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By Carl Zimmer Sign up for Science Times Get stories that capture the wonders of nature, the cosmos and the human body. Get it sent to your inbox. For half a billion years or so, our ancestors sprouted tails. As fish, they used their tails to swim through the Cambrian seas. Much later, when they evolved into primates, their tails helped them stay balanced as they raced from branch to branch through Eocene jungles. But then, roughly 25 million years ago, the tails disappeared. Charles Darwin first recognized this change in our ancient anatomy. But how and why it happened has remained a mystery. Now a team of scientists in New York say they have pinpointed the genetic mutation that may have erased our tails. When the scientists made this genetic tweak in mice, the animals didn’t grow tails, according to a new study that was posted online last week. This dramatic anatomical change had a profound impact on our evolution. Our ancestors’ tail muscles evolved into a hammock-like mesh across the pelvis. When the ancestors of humans stood up and walked on two legs a few million years ago, that muscular hammock was ready to support the weight of upright organs. Although it’s impossible to definitively prove that this mutation lopped off our ancestors’ tails, “it’s as close to a smoking gun as one could hope for,” said Cedric Feschotte, a geneticist at Cornell who was not involved in the study. Darwin shocked his Victorian audiences by claiming that we descended from primates with tails. He noted that while humans and apes lack a visible tail, they share a tiny set of vertebrae that extend beyond the pelvis — a structure known as the coccyx. “I cannot doubt that it is a rudimentary tail,” he wrote. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28001 - Posted: 09.22.2021

By Priyanka Runwal Brain tissue is innately squishy. Unlike bones, shells or teeth, it is rich in fat and rots quickly, seldom making an appearance in the fossil record. So when Russell Bicknell, an invertebrate paleontologist at the University of New England in Australia, noticed a pop of white near the front of a fossilized horseshoe crab body where the animal’s brain would have been, he was surprised. A closer look revealed an exceptional imprint of the brain along with other bits of the creature’s nervous system. Unearthed from the Mazon Creek deposit in northeastern Illinois, and dating back 310 million years, it’s the first fossilized horseshoe crab brain ever found. Dr. Bicknell and his colleagues reported the find last month in the journal Geology. “These kinds of fossils are so rare that if you happen to stumble upon one, you’d generally be in shock,” he said. “We’re talking a needle-in-a-haystack level of wow.” The find helps fill a gap in the evolution of arthropod brains and also shows how little they have changed over hundreds of millions of years. Soft-tissue preservation requires special conditions. Scientists have found brains encased in fossilized tree resin, better known as amber, that were less than 66 million years old. They have also found brains preserved as flattened carbon films, sometimes replaced or overlaid by minerals in shale deposits that are more than 500 million years old. Such deposits include corpses of ocean-dwelling arthropods that sank to the seafloor, were rapidly buried in mud and remained shielded from immediate decay in the low-oxygen environment. However, the fossilized brain of Euproops danae, which is kept in a collection at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, required a different set of conditions to be preserved. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 27956 - Posted: 08.21.2021

By Cara Giaimo Giraffes seem above it all. They float over the savanna like two-story ascetics, peering down at the fray from behind those long lashes. For decades, many biologists thought giraffes extended this treatment to their peers as well, with one popular wildlife guide calling them “aloof” and capable of only “the most casual” associations. Sign up for Science Times Get stories that capture the wonders of nature, the cosmos and the human body. Get it sent to your inbox. But more recently, as experts have paid closer attention to these lanky icons, a different social picture has begun to emerge. Female giraffes are now known to enjoy yearslong bonds. They have lunch buddies, stand guard over dead calves and stay close with their mothers and grandmothers. Females even form shared day care-like arrangements, called crèches, in which they take turns babysitting and feeding each others young. Observations like these have reached a critical mass, said Zoe Muller, a wildlife biologist who completed her Ph.D. at the University of Bristol in England. She and Stephen Harris, also at Bristol, recently reviewed hundreds of giraffe studies to look for broader patterns. Their analysis, published on Tuesday in the journal Mammal Review, suggests that giraffes are not loners, but socially complex creatures, akin to elephants or chimpanzees. They’re just a little more subtle about it. Dr. Muller’s sense of giraffes as secret socialites began in 2005, when she was researching her master’s thesis in Laikipia, Kenya. There to collect data on antelopes, she found herself drawn to the ganglier ungulates. “They are so weird to look at,” she said. “If somebody described them to you, you wouldn’t believe they even really existed.” After noticing that the same giraffes tended to spend time together — they looked “like teenagers hanging out,” she said — Dr. Muller started to read up on their lifestyles. “I was really surprised to see that all the scientific books said that they were completely non-sociable,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, hang on. That’s not what I see at all.’” © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27945 - Posted: 08.11.2021

