Nov 23
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In the News: Bees provide living solution to human-elephant conflict

A British researcher has won a coveted environment research prize following her work on how bees can be used to reduce human-elephant conflict in Kenya.

African elephant image

Human-elephant conflict is a common occurrence in Africa

Human-elephant conflict

Despite being one of the African continent’s most iconic species, the African elephant regularly comes into conflict with local people. In their search for food, the large mammals frequently cause widespread damage to agriculture and water supplies, with this conflict sometimes resulting in the injury or death of both people and elephants.

As part of her PhD thesis, Dr Lucy King, an African-born researcher, has discovered a solution to this ongoing problem by proving that special beehive ‘fences’ can help to keep elephants out of farmers’ fields or compounds.

Her work, which has just been awarded the UNEP/CMS Thesis Award on Migratory Species Conservation, is founded on the basis that elephants are scared of bees. Bees can potentially fly into the animals’ trunks and sting them inside, and Dr King has shown that elephants will flee when they hear buzzing.

Executive director of UNEP Achim Steiner praised Dr King’s approach to conflict resolution, “Her research underlines how working with, rather than against, nature can provide humanity with many of the solutions to the challenges countries and communities face.”

Honey bee image

Bees such as the honey bee could provide a solution to human-elephant conflict

Creating a buzz

During their research in Kenya, Dr King and her team found that more than 90% of elephants will flee when they hear bees buzzing. Their work has also led to the discovery that elephants produce a special rumbling noise to warn other individuals in the herd of the danger.

The research team used these findings to create fences which had beehives woven into them, to keep elephants away from human-inhabited areas and agricultural land. A total of 34 farms were involved in a 2-year pilot project, the results of which demonstrated that elephants trying to get through fences would shake them, causing disturbance to the beehives.

Dr King’s work both highlights the importance of bees to humans, and provides a unique and innovative way of conserving the world’s largest land animal for future generations.

African elephant image

African elephant ear-flapping

A living solution

Africa’s growing population is under ever-increasing pressure for space, and has to compete with wildlife to obtain it, often resulting in potentially fatal conflict. However, following the pilot study, farming communities within three Kenyan districts have adopted the use of beehive fences.

Farm owners not only have a new means by which to protect their homes and crops from destruction by elephants, but are also able to increase their incomes by selling honey from the hives.

Dr Lucy King has designed a constructive solution that considers the needs of migratory animals but also the economic benefits to the local communities linked to species conservation,” said CMS executive secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.

Sri Lankan elephant image

Human-elephant conflict is also a concern in Sri Lanka, where these Sri Lankan elephants live

Taking the solution further afield

Dr King hopes that her beehive fence idea will also be adopted in other parts of Africa, and is working with the charity Save the Elephants in order to achieve this.

I can’t say for certain it’s going to work elsewhere,” she says. “There is potential to take it down to southern Africa which has the largest elephant population and an increasing human-elephant conflict problem.

The use of this new method of human-wildlife conflict avoidance is not limited to the African continent, and could also prove useful in parts of Asia. In Sri Lanka alone, the death toll as a result of human-elephant conflict is estimated at 60 people and 200 Asian elephants per year.

However, Dr King points out that there would be different considerations when applying this method in Asia.

With Asia, there are some issues we’d have to look at – it’s a totally different elephant species, the bee species are different, it rains a lot more, we have animals like bears that love honey,” she says. “But I’d be very interested in sharing my research with anyone with experience in Asia to see whether it could work there.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Elephant and bee researcher nets green prize.

View photos and videos of African elephants on ARKive.

View photos and videos of bee species on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Oct 12
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In the News: Meerkats able to recognise individual voices

Scientists have discovered that meerkats are able to recognise the voices of other members of their social group.

Meerkat image

Meerkat family group

This discovery is the first time that voice recognition has been observed in a non-primate species. Scientists believe that the phenomena might be more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously thought, though the theory is difficult to test in wild animals.

Lead researcher on the project, Dr Simon Townsend, explained, “There’s lots of evidence of vocal recognition in primates, you can really test whether they respond to individual vocal recognition. But this is harder to test in other non-primates, because relationships between individual animals are not as clear.

Meerkat image

Young meerkat

Meerkat expectations?

To find out whether meerkats could recognise another individual by the sound of its voice, scientists used a clever experiment that challenged the animal’s ‘expectations’.

Meerkats use a variety of calls, including a ‘close call’ which they make continually while foraging. This call is believed to keep the group together, and also advertises the presence of an individual to others. Scientists recorded these calls and played them back to the foraging meerkats.

Researchers placed speakers on either side of a foraging meerkat, and first played the call of a member of its social group from one speaker, followed by a call from a different member of the group on the opposite speaker. They then presented the meerkats with a puzzle by playing a recording of the same meerkat, first on one side, and then immediately on the other.

The meerkats presented with this conundrum stopped foraging and were more vigilant, looking in the direction of the speaker. Scientists believe hearing the recording of the same meerkat violates the individuals ‘expectation’ that the same meerkat can’t be in two places at one time, and, according to the researchers, thus proves that meerkats can recognise individual voices.

