Saturday, July 15, 2006

Darwin's finches continue to prove evolution:

A medium sized species of Darwin's finch has evolved a smaller beak to take advantage of different seeds just two decades after the arrival of a larger rival for its original food source.

The altered beak size shows that species competing for food can undergo evolutionary change, said Peter Grant of Princeton University, lead author of the report appearing in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

And speaking of interesting animals, or animals at any rate, meerkats teach their young:

While the young of many species learn by observing older members of their group, it's less common for adults to take direct actions with the only goal being teaching.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in England observed meerkats gradually introducing cubs to prey, showing them how to handle captured insects and even removing the stingers from scorpions before giving them to youngsters.

Perhaps you don't quite grasp how awesome that is.

There are countless examples of animals learning simply by observation, he said, citing the spread of milk-bottle opening by birds in Britain as an example.

The difference is in such cases the experienced animal doesn't have to make any changes in its behavior for others to learn from it.

"For example, if a chimpanzee infant sees his mother probing for termites using a stick and later finds the stick his mother used, tries it out himself and learns how to fish for ants, there is no element of teaching involved," he explained.

In the case of the meerkats, however, the older animal catches prey and presents it, either dead or alive to the youngster so it can learn to handle it — an activity that does not benefit the older animal.

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