Archive for 2014

Nov 2014: The Wiltschkos and magnetic navigation in birds

A sensory ecology bonanza! Professor Wolfgang and Roswita Wiltschko, the husband and wife team who were the first to show that birds have a magnetic sense and use the earth’s magnetic field to orientate, talk about their Scientific Spark. Tanya Kleinhappel tells me how fish sniff out friends from foe. I discover how bats jam their competitor’s sonar.

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Bats jam each others echolocation calls when competing for prey


Tanja Kleinhappel's paper on Diet-mediated social networks in shoaling fish

Corcoran's and Conner's Science paper - Bats jamming bats: Food competition through sonar interference

Wolfgang and Roswitha Wiltschko's research page
Monday 22 December 2014
Posted by Hannah

Oct 2014: Ben Sheldon, rock goby camouflage, and lizard imitation

Professor Ben Sheldon, who is the Luc Hoffman Chair of field ornithology and director of the Edward Grey Institute of field ornithology at the University of Oxford tells me what sparked his interest in birds and gives advice to young scientists. Alice Lown tells me about an unassuming little fish commonly found in rock pools around Britain, that is a master of camouflage. I discover that imitation isn’t just the highest form of flattery, but is also an indicator of an animal’s learning prowess.

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Three individuals are shown on the left having been placed on a black background, and then the same individuals are shown on the right after being on a white background.

Alice Lown's research page
Alice Lown's paper
Anna Wilkinson's paper
Ben Sheldon's research page
Tuesday 18 November 2014
Posted by Hannah

Sept 2014: Leigh Simmons, stickleback personality, and caterpillars with hats

Dieter Hochuli from the University of Sydney, tells me what life’s like for a caterpillar, and how one has evolved a cool mechanism to avoid being attacked. I find out how personality might influence your decision making, if you’re a stickleback. And in the scientific spark, I talk to Leigh Simmons who is managing editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Ecology, and Professor at, and Director of, the Centre for Evolutionary Biology at the University of Western Australia, about his inspiration to become a scientist.

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The gum leaf skeletoniser caterpillar is very fashion-forward with its approach to headgear. Photo: Nuytsia@tas

Dieter Hochuli's Research Gate page
Diamanto Mamuneas' paper
Diamanto Mamuneas' research page
Leigh Simmons' research page

Friday 10 October 2014
Posted by Hannah

Aug 2014: Marlene Zuk, hummingbird taste perception, and magpie thieves

In this 1st birthday episode, I find out about some more avian criminals of the animal kingdom. I learn that most birds can’t taste sugar, but hummingbirds can, and I learn how. And in the Scientific Spark, I talk to Marlene Zuk, Professor of behavioural and evolutionary biology at the University of Minnesota. Together with Bill Hamilton, Marlene proposed the good genes hypothesis of sexual selection
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Maude Baldwin's Science paper on Hummingbird sweet taste page
Prof. Marlene Zuk's webpage
Dr Toni Shephard's paper on magpies
Crab Exeter on twitter
Wednesday 10 September 2014
Posted by Hannah

July 2014: Isabella Rossellini and mammas, spider mimicry, and secret communication in horses

This month over 1000 scientists flocked to New York’s Hunter College to attend the meeting of the International Society for Behavioural Ecology or ISBE. In the coming months I will be featuring interviews from researchers who attended the meeting, and this month, my first interviewee is Tom White from Macquarie university in Australia, who told me about spider he studies that is very good at attracting bees and flies. I also find out about a secret communication channel in horses, and in the Scientific Spark, I met actress and model and new student of animal behaviour, Isabella Rossellini, and asked her how she made the leap from the big screen to studying the science of behaviour.
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Tom White's twitter page
Tom White's webpage
Current Biology paper on horse communication webpage
Isabella Rossellini's mammas
Friday 8 August 2014
Posted by Hannah

June 2014: Robert Hinde, and an antipredator defence special

Professor Robert Hinde, the Emeritus Royal Society Research Professor of Zoology at the University of Cambridge is this month's Scientific Spark. Robert talks about the early days of ornithology research just after the war, and his memories of David Lack and Niko Tinbergen.
The rest of the episode is an anti-predator defence special! I talk to Jolyon Troscianko from project nightjar about his research on the camouflage of eggs and chicks of African birds. I also find out about an animal that dupes it’s predators by looking like an evolutionary ghost.

