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Monkeys Use Mosquito Repellent, Too

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about what happens when you slip spiders and other animals recreational drugs. A tidbit that didn’t make it into the post was that scientists working with capuchin monkeys in South America had often seen the monkeys grabbing certain types of millipedes, crushing them and then massaging the dead insects into their fur. Sometimes it was a social event—four or five monkeys would share the same millipede, rubbing it all over themselves and then passing it to a friend. Afterwards, they started drooling and their eyes sometimes glazed over. Maybe, some of the scientists speculated, the millipedes were mildly psychoactive and the monkeys were getting high off of their secretions.

When a team of researchers actually analyzed the chemicals that the millipedes produced, though, they realized that the monkeys weren’t catching a buzz, but getting rid of one. The millipedes produced two chemicals, both compounds called benzoquinones, that happen to be excellent mosquito repellents. The monkeys were using the millipedes like bug spray. A later study supported that idea by placing the millipedes’ secretions between some hungry mosquitoes and a container of human blood. The mosquitoes landed and fed less, and flew around at a distance from the container more, when the benzoquinones were present than when they weren’t.

After discovering what the millipedes were for, one of the zoologists who worked on the second study began giving benzoquinone-soaked napkins to the capuchins at the Smithsonian National Zoo, where he worked. After a few rub downs with the napkins, the monkeys would start to abandon their regular keeper when they saw the zoologist coming and run towards him with outstretched arms. There’s good reason for that sort of reaction. Mosquitoes are always annoying, but during the South American rainy season, they can descend on a poor capuchin in thick clouds. Along with an itch, their bites might also leave behind the eggs of the parasitic bot fly, which will develop under the monkey’s skin and create a festering cyst that eventually bursts open with maggots.

Given how much fun that sounds like, the side effects of a millipede rubdown don’t seem as bad. Some benzoquinones are toxic and carcinogenic, and contact with them can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, and mouth that leads to a glassy-eyed look, drooling, and pain—plus, from a human perspective, an overall impression that a monkey might be stoned. For these reasons, the researchers who did these studies don’t recommend that you self-medicate with millipedes to keep the bugs away. One scientist who copied the capuchin technique of crushing a bug with his teeth to release the chemicals fell to his knees in pain when the benzoquinones got into his mouth.

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Animals
This Octopus Species in Northern Australia Can Hunt on Dry Land
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YouTube

Most octopuses live in the ocean—but in northern Australia, a small, shallow-water species takes to land in search of food. Abdopus aculeatus is the only octopus that’s specially adapted to walk on dry ground. Using its long, sucker-lined arms, the slimy sea creature pulls itself along the shoreline as it searches tide pools for crabs.

Witness Abdopus aculeatus in action by watching BBC Earth’s video below.

[h/t BBC Earth]

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Weather Watch
Rising Temperatures Are Killing Off African Wild Dogs
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Over the last few decades, images of fluffy white harp seals, polar bears, and penguins have become shorthand for climate change's creeping destruction of our planet. But the poles aren't the only ecosystems in danger. A new study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology finds that rising temperatures near the equator are making it much harder for African wild dogs to survive.

"When people think about climate change affecting wildlife, they mostly think about polar bears," lead researcher Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London told The Guardian. "But wild dogs are adapted to the heat—surely they'd be fine."

To find out, Woodroffe and her colleagues analyzed data from packs of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in Kenya, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The dog packs have been under scientist surveillance for years—some since the late 1980s—and at least one dog per pack is fitted with a radio collar.

The researchers overlaid information about local weather and temperature with data on the dogs' hunting habits, the size of each litter of pups, and how many pups from each litter survived.

These dogs are creatures of habit. Adults rise early and leave the den for a morning hunt. They range over their large territories, chasing antelopes. At midday, when the Sun is highest, they return to their pups with food. They may go out again in the evening as the temperature drops.

But like the polar bears' glaciers, the dogs' environment is gradually heating up. All three countries saw a temperature increase of about 1.8°F over the study period. This may not sound like much, but for the dogs, it was plenty. Between 1989 and 2012, the number of pups per litter in Botswana surviving to their first birthday dropped from 5.1 to 3.3. Dog packs in Zimbabwe saw a 14 percent decrease in pup survival; in Kenya, the rate declined by 31 percent.

"It's really scary," Woodroffe said.

"If you are an animal who makes your living by running around really fast, obviously you are going to get hot. But there are not enough hours in the day anymore that are cool enough to do that. It is possible that some of these big areas will become too hot for wild dogs to exist."

Woodroffe and her colleagues were not anticipating such clear-cut results. "It is shocking and surprising that even right on the equator these effects are being seen," she said. "It illustrates the global impact of climate change." 

[h/t The Guardian]

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