By Jaime Chambers Wiggles and wobbles and a powerful pull toward people — that’s what 8-week-old puppies are made of. From an early age, dogs outpace wolves at engaging with and interpreting cues from humans, even if the dogs have had less exposure to people, researchers report online July 12 in Current Biology. The result suggests that domestication has reworked dogs’ brains to make the pooches innately drawn to people — and perhaps to intuit human gestures. Compared with human-raised wolf pups, dog puppies that had limited exposure to people were still 30 times as likely to approach a strange human, and five times as likely to approach a familiar person. “I think that is by far the clearest result in the paper, and is powerful and meaningful,” says Clive Wynne, a canine behavioral scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe who was not involved in the study. Wolf pups are naturally less entranced by people than dogs are. “When I walked into the [wolf] pen for the first time, they would all just run into the corner and hide,” says Hannah Salomons, an evolutionary anthropologist studying dog cognition at Duke University. Over time, Salomons says, most came to ignore her, “acting like I was a piece of furniture.” But dogs can’t seem to resist humans’ allure (SN: 7/19/17). They respond much more readily to people, following where a person points, for example. That ability may seem simple, but it’s a skill even chimpanzees — humans’ close relatives — don’t show. Human babies don’t learn how to do it until near their first birthday. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27906 - Posted: 07.14.2021

By Veronique Greenwood Captive cuttlefish require entertainment when they eat. Dinner and a show — if they can’t get live prey, then they need some dancing from a dead shrimp on a stick in their tank. When the food looks alive, the little cephalopods, which look like iridescent footballs with eight short arms and two tentacles, are more likely to eat it. Because a person standing before them has to jiggle it, the animals start to recognize that mealtime and a looming human-shaped outline go together. As soon as a person walks into the room, “they all swim to the front of the tank saying, give me food!” said Trevor Wardill, a biologist at the University of Minnesota who studies cuttlefish vision. You may get a squirt of water from a cuttlefish’s siphon if you don’t feed them, though. Alexandra Schnell, a comparative psychologist at the University of Cambridge, recalled some who sprayed her if she was even a little slow with the treats. It’s the kind of behavior that researchers who’ve worked with cuttlefish sometimes remark on: The critters have character. But they do not have the name recognition of their cousins — the octopus and the squid. Even Tessa Montague, a neuroscientist who today studies cuttlefish at Columbia University, hadn’t really heard of them until an aquarium visit during graduate school. “Octopus are obviously part of lots of children’s story books,” she notes. Cuttlefish were not present. During the last week of a course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., though, she heard a talk by Bret Grasse, whom she called a “cephalopod guru.” “He said they have three hearts, green blood and one of the largest brains among invertebrates,” she said. “And they can regenerate their limbs, they can camouflage. Within about 30 seconds, I had basically planned out my entire life. That lunchtime I went to the facility where he was culturing all these animals. My entire scientific career flashed in front of me. I was like, this is it, this is what I’ve been looking for.” © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27903 - Posted: 07.10.2021

