Dear Readers, long-term followers will know that I am fascinated by animal ‘personality’ – scientists have found that even creatures that barely have a brain (in our terms) can still be consistently shy, or aggressive, or friendly, or curious. So a recent study in which Zoltan Barta at the University of Debrecen in Hungary, investigated not only the personality of individual birds but how they did in groups was always going to be interesting.
Individual sparrows were first assessed for ‘personality type’ by leaving them alone in a cage for ten minutes. Some tried to get out, some sat quite happily and others hopped around looking for something to eat. At the end, the sparrows were put into groups either with birds of their own personality type, or in a diverse group, and left to get on with it for nine days. What interests me is that the birds in the diverse group were much happier and healthier on all measures, from weight to appetite to stress levels, than the birds that were just with cage mates of their own character. I do hope that they were released in the end, to form groups of their own choosing.
Observers of sparrows in the wild have long noted that one sparrow is always the first to explore a new food source, or to threaten a predator. It seems to me that having a variety of personalities within a species or community is useful in an evolutionary sense – after all, if all the sparrows were bold there’s a good chance that they’d be wiped out by a particularly clever predator, but if some were a bit more cautious they would be more likely to survive. But more than that, it shows that animals are not just automata, but are different from one another. As anyone who has ever been a farmer or owned a pet can tell you.
Now, lest you wonder what a semi-naked man is doing on Bugwoman I would like to point out that this chap is wearing a ‘sharkskin’ swimming suit. Biomimicry – the use of design features from plants and animals – has been popular forever, ever since someone looked at the bud of a burdock and thought ‘velcro’, but it seems that we don’t always do it right. Do you remember the controversy about these sharkskin suits at the Olympics? They seemed to help the swimmers go faster, and I seem to recall that they were banned, at least for a while. However, it seems that we might not have got it right anyway, because according to Josephine Galipon at Keio University Institute for Advanced Biosciences in Japan and her colleagues, when sharkskin is on a shark, it helps most when the fish is accelerating and turning rather than when it’s cruising along. So was the effect of the suits psychological, I wonder? Or was there something about them being full-body suits that reduced drag? The jury is out.
And finally, have a look at the film on the link below
It used to be thought that below 1000 metres the oceanic abyss was pretty much a desert. More recently, it was found that lots of scavengers can be found around whale carcasses and such, but this group of Pacific eels, found on an underwater mountain 3100 metres below the surface, was the biggest collection of fish ever seen at such a depth, with over 100 individuals. The scientist who found them, Astrid Leitner from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. explained that baited cameras were dropped into the deep ocean.
‘When they retrieved the lander, the first images they saw were initially disappointing as they seemed to show a black screen. But a closer look revealed the frame was so full of eels that it just appeared black.
“We basically landed on top of eels, then they just swarmed at us,” says Leitner.’
The sad part of this tale is that the area where the fish live is coming under increasing pressure from those who want to mine there (yes, even at 3000 metres deep). The fish seem to like the seamounts rather than the plains where the mining would take place, but so little is known about these areas that untold damage could be caused before we even know what’s there.
This planet has a nasty case of humans, for sure.
Photo One from https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/winning-skin
Photo Two Cutthroat eels (Ilyophis arx) swarming around bait 3100 metres down in the Pacific Deep Sea Fish Ecology Lab, UHM; DeepCCZ expedition from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2265810-swarm-of-pacific-eels-is-largest-group-of-fish-seen-in-the-abyss/