Meerkat image

Meerkat keeping watch

The research has shown that vocal recognition might be quite widespread in the animal world, and scientists believe that the experiment could be used to investigate the phenomena in a range of species.

Read more on the BBC news story – Meerkats recognise each others’ voices.

View images and videos of the meerkat on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Sep 18
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ARKive’s Top 10 Loudest Animals

The animal kingdom is bustling with chirps, cries, howls, roars, yelps and shrieks. We’ve managed to track down some of the rowdiest of the bunch, so please make some noise for ARKive’s Top 10 Loudest Animals.

Southern elephant seal

Photo of a male southern elephant seal displaying

Southern elephant seal bull displaying

The male southern elephant seal has a large inflatable proboscis, which it uses to produce an explosive, resounding roar. The vocalisations are commonly heard during the mating season, when bulls intimidate rivals to win groups of females.

Check out these southern elephant seals displaying and fighting on ARKive.

American alligator

Photo of a male American alligator bellowing

Male American alligator bellowing

Although the American alligator lacks vocal chords, this doesn’t stop it producing deep, throaty bellows. A bellowing alligator can incite others to join in, forming a bellowing chorus. Bellows can reach 90 decibels and are thought to attract a female mate or threaten nearby males.

Watch this male American alligator bellowing on ARKive.

Cassini periodical cicada

Photo of Cassini periodical cicadas climbing tree trunk

Cassini periodical cicadas climbing tree trunk

For such a small critter, the male Cassini periodical cicada is surprisingly noisy – but it has a good reason, after being stuck underground for 17 years! Males announce their arrival with a high frequency courtship song to attract a mate. Females are silent, but a chorus of males can reach up to 100 decibels!

Three-wattled bellbird

Photo of a male three-wattled bellbird calling

Male three-wattled bellbird calling

With one of the loudest bird calls, the three-wattled bellbird certainly wants to show off its song – after all, it may have been practising for 7 years! Males call out to prospective females from a clearing at the top of a tree. The song is made up of chattering and a few, thunderous ‘bong’ notes, peaking at 100 decibels and travelling more than 1 kilometre through the forest.

There’s a great video of the male three-wattled bellbird calling on ARKive.

Lion

Photo of African lion roaring

Male African lion roaring

The lion has a very large voicebox, or larynx, supported by a stretchy ligament, which creates an extra-large airway. Its remarkable roar reaches 114 decibels and can be heard up to 5 kilometres away!

Kakapo

Photo of kakapo walking

Kakapo walking

The male kakapo creates an amplification bowl in the ground, which it sits inside before releasing powerful ‘booms’ to attract females. Males use their inflatable throat sacs to create the low frequency ‘boom’, which is thought to be one of the most far-carrying bird songs, travelling a staggering 5 kilometres! The amazing kakapo ‘boom’ call can be seen on ARKive.

African elephant

Photo of African elephant herd alert

African elephant herd, alert

Producing piercing trumpets when threatened, alarmed, or excited, the African elephant can communicate over long distances, up to an impressive 9 kilometres! Its trunk amplifies sound and it often uses deep growls, rumbles or purrs, and many of these are too low for us to hear.

Mantled howler monkey

Photo of male mantled howler monkey howling

Male mantled howler monkey howling

The aptly named mantled howler monkey produces distinctive howls and is one of the loudest mammals in the world. The hyoid bone at the top of its windpipe reverberates its roars and growls. Troops of mantled howler monkeys howl at dawn and dusk and have been compared to the sound of a raucous crowd. A howling troop can be heard over 2 kilometres away!

Greater bulldog bat

Photo of greater bulldog bat

Greater bulldog bat

The greater bulldog bat’s high frequency screech is thought to reach 140 decibels – that’s 100 times louder than a rock gig! The intensity of its call has been likened to sitting on an airport runway!

Blue whale

Photo of blue whale

Blue whale

Blowing the competition out of the water is the largest animal to have ever lived, the blue whale. Its long calls range from a staggering 155 to 188 decibels and it has been clearly detected as far as 3,000 kilometres away! The blue whale’s low frequency moans typically last for 20 seconds, and are thought to have a range of functions, such as prey detection, communication and sensing the environment.

Do you have a favourite loud species on ARKive? Let us know using the comments below.

Rebecca Goatman, ARKive Media Researcher

Aug 18
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A-Z ARKive (B)

This week it is the turn of the letter B, so I decided to explore adjectives that describe ARKive beginning with the letter B. With over 13,000 species, 70,000 images and over 150 hours of footage I think I can say with confidence that the ARKive collection is bountiful. With photographs and footage from many of the world’s best wildlife photographers it is easy to see why so many of the ARKive images, such as this picture of giraffe in their habitat, are brilliantly beautiful. And from the beautiful to the bizarre, the slightly shocked looking creature taking a quick bath below is actually a young Asian elephant!