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A Mozambique from one of @projectnightjar nests in Zambia.

Project nightjar's twitter page
Project nightjar's webpage
Christopher Akcali and David Pfennig's paper on snake mimicry
Professor Robert Hinde
Tuesday 8 July 2014
Posted by Hannah

May 2014: Neil Metcalfe, ZSL's hihi, and cuckoo - hawk mimicry

This month, the masters of disguise: I find out about an animal that can mimic two different species, for two entirely different reasons. I learn about a colourful bird from New Zealand called the Hihi, who’s very good at eating its requisite 7 portions of fruit and veg a day. And in the Scientific Spark, I hear from Neil Metcalfe, Professor of Behavioural Ecology at the University of Glasgow, about what made him interested in research and how he came to study for a PhD on seabird ecology.

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Male Hihi. Image courtesy of Matt Gribble ZSL

Thanh Lan's paper on cuckoo-hawk mimicry
Hihi conservation webpage
Neil Metacalfe's webpage
Tuesday 3 June 2014
Posted by Hannah

April 2014: David Sherry and marsh tits, zebra stripes, and Arabian babblers

David Sherry from the Western University in Canada tells me what inspired him to study the hoarding behavior of birds, in the Scientific Spark. Oded Keynan explains the benefits to having offspring stick around for an extended period of time. I also find out why zebras have stripes, and why Rudyard Kipling was wrong!

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Zebras and their stripes 

Oded Keynan's webpage
Tim Caro's webpage
Tim's zebra paper in Nature communications
David Sherry's webpage

Thursday 1 May 2014
Posted by Hannah

March 2014: Temple Grandin, autism, weaver birds, and tadpole social learning

The social lives of animals is this month's theme. I talk to Damien Farine from the Edward Grey Institute at Oxford University, who tells me how weaver birds decide how many house mates they want to live with. I discover how being hungry can affect how information spreads through a group of tadpoles. And in the scientific spark Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, a best-selling author, an autistism activist, a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, and designer of the "hug box", a device to calm those with autism, tells me what inspired her to be a scientist.

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Damien Farine's webpage
Damien's paper on weavers
Tadpole social learning, in Animal behaviour
Temple Grandin's webpage
Friday 21 March 2014
Posted by Hannah

Feb 2014: Kirsty MacLeod and meerkats, birds and airplanes, and New Zealand conservation with James Russell

Meerkats may look cute and cuddly, but this month, Kirsty MacLeod from Cambridge University tells me that for some, life isn’t as picture perfect as it seems. I find out about the US Department of Agriculture’s latest research on the quest for safer skies. And, in the Scientific Spark I ask James Russell, a conservation biologist from the University of Aukland in New Zealand, what inspired him to research invasive species biology, and what the hardest tasks are in trying to save New Zealand’s endangered species.

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Photo by Flickr user Jon Pinder


Kirsty MacLeod's webpage
Turkey Vulture paper in Plos One
Travis DeVault's webpage
James Russell's webpage
Friday 21 February 2014
Posted by Hannah

Jan 2014: Lesley Morrell, prairie dogs, and stinky parrots

This month, I speak to Milla Mihailova from Deakin University in Australia, who tells me about parrots with a particularly pungent stench. I get up close and personal with some black tailed prairie dogs, to find out why they can’t help following the leader. And, in the Scientific Spark I ask Lesley Morrell (@biosciencemum), from the University of Hull what made her want to be a biologist, and how she came to work on why animals live in groups, rather than enjoying the single life.

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A black-tailed prairie dog jump-yipping. Credit: Darlene Stack

Milla Mihailova's webpage
Prairie dog paper
Jim Hare's personal webpage
Lesley Morrell's University webpage
Monday 20 January 2014
Posted by Hannah

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