AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: animals

Is the End of Penguins Near?

IfSince the early 2000s, concerns about melting sea ice in the Arctic have raised questions about how it may affect animal populations. Much research has exposed how climate change has affected animals such as Polar Bears, Snow Leopards, and other Arctic-dwelling mammals. But now, a new study published on ScienceNews shows how the rising climate change crisis may soon lead to the loss of Emperor Penguins. The Penguins’ lack of stable ice when breeding means that newly-born penguins aren’t given the proper time to fledge, and when sea ice potentially breaks, they are left behind due to their inability to swim.

Young emperor penguin (Aptenoytes forsteri) chick and adult, Snow Hill Island, Weddell Sea, Antarctica

Most Penguins can swim due to their hydrophobic wings and coating, which means their wings will not mix with water and rather stay away from it. The coating on their feathers, made of natural oils(lipids) and proteins, gives penguins wings a sense of waterproofness, meaning they don’t get wet while swimming. However, baby penguins don’t have this and instead have fluffy, hydrophilic feathers that soak up and mix with water while swimming, making it much harder for them to swim long distances. In the study, about 10,000 baby Emperor Penguins were observed, of which only about 850 survived due to melting ice forcing baby penguins to swim longer distances than possible. For now, Emperor Penguins are safe, but if these trends continue, the study shows that by 2100, the population of these Penguins can be halved.

NASA-funded study says glacier shape matters and influences vulnerability to melting

Tell us what your favorite animal is in the comments below! Penguins have been my favorite animals since I saw them in many movies and shows, such as Surfs Up!, Happy Feet, and Penguins of Madagascar. Because of this, I must share ways in which you can contribute to stopping this pressing matter. We must cut our carbon footprint by taking simple steps like driving less, using wind or solar energy instead of fossil energy, and being overall more conscious of what we do on a day-to-day basis. There is still a lot of hope for Emperor Penguins, but they may soon be gone if we do not act now. If you know any other animals that use hydrophoic principles to help them survive in the wild, let us know in the comments!

The Failure Of The Endangered Species Act

In a recent study, biologists at the Columbia Climate School have determined why the Endangered Species Act fails to protect endangered species throughout America.  The Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, provides programs and guidelines for protecting and rehabilitating endangered plants and animals throughout the country.

On October 12th, the Columbia Climate School posted a study (led by Environmental biologist Erich Eberhard) that broke down why the ESA has been unsuccessful.  However, in the 39 years since the act was passed, it has failed to recover a single endangered species to the point where it no longer needs protection.  While eleven species have been delisted from endangerment status, biologists claim none of them are due to the ESA, and rather due to natural recovery or due to displacement on the list, as they were never endangered.  According to Competitive Enterprise Institute Research Associate Brian Seasholes, “The ESA has failed to recover a single species, not one.”

The Columbia Climate School’s recent study claims that the ESA fails because it does not provide protection until a species population is precariously small, limiting any chance of recovery.  Eberhard writes, “small population sizes at time of listing, coupled with delayed protection and insufficient funding, continue to undermine one of the world’s strongest laws for protecting biodiversity.”   Since small populations are drastically more vulnerable to environmental, genetic, and human threats, by the time the ESA gets involved, the species in question is already doomed.

Moreover, the ESA has had issues with the declining water quality nationwide.  Clean water is very important to endangered species, as water allows for life to exist through its various properties.  Internally, the cohesion and adhesion of water helps transport water molecules around the body, and helps support bodily functions that depend on water. Externally, water helps moderate the climate of nearby environments.  For example, water’s high specific heat allows it to absorb heat generated by the sun, cooling the temperature in costal regions.  Thus, water regulates the temperate and environment that organisms in costal reasons have adapted to.  When the external temperate dips below freezing level, bodies of water do not freeze throughout, as ice floats on top of water.  The hydrogen bonds of water stop moving when frozen, and due to the spaces in between them, ice is less dense than liquid water with rapidly moving water particles, in which hydrogen bonds form and break easily.

The lack of clean water prevents these properties to happen, which worsens the habitat of already endangered species, pushing them further to extinction.  The Environmental Protection Agency has increased efforts to control water by partnering the efforts of the ESA and The Clean Water Act (CWA), they have once again had limited success.

