Wild Things

Life as We Know It

Cheryl Carlin

Dept. of Defense
The oldest known case of chemical warfare was preserved in a drip of sap 100 million years ago. Researchers from Oregon State University and elsewhere found a soldier beetle encased in amber with a larger insect's antenna across its body— evidence of a possible attack. But the beetle had armed itself: sacs of fluid, probably toxic, protruded from its body, and one near the right shoulder had discharged. Many beetles still use this defense.

Fatal Swarm
To kill a hornet, Asian honeybees will mob it and generate so much heat that the hornet dies. But Cyprian honeybees fight with a type of hornet that is adapted to hot climates and can withstand such "thermo-balling." According to researchers in France and Greece, the Cyprian bees swarm the hornet's abdomen and block the breathing holes, called spiracles. Cause of the hornet's death? Suffocation. The scientists named the attack "asphyxia-balling."

Twice Bitten
Most fish use suction to gulp down prey. But new research shows that moray eels grab food with their jaws—and then launch a second set of jaws to pull prey into the esophagus. Researchers at the University of California at Davis speculate that the eels evolved the second set of mobile jaws because they live in narrow crevices and can't expand enough to generate suction.

Baby Babble
Female rhesus macaques use baby talk, say researchers who observed the interactions of 19 adult female monkeys on a small island off Puerto Rico. The monkeys made grunts and "girneys"—nasal whines—most often when an infant was present. The calls caught the infants' attention (much as human baby talk does) and also reassured the infants' mothers, who often allowed girneying females to hold their young.

NAME:Loxodonta africana, the African elephant.
THE ADVANTAGES OF AGE: The older a bull elephant gets, the more successful he is at siring calves, says a new study led by Duke University.
WHAT'S THEIR SECRET?: Bull elephants grow nearly all their lives, and big bulls are dominant. Plus, older bulls spend more time in musth, a state of heightened sexual activity during which a bull has a greater chance of producing a calf than a bull not in musth.
AND THIS MEANS?: Longevity might be bred into elephants—males with genes that help them live to old age are likely to pass on those genes.

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