How common swifts migrate, new research

This May 2020 video is called COMMON SWIFT – Apus apus – Foraging.

From Lund University in Sweden:

Rare pattern observed in migrating common swifts

September 15, 2020

Summary: Compared with other migratory birds, the common swift follows a very unusual pattern when it migrates from the breeding areas in Europe to its wintering locations south of the Sahara. This is what researchers have observed in a major eleven-year international study of the birds.

“Our study is very significant for understanding how organisms, in this case the common swift, can migrate from one part of the world to another, where access to food is much better at a given time,” says Susanne Åkesson, professor at Lund University and principal investigator of the study.

Common swifts that nest in Sweden and northern Europe arrive in sub-Saharan Africa four to six weeks later than the swifts that nest in southern Europe. By that time, the southern European swifts have already migrated even further south on the African continent. Hence the term chain migration, as opposed to the much more common pattern known as leap-frog migration, in which the populations that arrive first in a location claim the territory and occupy it, forcing populations that arrive later to leap-frog over the occupied area and fly further.

The common swift is the most mobile terrestrial bird in the world. When it is not breeding, it spends 24 hours a day airborne, for a total of ten months a year. According to the researchers, this has contributed to the species developing its unique migration pattern. Life in the air means that the swifts need a steady supply of energy and therefore food in the form of insects. This explains why the southern European populations migrate even further south in Africa when food availability increases there in the second half of the wintering period. It also explains why they are larger than their relatives from northern Europe. Quite simply, they make sure always to be in the region with the greatest availability of insects.

The researchers identified another factor determining the development of the common swift’s chain migration: they cannot claim a territory in the same way as birds that spend more time on the ground.

“The core reason why the common swift engages in chain migration, whereas almost all other birds such as songbirds, ducks, geese and waders have leap-frog migration patterns, can probably be found in the amount of time they spend airborne. The common swift is unique in spending ten months in the air,” says Susanne Åkesson.

“I think it is amazing that they know where food is to be found and when they should head for that specific location. They migrate over continents in such a way as to ensure continuous access to food and thereby to survive — they have a lifespan of over 20 years,” she continues.

The researchers tracked 102 common swifts (Apus apus) from eleven different populations that nest in Europe, from Swedish Lapland in the north to Spain in the south. Using micro data-loggers attached to the birds, which record data including time of sunrise and daylight duration, they were able to calculate longitude and latitude and thus to determine the location of the 102 individuals at various times during the year. The study involved researchers from 14 universities and bird conservation organisations.

Chain migration has previously only been observed in two species: the sharp-shinned hawk and the northern gannet.

Where camels store their water

This 30 June 2020 video says about itself:

Where Do Camels Store Their Water?

When camels drink, they do so at a rate that would kill most other animals. But where does all of that water go? Hint: It’s not their humps!

Hosted by: Michael Aranda.

All living hyena species, video

This 31 May 2020 video says about itself:

All (Extant) Hyena Species

Hyenas or hyaenas are any feliform carnivoran mammals of the family Hyaenidae.

With only four extant species, it is the fifth-smallest biological family in the Carnivora, and one of the smallest in the class Mammalia.

1- Spotted Hyena
(Crocuta crocuta)
It is also known as the laughing hyena. It is the largest hyena (extant) species.

2- Striped Hyena
(Hyaena hyaena)
It is the smallest of the ‘’true’’ hyenas.

3- Brown Hyena
(Hyaena brunnea)
It is currently the rarest species of hyena.

4- Aardwolf
(Proteles cristata)
It is also called “Maanhaar jackal” or Civet Hyena, based on its habit of secreting substances from its anal gland, a characteristic shared with the civet.

Music: Night Driver (YouTube Audio Library)

Hero shrews backbone evolution, new research

This 2 October 2013 video says about itself:

Bill Stanley tells us all about the weird and wonderful Hero Shrew, and reveals his latest discovery!

Read more about Thor’s Hero Shrew (Scutisorex thori).