Rebecca Hersher Big bodies are good for cold places. That's the gist of a foundational rule in ecology that has been around since the mid-1800s: Animals that live in colder places tend to have larger bodies, especially birds and mammals that need to regulate their body temperatures. For example, some of the largest whale and bear species have evolved in the coldest reaches of the planet. The rule applies broadly to modern humans too. Populations that evolved in colder places generally have bigger bodies. That's also true of human ancestors, a new study finds. The research offers conclusive evidence that human body size and climate are historically connected. In general, our ancient relatives got much larger as they evolved. "Over the last million years, you see that body size changes by about 50% and brain size actually triples, which is a lot," explains Andrea Manica, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Cambridge. "And there have been all sorts of theories about what might have underpinned those two big changes in size." Article continues after sponsor message Manica and a team of paleontologists and climate scientists in Germany and the United Kingdom set out to test one of those theories: that the local climate was driving brain and body growth. They examined about 300 fossils of human ancestors collected in Europe, Asia and Africa, and they used the same basic climate data that scientists use to predict future climate change to estimate instead temperature and precipitation over the last million years. © 2021 npr

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 27901 - Posted: 07.10.2021

By Bruce Bower A fossil skull nicknamed “Dragon Man” has surfaced in China under mysterious circumstances, with big news for Neandertals. Dragon Man belonged to a previously unrecognized Stone Age species that replaces Neandertals as the closest known relatives of people today, researchers say. A nearly complete male skull now housed in the Geoscience Museum of Hebei GEO University in Shijiazhuang, China, represents a species dubbed Homo longi by Hebei GEO paleoanthropologist Xijun Ni and his colleagues. The scientists describe the skull, which dates to at least 146,000 years ago, and analyze its position in Homo evolution in three papers published June 25 in The Innovation. Qiang Ji, a paleontologist also at Hebei GEO, received the skull in 2018 from a farmer who said the fossil had been dug up by a coworker of his grandfather’s in 1933. During bridge construction over a river in Harbin, China, the worker allegedly scooped the skull out of river sediment. Whether or not that story is true, this fossil could help answer questions about a poorly understood period of human evolution. “The Harbin cranium presents a combination of features setting it apart from other Homo species,” Ji says. The name H. longi derives from a Chinese term for the province where it was found, which translates as “dragon river.” That term inspired the nickname Dragon Man. As in H. sapiens, the Harbin skull held a large brain situated atop a relatively short face and small cheek bones. But traits such as a long, low braincase, thick brow ridges, large molars and almost square eye sockets recall several extinct Homo populations or species, including Neandertals and H. heidelbergensis (SN: 4/1/20). © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 27878 - Posted: 06.26.2021

By Christa Lesté-Lasserre In the animal kingdom, killer whales are social stars: They travel in extended, varied family groups, care for grandchildren after menopause, and even imitate human speech. Now, marine biologists are adding one more behavior to the list: forming fast friendships. A new study suggests the whales rival chimpanzees, macaques, and even humans when it comes to the kinds of “social touching” that indicates strong bonds. The study marks “a very important contribution to the field” of social behavior in dolphins and whales, says José Zamorano-Abramson, a comparative psychologist at the Complutense University of Madrid who wasn’t involved in the work. “These new images show lots of touching of many different types, probably related to different kinds of emotions, much like the complex social dynamics we see in great apes.” Audio and video recordings have shown how some marine mammals maintain social structures—including male dolphins that learn the “names” of close allies. But there is little footage of wild killer whales—which hunt and play in open water. Although the whales only swim at about 6 kilometers per hour, it’s hard to fully observe them from boats, and they might not act naturally near humans, Zamorano-Abramson says. That’s where drone technology came swooping in. Michael Weiss, a behavioral ecologist at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington, teamed up with colleagues to launch unmanned drones from their 6.5-meter motorboat and from the shores of the northern Pacific Ocean, flying them 30 to 120 meters above a pod of 22 southern resident killer whales. That was high enough to respect federal aviation requirements—and not bother the whales. They logged 10 hours of footage over a 10-day period, marking the first time drones have been used to study friendly physical contacts in any cetacean. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27864 - Posted: 06.19.2021

