5 Reasons to Love Bats (#1 Is Tequila)

If you think life would be better without bats, scientists Holly Ober offers 5 reasons why you should think again.

Ober is a researcher at the University of Florida who studies the Florida bonneted bat, one of the world’s rarest species and the largest bat east of the Mississippi River. She says there are many reasons why having plenty of bats around should make us grateful, not fearful.

Florida Bonneted Bat. (Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife/Flickr)
Florida Bonneted Bat. (Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife/Flickr)

1. RAISE A GLASS—OR A GUAVA—TO BATS

If you like tequila or mangoes or bananas thank a bat for providing them. The agave plant, from which tequila is made, and more than 300 other plants depend on bats for pollination.

2. WITHOUT BATS, BUGS WOULD BUG YOU MORE

As the primary predators of nighttime insects, bats cut down on the bugs that bite us after dark. Their contribution to cutting down on pests also benefits agriculture. One study placed their value to North American farms around $23 billion a year.

“The world would be a very different place without bats controlling the insect population,” Ober says.

Read on to the next page for the other 3 reasons to love bats…

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Giant Panda Cubs Born at Toronto Zoo

The Toronto Zoo in Canada reported today that twin giant panda cubs were born to Er Shun, the zoo’s female panda, at 3:31 AM on October 13, 2015.  The second cub came into the world at 3:44 AM.  Relative to their mother’s size, the cubs are tiny, weighing 6.6 ounces and 4 ounces, respectively.

Giant Pandas are an endangered species, so these births are a victory for the species survival in the future.

A wonderful article on the Live Science website provides details:

John Tracogna, CEO of the Toronto Zoo, called the births “historical,” and praised the organization’s successful reproduction program.

“We are so proud to be contributing to the ongoing survival of this endangered species,” Tracogna said in a statement.

The twin cubs have bulbous heads, and their tiny, pink bodies are covered in fuzzy, white hair. Giant pandas are typically born blind, and zoo representatives say it could be months before they are able to determine the sex and paternity of the cubs.

Shortly after the first cub was born, Er Shun’s maternal instincts kicked in, and she began cradling and cleaning the tiny fur ball. Both cubs have been bonding with their mother, according to zoo staff, but they’ll remain in the maternity area, away from public view, for the next several months.

This video from the Toronto Zoo shows the birth of the first cub. It’s amazing how tiny the cub is in comparison to its mother!

The cubs are the result of a breeding program that has had the Toronto Zoo collaborating with the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China. Both Er Shun and her male companion, Da Mao, have been on loan to the Toronto Zoo, where they will remain until 2018.

For more details, check out the great article on the Live Science website.

 

Source: LiveScience.com – “Twins! Toronto Zoo Welcomes 2 Baby Pandas”

Featured Image Credit: Toronto Zoo

New Viral Contraceptive Makes Animals Sterile for Years

A new non-surgical one-shot contraceptive can make both male and female animals infertile for years.

The method, so far only tested in mice, could be used as an alternative to spaying and neutering feral animals, researchers say.

Earlier studies have shown an adeno-associated virus (AAV)—a small, harmless virus that is unable to replicate on its own—has been useful in gene-therapy trials and can be used to deliver sequences of DNA to muscle cells, causing them to produce specific antibodies that are known to fight infectious diseases, such as HIV, malaria, and hepatitis C.

For the new study, published in the journal Current Biology, researchers thought the same approach could be used to produce infertility. They used the virus to deliver a gene that directs muscle cells to produce an antibody that neutralizes gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) in mice.

GnRH is what the researchers refer to as a “master regulator of reproduction” in vertebrates—it stimulates the release of two hormones from the pituitary that promote the formation of eggs, sperm, and sex steroids. Without it, an animal is rendered infertile.

In the past, other teams have tried neutralizing GnRH through vaccination. However, the loss of fertility that was seen in those cases was often temporary. In the new study, researchers saw that the mice—both male and female—were unable to conceive after about two months, and the majority remained infertile for the remainder of their lives.

