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Jackhynes via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 
Jackhynes via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

Gorillas Hum Happy Tunes While They Eat, New Research Finds

Jackhynes via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 
Jackhynes via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

Just like their human relatives, new research shows that gorillas also make melodic "yummy" noises when enjoying a meal, New Scientist reports.

The new findings, published recently in the journal PLOS ONE, were gathered by German primatologist Eva Luef of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and her colleagues Thomas Breuer and Simone Pika. The researchers studied two groups of wild western lowland gorillas in the Republic of Congo and observed the creatures humming and singing while eating their food. Two distinct types of calls were recorded: one that sounds like the gorilla is letting out a sigh of contentment and another that sounds like it's humming a random tune. "They don't sing the same song over and over," Luef told New Scientist. "It seems like they are composing their little food songs."

The scientists believe the gorillas vocalize in order to express satisfaction with a meal. Their favorite foods, such as flowers, seeds, and aquatic vegetation, were the most likely to elicit a happy call, while a meal of insects made them considerably less vocal. Adult males were observed doing most of the singing, which researchers said might be due to the fact females and juveniles try not to draw attention to themselves to avoid predation.

Chimpanzees and bonobos have also been known to make food-related calls, but this is the first time the behavior has been observed in gorillas outside of captivity. The discovery could now help scientists to better understand how language originated in early humans. You can listen to gorillas as they nom on some delicious banana trees in the video below.

[h/t New Scientist]

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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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