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Animal behaviour

Analysis and Comment (29)

Rabbit or duck, it’s all in the eyes. Rabbit or duck, it’s all in the eyes. Wikimedia

Animals could help reveal why humans fall for illusions

Visual illusions, such as the rabbit-duck (shown above) and café wall (shown below) are fascinating because they remind us of the discrepancy between perception and reality. But our knowledge of such illusions…
Why did they always have to go in groups? Why did they always have to go in groups? Martin Ezcurra

How I found the world’s oldest communal toilets

Fossils can tell us lots about animals – their size, age or sex, which is mostly physical characteristics. Evidence about how they may have behaved is rare. But the 240m-year-old fossil dung that I found…
Rest in peace, buddy. Rest in peace, buddy. emil_95

Ant undertakers are always ready to take one for the team

Ants have been quite successful, evolutionarily speaking. They are found on every continent, apart from Antarctica. They fill a range of ecological niches, from the tops of towering rain forest trees to…
Them’s fighting words. And colours. Them’s fighting words. And colours. Megan Best

Colourful language: chameleons talk tough by changing shade

Humans have been fascinated by the colour-changing abilities of chameleons for a long time. Aristotle himself, the forefather of Western philosophy and also a keen zoologist, mentioned the lizard’s ability…
Mobile nursery for parasites. Mobile nursery for parasites. Paul Appleton

Manipulative parasites make hornets their nest

Hornets put fear into the minds of most, but there is a parasite that the hornets fear (if indeed they are capable of fear). Sphaerularia vespae is a parasitic nematode that infects the Japanese yellow…
Captive bred Tasmanian devils have recently been reintroduced to Tasmania. But do we want daring or docile devils in the wild? Captive bred Tasmanian devils have recently been reintroduced to Tasmania. But do we want daring or docile devils in the wild? AAP

Personality matters: when saving animals, fortune favours the bold

Reintroduction programs are key initiatives for re-establishing or re-stocking animal populations, and while some are successful, many, unfortunately, are not. Endangered and critically endangered animals…
A brain the size of a sesame seed, such as that found in a honey bee, is still capable of weighing up decisions. A brain the size of a sesame seed, such as that found in a honey bee, is still capable of weighing up decisions. macropoulos

What bees don’t know can help them: measuring insect indecision

Everyone knows what it’s like to be uncertain – at least, humans do. But are non-human animals ever uncertain? When we feel uncertainty, instead of risking the consequences of a bad or wrong decision…
I’m more of a cricket man, really. I’m more of a cricket man, really. Ben Birchall/PA

By studying animal behaviour we gain an insight into our own

In the field of animal behaviour, there is one topic that is almost guaranteed to get your study in the popular press: showing how an animal behaves just like humans. This can be solving problems, using…
Simple, yet so effective – a fish’s swimming motion removes the trade-off between stability and manoeuvrability. Simple, yet so effective – a fish’s swimming motion removes the trade-off between stability and manoeuvrability. Mell P

Mullet over: how robotics can get a wriggle on with fishy locomotion

Teaching a robot to walk – even poorly – requires huge investment into computational resources. How is it that even the simplest animals are able to achieve far more sophisticated feats of manoeuvrability…
Not so dumb-o. Not so dumb-o. Anna Smet

Elephants get the point when it comes to making gestures

As humans, we point all the time. It’s an action we do almost without thinking: even one-year-old infants use pointing and understand what pointing means when an adult does it for them. It’s a really simple…
With 16 photoreceptors to humans' three, mantis shrimp see the bigger picture. With 16 photoreceptors to humans' three, mantis shrimp see the bigger picture. DiverKen

Mantis shrimp have the world’s best eyes – but why?

As humans, we experience an amazing world of colour, but what can other animals see? Some see much more than us, but how they use this vision is largely unknown. We see what we see because our eyes have…
The flap of wings, the click of the beak … every cyclist knows the sounds of an impending aerial attack. The flap of wings, the click of the beak … every cyclist knows the sounds of an impending aerial attack. romanjoost

From cable ties to losing eyes: how to survive magpie season

September is the peak of Australia’s own version of “home-grown terrorism” (as memorably described to me by a distraught and bleeding school principal, valiantly attempting to protect his pupils), when…
Winter is coming. Winter is coming. Clara do Amaral

Alaskan frogsicles take winter in their stride

For life to persist, it must tolerate its environment. The depth of an arctic winter is formidable, and is most notably overcome by hibernation. But some reptiles and amphibians survive by allowing their…
Who’s in charge here? Fish adapt to their new roles. Who’s in charge here? Fish adapt to their new roles. Shinnosuke Nakayama

