Wild boar swim across canal


This 7 July 2020 video shows a group of wild boar swimming across a canal near Son en Breugel in the Netherlands.

Wild boar can swim well, but have rarely been filmed doing so.

Usually, it is easier for them to swim than to get on the other bank, because canal banks are often steep, a problem for wildlife.

In this case, that was not a problem.

Maarten Royackers made this video.

Squirrel and rail at Panama bird feeder


This video says about itself:

Red-tailed Squirrel And Gray-cowled Wood-Rail Take Turns On The Panama Fruit Feeder – July 12, 2020

Red-tailed and Variegated Squirrels both come to the feeder in search of bananas. This Red[-tailed] Squirrel had a delightful surprise when it discovered a wealth of untouched bananas. There would, however, be some competition for this bounty of fruit in the form of a hungry Gray-Cowled Wood-Rail.

Lioness corners leopard


This 27 June 2020 video from Kenya says about itself:

A young leopard, the son of a famous leopard named Fig, was cornered by a lioness from an unknown pride. The leopard managed to get away with its life when the lion got bored with messing with it.

Filmed with Gamewatchers safaris India and Porini camps.

Beluga whales have friends


This 8 November 2020 video says about itself:

Beluga whale filmed playing ‘fetch’ with Rugby World Cup ball

A beluga whale has been filmed playing ‘fetch’ with an official 2019 Rugby World Cup ball near the Arctic Pole. A group of South African rugby fans can be seen throwing the ball out into the ocean. The whale chases the ball, before returning it to the men on the boat.

From Florida Atlantic University in the USA:

Like humans, beluga whales form social networks beyond family ties

Study first to uncover the role kinship plays in complex groupings and relationships of beluga whales spanning 10 locations across the Arctic

July 10, 2020

A groundbreaking study using molecular genetic techniques and field studies brings together decades of research into the complex relationships among beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) that spans 10 locations across the Arctic from Alaska to Canada and Russia to Norway. The behavior of these highly gregarious whales, which include sophisticated vocal repertoires, suggest that this marine mammal lives in complex societies. Like killer whales (Orcinus orca) and African elephants (Loxodonta Africana), belugas were thought to form social bonds around females that primarily comprise closely related individuals from the same maternal lineage. However, this hypothesis had not been formally tested.

The study, led by Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, is the first to analyze the relationship between group behaviors, group type, group dynamics, and kinship in beluga whales. Findings, just published in Scientific Reports, reveal several unexpected results. Not only do beluga whales regularly interact with close kin, including close maternal kin, they also frequently associate with more distantly related and unrelated individuals.

Findings indicate that evolutionary explanations for group living and cooperation in beluga whales must expand beyond strict inclusive fitness arguments to include other evolutionary mechanisms. Belugas likely form multi-scale societies from mother-calf dyads to entire communities. From these perspectives, beluga communities have similarities to human societies where social networks, support structures, cooperation and cultures involve interactions between kin and non-kin. Given their long lifespan (approximately 70 years) and tendency to remain within their natal community, these findings reveal that beluga whales may form long-term affiliations with unrelated as well as related individuals.

“This research will improve our understanding of why some species are social, how individuals learn from group members and how animal cultures emerge,” said Greg O’Corry-Crowe, Ph.D., lead author and a research professor at FAU’s Harbor Branch. “It also has implications for traditional explanations based on matrilineal care for a very rare life-history trait in nature, menopause, which has only been documented in a handful of mammals, including beluga whales and humans.”

Researchers found that belugas formed a limited number of group types, from mother-calf dyads to adult male groups, and from mixed-age groups to large herds. These same group types were consistently observed across population and habitats. Furthermore, certain behaviors were associated with group type, and group membership was found to often be dynamic.

“Unlike killer and pilot whales, and like some human societies, beluga whales don’t solely or even primarily interact and associate with close kin. Across a wide variety of habitats and among both migratory and resident populations, they form communities of individuals of all ages and both sexes that regularly number in the hundreds and possibly the thousands,” said O’Corry-Crowe. “It may be that their highly developed vocal communication enables them to remain in regular acoustic contact with close relatives even when not associating together.”

Beluga whale groupings (beyond mother-calf dyads) were not usually organized around close maternal relatives. The smaller social groups, as well as the larger herds, routinely comprised multiple matrilines. Even where group members shared the same mtDNA lineage, microsatellite analysis often revealed that they were not closely related, and many genealogical links among group members involved paternal rather than maternal relatives. These results differ from earlier predictions that belugas have a matrilineal social system of closely associating female relatives. They also differ from the association behavior of the larger toothed whales that informed those predictions. In ‘resident’ killer whales, for example, both males and females form groups with close maternal kin where they remain for their entire lives.

