Wild Things: Yawning Chimps, Humpback Whales and More…

Leaping beetles, Pacific salmon, prehistoric mammals and other news updates in wildlife research

Chimpanzee Yawning
Chimpanzee Yawning Tim Davis / Corbis

Catchy Behavior

Chimpanzee Yawning
(Tim Davis / Corbis)

Human beings aren’t the only animals to yawn when they see another of their kind doing the same. So do dogs and some primates, including chimpanzees. But in a new study at Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, chimps appear to make an intriguing distinction: they were more likely to yawn in response to a member of their immediate group than to strangers. Researchers say “contagious yawning” is a sign of empathy. Parents say covering your yawn is a sign of good manners.

How Humpback Songs Go Platinum

Humpback Whale
(Flip Nicklin / Minden Pictures (Obtained under permit #987))

Male humpback whales in the South Pacific all sing the same song—until another one catches on and they start singing a new tune. An 11-year study showed that songs usually originate off Australia and spread east. How? A few whales may move east and take the songs with them, or they may swap songs along shared migration routes.

Saber-Toothed Vegetarian

(Juan Cisneros)
Paleontologists in Brazil have found the 260-million-year-old skull of a sheep-size therapsid, a distant relative of mammals. They named it Tiarajudens eccentricus. What made it “eccentric” was it had a pair of five-inch teeth despite being a plant-eater. Perhaps the fangs were used to scare predators or fight rivals.

Leaps and Bounds

Larvae of the Southeastern beach tiger beetle
(Alan Harvey)
Larvae of the Southeastern beach tiger beetle have an odd way of getting around. Scientists working in Georgia found that, especially on windy days, the larvae hurl themselves into the air to catch the breeze, tuck themselves into a wheel, and roll up sand dunes as far as 200 feet at a time. Both wind-driven leaping and “wheel locomotion” are rare, and this is the first creature to be observed combining the two.


Sockeye Salmon
(Yva Momatiuk & John Eastcott / Minden Pictures)
Name: Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus).
Life: Is born in a stream or lake, then swims to and roams the ocean.
Death: Returns to fresh water to spawn and die.
After Life: Salmon have long been recognized as a major food source for animals and aquatic plants in the fish’s spawning grounds. But researchers at Simon Fraser University have found that nutrients from dead fish influence the number and types of plants that grow more than 100 feet into the forest. The researchers say conservation plans should take into account not only the number of fish needed for a strong population at sea, but also the number that die inland.

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