An Australian musk duck has been recorded saying “You bloody fool” in the first documented instance of the species mimicking human speech.
A hand-reared male named Ripper was recorded imitating the phrase during a courtship display, according to a study published Monday. The authors said he could have learned it from his caretaker.
“The Australian musk duck demonstrates an unexpected and impressive ability for vocal learning,” the study said. The report also details how Ripper imitated the sound of a door opening and closing.
There are many species of ducks and geese that are bred in captivity, and there haven’t been any reports of them showing an ability to mimic human sounds, study author Carel ten Cate told CNN on Tuesday.
“It’s quite exceptional then to come across a species which apparently has the ability to mimic these sounds,” he said.
Songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds are known to exhibit this vocal learning ability, but this is the first fully documented instance of musk ducks exhibiting vocal learning, said ten Cate, a researcher and professor of animal behavior at the Institute of Biology Leiden, at Leiden University, the Netherlands.
“It’s not exactly a human voice, but very voice like,” he said. “It’s mimicking quite well.”
Some species are better mimics than musk ducks, but there are many songbirds and parrots that are worse at copying, added ten Cate.
Ripper was hand-reared at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, near Canberra, Australia, where the recordings were made in 1987 by now-retired ornithologist Peter J. Fullagar, who was formerly at the division of ecosystem sciences at The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
While some observations of musk ducks mimicking human sounds were documented in Australian bird journals, they never made it to the scientific community that studies vocal learning, ten Cate explained.
The recordings were made during displays to attract a mate that combine sounds and physical movements such as splashing in the water.
In the recordings, Ripper appeared to imitate the sound of a door a few meters from the sink he was kept in for a few weeks after he was born, as well as what sounds like: “You bloody foo.”
The last word could be either “fool” or “food,” ten Cate said.
“It’s in the ear of the beholder so to speak,” he said, explaining that it was likely a phrase Ripper heard repeatedly from his caretaker.
In a separate recording made in 2000, a second male duck at Tidbinbilla appears to imitate a Pacific black duck.
Musk ducks live in two separate areas in western and southeastern Australia, according to the study. These birds are rarely bred in captivity due to the fact that mature males are prone to attacking other waterfowl.
The study also details two other instances of captive musk ducks imitating sounds in their environment, but the birds were not recorded, and therefore the observations not independently confirmed.
Wild musk ducks are unlikely to imitate human sounds, ten Cate said.
“If you only recorded these animals in the field you wouldn’t realize that they were actually vocal learners and imitating one another, it’s just when they are reared under these special conditions,” he said.
The study was published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Unbreakable glass inspired by seashells – Science Daily
Scientists from McGill University develop stronger and tougher glass, inspired by the inner layer of mollusk shells. Instead of shattering upon impact, the new material has the resiliency of plastic and could be used to improve cell phone screens in the future, among other applications.
While techniques like tempering and laminating can help reinforce glass, they are costly and no longer work once the surface is damaged. “Until now there were trade-offs between high strength, toughness, and transparency. Our new material is not only three times stronger than the normal glass, but also more than five times more fracture resistant,” says Allen Ehrlicher, an Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at McGill University.
Nature as master of design
Drawing inspiration from nature, the scientist created a new glass and acrylic composite material that mimics nacre or mother of pearl. “Nature is a master of design. Studying the structure of biological materials and understanding how they work offers inspiration, and sometimes blueprints, for new materials,” says Ehrlicher.
“Amazingly, nacre has the rigidity of a stiff material and durability of a soft material, giving it the best of both worlds,” he explains. “It’s made of stiff pieces of chalk-like matter that are layered with soft proteins that are highly elastic. This structure produces exceptional strength, making it 3000 times tougher than the materials that compose it.”
The scientists took the architecture of nacre and replicated it with layers of glass flakes and acrylic, yielding an exceptionally strong yet opaque material that can be produced easily and inexpensively. They then went a step further to make the composite optically transparent. “By tuning the refractive index of the acrylic, we made it seamlessly blend with the glass to make a truly transparent composite,” says lead author Ali Amini, a Postdoctoral Researcher at McGill. As next steps, they plan to improve it by incorporating smart technology allowing the glass to change its properties, such as colour, mechanics, and conductivity.
