The Times reports more than a century ago Charles Darwin broached the idea that animals could display emotions as plainly as people do. The notion has been controversial. Does a hang-dog expression really show that a canine is ashamed? Will a cockatoo in a state of ennui look crestfallen? Researchers have offered support for Darwin’s proposal by training a computer to decipher expressions in mice.
In a paper published in Science, they showed that the countenance of a mouse can be read like that of a human. Mice grimace in pain and look forlorn when nauseous. It is also possible to tell if they are afraid or delighted.
Nadine Gogolla of the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, who led the study, said: “A happy mouse tends to move every part of their face towards the stimulus, towards the front. Their face looks almost a bit squished. Their ears lay down and point forward; their nose moves towards the mouth. And they stick their tongue out and smack their lips.”
Photo by Fenners1984 under creative commons.
The BBC reports a new study that looks at lifespan in wild mammals shows that females live substantially longer than males. The research finds that, on average, females live 18.6% longer than males from the same species. This is much larger than the well-studied difference between men and women, which is around 8%.
The BBC reports researchers are investigating how many hedgehogs are killed on our roads in a bid to help the UK’s declining population. A Nottingham Trent University team will also study whether tunnels under roads could reduce the number of deaths. Experts believe the animals are struggling with lost habitats, increased competition and traffic. Researchers hope this study could help stop the creatures’ decline and provide guidance for planners and developers.
The INDEPENDENT reports more jet-skiers, kayakers, boat-trippers and drones are alarming dolphins and seals. Wildlife experts have celebrated “extraordinary” sightings of Scottish bottlenose dolphins off the Yorkshire coast – thought to be the farthest south that they have ever been spotted on the UK’s east coast. They have also discovered a seal “commuting” between the Isle of Man and Cornwall to have pups and search for food. But the discoveries – among the success stories for UK marine life in 2019 – were marred by finding that a greater number of jet skiers, kayakers and boat-trippers, as well as drones, were causing the marine mammals to panic.
The Guardian, The Times, and The Telegraph report three families of beavers are to be introduced on land managed by the National Trust as part of plans to ease flooding and improve biodiversity. Two Eurasian beaver families will be released next spring into enclosures at Holnicote estate on Exmoor, in Somerset, and another group will arrive at Valewood on the Black Down estate, on the border of West Sussex and Surrey.
Beavers were hunted to extinction 400 years ago in the UK for their fur, meat and scent glands. In recent years there has been a series of controlled reintroductions, including one by the government in the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, as solutions are sought to tackle flooding.
Photo by Pat Gaines under Creative Commons.
BBC NEWS reports culling badgers drives them to roam further afield, allowing them to disperse tuberculosis over a larger area, new research suggests. The culls might thus increase the risk of TB spreading to cattle, the scientists behind the study warn. The review urged the government to explore alternative approaches to culling. It was led by zoologist Sir Charles Godfray, from Oxford University.
Photo by Tim Brookes under creative commons.
THE TELEGRAPH, BBC, THE TIMES, INEWS, INDEPENDENT, CHANNEL 4 NEWS report the Wild Cat and Greater Mouse-eared Bat are among those species teetering on the edge of disappearing, according to the State of Nature Report 2019, the first of its kind conducted in partnership with the government. Other mammals in decline include the European Watervole, the Eurasian beaver, the European hegehog, the Orkney vole and the hazel dormouse.
Nature is in decline, the wide-ranging survey has found, and 41 per cent of UK species studied have noticeably fewer numbers than when rigorous scientific study began in the 1970s. Additionally, 15 per cent of species – nearly 1,200 – are threatened with extinction from Great Britain, because of intensive agriculture and climate change.
The BBC and TELEGRAPH reports one of Britain’s rarest mammals has been re-established the wild in England and given protected status. A population of 18 pine martens has been successfully released in the Forest of Dean. The animal had faced extinction in this country because of extensive hunting and loss of English woodland.
The Telegraph reports all the evidence points to a big decline in hedgehog numbers over the past 50 years or so. The good news is that the decline in urban hedgehogs appears to have slowed, and there are even signs that they may be increasing in towns and cities.
Since the main habitat used by hedgehogs in towns is private gardens, that means gardeners who want to help them (which is surely all of us) have a big responsibility.
The Guardian reports TB infections in cattle blight farms and cost taxpayers more than £100m a year in compensation payments. But scientists and conservationists oppose the cull, saying there is little evidence it is effective and is being badly run.
“The culls have expanded to unimaginable scales, covering an area larger than Israel,” said Prof Rosie Woodroffe, an ecologist at the Zoological Society of London, one of the team that conducted the earlier large-scale trial.“ I cannot understand why the government has permitted this massive expansion of badger culling, when it has not yet responded to the Godfray Review it commissioned and received nearly a year ago,” she said.“ The review concluded the government and farming industry were paying far too much attention to badger management, and far too little attention to cattle-to-cattle transmission, which is responsible for the majority of TB incidents in cattle.”
Photo by Tim Brookes under creative commons.