How Russian tigers in rehabilitation behave during their ‘night’ and ‘day’ | IFAW – International Fund for Animal Welfare

How Russian tigers in rehabilitation behave during their ‘night’ and ‘day’ | IFAW – International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Watch: First Video of Fish Leaping Into Air to Prey on Birds

Posted by Jane J. Lee in Water Currents

A tigerfish mugs for the camera by showing off an impressive set of teeth. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID DOUBILET, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
A tigerfish mugs for the camera by showing off an impressive set of teeth. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID DOUBILET, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The last thing a barn swallow probably expects as it’s flying low over a lake is to be met with a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth emerging from the water. And if the bird happens to be flying over a certain lake in South Africa, that may well be the last thing it sees.

A recent study has caught what researchers say are the first scientific observations of a fish launching itself out of the water to catch birds in midair.

2Fish preying on birds is not unusual, but it’s not a common part of many fish species’ diets either.

“There are more than 14,000 freshwater fish species in the world,” wrote Nico Smit, director of the unit for environmental sciences and management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa, in an email. “[But] of those, only about five species are known to prey on birds, so I definitely don’t think it is a widespread  behavior.”

For the most part, when fish feed on birds, it’s a meal of opportunity, Smit noted. Either the birds have accidentally fallen into the water, or waterfowl like ducks just happen to paddle over the wrong stretch of a lake or river.

But during a 15 day survey in February 2010, Smit and colleagues saw African tigerfish—which populate a storage lake for the Schroda Dam in South Africa—snatching barn swallows out of the air, they report in a study published online last month in the Journal of Fish Biology.

3Unlike other instances of fish eating birds, barn swallows actually seem to be a fairly regular part of a tigerfish’s summer diet when the swallows are available, Smit said. “[The fish] have been incredibly well adapted to hunt the flying birds as part of their daily routine.”

Video taken by study co-author Francois Jacobs, also of  North-West University in South Africa, is just getting major media attention now.

Beginning around twilight, tigerfish near the Schroda Dam patrol deep open water near well-vegetated areas. They exhibit a less active lifestyle during the day, which they spend in the deeper, more sheltered water, the study authors write.

But during the 2011 survey, researchers noticed that five of the tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus) they had tagged exhibited increases in their midmorning activities.

Smit and colleagues did not observe any of their tagged fish leaping for barn swallows (Hirundo rustica), but they did observe other tigerfish catching the birds in midair.

The fish would either follow the birds in a surface pursuit before leaping up to try and catch them, or the tigerfish would track the swallows from deeper in the water and launch into the air to ambush them.

Smit marvels at the skill it takes for these fish to capture birds on the wing. Tigerfish have to spot a fast-flying swallow from the water, exceed the bird’s speed, compensate for refraction—or the fact that the angle of light changes when it goes from air to water—and then leap out of the water to grab the bird, he explained.

Over the course of their study, researchers saw up to 20 successful attempts on flying barn swallows by tigerfish in one day.

A young barn swallow perches on a branch in Botswana. Photograph by Vincent Grafhorst, Foto Natura/Corbis
A young barn swallow perches on a branch in Botswana. Photograph by Vincent Grafhorst, Foto Natura/Corbis

“During the 15-day survey as many as 300 [barn swallows] were preyed upon by the local [tigerfish] population, indicating that this feeding behavior is not occasional,” the study authors write.

They speculate that the scarcity of other food in the Schroda Dam lake, like other species of fish, have driven these tigerfish to attempt loftier prey.

“I think this research also illustrates that we still actually know incredibly little about the behavior of freshwater fish in Africa,” Smit said. “The fact that this amazing behavior has escaped documentation for so long surely means that a lot more needs to be discovered.”

PART 2 TIGER SCHOOL – Nursery Days

By Julian Matthews

Newly born Bengal tiger cubs whose eyes have not yet open (c) Alamy picture library
Newly born Bengal tiger cubs whose eyes have not yet open (c) Alamy picture library

A wild tigress give birth to her cubs, in a den she would call ‘home’, a suitably dry place she will have carefully chosen prior to labour, a hidden cave or thick overgrowth, where she can feel secure and comfortable, and feels she can protect her cubs from danger.

Mothers usually bare a litter, between 1 and 5 cubs, but more often its 2 to 4. Cubs are born blind and helpless, balls of cute fur, but already their distinctive stripes are laid down, visible when they start to shed their baby fur soon after birth.