By Richard Sima An elephant’s trunk is a marvel of biology. Devoid of any joints or bone, the trunk is an appendage made of pure muscle that is capable of both uprooting trees and gingerly plucking individual leaves and also boasts a sense of smell more powerful than a bomb-sniffing dog’s. Elephants use their trunks in a variety of ways. They use it to drink, store and spray water, and they also blow air through it to communicate — their 110-decibel bellows can be heard for miles. “It’s like a muscular multitool,” said Andrew Schulz, a mechanical engineering doctoral student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In a study published Wednesday in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Mr. Schulz and his colleagues reported on how elephants can use their trunks for yet another function: applying suction to grab food, a behavior previously thought to be exclusive to fishes. Despite the ubiquity of elephants in children’s books and nature documentaries, there are numerous gaps in scientific knowledge about the biomechanics of their trunks that the new study helps fill. For example, the most recent detailed account of elephant trunk anatomy is a hand-drawn monograph that was published in 1908, Mr. Schulz said. Contrary to popular belief, the trunk does not act like a straw. “What they do is actually drink water into their trunk and they store it,” Mr. Schulz said. “So the elephant trunk is actually like a trunk.” Mr. Schulz completed his research in the lab of David Hu, which studies how animals move and function with an eye toward applying the discoveries toward human engineering problems. He said one reason elephants’ anatomy is poorly understood is because they are difficult to work with. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 27840 - Posted: 06.02.2021

By Natalie Angier Julia, her friends and family agreed, had style. When, out of the blue, the 18-year-old chimpanzee began inserting long, stiff blades of grass into one or both ears and then went about her day with her new statement accessories clearly visible to the world, the other chimpanzees at the Chimfunshi wildlife sanctuary in Zambia were dazzled. Pretty soon, they were trying it, too: first her son, then her two closest female friends, then a male friend, out to eight of the 10 chimps in the group, all of them struggling, in front of Julia the Influencer — and hidden video cameras — to get the grass-in-the-ear routine just right. “It was quite funny to see,” said Edwin van Leeuwen of the University of Antwerp, who studies animal culture. “They tried again and again without success. They shivered through their whole bodies.” Dr. van Leeuwen tried it himself and understood why. “It’s not a pleasant feeling, poking a piece of grass far enough into the ear to stay there,” he said. But once the chimpanzees had mastered the technique, they repeated it often, proudly, almost ritualistically, fiddling with the inserted blades to make sure others were suitably impressed. Julia died more than two years ago, yet her grassy-ear routine — a tradition that arose spontaneously, spread through social networks and skirts uncomfortably close to a human meme or fad — lives on among her followers in the sanctuary. The behavior is just one of many surprising examples of animal culture that researchers have lately divulged, as a vivid summary makes clear in a recent issue of Science. Culture was once considered the patented property of human beings: We have the art, science, music and online shopping; animals have the instinct, imprinting and hard-wired responses. But that dismissive attitude toward nonhuman minds turns out to be more deeply misguided with every new finding of animal wit or whimsy: Culture, as many biologists now understand it, is much bigger than we are. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 27809 - Posted: 05.08.2021