“Beluga whales exhibit a wide range of grouping patterns from small groups of two to 10 individuals to large herds of 2,000 or more, from apparently single-sex and age-class pods to mixed-age and sex groupings, and from brief associations to multi-year affiliations,” said O’Corry-Crowe. “This variation suggests a fission-fusion society where group composition and size are context-specific, but it may also reflect a more rigid multi-level society comprised of stable social units that regularly coalesce and separate. The role kinship plays in these groupings has been largely unknown.”

For the study, researchers used field observations, mtDNA profiling, and multi-locus genotyping of beluga whales to address fundamental questions about beluga group structure, and patterns of kinship and behavior, which provide new insights into the evolution and ecology of social structure in this Arctic whale.

The study was conducted at 10 locations, in different habitats, across the species’ range, spanning from small, resident groups (Yakutat Bay) and populations (Cook Inlet) in subarctic Alaska to larger, migratory populations in the Alaskan (Kasegaluk Lagoon, Kotzebue Sound, Norton Sound), Canadian (Cunningham Inlet, Mackenzie Delta, Husky Lakes) and Russian (Gulf of Anadyr) Arctic to a small, insular population in the Norwegian High Arctic (Svalbard).

“This new understanding of why individuals may form social groups, even with non-relatives, will hopefully promote new research on what constitutes species resilience and how species like the beluga whale can respond to emerging threats including climate change,” said O’Corry-Crowe.

Seven animals which may kill lions


This 9 July 2020 video says about itself:

They say only a lion can kill a lion, but mighty and strong as they are, even these wildcats sometimes become the victims of their intended prey.

There are in fact a handful of animals who are big, brave and strong enough to put up a fight that can end very badly for the lion and defeat him easily.

Are you ready to meet the king of the jungle’s most fearsome opponents? These situations are like animals fighting and messing with wrong opponents.

Bats may help against COVID-19


This 2014 video says about itself:

This 48-minute documentary explores the world of bats and the scientists who study them — including the late Donald Griffin, a Harvard zoologist who was the first to describe their echolocation ability in the 1940s. Using 3-D graphics to recreate the bats’ acoustic vision and shooting with infra-red and high-speed cameras, this film offers an exhilarating “bats-eye” journey into the night.

From the University of Rochester in New York State in the USA:

Bats offer clues to treating COVID-19

To combat COVID-19, we need to regulate our immune systems to resemble those of bats

July 9, 2020

Bats are often considered patient zero for many deadly viruses affecting humans, including Ebola, rabies, and, most recently, the SARS-CoV-2 strain of virus that causes coronavirus.

Although humans experience adverse symptoms when afflicted with these pathogens, bats are remarkably able to tolerate viruses, and, additionally, live much longer than similar-sized land mammals.

What are the secrets to their longevity and virus resistance?

According to researchers at the University of Rochester, bats’ longevity and capacity to tolerate viruses may stem from their ability to control inflammation, which is a hallmark of disease and aging. In a review article published in the journal Cell Metabolism, the researchers — including Rochester biology professors Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov — outline the mechanisms underlying bats’ unique abilities and how these mechanisms may hold clues to developing new treatments for diseases in humans.

Why are bats ‘immune’ to viruses?

The idea for the paper came about when Gorbunova and Seluanov, who are married, were in Singapore in March before COVID-19 travel bans began. When the virus started to spread and Singapore went into lockdown, they were quarantined at the home of their colleague Brian Kennedy, director of the Centre for Healthy Aging at the National University of Singapore and co-author of the paper.

The three scientists, all experts on longevity in mammals, got to talking about bats. SARS-CoV-2 is believed to have originated in bats before the virus was transmitted to humans. Although bats were carriers, they seemed to be unaffected by the virus. Another perplexing factor: generally, a species’ lifespan correlates with its body mass; the smaller a species, the shorter its lifespan, and vice versa. Many bat species, however, have lifespans of 30 to 40 years, which is impressive for their size.

“We’ve been interested in longevity and disease resistance in bats for a while, but we didn’t have the time to sit and think about it,” says Gorbunova, the Doris Johns Cherry Professor of Biology at Rochester. “Being in quarantine gave us time to discuss this, and we realized there may be a very strong connection between bats’ resistance to infectious diseases and their longevity. We also realized that bats can provide clues to human therapies used to fight diseases.”

While there have been studies on the immune responses of bats and studies of bats’ longevity, until their article, “no one has combined these two phenomena,” Seluanov says.

