What sperm whales can teach about humanity


This 15 October 2018 video says about itself:

What Sperm Whales Can Teach Us About Humanity | National Geographic

Sperm whales are only at the surface for about 15 or 20 minutes at a time, yet photographer Brian Skerry is able to capture beautiful moments of these giant undersea predators.

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Wild chimpanzees share food with friends


This 10 October 2018 video from the Ivory Coast says about itself:

Honey sharing in wild chimpanzees of the Taï Forest – Taï Chimpanzee Project

From the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany:

Wild chimpanzees share food with their friends

October 10, 2018

Summary: Why share food with non-family members when there is no immediate gain? An international team of researchers conducted observations of natural food sharing behavior of the chimpanzees of the Tai National Park, Ivory Coast. They found that chimpanzees who possess large, desirable food items, like meat, honey or large fruit share food with their friends, and that neither high dominance status nor harassment by beggars influenced possessors’ decisions to share.

Sharing meat after hunting and exchanging other valued food items is considered key in the evolution of cooperation in human societies. One prominent idea is that humans share valuable foods to gain future favors, such that those we chose to share with are more likely to cooperate with us in the future. Despite regularly occurring in humans, sharing food outside of kinship or mating relationships is rare in non-human animals. Our two closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, are two of the rare exceptions, and because of the important role of food sharing in human evolution, examining the sharing patterns of chimpanzees can help to answer questions on how sharing food amongst adults evolved and how it may have shaped human cooperation.

Researchers from the MPI-EVA observed natural food sharing behavior of the chimpanzees of the Tai National Park, Ivory Coast, and found that chimpanzees are very selective in who they share desirable food items, like meat, honey or large fruits, with. They show that chimpanzees were more likely to share food with their friends, and that neither high dominance status nor harassment by beggars influenced their decision. This complements results from another study by the same team published last month that examined meat sharing after group hunting of monkeys. There they found that chimpanzees in possession of meat after successful hunts were likely to reward other hunters by sharing with them. “Collectively our research shows that the chimpanzees decide when to share food based on the likelihood that this favor will be returned in the future,” says Liran Samuni, first author of both studies. “Or, in case of sharing after group hunts, sharing of meat is returning the favor for helping out.”

Previous studies in another subspecies of chimpanzees have suggested that food sharing in chimpanzees mainly occurs because of harassment pressure from beggars. “This was not the case for the Tai chimpanzees”, Catherine Crockford, senior author on the studies, points out, “emphasizing the high variation in cooperation across chimpanzee populations.” Human populations also vary in how cooperative they are and research is ongoing in both humans and non-human animals assessing what might make some populations more cooperative than others. “The need to stay in a cohesive unit, because of high predation pressure, or the capability to exhibit strong cohesion, because of rich food sources, are two possible scenarios to promote the expression of cooperative acts”, suggests Roman Wittig, the second senior author of the studies.

Additionally, the researchers collected urine samples from chimpanzees after hunting and food sharing events and measured the hormone oxytocin. “We know that oxytocin plays a strong role in lactation, which you could look at as an example of food sharing between mother and infant, and is generally involved in social behavior and bonding”, Liran Samuni explains. The researchers found high levels of oxytocin after chimpanzees shared meat and other valued foods, and after chimpanzee participated in hunting with others. “That we found higher oxytocin levels after both hunting and sharing adds to the idea that oxytocin is a key hormone involved in cooperation in general”, Liran Samuni points out.

The researchers conclude that like humans, Tai chimpanzee sharing is selective, and that friends and others that helped acquiring the food benefit more. Emotional connection, as is obvious amongst friends, likely played a crucial role in the evolution of human cooperation.

Oldest flying squirrel fossil discovered


This video says about itself:

9 October 2018

At Can Mata Landfill (els Hostalets de Pierola, Catalonia, Spain), scientists discovered fossil remains of the oldest-known flying squirrel – Miopetaurista neogrivensis. Based on the reconstructions, researchers estimate a weigh between 1.1 and 1.6 kilos, length of almost one meter and a wingspan around 40 centimeters.

From eLife:

Oldest fossil of a flying squirrel sheds new light on its evolutionary tree

October 9, 2018

The oldest flying squirrel fossil ever found has unearthed new insight on the origin and evolution of these airborne animals.

Writing in the open-access journal eLife, researchers from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP) in Barcelona, Spain, described the 11.6-million-year-old fossil, which was discovered in Can Mata landfill, approximately 40 kilometers outside the city.