For the first three months cubs are kept well-hidden in caves or dens and rarely left alone except when their mothers must hunt food for themselves. During this time the cubs are nursed wholly on their mother’s milk. From two months onwards, meat will also be on the menu. Fathers at this time will oversee their family, keeping predators away, but have little to do except providing invaluable protection to his female and her cubs.

Weaning is a gradual process which sees the tigress slowly reduces the time she feeds her cubs and by the time a litter is nearly three months old, nearly 1 kg of meat is eaten by each of the cubs every day.  At this time the youngsters really need to learn to drink water and need to accompany her on their first trips to water, to a kill or to change dens. She may decide to speed this process up by carrying them by the scruff of the neck in her mouth to the intended destination.

A mother tends her baby cub, now beginning to explore their surroundings under their mother's gaze. (c) Kedar Bhide
A mother tends her baby cub, now beginning to explore their surroundings under their mother’s gaze. (c) Kedar Bhide

But before they get to this stage, the cubs must learn to walk. As toddlers they are like humans, very clumsy with a tendency to fall over. Their muscles must be strengthened, however, and short walks with mum away from the lair enable them to do this.  In fact, she will move the cubs from the lair itself many times over whilst they are still dependent on her, both to throw off possible predators and to introduce the cubs to a variety of environments.

The first journey out. Just keeping up with their mother is a problem (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari
The first journey out. Just keeping up with their mother is a problem (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari

This is of course a very dangerous time for the cubs because the mother does have to leave them for short periods and the cubs are not, as originally believed, silent when she is away.  But she does not leave them often and has been known to abandon a kill if she senses or hears that the cubs are in danger.  Furthermore dad is sometimes waiting in the wings – keeping a watchful eye on them – so beware the leopard, hyena or wild dog that thinks he can sneak in for a quick meal.

Read part one – Nature and Nurture

Credits: Tiger Nation

Elephants Use Their Trunks to Ace Intelligence Tests

Smells, and not sounds, seem to be the key to pachyderm cognition.

Elephants use their trunks to both touch and smell novel objects, including cameras, present in their environment. PHOTOGRAPH BY THINK ELEPHANTS INTERNATIONAL, Inc.
Elephants use their trunks to both touch and smell novel objects, including cameras, present in their environment.

By Karl Gruber for National Geographic

Say it ain’t so, Dumbo. Elephants rely on their trunks and not those big ol’ ears to find their way to food and likely to solve other puzzles, report scientists. (See: “Elephants at Risk.”)

Elephants are renowned for their acute senses of hearing and smell, both of which play central roles in their everyday life. But until now, it was not known how important these senses were for basic, everyday tasks. (See: “Elephant Photo Gallery.”)

“This is one of the first times, to our knowledge, that elephants were shown to use olfaction [smell] in a basic intelligence test,” said Joshua Plotnik, an animal behavior scientist from the University of Cambridge, U.K., who led the study, recently published in the journal Animal Behavior.

The results of the study offer insights into how elephants think and could be used to figure out ways they might be dissuaded from raiding farmers’ food, suggest the study authors. The authors also suggest that scientists may underestimate the smarts of pachyderms (and other animals) by relying too much on intelligence tests tied to sights or sounds, instead of smells.

Food IQ Test

In the study, seven Asian elephants first had to choose between two buckets that were potential sources of food (one bucket had food and one didn’t), a standard “location test” of animal smarts in monkeys, birds, dogs, and other creatures.

The elephants were cued with a sound, the shaking of a closed bucket to reveal whether it contained sunflower seeds. In this first test, the elephants’ odds of picking the full bucket were no better than chance.

In the second part of the study, however, the elephants were allowed to smell one of two buckets, either an empty one or one that smelled of food. The elephants had to choose between the bucket they had smelled and a new, mystery bucket. Elephants that were first exposed to an empty bucket always rejected this bucket and selected the “mystery” bucket instead.

This suggests that elephants are using smell as part of their decision-making process. They remember that the first bucket did not smell of food and choose the other option.

Smell Surprise

The results are surprising, say the researchers, because elephants are gifted when it comes to acoustic communication, so it is not hard to imagine that, if needed, they could use sound to find food. (See video: “Elephants Communicate While at Play.”)

“Although elephants probably do not use sound to find food [in the wild], we did think that the elephants would be able to find the food in a task where only auditory cues were provided,” says Plotnik.

