Red-backed shrikes on video


This video is about red-backed shrikes.

These birds nest in Europe.

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Fish recognize themselves in mirrors


This September 2015 video says about itself:

Blue-streak Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus)

In certain locations around the reef, often over the top of prominent corals such as is the case here, cleaner wrasse will set up a cleaner station. Fish become habituated to this and display over the station by spreading their fins and changing colour indicating they wish to be cleaned. The cleaner wrasse swim up and oblige, getting a free meal in the process as they clean parasites, dirt and the fishes’ wounds.

This 7 February 2019 video says about itself:

The fish that recognise themselves in the mirror

Here, a cleaner wrasse interacts with its reflection in a mirror placed on the outside of the aquarium glass. Note that the mirror itself cannot be seen in this photo because the aquarium glass itself becomes reflective at the viewing angle of the camera.

From PLOS:

Fish Appear to Recognize Themselves in the Mirror

February 7, 2019

A species of fish, the cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus), responds to its reflection and attempts to remove marks on its body during the mirror test — a method held as the gold standard for determining if animals are self-aware. The finding, published on February 7 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, suggests that fish might possess far higher cognitive powers than previously thought, and ignites a high-stakes debate over how we assess the intelligence of animals that are so unlike ourselves.

The study’s researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPIO) and Osaka City University (OCU), say that their results provide clear evidence of behaviours that appear to pass through all phases of the mirror test, but that the interpretation of what these mean is less clear: Does a ‘pass’ mark in the mirror test demonstrate that fish possess self-awareness — a cognitive trait thought only to be present in primates and some other mammals? Or can the mirror test be solved by very different cognitive processes than previously thought?

“The behaviours we observe leave little doubt that this fish behaviourally fulfils all criteria of the mirror test as originally laid out. What is less clear is whether these behaviours should be considered as evidence that fish are self-aware — even though in the past these same behaviours have been interpreted as self-awareness in so many other animals,” says Dr Alex Jordan, senior author on the study.

The ability to perceive and recognise a reflected mirror image as self (mirror self-recognition) is considered a hallmark of cognition across species. To test for this phenomenon in fish, the researchers applied the classic ‘mark’ test to the cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) — a marine fish best known for its behaviour of “cleaning” external parasites from client fish — by placing a coloured mark on fish in a location that can only be seen in a mirror reflection. In order to gain a ‘pass’, the test requires that the animal must touch or investigate the mark, demonstrating that it perceives the reflected image as itself. This is clearly a challenge for animals such as fish that lack limbs and hands.

The researchers observed that fish attempted to remove the marks by scraping their bodies on hard surfaces after viewing themselves in the mirror. Fish never attempted to remove transparent marks in the presence of a mirror, or coloured marks when no mirror was present — suggesting that marked fish were responding to the visual cue of seeing the mark on themselves in the mirror. Further, unmarked fish did not attempt to remove marks from themselves when interacting with a marked fish across a clear divider, nor did they attempt to remove marks placed on the mirror itself — suggesting that fish were not innately reacting to a mark resembling an ectoparasite anywhere in the environment, for instance due to hard-wired feeding responses.

Dr Jordan acknowledges the controversial nature of the study, saying: “Depending on your position, you might reject the interpretation that these behaviours in a fish satisfy passing the test at all. But on what objective basis can you do this when the behaviours they show are so functionally similar to those of other species that have passed the test?”

The PLOS Biology editors also recognized the potential for controversy, and commissioned an accompanying commentary from Professor Frans de Waal, a leading primatologist at Emory University who has studied mirror self-recognition in mammals. While de Waal finds the fish study intriguing, he urges caution in interpreting it. In doing so, he calls for less black-and-white approach to animal self-awareness. “What if self-awareness develops like an onion, building layer upon layer, rather than appearing all at once?” asks de Waal. “To explore self-awareness further, we should stop looking at responses to the mirror as its litmus test. Only with a richer theory of the self and a larger test battery will we be able to determine all of the various levels of self-awareness, including where exactly fish fit in.”

‘Morocco stops helping Trump-Saudi war on Yemen’


This 12 May 2015 video says about itself:

One day before a five-day humanitarian cease-fire is supposed to take effect in Yemen, a Moroccan war plane is shot down near the Saudi border.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Morocco withdraws from the military coalition that is fighting in Yemen under the leadership of Saudi Arabia. This is reported by anonymous government sources to news agency AP. They also say that the ambassador in Riyadh has been recalled. In recent times the relationship between the kingdoms has been strained, including about the course of the war in Yemen and the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Further details are not known. …

Last month, the Moroccan foreign minister already said that Rabat then had another role within the coalition.

He also suggested that the government frowned upon the recent visits of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed to other Arab countries. Mohammed bin Salman was under heavy pressure at the time of his travels, because of the strong suspicions about his involvement in the killing of Khashoggi.

A government official says to AP that Morocco has refused to receive the crown prince. The reason for this was the busy agenda of the Moroccan king.

Oldest seed-eating perching bird discovered


This 7 February 2019 video is called Ancestor to modern day sparrows flew around 52 million years ago.

From the Field Museum in the USA:

Earliest known seed-eating perching bird discovered in Fossil Lake, Wyoming

February 7, 2019

Summary: The ‘perching birds‘, or passerines, are the most common birds in the world today — they include sparrows, robins, and finches. They used to be very rare. Scientists have just discovered some of the earliest relatives of the passerines, including a 52-million-year-old fossil with a thick, curved beak for eating seeds.

