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Leaf Cutter Ants at the Smithsonian's National Zoo Celebrate Valentine's Day!

National Zoo
Like any relationship, the key to a successful leaf-cutter ant colony is communication. The colony that "talks" to each other can conquer forces much larger than themselves. For example, army ant colonies in the American tropics range from half a million to a million animals. They attack their prey in massive "swarm raids," tearing apart tarantulas and scorpions. So, yeah, Happy Valentine's Day. Native to tropical and subtropical forests in the Americas, a leaf-cutter ant colony starts with a single female, a queen. Yet at its peak, the colony may consist of millions of ants that each take on one of more than 22 different jobs to keep the colony running seamlessly. There are foragers, soldiers, nurses, gardeners, and even trash collectors—all female. All those female ants start out as the same sort of egg. Yet the care each young ant receives in the nursery determines the job she will be charged with for her entire life. That job will set even the ant's basic morphology. A soldier will be large, with huge mandibles; a gardener will be tiny to fit in crevices. Scientists are still unsure how the colony knows which types of workers are needed to keep things running. Researchers do know that the ants send out pheromones and other chemical messages to "talk." Though its members work different jobs, the whole colony hums to a single goal: sustenance. That sustenance takes the form of a fungus found only in leaf-cutter ant colonies. Growing the fungus is the ants' livelihood. Leaf-cutter ants are the only animals, other than humans, that farm their own fresh vegetation extensively. Come visit our leaf-cutter ant colony in the Invertebrate Exhibit or learn more at http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Amazonia http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/AnimalIndex/inverts.cfm #WeSaveSpecies Music in video by Zakali.

Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, on Giant Panda Cub Naming

National Zoo
Mrs. Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, shares her congratulations on the naming of the Smithsonian's National Zoo's giant panda cub, born on August 23, 2013.

Help Name the Kiwi Chick!

National Zoo
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's newest female brown kiwi chick needs a name and you can help! Click here to participate: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/name-kiwi-chick

Did You Know: Salamanders Have Survived Three Mass Extinctions

National Zoo
Oct. 15, 2015—Salamanders represent one of the most ancient forms of life. They survived three mass extinctions, including one that wiped out 96% of species on Earth. However, rising temperatures and dryer climates result in shrinking amphibian populations worldwide, and the salamander is at risk. Learn more about these prehistoric creatures online and join us at the opening of their new exhibit – Jewels of Appalachia – on Oct. 17!

African Lion Cub Update

National Zoo
Feb. 26, 2014 Yesterday was a busy morning for African lion Naba and her two cubs—who turned one month old Feb. 24! The family has moved back on to the public cam, and keepers were able to capture the family's waking moments. The cubs, who now weigh 13 and 14 lbs, had a bit of a wrestle before playing with mom's tail. Keepers have has an opportunity to closely examine the cubs several times, and they believe that we have two females! Although it's not uncommon to mis-sex cubs at such a young age, keepers feel confident in their assessment. Meanwhile, Naba's sister Shera is in an adjacent den. Keepers anticipate that she will give birth soon. We will be sure to keep you updated! http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/GreatCats/default.cfm

Przewalski's Horse Foals

National Zoo
Watch as the Przwealski's horse foals and their mother explore their new paddock! Przewalski's horses are critically endangered in the wild. Smithsonian National Zoo scientists are working to learn more about their biology and to boost their population numbers. A herd of Przewalski's horses lives at the Zoo's Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia. September 8.

Smithsonian's National Zoo's Giant Panda Cub is A Girl!

National Zoo
It's a girl! SCBI's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary genetics confirmed that our panda cub is a girl! Further, the paternity analysis shows that her father is Tian Tian.The scientists also analyzed the second, stillborn cub. That cub was also a girl, and also Tian Tian's. The cubs were fraternal twins.

