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.
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.’