animalfacts: alligators, parrots, and birds with GPS.

Photo by Charlene Simmons | flickr.com

Photo by Charlene Simmons | flickr.com

Welcome to the new animalfacts weekly article series. Throughout the upcoming installments, we will be looking over the most interesting traits and behaviours found all throughout nature!

Alligator Gender Depends on Temperature

Did you know that temperature can determine gender? According to a study published in Nature, it was first discovered in 1982 that external temperature influences the gender of alligator eggs even prior to their hatching! Another interesting fact is that once they grow and become experienced hunters, they swallow surprisingly large rocks – well above the size of an average human fist – that remain in their bellies permanently. These work to their advantage by allowing them to better digest hard foods all while promoting faster diving times.

Parrots and… Robots?

Aside from their colorful personalities, these incredible creatures are often thought of as major squeaky nuances. However, studies over the past three decades have shown that parrots have a more sophisticated language processing system than most human children below the age of 6. They have an impressive understanding of physical and theoretical concepts; they can identify similarities and differences between objects and communicate them with words such as “same”, “different”, “bigger” and “smaller”. They also have a good grasp on numbers and can count objects in their mind, allowing them to distinguish between the use of plural and singular words. A 2007 study in Language Sciences concluded that the parrot is amongst the finest model organism to help engineers create artificial speech patterns in robots.

Mole-Rats are not really blind

Believe it or not, African mole-rats are not entirely blind at birth. Their visual system, although basic and limited, allows them to perceive moving objects more easily than if they were completely blind. The truth of the matter is that since they spend most of their time underground, like other subterranean diggers do, they do not require a complicated visual system. Instead, they use their eyes to sense wind-flow when predators attack their underground home networks.

Birds come with a built-in GPS system

Imagine our lives existed without the luxury of GPS systems. Now imagine you had to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, to a specific nesting ground each and every year. This is an absurdly unrealistic feat for humans and an attainable reality for birds; they are equipped with internal compasses and are guided by the ability of landmark recognition. Birds are famous for using landmarks to guide their flights and are able to pinpoint a specific nest from miles away. Some birds, like the Arctic tern, fly over 25,000 miles to and from their nesting grounds each year! Closer to city landscapes, crows and pigeons were identified as being effective landmark navigators in a 2006 study published in Animal Behavior. In the experiments, researchers altered the positions of large rocks and other noticeable landmarks after a crow had dug its food in a patch of soil. As expected, the crow was not able to relocate its stored food, whereas the non-interrupted ‘control’ crows had a 100% success rate. The experiment was recreated over dozens of trials for both crows and pigeons and has been shown to be true for most insects too.

If you have any ideas or advice for next week’s installment of the animalfacts series, send your thoughts to hakim_elayday@hotmail.com.