Following fish teach us that leaders are born, not made

In our society, not many people are lucky enough to have an ideal boss who they would want to follow faithfully for the rest of their lives. Many might even find their boss selfish and arrogant or complain…
Baboons can be shy, just like you. Baboons can be shy, just like you. Arno Meintjes Wildlife

Hungry baboons are a lesson in human personality

Our individual, varied personalities are among the traits often cited as those that distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom. However, as we, like the rest of life on Earth, are products of natural…
I am your leader, you know. I am your leader, you know. Ingrid Taylar

Leaders, fliers and foragers: the politics of being a pigeon

One of nature’s most fascinating phenomena is the collective behaviour of animals. A shoal of fish, a swarm of locusts, and a colony of ants can all act as superorganisms, where the group as a whole makes…
Down Fido: not all dogs make gentle family pets. Down Fido: not all dogs make gentle family pets. Dominic Lipinski/PA

Government is barking up the wrong tree on dangerous dogs

A new round of public consultation has begun on proposals to increase the sentencing for the owners of dogs who carry out fatal attack from seven years to life. Such moves are prompted in part by the huge…
Jumping spider silk draglines join bird wings and lizard tails as stabilising features in the animal kingdom. Jumping spider silk draglines join bird wings and lizard tails as stabilising features in the animal kingdom. VonShawn

How do jumping spiders make a perfect landing? Watch and learn

Jumping spiders are unique in the spider world as they don’t build webs - they’re active visual predators who rarely use silk. In fact, the main use we thought jumping spiders had for silk was a safety…
Without a queen, the rest of a bee colony will keep calm and carry on. Without a queen, the rest of a bee colony will keep calm and carry on. Goshzilla - Dann

Long live the queen bee … but if she doesn’t, the colony will prevail

In a honey bee colony, the queen bee rules while her daughter workers do nothing but work. So what happens when the queen dies? Are there worker riots, with the colony dissolving into a chaotic mess? Surprisingly…
They aren’t just pretty birdies - superb fairy-wrens teach each other to identify and fend off parasitic species such as cuckoos. They aren’t just pretty birdies - superb fairy-wrens teach each other to identify and fend off parasitic species such as cuckoos. William Feeney

Superb fairy-wrens recognise an adult cuckoo … with some help

Can superb fairy-wrens learn to respond to brood-parasitic cuckoos by simply watching other fairy-wrens react to a cuckoo? That’s the question posed in a new Biology Letters study by myself and Naomi Langmore…
Much ado about something. Much ado about something. bberburb

Good grief, what’s with the crying game human beings?

There are many qualities that have been suggested that separate human beings from other living species. These include tool making, an ability to dream and especially the development of highly sophisticated…
It’s just a fly on a ball, from up close. It’s just a fly on a ball, from up close. Benjamin de Bivort

Watching a fly on a ball could help us understand its brain

After many years of research, we still do not completely understand the brains of even the simplest organisms. The human brain with its 80 billion neurons is largely a mystery. But with better tools we…
This rapacious little critter could actually help humans one day. This rapacious little critter could actually help humans one day. Larah McElroy

Worker antics could lead us to search and rescue robots

When disaster strikes, search and rescue robots could save lives by finding and retrieving people buried under rubble. But designing robots that can descend rapidly through unstable and uneven rubble has…
Rapid colour change may occur due to various “triggers” – but what are they? Rapid colour change may occur due to various “triggers” – but what are they? Today is a good day

How do chameleons and other creatures change colour?

When most people think of colour change, they think of octopuses or chameleons - but the ability to rapidly change colour is surprisingly widespread. Many species of crustaceans, insects, cephalopods (squid…
Dingo: when they come to rely on humans for food and water, not killing them can be naive. Dingo: when they come to rely on humans for food and water, not killing them can be naive. Flickr/woulfe

Non-violence has its place, but let’s give dingoes due credit

The sad reality of human-dingo relations is that blood will be shed, as Brad Purcell recently reminded us in these pages with his article about non-violent co-existence, The Australian Dingo: to be respected…
An important ‘apex predator’ that should neither be hunted as an enemy nor treated as a pet. With respect and wisdom, we can coexist. An important ‘apex predator’ that should neither be hunted as an enemy nor treated as a pet. With respect and wisdom, we can coexist. AAP/Tony Phillips

The Australian dingo: to be respected, at a distance

It’s the dry season in the Northern Territory, and for many people that means camping under a clear winter’s sky in the Top End. Yet rediscovering nature can be a fraught exercise in wilderness areas like…
Steve Irwin may be more famous, but corvids are among our most successful expats. Steve Irwin may be more famous, but corvids are among our most successful expats. Chris73/Wikimedia

Stone the crows! Could corvids be Australia’s smartest export?

Among birds, crows and ravens (or corvids) are the most intelligent. They have the largest brains for body size; they’re more like primates than birds. In fact, some people call them “flying monkeys…

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