Polar bears older than previously thought
Polar bears diverged from their closest relatives about 600,000 years ago, according to a new genetic study published in the April 20 issue of the journal Science.
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Baboons can learn to spot printed words
Baboons can't read, but they can learn to tell the difference between real printed words (like KITE) and nonsense words (like ZEVS), scientists say.
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Bone markings: Something for scientists to chew on
Many fossil animal bones have been dinged up by natural processes, chewed by carnivorous animals or cut by human tools. But, when researchers dig up these bones millions of years later, it can be really difficult to tell these different types of marks apart.
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With pesticides, bees can't find their way home
Scientists have discovered some of the ways that a widely used insecticide harms bumblebees and honeybees. Bumblebees and honeybees are important pollinators of flowering plants, including many major fruit and vegetable crops. Each year, honeybee hives are trucked in on farms to help pollinate almond, apple and blueberry crops, among others.
The extinction of Australia's giant animals
Human hunters were primarily responsible for the disappearance of Australia's giant vertebrates about 40,000 years ago. And, this extinction in turn caused major ecological changes. These are the conclusions of a new study in the March 23, 2012, issue of the journal Science.
Timing is key to fern's spore-throwing catapult
If you've ever been hiking, chances are you've seen fern plants in the woods. Nestled under fern leaves are tiny capsules chock-full of spores, tiny life vessels which, like seeds, are used for dispersal. Fern plants launch their spores with tiny catapults. Once in the air, wind and air currents can take the spores around the world.
What can honeybees tell us about human behavior?
A new study of honeybees might help researchers understand why some people break free of their normal routines and seek out new experiences. Zhengzheng Liang and colleagues took a close look at the genes that are expressed in the brains of honeybees when the bees are out searching for new food sources.
Unlike chimps, young kids share knowledge
Young children trying to solve a puzzle collaborated and shared information, while chimps and capuchin monkeys working on the same puzzle did not, according to a new study. These findings help explain why human culture gets more complex over generations, while that of other animals seems to stay roughly the same. Other animals are capable of learning from each other, so researchers would like to know what special human abilities allow us to have "cumulative culture."
Small horses liked it hot
The earliest horses were closer in size to a housecat than to the modern-day animals we're familiar with. Even at this small scale, the body size of these ancient horses evolved over time. New research shows that environmental temperatures drove these changes.
Good vibrations and the science of touch
Did you know that your fingertips and palms are especially good at feeling vibrations? You can check this out by putting your hands on an object that's giving a gentle hum, like a washing machine. Then try your forearm, and compare what you feel.
Shedding more light on major quakes
Using a technique known as Light Detection and Ranging, or LIDAR, before and after large earthquakes might help researchers pinpoint the places where those quakes break the ground wide open, according to a new study.
Off Western Australia, temperature rules the reefs
Australia's Great Barrier Reef has been in decline for years. Its crumbling conditions have caused many researchers to predict that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the world's oceans would only harm the coral further. But, new research is suggesting that a more acidic ocean -- due to increased carbon dioxide levels -- would not actually affect coral reefs as much as the sea's temperature.
Before they pounce, jumping spiders see green
Jumping spiders have an unusual depth-perception system in their eyes, which helps them pounce on their prey, a Japanese research team has discovered.
Bird attraction based on illusion
Bowerbirds, which live in Australia and New Guinea, have an elaborate mating ritual in which the males build large structures or "bowers" that females stop by to inspect. In a new study, scientists report that certain male bowerbirds attract mates by decorating their bowers in a way that creates an optical illusion.
A wind-riding bird gets a boost
The wandering albatross spends most of its life in flight, touching down on land to find food or to breed. These enormous seabirds, which have the largest wingspan of any living bird, conserve energy while aloft by riding the wind currents.
Origins of huge-headed 'supersoldier' ants
Most ant species in the Pheidole genus have two social groups, or castes: workers and solders. Some also produce "supersoldiers." These large ants block their nest entrance with their extra-large heads and fight with invading ants during army ant raids. Although there are 1,100 different species of Pheidole ants worldwide, just a few of them produce supersoldiers.
One-third for the birds!
As the numbers of big fish like tuna decline, humans are increasingly catching anchovies, sardines and other small "forage fish" instead. But if humans take too many, they could be cutting off the food supply for the animals that prey on forage fish.
Naked mole-rats feel no pain from acid
The African naked mole-rat is, to our eyes, a pretty ugly creature. These small animals have no hair, wrinkly skin, and two long, yellow front teeth. They live in huge colonies inside deep underground tunnels, where there is little fresh air.
Honor among rats
In an unusual example of empathy in animals other than primates, new research shows that rats will liberate their distressed cagemates from a trap, even when they get no additional reward. These animals seem to be showing empathy, which has often been considered unique to primates. An empathetic animal can "put itself in another's shoes" while maintaining its own perspective and emotional separation.
There's something about a face
It's easy for people to tell one human face from another. We do it all the time without even thinking about it. But, it does take a special ability. Imagine trying to distinguish one goldfish face from another, or one squirrel face, or one wasp face. Within each of these species, all the faces look pretty much the same, right? In contrast, there's something about the human face that our brains recognize and remember in fine detail.
The world's first fish hooks?
Researchers in East Timor, a country in Southeast Asia, have discovered the remains of large fish and fishing gear in a shelter that was used by early humans long ago. The remains include some fish hooks made out of bone and they appear to be 42,000 years old, which suggests that early humans were fishing in the open ocean much earlier than researchers had thought.
For decision-making, less information may be more
A study on European starlings shows that when it comes to making decisions, it can help to have less information about the available choices -- but not always. Whether this "less-is-more" effect comes into play depends heavily on a species' ecological situation, the researchers report.
Stars may not be massive or metallic
Before stars existed in space, the only elements present in the universe were hydrogen, helium and lithium. The birth of the first stars fundamentally transformed the early universe by emitting the first light and producing the first metals. Astronomers are still trying to unlock some of the secrets of early star formation. Two new studies in the journal Science show that these early stars weren't as big or metallic as previously thought.
Bird brains primed for cooperation
Best friends sometimes finish each others' sentences, but the plain-tailed wrens of the Andes take things even further. Male and female wrens sing intimate duets in which they alternate syllables so quickly it sounds like a single bird is singing.
The big hearts of pythons
Pythons can go a full year without food, and once they do score a meal, their heart nearly doubles in size. Since the snake's heart-ballooning after a meal is similar to the heart growth seen in people who exercise a lot, like Olympic athletes, studying snake hearts could help scientists figure out how to make human hearts healthier.
Funding provided by the William T. Golden Endowment Fund for Program Innovation at AAAS.