Drumming Cockatoos Keep the Beat Like Human Musicians

C. Zdenek
C. Zdenek

The ladies love drummers—or at least that's what these male cockatoos are hoping. The shy but clever birds make their own drumsticks and their own music, with each bird playing his own unique rhythm. A report on the birds' advanced chick-scoring technique was published in the journal Science Advances.

Music, with its rhythm and instruments and performance and style, has long been believed to be the sole province of humans. Other animals don't make music, we told ourselves. They just make noise.

Then scientists started paying attention to the palm cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus) of Australia's Cape York Peninsula. Like other birds in the parrot family, female cockatoos select their mates after seeing what the males have to offer. In this case, that means impressive crests, rosy cheeks, and a kickin' beat.

Not any drumstick will do. Male palm cockatoos craft their instruments with care, selecting just the right twigs and seed pods and trimming them down to the right size and shape. Then, and only then, does the performance begin.

Two palm cockatoos.
"Anyway, here's Lipstick Vogue."
C. Zdenek

Researchers tracked 18 males seasonally from 2009 to 2015. The moment the scientists saw a bird beginning to craft a drumstick, they switched on the camera and audio recording equipment. Eventually, they'd amassed Behind the Music footage of 131 different drum sessions.

Analysis of the recordings revealed that the birds' musical lives were even more nuanced and fascinating than they seemed. These birds have flair.

"Each of 18 male palm cockatoos, known for their shyness and elusiveness, was shown to have its own style or drumming signature," lead author Rob Heinsohn of Australian National University said in a statement.

"Some males were consistently fast, some were slow, while others loved a little flourish at the beginning."

Heinsohn said the unique rhythms could act like a signature or a call sign, identifying each bird as its beats ring through the forest.

They've got rhythm, too.

"The icing on the cake is that the taps are almost perfectly spaced over very long sequences," Heinsohn said, "just like a human drummer would do when holding a regular beat." 

A Dracula Ant's Jaws Snap at 200 Mph—Making It the Fastest Animal Appendage on the Planet

Ant Lab, YouTube
Ant Lab, YouTube

As if Florida’s “skull-collecting” ants weren’t terrifying enough, we’re now going to be having nightmares about Dracula ants. A new study in the journal Royal Society Open Science reveals that a species of Dracula ant (Mystrium camillae), which is found in Australia and Southeast Asia, can snap its jaws shut at speeds of 90 meters per second—or the rough equivalent of 200 mph. This makes their jaws the fastest part of any animal on the planet, researchers said in a statement.

These findings come from a team of three researchers that includes Adrian Smith, who has also studied the gruesome ways that the skull-collecting ants (Formica archboldi) dismember trap-jaw ants, which were previously considered to be the fastest ants on record. But with jaw speeds of just over 100 miles per hour, they’re no match for this Dracula ant. (Fun fact: The Dracula ant subfamily is named after their habit of drinking the blood of their young through a process called "nondestructive cannibalism." Yikes.)

Senior author Andrew Suarez, of the University of Illinois, said the anatomy of this Dracula ant’s jaw is unusual. Instead of closing their jaws from an open position, which is what trap-jaw ants do, they use a spring-loading technique. The ants “press the tips of their mandibles together to build potential energy that is released when one mandible slides across the other, similar to a human finger snap,” researchers write.

They use this maneuver to smack other arthropods or push them away. Once they’re stunned, they can be dragged back to the Dracula ant’s nest, where the unlucky victims will be fed to Dracula ant larvae, Suarez said.

Researchers used X-ray imaging to observe the ants’ anatomy in three dimensions. High-speed cameras were also used to record their jaws snapping at remarkable speeds, which measure 5000 times faster than the blink of a human eye. Check out the ants in slow-motion in the video below.

Plano, Texas Is Now Home to a Dog-Friendly Movie Theater

K9 Cinemas
K9 Cinemas

For dog owners in Plano, Texas, movie night with Fido no longer just means cuddling on the couch and browsing Netflix. The newly opened K9 Cinemas invites moviegoers—both human and canine—to watch classic films on the big screen.

The theater operates as a pop-up (or perhaps pup-up?) in a private event space near Custer Road and 15th Street in Plano. On the weekends, patrons can pay $5 for dogs, $9 for kids, and $12.50 for adults to see popular movies in the 50-seat space. Snacks—both the pet and people kind—are available for $2 apiece. Dogs are limited to two per person, and just 25 human seats are sold per showing to leave room for the furry guests.

Pet owners are asked follow a few rules in order to take advantage of what the theater has to offer. Dogs must be up-to-date on all their shots, and owners can submit veterinary records online or bring a hard copy to the theater to verify their pooch's health status. Once inside, owners are responsible for taking their dog out for potty breaks and cleaning up after any accidents that happen (thankfully the floors are concrete and easy to wipe down).

K9 Cinemas is currently showing Elf (2003) and Home Alone (1990) for the holiday season. Dog and movie enthusiasts can buy tickets online now, or wait until January when the theater upgrades from padded chairs to couches for optimized puppy snuggle time.