The findings have important implications on many levels. For instance, it advances our understanding of how these animals interact with their environment.

“Our research suggests that their sense of smell may play a more important role in their decision-making process than it does for other species, and that this may have important implications for the design of future studies of their intelligence,” says Plotnik.

It also could provide valuable tips for avoiding human-elephant conflicts. Plotnik explains, “If we know how elephants find crops to raid, perhaps we can find ways—using olfactory deterrents, for instance—to stop them before they raid.”

The study results could be used to help scientists design more accurate animal-behavior experiments, on elephants and other species, said experts not involved with the study.

“For too long, we have tested all sorts of animals on stimuli that we, humans, find most salient,” explains primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta. “We thus stack the deck against animals that differ from ourselves, and sometimes conclude from negative results that they are dumber than us.”

This means that future studies of animal behavior ought to focus more on discovering each animal’s special abilities before anything else.

“[This study] shows just how primate-centric some of our cognitive tests really are,” adds Yale evolutionary psychologist Laurie Santos. “If we really want to understand elephant cognition, we need to start thinking outside the visual-auditory box.”

Credits: National Geographic

PART 1 Tiger School – Nature and Nurture

by Julian Matthews

‘Tiger School’ is a five part series by the editor about how tiger cubs learn the art of survival in the wild. 

Part 1 – Introduction

A mother's bond is the key to a cub's survival (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari
A mother’s bond is the key to a cub’s survival (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari

When that great teller of Indian tales, Rudyard Kipling, described the cat as “…the wildest of all the wild animals … He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.”, he could well have been describing the adult male tiger. But, tigers do not begin life like this. The cubs are sociable and loving animals which need the bond with their mother and hopefully their siblings – although sadly this is not always possible – to learn how to become self-sufficient adults and walk alone successfully.

Because this independence is the key to tiger longevity, it is vital that the cubs have a good life-skill teacher to get them started.  Of course, tiger cubs already come with fantastic inherited skills such as massive canine teeth and retractable claws that enable them to protect themselves or kill their prey.  The famous striped markings provide camouflage and there are a panoply of lesser-known capacities such as the flehmen reflex that enables them to savour smells which will enable them to read the gender, age, size and physical condition of the markings made by other tigers.

Cubs also watch their mother scent-mark and scratch her way through her territory keeping predators at bay and letting adult males know when she is in season.

The most important skill in the tiger’s repertoire, however, is its ability to hunt and kill efficiently.  This is what they are noted for and their levels of effectiveness are a direct result of having been exposed to this behaviour by their mothers since they were cubs.

Sibling bonds are also very important in nurturing tiger behaviour (c) Kim Sullivan
Sibling bonds are also very important in nurturing tiger behaviour (c) Kim Sullivan

The mother bonding with her cubs is the single most important thing in their lives and from this all other life lessons spring. Indeed the tigress will not leave her young for the first seven to ten days of their lives. They are blind and utterly helpless so feeding with milk and letting the blind infants learn her sounds and  smells are vital for their knowledge of who she is and for their later survival.

Enjoyed this. The next four parts of ‘Tiger school’ will be published over the next four weeks.

Credits: Tiger Nation

Elephants are socially complex

Elephants are well-known for their intelligence, close family ties and social complexity, and they remember for years other individuals and places. They live in a fluid fission-fusion society with relationships radiating out from the mother-offspring bond through families, bond groups, clans, independent males and beyond to strangers.

Special relationships between individual elephants may last a lifetime, though the quality of these relationships and the structure and degree of cohesion in an individual’s social network may change through time.

Like many sexually dimorphic mammals, adult male and female elephants live in very different social worlds. A complex network of bonds between individuals and families characterizes the lives of females and their offspring, while fluctuating sexual cycles distinguish the dynamic activities and relationships of males.

  • Individuals,Personalities and relationships
Exciteable young female. (©ElephantVoices)
Exciteable young female. (©ElephantVoices)

Elephants have strong individual personalities that affect how they interact with other elephants, how others perceive them, and how well they are able to influence members of their group. For example, some elephants are popular while others are not. Some elephants show strong leadership qualities, others do not; some are highly social “extroverts”, while others are less social, “introverts.” In order to better understand the personalities of individual elephants, members of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) completed a Personality Questionnaire form (developed for people) for the adult members of Echo’s family. Each elephant was rated on a scale of 1-7 on characteristics such as: active, aggressive, apprehensive, confident, curious, deferential, eccentric and so on. You can read about the result in the book by the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal.

