Monday, July 27, 2015

Y'all Tawk Funny, Doncha Know

All of our struggles for dialectal conformity (admit it, even you have tried to talk like the cool kids at times) have come from the fact that we learn language through both vertical and horizontal transmission (and no, I’m not talking about the way STDs are spread). We learn language both from our parents (vertical transmission) and our peers (horizontal transmission). We now suspect that orcas (also called killer whales) do too.

Photo by Olga Filatova.
Today I am revisiting my thoughts on dialects, learning languages, and orcas from an article I wrote in the early days of The Scorpion and the Frog. You can read the article in it's entirety here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

How We Know the Colors of Prehistoric Animals

Image from Vinther's 2015 paper in Bioessays.
Through their studies of bones, fossils, and geology, paleontologists have uncovered the prehistoric worlds of Earth's past. We watch movies and TV shows of computer generated versions of long-extinct dinosaurs, fish, birds, and even mammals and it seems obvious how we know about the sizes and shapes of these animals...but how do we know what their colors were like? A new scientific field is emerging, called paleocolor (or palaeo colour, if you're British), in which scientists use fossils, chemistry, cellular biology and comparative biology to reconstruct the color patterns and related behaviors of animals long since passed.

Today at Accumulating Glitches, I discuss the major findings of paleocolor and how we know what colors the dinosaurs and other long-extinct animals actually were. Check out the full article here.

Further reading:

Vinther, J. A guide to the field of palaeo colour, Bioessays, 37, 643-656 (2015). DOI: 10.1002/bies.201500018.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Caught in My Web: Online Animal Behavior Resources

Image by Luc Viatour at Wikimedia.
I often receive questions from readers on how to find out more about a particular topic: How do baboon troops make decisions? Do other species have slaves? Where can I learn more about how hormones affect behavior? In addition to this site, there are many online resources out there to learn more about animal behavior. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. The Conversation is one of my all-time favorite news and information sources. It is a news website with articles on practically every topic that are written by the academic experts that study them. They have a team of editors to help with the journalistic process and writing, resulting in articles that are fascinating, understandable and incredibly informed and accurate. The Conversation launched originally in Australia in 2011. It has since launched regional versions in the UK in 2013, in the US in 2014, and in Africa in 2015. You can search by topic, and their animal behavior articles can be found here.

2. The Nature Education Knowledge Project has a number of articles covering a wide range of topics in animal behavior at basic, intermediate and advanced levels. The Nature Education Knowledge Project was a project by Scitable, a free online teaching/learning source that has high quality educational articles, videos, blogs and other resources in the sciences. Scitable is produced by the Nature Publishing Group (which also publishes journals and magazines such as Nature and Scientific American).

3. Alberto Redondo Villa from University of Córdoba in Spain has a fantastic web-TV channel on animal behavior. Check it out here.

4. Isabella Rossellini, Italian model, actress and filmmaker, has several incredible series of short (1-5 minute) videos on animal sexual behavior in which she plays a different species in each video. The original, called Green Porno, was followed by Seduce Me and Mammas. If you haven't seen it yet, it is a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon. Here is one on earthworm sex:

5. If you are interested in taking a free college-level course on the topic, The University of Melbourne offers an animal behavior course (called “Animal Behaviour”, because they’re Australian) at Coursera. Learn more about the course and the next available dates here.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Song Battles With Other Species Can Change Your Tune

Many animals defend territories from members of their own species for mating, breeding, and finding food and they often use species-specific vocalizations to do this. Defending a territory can be risky and costly in both energy and time, so even territorial animals generally don’t waste this effort on other species that do not share their same food and breeding needs. But what do you do if you live around another very similar species that has the same needs that you do? Can two species learn to speak each other’s languages to live in territorial harmony?

A common nightingale.
Photo by Frebeck at Wikimedia Commons.
A thrush nightingale.
Photo by Locaguapa at Wikimedia Commons.
Today at Accumulating Glitches, I tell the story of two species of nightingales and how they are learning to sing each other's songs to defend their territories! Check out the article here.