Tag Archives: China

The bat folk songs: cultural evolution in our winged relatives

by Piter Kehoma Boll

For a long time, culture was considered a human trait, but nowadays we recognize the existence of culture in many other species, such as other primates, whales and some birds too. Now there are some evidences of culture being found in bats too.

A group of researchers from China studied the calls of the Chinese rufous horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus sinicus) across different populations and compared them to genetic and environmental variables to determine whether the differences where linked to genetic differences between the populations or to different environments that would force the bats to change their calls in order to use them more successfully.


The smile of a cult bat (Rhinolophus sinicus). Photo by Ecohealth Alliance, extracted from Eureka Alert.

The results indicate that none of those two factors were strongly linked to the acoustic differences in the calls. The most likely explanation is that the differences happen due to cultural drift. The bats are teaching a way to speak to their children that is slightly different from what their neighbors speak, even if the neighbors are genetically similar and live in a similar environment.

As an animal’s call is an important variable during mating, this may eventually lead to reproductive isolation even without genetic differences. Culture can also shape evolution!

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Xie, L.; Sun, K.; Jiang, T.; Liu, S.; Lu, G.; Jin, L.; Feng, J. (2017) The effects of cultural drift on geographic variation in echolocation calls of the Chinese rufous horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus sinicus)Ethology 123(8): 532-541.


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Filed under Behavior, Evolution, mammals, Uncategorized

Friday Fellow: Red Panda

by Piter Kehoma Boll

One of the cutest animals on the world, or perhaps the cutest in fact, the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is today’s Friday Fellow.

"Hello! I'm the cutest thing you've ever met!" Photo by Wikimedia user Kuribo.*

“Hello! I’m the cutest thing you’ve ever met!” Photo by Wikimedia user Kuribo.**

The red panda is endemic to temperate forests of the Himalayas in Nepal, China, India, Bhutan and Myanmar. It has, therefore, a considerably small range and prefers areas with a higher bamboo cover.

Despite its cuteness, the red panda’s wild population is declining, with less than 10 thousand individuals remaining, although a more accurate measurement is hard to achieve because local people tend to confuse other small carnivores with the red panda, which may lead to an overestimation of the population size. It is listed as an endangered species in the IUCN’s Red List and the main threats to its survival are habitat loss and fragmentation, inbreeding depression and poaching.

As the giant panda’s, the red panda’s main food is bamboo, but it also eats fruits, eggs and small animals, such as insects and small mammals.

Red pandas love bamboo. Photo by Wikipedia user Colegota.*

Red pandas love bamboo. Photo by Wikipedia user Colegota.*

The taxonomic classification of the red panda was a headache for a long time. It has been placed among the bears (Ursidae) and the raccoons (Procyonidae), but molecular studies indicated that it belongs to its own family, Ailuridae, which is closely related to Procyonidae, Mustelidae (weasels) and Mephitidae (skunks).

Being so cute and only slightly larger than an average domestic cat, as well as easily adaptable to live in captivity, it’s strange that the red panda has not become popular as a pet.

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Pradhan, S.; Saha, G. K.; Khan, J. A. 2001. Ecology of the red panda Ailurus fulgens in the Singhalila National Park, Darjeeling, India. Biological Conservation, 98(1): 11-18.

Wikipedia. Red Panda. Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_panda&gt;. Access on January 28, 2016.

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Filed under Conservation, Friday Fellow