Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Chewing dinosaurs, climate change, self-sacrificing ants and black bears

Climate change causes carbon dioxide to dissolve in ocean water making it more acidic and efficient at transmitting sound waves. Paul Souders / Corbis

Making Waves

(Maura McCarthy)
Add noise to the list of climate change consequences. Carbon dioxide dissolved in ocean water makes it more acidic -- and more efficient at transmitting sound waves. Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute marine chemists predict that by 2050, ocean sounds such as whale calls may travel 70 percent farther than today; the effect on marine animals is unknown.

Monkey Beware

(Maura McCarthy)
Bonobos are known as the peace-loving members of the hominid family, led by females and solving conflicts with love, not war. Now, for the first time, primatologists in Congo have documented three instances of bonobos killing monkeys. In contrast to chimpanzees—which hunt and live in male-dominated groups—the bonobo hunting parties included females. So much for the idea that, among apes, hunting is related to male aggression.


black bear
(Maura McCarthy)
Name: The black bear (Ursus americanus).
Good News Bears: Urban-dwelling females, eating a garbage-fortified diet, gain weight faster and have cubs younger than their forest-dwelling counterparts, according to a study in western Nevada led by the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Bad News Bears: Urban females die younger.
Worse News Bears: Despite their reproductive head start, urban animals aren't increasing the overall bear population. Any gains are more than offset by urban hazards, especially collisions with cars. Says the lead researcher: "Urban areas are becoming the ultimate bear traps."

Eschewing Chewing

(Maura McCarthy)
How did sauropods, plant-eaters that were the biggest animals ever to walk the earth, get such massive bodies? They didn't chew, say researchers in Bonn and Zurich. The dinosaurs' "enormous gut capacity" (a Diplodocus) extracted nutrients from unchewed food and obviated the need for lots of teeth and bulging jaw muscles. And that made it possible to have a small head and a looong neck, which let it feast on stuff other beasts couldn't reach.

The Collictive Good

(Maura McCarthy)
Scientists in Brazil have observed an unusual act of selflessness. When Forelius ants retire for the night, one or more workers remain outside the colony, kicking sand to seal the entrance. If that protects those within from predators or rain, it also dooms the outside ants to die overnight of exposure. It's the first known case of "pre-emptive self-sacrifice" among insects.

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