Octopuses are smart, but are generally asocial and temperamental. They open jars, steal fish and high-five each other. They learn through experience and observation, forming memories with brainlike bundles of hundreds of millions of neurons. A desire to understand the underpinnings of this brain power led scientists to give octopuses ecstasy, which, in humans, reduces fear and inhibition and induces feelings of empathy. Under the influence of MDMA, the researchers said, octopuses seemed to become more social. They also found that humans and octopuses — separated by 500 million years of evolution — share parts of an ancient messaging system involved in social behaviors. That could make octopuses a promising model for studying MDMA’s effects on the human brain and treating PTSD, they said.
Giant Panda bleat works best as local call
For solitary animals, giant pandas have an awful lot to say to one another. Their vocal repertoire comprises more than a dozen distinct grunts, barks and squeaks, most of which amount to some version of “leave me alone.” But when mating season rolls around, both male and female giant pandas turn to their preferred call: a husky, rapid vibrato known as the bleat. Researchers have determined that the bleat works best as a local call. A panda can discern aspects of a caller’s identity, like its size, from a bleat within about 65 feet, but the caller’s gender is only perceptible within about 33 feet, the study said.
Genome maps of 15 species are released
Scientists unveiled the first results of an effort to map the genes of tens of thousands of animal species, a project they said could take 10 years but oculd help save animals from extinction. The scientists are working with the Genome 10,000 consortium on the Vertebrate Genomes Project, which is seeking to map the genomes of all 66,000 species of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish on Earth. The consortium released the first 15 such maps, ranging from the Canada lynx to the kakapo, a flightless parrot. Program director Sadye Paez described it as an effort to “essentially communicate a library of life.”