“Inhibiting GnRH is an ideal way to inhibit fertility and behaviors caused by sex steroids, such as aggression and territoriality,” says Bruce Hay, professor of biology and biological engineering at California Institute of Technology.

The study also shows that female mice can be rendered infertile using a different antibody that targets a binding site for sperm on the egg. “This target is ideal when you want to inhibit fertility but want to leave the individual otherwise completely normal in terms of reproductive behaviors and hormonal cycling.”

he researchers have dubbed the new approach “vectored contraception” and say that there are many other proteins that are thought to be important for reproduction that might also be targeted by the technique.

The researchers are particularly excited about the possibility of replacing spay–neuter programs with single injections.

“Spaying and neutering of animals to control fertility, unwanted behavior, and population numbers of feral animals is costly and time consuming, and therefore often doesn’t happen,” Hay says. “There is a strong desire in many parts of the world for quick, nonsurgical approaches to inhibiting fertility. We think vectored contraception provides such an approach.”

As a next step, researchers are working with Bill Swanson at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife, to try this approach in female domestic cats. Swanson’s team spends much of its time working to promote fertility in endangered cat species, but it is also interested in developing humane ways of managing populations of feral domestic cats through inhibition of fertility, as these animals are often otherwise trapped and euthanized.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Beckman Institute, and the National Institutes of Health funded the work.

 

Source: Reproduced from the article on Futurity.org with a modified title and additional article links removed under the  Attribution 4.0 International license.

Featured Image Credit: Jimmy B/Flickr

[Video] This Ultra-cute Otter Had an Asthma Attack – And Then They Taught Her to Do What??

Mishka is a super-cute otter who lives at the Seattle Aquarium. When she had an asthma attack recently that was triggered by the smoke from the summer fires, it made her the first-ever otter to be diagnosed as asthmatic. The dilemma after that was how to treat her, since normally, people with asthma use inhalers to help clear or control their condition, but no one was exactly sure how to get an otter to use one. So what did Mishka’s trainer do? Using food rewards, she taught the otter how to use an inhaler!

In a fascinating article published on the Popular Science website, a vetrinarian who works for the aquarium, Dr Lesanna Lahner, explained:

“She’s on a combination of medications as we transition her from an oral medication to the inhaler,” explains Dr. Lahner. Fluticasone, the medication in Mishka’s maintenance inhaler, is the same compound used for human asthmatics. “We’re also training her to use albuterol as a rescue inhaler,” she adds.

This short-but-cute YouTube video shows the adorable result:

 

Source: PopSci.com – “VIDEO: MISHKA THE ASTHMATIC OTTER LEARNS TO USE AN INHALER

Giraffes Do What in the Night…?

It’s been a puzzle for quite some time – it’s known that giraffes have a relatively complex social structure, but how is it that they communicate? Oddly, and interestingly, scientists have recently discovered that giraffes in fact hum to each other.

A fantastic article on the New Scientist website digs into the details of the study that was done:

Scientist had earlier speculated that giraffes are unable to produce any substantial sounds because it is physically difficult for them to generate sufficient air flow through their long necks to produce vocalisations. Others have suggested giraffes use low frequency “infrasonic” sounds – sounds below the level of human perception – much like elephants and other large animals do for long-range communication.

After reviewing almost 1000 hours of sound recordings in three European zoos, Angela Stöger at the University of Vienna, Austria, found no evidence of infrasonic communication – but she did pick up a weird humming coming from the giraffe enclosures in all three zoos at night.

“I was fascinated, because these signal have a very interesting sound and have a complex acoustic structure, she says.

The “hum” turned out to be a low frequency sound, of about 92 Hz. That’s not infrasound – we can still just about hear it with our ears. Stöger and her colleagues say the hum varies in duration and contains a rich combination of notes.

It turns out, however, that there is more research that will need to be done to fully understand the exact function of the giraffes’ song. The article continues:

Giraffes have a socially structured system, and for a long time scientists have been trying to figure out how they communicate, says Meredith Bashaw at the Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “This new vocalisation could add a piece to that puzzle,” she says.

