Scientific discoveries this week: 4-4-11

Wellington, New Zealand – The wasp most common to North America, “Vespula Vulgarum,” invaded the island nation of New Zealand about 30 years ago, and since then, it has multiplied at an astounding rate. New Zealand now has the highest density of wasps of anywhere in the world. Biologists and behavioral ecologists have been studying wasps to see how they will interact with native species of insects on the islands. To see just what wasps will do when food becomes scarce, biologist Julien Grangier placed a small pile of tuna in a cage with a swarm of ants. When he introduced the wasp, it started grabbing the ants one by one, in its mandibles, and dropping them just a few inches from the tuna. It did not crush them, because the ants apparently do not taste very good.

China – Duck farming in China may face some radical changes, in response to a new virus that has recently taken hold among the many duck farms along the agricultural regions of China. Nicknamed the BYD virus, it is a species of flavivirius never before seen in ducks. Duck farmers first noticed the symptoms of the virus when egg production dropped significantly, followed by death, in many cases. This past year, in China, over 4.4 million ducks have been confirmed infected with the virus. Researchers say that it can infect humans, but as of now, no humans have been diagnosed with the virus.

La Jolla, California – Killer whales appear to be quite picky eaters, as shown in a new study by the National Oceania and Atmospheric Administration. The study found that killer whales in the Antarctic seemed to target Weddell seals over the much more common crabeater seals. When a Weddell seal was present, the killer whales would gather into a pod and cooperate to kill the seal by making a wave that would wash the seal off of the ice floe it was perched on, and then methodically tire it down and then kill it. This behavior has not often been observed before now.

British Columbia, Canada – The Chilko salmon makes a yearly journey of over 400 miles from the ocean, where it swims and plays, to the head of the Fraser river where it began its life years before. However, climate change can make that long swim significantly harder for some species of salmon. With higher water temperatures in the river, some species of salmon cannot make the swim, as they have small hearts and inadequate blood supply for that kind of exertion.

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