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My Favorite Science Headline of the Week

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 8, 2011

From the folks at Science Daily comes a story headlined “Great Tits Also Have Age-Related Defects.”

Yes, it’s about the birds.

Great Tit Parus major (Credit: iStockphoto/Andrew Howe)

Specifically, Parus major, a songbird common in Europe.

That includes England, where “titting about” means wasting time, and “ta-ta” means “goodbye.”    Such a disappointment.

But “tit” also means breast, and the scientific name of this species means “larger breast.”  I have no clue why it got this name, or why our American species Baeolophus bicolor is named the titmouse.  Neither looks like D-cup material.  More informed readers can perhaps advise?

But enough adolescent sniggering.  On to the science, which is what you’re here for, right?  It’s based on the work of evolutionary biologist Sarah Bouwhuis:

Although great tits can live for nine years, breeding success declines rapidly after the age of two. Nevertheless, older great tits keep on breeding every year, says Bouwhuis: ‘They carry on to the bitter end’. What is remarkable is that at the start of the breeding period there’s very little difference between the nests of older and younger females. Bouwhuis discovered, however, that massive mortality occurs just after the young leave the nest. ‘The parents still have to guide their young in the first crucial weeks after leaving the nest. Perhaps the older mothers have more trouble with that guidance; their young often fall prey to sparrowhawks, for example. Or maybe the older mothers have only been able to find less suitable places in the woods.’

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3 Responses to “My Favorite Science Headline of the Week”

  1. Robert CW said

    ‘They carry on to the bitter end’
    Sounds like my roommate! haha

  2. In winter, these wonderful little birds arrive here in throngs at my home on the edge of the French Alps, and I feed them with sunflower seeds, build nesting boxes for them, and often write about them on my blog. If it’s really too much for Anglo-Saxon observers to write the English word “tit” without breaking out in giggles like a schoolgirl, then I suggest that they use the splendid French term: “mésange“, which has a heavenly ring to it. I had imagined that most scientifically-oriented individuals had grown up…

  3. So true. I suppose we could be laughing at Jerry Lewis instead.

    But, yes, “mésange” does have a lovely ring to it.

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