Gorbunova and Seluanov have studied longevity and disease resistance in other exceptionally long-lived animals, including naked mole rats. One common theme in their research is that inflammation is a hallmark of the aging process and age-related diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease. Viruses, including COVID-19, are one factor that can trigger inflammation.

“With COVID-19, the inflammation goes haywire, and it may be the inflammatory response that is killing the patient, more so than the virus itself,” Gorbunova says. “The human immune system works like that: once we get infected, our body sounds an alarm and we develop a fever and inflammation. The goal is to kill the virus and fight infection, but it can also be a detrimental response as our bodies overreact to the threat.”

Not so with bats. Unlike humans, bats have developed specific mechanisms that reduce viral replication and also dampen the immune response to a virus. The result is a beneficial balance: their immune systems control viruses but at the same time, do not mount a strong inflammatory response.

Why did bats acquire a tolerance for diseases?

According to the researchers, there are several factors that may contribute to bats having evolved to fight viruses and live long lives. One factor may be driven by flight. Bats are the only mammals with the ability to fly, which requires that they adapt to rapid increases in body temperature, sudden surges in metabolism, and molecular damage. These adaptations may also assist in disease resistance.

Another factor may be their environment. Many species of bats live in large, dense colonies, and hang close together on cave ceilings or in trees. Those conditions are ideal for transmitting viruses and other pathogens.

“Bats are constantly exposed to viruses,” Seluanov says. “They are always flying out and bringing back something new to the cave or nest, and they transfer the virus because they live in such close proximity to each other.”

Because bats are constantly exposed to viruses, their immune systems are in a perpetual arms race with pathogens: a pathogen will enter the organism, the immune system will evolve a mechanism to combat the pathogen, the pathogen will evolve again, and so on.

“Usually the strongest driver of new traits in evolution is an arms race with pathogens,” Gorbunova says. “Dealing with all of these viruses may be shaping bats’ immunity and longevity.”

Can humans develop the same disease resistance as bats?

That’s not an invitation for humans to toss their masks and crowd together in restaurants and movie theaters. Evolution takes place over thousands of years, rather than a few months. It has only been in recent history that a majority of the human population has begun living in close proximity in cities. Or that technology has enabled rapid mobility and travel across continents and around the globe. While humans may be developing social habits that parallel those of bats, we have not yet evolved bats’ sophisticated mechanisms to combat viruses as they emerge and swiftly spread.

“The consequences may be that our bodies experience more inflammation,” Gorbunova says.

The researchers also recognize that aging seems to play an adverse role in humans’ reactions to COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has such a different pathogenesis in older people,” Gorbunova says. “Age is one of the most critical factors between living and dying. We have to treat aging as a whole process instead of just treating individual symptoms.”

The researchers anticipate that studying bats’ immune systems will provide new targets for human therapies to fight diseases and aging. For example, bats have mutated or completely eliminated several genes involved in inflammation; scientists can develop drugs to inhibit these genes in humans. Gorbunova and Seluanov hope to start a new research program at Rochester to work toward that goal.

“Humans have two possible strategies if we want to prevent inflammation, live longer, and avoid the deadly effects of diseases like COVID-19,” Gorbunova says. “One would be to not be exposed to any viruses, but that’s not practical. The second would be to regulate our immune system more like a bat.”

Bat research critical to preventing next pandemic: here.

Oligocene prehistoric dolphin discovery


This 9 July 2020 video says about itself:

A giant 16-foot long dolphin has been discovered. It lived 25 million years ago. It feasted on … whales and it was the apex predator of the ocean

Researchers found a full skeleton of a cetacean called Ankylorhiza tiedemani. It shared many similar features with both baleen whales and modern toothed whales. This dolphin had tusk-like front teeth. It lived in present-day South Carolina. Fossil evidence includes skull anatomy and teeth, a flipper and its vertebral column. It revealed that this large dolphin was a ‘top predator’ in the community. It was very clearly preying upon large-bodied prey like a killer whale.

Ankylorhiza was a ruthless ‘ecological specialist’ when it came to hunting. At about 16 feet long, it was about twice the size of average-sized dolphins. Ankylorhiza has proportionally large teeth with thickened roots. It is an adaptation for higher bite force. The teeth have longitudinal ridges which cut through flesh more efficiently. It is also believed to be the first marine animal that used echolocation. It used sound to obtain information about surroundings and to find food.