Bashaw says she can imagine a few potential roles for this humming. “It could be passively produced – like snoring – or produced during a dream-like state – like humans talking or dogs barking in their sleep,” she says. Alternatively, it could be a way for giraffes to communicate with each other in the dark, when vision is limited, to say, “hey, I’m here”, she adds.

Unfortunately, Stöger says she and her colleagues were not able to actually observe the giraffes mid-hum, so we don’t know about the behaviours associated with the sounds. But vocalisations in other species with similar social structure is known to convey information about things like age, gender, sexual arousal, dominance, or reproductive states, she says.

In fact, the article says that some neighbors who live near the zoo have complained about humming sounds coming from the giraffe enclosures, and that those sounds keep them awake at night.  Both zoo officials and Stöger contend that the humming could not disturb the zoos’ neighbors:

“No, definitely not linked to our neighbour’s issue – but the image of our giraffes humming happily to themselves all night is a delightful one!” says Phil Knowling, press and public relations officer at Paignton Zoo.

Furthermore, Stöger adds that it is unlikely that the neighbours could hear such humming. “The giraffe signals are not so intensive. I personally doubt that neighbours would hear that,” she says.

Clearly, there’s more research to be done, but we thank the New Scientist for the really interesting article, where you can find even more details about the hum of the giraffes.

 

Source: NewScientist.com – “Giraffes spend their evenings humming to each other” 

Photo Credit: Martin Harvey/Alamy Stock Photo

It’s Not a Batty Idea to Save the Bats – Here’s Why

Although bats are often maligned for, well, just being kind of scary, it turns out that from a fiscal point of view the agricultural industry should get interested in saving these endangered animals. Farmers have long known that bats are beneficial because they eat lots of insects that would otherwise damage crops and reduce yields.

But no one really knew how valuable bats are for corn farmers, for example, until now. A great article on the Popular Science website explains the study that researchers designed to test the level of benefit bats provide:

To get to this conclusion, researchers (funded by the non-profit Bat Conservation International) looked at 12 plots of corn in Illinois during the growing seasons of 2013 and 2014. In 6 of the areas, the researchers erected huge netting enclosures every night, keeping the bats at bay. In the other 6, bats were allowed to go about their batty business. The researchers found that the plots of land that were prevented from having bats had roughly 60 percent more corn earworm larvae gnawing on the ears of corn. The non-bat plots also had more fungus growing on the corn.

What they extrapolated from the data collected was that bats are worth $1 billion (yes, with a ‘b’!) to just the corn industry, worldwide.

The article goes on to say that bats are the most endangered land mammals in North America, but the good news is that there are effective efforts already underway to rescue bats from the impacts of disease and human activity that are currently threatening their populations. It seems like it would be prudent for agriculturally-related associations to start thinking about investing in expanding those efforts.

Additional details can be found in the very informative article on Popular Science’s website.

 

Source: PopSci.com – “BATS ARE WORTH $1 BILLION TO CORN INDUSTRY

Photo Credit: Roy Niswanger/Flickr CC by 2.0

[Video] Weird Rare Pink Dolphin Surfaces Again

How did “Pinky,” a rare pink bottlenose dolphin, billed as “the world’s only one” get its color? A great article on National Geographic explains:

First spotted in 2007 in the Calcasieu River by charter boat captain Erik Rue, Pinky is likely an albino, says Greg Barsh, a scientist who studies the genetics of color variation at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Alabama.

Two telltale signs of albinism are Pinky’s reddish eyes and blood vessels, which show through its pale skin that’s devoid of pigment.

Albinism occurs when cells that normally make the pigment melanin, responsible for skin, hair, and eye color, fail to produce it at normal levels, or at all.

You can see Pinky in this YouTube video:

Check out the great article on the National Geographic website for more details and facts.

 

Source: NationalGeographic.com “How Did Rare Pink Dolphin Get Its Color?

Video Credit: YouTube – Calcasieu Charter Service’s Channel