  • The Matriarch
Echo, world renown Amboseli matriarch. (©ElephantVoices)
Echo, world renown Amboseli matriarch. (©ElephantVoices)

No individual or individual personality has more impact on family structure and fortunes than the matriarch, or female leader, of an elephant family. Matriarchs are generally the oldest and largest adult female member of a family. In some cases it is very obvious who the leader of a family is – she is the individual to whom others orient, whose sudden change in activity they note, and whose leadership they turn to in a moment of crisis. In other families, the matriarch’s leadership is less clear, and in still others there may be conflict over who is the leader. The reasons for these differences have to do with personality, genetic relationships and history.

Matriarchs express their dominance in both competitive and cooperative situations. Matriarchs have been traditionally thought of as rather autocratic, making most decisions and leading a rather docile group of “followers.” While this may be the case in some populations and in some families, it has not been our observation. In general, we find that any member of a family may make a suggestion about a plan of action. Suggestions are typically made by adults, though on occasion even a juvenile may offer a suggestion. Some elephants are natural born leaders and they begin to display their abilities at an early age. The most successful leaders seem to be confident, well-connected individuals who are able to command the respect of others both through their wisdom and charisma. A suggested plan of action by an individual may be ignored, discussed, negotiated, or simply followed without further ado. It is true that if a matriarch makes a suggestion there tends to be less discussion than if a suggestion is made by another member of the family – but even this does not always hold true. Very often the matriarch has to argue her case and in many instances she loses her argument to the combined will of other members of the family (if you want to know how elephants discuss, then you’ll have to learn more on the vocalization database!).

Asian matriarch, Minneriya National Park. (©ElephantVoices)
Asian matriarch, Minneriya National Park. (©ElephantVoices)

So, if the matriarch is not crucial in day-to-day decision-making, when is she important? Joyce believes that successful matriarchs are not self-appointed leaders of their family; they are leaders because members of their family respect them, and they are respected because they have proven over the years that they can be trusted to make wise decisions in a time of crisis. Through the years older females become “repositories” of social and ecological knowledge. So natural leadership qualities (personality) and long experience combined are the makings of a wise matriarch. Individuals living in families with older, more experienced matriarchs seem to gain more (in terms of survivorship) from her experience. However, not all matriarchs make wise decisions. Many families split up soon after the death of a matriarch and Joyce believes that this may be partly related to conflict within the group over the new leader.

What are the qualities of a good matriarch? Why are some matriarchs able to hold their family together while under the leadership of others families fall apart? We do not have answers to these questions though we will hazard an educated guess. A successful matriarch needs to be both genetically and socially well connected to all members of her family. In essence this means that she must use her social skills to show compassion and care toward all members of her extended family (not just her own daughters). She must prove to the others that she is worthy of being their leader – by her display of courage and wisdom in times of crisis, by her awesome memory of places and individuals in tough or dangerous times, by her intricate use of tactics in socially difficult situations, and through her excellent social skills to regularly and consistently build, maintain and reinforce the close bonds within her family. In the end, however, when families become very large, and the costs of competition outweigh the benefits of cooperation, even the best matriarch may not be able to hold a family together.

  • Social Organization and Families
Echo, Enid and their youngest calves. (©ElephantVoices)
Echo, Enid and their youngest calves. (©ElephantVoices)

An elephant family consists of one or more usually related adult females and their immature offspring who feed, rest, move and interact in a coordinated manner and have close and friendly ties. Members of a family show extraordinary teamwork and are highly cooperative in group defense, resource acquisition, offspring care, and decision-making. Members of a family greet one another with a special “Greeting Ceremony.”

While cooperative behavior occurs most often between closely related individuals, kin selection does not explain all such behavior and a proportion of cooperative behavior within families can be explained by reciprocal altruism. The intricate teamwork witnessed between members of an elephant family is to a large extent mediated by a complex suite of vocalizations. Day to day decision-making involves broad participation including consensus building. In Amboseli families contain anywhere from 2 to 16 adult females (that is, females over the age of 10). A matriarch, usually the oldest and most respected female, leads each family. Families may consist of as few as two or as many as 50 or more individuals.

