Hummingbirds see more colours than humans


This 2018 video is called Beautiful hummingbirds show off their breathtaking colors.

From Princeton University in the USA:

Spectacular bird’s-eye view? Hummingbirds see diverse colors humans can only imagine

Team trains wild hummingbirds to discriminate UV color combinations

June 15, 2020

Summary: While humans have three color cones in the retina sensitive to red, green and blue light, birds have a fourth color cone that can detect ultraviolet light. A research team trained wild hummingbirds to perform a series of experiments that revealed that the tiny birds also see combination colors like ultraviolet+green and ultraviolet+red.

To find food, dazzle mates, escape predators and navigate diverse terrain, birds rely on their excellent color vision.

“Humans are color-blind compared to birds and many other animals,” said Mary Caswell Stoddard, an assistant professor in the Princeton University Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Humans have three types of color-sensitive cones in their eyes — attuned to red, green and blue light — but birds have a fourth type, sensitive to ultraviolet light. “Not only does having a fourth color cone type extend the range of bird-visible colors into the UV, it potentially allows birds to perceive combination colors like ultraviolet+green and ultraviolet+red — but this has been hard to test,” said Stoddard.

To investigate how birds perceive their colorful world, Stoddard and her research team established a new field system for exploring bird color vision in a natural setting. Working at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Gothic, Colorado, the researchers trained wild broad-tailed hummingbirds (Selasphorus platycercus) to participate in color vision experiments.

“Most detailed perceptual experiments on birds are performed in the lab, but we risk missing the bigger picture of how birds really use color vision in their daily lives,” Stoddard said. “Hummingbirds are perfect for studying color vision in the wild. These sugar fiends have evolved to respond to flower colors that advertise a nectar reward, so they can learn color associations rapidly and with little training.”

Stoddard’s team was particularly interested in “nonspectral” color combinations, which involve hues from widely separated parts of the color spectrum, as opposed to blends of neighboring colors like teal (blue-green) or yellow (green-red). For humans, purple is the clearest example of a nonspectral color. Technically, purple is not in the rainbow: it arises when our blue (short-wave) and red (long-wave) cones are stimulated, but not green (medium-wave) cones.

While humans have just one nonspectral color — purple, birds can theoretically see up to five: purple, ultraviolet+red, ultraviolet+green, ultraviolet+yellow and ultraviolet+purple.

Stoddard and her colleagues designed a series of experiments to test whether hummingbirds can see these nonspectral colors. Their results appear June 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research team, which included scientists from Princeton, the University of British Columbia (UBC), Harvard University, University of Maryland and RMBL, performed outdoor experiments each summer for three years. First they built a pair of custom “bird vision” LED tubes programmed to display a broad range of colors, including nonspectral colors like ultraviolet+green. Next, they performed experiments in an alpine meadow frequently visited by local broad-tailed hummingbirds, which breed at the high-altitude site.

Each morning, the researchers rose before dawn and set up two feeders: one containing sugar water and the other plain water. Beside each feeder, they placed an LED tube. The tube beside the sugar water emitted one color, while the one next to the plain water emitted a different color. The researchers periodically swapped the positions of the rewarding and unrewarding tubes, so the birds could not simply use location to pinpoint a sweet treat. They also performed control experiments to ensure that the tiny birds were not using smell or another inadvertent cue to find the reward. Over the course of several hours, wild hummingbirds learned to visit the rewarding color. Using this setup, the researchers recorded over 6,000 feeder visits in a series of 19 experiments.

The experiments revealed that hummingbirds can see a variety of nonspectral colors, including purple, ultraviolet+green, ultraviolet+red and ultraviolet+yellow. For example, hummingbirds readily distinguished ultraviolet+green from pure ultraviolet or pure green, and they discriminated between two different mixtures of ultraviolet+red light — one redder, one less so.

“It was amazing to watch,” said Harold Eyster, a UBC Ph.D. student and a co-author of the study. “The ultraviolet+green light and green light looked identical to us, but the hummingbirds kept correctly choosing the ultraviolet+green light associated with sugar water. Our experiments enabled us to get a sneak peek into what the world looks like to a hummingbird.”

Even though hummingbirds can perceive nonspectral colors, appreciating how these colors appear to birds can be difficult. “It is impossible to really know how the birds perceive these colors. Is ultraviolet+red a mix of those colors, or an entirely new color? We can only speculate,” said Ben Hogan, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton and a co-author of the study.

“To imagine an extra dimension of color vision — that is the thrill and challenge of studying how avian perception works,” said Stoddard. “Fortunately, the hummingbirds reveal that they can see things we cannot.”

