Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Toucans, Orchids, Monkeys and more

Toco toucan
iStockphoto

Observed

Capuchin monkey
(Brandon C. Wheeler)
Name: The tufted capuchin monkey, (Cebus apella nigritus), a fruit-eating primate from South America.
Look Out: Capuchins, which live in groups of 7 to 30, peep and hiccup to alert group members to feline or serpentine predators.
Look Away: It's now known that capuchins issue false alarms, peeping or hiccuping in the absence of cats or snakes—but in the presence of food.
Look Again: The alarms scare other group members away from food sources, says Brandon Wheeler of Stony Brook University. If the calls are intentional, he says, they would be the first "tactical deceptions" seen in non-human primates.

Learn more about the tufted capuchins at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Toucan Beak Heats Up

Toco toucan
(iStockphoto)
Charles Darwin theorized that the toucan's outsize beak is a display to attract mates; others note that the bill is used to pick fruit, rob eggs from nests or defend territory. Now scientists in Brazil and Canada report that the beak also cools the bird, like an elephant's ears. Using heat-sensitive cameras, the researchers monitored toco toucans in a lab as the room heated up. More blood flowed to their bills, warming them and dissipating heat.

Learn more about the toco toucan at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Read more about toucans at our Surprising Science blog.

Stirring Up The Ocean

Mastigias Jellyfish
(Reinhard Dirscherl / Alamy)
Working in Palau, California Institute of Technology bioengineers found that dye poured in the sea traveled some distance after jellyfish swam through it. The data suggest that the movements of marine creatures play a larger role in "ocean mixing" than previously believed—as great as winds and tides. Mixing can affect water temperature and the movement of nutrients in the ocean.

Learn more about mastigias jellyfish at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Read more about jellyfish at our Surprising Science blog.

An Orchid's Deceptive Perfume

Hornet landing on Dendrobium sinense
(Dr. Song)
Why would hornets pounce on an orchid that has no nectar? By mistake, say researchers working on China's Hainan Island. They found that Dendrobium sinense flowers produce a chemical that mimics alarm pheromones emitted by honeybees. Hornets, which prey on honeybees, smell the fragrance, attach the orchids—and inadvertently pollinate them.

Learn more about the Dendrobium sinense orchid at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Read more about orchids at our Surprising Science blog.

Fire Power

Tool made from fire
(Kyle Brown / South African Coast Paleoclimate, Paleoenvironment, Paleoecology, Paleoanthropology Project (SACP4))
People used fire to prepare stone tools as many as 164,000 years ago, according to a new study in Science. That's more than 125,000 years earlier than previous evidence (from Europe) had placed tool firing, which makes stones easier to flake. Chemical and physical analysis of tool remains found in South Africa shows the technique was already common there 72,000 years ago.