The authors hope that “leaders in the U.S. and across the world will learn from these lessons to better protect and conserve imperiled species across the globe.”  The ESA has undoubtedly failed to protect endangered species in America.

U.S. Endangered Species Count by State

Can Your Pet Sense the Next Earthquake?

It has been rumored for centuries that animals may be a key in sensing impending earthquakes. The first account is from ancient Greece when historians claimed “rats, snakes, weasels, and centipedes deserted the city and headed for safety several days before a devastating earthquake”. This observation and many more of its kind have been made all over the world about animal behavior patterns prior to earthquakes, but there was never an in depth research study done to prove if this was a concrete sign of an earthquake or merely coincidence. Until recently, where more scientific studies are being done to try and prove if this is a reliable method to use when predicting earthquakes. 

One scientific investigation into this behavior occurred in Japan in 2011 after they were hit with a massive earthquake damaging and killing many. It was formally named the Tohoku Earthquake. Before this earthquake occurred they surveyed some pet owners, more specifically dogs and cats, to track their animals’ behavior.  They also asked to track the dairy milk production from cows before the earthquake as well. The results of this study were interesting. After they collected their information they found that the pet owners recorded their animals having weird behavior one day before the earthquake, while the cows decreased their milk production about one week before the earthquake. About 18.6% of dogs had usual behavior, that includes sticking close to their owner more frequently. Compared to dogs, cats were reported having only 16.6% unusual animal behavior, which included “hiding”and “escaping”. Although these behaviors could be written off as normal for dogs and cats, the observations made on the milk production were a bit more compelling. Preceding the earthquake there was a milk production, “decrease from four to six days before the Tohoku EQ in the facility closest from the epicenter (340 km)”. They also reported that the closer to the epicenter they were,  the higher the chance of abnormal behavior occurring. However, though this study had some conclusive evidence, it’s not enough to prove that animals’ behavior can predict anything. 

A more recent study in Italy, led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and the University of Konstanz, may lead to even more evidence of animal behaviors linking to seismic events. Wikelski, the director of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior,  along with his team, set up an experiment to study animal behaviors for about four months in total in 2016 and 2017. In this study they traced farm animals, specifically six cows, five sheep and two dogs. They used different instruments to “record accelerated movements—up to 48 each second—in any direction”. After the four months a total of 18,000 tremors happened, and one with a magnitude of 6.6. The results were a drastic increase in activity, hours before the earthquake occurred. According to Wikelski all their behavior was connected in some way. He says, “It’s sort of a system of mutual influence. Initially, the cows kind of freeze in place—until the dogs go crazy. And then the cows actually go even crazier. And then that amplifies the sheep’s behavior, and so on.” Like the previous study done in Japan, they also reported in this study that animal behavior was increasing abnormal closer to the epicenter, unlike the animals that were farther away. They predict this occurs because the shifting tectonic plates “causes the rocks to release minerals that expel ions into the air”. Though a valid hypothesis, there have been some criticisms of this theory. Wendy Bohon, a geologist from the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology says geologists all over have been attempting to find signals that come before earthquakes. She says in order for this to be a trustworthy experiment their findings need to have definitely been stimulated from the tremors and not any other stimuli that animals are usually attracted to. Another geologist, Heiko Woith, said they needed to have a longer timeframe to get more concrete evidence. Although there were some flaws in their study, this is not the end of the researchers’ search for more evidence of this research. They plan to create new studies in Italy as well as Chile and Russia to prove that using animal behavior is a reliable source of information in guessing earthquakes. 

I chose this article because it involved a topic I’ve always been curious about and that is the sensing capabilities of animals. I have always heard about different animals and how much higher their sensing capabilities are compared to humans, which made me wonder when I saw the article if this would prove this to be true, even for something as big as an earthquake that often occurs far from the surface of the earth. I also thought that it would be interesting to see how these animals are able to sense these earthquake tremors. The article gave some insight to why this could occur, which has to do with ions potentially being expelled from the rocks. Ions are atoms or molecules that have a positive or negative charge, depending on the proton to electron ratio. When earthquakes occur they give off a magnetic field, which is a result of moving electrical charges, like ions.  Animals could be able to sense this because of a phenomenon called magnetoreception. Magnetoception is “a sense which allows an organism to detect a magnetic field to perceive direction, altitude or location“. There are three types of methods used to explain Magnetoreception: electromagnetic induction, chemical magnetoreception and biogenic magnetite. These animals might be able to sense this on a molecular level. Although it’s not as simple of a theory as this, if this were proven to be true that would be an amazing scientific feat. There is still more research to be done,  but I think it is true that animals have a level of sense high enough to predict an oncoming earthquakes. However the real question is do you think animals are the key in predicting future earthquakes?