Nudist Colony Opening at the Smithsonian's National Zoo

National Zoo
A new naked mole-rat exhibit featuring a colony of 17 of the “nude” rodents at the Small Mammal House will open Sept 1. Included as part of the exhibit is a brand-new high-definition color webcam that will give virtual visitors a closer look at the hairless burrowing animals in their new home. The 24-hours-a-day Naked Mole-rat Cam will launch Aug. 31, the day before the exhibit officially opens to the public, giving internet viewers the chance to see the naked truth of the colony’s activities. The exhibit was made possible by the public’s donations to the Friends of the National Zoo’s 2017 annual appeal. “Naked mole-rats are endlessly fascinating,” said Kenton Kerns, assistant curator of Small Mammals. “This new dream home draws visitors into the literal underground life of this species and lets them see how a colony functions.” The new habitat features approximately 25 feet of tunnels where the mole-rats will patrol, eat, sleep and spend all of their time. It was specially designed to allow visitors to see natural behaviors for the species and to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how they are cared for at the Zoo. The new naturalistic burrow system mimics tunnels naked mole-rats would excavate in the wild and winds through the habitat horizontally and vertically—giving the naked mole-rats the opportunity to climb. The tunnels connect 16 chambers, and the colony will naturally designate specific chambers for different functions such as nesting, feeding and, toilet areas. The other side of the habitat will show how the Zoo mimics the very specific conditions naked mole-rats require to thrive. Visitors will see the heater and humidifier that maintains the habitat between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 to 70 percent humidity. The tunnels on the behind-the-scenes side of the exhibit are clear, making it easy for visitors to see how the nearly blind naked mole- rats navigate through their burrows, relying on their sense of smell, whiskers and sensitivity to vibrations. Visitors will also be able to see how keepers tell the naked mole-rats apart. With the exception of the queen, the members of a colony do not have many unique physical characteristics to help keepers identify them. All of the naked mole-rats are relatively similar in size with pinkish skin and large incisors. When keepers need to identify an animal, they use a chip reader to scan a chip inserted under an animal’s skin. A chip reader built into the tunnel system will display information on a screen outside the habitat about each naked mole-rat as he or she passes through it. The animal’s identification number on the chip, date of birth and sex will appear on the screen. When naked mole-rats are not passing through the chip reader, the screen will display interesting facts about the animals, such as: they use their incisors to dig their tunnels, they rarely get cancer and they huddle together for warmth because they are essentially cold-blooded mammals unable to regulate their own body temperatures. Naked mole-rats live in large colonies with a queen, who is the only breeding female. They are only one of two mammalian species that are eusocial, or live in a colony. All of the other members of the colony are workers. The social structure is unusual for a mammal species. Keepers hope the new colony will become a breeding colony. The relatively young colony has yet to select a queen, but one female is larger than the others and keepers expect that she will emerge as the queen as the naked mole-rats settle into their new home. After a queen has been selected, she will breed and birth offspring. Any offspring born would be on exhibit and would eventually be visible on the webcam. The last time naked mole-rats were born at the Zoo was in 1996. “There is plenty of space and opportunity for this colony to grow,” said Steve Sarro, curator of Small Mammals. “And we’re hoping that is exactly what will happen, so if you visit several times you’ll be able to see the colony change over time.” Naked mole-rats are native to eastern Africa and are listed as a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their burrows and tunnel systems are found in grassy and semi-arid regions in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Dijbouti. The naked mole-rats will be visible at the Zoo in the Small Mammal House every day. The Small Mammal House is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Naked Mole-rat Cam will broadcast a live look at the colony 24 hours a day. The Zoo will provide updates on the colony on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Nudist Colony Opening at Smithsonian's National Zoo!

National Zoo
A new naked-mole rat exhibit opens at the Smithsonian's National Zoo Sept. 1, 2018! Get a sneak peek at the colony with a BRAND NEW WEBCAM launching Aug. 31, 2018. Learn more: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/news/nudist-colony-opening-smithsonians-national-zoo

Did You Know: The U.S. is Home to More Species of Salamander Than Any Other Country?

National Zoo
Oct. 16, 2015—Of the estimated 600 salamander species in the world, one-third are found in the United States—half of which live in Appalachia. The area’s cool streams and shaded forests provide the ideal climate for salamanders, which need moisture to survive. Learn more about these secretive creatures online and join us for the Oct. 17 opening of our new Jewels of Appalachia exhibit in the Reptile Discovery Center. #WeSaveSpecies

Nefertiti the Spidernaut 1

Office of Public Affairs
Nefertiti aboard the International Space Station in her experimental habitat. Full story: http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/world-s-first-spidernaut-lands-smithsonian Video courtesy of BioServe Space Technologies

Kandula, National Zoo, insightful problem solving 2

Office of Public Affairs
Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant. Kandula, an 8-year old Asian elephant at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, demonstrates insightful problem solving by positioning a large cube under a treat that is too high for him to reach. By standing on the cube he can reach the food. He was not trained to do this and came up with this solution on his own. From the scientific paper "Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant," published Aug. 18, 2011 in the journal PLoS ONE.

Vine Virtuoso: Smithsonian Scientist Stefan Schnitzer

Office of Public Affairs
Smithsonian Tropical Research Center Botanist Stefan Schnitzer talks about his work studying lianas (woody vines) in the jungles of Panama. These hardy vines compete with trees for water and nutrients and also act as highways for jungle animals moving through the forest canopy.

Squid species Pholidoteuthis adami mating Gulf of Mexico, April 13, 2012

Office of Public Affairs
A pair of mating Pholidoteuthis adami observed by ROV Little Hercules on April 13 2012 at a depth of 1400 m and at 28.65° N, 088.46° W during an expedition by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The male is upside down, and backwards on top of the female and the terminal organ is extending from his funnel, presumably releasing spermatophores, from which spermatangia burrow into the dorsal mantle tissue of the female. Video courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program http://smithsonianscience.org/2013/01/first-detailed-sex-video-of-deep-sea-squid-penetrates-long-standing-mysteries-as-to-how-these-animals-mate/

Here come the stink bugs...