From the Field Museum in the USA:

How hero shrews’ bizarre backbones evolved

Dense spines — inside and out — hint that the shrews are good at scrunching up like an inchworm

April 28, 2020

Summary: Hero shrews have some of the weirdest backbones in the animal kingdom — they’re incredibly strong, with stories of a 0.25-pound shrew supporting a grown man standing on its back. No one knows what they use these super-strong spines for, though, so scientists took micro-CT scans to examine the backbones inside and out. They discovered evidence that the bones are exposed to lots of stress from back-to-front, suggesting the shrews scrunch up like inchworms.

At first glance, hero shrews don’t seem super exciting — they’re small grayish-brown mammals, related to moles and hedgehogs, and they look a little bit like chubby, long-nosed rats. But under their fur, they have some of the strangest skeletons in the animal kingdom. Hero shrews have unique interlocking backbones that make their spines insanely strong — the shrews only weigh a quarter of a pound, but there are stories that their backs can support the weight of a full-grown man standing on them. Scientists aren’t sure why these tiny animals developed such crazy backbones, but researchers looking for clues took CT scans of shrew spines to try to get a better sense of how the spines evolved.

“Hero shrews have crazy-looking spines — their vertebrae are squished flat like a pancake, and they have a bunch of extra places where they touch the vertebrae next to them. It makes a really long stiff column along their back, and there aren’t good field reports as to what this structure might be useful for,” says Stephanie Smith, a postdoctoral researcher at the Field Museum and the University of Chicago and the lead author of a new paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “So we wanted to look at those vertebrae and figure out how they might be using them.”

Western scientists first became aware of hero shrews about a hundred years ago, but the Mangbetu people of the Congo Basin have long known about the shrews’ incredible strength. There’s a (maybe apocryphal) story about Mangbetu people showing a team of American and European scientists how a grown man could stand on a hero shrew’s back without hurting it. A second species of hero shrew, with a spine complexity in between that of the original hero shrew and a regular shrew, was described in 2013. But researchers haven’t been able to spot the shrews in the wild putting these backbones to good use — the shrews are hard to find, and they live in areas where political unrest makes research trips nearly impossible.

“There are two species of hero shrew, and they’re both very poorly known. We have specimens of them at the museum, but we can’t see them in action. It’s almost like studying an animal in the fossil record, where we have specimens that tell us about their anatomy, but we can’t bring a live specimen into the lab and observe it,” says Kenneth Angielczyk, a curator of paleontology at the Field Museum and the paper’s senior author.

The authors of the 2013 paper, including the Field’s late head of collections Bill Stanley, posited that the hero shrews’ thick spines might be used as a brace as the animals shifted logs and peeled apart palm stems to get at insects. But no one’s observed them doing that. All we know for sure is that the shrews’ backbones are unique.

“Their spines are arched, and when they contract their muscles to squeeze their vertebrae together, the bones interlock really tightly. When that happens, it becomes one solid block of vertebrae instead of a bunch of bendy pieces,” says Smith.

Without any live shrews to observe, Smith and Angielczyk turned to the bones in the Field Museum’s collections. They took micro-CT scans of the bones of the two known hero shrew species, as well as a “normal” shrew for comparison. These scans revealed minute details of the bones, but more importantly, they also hinted at how the bones were used in life.

“Bones contain a record, to some degree, of the forces that are acting on them during life. There are special cells in the bone that detect when pressure is put on it. They send out signals to reorganize the bone to be better at handling the forces they’re under, so you have bones responding throughout an animal’s life to habitual forces,” explains Smith. “My absolute favorite example of this was a paper where they put sheep in tall shoes, like high heels, and the different angle of pressure changed the inner structure of their leg bones.”

Armed with the knowledge that the inner structure of bone changes depending on the direction of the forces that have acted on the bone, Smith and Angielczyk tried to determine what these shrews had gotten up to. “We found that the two species of hero shrews have really, really thick, dense spongy bone inside their vertebrae. The percentage of bone is high relative to the total volume of the structure compared to other shrews,” Smith says. “That makes the bone a lot sturdier. It’s like how a chair with thick legs and crossbeams connecting those legs is sturdier than a chair with just four spindly legs and no crossbeams.”