The term “family” or “family unit” has meant different things to different people. Over more than three decades of observations in Amboseli we have witnessed the formation of new families and the dissolution of others. These changes occur over the course of many years as a complex network of relationships is built up or breaks down, and therefore it can be difficult to define at what point in time a particular group of individuals has become or ceased to be a family unit.

  • Bond Groups

Above the level of the family unit a second tier of relationships may exist within what is termed a bond group. Like the family, bond group membership is also usually determined by genetic relatedness. A bond group may include as many as five or more families, and up to 50 or more individuals. Although the ties between individuals across the bond group are weaker than those within a family, bond group members also have close and friendly ties, form alliances against aggressors, assist in the care of another’s offspring, defend one another in times of danger and greet one another in a special way.

Bond groups are usually formed as the bonds within a family weaken and families begin to split up along matrilines. In different habitats there exists an optimum family size where the benefits of group living outweigh the costs of competition for resources. As a threshold is reached and the costs begin to outweigh the benefits the family will begin to break up – especially during periods of low food availability. In Amboseli it appears that mothers, daughters and sisters are most likely to stay together, while the fissures tend to divide cousins.

The cohesion of different families and bond groups varies significantly and depends upon a number of factors, including personalities, the degree of relatedness and friendship between individuals, the strength of the matriarchs’ leadership, historical events such as deaths of important individuals, the type of habitat, and the season.

  • basics_sociallycomplex_bondgroups1_675wClans

An elephant clan is the next social level and has been defined as those families who share the same dry season home range. These are elephants who share the same foraging areas when resources are in scarce supply. A clan is usually made up of several bond groups and numerous families such that several hundred elephants may make up a clan. Families tend to use their own clan area for foraging when times are hard, but during times of plenty they typically gather together in large social aggregations moving wherever there is good food available and a stimulating social life. In these aggregations several clans may intermingle. When resources allow, elephants will often choose to be in large aggregations, which frequently include several different clans. It is perhaps as a result of the positive experiences in these big social gatherings that some individuals decide to “move home” and establish residence and membership in a new clan.

Although clan membership is relatively static, over the course of three decades in Amboseli much has changed. While some elephants, like members of Echo’s family, are still using exactly the same home range as they were 30 years ago, other individuals have changed clans, changed bond groups and even changed families! Dramatic and dynamic changes have taken place in the lives of these individuals.

Amboseli elephants on the move. (©ElephantVoices)
Amboseli elephants on the move. (©ElephantVoices)
  • Males

Young male elephants grow up in the tightly bonded society of females and as calves and juveniles they maintain close relationships with their relatives and participate in the many social events that affect their family, albeit at a lower intensity than their female age-mates.

bull_group_400wMales depart from their natal family anywhere from 9 to 18 years of age – a process that can take anywhere from 1 to 4 years. As a teenager a male elephant must learn a whole new set of rules based on his rank relative to each other male in the population, and his fluctuating sexual state. His transition from one society to the other changes gradually, but dramatically, over a period of eight or more years.

Independent males are often seen in small, all-male groups and they form lasting friendships with certain individuals, although these are looser arrangements than among female elephants. During sexually active periods males rove from one family group to the next in search of receptive females. Their interactions with family members are gentle and courteous, but rarely more. Once a male has located a receptive female he will, if he is competitively able, go into consort with her for a period of 2-3 days and then he will move on in search of another female.

  • Populations
Kilimanjaro elephants (from Tanzania) visiting Amboseli. (©ElephantVoices)
Kilimanjaro elephants (from Tanzania) visiting Amboseli. (©ElephantVoices)

A population of elephants can be defined as a community of individuals linked by genetic and social relationships of mating and parenthood. For instance, the Amboseli elephant population utilizes a cross-border area of Kenya and Tanzania around the northern and northwestern side of Kilimanjaro. The Amboseli elephants interact with at least three different populations: The Kilimanjaro forest and Kitumbeini populations in Tanzania and the Tsavo population in Kenya. Between these populations there exists some gene flow, but this remains at very low levels.

The Kilimanjaro elephants come in small groups to visit Amboseli several times during the course of a year. Amboseli males mate with Kilimanjaro females, but the reverse rarely occurs as the Kilimanjaro males are smaller in body size and cannot compete with Amboseli males for access to females. We have evidence now that some of our males travel as far as the Kitumbeini area in Tanzania, a distance of over 100 km, and we know that a male who we believe originally came from Amboseli and is included in the Amboseli population records, travels well into the range of the Tsavo population, on the north eastern side of the Chyulu Hills.