Lost invention of flexible glass
Flexible glass is supposedly a lost invention from the time of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar. According to popular historical accounts by Roman authors Gaius Plinius Secundus and Petronius, the inventor brought a drinking bowl made of the material before the Emperor. When the bowl was put to the test to break it, it only dented instead of shattering.
After the inventor swore he was the only person who knew how to produce the material, Tiberius had the man executed, fearing that the glass would devalue gold and silver because it might be more valuable.
“When I think about the story of Tiberius, I’m glad that our material innovation leads to publication rather than execution,” says Ehrlicher.
Strontium isotopes can map monarch butterfly migrations and help conservation efforts – Yahoo News Canada
The eastern North American population of monarch butterflies are famous for their annual, multi-generational, round-trip migration from the oyamel fir forests of Central Mexico through the United States to Canada and back. Sadly, the population of monarch butterflies is declining, and the future of the monarch migratory phenomenon is uncertain.
Scientists can study migrations by looking at the chemicals stored within the teeth, bones, tusks and wings of animals. In the case of monarch butterflies, the signature contained in its wings reveals where it was a caterpillar, allowing researchers to trace its natal origin, or birthplace.
Isotopes are atoms of the same element that have different masses because they have a different number of neutrons. For some elements, such as hydrogen and strontium, the proportion of heavy versus light isotopes in the environment changes predictably between locations, giving locations unique isotopic signatures. A map of these local isotopic signatures is called an isoscape.
Read more: Explainer: what is an isotope?
Isotopes have informed conservation efforts for decades because they are helpful for identifying where an animal has migrated from.
Strontium (Sr) is an alkaline earth metal with four stable isotopes: 84Sr, 86Sr, 87Sr and 88Sr. Strontium isotopes ratios (the ratio of 87Sr to 86Sr) are a new addition to the ecologist’s isotopic toolbox. Strontium isotopes will help ecologists pinpoint the origins of migrating animals more precisely and solve longstanding questions related to the migratory connectivity and migratory patterns of monarch butterflies.
What bodies can reveal
As animals (including humans) feed and drink, they incorporate the local isotopic signature into their bodies. The isotopic signature of animal tissue can then be compared to an isoscape map to find out where the tissue was formed.
For example, the strontium isotope ratio of human teeth can tell you where a person spent their childhood because teeth are formed early in life. Human bones, however, will tell you where they spent the last decade of their life because bone tissue replaces itself every 10 years or so.
Why do we need isotope geolocation?
Ideally, we would study animal migration by putting tiny radio transmitters on many individuals and tracking them for a long period of time. However, this approach isn’t practical in many situations.
For example, we cannot use a radio transmitter to find the origin of poached elephant ivory or the home range size of extinct lemur specimens from a museum. But we can use isotopes to learn something about the lives of these deceased animals.
Some animals, like insects, are too small and numerous to be effectively tracked using tagging methods. Although significant advances have been made in recent years, insects are still too small to be tracked with radio transmitters on a large scale. Therefore, isotopes are one of our best tools for answering questions about insect migratory patterns and connectivity. Given the current context of global climate change and population declines, we urgently need to know more about animal migration so that we can conserve migrations for future generations.
The case of monarch butterflies
Hydrogen and carbon isotopes have been used for decades to trace the natal origins of monarch butterflies. These studies have helped guide conservation efforts and inform listing decisions.
For example, isotopes have helped researchers figure out which regions of the United States contribute the most monarchs to the overwintering population. Other studies have shown that some monarchs are opting for a non-migratory lifestyle and have shown that an extreme northwestern migration into Canada came from the Midwest.
Strontium isotope ratios and monarch butterflies
My collaborators and I recently demonstrated how strontium isotopes can be used to study animal migration. We found that strontium isotopes, especially when combined with hydrogen isotopes, can estimate the natal origin of a monarch butterfly to a more precise geographic location — about four times better — than using hydrogen alone.
In our study, we created a strontium isoscape map for the breeding range of the monarch butterfly. This means we now have a ready-to-use tool for estimating the natal origin of monarch butterflies using strontium.
We hope that applying strontium isotopes to both new and archived monarch specimens will advance our understanding of how monarch migration patterns and connectivity have changed over time, and ultimately help guide conservation actions to protect this migratory phenomenon.
