Wild Things: Life as We Know It

An Australian conservation group uses Hubble space telescope software to identify animals by their markings

Reaching 60 feet long and weighing up to 20 tonnes, the whale shark is the world's largest fish Brad Norman/ECOCEAN

Thanks to Grandma
Doting grandparents are surprisingly rare, known mainly among baboons, lions, pilot whales and people. Now there's a bird: the Seychelles warbler. In a 24-year study, scientists in the Seychelles Islands found that when a female warbler loses her territory to a daughter, she may help feed her grandchicks.

How to Keep Whale Sharks Straight
The spots on a whale shark look so much like constellations of stars that the Australian conservation group Ecocean adapted Hubble space telescope software to identify individual animals by their markings. The researchers found that the whale shark population near Ningaloo, where the 20-ton, filter-feeding giants are an ecotourism draw, is growing.

Evolution by Asteroid
What caused the massive proliferation of new sea life 470 million years ago? Scientists at the University of Lund in Sweden and elsewhere have a new suspect: asteroids. The "Ordovician biodiversification" coincided with a hail of debris from the biggest asteroid breakup in the past few billion years, the researchers say. The impacts may have created new niches for life.

Name: Neoscona punctigera, a nocturnal orb-weaving spider found in Asia.
The Trap: N. punctigera hides till sundown, weaves its web and waits for a meal (usually a moth) to drop in. But why would prey do that?
The Bait: Spots of color on the spider's otherwise drab
abdomen probably lure prey, researchers at two Taiwanese universities say.
The Switch: The spider's prey can see well enough in the dark to find night-blooming flowers whose nectar they eat, the researchers determined, and the spots look like these flowers. Many animals use visual lures during the day, but this study documents one of the few known to work at night.

Familiar Turf
When times are tough, male chimpanzees go home, according to a study of more than 30 years' worth of records from Tanzania's Gombe National Park. Males abandon social groups when food is scarce and return to territories where they were reared by their mothers. Why? The researchers speculate the chimps know best where to forage on their old stamping grounds.

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