“The colors that we see in the fields of wildflowers at our study site, the wildflower capital of Colorado, are stunning to us, but just imagine what those flowers look like to birds with that extra sensory dimension,” said co-author David Inouye, who is affiliated with the University of Maryland and RMBL.

Finally, the research team analyzed a data set of 3,315 feather and plant colors. They discovered that birds likely perceive many of these colors as nonspectral, while humans do not. That said, the researchers emphasize that nonspectral colors are probably not particularly special relative to other colors. The wide variety of nonspectral colors available to birds is the result of their ancient four color-cone visual system.

“Tetrachromacy — having four color cone types — evolved in early vertebrates,” said Stoddard. “This color vision system is the norm for birds, many fish and reptiles, and it almost certainly existed in dinosaurs. We think the ability to perceive many nonspectral colors is not just a feat of hummingbirds but a widespread feature of animal color vision.”

COVID-19 in Johnson’s Britain, Macron’s France, Germany


Hospital workers blocking Westminster Bridge in London, England on May 1st over lack of PPE

This photo shows hospital workers blocking Westminster Bridge in London, England on May 1st 2020 over lack of PPE.

From daily News Line in Britain today:

UK’s 63,000 excess deaths during coronavirus: the highest in Europe

THE UK has had over 63,000 excess deaths during the coronavirus pandemic, the highest in Europe.

The Office of National Statistics, (ONS) calculates excess deaths by examining the death certificates of everyone who has died during the pandemic, in hospitals, care homes and in private homes in England and Wales.

The ONS counts the excess numbers, over and above the average levels of deaths for this time of year.

The excess deaths, therefore, include those who have died from Covid-19 and those who have died from other medical conditions.

The ONS and equivalent bodies for Scotland, Ireland and Wales found the excess deaths to be 63,708 in the UK, by the end of May.

At the daily Downing Street press briefings given by ministers and health officials, there is a rushed presentation of some figures and graphs, which are hard to follow.

The public is given the officially recorded deaths from Covid-19 patients who have tested positive, in the last 24 hours, and the total deaths of these during the pandemic.

For example, total deaths with positive tests were 40,597 by 7 June; total deaths as judged by death certificate mention of coronavirus, was 50,107 by 29 May. In the same period, the excess deaths were 63,708.

Other figures given are the increase in infected cases in the last 24 hours, and the total of infected cases to date.

For example, on 11 June, the new coronavirus cases were 1,266 and the cumulative total was 291,409.

But only patients with positive tests are included and many patients have coronavirus symptoms but have not had tests, so the figures given are a huge underestimate.

Since May, a new indicator has sometimes been flagged up on presentations by the BBC News statistics correspondent; that of the estimation of spread of the infection in the community.

This is needed since the original test and trace system in the community was closed down on 12 March.

From mid-April, the ONS has been tasked with performing swab tests of 19,000 people, including children, in 9,000 households.

In this way, community prevalence of coronavirus is estimated.

The week ending 31 May, the ONS estimated that 8,000 people were developing coronavirus per day. In the week ending 7 June, this number was 5,400 and by 11 June the number was 4,500 per day.

But hospital and care home data are not included, although it is a key worry that hospitals and care homes are seeding new cases of the disease into the community.

Other indicators used include hospital admissions and acute and intensive care hospital bed use, the number of patients on ventilators and the use of public transport and cars.

It does not help that the government and officials are prone to ‘gaming’ the information for public presentation, such that the UK National Statistics Authority has had to administer two rebukes, the latest on 2 June.

All these ‘indicators’ and many more estimations, are pooled into the SAGE committee, who then judge whether the R rate is above one or below one, and regional Rs are calculated. They then draw up their recommendations.

Some suggest that this process is like looking into a crystal ball to make a ‘guesstimate’.

It does not provide the actual real-time data that can find out where every infected case is now, and how the disease is spreading to other individuals.

Clusters cannot be identified and treated.

The new community ‘NHS Test and Trace’ system announced on 28 May, by PM Boris Johnson, is part privatised, ‘skeletal’ and is nowhere near the ‘world-beating’ claims that have been made for it.

This can only be done with a comprehensive Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, Support (FTTIS) system, as advocated by the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, based on World Health Organisation recommendations.

Driving blind in the ‘fog’

The teachers were right to ask where is the scientific evidence to show whether it is safe to re-open schools by 1 June. It was not provided to them because it isn’t there.

On 6 June, Greg Clark, chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology select committee, concluded that Britain had been left taking ‘decisions in the dark’ because of delay and obscuring by health officials.

Clark said: ‘We turned off the light on being able to see the detailed nature of the course of the infection.’

