Tag Archives: comic

Gym Nut

The Olympics might be over, but that doesn’t mean that gymnastics have to take a backseat. For those in the Northern Hemisphere it is that time of year where the squirrels are 1) chonky and 2) scampering about to top up their cache for the winter – often making death defying leaps and bounds in the process. A cool research project set out to look at just how athletic squirrels are – and lets just say they could definitely make it to the national gymnastics team!

Acrobatic squirrels learn to leap and land on tree branches without falling

These gymnastic skills are important to help minimise what would be life (not career) ending injuries for squirrels as they navigate their way through the canopies. The cool part though? Its not just skill, there’s also some learning involved in making and surviving these acrobatic leaps. Squirrels learnt how to account for the ‘bendiness’ of branches when judging their leap – but also have the needed skills to correct should they have miscalculated before making the leap.


Tanya Strydom is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Icebreaker

Tool usage – something typically associated with (but definitely not exclusive to) primates. Yet polar bears are also a part of the DIY club and will sometimes turn to using rocks or chunks of ice to help them in taking down their prey. They have (as far as reports go) not yet gotten so far as to use catapults, but who knows…

Although knowledge of this behaviour isn’t really new (it has been observed and noted by Inuit hunters for generations) it does serve as a reminder that other animals can be just as handy should the need arise. Although tool use (or just ‘clever’ behaviour in general, such as tricking their prey to come closer) by bears isn’t something that’s observed often, it does occur and suggests that bears would probably rank high in what we would term ‘intelligence’. That being said, as long as we don’t have polar bears starting to use more ‘refined’ tools to do their hunting I’m happy – the idea of them ‘tossing’ about rocks is scary enough!

The review by Ian Stirling’s team that compiled different accounts of tool use by Polar Bears can be found here: https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic72532

Deer in the LED-Lights

A recent photo showcasing the reflective reindeers in Finland has been making the rounds on the interweb. Although that specific photo turned out to be photoshopped (the reindeer looked particularly menacing/terrifying as its horns gave off a red glow similar to that of a neon sign outside the bar) the act of spraying reindeers with reflective paint is very much real.

Reindeer are an important part of animal husbandry in Finland – which means that these reindeer have monetary value and a loss of life is a loss of income for someone. These reindeer are also free roaming (unlike livestock in many countries which are kept in fenced pasture) which means that they are more likely to potentially run into hazards. Cars – more specifically collisions with cars – account for around 4,000 reindeer deaths every year. In 2014 the Finnish Reindeer Herders Association started experimenting with ways to make reindeer more visible to motorists – especially in the darker winter months.

Turns out the antlers are a pretty handy place to spray said reflective tape since it provides 360º visibility to motorists (as opposed to painting only the sides of the reindeer). And although the paint might not give off a creepy red aura reminiscent of demonic Rudolph its still pretty cool and will probably catch your attention while driving.


Tanya Strydom is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Crossings4Ewe

Okay so maybe the wolves aren’t literally helping deers to cross roads in Wisconsin, but they are helping to keep them away from the motorways and (by extension) preventing them from becoming another roadkill statistic.

With the return of wolves to Wisconsin, their prey species have had to change their behaviour to minimise the risk of becoming the next item on the menu. One of these changes has been to avoid roadways and other human structures, since these cleared areas make ideal wolf hunting grounds. They do of course also catch the odd deer, but it is the added ability to scare the deer away from roadways which makes wolves a more efficient prevention technique for deer collisions than the traditional approach of keeping deer population down through hunting.

Wolves are a polarising topic – with divided opinions as to if they should be re-introduced to the wild or not. This landscape of fear that the wolves create is clearly a tick in the win column for having wolves around. As twitter user @edyong209 points out; the wolves could actually be helping us solve a human engineered problem by keeping the deers at bay.

The original article discussing the economic benefits can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2023251118

Street Urchins

Sometimes dinner turns into a mob and bites back.

Well at least that’s what it looks like…

In a shocking turn of events a common sun star (starfish species) was gobbled up by a group of sea urchins (their natural prey species) at a research station in Sweden. Which is just a little bit out of character for the vegetarian lawnmowers that are sea urchins – although make no mistake they can vacuum up a kelp forest if given half the chance.

Although the ‘why’ as to what drove the sea urchins to turn on the starfish (a case of hunger perhaps, or an attempt to remove the threat of predation) remains unclear, the interesting thing is that although the sea urchins have a comparatively simple nervous system (they don’t even have a true brain), they are still able to execute an organised form of attack. This attack strategy has been termed ‘urchin pinning’ by the research team and is usually instigated by one individual that starts the ‘attack’ and is then joined by the other sea urchins who begin munching away at the starfish. They start at the tips and moving inwards, leaving the starfish unable to get away…

The original research article can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1111/eth.13147

A note for sensitive readers: Although many starfish were harmed in the making of this comic they are expected to make a full recovery (physically at least).

Drop That Body

Image being able to ‘just’ get rid of your body (and regrow a replacement one of course) when it’s giving you a hard time. That would be amazing when the aches and pains become, well, a pain. Researchers have just discovered two species of sea slug that do exactly that! The two species have been shown to shed their entire body (including major organs with the exception of the brain) and grow a new one when their parasite load becomes too high. Iinstead of trying to fight off the parasites, they simply let them go.

While they are busy growing their new body they ‘steal’ energy by incorporating the chloroplasts from their algal meals – which is then used for photosynthesis (known as kleptoplasy). This is a big step up from the usual instances of species being able to regrow something after willingly shedding them (autotomy) – which usually involves shedding a limb/appendage…

The shedded bodies never regrow a head – which begs the question if the headless horseman features in any of the sea slugs horror story lore – or, you know, if there are just a whole host of bodies floating around…

The full research article can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.01.014

Sweepstakes

Sometimes you need to pick your battles….

Dwarfism (or skeletal dysplasia) is a genetic condition rarely found in the wild – and observed in giraffes for the first time in 2017 and again (in a different population) in 2020. The fact that these free-ranging individuals have survived to adulthood (something that about only half of giraffe calves manage to do) suggests that they are still able to overcome threats to their survival (e.g. predation) despite their morphological differences. How they do this is of course of particular interest to researchers.

Read More: Mini Giraffes Spotted In Africa For The First Time Ever

Who knows – maybe they do have an advantage when it comes down to a fight….

Tanya Strydom is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.