Elephants Can't Stand Ants

For years, African farmers have been fighting off what just might be the world's largest pests -- elephants. The mammoth foragers have been known for breaking down fences and destroying vast quantities of produce.

Scientists believe they may now have a way to keep elephants away from the crops and the solution just might be the most simple: ants. Researchers have discovered that elephants avoid ants because the tiny insects can get inside the elephants' trunks and start biting. While the elephant's hide is remarkably thick, the lining of their trunks is incredibly soft and sensitive. As a result, elephants have been known to run at the slightest sniff of an ant.

Researchers are hoping they can save crops and prevent farmers from harming the elephants by simply adding ants (or even just ant odor) to the crops.

[Image courtesy of a.jellyfish's Flickr page.]

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Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort, Getty Images
The Fascinating Reason Why There Are No Mosquitoes at Disney World
Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort, Getty Images
Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort, Getty Images

There are no mosquitoes in The Most Magical Place on Earth. That's right, Disney World is so dedicated to making sure you have the time of your life that they've made the bugs practically disappear. How do they pull that off? No, the answer isn't magic. Vlogger Rob Plays delved into the answer in a video spotted by Neatorama.

It would be a feat to get rid of pesky mosquitoes anywhere, but Disney World is in Florida, a.k.a. swamp territory, where insects are more abundant than other places. Bugs are annoying, but they're also dangerous if they're carrying diseases like Zika, and Disney has a responsibility to protect its guests. In short, Disney gets rid of the pests by employing a comprehensive program that includes spraying insecticides and maintaining natural predators, and they do all of this with a level of vigilance that's fearsome to behold.

The park has something called the Mosquito Surveillance Program to manage it all. There are carbon dioxide traps everywhere, and once they catch bugs, the team at Disney freezes and analyzes the population to determine how best to eradicate them. Interestingly enough, they also employ the use of chickens. These sentinel chickens, as they're called, live in coops all over Disney World. While these feathered employees are going about their daily life, their blood is being monitored for mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus. Lucky for the chickens, they don't get sick from the virus—but if they do pick it up, the Disney team knows where in the park they got it from so they can deliver a swift blow to the mosquitoes in that area.

You may also notice that the video is populated by clips of the Seven Dwarfs spraying insecticides. If you're wondering how you missed a lengthy sequence in which Happy, Grumpy, and co. did battle with the local insect population in 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you didn't. The clips come from a separate propaganda film that Disney made during World War II called The Winged Scourge, all about the dangers of malaria and the insects that carry it. The disease caused major casualties for the Allies while fighting in the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II.

Next time you're visiting Disney World, be sure to appreciate the relatively insect-free utopia before returning to the real world.

[h/t Neatorama]

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iStock
Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero
iStock
iStock

The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]

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