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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wisdom the Elderly Albatross Is Expecting Another Baby

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

If wisdom comes with age, then this bird is going to be one smart mama. The 66-year-old Laysan albatross has returned to her ancestral nesting grounds in the North Pacific and is once again sitting on a new egg.

Biologist Chandler Robbins first slipped a band onto Wisdom’s leg in 1956, when the bird would have been around 5 or 6 years old. Six decades later, both Robbins (now 98) and Wisdom (no spring chicken herself) are going strong. Wisdom has logged more than three million miles in her annual trips across the ocean and back again, first for food, and then to add to her family.

Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai (Hawaiian for “scholar” or “lover of wisdom,” and if that’s not adorable then we don’t know what is) last visited the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial earlier in 2016, when they welcomed their newest chick Kūkini (“messenger”).

Wisdom and Kūkini earlier this year. Image Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Albatross moms often take a year off between babies, so refuge staff had not expected to see Wisdom again this year.

But on December 3, there she was. Volunteer Kristina McOmber spotted Wisdom’s bright red leg band and discovered the old bird patiently sitting on a freshly laid egg.

Wisdom and Akeakamai will babysit in shifts, allowing one partner to go off and feed while the other sits and keeps their egg warm. While they may be the refuge’s most famous residents, the two birds are hardly alone; each year, hundreds of thousands of albatross [PDF] descend on the atoll and settle in new nests.

Charlie Pelizza of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is acting project leader for the refuge and memorial. When he arrived at lunch that day, he said in a statement, he could tell something exciting had happened. “The staff was abuzz with the news that Wisdom was back and incubating. It’s amazing what a bit of good news can do to brighten the day.”

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
iStock
iStock

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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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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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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