Cool Similarity Between How Humans and Animals Communicate

While we have probably encountered a parrot at least once in our lives and have recently received news of orcas imitating their human trainers’ speech, we don’t really expect most animals to talk the way humans talk to each other. But surprisingly enough — they do!

According to a comprehensive new study, many species pause in their “conversations” to facilitate taking turns. For many years, this turn-taking has long been thought to be a solely human trait, but it has since been observed everywhere — from birds to whales to elephants.

After reviewing hundreds and hundreds of studies about mammals, amphibians, and many other classifications, the research team proposed a framework to understand how different animals communicate. Their findings imply that we might soon be able to understand how we evolutionarily began to communicate as well.

“The ultimate goal of the framework is to facilitate large-scale, systematic cross-species comparisons,” says one of the team, linguist Kobin Kendrick from the University of York in the UK.

“Such a framework will allow researchers to trace the evolutionary history of this remarkable turn-taking behaviour and address longstanding questions about the origins of human language.”

While taking turns was discovered to be common among many species, the gaps in the “conversations” vary. Songbirds take less than 50 milliseconds before they answer their fellow songbird. The gap in sperm whales can reach up to two seconds in between replies. Meanwhile, pauses in human conversations tend to be around 200 milliseconds.

Other interesting findings include what’s socially acceptable among other species. For instance, birds called European starlings avoid overlaps when they communicate. In human terms, this means that they don’t talk over each other. When that happens, it results in silence or one of the birds flying away. Fascinating, huh?

Since about 50 years ago, scientists have already been studying the ways animals communicate. But what’s different now is the large comparative scale of this analysis. Previous findings have never been compared, but now even human linguists are collaborating with the effort.

“We came together because we all believe strongly that these fields can benefit from each other, and we hope that this paper drives more cross talk between human and animal turn-taking research in the future,” says [Sonja Vernes from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands].

Who knows? One day we might not only be studying how communication happens across different species, but how it could eventually happen between different species.

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Endangered Giant Turtles Are Escaping Extinction

Some animals, such as wild tigers in Kazakhstan, are making a comeback thanks to environmental groups. However, others, like the humble sea turtle, are escaping extinction all on their own.

Massive efforts to save the egg-laying turtles by changing fishing nets and creating protected and darkened beaches are working, said . . . Antonios Mazaris, an ecology professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.

“There’s a positive sign at the end of the story,” Mazaris said. “We should be more optimistic about our efforts in society.”

Before, endangered giant turtles had a difficult time with their survival due to hunting, fishing, habitat destruction, and pollution, among other things. In fact, only one of seven sea turtle species isn’t endangered. Mazaris recently found that of 299 sets of turtle populations, 95 increased. That’s serious cause for some… shell-ebration.

“Sea turtles are bellwethers. They’re flagships that we use to tell the story of what’s going on in the oceans… And that’s why people should care about turtles.”

Thanks to new fishing practices and allocated nesting hubs, the population of previously endangered giant turtles now increase by 10 – 15% annually. The Ridley sea turtle species had formerly seen a drop of roughly 38,000, and this initial devastation of turtle populations may have been our own doing. However, our awareness and action are also partially to thank now.

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Type of “Exploding Ants” Discovered in Borneo

Sometimes, biological discoveries are inexplicable, except somehow by serendipity — or perhaps how the ecological balance of the world makes way for good things — as seen in the resurfacing of the supposedly extinct crest-tailed mulgara in Australia or the resurgence of the starfish population in South California. Sometimes, much-studied and long-awaited breakthroughs happen, as seen in the unearthing of 215 dinosaur eggs in China.

Other times, scientific research takes a backseat for almost a century due to a lack of progress, until certain individuals bring it upon themselves to finally answer some questions. Such is the case when an interdisciplinary research team did an expedition to Borneo, Thailand, and Malaysia to study “exploding ants” again — the first time since 1935.

The team from the Natural History Museum Vienna, Technical University Vienna, and other contributing institutions published the results of their studies where they were able to identify 15 separate species of exploding ants, including one new discovery.

The new species is called Colobopsis explodens, but the researchers like to call it “yellow goo” on account of its bright yellow grand secretion. The researchers consider C. explodens to be a model species of exploding ant, which means it’ll now serve as a reference point, or an exemplar, for future research. The new species earned this designation because it’s particularly prone to self-sacrifice when threatened.

When threatened, the newfound species of Southeast Asian exploding ants intentionally rupture their own abdomen to release a sticky and toxic substance that can kill the enemy. Called “autothysis,” this suicidal mechanism can only be found in super-social organisms like ants, who work towards the preservation of their colony rather than the life of any individual insect.

[I]n addition to documenting the ants’ exploding behavior in more detail, the researchers also studied their eating habits; these insects like to munch on algae, moss, fungi, dead insects, fruit, and fish.

The discovery itself of an interesting species should already be lauded as a great contribution to biology. But what’s more important about the work of these scientists is how they laid the groundwork for future research involving these insects.

We must have missed a lot of scientific opportunities in the past. This is why being very proud of rediscovering them is the farthest thing from making a mountain out of an anthill.