By Charles Choi Even after ancient humans took their first steps out of Africa, they still unexpectedly may have possessed brains more like those of great apes than modern humans, a new study suggests. For decades, scientists had thought modern humanlike organization of brain structures evolved soon after the human lineage Homo arose roughly 2.8 million years ago (SN: 3/4/15). But an analysis of fossilized human skulls that retain imprints of the brains they once held now suggests such brain development occurred much later. Modernlike brains may have emerged in an evolutionary sprint starting about 1.7 million years ago, researchers report in the April 9 Science. What sets modern humans apart most from our closest living relatives, the great apes, is most likely our brain. To learn more about how the modern human brain evolved, the researchers analyzed replicas of the brain’s convoluted outer surface, re-created from the oldest known fossils to preserve the inner surfaces of early human skulls. The 1.77-million to 1.85-million-year-old fossils are from the Dmanisi archaeological site in the modern-day nation of Georgia and were compared with bones from Africa and Southeast Asia ranging from roughly 2 million to 70,000 years old. The scientists focused on the brain’s frontal lobes, which are linked with complex mental tasks such as toolmaking and language. Early Homo from Dmanisi and Africa still apparently retained a great ape–like organization of the frontal lobe 1.8 million years ago, “a million or so years later than previously thought,” says paleoanthropologist Philipp Gunz at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who did not take part in this study. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 27768 - Posted: 04.10.2021

By Annie Roth A few years ago, Sayaka Mitoh, a Ph.D. candidate at Nara Women’s University in Japan, was perusing her lab’s vast collection of sea slugs when she stumbled upon a gruesome sight. One of the lab’s captive-raised sea slugs, an Elysia marginata, had somehow been decapitated. When Ms. Mitoh peered into its tank to get a better look, she noticed something even more shocking: The severed head of the creature was moving around the tank, munching algae as if there was nothing unusual about being a bodiless slug. Ms. Mitoh also saw signs that the sea slug’s wound was self-inflicted: It was as if the sea slug had dissolved the tissue around its neck and ripped its own head off. Self-amputation, known as autotomy, isn’t uncommon in the animal kingdom. Having the ability to jettison a body part, such as a tail, helps many animals avoid predation. However, no animal had ever been observed ditching its entire body. “I was really surprised and shocked to see the head moving,” said Ms. Mitoh, who studies the life history traits of sea slugs. She added that she expected the slug “would die quickly without a heart and other important organs.” But it not only continued to live, it also regenerated the entirety of its lost body within three weeks. This prompted Ms. Mitoh and her colleagues to conduct a series of experiments aimed at figuring out how and why some sea slugs guillotine themselves. The results of their experiments, published Monday in Current Biology, provide evidence that Elysia marginata, and a closely related species, Elysia atroviridis, purposefully decapitate themselves in order to facilitate the growth of a new body. Although more research is needed, the researchers suspect these sea slugs ditch their bodies when they become infected with internal parasites. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27727 - Posted: 03.11.2021

James Doubek By being able to wait for better food, cuttlefish — the squishy sea creatures similar to octopuses and squids — showed self-control that's linked to the higher intelligence of primates. It was part of an experiment by Alex Schnell from the University of Cambridge and colleagues. "What surprised me the most was that the level of self-control shown by our cuttlefish was quite advanced," she tells Lulu Garcia-Navarro on Weekend Edition. The experiment was essentially a take on the classic "marshmallow" experiment from the 1960s. In that experiment, young children were presented with one marshmallow and told that if they can resist eating it, unsupervised, for several minutes, they will get two marshmallows. But if they eat it that's all they get. The conventional wisdom has been that children who are able to delay gratification do better on tests and are more successful later in life. (There are of course many caveats when talking about the human experiments.) To adapt the experiment for cuttlefish, the researchers first figured out the cuttlefish's favorite food: live grass shrimp; and their second-favorite food: a piece of king prawn. Instead of choosing one or two marshmallows, the cuttlefish had to choose either their favorite food or second-favorite food. "Each of the food items were placed in clear chambers within their tank," Schnell says. "One chamber would open immediately, whereas the other chamber would only open after a delay." © 2021 npr