Most of the birds you’ve ever seen — sparrows, finches, robins, crows — have one crucial thing in common: they’re all what scientists refer to as perching birds, or “passerines”. The passerines make up about 6,500 of the 10,000 bird species alive today. But while they’re everywhere now, they were once rare, and scientists are still learning about their origins. In a new paper in Current Biology, researchers have announced the discovery of one of the earliest known passerine birds, from 52 million years ago.

“This is one of the earliest known perching birds. It’s fascinating because passerines today make up most of all bird species, but they were extremely rare back then. This particular piece is just exquisite,” says Field Museum Neguanee Distinguished Service Curator Lance Grande, an author of the paper. “It is a complete skeleton with the feathers still attached, which is extremely rare in the fossil record of birds.”

The paper describes two new fossil bird species — one from Germany that lived 47 million years ago, and another that lived in what’s now Wyoming 52 million years ago, a period known as the Early Eocene. The Wyoming bird, Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi, is the earliest example of a bird with a finch-like beak, similar to today’s sparrows and finches. This legacy is reflected in its name; Eofringilllirostrum means “dawn finch beak.” (Meanwhile, boudreauxi is a nod to Terry and Gail Boudreaux, longtime supporters of science at the Field Museum.)”

The fossil birds’ finch-like, thick beaks hint at their diet. “These bills are particularly well-suited for consuming small, hard seeds,” says Daniel Ksepka, the paper’s lead author, curator at the Bruce Museum in Connecticut. Anyone with a birdfeeder knows that lots of birds are nuts for seeds, but seed-eating is a fairly recent biological phenomenon. “The earliest birds probably ate insects and fish, some may have been eating small lizards,” says Grande. “Until this discovery, we did not know much about the ecology of early passerines. E. boudreauxi gives us an important look at this.”

“We were able to show that a comparable diversity of bill types already developed in the Eocene in very early ancestors of passerines,” says co-author Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt. “The great distance between the two fossil sites implies that these birds were widespread during the Eocene, while the scarcity of known fossils suggests a rather low number of individuals,” adds Ksepka.

While passerine birds were rare 52 million years ago, E. boudreauxi had the good luck to live and die near Fossil Lake, a site famous for perfect fossilization conditions.

“Fossil Lake is a really graphic picture of an entire community locked in stone — it has everything from fishes and crocs to insects, pollen, reptiles, birds, and early mammals,” says Grande. “We have spent so much time excavating this locality, that we have a record of even the very rare things.”

Grande notes that Fossil Lake provides a unique look at the ancient world — one of the most detailed pictures of life on Earth after the extinction of the dinosaurs (minus the birds) 65 million years ago. “Knowing what happened in the past gives us a better understanding of the present and may help us figure out where we are going for the future.”

With that in mind, Grande plans to continue his exploration of the locale. “I’ve been going to Fossil Lake every year for the last 35 years, and finding this bird is one of the reasons I keep going back. It’s so rich,” says Grande. “We keep finding things that no one’s ever seen before.”

New dinosaur species discovery in Mongolia


Postcranial elements of the holotype specimen (MPC-D 102/111) of Gobiraptor minutus gen. et sp. nov. (A) Skeletal reconstruction in left lateral view (missing and damaged portions of the bones in gray). Credit: Sungjin Lee et al. A new baby oviraptorid dinosaur (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous Nemegt Formation of Mongolia

From PLOS:

Fossils of new oviraptorosaur species discovered in Mongolia

Incomplete skeleton of Gobiraptor minutus was likely that of a juvenile

February 6, 2019

A new oviraptorosaur species from the Late Cretaceous was discovered in Mongolia, according to a study published in February 6, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Yuong-Nam Lee from Seoul National University, South Korea, and colleagues.

Oviraptorosaurs were a diverse group of feathered, bird-like dinosaurs from the Cretaceous of Asia and North America. Despite the abundance of nearly complete oviraptorosaur skeletons discovered in southern China and Mongolia, the diet and feeding strategies of these toothless dinosaurs are still unclear. In this study, Lee and colleagues described an incomplete skeleton of an oviraptorosaur found in the Nemegt Formation of the Gobi desert of Mongolia.

The new species, named Gobiraptor minutus, can be distinguished from other oviraptorosaurs in having unusual thickened jaws. This unique morphology suggests that Gobiraptor used a crushing feeding strategy, supporting previous hypotheses that oviraptorosaurs probably fed on hard food items such as eggs, seeds or hard-shell mollusks. Histological analyses of the femur revealed that the specimen likely belonged to a very young individual.

The finding of a new oviraptorosaur species in the Nemegt Formation, which consists mostly of river and lake deposits, confirms that these dinosaurs were extremely well adapted to wet environments. The authors propose that different dietary strategies may explain the wide taxonomic diversity and evolutionary success of this group in the region.

The authors add: “A new oviraptorid dinosaur Gobiraptor minutus gen. et sp. nov. from the Upper Cretaceous Nemegt Formation is described here based on a single holotype specimen that includes incomplete cranial and postcranial elements. The unique morphology of the mandible and the accordingly inferred specialized diet of Gobiraptor also indicate that different dietary strategies may be one of important factors linked with the remarkably high diversity of oviraptorids in the Nemegt Basin.”