Moths are flying insects closely related to butterflies, both collectively called lepidopterans. Moths are quite different to their flying cousins, as they have the ability to hover in mid-air (which butterflies do not).
Entries in animals (8)
The long-billed vulture populations in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh are finally beginning to recover after losses by as much as 99% over the last ten years after what is known as the Asian vulture crisis.
Whilst this otter appears to be quite amused, scientific research cannot yet confirm or disprove that animals can indeed laugh. Many animals such as dogs, rats, primates, and even snowy owls have been captured on film apparently splitting their sides laughing; however there is some debate as to whether animals can actually experience joy and sadness in the same way humans do.
A recent study by Dr. Dustin Penn from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna has discovered that male house mice don’t simply squeak -they sing. Using high-tech audio software scientists were able to document the sounds emitted from mice, then slow the recordings down to reveal that each male mouse produces a unique song. The mice use this tune to serenade female house mice.
Last month, a very dramatic release of dozens of wild animals occurred, allowing approximately 56 mammals to roam around Zanesville, Ohio. As a result, 48 animals were forced to be shot and killed.
The White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), native to Central and South America, live in humid forests and are omnivorous; primarily feeding on fruits, grasses and invertebrates. This particular species of peccary are myopic, causing them to aggressively charge at anything that stumbles into a large unaware group.
A drunken elk ended up hanging this week after climbing into an apple tree to munch on fermenting fruit. The inebriated elk tried to get one extra apple before last orders and ended up stuck in a tree after its legs gave way near Gothenburg in Sweden.
That some animals will consume enough fermented fruit to behave drunk is a much debated topic in the world of behavioural research. There is little evidence to suggest that animals actively seek out fermenting fruit because it contains ethanol however, ethanol is ingested by a variety of different taxa where it occurs naturally and is easily accessible.
We can see evidence of this when birds congregate in late summer to feed on fermenting fruit. The woozy birds will often be seen flying into windows showing a reflection of the sky. Further tests have shown high levels of ethanol in the blood of disorientated birds.
Ethanol is produced by the fermentation of sugar by yeast. In nature, this most commonly involves the simple sugars found in ripe fruit. Ethanol is metabolised by a complex enzymatic process and results in the formation of acetate, which is then incorporated into the body.
Toxins, like ethanol decrease net fitness in terms of reproductive success. Natural selection should favour individuals that avoid eating them versus those that do. With all this in mind, why would non-human animals appear to ingest alcohol by choice and often to the point of intoxication?
William McGrew, a professor at the University of Cambridge, investigated seven hypotheses to explain ethanol ingestion. Accidental occurrence for gustation or for nutritional reasons seemed the most realistic, but none of the seven could be falsified.
Supporting the hypothesis that animals ingest ethanol accidentally, is the fact that animals do not have the infrastructure to protect them from their own bad decisions. A drunken badger, who suffered from obvious disorientation and diarrhoea after eating overripe cherries, found this out the hard way by only making it halfway across a road in Germany before ‘passing out’. Bats are better equipped to protect themselves from such misadventures and studies have shown when fruit bats get accidentally intoxicated, they will actively seek out a type of sugar that helps them sober up faster.
Katharine Milton, a researcher looking into the evolutionary history of human fondness for ethanol, conducted a survey of primatologists covering 22 different primate species. She asked at which stage of ripeness monkeys preferred to eat fruit. None of the species preferred overripe fruit, suggesting that primates do not ingest ethanol for its taste.
Butterflies however, appear not only to ingest overripe fruit for its nutritional and energy value but also appear to enjoy it. The South American morpho will actively turn down an equivalent sugar-solution alternative for rotting fruit.
Whether animals ingest ethanol for its nutritional value, for gustation or by pure accident is unclear and without sufficient data we can only speculate. However, we can enjoy the notion that we are not the only ones that enjoy a tipple or two.
In the past week, scientists have published findings of a study which concluded that there are approximately 8.7 million species on the planet. The paper which was published in the journal Public Library of Science Biology comes at a time where the number was previously thought to be anything between three and one hundred million.
To come up with the most accurate species estimate to date, the team adopted a new approach by studying the relationships between individual species and the wider assemblages to which they belong.
The research found that there are 6.5 million species living on the land and 2.2 million in the world’s oceans and rivers. However exciting, this figure represents only a promising start in our bid to understand our place on the planet, with around 86% of all terrestrial species and 91% of marine species yet to be discovered, described and catalogued.
Study leader, Dr Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii said "The question of how many species exist has intrigued scientists for centuries and understanding the variety of life around us was important because human activities were accelerating the rate of extinctions."
‘‘Many species may vanish before we even know of their existence, and of their potential contribution to improved human well-being,’’ he said in a commentary in the journal.
The impact of humans on the environment has also been assessed in a separate study. Scientists used mathematical models in nature to calculate the effect of human existence on our surrounding habitat. By scaling Earth's age to 46 years, the study estimated that human existence is equivalent to approximately four hours. When analysed in the model, the impact of human activities on species was shown to be at a rate 1000 times faster than is considered normal in evolutionary terms.
The dependence of humans on natural resources for food, water, health and livelihoods has increased significantly in recent years and it is unclear just how many species have suffered as a direct result. Consequently, it is not known what impacts this may have on habitats that humans rely so heavily upon for resources.
Albert Einstein once said "If bees disappeared, man would only have a few years to live. No more pollinisation, no more grass, no more animals, no more men".
The new estimate has naturally come under criticism, with error bars of plus or minus 1.3 million. However, the figure is by no means definitive and the calculations simply mark the beginning of an assessment of all life on Earth.