Amazonian white bellbirds, world’s loudest birds


This 21 October 2019 video says about itself:

A bird found in the Amazon has shattered the record for the loudest call, reaching the same volume as a pneumatic drill. The white bellbird, which lives in the mountains of the north-eastern Amazon, was recorded at 125 decibels (dB), three times louder than the next bird in the pecking order, the screaming piha.

From the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the USA:

Amazon’s white bellbirds set new record for loudest bird call

Top avian noisemaker

October 21, 2019

Biologist Jeff Podos at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with Mario Cohn-Haft at the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Brazil, report that they have recorded the loudest bird calls ever documented, made by dove-sized male white bellbirds as part of their mating rituals in the mountains of the northern Amazon. Details are in the latest Current Biology.

Now recognized as the loudest in the world, bellbird calls have a sound pressure about three times that of screaming pihas, another Amazon species now demoted to the second loudest bird singer documented, the authors say. Podos says the songs are so deafening they reach decibel levels equal to the loudest human instruments. They measured pressure using a new generation sound level meter. These instruments allow one to take calibrated measures of amplitude with very high temporal precision, he adds. “This allows us to see how ampliutide changes and peaks within individual singing events.”

The researchers note that it’s actually hard to describe how loud the bellbird’s call is, because it’s difficult to compare sounds from different distances. But the calls are so loud, they wonder how white bellbird females listen at close range without damaging their hearing. Calls of howler monkeys and bison are well studied and quite loud, Podos, an expert in bioacoustics, points out, but not nearly as loud as the impressive bellbirds, who weigh about half a pound (1/4 kg) compared to the larger mammals.

Podos says, “We were lucky enough to see females join males on their display perches. In these cases, we saw that the males sing only their loudest songs. Not only that, they swivel dramatically during these songs, so as to blast the song’s final note directly at the females. We would love to know why females willingly stay so close to males as they sing so loudly,” he says. “Maybe they are trying to assess males up close, though at the risk of some damage to their hearing systems.”

For this work supported by a Fulbright scholarship to Podos, he and Cohn-Haft used high-quality sound recorders plus special sound-level meters and high-speed video to slow the action enough for study.

Among other goals, they tried to identify adaptations such as breathing musculature, head and beak size, the shape of the throat and how these may influence the unusual aptitude the birds have for long-distance song transmission, a topic that has been very poorly studied, Podos says. “We don’t know how small animals manage to get so loud. We are truly at the early stages of understanding this biodiversity.”

One of the new things the researchers learned is that there seems to be a trade-off at work for this behavior — as bellbird and piha songs get louder, they get shorter, they report. This may be because the birds’ respiratory systems have a finite ability to control airflow and generate sound.

Podos says the national institute in the Amazon’s largest city Manaus, is a global hub for studying biodiversity. His co-author, Cohn-Haft, who grew up in Williamsburg, Mass., not far from the UMass Amherst campus, is curator of birds at the national institute and a world expert on Amazonian birds and their identification. Cohn-Haft has been leading expeditions for years into remote Amazon areas to find and characterize bird species, habitats, behavior and vocalizations, which still are little known.

In these earlier expeditions, Cohn-Haft noticed that the bellbirds had some interesting anatomical features, including unusually thick, well-developed abdominal muscles and ribs, but science knew almost nothing about this, which led to the expedition. Podos says their recent discoveries in bellbirds in this rarely studied area of body structures shaped by natural selection provides new information, and an example of the consequences of sexual selection, which drives the evolution of exaggerated traits such as loud singing.

Podos says their studies also contribute important new findings about bird communication and song, “the glue that holds bird societies together”, and how they diverged morphologically by natural selection that changes the kind of songs they can sing and their social interactions. In future studies, Cohn-Haft says, he wants to further explore “the physical and anatomical structures and behaviors that allow bellbirds to produce such loud sounds and to endure them without hearing damage.”

Big Amazon arapaima fish, new research


This December 2018 video says about itself:

The arapaima, pirarucu, or paiche (Arapaima) is a genus of bonytongue native to the Amazon and Essequibo basins in South America. They are the largest freshwater fish of South America, and among the largest freshwater fish in the world. Here I address the top 5 facts you may not have known about this freshwater giant.

