Animals in the News ...





How the horse became the only living animal with a single toe   The Guardian - August 23, 2017
They can reach speeds of more than 40km an hour, clear hurdles more than eight feet high and even pirouette and they manage it all with just one toe on each foot. Now researchers say they have unpicked how and why horses ended up with their unusual extremities. The only living animals with a single toe, equines (such as horses and zebras) had ancestors with multiple digits on their feet, with early relatives having four on their front feet and three on their back. While it has long been thought that the shift was linked to horses moving from forest to grassland environments, it was unclear how this anatomical change happened. Now researchers say they have cracked the conundrum.




  Why Are Some African Lions 'White?'   National Geographic - July 29, 2017
The news about African lions is usually dire these days, as the species dwindles across its range. But Thiessen K. Musaah from Nakuru, Kenya, gave us a welcome break with his question about coat color. Why, he asked, are lions in South Africa's Kruger National Park 'fawn to golden white' while their kin in the Kenya and Tanzania are fawn to golden brown? A known genetic mutation can create what's known as a white lion, which is technically lighter brown, not truly white, says Leslie Lyons, a feline geneticist at the University of Missouri.




Meet Granddad: Weird, Ancient Reptile Gave Rise to Mammals   Live Science - October 5, 2016
Two weird, mammal-like reptiles that sort of looked like scaly rats, each smaller than a loaf of bread, roamed ancient Brazil about 235 million years ago, likely dining on insects the predators snagged with their pointy teeth, a new study finds. The analysis of two newfound species of cynodont, a group that gave rise to all living mammals, sheds light on how mammals developed from these late Triassic creatures, the researchers said.




Horses can communicate with us - scientists   BBC - September 24, 2016
Horses have joined a select group of animals that can communicate by pointing at symbols. Scientists trained horses, by offering slices of carrot as an incentive, to touch a board with their muzzle to indicate if they wanted to wear a rug. The horses' requests matched the weather, suggesting it wasn't a random choice. A few other animals, including apes and dolphins, appear, like us, to express preferences by pointing at things.




Lizards share sleep patterns with humans   BBC - April 29, 2016
Until now, it was thought features of human sleep such as rapid eye movements were seen only in mammals and birds. Now, a study of the bearded dragon - a popular pet - suggests these distinctive sleep rhythms emerged hundreds of million of years ago in a distant ancestor.




Horses can read human emotions, study shows   PhysOrg - February 10, 2016
For the first time horses have been shown to be able to distinguish between angry and happy human facial expressions. Psychologists studied how 28 horses reacted to seeing photographs of positive versus negative human facial expressions. When viewing angry faces, horses looked more with their left eye, a behavior associated with perceiving negative stimuli. Their heart rate also increased more quickly and they showed more stress-related behaviors.




  Zebra cousin went extinct 100 years ago. Now, it's back   CNN - January 27, 2016
Never heard of the quagga? You're not alone. The animal, a relative of the zebra, went extinct over 100 years ago. Now, a group of scientists outside of Cape Town are bringing it back. Like zebras, the quagga has stripes, though these only appear on the front half of their bodies. Unlike the zebra, they are brown along the rear half of their body. These animals used to roam South Africa in vast herds, but European settlers fixed the beasts in their sights, killing them at an alarming rate. By the 1880s, the last known example had died. Now, however, scientists have bred an animal that looks strikingly similar with the help of DNA and selective breeding.




Extremely Rare White Giraffe Spotted - What Would You Name Her?   National Geographic - January 26, 2016
Omo the white giraffe, as seen recently with her herd in Tanzania's Tarangire National Park. Scientists at the New Hampshire-based wildlife-research group Wild Nature Institute originally reported the newborn Masai giraffe calf in 2015, around the time a local tour guide named her Omo, after a popular local brand of detergent.




Researchers discover first sensor of Earth's magnetic field in an animal   PhysOrg - June 17, 2015
A team of scientists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin has identified the first sensor of the Earth's magnetic field in an animal, finding in the brain of a tiny worm a big clue to a long-held mystery about how animals' internal compasses work. Animals as diverse as migrating geese, sea turtles and wolves are known to navigate using the Earth's magnetic field. But until now, no one has pinpointed quite how they do it. The sensor, found in worms called C. elegans, is a microscopic structure at the end of a neuron that other animals probably share, given similarities in brain structure across species. The sensor looks like a nano-scale TV antenna, and the worms use it to navigate underground.




Intact Ottoman 'war camel' found in Austrian cellar   CNN - April 1, 2015
A complete camel skeleton dug up from a 17th-century Austrian cellar shows tell-tale signs that it was a valuable riding animal in the Ottoman army. It was probably left behind or traded in the town of Tulln following the Ottoman siege of nearby Vienna in 1683. DNA analysis shows that the beast - the first intact camel skeleton found in central Europe - was a Bactrian-dromedary hybrid, popular in the army. It also has bone defects that suggest it wore a harness and was ridden.




