Animals’ Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day, according to Wikipedia:

Valentine’s Day or Saint Valentine’s Day is a holiday celebrated on February 14 by many people throughout the world. In the English-speaking countries, it is the traditional day on which lovers express their love for each other by sending Valentine’s cards, presenting flowers, or offering confectionery.

This video is called David Attenborough – Animal behaviour of the bowerbird – BBC wildlife.

Crafty male bowerbirds fabricate staged scenes to make themselves look bigger than they really are: here.

From National Wildlife magazine in the USA:

Animal Valentines

Trickery, hermaphroditism and scented dung: For these species, courtship is hardly a long walk on the beach

02-01-2010 // NW Staff

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of romance and the art of courtship, and although it’s debatable whether romantic love exists outside the human species (and cynics might say within it), wild animals have courtship nailed down. They might not be giving roses and writing love poems, but they have some amazing rituals all their own:

* On warm, romantic summer nights, male fireflies flash their lights while flying—using a code that lets females know what species they belong to—then wait for the females to flash back from hiding places in vegetation. When a female lights up with desire, males zero in on her with hopes of finding a willing mate. But romantics, beware: The female of one firefly species copies the flashes of the females of species different from her own. When a hopeful male shows up, the mimic eats him, then goes on to mate with a male of her own species.

* In looking for a mate, male meadow voles—grassland rodents that look like mice with short tails—prefer females that have just given birth. Females are most receptive when males catch them only hours after giving birth. These females will mate after only about 5 minutes of courtship, compared to up to 90 minutes for other females.

* The mating inclinations of male bower birds, native to Australia and New Guinea, are every woman’s dream: He’s an excellent carpenter but also a fabulous decorator. He builds a stick structure called a bower and then decorates it to impress eligible females. Often he picks a monochromatic color scheme for his decor, which can include everything from shells, feathers, flowers and even bits of string, plastic and other human-made items. Only if the house and its decor are good enough will a female—and perhaps even more than one—choose him for a mate (an example from which some nonfeathered bipeds might well learn).

* Some animals can be both sexes at once. This double-gender condition is called hermaphroditism. Some sea slug species can be male, female or hermaphroditic. With so many sexual options, these slimy mollusks often engage in orgies of 20 or more slugs of various persuasions. Barnacles—marine creatures that live in shells fastened to objects such as reefs or wharfs—are also hermaphrodites. Since they are stuck in one spot, they have a special strategy for sealing the deal. Each barnacle has not one but two penises that can extend as much as 20 times the length of its body. This allows it to reach other barnacles for mating. Often, when one barnacle reaches another with one of its penises, the partner will reciprocate.

* When a male Australian cuttlefish feels the urge to get his groove on with the ladies but is thwarted by a bigger, tougher male, he’s got a trick up his tentacles. He can change color and shape to mimic a female and, in this disguise, slip right by the big guy. Females willingly mate with these diminutive but clever fellows right behind the backs of their burlier brethren.

* In rhinoceroses, females in mating condition produce specially scented dung piles that signal their readiness. Males will search for these females and fight among themselves over access to females … . Adult rhinos are usually solitary, socializing only to mate. Pairs stay together two or three days, mating for a half hour at a time several times a day. Young are born about 16 months later.

* Through a process that scientists call “parthenogenesis” and the rest of us call “virgin birth,” some animals produce young without ever mating. In these species, females clone themselves via embryos produced by simple cell division of the egg rather than by joining sperm and egg. Without sex, there’s no exchange of genetic information, so the resulting offspring are genetically identical to the mother. A female aphid can produce thousands of little clones of herself this way. In some bee species, queens can produce different kinds of offspring depending on whether their eggs are fertilized: Fertilized eggs all hatch as females, while unfertilized hatch as males. A number of lizard species can reproduce without sex, including the New Mexico whiptail and the largest lizard of all, the Komodo dragon. Some unmated sharks have produced young in captivity.

This article is adapted from a blog post by NWF Naturalist Dave Mizejewski.

The genome of the pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum), sequenced by the International Aphid Genomics Consortium, is published this week in the online open-access journal PLoS Biology. Scientists from more than 10 nations took part in the sequencing and analysis of the genome, whose publication in PLoS Biology is accompanied by related papers appearing in PLoS Genetics, Genome Biology, and a special issue of Insect Molecular Biology: here.

A new study reports that male pond skaters — the Brian Boitanos of the insect world — bully and frighten their female counterparts into mating with them. TIME takes a look at other odd (and sometimes disturbing) insect mating rituals. Read more: here.

Dutch scientist argues that animals show morality, too: here.

Rare geese on Ameland island


This is a video of (grey lag) geese on Texel island, near Den Hoorn and the Mokbaai, 1-7 January 2010.

Translated from Vroege Vogels radio in the Netherlands:

01 February 2010 15:45

Two special geese species are on the island of Ameland since this weekend. These are pink-footed goose and the pale-bellied brent goose, birds that breed on the remote Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Probably the birds will remain on Ameland because of the harsh cold in the far north.

In the winter, these small geese will massively flock to the south, especially to the Danish fjords. They leave there only during severe winters in Denmark. Now that the freezing threatens to close the fjords, many geese have moved away. The expectation is that the numbers on Ameland will increase until February, if the winter continues in the north.

Now, there are more than ten different kinds of geese on Ameland and that is exceptional. Also species like the tundra bean goose and white-fronted goose are now seen more than in other years. In normal winters, mostly barnacle geese and brent geese stay on the island. Of the latter species, the numbers in May may increase to as many as 50,000 birds.

Photos of Ameland geese here.

Bird migration on Texel: here.

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Redwings and tufted ducks


This morning, much of the ice and snow had thawed away.

Two redwings on the grass of the canal bank.

This is a redwing video from Sevilla, Spain.

Tufted ducks and great crested grebes in the river Rhine.

BirdLife International has once again launched its annual Spring Alive campaign to celebrate the miracle of bird migration: here.

Haiti, child trafficking and injured evacuation ban


Haiti

Starting last Wednesday, the US military refused to fly wounded Haitians to the US for medical treatment: here. And here.

U.S. Church Group Arrested for Trying to Take 33 Kids Out of Country Illegally: here.

HAITI: Universities Feel Strain After Earthquake: here.

SAN FRANCISCO–Dozens of people gathered at Powell and Market Streets on January 25 to stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti and protest the U.S. handling of the aid effort after the catastrophic earthquake: here.

Learn about Cuban first-responders in Haiti who saved the lives of countless quake victims: here.