Wild Things: Wildcats, Pigeons and More…

Sea monster mamas, bat signals and opossum versus viper

Cheryl Carlin

Bat Signal

pollinating bats
(Cheryl Carlin)
The Cuban rain forest vine Marcgravia evenia has concave leaves hanging near its flowers that apparently summon pollinating bats (above: a photomontage). Scientists led by the University of Ulm in Germany sent sonar signals toward the leaves and found they reflected strong echoes that a bat would find easy to identify. The researchers then trained nectar-eating bats to find a feeder hidden in artificial foliage. When they placed the feeder near a replica of the vine’s leaves, the bats found it twice as fast as they found feeders near flat leaves. The leaves aren’t well suited to photosynthesis and thus provide little direct energy to the plant, but the scientists argue that “these costs are outweighed by the benefits of more efficient pollinator attraction.”

Live Fast, Age Fast

(Cheryl Carlin)
To impress females, male houbara bustards strut, run, flash feathers and emit subsonic booms 18 hours a day for half a year. In young males, the more elaborate the display, the better the sperm. But extravagance has a cost. Scientists in Morocco found that after six years, the most flamboyant males produce a greater proportion of abnormal sperm than do their duller counterparts.

Were Sea Monsters Loving Mothers?

(Cheryl Carlin)
Marine reptiles known as plesiosaurs may have been the best mothers of the Mesozoic. A new analysis of the fossil of a 78-million-year-old pregnant plesiosaur, on display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, reveals they had one giant baby at a time. Modern whales and reptiles that bear a single large offspring live in social groups and care for their young, suggesting plesiosaurs did, too.

Fair Trade

Fungi on plant roots
(Steve Speller / Alamy)
It’s classic symbiosis: plants get phosphorous and other nutrients from fungi on their roots; fungi get carbohydrates. A new study led by the Free University of Amsterdam shows that fungi increase nutrient output to roots that feed them the most; plants reward generous fungi with more carbs. Both sides ensure cooperation.

Observed: Opossum family Didelphidae

Opossum family
(Cheryl Carlin)
Sleeps: Well.
Eats: Venomous snakes: rattlesnakes, copperheads and other pit vipers.
Upends: The understanding of an “arms race” in the wild. For years it has been known that the proteins in snake venom evolve rapidly, presumably in response to adaptations the reptile’s prey develops that enable it to withstand the venom. But no, says a new study from the University of Minnesota: venom is evolving in response to predators. The study identified changes in an opossum gene associated with venom resistance, suggesting that pit-viper venom changes to keep up a strong defense, not offense

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