Office of Public Affairs
Entomologist Gary Hevel at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., explains the recent invasion of brown marmorated stink bugs (stinkbug) in the U.S. and how to get rid of them.

Coral Conservator: Smithsonian Scientist Mary Hagedorn

Office of Public Affairs
Dr. Mary Hagedorn, a marine biologist at the Smithsonian Institution, talks about her research to understand and conserve our oceans' corals. To meet more scientists, visit http://smithsonianscience.org.

Smithsonian geophysicist Bruce Campbell explains how to make radar map of the Moon

Office of Public Affairs
Dr. Bruce Campbell, a geophysicist at the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, is at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W. Va., to make a radar map of the Moon. In this video, made in September 2009, Dr. Campbell explains some of the work involved in putting together a detailed radar map of the Moon.

Mate binding behavior of male orb-web "Nephila pilipes" spider

Office of Public Affairs
This video shows mate-binding behaviour of the male orb-web "Nephila pilipes" spider. To reduce female resistance to mating and the chance of being eaten by the female, the much smaller male spider deposits fine silk onto the female's body in between copulation bouts. In a scientific paper published in Animal Behaviour "Mate binding: male adaptation to sexual conflict in the golden orb-web spider (Nephilidae: Nephila pilipes)" ( http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347211003915#MMCvA_1 ) a team of scientists reveal that it is the touch of the male spider that has the most effect in calming the female.

Darwin's bark spider "Caerostris darwini"

Office of Public Affairs
Filmed in Madagascar by Matjaz Gregoric, this video shows a Darwin's bark spider subduing a dragonfly on her web. Females of this newly named (2010) species, "Caerostris darwini," cast giant webs across streams, rivers and lakes, suspending the web's orb above water and attaching it to plants on each riverbank. Bridgelines of these water-spanning webs have been measured as long as 25 meters. Studies of the silk of these spiders by Matjaz Kuntner and Ingi Agnarsson, research collaborators of the Smithsonian Institution, and University of Akron collaborator Todd Blackledge, have revealed it is among the toughest of all known spider silks.

Giant spider web: Darwin's bark spider ("Caerostris darwini")

Office of Public Affairs
Filmed in Madagascar by entomologists Matjaz Kuntner and Ingi Agnarsson, this video shows a Darwin's bark spider subduing a dragonfly tossed into its web. Females of this newly named (2010) species, "Caerostris darwini," cast giant webs across streams, rivers and lakes, suspending the web's orb above water and attaching it to plants on each riverbank. Bridgelines of these water-spanning webs have been measured as long as 25 meters in length. Studies of the silk of these spiders by Kuntner and Agnarsson have revealed it is among the strongest of all known spider silks.

Bat accepting frog

Office of Public Affairs
A series of experiments conducted by scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama have revealed that frog-eating fringe-lipped bats (Trachops cirrhosus) are, by necessity, much more discerning diners than previously known. In fact, scientists now know, from the time they begin their attack dive to just before they swallow a frog, the bats are continually evaluating their prey through such sensory modalities as sound, echolocation, touch and taste. A paper on the work is published online in the Springer journal Naturwissenschaften (The Science of Nature). Reference: Page RA, Schnelle T, Kalko EKV, Bunge T, Bernal XE (2012). Sequential assessment of prey through the use of multiple sensory cues by an eavesdropping bat. Naturwissenschaften - The Science of Nature; DOI 10.1007/s00114-012-0920-6.

Ladder-walking locust experiment

Office of Public Affairs
A paper by Jeremy Niven and colleagues in the Jan. 12, 2010 issue of Current Biology provides evidence that locusts use vision to guide the placement of their front and middle legs when crossing gaps in uneven terrain. This video shows that, when a desert locust walks along a horizontal ladder, it makes directed movements to specific rungs in the absence of any previous contact with that rung. The video reveals a role for visual information in the placement of their front legs. For more information see http://smithsonianscience.org/2010/01/for-first-time-scientists-prove-locusts-use-vision-to-place-their-legs-when-walking/ (Video courtesy Dr. Jeremy Niven, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama.)

Parrot snake attacks red-eyed treefrog egg clutch

Office of Public Affairs
This infrared video recording shows a parrot snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) attacking a red-eyed treefrog (Agalychnis calidryas) egg clutch. Some of the treefrog embryos escape the snake by hatching early. This video was taken by Dr. Karen Warkentin of Boston University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. You can learn more at the Web site: people.bu.edu/kwarken/

Kandula, National Zoo, insightful problem solving

Office of Public Affairs
Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant. Kandula, an 8-year old Asian elephant at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, demonstrates insightful problem solving by positioning a tractor tire under a treat that is too high for him to reach. By standing on the tire he can reach the food. From the scientific paper "Insightful Problem Thinking in an Asian Elephant," published Aug. 18, 2011 in the journal PLoS ONE.
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