From ScienceDaily:

What gives a 3-meter-long Amazonian fish some of the toughest scales on Earth

October 16, 2019

Arapaima gigas is a big fish in a bigger river full of piranhas, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy meal. The freshwater giant has evolved armor-like scales that can deform, but do not tear or crack, when a piranha — which has one of the animal kingdom’s most powerful bites — attacks. Researchers from UC San Diego and UC Berkeley describe the unique properties of the Amazonian Arapaima skin and its potential for human-made materials October 16 in the journal Matter.

Arapaima’s adaptation naturally solves a problem that engineers face when attempting to develop synthetic armors. Arapaima’s scales have a tough, yet flexible, inner layer bound by collagen to its mineralized outer layer of scales. Similarly, bullet-proof vests are made of several layers of flexible webbing sandwiched between layers of hard plastic. But human-made materials are bound using a third adhesive material, whereas the fish’s scales are bound on an atomistic level; they grow together, weaving into one solid piece.

“A window may appear strong and solid, but it has no give. If something attempted to puncture it, the glass would shatter,” says senior author Robert Ritchie, a materials scientist at UC Berkeley. “When nature binds a hard material to a soft material, it grades it, preventing this shattering effect. And in this case, the binding structure is mineralized collagen.”

Other fish use collagen like Arapaima does, but the collagen layers in Arapaima scales are thicker than in any other fish species. The scales alone are each as thick as a grain of rice. Co-authors Yang, Quan, Meyers, and Ritchie hypothesize that this thickness is the secret to the fishes’ defense.

They tested this by soaking cracked Arapaima scales in water for 48 hours, then slowly pulling the edges apart while adding pressure to a central point. As they added pressure, they observed that the part of the mineralized, hard outer layer expanded, cracked, then gradually peeled off. The scales then localized the crack, containing it and preventing damage from spreading in the twisting structural collagen layer. If the pressure did break through to the collagen, it deformed the layer instead of breaking it.

If humans can develop a flexible hierarchical structure that behaves like the collagen layer in the fish scales, Ritchie says that better, potentially impermeable, synthetic armors can be made. But he also acknowledges that this reality may be a number of years down the line.

Until then, Ritchie’s team will investigate how Arapaima’s scales have adapted to prevent penetration from piranha bites as well as how nature behaves this way in other species.

Brazilian Bolsonaro destroys Amazon, cartoon


Brazilian Bolsonaro destroys Amazon, cartoon

This cartoon by Argus in the Netherlands is about Brazilian right-wing president Bolsonaro destroying the Amazon rainforest. The caption says Logging of Amazon stimulated by Bolsonaro.

Report Shows Corporations and Bolsonaro Teaming Up to Destroy the Amazon. By Joe Catron.

This 23 August 2019 video is called The Amazon isn’t “Burning” – It’s Being Burned.

Amazon fires in Brazil


This 24 August 2019 Science Insider video says about itself:

Why The Amazon Fires Are Such A Big Deal

As of August 20, more than 74,000 fires have been recorded across the Brazilian Amazon. That’s nearly double the total number of fires in 2018. So, what happened? Environmental groups blame Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has indicated that protecting the rainforest is not a priority. They say Bolsonaro has emboldened ranchers … to set fire to forests to acquire more land, now with impunity. Scientists warn that the results may be devastating. They say the Amazon is near a tipping point, beyond which the forest could turn into a dry savannah.

This 23 August 2019 video is called Amazon fires: the tribes fighting to save their dying rainforest.

The Amazon rainforest in Brazil is being ravaged by fire. More than 74,000 fires have burned in the country since January, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research — with 9,500 new forest fires igniting since just last week, the result of the natural dry season and fires intentionally ignited to clear forest. Black smoke billows from treetops, spreading across parts of South America and even shrouding the coastal city of São Paulo in near darkness. The fires, along with concerns about biodiversity and climate change, have triggered global alarm: here.

NASA Pictures Capture Amazon Fires All the Way from Space. The images are a shocking representation of a dire situation: here.