need for accurate predictive tools.

Vicente Palacios of the Cavanilles Institute explains that to develop the tools, they first analysed 110 Iberian chorus howls of packs whose make-up was known, including packs with and without pups. The analysis revealed that the acoustic energy distribution of packs with pups was concentrated at higher frequencies than packs without. Based on this and other energy distribution features identified in the study, the team built mathematical models that were able to accurately predict the presence (or absence) of pups in 94 percent of the cases analysed.

As José V. López-Bao of the University of Oviedo says, the quantitative analysis of chorus howls is an objective method for establishing reproductive status that gives accurate results, is easy to implement and is independent of the observer's subjective experience. "These advantages become significant when monitoring large wolf packs, or cases where many observers are involved," he adds.

Blind Mexican catfish species spotted in the US for the first time

JUNE 18, 2016

by Chuck Bednar

For the first time, a rare type of eyeless catfish native to Mexico has been spotted in the US, as a team of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin identified the creature swimming in a limestone cave at the Amistad National Recreation Area near the city of Del Rio.

Known as the Mexican blindcat (Prietella phreatophila), these endangered fish are typically less than three inches long and live in areas supported by the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer underlying the Rio Grande basin in Texas and Coahuila, UT-Austin ichthyology curator Dean Hendrickson and his colleagues explained Friday in a statement.

In May, Hendrickson’s team found two of the catfish in the limestone cave, and their discovery supports the belief that the Texas and Mexico portions of the aquifer are connected by water-filled caves located under the Rio Grande. While there have been rumored sighting of the species in Texas for decades, this is the first time that such observations can be confirmed.

The two catfish, which have since been relocated to the San Antonio Zoo, “look just like the ones from Mexico,” the ichthyologist said. It is the third species of blind catfish to be identified in the US, joining the toothless blindcat (Trogloglanis pattersoni) and the widemouth blindcat (Satan eurystomus). All three species have only been spotted in Texas.

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