You might have missed: infanticide in parrotlets; Mustafar-like exoplanet; elephants say hi; alopecia

Infanticide and adoption common in parrotlets

A team of biologists has discovered that both infanticide and adoption are surprisingly common behaviours among green-rumped parrotlets (Forpus passerines), a small South American bird.

“In parrotlets, infanticide and adoption revolve around real estate and love,” says Steven Beissinger of the University of California, Berkeley, who co-authored a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Most of the infanticide attacks happened when a breeding pair was attacked by another pair that was trying to take over a coveted nest site.

“It also occurred when males wanted to breed with a widow who already had offspring – but we were surprised to find that these new males were just as likely to adopt the offspring as attack them.”

Photograph of 2 juvenile birds popping the tops of their green heads out of a hole in a tree branch
Two nestlings poke their heads out of a natural nest cavity shortly after the death of their father. Credit: Karl Berg

Co-author Karl Berg of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley adds: “adoption may be a lot easier to accept than infanticide, but it’s actually more difficult to understand because it challenges Darwin’s ideas about natural selection.

“It was very interesting to see that the reproductive fitness outcomes were about even between adoption and infanticide and suggests that they have an alternative strategy – adoption may be a non-violent means of getting genes into the next generation.”

Mustafar-like volcanic exoplanet discovered

A real-life version of Mustafar – a fictional lava planet in the Star Wars universe – has been discovered in the HD 104067 star system about 66 light-years from Earth.

Calculations indicate the rocky exoplanet, TOI-6713.01, would be 2,600° Kelvin (2326.85C) which is hotter than some stars.

“It’s been forced into a situation where it’s constantly exploding with volcanoes,” says astrophysicist Stephen Kane of the University of California, Riverside in the US, who is lead author of a new paper in The Astronomical Journal.

“At optical wavelengths you would be able to see a glowing, red-hot planet with a molten lava surface.”

Gravitational forces are to blame for the volcanic activity on TOI-6713.01. There are 2 other planets forcing it into an eccentric orbit that squeezes it as it orbits and rotates, heating up its surface.

Illustration of a planet covered in lava orbiting a yellow star in space
Volcanic exoplanet illustration. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Dani Player

Research reveals how elephants say hello

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) often engage in elaborate greeting rituals. Now, new research suggests they may deliberately change them depending on whether the individual they are greeting is looking their way.

Researchers observing 9 semi-captive African savannah elephants living in Jafuta Reserve in Zimbabwe found the elephants use specific combinations of vocalisations and gestures, such as rumbles with ear-flapping or ear-spreading.

Urination, defecation, and secretions from a sweat gland unique to elephants were also present in 71% of greetings, suggesting that smell may play an important role in communication.

Elephants were also more likely to use visual gestures — such as ear-spreading, trunk-reaching, or trunk-swinging — when they were being watched. Otherwise, they were more likely to use gestures that produce a sound — such as ear-flapping and slapping their ears on their neck — or to touch the individual with their trunk.

The findings are presented in a new study in Communications Biology.

New potential treatment could reverse hair loss from alopecia

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. For most patients there is no effective treatment.

Now researchers have developed a microneedle patch that can be painlessly applied to the calp to release drugs that help to rebalance the immune response to stop the autoimmune attack.

The treatment allowed hair to regrow and dramatically reduced inflammation in experiments in mice.

“This innovative approach marks a paradigm shift,” says Natalie Artzi of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who is co-senior author of the study in Advanced Materials.

“Rather than suppressing the immune system, we’re now focusing on regulating it precisely at the site of antigen encounter to generate immune tolerance.”

Microscopic photograph of tiny cone-shaped needles in grey-scale
The microneedle patches used in this study are made from hyaluronic acid crosslinked with polyethylene glycol (PEG), both of which are biocompatible and commonly used in medical applications. The researchers designed the microneedle patches so that after releasing their drug payload, they can also collect samples that could be used to monitor the progress of the treatment. Pictured is a microscopic view of the microneedles. Credit: MIT

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