“That’s really interesting because it says that these guys can take a lot of force compressing their spine from head to tail. And that’s the main direction that force is applied to the spine in an animal that has four legs,” continues Smith. “It doesn’t necessarily solve the question of what are they doing, but it does give us an indicator that they’re habitually experiencing strong forces in that direction.”

To sum up: hero shrew spines don’t just look tough from the outside, they’re also super-dense inside, in a way that indicates that they’re able to withstand pressure from being scrunched up like an inchworm. It doesn’t confirm Stanley’s hypothesis that the shrews scrunch up and then extend their spines to wedge apart palm trunks to get at bugs — only direct observation can do that. But it does indicate that the shrew’s backbones could resist the forces such behavior would generate.

In addition to studying the forces the hero shrews were exposed to in life, Smith also helped quantify the differences between the two known species. The original hero shrew described in 1910 has a more complex spine than the new species from 2013, although the latter has a more complex spine than regular shrews. This suggests the transitional features of the 2013 species (Thor’s hero shrew) can provide information about how the 1910 shrew evolved from a slender-spined ancestor. To help quantify the differences between the shrews’ spines, Smith painstakingly counted all the little nodules and tubercles on the specimens’ vertebrae. “I think the grand total was something like 17,000,” she says. “We found that the Thor’s hero shrew was intermediate on both the inside and the outside. Because of the way that bone reacts to load, that means that it could also be functionally intermediate. But that’s just a hypothesis at this point.”

And if this all seems like a lot of time and effort thinking about shrews at a time when the world has bigger fish to fry, the researchers note that it helps answer bigger questions about the evolution of mammals.

“Small mammals experience the world differently than we do, and we don’t have all that much information about the way that being small affects their interaction with the world,” says Angielczyk. “Part of what we’re interested in is the question of how you can be a small mammal — what do you need to be effective at that and resist forces that are being applied to your body in different functional contexts. It’s something that we don’t know very much about, but it’s important, because we evolved from small mammals. Better knowledge of what it takes to be a small mammal is important for understanding a lot of weird things about mammals in general, including us.”

Smith has no plans to move on from studying shrews anytime soon. “Shrews are really interesting ecologically, and they’re so small they have almost secret powers,” she says. “They’re incredibly diverse, and I think they’re beautiful. They’re dope as hell.”

African snakes on video

This 10 April 2020 video says about itself:

Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) is a very adaptable venomous snake living in sub-Saharan Africa. It lives in semi-desert areas, savannas, and rainforests. Males have a different color than females. Boomslangs have deadly venom, but bites are rare. This video shows amazing footage of this snake and also the Large-eyed Green Tree Snake (Rhamnophis aethipissa), which is a relative of Boomslang, but almost nothing is known about it. This species is maybe also dangerously venomous.

African pangolins, documentary film

This 2019 video says about itself:

Eye of the Pangolin is the story of two men on a mission to share the wonder of all four species of African pangolin on camera for the first time ever.

Follow their extraordinary journey to remote locations on the African continent, from arid savannah to exotic jungles. Become captivated by these extraordinary creatures as the filmmakers meet the people who are caring for and studying pangolins in a desperate attempt to save them from being poached and traded into extinction.

Filmed in Ultra High Definition, this ambitious documentary is freely available online for commercial-free viewing.

Our goal at Pangolin.Africa is to make Eye Of The Pangolin one of the most widely watched wildlife documentaries ever. If enough people learn to care for this animal, there is a chance that it can be saved. So please share this film with everyone you believe will be touched by this magical creature. If we don’t do something now, the illegal wildlife trade to the east will ensure that pangolins will disappear from the planet within the next 10-20 years.

The film is directed and narrated by Bruce Young, co-director of the award-winning Blood Lions documentary.

Due to the sensitive nature of some of the content on the film, we would recommend an age limit of 13 years or younger.

Copyright ©2019 Pangolin Africa NPC. All rights reserved

Giraffe conservation, new research

This 2018 video says about itself:

How fast do baby giraffes grow? How many vertebrae are in that long neck? A truly unique species, giraffes are found only in sub-Saharan Africa and can reach unbelievable heights. Learn surprising giraffe facts, such as why they need such enormous hearts and how they get by on less than thirty minutes of sleep each day.

