Deep Connections Might Make Us Nicer

by Curtis Atkisson

That title, right?! Sounds like the most brain-dead obvious thing in the whole world. But, for those of us interested in they study of cooperation, it’s not that obvious, and the fact that deep connections might make us nicer is also pretty darn cool.

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Network of human trade alliances

Social network analysis is an amazing tool that allows us to look at how individuals’ relationships impact their behavior… Continue reading

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Field Notes: Life on Monkey Island

I’m finally back after a summer field season studying monkeys in Japan!

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IMG_2989My research was conducted on Koshima Island, the birthplace of Japanese Primatology and home to a population of almost 100 Japanese macaques. You may have heard of Continue reading

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Featured Creature: Kitti’s Hog-nosed Bat

Kitti's Hog-nosed Bats hanging in a roost cave.

Kitti’s Hog-nosed Bats hanging in a roost cave.

The story of Kitti’s Hog-nosed Bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai), also sometimes referred to as the Bumblebee Bat, is a tiny story and a sad one. This little bat, a native to parts of Thailand and Burma where it lives in limestone caves, measures in at a mere 2.9 to 3.3 cm (1.1 to 1.3 in) in length and weighing only 2 g (0.071 oz)! Tiny. This makes it definitely the smallest bat in the world and puts it into the running for the title of smallest mammal in the world depending on what measurement is used. By length, this bat is the smallest, but by weight the Etruscan Shrew is a little lighter (down to 1.2 g). This ranking has led to a number of the roost sites attracting the attention of tourists wanting to see these little bats in their native habitat, private collectors who sell bats, and even some scientific collectors working for natural history museums. This bat is pretty sensitive to disturbance, so this attention tends to disrupt colonies. Sad. Continue reading

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Featured Creature: Torquigener Pufferfish

Pufferfish. They are toxic (tetrodotoxin, to be precise). They can inflate when threatened to become huge, unwieldy balloons that are hard to eat. Most species have spines. These are things that just about everyone knows about Pufferfish. However, this is all that most people know about Pufferfish, and yet there is so much more to know.

A Torquigener Pufferfish.

A Torquigener Pufferfish.

Pufferfish represent a family of fish called Tetraodontidae which contains 19 genera that have about 120 species between them. I want to bring your attention to one of those genera, in particular. It is the genus Torquigener. This genus has 21 recognized species that live in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. If you look up Torquigener on Wikipedia you find that they get their name from their ability to build circular structures on the sea floor. This description woefully underplays the amazing structures that the males of this genus build to attract a mate. Continue reading

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Field Notes: Most wonderful time of the year

Greetings  from the tundra.  The past few weeks have been some of my favorite of the field season— time for nestling and fledgling birds! Continue reading

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Scholar Holler: Dr. Barbara Clucas

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Dr. Barbara Clucas is an Urban Ecologist at Humboldt State University and an alum of UC Davis Animal Behavior graduate group. Last spring, she returned to UCD to give a talk about her recent work examining human-avian interactions in Seattle, Washington and Berlin, Germany. While she was here, she sat down to chat about her life and work with Ethogram Editor Katrina Brock.

The Ethogram: Tell us about a memorable experience from your fieldwork.

Barbara Clucas: During my Ph.D. work, I was studying ground squirrels. One time, there was a dead squirrel that had been flattened by a a car. Another squirrel tried to take the dead squirrel back to its burrow to Continue reading

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Featured Creature: Weddell Seal

Weddell Seal basking on the ice.

Weddell Seal basking on the ice.

Animals have evolved to wonderfully conform to the environments in which they live, and animals that live in particularly extreme environments have some particularly amazing adaptations. One such animal is the Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii). With a large and stable population (estimated at around 800,000 individuals) and the ease with which humans can approach them, Weddell Seals are one of the best studied seals in the southern ocean. These relatively large seals eat a wide variety of fish, krill, crustaceans, and other prey items including the occasional penguin or other seal. The Weddell Seal has the most southerly range of any mammal on earth living, as it does, in the waters along the edge of Antarctica where is spends a lot of its time under the sea ice. Such habitat is a pretty extreme environment in many ways. One of these ways is the extreme cold that Antarctica experiences. The sea water around Antarctica is actually below freezing for much of the year and only remains liquid due to the salt content. Like the water, the air over Antarctica is also very cold which causes another extreme condition, namely extremely dry air. Cold air does not hold a lot of moisture and this is one of the contributing factors that make Antarctica one of the largest deserts in the world.