A NEWclear Life

In a recent study at the University of Georgia, images of many different species of animals have been taken in Fukushima, Japan, where there was a nuclear disaster nine years ago. The people in the area had been evacuated to a safer place so that they wouldn’t suffer from the toxic radiation that causes cancer. However, animals like the wild boar, black bear, macaque, and raccoon dog (my pick for March Mammal Madness 2017) have been photographed in the area. Intrigued by how this could be possible, a team went to take data by taking tens of thousands of images of the different species.

Cameras were set in three different zones: high radiation, intermediate radiation, and low radiation. Humans are still inhabiting the low radiation area because it is safe enough where there is minimal contamination. Despite the nuclear contamination, most of the species inhabited the high radiation zone and the least inhabited the low radiation zone. 26,000 images of wild boars were taken in the uninhabited zone, 13,000 images in the restricted zone, and 7,000 in the inhabited zone. This was due to the fact that the animals were trying to stay away from human interaction and development. The team also evaluated the time of day when the animals were active, the elevation, and the type of terrain. Animals like the raccoon continued to be nocturnal in the uninhabited zone, while the wild boar was even more active during the day than before since it did not have to worry about being hunted. The Japanese serow differed from the rest of the animals as it actually spent more time in the human-inhabited zone because of the higher boar population in the uninhabited zone.

Although many would assume that animals would stray away from areas of high radiation like humans, the contrary occurred in Fukushima. The results showed that factors like human interaction, elevation, and habitat type played a larger role than the radiation levels for population size. How do you think these animals are able to survive in these conditions?

Danger in the Growing Animal Product Industry

As more countries begin to mass produce animal products, more antimicrobials are used to keep the animals from spreading disease. However, this commonplace antimicrobial use results in antimicrobial resistance, specifically in low and middle-income countries with few rules in place. Interestingly, most instances of microbial resistance occur in Asia and South America, but there are few instances in Africa.

Once animals develop antimicrobial resistance, it affects the rest of the food chain. When farmers give their animals antimicrobials, all of their stomach bacteria besides the resistant kind is killed. As a result, antimicrobial-resistant bacteria can spread to the soil, to produce, and to humans. Potentially, in a world without antimicrobials, even simple surgeries can be unimaginably dangerous, and diseases can be difficult to treat. At the moment, in certain countries, people are developing drug-resistant strains of malaria, tuberculosis, influenza, and even HIV.

A description of how drug resistant bacteria reproduce after other bacteria are killed.

Researchers have multiple ways of testing the spread of antimicrobial resistance. They can search for pockets where animals carry illnesses that are resistant to antimicrobials, such as penicillin. Researchers now test how many animals have resistance to drugs by giving them drugs and seeing if the animals respond. In antimicrobial-resistant hotspots, up to 50% of animals may not respond to drugs. People can struggle to find accurate information regarding the amount of drug-resistant animals, specifically in South America, where information is not always public. Researchers have also created the Resistance Bank, where people can see the specific antibiotics animals are resistant to. Its goal is to increase awareness in lower-income countries who may not have the resources to publish scientific articles describing the levels of antimicrobial resistance.

How can we protect ourselves from this growing threat? On a global scale, the spread of antimicrobial-resistant diseases can only be completely slowed with the halting of overuse on people and animals. In contrast, if we each wash our hands often, cook meat before eating it and use separate preparing utensils for raw meat and all other foods, and spread awareness about the overuse of antibiotics, perhaps each one of us can help halt the spread of antimicrobial-resistant infections.


Everyone Poops (for approximately 12 seconds)

Everyone poops. Despite sometimes causing discomfort and being the subject of juvenile humor, pooping is a necessary, crucial function of our body that removes wastes and can share a lot about a person’s health. All animals poop: Lions, tigers, bears. Celebrities like Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian, they poop, too. Every species has their own unique way of pooping, with a variety of sizes, shapes, smells, and consistencies. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have analyzed these differences between animals’ feces and have gained insight on these varieties with a focus on the speed at which animals poop at.