Megan Reich receives funding from the Ontario Government (OGS and QEII-GSST), the University of Utah SPATIAL group (ORIGIN Graduate Fellowship), and the Entomological Society of Canada.
World's most dangerous bird raised by humans 18000 years ago, study suggests – CTV News
The earliest bird reared by humans may have been a cassowary — often called the world’s most dangerous bird because of its long, dagger-like toe.
Territorial, aggressive and often compared to a dinosaur in looks, the bird is a surprising candidate for domestication.
However, a new study of more than 1,000 fossilized eggshell fragments, excavated from two rock shelters used by hunter-gatherers in New Guinea, has suggested early humans may have collected the eggs of the large flightless bird before they hatched and then raised the chicks to adulthood. New Guinea is a large island north of Australia. The eastern half of the island is Papua New Guinea, while the western half forms part of Indonesia.
“This behavior that we are seeing is coming thousands of years before domestication of the chicken,” said lead study author Kristina Douglass, an assistant professor of anthropology and African studies at Penn State University.
“And this is not some small fowl, it is a huge, ornery, flightless bird that can eviscerate you,” she said in a news statement.
The researchers said that while a cassowary can be aggressive (a man in Florida was killed by one in 2019), it “imprints” easily — it becomes attached to the first thing it sees after hatching. This means it’s easy to maintain and raise up to adult size.
Today, the cassowary is New Guinea’s largest vertebrate, and its feathers and bones are prized materials for making bodily adornments and ceremonial wear. The bird’s meat is considered a delicacy in New Guinea.
There are three species of cassowary, and they are native to parts of northern Queensland, Australia, and New Guinea. Douglass thought our ancient ancestors most likely reared the smallest species, the dwarf cassowary, that weighs around 20 kilograms (44 pounds).
The fossilized eggshells were carbon-dated as part of the study, and their ages ranged from 18,000 to 6,000 years old.
Humans are believed to have first domesticated chickens no earlier than 9,500 years ago.
NOT FOR SNACKING
To reach their conclusions, the researchers first studied the eggshells of living birds, including turkeys, emus and ostriches.
The insides of the eggshells change as the developing chicks get calcium from the eggshell. Using high-resolution 3D images and inspecting the inside of the eggs, the researchers were able to build a model of what the eggs looked like during different stages of incubation.
The scientists tested their model on modern emu and ostrich eggs before applying it to the fossilized eggshell fragments found in New Guinea. The team found that most of the eggshells found at the sites were all near maturity.
“What we found was that a large majority of the eggshells were harvested during late stages,” Douglass said. “The eggshells look very late; the pattern is not random.”
These late-stage eggshells indicate people living at these two rock shelter sites were harvesting eggs when the cassowary embryos had fully formed limbs, beaks, claws and feathers, the study said.
But were humans purposefully collecting these eggs to allow them to hatch or collecting the eggs to eat? It’s possible they were doing both, Douglass said.
Consuming eggs with fully formed embryos is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, but Douglass said the research team’s analysis suggested people were hatching the chicks.
“We also looked at burning on the eggshells,” Douglass said in the news release. “There are enough samples of late stage eggshells that do not show burning that we can say they were hatching and not eating them.”
BIG BIRD AS VALUABLE RESEARCH
Less mature eggshells showed more signs of burning — suggesting that when cassowary eggs were consumed they were cooked and eaten when their contents were primarily liquid.
“In the highlands today people raise cassowary chicks to adulthood, in order to collect feathers, and consume or trade the birds. It is possible cassowaries were also highly valued in the past, since they are among the largest vertebrate animals on New Guinea. Raising cassowaries from chicks would provide a readily available source of feathers and meat for an animal that is otherwise challenging to hunt in the wild as an adult,” she explained via email.
However, there is still much the researchers don’t know.
To successfully hatch and raise cassowary chicks, people would need to know where the nests were, know when the eggs were laid and remove them from the nest just before hatching. This is no easy feat as birds don’t nest at the same sites each year. Once a female lays the eggs, male birds take over nest duty and don’t leave for 50 days while incubating the eggs.
“People may have hunted the male and then collected the eggs. Because males don’t leave the nest unattended they also don’t feed much during the incubation period making them more vulnerable to predators,” she said.
The research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PNAS on Monday.
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