From ScienceDaily:

15-foot-long skeleton of extinct dolphin suggests parallel evolution among whales

July 9, 2020

A report in the journal Current Biology on July 9 offers a detailed description of the first nearly complete skeleton of an extinct large dolphin, discovered in what is now South Carolina. The 15-foot-long dolphin (Ankylorhiza tiedemani comb. n.) lived during the Oligocene — about 25 million years ago — and was previously known only from a partial rostrum (snout) fossil.

The researchers say that multiple lines of evidence — from the skull anatomy and teeth, to the flipper and vertebral column — show that this large dolphin (a toothed whale in the group Odontoceti) was a top predator in the community in which it lived. They say that many features of the dolphin’s postcranial skeleton also imply that modern baleen whales and modern toothed whales must have evolved similar features independently, driven by parallel evolution in the very similar aquatic habitats in which they lived.

“The degree to which baleen whales and dolphins independently arrive at the same overall swimming adaptations, rather than these traits evolving once in the common ancestor of both groups, surprised us,” says Robert Boessenecker of the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. “Some examples include the narrowing of the tailstock, increase in the number of tail vertebrae, and shortening of the humerus (upper arm bone) in the flipper.

“This is not apparent in different lineages of seals and sea lions, for example, which evolved into different modes of swimming and have very different looking postcranial skeletons,” he adds. “It’s as if the addition of extra finger bones in the flipper and the locking of the elbow joint has forced both major groups of cetaceans down a similar evolutionary pathway in terms of locomotion.”

Though first discovered in the 1880s from a fragmentary skull during phosphate dredging of the Wando River, the first skeleton of Ankylorhiza was discovered in the 1970s by then Charleston Museum Natural History curator Albert Sanders. The nearly complete skeleton described in the new study was found in the 1990s. A commercial paleontologist by the name of Mark Havenstein found it during construction of a housing subdivision in South Carolina. It was subsequently donated to the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History, to allow for its study.

While there’s much more to learn from this fossil specimen, the current findings reveal that Ankylorhiza was an ecological specialist. The researchers say the species was “very clearly preying upon large-bodied prey like a killer whale.”

Another intriguing aspect, according to the researchers, is that Ankylorhiza is the first echolocating whale to become an apex predator. When Ankylorhiza became extinct by about 23 million years ago, they explain, killer sperm whales and the shark-toothed dolphin Squalodon evolved and reoccupied the niche within 5 million years. After the last killer sperm whales died out about 5 million years ago, the niche was left open until the ice ages, with the evolution of killer whales about 1 or 2 million years ago.

“Whales and dolphins have a complicated and long evolutionary history, and at a glance, you may not get that impression from modern species,” Boessenecker says. “The fossil record has really cracked open this long, winding evolutionary path, and fossils like Ankylorhiza help illuminate how this happened.”

Boessenecker notes that more fossils of Ankylorhiza are awaiting study, including a second species and fossils of Ankylorhiza juveniles that can offer insight into the dolphin’s growth. He says that there’s still much to learn from fossilized dolphins and baleen whales from South Carolina.

“There are many other unique and strange early dolphins and baleen whales from Oligocene aged rocks in Charleston, South Carolina,” Boessenecker says. “Because the Oligocene epoch is the time when filter-feeding and echolocation first evolved, and since marine mammal localities of that time are scarce worldwide, the fossils from Charleston offer the most complete window into the early evolution of these groups, offering unparalleled evolutionary insight.”

Extinct giant dormouse, new research


An artist’s impression of the giant dormouse Leithia melitensis (left) and its nearest living relative the garden dormouse (right). Image credit: James Sadler, University of York

From the University of York in England:

Skull of two million year-old giant dormouse reconstructed

July 9, 2020

A PhD student has produced the first digital reconstruction of the skull of a gigantic dormouse, which roamed the island of Sicily around two million years ago.

In a new study, the student from Hull York Medical School, has digitally pieced together fossilised fragments from five giant dormouse skulls to reconstruct the first known complete skull of the species.

The researchers estimate that the enormous long-extinct rodent was roughly the size of a cat, making it the largest species of dormouse ever identified.

The digitally reconstructed skull is 10 cm long — the length of the entire body and tail of many types of modern dormouse.

PhD student Jesse Hennekam said: “Having only a few fossilised pieces of broken skulls available made it difficult to study this fascinating animal accurately. This new reconstruction gives us a much better understanding of what the giant dormouse may have looked like and how it may have lived.”

The enormous prehistoric dormouse is an example of island gigantism — a biological phenomenon in which the body size of an animal isolated on an island increases dramatically.

The palaeontological record shows that many weird and wonderful creatures once roamed the Italian islands. Alongside the giant dormouse, Sicily was also home to giant swans, giant owls and dwarf elephants.