The senior government officers, Chief Medical Officer, Prof Chris Whitty and Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, leading SAGE and guiding the government, have recently admitted that they regret the lack of a proper testing and contact-tracing system from the start.

Whitty said that if he could change one thing, it would be to speed up testing at the start of the epidemic.

He told the daily press briefing: ‘Many of the problems we had came because we were unable to work out exactly where we were, and we were trying to see our way through the fog with more difficulty.’

In fact, it was SAGE itself on 11 February which advocated the scaling down of the original test-and-trace system and it stopped on 12 March.

These are not the only confessions by SAGE scientists last week.

‘Thousands of lives could have been saved’

Professor Neil Ferguson, (Imperial College) and Professor John Edmunds (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) have admitted that they underestimated the rapidity and the degree of spread of the disease in March and should have called for a lockdown earlier.

Ferguson said: ‘Had we introduced a lockdown earlier we’d have reduced the final death toll by at least half.’

Edmunds said: ‘I wish we had gone into lockdown earlier. I think it has cost a lot of lives unfortunately. Thousands of lives could have been saved by earlier lockdowns.’

Last week, they and many other scientists, spoke up and warned about lifting the lockdown too soon, given the levels of the virus still circulating and the easing of the restrictions by government.

With no consistent plan to beat the virus, and no scientific compass, the government brazens out its fatal mismanagement of the pandemic and prepares the way for more disasters.

The responsibility for this colossal loss of life, lies in the hands of the privatisers in the top layers of government, the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England which organises the day-to-day management of the NHS with a rod of iron.

The privatisation agenda demanded that the bulk of NHS pathology testing and delivery be handed over to the big private companies and any delays were a price worth paying.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock continues to say that the government took the right measures at the right time.

So, from not closing the borders, to not preparing mass FTTIS, to not providing hospital quarantine for patients when it has the facilities in the Nightingales, to allowing patients to die at home with no proper medical supervision, to filling the care homes with non-tested patients discharged from hospital creating care home epidemics, and cutting core NHS services to millions of people, to starving the staff of PPE and opening the way to the deaths of 300 health and care workers: these we have to accept as ‘the right decisions at the right time’.

NHSE has used the coronavirus crisis to accelerate its reconfiguration, and privatisation of the NHS as a whole, characterised by a huge denial of hospital and primary care to patients, which they aim to encapsulate in a ‘new normal’ which is now being imposed.

The bringing down of this government and its replacement by a workers government and socialism is the urgent need of the day to save thousands more lives.

Macron unleashes riot police against French health care protests. By Will Morrow, 17 June 2020. The Macron administration organized a violent assault on health care workers who just weeks earlier were self-servingly hailed for their sacrifice during the pandemic.

French police condemned after dragging nurse by her hair and slamming her against a tree: here.

Germany is often called a country with ‘good’ anti-COVID-19 policies. Compared to Trump’s USA and Boris Johnson‘s Britain, that is true. But that is a very low standard. There were recent outbreaks in German slaughterhouses, a German church, a German restaurant, and a Berlin apartment complex.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

At the beginning of this week, 400 workers were tested positive for the coronavirus in a German slaughterhouse.

1000 tests have been done. 100 people tested negative, of 500 the result is not yet known, German media report.

The Tönnies slaughterhouse is located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, about 60 kilometers east of Münster.

Many migrant workers from Eastern Europe work there, says correspondent Wouter Zwart.

UPDATE: at least 475 workers infected at Tönnies, Germany’s biggest meat business.

UPDATE: 657 workers infected.

How bombardier beetles bomb


This March 2020 video says about itself:

Bombardier Beetle Sprays Acid From Its Rear | Life | BBC Earth

These oogpister and bombardier beetles have developed a deadly defence mechanism – a sharp spray of boiling acid from the rear!

From the Stevens Institute of Technology in the USA:

Chemistry behind bombardier beetle’s extraordinary firepower

June 16, 2020

Summary: Researchers show how the bombardier beetle concocts its deadly explosives and in the process, learn how evolution gave rise to the beetle’s remarkable firepower.

If you want to see one of the wonders of the natural world, just startle a bombardier beetle. But be careful: when the beetles are scared, they flood an internal chamber with a complex cocktail of aromatic chemicals, triggering a cascade of chemical reactions that detonates the fluid and sends it shooting out of the insect’s spray nozzle in a machine-gun-like pulse of toxic, scalding-hot vapor. The explosive, high-pressure burst of noxious chemicals doesn’t harm the beetle, but it stains and irritates human skin — and can kill smaller enemies outright.