Photo of Asian elephant calf in water

Asian elephant calf in water

 

B is for…Brazil

The largest country in South America, covering an area of over 3 million square miles, Brazil has a diverse variety of habitats and as such is home to an extraordinary range of terrestrial and aquatic life. The forests are home to jaguars and ocelots, harpy eagles and the yellow-headed caracara, while the rivers are inhabited by Amazonian manatees and the boto. Brazil is also host to many threatened species, including the golden-headed lion tamarin, which is classified as Endangered by the IUCN as a mere 2-5% of its original habitat remains.

Photo of golden-headed lion tamarin on tree branch

Golden-headed lion tamarin on tree branch

 

…Birds

Did you know there are over 2,000 bird species on ARKive? These range from the mighty wandering albatross, with the largest recorded wingspan of any bird (reaching an enormous 3.5 metres across), to the smallest living bird, the tiny bee hummingbird which is only 6 centimetres long! Of course wingspan isn’t everything, particularly if you can’t fly. Some of the most easily recognisable bird species are flightless, including penguins of which there are 18 species on ARKive, and the ostrich, which strangely has the largest eyes of any land animal!

Photo of wandering albatross pair displaying

Wandering albatross pair displaying

 

…Baobab

Of the 8 species of baobab found worldwide 6 are endemic to Madagascar. One such endemic species is the Grandidier’s baobab, and in my opinion is one of the most impressive, as it genuinely looks like it has been planted upside down leaving the roots exposed! One of the most interesting features of this baobab is its ability to retain water within the fibrous wood of the trunk, evident by the fluctuation in trunk diameter with rainfall.

Grandidier's baobabs photo

Grandidier's baobabs

 

…Behaviour

Whether you are an avid reader of the ARKive blog, or just an occasional visitor it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that there is a lot more to ARKive than pretty pictures. For every species we profile we aim to cover the complete life history from birth to death and everything in between. We have Barbary macaques playing, South African ground squirrels fending off a cobra with their tails and Pere David’s deer boxing to name just a few. Check out Charlie’s blog on ARKive’s Top 10 Natural Nasties for some of the more gruesome behaviour examples.

Photo of Pere David's deer stags standing up to box

Pere David's deer stags standing up to box

Do you have a favourite ARKive ‘B’ species? How about the binturong, the bald eagle, the blue-footed booby or maybe even the basking shark?

Photo of basking shark feeding just below the surface

Basking shark feeding just below the surface

Well that’s it for the Bs, tune in next time for more captivating creatures and a close up on climate change when we explore the ARKive Cs.

Laura Sutherland, ARKive Education Officer

Aug 4
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In the News: Vampire bats use infrared sensors to detect veins

Vampire bats use infrared sensors to detect veins on their warm-blooded prey, according to new research.

Photo of common vampire bat's open mouth, showing teeth

Common vampire bat showing teeth.

In a study published in the journal Nature, the researchers found that vampire bats have evolved specialised heat-sensitive nerve channels around the nose. These allow the bats to home in on “hot spots” on their prey, where veins run close to the surface of the skin.

In other animals, including humans, these nerve channels are used to detect heat that would be damaging to the body, triggering a painful, burning sensation at temperatures above 43ºC. However, in the vampire bat the channels around the nose have evolved to activate at a much cooler 30ºC, allowing the bat to detect the body heat of its prey.

Blood-sucking bats

Found in Central and South America, the vampire bat is a widely feared species that has been commonly misportrayed as a creepy, blood-sucking killer. However, this small mammal rarely kills its prey and displays many fascinating adaptations to its lifestyle.

Photo of common vampire bat on ground

Common vampire bat on ground.

Its teeth are razor sharp, meaning its victim rarely notices being bitten, and it releases chemicals into the wound which keep the blood flowing, allowing the bat to lap it up with the help of grooves on its tongue.

The vampire bat also has strong limbs and an elongated thumb to help it climb around on its prey and take off after feeding. It rarely bites humans, usually preferring to feed on the blood of birds and other mammals, particularly livestock. Vampire bats also show a rare form of ‘reciprocal altruism’, in which well-fed individuals regurgitate food to hungry companions, even if they are not related.

Photo of common vampire bat feeding on cow

Common vampire bat feeding on cow.

Rare heat-sensing ability

Only three other vertebrate groups are known to have a heat-detecting ‘sixth sense’ – the distantly related pitvipers, pythons and boas. These three snake lineages use specialised structures on the face, known as ‘pit organs’, to detect warm-blooded prey. However, they use a different mechanism to the vampire bat.

Photo of yellow-blotched palm-pitviper, head detail

Yellow-blotched palm-pitviper. Three groups of snakes, including pitvipers, detect heat using specialised ‘pit organs’ on the snout.

The ability to find its next meal is especially important to the vampire bat as it must have a blood meal at least once every few days to survive.

In addition to revealing more about the bat’s intriguing adaptations, the researchers hope that this study will help shed more light on how heat sensors work in humans. It may even help scientists to design drugs to suppress the activity of related nerve channels, such as those involved in inflammatory pain.

Read more about the study at Nature News – Vampire bats turn down the heat sensors to hunt.

View photos and videos of bats on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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