The experiment began at Zoo Atlanta where two undergraduates had the glorious task of examining 34 different species’ poop measuring their density and viscosity. In addition, the animal feces were placed in a rheometer in order to test the consistency of each.

The main finding of the experiment concerned the speed of poop. They found that all animals dedicate in approximately the same amount of time, 7 seconds, despite the varieties is size, consistency, etc. The scientists have found that the reason larger animals, with larger feces, poop at a much faster rate than small animals is because they have thicker mucus lining their large intestine. This mucus is slippery and allows for poop to easily pass; thicker amounts allow pooping to happen faster.

Deficiencies in large intestine mucus can lead to chronic constipation or bacterial infections.

Another source has identified an equation for the speed of poop: “the time it takes to poop is equal to said poop’s length divided by its velocity.” For example, an elephant poops at a rate of 6 cm/sec whereas dogs poop at a rate of 1 cm/sec.

As a young child, I read a book called Everyone Poops.  This wonderful children’s story set to normalize pooping and show that all living things are connected in this way. I am delighted that not only does everyone poop, but everyone poops for about 12 seconds.

Do you feel more connected to other animals knowing we all poop for about the same amount of time? Author: Shubhaish kanodia


Original Article:

Meet Charlotte’s Cousin (She’s Coming to the Web this Year for Thanksgiving)

You’re taking a nice autumn walk, enjoying the scenic pathway covered in red, yellow, and brown beautiful leaves. You stop at tree and notice one small, shriveled up decaying leaf still hanging. In a whimsical motion, you decide to pluck the final leaf… Aaaaaahhhh! Spider!

Folks, you’ve heard of the stick bug. Let me introduce you to the leaf spider (it has yet to be officially named!). Don’t worry, you’re unlikely to find one unless you’re in China.

The Leaf Spider’s Cousin: The Barn Spider                                      Credit:

On a research excursion in Yunnan, China in 2011 (they published their findings on November 11), researcher Matjaz Kuntner* and his team came across an unusual species unidentified by the likes of man, the only known spider to resemble a dried up leaf!

Camouflage isn’t new in the animal kingdom; it’s a popular survival trait. But its more common with insects like the stick bug than arachnids.

However, roughly 100 species of spiders have bodies that don’t resemble your typical halloween decoration, ranging from a jumble of twigs to bird poo. But nothing like this!

They described the spider’s back as looking like a healthy green life while its underside resembled a dead brown leaf. And a hairy, stalk like structure branches out of its abdomen like the stem of a leaf! Take a look for yourself!

After searching for another specimen for two weeks, the researchers found only one more: a juvenile male. Searching the world’s museum for another sample, only one resembling the new specimen could be found (in a museum in Vietnam) but it is suspected this specimen comes from a known species whereas these two new individuals are a brand new discovery!

But the icing on the cake… as the title suggests, this spider is a cousin of Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web! Yes, the barn spider (Araneus cavaticus) and this new spider both belong to the Poltys genus along with 3,000 relatives (what a family reunion!).

One thing to note: the researchers noticed leaves stuck to the branch the spider was resting on by silk, indicating that the spider might have placed the leaves there on purpose. Keep an eye out for new research on the matter in the future.

So, the pivotal question I ask anyone who reads this… what should the spider be called? Do you know of any cool arachnids or insects that use camouflage in unique ways? Let me know in the comments.

Original Article:


*Matjaz Kuntner is a principal investigator with the Evolutionary Zoology Lab at the Biological Institute Jovan Hadzi, Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Why use Advil? Just get bitten by a snake…

Traditionally, snakes have not been regarded as friendly animals. In fact, snakes have struggled to gain respect given their track record in poisoning and killing humans. However, a new study has arisen that may help their case…

The black mamba (shown above), is considered to be one of the most lethal snakes on earth. However, a team of researchers in France discovered compunds in black mamba venom that could actually relieve pain. In fact, when the substance was tested on mice, it’s “pain-killing” effects were comprable to that of morphine!

The compounds are called mambalgins, and the seem to work by blocking certain channels and pathways in nerve cells. Generally speaking, the said channels open up in acidic environments, thus triggering pain signals. The mambalgins work by preventing the flow of charged atoms through the channels, thus stoping the pain killers entirely.

