Strutting their stuff

Strutting their stuff

Two male goldeneyes working hard to impress a female in the late afternoon light. These guys will likely only be around here a few more weeks. As spring arrives most of the waterfowl leave my area. Their yearly coming and going gives rhythm to life. Have a great trip north and someday we hope to join you.

 

For the next couple of weeks we will be posting some of our favorite posts from the past as we take a small respite from the digital world.

A curious case: The Color of Baby Coots.

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Why do American Coot chicks who develop into mainly greyish-black birds as adults begin their lives with such a splash of color? 1

That is a question a team of biologists have been asking for quite some time and, as is typical in science, the answer was not what they first expected. Previous studies conducted by this same laboratory concluded that coot parents preferentially feed chicks that display brighter coloration. The goal of the present study was to determine why this was the case.

The researchers noted that coots lay between 8-10 eggs and these eggs hatch in the order they were laid. Additionally coots are nest predators and lay eggs in other coots nests. One hypothesis was that the chicks hatched from predatory eggs were the more brightly colored chicks and thus would have gotten fed more. This turned out to be false. The researchers discovered that the chicks hatched from the latter laid eggs were the more brightly colored. Typically chicks hatched latter in a brood have to catch-up to their larger siblings if they are to survive. The researcher noted that if these smaller and brightly colored latecomers survived the parents would use their coloration as a way to preferentially feed these chicks more and allow them to catch-up to their earlier siblings. 2

A wonderful survial strategy reveled in a nicely done study. Hat’s off to science and to the coot.

References:

1. University of California – Santa Cruz. “The mysterious case of the ornamented coot chicks has a surprising explanation: The bright colors of the chicks of American coots help their parents choose favorites, according to a new study.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 December 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191231111817.htm.

2. Bruce E. Lyon, Daizaburo Shizuka. Extreme offspring ornamentation in American coots is favored by selection within families, not benefits to conspecific brood parasites. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201913615 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1913615117

 

Black-billed Magpie

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Noisy yes, but oh so beautiful, especially in flight, a Black-billed Magpie sits quietly on a snowy afternoon. The magpies in our area are very skittish and difficult to sneak up on for a photograph. We see them all the time but even a quick look in their direction has them flying away.

“Historically associated with bison herds, it now lands on the back of cattle to clean ticks and insects from them. Large predators such as wolves are commonly followed by black-billed magpies, who scavenge from their kills. The species also walks on the ground, where it obtains such food items as beetles, grasshoppers, worms, and small rodents.”

Intelligent and pretty good looking and a fine way to brighten a cold snowy day.

 

 

Hello Neighbor

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A recent report published in Science Daily describes the results of a recent research study published in the journal Current Biology supporting the hypothesis that when under attack from insect herbivores plants indeed communicate with each other.1

No, they don’t scream, but use chemicals called Volatile Organic Compounds and release them into the atmosphere and are detected by their neighbors.

One of the major findings from the study is that when plants are under attack the compounds released become more similar between species suggesting a type of cross species communication.

The Author of the study Andre Kessler describes the results of the study as follows:

“What we very often see when plants get attacked by pathogens or herbivores is, they change their metabolism,” Kessler said. “But it’s not a random change — in fact, those chemical and metabolic changes are also helping them cope with those attackers. It’s very much like our immune system: though plants don’t have antibodies like we have, they can fight back with pretty nasty chemistry.” 2

Interesting stuff.

The article in Science Daily is an easy read and a little splash of color to beat back a dull January day might be just what the doctor ordered.

Courtesy of none other than….Plants!

References:
1. Aino Kalske, Kaori Shiojiri, Akane Uesugi, Yuzu Sakata, Kimberly Morrell, André Kessler. Insect Herbivory Selects for Volatile-Mediated Plant-Plant Communication. Current Biology, 2019; 29 (18): 3128 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.08.011

2.Cornell University. “Plants alert neighbors to threats using common ‘language’.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 October 2019. .