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Scientists Spot Rare Arabian Sand Cat for the First Time Since 2005

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Cats are elusive creatures, but there's one species in particular that's so mysterious, even biologists don't know much about it: the sand cat. Turns out, it can be found if the pursuer is willing to do a bit of stalking.

According to New Scientist, in 2015, Shakeel Ahmed—an assistant scientist with the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD)—set out with a team on a mission to find the storied Arabian sand cat (Felis margarita harrisoni). The smallest of all wild cats, subspecies of F. margarita are found in desert regions from North Africa to Central Asia. After setting five baited camera traps for several months in 2015, Ahmed managed to snap rare photos of the species. These are the first sightings of the desert cat in 10 years. 

According to research published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, the crew captured 46 images of wildlife over the course of 278 nights in the Baynouna region of Abu Dhabi. They later confirmed that 12 of the images featured three different cats: two females and a male. Most of the sightings occurred between midnight and 6 a.m., suggesting that the cats prefer the cooler hours of the night. Thirty-nine percent were during a full moon. The other animals photographed, New Scientist reports, include geckos and skinks—food to a sand cat. 

New Scientist notes that because the cats are not seen often, no one really knows how the species is doing. John Newby of the Sahara Conservation Fund told the publication: "Scientists need to be doing more research on how the sand cats live in order to create a suitable protected area."

[h/t New Scientist]

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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