  • Large Social Network

The three elephant species, the African savanna elephant, Loxodonta africana, the African forest elephant, L. cyclotis, and the Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, are large brained, intelligent and highly social mammals. Exceptionally long lived, elephants live in a fluid fission-fusion society accumulating social and ecological knowledge over decades.

African savanna elephants typically live in larger family groups than either of the two other elephant species, and they are more often found in large aggregations. As a consequence, it is possible that the number, variety and complexity of their interactions and relationships may be even greater than the two other elephant species. In Amboseli a female elephant may physically encounter hundreds of other individuals in the course of her daily range. The individuals she meets will be related to her by different degrees, and known to her based on the frequency and the quality of their previous meetings and these factors will shape the nature and define the form of the relationship. An adult male, too, may meet and interact with hundreds of different individuals in the course of a day, though the type and nature of his relationships may be tempered by on his age and sexual state.

Some of the calls used by elephants are powerful low frequency vocalizations that carry over long distances. Elephant can recognize the voices of hundreds of other elephants from up to 2 kilometers away. Family members in particular have an extensive vocal repertoire and an unusually large communication network, a phenomenon that may be unique to long-lived mammals like elephants with fluid social systems, long-range signaling capacities and the mental capacity for extensive social recognition.


Credits: ElephantVoice

How Giant Birds Can Fly Nearly 10,000 Miles in One Go

Posted by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato in Weird & Wild

A wandering albatross lands at a nest site on South Georgia Island, Antarctica. Photograph by Paul Souders, Corbis
A wandering albatross lands at a nest site on South Georgia Island, Antarctica. Photograph by Paul Souders, Corbis

Forget circumnavigating the globe in 80 days—an albatross can do it in a mere 46!

These world travelers are among the largest flying birds, weighing up to 25 pounds (11 kilograms), and with a wingspan of 11 feet (3 meters). But hefting such huge bodies off the ground takes a lot of energy. If albatrosses flew simply by flapping their wings, they would lose about half their body mass fueling that kind of flight.

So how do these kings of the sky complete such long journeys so quickly? It turns out they glide in a specific flight pattern that allows them to harness wind energy, gliding right above the sea’s surface to stay aloft, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Coasting Through Life

A team of scientists from the Technische Universitat Munchen in Munich, Germany, used aerospace engineering to reveal the birds’ unique flight patterns—a physical feat that has puzzled academics for years. By attaching GPS trackers to 20 wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) in the wild, the researchers were able to study data from 16 of the birds as they left and returned to the Kerguelen Archipelago (map) in the Indian Ocean.

Albatrosses yo-yo up and down in the sky, taking advantage of momentum generated on their downhill glides in order to climb back up against the wind. These constant up and down changes in altitude keep the birds aloft without requiring much effort. In fact, the propulsive force generated by such undulations is about ten times greater than anything the albatross could create by simply flapping its wings.

Working Harder, Not Smarter

But it’s a trick the rest of the animal kingdom doesn’t often use. For example, hummingbirds weigh about 0.07 ounces (2.2 grams)—98 percent less than an albatross—and yet their wings have to beat about 70 times per second to keep their little bodies aloft. An albatross can go hours without flapping. Because of this frantic motion, hummingbirds have to eat up to three times their body weight every day.

Even humans struggle with energy efficiency. “An elite cyclist at 60 percent of his maximum aerobic rate can only support 15 to 30 percent of his energy needs with consumed sugars,” according to a LiveScience article. That means we have to refuel more often than the albatross, which can travel greater distances without working as hard.

While it took Jules Verne’s characters just over two and a half months to circumnavigate the globe, an albatross can do it in about half the time. Phileas Fogg and his trusty sidekick Passepartout just can’t compete with these fantastic flyers!

Good Vibrations: 7 Animals That Use Vibrations to Communicate

Posted by Mary Bates in Weird & Wild

A male jumping spider is just one of many animals that use vibration as a means of communication.
A male jumping spider is just one of many animals that use vibration as a means of communication.

Although we can’t always perceive them, vibrations provide a critical way of communicating for many animal species.

Scientists think vibrational communication is an ancient sensory mode—one that is still widely used throughout the animal kingdom. Animals from tiny insects to jumbo-size elephants talk to each other using vibrations for many different purposes, from mating and hunting to solving territorial disputes and warning predators away.