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Dinosaur Remains Uncovered In Egypt

The age of dinosaurs has long come and gone, yet miraculously, their bones have remained intact. Millions of years later, paleontologists have uncovered major finds such as pterosaur eggs in China. Nobody thus far has their sight set on a real-life Jurassic Park, but the discoveries keep on coming. Smack dab in the core of the Sahara desert, the Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology has dug up the perfectly preserved fossils of the Mansourasaurus shahinae.

Mansourasaurus helps us address long standing questions about Africa’s fossil record and palaeobiology – what animals were living there, and to what other species were these animals most closely related?”

The talk of the town 80 million years prior, the herbivore was roughly the length of a London double-decker bus. The creature likely donned a long neck, much like the well-known brontosaurus. The discovery is a milestone for researchers in Africa, where it is difficult to uncover dinosaur residue.

“This was the Holy Grail – a well-preserved dinosaur from the end of the Age of Dinosaurs in Africa – that we paleontologists had been searching for for a long, long time.”

The Mansoura team is confident it’ll stumble into even grander findings. With a landmark achievement like this, I wouldn’t be too surprised!

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Diggers Discover Hundreds Of Dinosaur Eggs In China

Recent discoveries of a 1-million-year-old Stegomastodon and ancient water bird fossil are taking a backseat, thanks to an even greater finding. As luck would have it, paleontologists have hit the jackpot in Xinjiang, China with 215 pterosaur eggs. Fortunately, there are no plans to open up a real-life Jurassic Park — yet.

“When you have a really unique find, you basically can’t do anything to it because that’s all you’ve got. But now that we have literally hundreds of eggs to work with, we have more options — such as cutting different eggs into cross-sections to study growth rates.” [said paleobiologist David Unwin.]

16 of the eggs contain embryonic remains, encompassed by dozens of highly-intact skeletons. Though this particular species of pterosaur boasted an 11-foot wingspan, it technically wasn’t a dinosaur. Scientists assume pterosaurs would’ve closer resembled a giant albatross — just significantly more frightening.

“I think these new embryonic finds are really exciting because with these, we can begin to reconstruct the embryonic development of pterosaurs inside the egg. I just think it’ll take time to do that.” [said Unwin.]

With potentially 300 more surrounding eggs undiscovered, the horizons for study are limitless. Let’s just hope nobody gets any crazy ideas.

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Supposedly Extinct Species Resurfaces In Australia

Devoted animal activists are doing what they can to prevent dwindling wildlife populations from perishing. While Kazakhstan is manually reintroducing wild tigers, Indonesian authorities are catching pangolin smugglers red-handed. For the “extinct” crest-tailed mulgara, no human intervention brought the carnivorous critter back to life. It simply showed up after an entire century.

“Next year we are due to begin introduced predator and rabbit eradication for a large area, which will no doubt help the mulgara,” Reece Pedler, project coordinator of Wild Deserts, says.

The tiny, blonde insect-muncher is a cousin to the Tasmanian devil and acts as a midday lunch for foxes and cats. For a hundred years, passersby only experienced the mouse-like creature in bone fragments. Now, Australia is prepared to keep the species alive.

The conservation project will set up Sturt National Park as a sanctuary with two fenced exoclosures to keep predators away. After those have been erected, locally extinct mammals… will be reintroduced.

Looks like athletes aren’t the only ones making a comeback!

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Endangered Starfish Resurface After 3 Years

Efforts to restore coral beds by returning oyster shells to reefs may be making an impact — but not for sea stars. Plagued by star wasting syndrome in 2013, the majestic creatures saw an uneasy population decline. However, a miraculous turn of events has seen the distinguished species resurface in Southern California.

“It’s a huge difference… A couple of years ago, you wouldn’t find any. I dove all the way as far as Canada, specifically looking for sea stars, and found not a single one,” … said Darryl Deleske, an aquarist at San Pedro, California’s Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.

While die-offs have occurred in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, climate change has amplified its latest comeback. With no solid explanation to star wasting syndrome, the disease is tricky. Still, researchers have offered a number of theories.

Scientists suggested that parvovirus, which can be carried by other invertebrates, might be linked to the disease, with the viral agent possibly “going rogue.”

The sea star’s resurgence may be a conundrum even the Mystery Gang can’t solve — but a fortunate one at that!

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Leonardo DiCaprio Fights To Save Lions

In the grand scheme of trying to make the world a better place, we sometimes forget about protecting our wildlife. Every now and then, a war veteran will fight for elephant rights, or a president will adopt a dog. Now, Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, along with the Wildlife Conservation Network, is working to save lions from extinction through the Lion Recovery Fund.

“100% of every dollar raised will go directly to the partners in the field with zero administrative fees or overhead.”

“We’re losing our planet’s wildlife – even such iconic species as the African Lion – at a dangerously rapid pace. An astonishingly small amount of philanthropic dollars go towards protecting wildlife‚ but together we can turn that around.”

Lion conservation is not just about hard work — it demands collaboration. This means wildlife organizations, governments, and donor communities all need to play an active role, and fast. Current lion populations are a tenth of what they used to be just a century ago.

“More than 26 countries have already lost their lion populations and without action‚ lions may disappear from many of their remaining strongholds‚”

We are losing the species to habitat loss via agriculture and deforestation, poaching, and invasion of wild lands. While I wish it didn’t take celebrity endorsements to encourage action, it may be the drive we need at the moment.

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