Jesse’s PhD supervisor, Dr Philip Cox from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York and Hull York Medical School, said: “While island dwarfism is relatively well understood, as with limited resources on an island, animals may need to shrink to survive, the causes of gigantism are less obvious.

“Perhaps, with fewer terrestrial predators, larger animals are able to survive as there is less need for hiding in small spaces, or it could be a case of co-evolution with predatory birds where rodents get bigger to make them less vulnerable to being scooped up in talons.”

Jesse spotted the fossilised fragments of skull during a research visit to the Palermo Museum in Italy, where a segment of rock from the floor of a small cave, discovered during the construction of a motorway in northwest Sicily in the 1970s, was on display.

“I noticed what I thought were fragments of skull from an extinct species embedded in one of the cave floor segments,” Jesse said. “We arranged for the segment to be sent to Basel, Switzerland for microCT scanning and the resulting scans revealed five fragmented skulls of giant dormice present within the rock.”

The reconstruction is likely to play an important role in future research directed at improving understanding of why some small animals evolve larger body sizes on islands, the researchers say.

“The reconstructed skull gives us a better sense of whether the giant dormouse would have looked similar to its normal-sized counterparts or whether its physical appearance would have been influenced by adaptations to a specific environment,” Jesse explains.

“For example, if we look at the largest living rodent — the capybara — we can see that it has expanded in size on a different trajectory to other species in the same family.”

Jesse is also using biomechanical modelling to understand the feeding habits of the giant dormouse.

“At that size, it is possible that it may have had a very different diet to its smaller relatives,” he adds.

Why walruses have tusks


This 7 July 2020 video says about itself:

How the Walrus Got Its Tusks

The rise and fall of ancient walruses, and how modern ones got their tusks, is a story that spans almost 20 million years. And while there are parts of the story that we’re still trying to figure out, it looks like tusks didn’t have anything to do with how or what these animals ate.

Small mammals sounding like big mammals


This 2016 video is about seal sounds.

From the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Germany:

Animals who try to sound ‘bigger’ are good at learning sounds

July 8, 2020

Some animals fake their body size by sounding ‘bigger’ than they actually are. Researchers studied 164 different mammals and found that animals who lower their voice to sound bigger are often skilled vocalists. Both strategies — sounding bigger and learning sounds — are likely driven by sexual selection, and may play a role in explaining the origins of human speech evolution.

“If you saw a Chihuahua barking as deep as a Rottweiler, you would definitely be surprised,” says Andrea Ravignani, a researcher at the MPI and the Dutch seal centre Pieterburen. Body size influences the frequency of the sounds animals produce, but many animals found ways to sound ‘smaller’ or ‘bigger’ than expected. “Nature is full of animals like squeaky-Rottweilers and tenor-Chihuahuas,” explains Ravignani. Some animals fake their size by developing larger vocal organs that lower their sound, which makes them sound larger than you would expect. Other animals are good at controlling the sounds they produce. Such strategies (called ‘dishonest signalling’ by biologists) could be driven by sexual selection, as males with larger body size or superior singing skills (hitting very high or low notes) attract more females (or vice versa).

Garcia and Ravignani wondered whether some animals may have learned to make new sounds as a strategy to attract mates. Few animal species are capable of vocal learning, among them mammals such as seals, dolphins, bats and elephants. For instance, seals can imitate sounds, and some seals copy call types of successfully breeding individuals. Would animals who often ‘fake’ their body size also be the ones capable of learning new sounds?

The researchers analysed the sounds and body size of 164 different mammals, ranging from mice and monkeys to water dwelling mammals such as the subantarctic fur seal and the Amazonian manatee. They combined methods from acoustics, anatomy, and evolutionary biology to compare the different sorts of animals in the dataset.

The scientists found that animals who ‘fake’ their body size are often skilled sound learners. According to Garcia and Ravignani, their framework provides a new way of investigating the evolution of communication systems. “We want to expand our theory to take into account other evolutionary pressures, not just sexual selection,” adds Ravignani. “We also want to replicate our preliminary findings with more mammals and test whether our ideas also apply to birds or other taxonomic groups.”

In their position paper, Garcia and Ravignani suggest that there may be a link to human speech evolution. “We believe that a ‘dishonest signalling’ strategy may be a first evolutionary step towards learning how to make new sounds of any sort,” says Garcia. “Speculatively, it brings us closer to understanding human speech evolution: our ancestors may have learnt how to speak after learning how to sound bigger or how to hit high notes.”