The beetle’s extraordinary arsenal has been held up by some as a proof of God’s existence: how on earth, creationists argue, could such a complex, multistep defense mechanism evolve by chance? Now researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. show how the bombardier beetle concocts its deadly explosives and in the process, learn how evolution gave rise to the beetle’s remarkable firepower.

“We explain for the first time how these incredible beetles biosynthesize chemicals to create fuel for their explosions,” said Athula Attygalle, a research professor of chemistry and lead author of the work, which appears today in the July 2020 issue of the Science of Nature. “It’s a fascinating story that nobody has been able to tell before.”

To trace the workings of the beetle’s internal chemistry set, Attygalle and colleagues at University of California, Berkeley used deuterium, a rare hydrogen isotope, to tag specially synthesized chemical blends. The team led by Kipling Will then either injected the deuterium-labeled chemicals into the beetles’ internal fluids, or mixed them with dog food and fed them to the beetles over a period of several days.

Attygalle’s team sedated the bugs by popping them in the freezer, then gently tugged at their legs, annoying the sleepy insects until they launched their defensive sprays onto carefully placed filter papers. The team also dissected some beetles, using human hairs to tie closed the tiny ducts linking their chemical reservoirs and reaction chambers, and sampling the raw chemicals used to generate explosions.

Using mass spectrometers, Attygalle checked the samples sent to Stevens for deuterium-labeled products, enabling him to figure out exactly which chemicals the beetles had incorporated into their bomb-making kits. “People have been speculating about this for at least 50 years, but at last we have a clear answer,” Attygalle said. “It turns out that the beetles’ biochemistry is even more intricate than we’d thought.”

Previously, researchers had assumed that two toxic, benzene-like chemicals called benzoquinones found in the beetles’ spray were metabolized from hydroquinone, a toxic chemical that in humans can cause cancer or genetic damage. The team at Stevens showed that in fact just one of the beetle’s benzoquinones derived from hydroquinone, with the other springing from a completely separate precursor: m-cresol, a toxin found in coal tar.

It’s fascinating that the beetles can safely metabolize such toxic chemicals, Attygalle said. In future studies, he hopes to follow the beetles’ chemical supply chain further upstream, to learn how the precursors are biosynthesized from naturally available substances.

The team’s findings also show that the beetles’ explosives rely on chemical pathways found in many other creepy-crawlies. Other animals such as millipedes also use benzoquinones to discourage predators, although they lack the bombardier’s ability to detonate their chemical defenses. Evolutionarily distant creatures such as spiders and millipedes use similar strategies, too, suggesting that multiple organisms have independently evolved ways to biosynthesize the chemicals.

That’s a reminder that the bombardier beetle, though remarkable, is part of a rich and completely natural evolutionary tapestry, Attygalle said. “By studying the similarities and differences between beetles’ chemistry, we can see more clearly how they and other species fit together into the evolutionary tree,” he explained. “Beetles are incredibly diverse, and they all have amazing chemical stories to tell.”

Coronavirus news, Honduras and Germany


This 7 May 2020 Spanish language United States TV video says about itself (translated):

Honduras is the Central American country with the highest mortality rate due to COVID-19 | Telemundo

The coronavirus has simultaneously attacked the entire region, although with different results in each country. Honduras is the hardest hit territory, while Panama, with greater capacity to carry out tests, seems to be one of the least affected.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

[Right-wing] Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is infected with the coronavirus. He said he has mild symptoms and has started treatment.

Two employees and his wife are also infected with the virus and are being treated.

When British Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson became infected, government propaganda also said that he had ‘mild symptoms’. However, Johnson landed on intensive care. Doctors say he had a 50% chance of dying then.

Usually, ‘mild’ coronavirus infection is not mild.

Germany is often called a country with ‘good’ anti-COVID-19 policies. Compared to Trump’s USA and Boris Johnson‘s Britain, that is true. But that is a very low standard. There were recent outbreaks in German slaughterhouses, a German church, a German restaurant, and a Berlin apartment complex.

Also from Dutch NOS radio today:

In Germany, 30 people have died from the effects of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours. That is more than in the previous days, when fewer than ten deaths were recorded. …

The German death toll from covid-19 is 8830, according to the Robert Koch Institut (RKI), Germany’s health authority.

Hippos, cattle and Kenyan rivers


This May 2019 video says about itself:

Africa’s Lakes and Rivers Thrive on Hippo Dung

Hippos are helping to rejuvenate African rivers and lakes. Scientists say the animal’s nutrient-rich dung makes them vital to the health of the aquatic ecosystem. But the researchers also warn that the dwindling hippo population could prove harmful to those waterways. VOAs Deborah Block takes us to Kenya where the scientists did their latest research.

