Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spider monkey allomothering at Zoo Basel!

Zooborns has some adorable pictures with an equally-adorable story: In late December, a female spider monkey, Quilimari, gave birth to an infant, but due to birth complications, was too weak to care for her infant. However, while zoo vets cared for mom, the baby's older sister, Dicha (who is a young adult), took care of the infant. Most surprisingly, she somehow was able to nurse the baby... I wonder how long it took for her to lactate, and what hormonal processes might have triggered that... But the good news is, Dicha took good care of her little brother, and once Quilimari was well, Dicha returned the infant to her.

It's nice to hear a story like this--too often, there are stories about how an infant cannot be taken care of by the mother (due to birth complications, illness, rejection...), and in too many cases, those poor babies end up being hand-reared. It's great to hear that a competent alloparent was able to step in, and that the infant has been successfully reunited with her mom--with a great allomother nearby that is eager to help out.

Above is the picture of the infant. You can read the story and see more pictures at Zooborns: Dutiful Daughter Cares for New Baby Brother.

Some interesting reading...

There's a lot of interesting stuff out there to read, and it's kind of dangerous! I intend to work on lectures, and then somehow get caught up reading blogs and news articles... So I thought I'd share them before I (hopefully) get to work on those lectures.

First, check out Fourth Stone Hearth, #84, The Gratuitous Gelada Edition, at A Primate of Modern Aspect. You really can't go wrong with interesting anthro readings, especially when there's beautiful geladas in their midst.

Next, head to the NY Times, where you can read Deciphering the Chatter of Monkeys and Chimps. I'm really exciting that some of the exciting new developments in primate vocalization research is getting this sort of media attention.

Finally, if you have a chance, head over to Time, and read Why Your DNA isn't your Destiny, for an accessible explanation of epigenetics and maternal effects.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Home is where the hearth is

The presence of a hearth and organization of living space has been found in an Israeli archaeological site dated to about 790,000 ya. It's not certain who used this site--the tools are Acheulian, but no hominid skeletal material are present. It's possible that the site's users were Homo erectus or a transitional Homo species.

Nonetheless, what is exciting about this site is that these early humans controlled fire, producing a variety of tools, ate a diverse balanced diet, and came home to an organized living space. Two major activity areas were found: one was the site of the majority of flint-knapping, fish processing, and the use of chopping tools (based on the fish processing, I'd suggest that this was the place where the "dirty work" took place). At the hearth, an anthropogenic center of controlled fire, nuts were processed, and basalt and limestone-knapping occurred (as well as some flint-knapping).

What's also interesting is that plant and animal remains provide some insight into their diet and ranging patterns. While the living site was near a lake, in a fairly wet environment, there are plant materials from drier woodlands some distance away. Additionally, there several kind of nuts, including oak acorn and water chestnuts, that were probably roasted and eaten. Other plants food included the fruits of olives and white grapevine, and the leaves of wild beet and holy thistle. As for food remains, their aquatic prey included freshwater turtles and carp, while their terrestrial prey included fallow deer, elephants, and other mammals.

Overall, this site gives us a picture of what these ancient hominids ate, and how they lived. Furthermore, it provides evidence that they did control and use fire. Finally, the spatial organization, with distinct areas for different activities, suggests cognitive sophistication that would require communication between different group members and may also be reflective of a division of labor.

Furthermore, the presence of a hearth and spatial organization suggests that this wasn't just a living site, but a real "home" for the hominids that lived there--did Homo erectus have a concept of "home" that is similar to our own? Did they gather around the hearth every night to eat, work, and socialize? Picturing them doing so makes them seem even more "human-like" to me.

Although this article might be a bit dense for my students, it's short and pretty interesting, so I think I'm going to give it to them as one of their outside readings.

Reference: Spatial Organization of Hominin Activities at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, Israel.2009. Nira Alperson-Afil, et. al, Science 326: 1677-1680.DOI: 10.1126/science.1180695

Thursday, January 7, 2010

So this is the new year...

Due to holiday craziness and the start of a new course, I've been behind on posting. However, in the upcoming months, I will be defending my proposal and preparing to start my dissertation research, so I'll probably be writing about that in the near future. As I work on course prep for my current course (World Prehistory), I'm also going to try to post some material related to that(hopefully that might help me with preparing my lectures!).

Anyway, Karina at Ruminations from an Aspiring Ecologist published a brief assessment of her year in review, and I was inspired to the same. Until I thought about it, I hadn't realized how much I had actually accomplished in 2009. So despite feeling like I've been a slacker for most of the year (well, since taking my comps in May), I've actually done quite a lot!

Here's my 2009 year in review:

1) Finished all my coursework!
2) Took and passed candidacy exams!
3) Had a paper on Tool Use in Spider Monkeys published in Primates!
4) Applied for 9 grants (though I was rejected from quite a few)
5) Received $22,000 in grant funding ($20,000 from Wenner-Gren, $2,000 from OSU's Alumni Grant.
6) Met the greatest guy ever :)
7) Took in a foster dog and two new kitties, as well as a little corn snake.
8) Attended 4 weddings that were a great chance to reunite and catch up with old friends.
9) Presented a poster and podium presentation at AAPA 2009.
10) Submit and receive acceptance for a poster presentation for AAPA 2010.
11) Taught 4 of my own sections of Intro to Physical Anth (ie, one per quarter, all year) with course sizes ranging from 18-70.
12) Visit two new zoos that have spider monkeys :)
13) Start this blog :)

So that's the some of the highlights of 2009. Not bad for a year that had less traveling than normal, no fieldwork, and only one conference (in the past couple years, I've been going to quite a lot of conferences). 2010 should be interesting, as I am preparing to leave for the field in May! It's pretty exciting, but also pretty scary, as I'm planning on being there for 14-15 months, and my entire dissertation depends on getting the data I need (note to spider monkeys--please cooperate with me!).

Finally, I just wanted to share this opinion piece from the NY times about The Happiest People, which Nicholas Kristof asserts are the Costa Ricans! It made me happy to think that I will be spending 15 months of my life in a happy place (albeit, a happy place where I will have limited electricity, interent access only every few months, and will be separated from my boyfriend for most of the time). Kristof attributes the happiness of Costa Rica to the lack of military, and emphasis on education and environment. That might be some of it, but I'd also argue that part of that happiness stems from the fact that there are beautiful wild spider monkeys there (as well as so many other beautiful animals, plants, and ecosystems)!