How to become a superhero whilst birds blackmail their folks


Lightning = awesome. 

Getting hit by waves of invisible, ultra powerful radiation = probably not as much fun. 

Still, that’s what researchers such as Joseph Dwyer at the Florida Institute of Technology reckon could be happening. They call it dark lightning, which sounds like a Gladiators participant, except a bit more scary. That’s because Joe-Joe and his fellow lightning-ists reckon that alongside the visible lightning bolts, thunderstorms can hit the world with X-Ray sprays and Gamma rays too. And though these rays are spread in all directions rather than directed in a single lightning bolt, these dark lightning effects could carry a million times as much energy as their visible counterparts. On the plus side, if you get hit by Gamma rays you might turn into the Hulk, so there’s always a silver lining. 

So in humans, so in nature, it seems, with the results of a three-year study in the Kalahari Desert, South Africa, on the habits of the quite brilliantly-named pied babbler. Over 200 hours of observation and 3,000 feeding incidents, Alex Thompson of the University of Cape Town plus colleagues noted that when the fledgling pied babblers were in the trees, they were fed 0.03 grams of food per minute by their parents. By contrast, when the little ‘uns were on the ground they snarfed down a mighty 0.12 grams per minute. On top of this, when the team played the birds audio of alarm calls that indicated the presence of ground-based predators, the parents gave the kids more than double that amount if they were also on the ground. Tree-based fledglings received no increase. 

The team then tweaked the birds’ appetites and found that the fledglings that had extra food spent 62 per cent of time in the trees whilst those that did not get food supplements spent 40 per cent up in the trees. This, felt the team, meant that the young birds were prepared to put themselves more at risk on the more-dangerous ground to get some extra snacks. 

“These fledglings seem willing to pay the potential cost of increased predation risk by moving to the ground so that they can blackmail their parents into feeding them more,” said Alex to 

Somewhat tongue in cheek, he offered another refreshing analogy. 

“I know from personal experience that parents are more willing to buy kids sweets or treats if they start screaming in a public place,” he said. 

“It isn’t a predation risk, but it is an embarrassment risk.”  

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