  The lion hugger   BBC - March 26, 2015
In 2012 Valentin Gruener rescued a young lion cub and raised it himself at a wildlife park in Botswana. It was the start of an extraordinary relationship. Now an astonishing scene is repeated each time they meet - the young lion leaps on Gruener and holds him in an affectionate embrace. "Since the lion arrived, which is three years now, I haven't really left the camp," says Gruener. "Sometimes for one night I go into the town here to organize something for the business, but other than that I've been here with the lion." The lion he has devoted himself to is Sirga - a female cub he rescued from a holding pen established by a farmer who was fed up with shooting animals that preyed on his cattle. "The lions had killed the other two or three cubs inside the cage, and the mother abandoned the remaining cub. She was very tiny, maybe 10 days old," Gruener says. "I don't believe we have to teach the lion to hunt. They have this instinct like a domestic cat or even a dog that will try to hunt. Any cat will catch a bird or a mouse. The lion will catch an antelope when it gets big enough," Gruener says.




Chameleon colors 'switched by crystals'   BBC - March 11, 2015
Swiss researchers have discovered how chameleons accomplish their vivid color changes: they rearrange the crystals inside specialized skin cells. It was previously suggested that the reptiles' famous ability came from gathering or dispersing colored pigments inside different cells. But the new results put it down to a "selective mirror" made of crystals. They also reveal a second layer of the cells that reflect near-infrared light and might help the animals keep cool.




Explanation for Why Zebras Have Stripes Just Got More Complicated   NBC - January 14, 2015
Researchers found that striping patterns were most highly correlated with temperature: Generally, the warmer the climate, the more stripes found on the zebra.




  Why Don't Birds Have Teeth? Scientists Solve Mystery   Epoch Times - December 15, 2014
Birds are the modern day ancestors of dinosaurs, but unlike their predecessors, birds no longer have teeth. Until recently, scientists didn't know when or how. Now, after sequencing the genomes of 48 different bird species representing most avian orders, they were able to find when the switch happened from teeth to beaks.




Reshaping the horse through millennia: Sequencing reveals genes selected by humans in domestication   Science Daily - December 15, 2014
Whole genome sequencing of modern and ancient horses unveils the genes that have been selected by humans in the process of domestication through the last 5,500 years, but also reveals the cost of this domestication. An international research group reports that a significant part of the genetic variation in modern domesticated horses could be attributed to interbreeding with the descendants of a now extinct population of wild horses. This population was distinct from the only surviving wild horse population.




Biologists map crocodilian genomes   Science Daily - December 11, 2014
Understanding the crocodilian genome can help scientists better understand birds. The DNA in alligators, crocodiles and gharials is about 93 percent identical across the genome. By comparison, a human shares about 93 percent of his or her DNA with a macaque.




Horses' mobile ears are 'communication tool'   BBC - August 5, 2014
Very mobile ears help many animals direct their attention to the rustle of a possible predator. But a study in horses suggests they also pay close attention to the direction another's ears are pointing in order to work out what they are thinking. Researchers from the University of Sussex say these swiveling ears have become a useful communication tool.




Dog People vs. Cat People: Who's More Outgoing? More Intelligent?   Live Science - May 27, 2014
"Dog people" and "cat people" really do have different personalities, according to a new study. People who said they were dog lovers in the study tended to be more lively - meaning they were more energetic and outgoing - and also tended to follow rules closely. Cat lovers, on the other hand, were more introverted, more open-minded and more sensitive than dog lovers. Cat people also tended to be non-conformists, preferring to be expedient rather than follow the rules. And in a finding that's sure to spark rivalries among pet owners, cat lovers scored higher on intelligence than dog lovers.




Dogs at War: Three-Legged Dog Delivers Crucial Message in WWI   National Geographic - May 16, 2014
As long as men have been fighting wars, dogs have likely been somewhere on or near the battlefield. And more often than not, dogs have contributed bravely on the front lines, whether officially trained to do so or motivated by loyalty to soldiers. The history of war dogs is deep: The Corinthians used them with success against the Greeks. The Romans used dogs to guard their legions and raise alarms, as did Attila the Hun, who placed them around his camps for added protection.




Modern lions' origin revealed by genetic analysis   BBC - April 2, 2014
The origin and history of modern lions have been revealed by scientists. A genetic analysis of living lions and museum specimens confirms modern lions' most recent common ancestor lived around 124,000 years ago. Modern lions evolved into two groups; one lives in Eastern and Southern Africa, the other includes lions in Central and West Africa, and in India. This second group is now endangered, meaning half the genetic diversity of modern lions is at risk of extinction.




Scientists solve the riddle of zebras' stripes: Those pesky bugs   Science Daily - April 1, 2014
Why zebras have black and white stripes is a question that has intrigued scientists and spectators for centuries. The scientists found that biting flies, including horseflies and tsetse flies, are the evolutionary driver for zebra's stripes. Experimental work had previously shown that such flies tend to avoid black-and-white striped surfaces, but many other hypotheses for zebra stripes have been proposed since Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin debated the problem 120 years ago.




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