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27724 - Posted: 03.11.2021

By Jonathan Lambert One Volta’s electric eel — able to subdue small fish with an 860-volt jolt — is scary enough. Now imagine over 100 eels swirling about, unleashing coordinated electric attacks. Such a sight was assumed to be only the stuff of nightmares, at least for prey. Researchers have long thought that these eels, a type of knifefish, are solitary, nocturnal hunters that use their electric sense to find smaller fish as they sleep (SN: 12/4/14). But in a remote region of the Amazon, groups of over 100 electric eels (Electrophorus voltai) hunt together, corralling thousands of smaller fish together to concentrate, shock and devour the prey, researchers report January 14 in Ecology and Evolution. “This is hugely unexpected,” says Raimundo Nonato Mendes-Júnior, a biologist at the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation in Brasilia, Brazil who wasn’t involved in the study. “It goes to show how very, very little we know about how electric eels behave in the wild.” Group hunting is quite rare in fishes, says Carlos David de Santana, an evolutionary biologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. “I’d never even seen more than 12 electric eels together in the field,” he says. That’s why he was stunned in 2012 when his colleague Douglas Bastos, now a biologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, Brazil, reported seeing more than 100 eels congregating and seemingly hunting together in a small lake in northern Brazil. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 27647 - Posted: 01.15.2021

By Isabella Backman Even tough male chimps need their moms. Chimpanzees live in a male-dominated society, where most of their valuable allies are other males. However, as young male chimpanzees become adults, they continue to maintain tight bonds with their mothers, a new study reveals. And for about one-third of them, this mother-son relationship is the closest one they have. The dramatic changes of adolescence are difficult for chimps, just like they are for humans, says Elizabeth Lonsdorf, a primatologist at Franklin & Marshall College who was not involved in the study. And “sure enough,” she says, “their moms remain a key social partner during this turbulent time.” Previous research has shown chimpanzee mothers provide their sons support that goes far beyond nursing. Young male chimps that are close with their moms grow bigger and have a greater chance of survival. What’s more, losing their mothers after weaning, but before age 12, hinders the ability of young chimps to compete with other males and reproduce. To see whether this bond extends later into life, researchers followed 29 adolescent (9 to 15 years old) and young adult (16 to 20 years old) male chimpanzees at a research site in Kibale National Park in Uganda. For 3 years, they observed the chimps from a distance, recording any social interaction they witnessed. These included grooming, comforting behaviors such as holding hands or shoulder pats, looking back for or waiting for other individuals, offering support during conflicts, and sitting near each other. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27633 - Posted: 12.22.2020

By Bruce Bower Bonobos display responsibility toward grooming partners akin to that of people working together on a task, a new study suggests. Until now, investigations have shown only that humans can work jointly toward a common goal presumed to require back-and-forth exchanges and an appreciation of being obligated to a partner (SN: 10/5/09). Primate biologist Raphaela Heesen of Durham University in England and colleagues studied 15 of the endangered great apes at a French zoological park. The researchers interrupted 85 instances of social grooming, in which one ape cleaned another’s fur, and 26 instances of self-grooming or solitary play. Interruptions consisted either of a keeper calling one bonobo in a grooming pair to come over for a food reward or a keeper rapidly opening and closing a sliding door to an indoor enclosure, which typically signaled mealtime and thus attracted both bonobos. Social grooming resumed, on average, 80 percent of the time after food rewards and 83 percent of the time after sliding-door disruptions, the researchers report December 18 in Science Advances. In contrast, self-grooming or playing alone was resumed only around 50 percent of the time, on average. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Language and Lateralization
Link ID: 27629 - Posted: 12.19.2020

