Obsession for .. Animals?

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This fascinating video shows that Calvin Klein's "Obsession for Men" is NOT just for men! This is a great example of how careful observation of captive animals' behavior is directly impacting research with wild animals. When biologists at the Bronx Zoo started spritzing "Obsession for Men" cologne near heat-and-motion-sensitive cameras, the tigers, snow leopards, jaguars and cheetahs became curious ... very curious. And snuggly.

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What do Great Tits Reveal about the Genetics of Personality?

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Bold or cautious? Individuals with a particular gene variant are very curious --
but only in some populations.
Image: Henk Dikkers.

Research suggests that personality variations are heritable in humans and other animal species, and there are many hypotheses as to why differences in personality exist and are maintained. One approach for investigating the heritability of personality lies in identifying which genes underlie specific personality traits so scientists can then determine how the frequencies of specific variants of personality-related genes change in both space and time as well as in relation to changing environmental influences.

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Made for Each Other: Evolution of Monogamy in Poison Frogs

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Peruvian mimic poison frog, Ranitomeya imitator.
Image: Jason Brown [larger view]

To know the breeding system is to know the genetic architecture of a species.
To know the evolution of a breeding system is to know how evolution works ..

~ Lewis & Crowe, Evolution (1955)

Genetic tests have revealed the secret sex life of a tiny poison dart frog species that lives in the Peruvian rain forests: remarkably, it turns out that these frogs are monogamous. But the reason this species is monogamous is surprising: it's all about the size of the pools that their tadpoles mature in. This is the best evidence yet that just a single cause can affect evolution of a major life history trait, such as a species' mating system.

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Migratory Monarch Butterflies 'See' Earth's GeoMagnetic Field

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Every autumn, millions of monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, each weighing less than one gram (one US penny weighs 2.5 grams), migrate nearly 4000 kilometers (3000 miles) between their summer breeding grounds in the United States and their wintering areas either in southern California or in the mountains of Mexico (Figure 1).

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Doing It For the Kids: The Evolution of Migration

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White-rumped sandpiper, Calidris fuscicollis, chicks on Bylot Island, Nunavut, Canada.
Image: Laura McKinnon [larger view]

I recently told you about research that used new microtechnology to document the incredible journey of Arctic Terns, a small bird species that annually migrates from its wintering area in Antarctica to its breeding colonies in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. But Arctic Terns are not the only birds that migrate extremely long distances: many birds, particularly shorebirds, regularly travel tens of thousands of kilometers between their wintering and breeding territories every year.

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Fly Me to the Moon: The Incredible Migratory Journey of the Arctic Tern

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Arctic Tern, Sterna paradisaea, Iceland.
Image: Arthur Morris, Birds as Art, 2007 [larger view].
Canon 400mm f/5.6L lens (handheld) with the EOS-1D Mark III. ISO 200. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/1000 sec. at f/5.6 in Manual mode. Manual Flash with Better Beamer at 1:1.

For decades, it was widely suspected that a small seabird, the Arctic Tern, Sterna paradisaea, migrates an estimated 40,000 km each year -- the longest migratory journey of any animal.

"This is a mind-boggling achievement for a bird of just over 100 grams," says Carsten Egevang, a seabird researcher with the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

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The Ant Whisperer

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If I owned a television, you can bet I'd be watching this Nova program on PBS tonight: The Lord of the Ants. This program describes some of EO Wilson's amazing discoveries about ant communication, behavioral ecology and evolution [3:40]

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Plumage Color Influences Choice of Mates and Sex of Chicks in Gouldian Finches, Erythrura gouldiae

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The three color morphs of Gouldian finches, Erythrura gouldiae.
Image: Sarah Pryke, Macquarie University.


Gouldian finches, Erythrura gouldiae, are small cavity-nesting passerines that are endemic to open savannahs adjacent to mangrove swamps in northern Australia. These finches eat a variety of native grass seeds, but to meet the increased energetic and nutritional demands of rearing chicks, they primarily eat insects when breeding. Gouldian finches are social birds that typically occur in large flocks in the wild. Invasive species, disease and habitat destruction have dramatically reduced their population so there currently are fewer than 2500 individuals remaining in the wild. But these beautiful birds are popular avicultural subjects so there is an active conservation and captive breeding program designed to preserve them.

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Dinosaurs: A Bunch of Mister Moms

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The Oviraptorid dinosaur, Citipati osmolskae,
on a nest of eggs that was unearthed in the Gobi desert
of Mongolia by the American Museum of Natural History.
Image: Mick Ellison, American Museum of Natural History.

Oviraptors ("egg seizer") were given their name because their fossil remains were first discovered on top of a pile of eggs. Because of their close proximity to clutches of dinosaur eggs, it was initially assumed that these dinosaurs were eating them. However, in his 1924 paper, their discoverer Henry Fairfield Osborn cautioned the scientific community by writing that the name Oviraptor "may entirely mislead us as to its feeding habits and belie its character."

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Why Do We Yawn?

Dec 17 2008 Published by under Brain & Behavior, Evolution

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Yawning human, Homo sapiens serving as a perch for a domestic budgerigar, Melopsittacus undulatus.
Image: Wendy (Creative Commons License).

Yawning. Everybody does it. In fact, I am yawning now as I write this piece. Yawning is interpreted to have a variety of meanings, ranging from tiredness to boredom. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that yawning is contagious among humans, at least: watching someone else yawn, seeing a photograph or reading about -- and even the mere thought of -- yawning is enough to induce this behavior in observers. (Tell me: have you yawned yet?) Even though yawning is very common, the physiological and evolutionary reasons for yawning behavior are poorly understood.

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