Weddell Seal under water off the coast of Antarctica.

Weddell Seal under water off the coast of Antarctica.

And in the midst of this coldness and dryness, lives the Weddell Seal. Being a warm blooded animal in the Antarctic Ocean presents a lot of challenges to even the simple parts of life, like breathing. Breathing is something that we all take for granted. For a Weddell Seal, it is not so trivial. Every time you or I breathe out, we lose heat and moisture. Just put your hand in front of your mouth and exhale to see what I am talking about. Multiply these losses by the numbers of times you breathe each day, and all that lost moisture and warmth begin to add up. A Weddell Seal simply cannot afford these losses.

So what’s a seal to do? They have a bunch of adaptations that surround their breathing. One is that they have incredibly cold noses. These seals have blood flow that circulates in such a way that as warm blood goes out towards the tip of the nose, the warmth is passed off to blood that is returning to the body. This is called counter-current flow and it results in the nose of a Weddell Seal being pretty close to freezing most of the time! Inside this cold nose are some really large nostrils which have enough surface area for the seal to modify the air it is breathing. The major way that air is modified is in the retention of heat and moisture. As the seal breaths out, warm air leaves the lungs. As the air gets into the freezing cold nose, most of the moisture in that warm air condenses on the inside of nostrils. This allows the seal to capture the water, and with it the warmth, before the air leaves the body completely. The air that then gets exhaled is extremely dry and cold, just like the outside. When the seal then inhales, the moisture and warmth in the nostrils are there to make the incoming air more breathable.

Pretty amazing seal!

Weddell Seal surfacing from under the ice to breathe.

Weddell Seal surfacing from under the ice to breathe.

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Field Notes: Ryane’s first field season at Chicken Camp!

I’ve recently returned from my first field season and as I’m settling back into Davis, I wanted to take a moment to talk about my research in Wyoming studying the mating behavior of Greater sage-grouse! Sage-grouse are basically weirdly-awesome, tricked-out prairie chickens (thus, Chicken Camp). Greater sage-grouse are currently being considered for listing under the Endangered Species act, a decision that has to be made by September of this year. They are also a lekking species, which means that during the mating season males gather together in a clumped area, dance around, and hope a female decides to mate with them. Their display is crazy and incredible and also hard to describe, so here’s a video:

Up close they're a lot less weird....

Up close they’re a lot less weird….

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Field Notes: Frozen then fried…wacky weather on the tundra

Whew!  A lot has happened on the tundra in the past two weeks!  Since my last post the weather has gone from one extreme to another with multiple snow-storms and now blistering heat.  While I’ve been coping with the weather by switching between my parka and sunhat depending upon the day,  how do birds fare in the face of all of this variation?

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Adult White-crowned sparrow with puffed up feathers to retain body heat in the cold.

Unfortunately, when snow-storms swept across the tundra, many of the “early birds” who nested at the end of May lost their nest.  When the weather becomes too harsh, sometimes incubating and brooding females will abandon their nests leading to frozen eggs and starving nestlings.  However, our sparrows show remarkable resilience after this challenge. So far we’ve discovered that at least 8 of our birds that lost their nests in the snow have “renested” or built second nests and laid another round of eggs.  This is a pretty remarkable achievement when you consider that one egg can represent 8 percent of a White-crowned sparrow’s body mass, and most females will produce a total of 4-5 eggs over the course of lay.   That’s kind of like a 150 person producing a 12 pound baby every day,  four to five days in a row!

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Featured Creature: Pink Fairy Armadillo

Pink Fairy Armadillo

Pink Fairy Armadillo

Any idea what the smallest species of Armadillo is? You guessed it! It is the tiny (only 3 or 4 inches long), and ever so cute, Pink Fairy Armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus)! This little resident of a small area of central Argentina is found in sandy desert areas where it lives by digging under ground with the huge claws in has on its front and rear feet. It digs in search of ants (its primary food source), worms and other subterranean invertebrates that it feeds on.

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