Researchers at Oberlin College reported in the scientific journal PLoS One that squirrels pay attention not only to alarm calls, as many animals do, but also to the background chatter of birds, and that they relax a bit when the birds sound relaxed. Biologist Keith Tarvin and his team played a recorded screech of a red-tailed hawk, which put the squirrels on alert. Then they played recordings of desultory bird chatter, or of background noise without birds. When the squirrels heard the relaxed birds, they, too, relaxed. Tarvin said it supported the idea that there may be “public information networks that exist in ecological communities.”

Citizen scientist can help the zooniverse

Interested in helping uncover the secrets of scientific collections? Looking to measure wild giraffes — or search for elusive gravitational waves? You don’t even need to leave your couch or put down your phone. Zooniverse, a citizen-science platform, recruits individuals to aid projects in fields such as physics, astronomy, zoology and the social sciences. The site has more than 1.7 million registered users who have so far classified more than 439 million pieces of data. One popular project is Galaxy Zoo, where volunteers classify telescope images of far-off galaxies. Bash the Bug, another volunteer favorite, is helping researchers figure out which antibiotics can treat different strains of tuberculosis.

White barn owls scarier by moonlight

Voles have two responses to seeing barn owls, which come in two shades, reddish brown and white. They freeze, and hope the owl doesn’t see them. Or they run. But when they see a white owl in bright moonlight, the rodents freeze up to five seconds longer than they do for a reddish brown barn owl.

News services