From Penn State University in the USA

Improving success of giraffe translocations

March 19, 2020

Giraffes that are being translocated for conservation purposes should be moved in groups that contain at least 30 females and 3 males to ensure long-term population success. In two new studies, an international team of researchers identifies the ideal composition of a group to be moved and provides guidelines for all aspects of the translocation process, including decision-making and planning, transportation and monitoring of animals, and evaluation of success.

Giraffe populations declined by 40% between 1985 and 2015, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. This led the IUCN to classify the species as vulnerable — likely to become endangered unless circumstances change — and some subspecies as endangered — likely to become extinct in the immediate future.

“Translocations have been used as a conservation strategy to establish new populations, augment small or declining populations, or re-introduce the species to previously occupied areas,” said Derek E. Lee, associate research professor of biology at Penn State and leader of the research team. “Translocations could be an important conservation tool for giraffes, but until now, there has been little guidance about how best to plan, implement, or report them.”

The researchers used a modeling technique called a population viability analysis to determine the ideal size and sex distribution of a newly established population. They simulated a variety of scenarios to project long-term viability and genetic diversity — which can buffer a population against disease and environmental change — of founding populations. The researchers deemed a translocation scenario a success if there was a 95% probability that the population continued for 100 years while maintaining most of the original genetic diversity. They report their results in a paper published Feb. 27 in the journal Endangered Species Research.

A founding population of 30 females and 3 males resulted in long-term population viability, but to maintain more than 95% of the genetic diversity of the source population, groups of 50 females and 5 males are recommended. More females are required than males, because females, unlike males, provide care to young and are an important element of giraffe social structure.

“Small numbers of founders with fewer than ten females can appear to be successful in the first decades due to short-term population growth, but are not successful in the long-term,” said Lee. “Small groups can suffer from inbreeding depression, and they are more likely to lose genetic diversity due to random events in the first years after translocation.”

Because giraffes are physically difficult to move, they are often translocated as juveniles, which have higher rates of mortality than adults. A larger founding population can also buffer against the loss of young individuals.

“Most giraffe translocations in the past have moved too few animals to ensure the successful establishment of new population,” said Lee. “Our recommendation of 30 to 50 females should greatly increase the success rate of future translocations that adhere to these rules.”

The researchers provide additional guidelines about the translocation process in a paper published March 2 in the African Journal of Ecology. They reviewed documented cases of giraffe translocation and considered published accounts of giraffe biology and ecology as well as their personal experience.

The researchers describe how to set translocation goals and assess risk, including to the giraffes being moved, to the source population whose numbers are being reduced, and to other species — including humans — in the area of introduction. They explore how to select individuals and assess suitability of the new site and discuss how to transport animals, which the researchers stress should be performed by experts.

“Ongoing monitoring of the translocated population, adaptive management of the population, and documentation of the entire translocation process are also crucial, both for long-term success of the population and to improve future efforts,” said Lee.

Black and green African mamba snakes

This 8 March 2020 video says about itself:

Mambas are the most feared snakes of Africa. People think that they can chase people and try to bite them. However, when it comes to snakebites, there are other snakes, like cobras and puff adders, which are responsible for most cases. Watch this video, to actually see, how beautiful are mambas. You will see 3 species in the wild:

Black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
Jameson’s mamba (Dendroaspis jamesoni)
Eastern Green mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps)

This 2018 video is about a Jameson’s mamba in Uganda.

French war ministry visits Dear Kitty blog

This 12 October 2019 video says about itself:

A snippet of Dr Arikana Chihombori Quao‘s statement on continued colonization in Africa by the Republic of France. Over $500billion is taken from the African continent yearly.

Today, WordPress statistics say that the war ministry in France has visited Dear Kitty. Some blog.

Like with other visitors, I welcome them.

And I hope that they, like other war ministries all over the world, will learn from this blog that bloody wars, like French neocolonial wars in Africa, should stop.