Hunter wanted to know how predators know a skunk is a skunk. Biologists had assumed that the distinctive black-and-white color scheme was a marker saying, "keep away."
Hunter prepared taxidermy mounts of skunks and of gray foxes, an animal about the same size but a distinctly different shape. Some of the stuffed skunks she dyed gray, and some of the foxes she dyed black-and-white. She then placed the animals at 10 sites around California -- in locations where skunks were abundant as well in areas where they were uncommon -- and monitored them with infrared video cameras.
In locations where wild skunks were not commonly found, predators such as bears, mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes would approach, lick, roll on or attempt to drag away the stuffed skunks as well as the stuffed foxes. But in places where skunks were common, potential predators gave anything skunk-like, either in shape or color, a wide berth.
"They wouldn't go near them," Hunter said.
The results suggest a much stronger learning component in prey recognition than was previously thought, Hunter said. She was also surprised to find that body shape, not just color, was important. Previous studies, mostly conducted in the laboratory rather than in the wild, had suggested that animals have an inbuilt tendency to avoid brightly colored or multicolored prey.
The study also raises the question: Does anything actually eat skunks? Possibly not, Hunter thinks.
While numbers of most animals are controlled by predators above them in the food chain, skunks may be a rare example where the main check on their numbers comes from disease, food supply or lack of habitat -- factors that depend mainly on the number of skunks themselves.Media contact(s):
Andy Fell, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-4533, email@example.com
Andy Fell | EurekAlert!
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Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
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Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
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Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
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