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Some Japanese Monkeys Can’t Taste Bitterness

The five major tastes—sweet, sour, salty, umami (or savory), and bitter—were long assumed to be universal. Each flavor delivers important information to its taster: sweet fruits are generally ripe and safe to eat but bitter foods may be poison and probably shouldn’t be ingested.

Scientists believed that the ability to taste bitterness was crucial to survival. And while that may still be true for most species, being unable to taste bitterness might be an advantage for the snow monkeys of Kii, Japan.

Researchers at Kyoto University conducted genetic tests on more than 600 snow monkeys, or macaques, from around Japan. They found that macaques from the Kii region were far more likely than their compatriots to have lost the gene that enables them to taste bitterness.

And the Kii snow monkeys' loss of the gene over generations means that their inability to taste bitterness was somehow an asset and that monkeys without the gene were more likely to survive and reproduce.

Analyzed by itself, this regional genetic quirk doesn’t make much sense. But the researchers realized that the super-bitter fruit Citrus tachibana had originated in the Kii region. Local monkeys would have been at quite an advantage if they could eat the fruit.

In recent years, scientists have discovered that animals have a range of tasting abilities. Penguins can’t taste bitter, sweet, or umami flavors. Cats are especially sensitive to bitter foods, which may explain their reputation as picky eaters. Frogs have more bitter taste receptors than chickens.

Like so many other things in science and in life, taste is complicated.

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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