Category Archives: Video

Avian mathematicians and musicians

Discovery News reports: Pigeons may be ubiquitous, but they’re also brainy, according to a new study that found these birds are on par with primates when it comes to numerical competence.

The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Science, discovered that pigeons can discriminate against different amounts of number-like objects, order pairs, and learn abstract mathematical rules. Aside from humans, only rhesus monkeys have exhibited equivalent skills.

“It would be fair to say that, even among birds, pigeons are not thought to be the sharpest crayon in the box,” lead author Damian Scarf told Discovery News. “I think that this ability may be widespread among birds. There is already clear evidence that it is widespread among primates.”

The neural pathways that allow pigeons to do math might be connected to the ones that enable the cockatoos below to dance. Both skills hinge on the ability to conceptualize uniform units — the most abstract representations of space and time.


Honeybee democracy

Joseph Castro reports: Honeybees choose new nest sites by essentially head-butting each other into a consensus, shows a new study.

When scout bees find a new potential home, they do a waggle dance to broadcast to other scout bees where the nest is and how suitable it is for the swarm. The nest with the most support in the end becomes the swarm’s new home.

But new research shows another layer of complexity to the decision-making process: The bees deliver “stop signals” via head butts to scouts favoring a different site. With enough head butts, a scout bee will stop its dance, decreasing the apparent support for that particular nest.

This process of excitation (waggle dances) and inhibition (head butts) in the bee swarm parallels how a complex brain makes decisions using neurons, the researchers say.

“Other studies have suggested that there could be a close relationship between collective decision-making in a swarm of bees and the brain,” said Iain Couzin, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University, who was not involved in the study.”

“But this [study] takes it to a new level by showing that a fundamental process that’s very important in human decision-making is similarly important to honeybee decision-making.”

When honeybees outgrow their hive, several thousand workers leave the nest with their mother queen to establish a new colony. A few hundred of the oldest, most experienced bees, called scout bees, fly out to find that new nest.

“They then run a popularity contest with a dance party,” said Thomas Seeley, a biologist at Cornell University and lead author of the new study. When a scout bee finds a potential nest site, it advertizes the site with a waggle dance, which points other scouts to the nest’s location. The bees carefully adjust how long they dance based on the quality of the site.”

“We thought it was just a race to see which group of scout bees could attract a threshold number of bees,” Seeley told LiveScience. [Bees Form Better Democracy]

But in 2009, Seeley learned that there might be more to the story. He discovered that a bee could produce a stop-dancing signal by butting its head against a dancer and making a soft beep sound with a flight muscle. An accumulation of these head butts would eventually cause the bee to stop dancing. Seeley observed that the colony used these stop signals to reduce the number of bees recruited to forage from a perilous food source, but he wondered if the bees also used the head butts during nest hunting.

Thomas Seeley talks about Honeybee Democracy:


One family in Gaza

Jen Marlowe writes: Just months after the Israeli assault that killed 1,390 Palestinians, I visited Gaza. Among dozens of painful stories I heard, one family stood out. I spent several days with Kamal and Wafaa Awajah, playing with their children, sleeping in the tent they were living in, and filming their story.

Wafaa described the execution of their son, Ibrahim. As she spoke, her children played on the rubble of their destroyed home. Kamal talked about struggling to help his kids heal from trauma.

What compelled me to tell the Awajah family’s story? I was moved not only by their tragedy but by the love for their children in Wafaa and Kamal’s every word.

Palestinians in Gaza are depicted either as violent terrorists or as helpless victims. The Awajah family challenges both portrayals. Through one family’s story, the larger tragedy of Gaza is exposed, and the courage and resilience of its people shines through.


One world on Christmas Day

The best Christian slogan I know comes from the charity, Christian Aid: We believe in life before death.

Keep that in mind when gazing into the life-sustaining sky that from below looks so vast, yet from above is revealed to be wafer thin — all that stands between us and a lifeless void.

Sufjan Stevens — Michigan

Beissoul and Sophie — Lithuania

A murmuration of starlings — Ireland

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.