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Vampire Bats Regurgitate Meals for Their Friends

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Vampire bats are generous friends. When resources are scarce, they keep each other fed—literally vomiting up meals of blood for their compatriots. But they’re not equal-opportunity sharers, according to a new study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. They keep careful track of how other vampire bats have treated them in the past.

Vampire bats feed exclusively on blood, and females often live in social groups of up to a dozen individuals. These female roost-mates help each other out, even those who aren’t related, as previous studies have shown. In this current study, two researchers from the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute find that this sharing of food is not a random exchange, it's reciprocal.

To test how bats determine who they will share with, the researchers examined how a group of captive bats behaved when some were forced to fast, and when previous donors (including kin) were removed from the group. They found that bats that had previously shared more food with non-kin bats were more likely to get fed by others during their fasting period, and received more food. The bats also had go-to food donors—a mother and her adult daughter might be each other’s primary food donor, for instance, and would go to each other first if they failed in foraging. Deprived of those main donors, hungry bats sought out other food-sharing partners, and were most likely to be successful if they had shown generosity in the past. 

However, the bats also showed a degree of relationship repair. That is, some bats who had previously been stingy during their fast periods—because they had no food to share—seemed to try to get back into the good graces of a more generous partner by sharing significantly more food than they had before. 

The research suggests that bats have complex social lives that include keeping careful track (for weeks at a time) of who has shared with them—and who they are willing to help out in a time of need. 

[h/t: National Geographic]

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Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
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Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

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The Queen's Racing Pigeons Are in Danger, Due to an Increase in Peregrine Falcons
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Queen Elizabeth is famous for her love of corgis and horses, but her pet pigeons don't get as much press. The monarch owns nearly 200 racing pigeons, which she houses in a luxury loft at her country estate, Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England. But thanks to a recent boom in the region’s peregrine falcon population, the Queen’s swift birds may no longer be able to safely soar around the countryside, according to The Telegraph.

Once endangered, recent conservation efforts have boosted the peregrine falcon’s numbers. In certain parts of England, like Norfolk and the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, the creatures can even find shelter inside boxes installed at local churches and cathedrals, which are designed to protect potential eggs.

There’s just one problem: Peregrine falcons are birds of prey, and local pigeon racers claim these nesting nooks are located along racing routes. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, some pigeons are failing to return to their owners.

Pigeon racing enthusiasts are upset, but Richard Salt of Salisbury Cathedral says it's simply a case of nature taking its course. "It's all just part of the natural process,” Salt told The Telegraph. "The peregrines came here on their own account—we didn't put a sign out saying 'room for peregrines to let.' Obviously we feel quite sorry for the pigeons, but the peregrines would be there anyway."

In the meantime, the Queen might want to keep a close eye on her birds (or hire someone who will), or consider taking advantage of Sandringham House's vast open spaces for a little indoor fly-time.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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