Read on to discover some of the animals that use good vibes to communicate.

1. Caribbean White-Lipped Frog

Like many frogs, male Caribbean white-lipped frogs sing to attract mates. But their songs contain more than just pleasing sounds.

When they call, the frogs sit with their rear ends buried in the mud and their head and front legs just above the ground. With each chirp they make, their vocal sacs expand and contract, hitting the ground and producing an accompanying vibration.

The thumps can be felt 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters) away. Since singing males space themselves apart by 3 to 7 feet (1 to 2 meters), each can feel the calls of its nearest neighbors. Scientists think males might use this vibrational information to maintain the distance between them or time their calls so they don’t overlap. (See “‘Deaf’ Frog Hears By Using Its Mouth As An Echo Chamber.”)

2. Jumping Spiders

Male jumping spiders go to great lengths to attract females, putting on colorful and elaborate displays that also include a vibrational component.

Male spiders generate their vibes by rubbing parts of their bodies together, drumming body parts against the ground, and vibrating special organs. These vibrations not only make the female more likely to mate, they also decrease the chances that she will eat her suitor.

There are some jumping spiders that take advantage of other spiders’ vibrational sensitivities to prey on them. These jumping spiders invade a potential meal’s web and mimic the vibrations of an insect struggling to escape. When the spider approaches to investigate, the sneaky trickster makes a meal of it. Other spider species imitate the vibrations of a courting male to attract and then prey on interested females. (Watch video of jumping spiders attacking insects.)

3. Elephants

The low-frequency calls of elephants actually travel farther through the ground than they do through the air—perfect for communicating over long distances. (See “Elephants ‘Hear’ Warnings With Their Feet, Study Confirms.”)

Elephants detect these seismic waves with the skin of their feet and trunk. Researchers have observed elephants in the wild leaning forward and putting more weight on their front legs, presumably to increase ground contact and the sensitivity of their feet.

By using vibrations, highly social elephants can tell each other about danger from miles away. (See “Elephants Communicate in Sophisticated Sign Language, Researchers Say.”)

4. Mole Rats

Mole rats are a group of rodents that live in underground burrows. Under the ground, there is not much light for visual signals, and sound doesn’t travel very far. So several species of mole rats have developed other ways to communicate—like head-banging.

The Middle East blind mole rat knocks its head against the walls of its tunnels to signal to its neighbors. Demon mole rats also head-bang to talk to each other, and the pattern of their banging might even be specific enough to communicate an individual’s identity to its neighbors. 

5. Termites

African termites build giant mounds in which they live and grow fungus for food. If a mound is threatened by a predator such as an aardvark, chains of drumming termite soldiers head-bang an alarm.

To alert the entire colony of an impending attack, termites will bang their heads on the ground about 11 times a second. One termite’s head-drumming travels only about 15 inches (38 centimeters), but any termite close enough to hear the alarm responds by drumming its head too. In this way, the alarm spreads like a chain reaction through the colony. (Related: “Africa’s Mysterious ‘Fairy Circles’ Explained.”)

6. Kangaroo Rats

Like a desert version of Disney’s Thumper, banner-tailed kangaroo rats use foot-drumming to communicate in a number of situations, including when they encounter snakes.

The foot-drumming may be a form of parental care, warning vulnerable offspring that a dangerous predator is near. It could also convey to the snake that the kangaroo rat has spotted it and the reptile should probably look for easier prey elsewhere.

7. Treehoppers

Treehoppers are tiny insects that cling to plant stems and often live in family groups. They communicate with each other by vibrating the stem they’re sitting on. Although none of their signals are perceptible to humans without the aid of specialized instruments, treehoppers produce a surprising variety of vibrational signals.

Young treehoppers will signal to the group when they’ve found a new stem to eat, or to send out an alarm if a predator approaches. Adult males also vibrate to attract mates. Interested females respond to these vibrational courtship songs by vibrating back.

Credits: Weird & Wild

Animal News: Video Reveals Surprising Humpback Feeding Behavior

72459_1_160x90Humpback whales are known for their unique feeding behavior—called bubble—netting-at the water’s surface. But researchers noticed the whales also spent a lot of time on the bottom. By mounting cameras on the animals, researchers saw for the first time that these whales were bottom-feeding.