By Veronique Greenwood Some 230 million years ago, in the forests of what humans would eventually call Brazil, a small bipedal dinosaur zipped after its prey. It had a slender head, a long tail and sharp teeth, and it was about the size of a basset hound. Buriolestes schultzi, as paleontologists have named the creature, is one of the earliest known relatives of more famous dinosaurs that emerged 100 million years later: the lumbering brachiosaurus, up to 80 feet long and weighing up to 80 metric tons, the likewise massive diplodocus, as well as other sauropod dinosaurs. By the time the Jurassic period rolled around and the time of Buriolestes had passed, these quadrupedal cousins had reached tremendous size. They also had tiny brains around the size of a tennis ball. Buriolestes’s brain was markedly different, scientists who built a 3-D reconstruction of the inside of its skull report in a paper published Tuesday in the Journal of Anatomy. The brain was larger relative to its body size, and it had structures that were much more like those of predatory animals. The findings suggest that the enormous herbivores of later eras, whose ancestors probably looked a lot like Buriolestes, lost these features as they transitioned to their ponderous new lifestyle. It’s also a rare glimpse into dinosaurs’ neural anatomy at a very early moment in their evolution. In 2009, Rodrigo Müller of the Universidade Federal de Santa Maria and colleagues discovered the first partial Buriolestes fossil in southern Brazil. In 2015, they uncovered another Buriolestes nearby — and this time, to their excitement, the dinosaur’s skull was nearly all there. They used computed tomography scanning to get a peek inside, drawing inferences about the brain from the contours of the cavity left behind. They found that one portion of the cerebellum, the floccular lobe, was particularly large in Buriolestes. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 27566 - Posted: 11.04.2020

By Bruce Bower A type of bone tool generally thought to have been invented by Stone Age humans got its start among hominids that lived hundreds of thousands of years before Homo sapiens evolved, a new study concludes. A set of 52 previously excavated but little-studied animal bones from East Africa’s Olduvai Gorge includes the world’s oldest known barbed bone point, an implement probably crafted by now-extinct Homo erectus at least 800,000 years ago, researchers say. Made from a piece of a large animal’s rib, the artifact features three curved barbs and a carved tip, the team reports in the November Journal of Human Evolution. Among the Olduvai bones, biological anthropologist Michael Pante of Colorado State University in Fort Collins and colleagues identified five other tools from more than 800,000 years ago as probable choppers, hammering tools or hammering platforms. The previous oldest barbed bone points were from a central African site and dated to around 90,000 years ago (SN: 4/29/95), and were assumed to reflect a toolmaking ingenuity exclusive to Homo sapiens. Those implements include carved rings around the base of the tools where wooden shafts were presumably attached. Barbed bone points found at H. sapiens sites were likely used to catch fish and perhaps to hunt large land prey. The Olduvai Gorge barbed bone point, which had not been completed, shows no signs of having been attached to a handle or shaft. Ways in which H. erectus used the implement are unclear, Pante and his colleagues say. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27543 - Posted: 10.24.2020

By Meagan Cantwell Although bird brains are tiny, they’re packed with neurons, especially in areas responsible for higher level thinking. Two studies published last month in Science explore the structure and function of avian brains—revealing they are organized similarly to mammals’ and are capable of conscious thought. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27541 - Posted: 10.24.2020

By Jake Buehler Naked mole-rats — with their subterranean societies made up of a single breeding pair and an army of workers — seem like mammals trying their hardest to live like insects. Nearly 300 of the bald, bucktoothed, nearly blind rodents can scoot along a colony’s labyrinth of tunnels. New research suggests there’s brute power in those numbers: Like ants or termites, the mole-rats go to battle with rival colonies to conquer their lands. Wild naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber) will invade nearby colonies to expand their territory, sometimes abducting pups to incorporate them into their own ranks, researchers report September 28 in the Journal of Zoology. This behavior may put smaller, less cohesive colonies at a disadvantage, potentially supporting the evolution of bigger colonies. Researchers stumbled across this phenomenon by accident while monitoring naked mole-rat colonies in Kenya’s Meru National Park. The team was studying the social structure of this extreme form of group living among mammals (SN: 6/20/06). Over more than a decade, the team trapped and marked thousands of mole-rats from dozens of colonies by either implanting small radio-frequency transponder chips under their skin, or clipping their toes. One day in 1994, while marking mole-rats in a new colony, researchers were surprised to find in its tunnels mole-rats from a neighboring colony that had already been marked. The queen in the new colony had wounds on her face from the ravages of battle. It looked like a war was playing out down in the soil. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 27538 - Posted: 10.21.2020