From Forschungsverbund Berlin in Germany:

Cattle vs. hippopotamus: Dung in rivers of the Savannah

June 16, 2020

In many regions of the world, populations of large mammalian herbivores have been displaced by cattle breeding, for example in Kenya the hippos by large herds of cattle. This can change aquatic ecosystems due to significant differences in the amount and type of dung input. Researchers from the University of Eldoret in Kenya, the University of Innsbruck and the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) have therefore taken a closer look at the dung of hippopotamus and cattle.

Animal dung can pollute water bodies with nutrients and impact water quality and the ecological functions of water bodies. For many aquatic ecosystems, however, the input of organic matter from the surrounding land is part of the natural matter cycling. In temperate latitudes, it is the leaf fall that brings nutrients into water bodies. In the rivers of the African savannah, it is the hippos with their dung. The increasing displacement of hippopotami by herds of cattle is changing the nutrient inputs into water bodies.

Professor Gabriel Singer, Dr. Frank O. Masese and their team investigated the effects of nutrient and carbon inputs from dung on aquatic ecosystems in experiments. The researchers also developed a mathematical model to compare dung inputs from cattle and hippos into the Mara River in Kenya. According to the mathematical simulation, despite lower manure introduction by the individual cattle compared to a hippopotamus, the large number of cattle gives this animal group overwhelming influence.

Cattle dung is more nutritious and stimulates the growth of plants, bacteria and algae

With cattle dung, higher amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and dissolved organic carbon enter the Mara River. In the experiments, the researchers were able to show that, as a result, more plant biomass is formed with cattle dung. The biomass of bacteria and algae was also higher than with hippopotamus dung. This can change food webs in the river.

“Just the exchange of an animal species that lives on the edge of the river changes the ecological status of the river. Our results show the high species-specific importance of the various large herbivores; they also show how changes in land use or the composition of the species lead to unintended consequences that are not initially the focus of management measures, but which must always be taken into account. Especially with such crucial ecosystems as the waters of the savannah,” Gabriel Singer explains the significance of the investigation.

To racists, colonialist statues matter, lives don’t


This 16 June 2020 video from the USA says about itself on YouTube:

[Albuquerque] New Mexico Protester Shot Trying to Take Down Conquistador Statue | NowThis

In US news and current events today, one person is in critical but stable condition after a man believed to be part of an armed militia opened fire on a group of protesters trying to dismantle a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate in New Mexico.

According to Wikipedia:

Today Oñate is known for the 1599 Acoma Massacre. …

Oñate ordered a brutal retaliation against Acoma Pueblo. The Pueblo was destroyed.[2] Around 800–1000 Ácoma were killed.[3]. …

Of the 500 or so survivors, at a trial at Ohkay Owingeh, Oñate sentenced most to twenty years of forced “personal servitude” and additionally mandated that all men over the age of twenty-five have a foot cut off.[3] … He was convicted by the Spanish government of using “excessive force” against the Acoma people.

In London, England, the extreme right ‘defends’ memorials by urinating on them (not a slave trader or colonialist memorial in that case).

In New Mexico, the extreme right ‘defends’ statues by attempted murder. They glorify the war in which the United States conquered New Mexico from Mexico. According to 19th century United States general and Republican party President Ulysses Grant, that war was ‘one of the most unjust wars ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.’ The far right glorifies that war by violence against Mexicans and others of Latin American ancestry, including by murdering little girls.

And they don’t just glorify the 19th century United States conquest, but the cruel 16th-century Spanish empire war against native New Mexicans as well.

The YouTube text continues:

In the wake of the police killings of George Floyd, Rayshard Brown, Breonna Taylor and so many more Black people and people of color, the Black Lives Matter protests and George Floyd protests have opened the eyes of the world to the insidious reach of systemic racism.

As the United States reconciles with its racist past, by removing Confederate statues and moving to rename military bases named after treasonous Confederate soldiers, some protesters are calling for an even more sweeping statement against the historical horrors of racism. In many cities protesters are removing Christopher Columbus statues, citing his history as a genocidal colonizer, and in New Mexico, statues of Spanish Conquistadors are a testament to the brutal colonization of indigenous people.

Sadly, peaceful protests and peaceful protesters have been rocked with violence, usually from armed white supremacist militias in defense of their ugly past, and this case appears no different. The peaceful protester shot trying to take down a colonialist statue is evidence of a larger conflict brewing in America, one that will take real change from the top down to eliminate racial violence and ensure justice and equality for all.

The attempted murder in Albuquerque was by a former Republican local council candidate. He is Steven Baca, a Donald Trump supporter.

Murder attempt suspect Steven Baca