“Due to the large size of the tail and thigh bones, we initially thought the remains belonged to a primate“, says first author Isaac Casanovas-Vilar, researcher at the ICP. In fact, and much to the disappointment of paleoprimatologists, further excavation revealed that it was a large rodent skeleton with minuscule specialised wrist bones, identifying it as Miopetaurista neogrivensis — an extinct flying squirrel.

Combining molecular and paleontological data to carry out evolutionary analyses of the fossil, Casanovas-Vilar and the team demonstrated that flying squirrels evolved from tree squirrels as far back as 31 to 25 million years ago, and possibly even earlier.

In addition, their results showed that Miopetaurista is closely related to an existing group of giant flying squirrels called Petaurista. Their skeletons are in fact so similar that the large species that currently inhabit the tropical and subtropical forests of Asia could be considered living fossils.

With 52 species scattered across the northern hemisphere, flying squirrels are the most successful group of mammals that adopted the ability to glide. To drift between trees in distances of up to 150 metres, these small animals pack their own ‘parachute’: a membrane draping between their lower limbs and the long cartilage rods that extend from their wrists. Their tiny, specialised wrist bones, which are unique to flying squirrels, help support the cartilaginous extensions.

But the origin of these animals is highly debated. While most genetic studies point towards the group splitting from tree squirrels about 23 million years ago, some 36-million-year-old remains that could belong to flying squirrels have previously been found. “The problem is that these ancient remains are mainly teeth”, Casanovas-Vilar explains. “As the dental features used to distinguish between gliding and non-gliding squirrels may actually be shared by the two groups, it is difficult to attribute the ancient teeth undoubtedly to a flying squirrel. In our study, we estimate that the split took place around 31 and 25 million years ago, earlier than previously thought, suggesting the oldest fossils may not belong to flying squirrels.

“Molecular and paleontological data are often at odds, but this fossil shows that they can be reconciled and combined to retrace history”, he adds. “Discovering even older fossils could help to retrace how flying squirrels diverged from the rest of their evolutionary tree.”

An exceptional site in a rubbish dump

The Can Mata landfill holds a set of more than 200 sites ranging in age between 12.6 and 11.4 Ma (middle to late Miocene). In the last 20 years, excavations carried out by the ICP in Can Mata have led to the identification of more than 80 species of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. A remarkable number of primate remains from the site have revealed three new species of hominoids, nicknamed ‘Pau’ (Pierolapithecus catalaunicus), ‘Laia’ (Pliobates cataloniae) and ‘Lluc’ (Anoiapithecus brevirostris). Various studies of mammal remains recovered from the site, including the current work in eLife, indicate the existence of a dense subtropical forest.

Stopping donkey abuse on Greek island Santorini


Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Heavy tourists are no longer allowed on donkeys on Santorini

Tourists who weigh more than 100 kilos are no longer allowed to ride on donkeys on the Greek island of Santorini. The Greek Ministry of Agriculture has determined this with a new law.

Donkeys are popular with tourists on the island to climb the steep steps to the capital Fira – a walk of about half an hour.

Damage to vertebrae

The volcanic Santorini is the most popular Greek holiday island, partly because of the world-famous sunset near the town of Oia. The island with over 15,000 inhabitants annually attracts more than two million tourists and that number is growing.

As a result, the donkeys are used more and more often. Animal rights organizations such as The Donkey Sanctuary and PETA have been fighting against the situation of the donkeys in Santorini for some time.

The animals are said to regularly have overweight tourists on their backs, causing damage their vertebrae. In addition, they are used seven days a week in the burning sun while they get little food and drink, they suffer from stress and worn saddles cause wounds in the animals.

The campaigns of all the action groups together, including a petition on change.org that was signed more than 100,000 times, led to the problems with donkeys in Santorini becoming higher on the agenda of the Greek government.

This 10 September 2018 video says about itself:

An eyewitness report published by PETA Germany reveals the horrific conditions that approximately 100 donkeys and mules are forced to endure every day on the Greek island of Santorini. They carry heavy loads, are given practically no respite from the hot Mediterranean sun, and are even denied access to water. They also incur wounds and abrasions from ill-fitting and worn-out saddles.

Baby humpback whale saved from shark net


This ABC News video from Australia says about itself:

Humpback whale calf rescued off Gold Coast while mother watches on

8 October 2018

A whale calf has been freed after becoming caught in a shark net off Queensland’s Gold Coast. Rescuers said they believed the calf’s mother, who was swimming close by during the rescue, realised they were helping the calf and stayed calm.

Read more here.