In this study, the analysis of the mambalgins was conducted on mice. The team injected the mice with either the mambalgin or morphine before exposing the animals to “pain” (such as painful chemicals). In the majority of the steps, the venom treatment and the morphine alleviated the pain equally as well. However, because mambalgin happens to cure pain through an entirely different mechanism than morphine, it lacks some of the major side effects of morphine such as nausea or seizure.

As with any new scientific breakthrough or theory, the results are still preliminary. Currently, the performance of mambalgins have only been tested on mice. The researchers are predicting a long while before mambalgins may be of real clinical use as they have to undergo a more rigorous scientific evaluation, not to mention all of the legal hurdles. So don’t go out searching for a snake to bite you just yet! 🙂

I found this article very intriguing and ironic. I found this ironic because the source of this new pain killer is one of the most pain-full animals on the planet. This is also intriguing because scientists may have just stumbled upon the first “pain-less” pain killer, which is ironic in itself as well. On a larger scale, I find this article even more fascinating because it testifies to just how little we know about the environment we live in.

Zoos Killing Elephants?

Credit: xrayspx on Flickr

According to a study conducted by zoologists, elephants that are kept in captivity die much earlier than elephants that remain in the wild. Wouldn’t you think that elephants being kept at a zoo would be more likely to live longer? After all, they are getting regular feedings that require little to no effort on their part, and they are purposely kept away from any predators . So what’s the problem?

Ironically, most of these elephants end up dying of obesity (can you imagine how big an obese elephant might be?), because they eat and eat and eat, but don’t get any exercise in their limited spaces at the zoo. In addition to that, the elephants die from the stress of being transported to a zoo, and being separated from their mothers.

According to a study led by Ros Clubb (wildlife scientific officer at the RSPCA), African elephants lived (on average) 16.9 years in captivity, while free African elephants lived (on average) 35.9 years.

In another study, led by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural affairs, seventy-seven elephants were studied in thirteen UK zoos. The results showed that the elephants spent 83% of their time indoors, 71 of the 77 elephants were overweight, and only 11 could walk normally.

That doesn’t mean that zoos are horrible for all animals, just read this article, but they certainly aren’t helping out the elephants!


Class Fox?


Photo Credit: Flickr user- Arudhio

As a kid visiting a zoo did you ever wonder what it would be like to pet the tigers?  Well as you know wild animals are dangerous and they aren’t meant to be tamed, patted or touched… or are they?  According to new studies domestication may not be a learned trait or a trait only found in our dogs, cats, birds and livestock, but a gene that can be bred into wild animals through selective breeding.

In Russia dating back to Stalin’s rule scientists began to wonder if they could breed domestication into a population of animals.   They decided to run their experiment, despite the risk of death because of the government’s aversion to studies on genetics, and started out by heading to fur farms and selecting the calmest foxes who showed the least amount of aggression toward humans.  They began to breed these friendlier foxes and with each generation they began to get friendlier and friendlier foxes to breed.  Today the foxes react to people much like a dog would; they start jumping at the front of their crates and wining for attention and will leap into your arms at the first chance they get.  In fact these foxes even resist going back into their cages because they hate to leave human attention that they love so much.

So how do we know that it’s genetic rather than behavior changes in these foxes?  The scientists thought of this and they kept a control population, for this population they continually bred the most aggressive foxes and got highly aggressive animals that hated human presence.  To test out their theory that this was in fact genetic these scientists took one of the pups bred to be aggressive and gave it to one of the friendly mothers, despite being raised by a mother that loved people this fox remained aggressive to people, as it was bred to do.

Another reason that they are confident that this is genetic is that the foxes physical appearance began to change, they started to look more puppy like for longer, their ears stayed floppy longer, they developed white specs on their coats and their tails curled, all of these traits are typically seen as traits that humans like and that would make the foxes more dog like and more appealing to people.

It may seem hard to believe that a wild animal can be tamed simply through breeding but the reporter of the original article fell so in love with these foxes she now has two sharing her home with her, and her golden retriever.  The scientists and now working to get permits that would allow them to sell some of the friendly foxes as pets (to help fund their research), which leads to the question if we are given the chance to buy them would you ever own a Pet Fox?



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