Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Rise of Zombie Tits

By Magdeline Lum

Scientists have discovered bat-eating birds and sea slugs with disposable penises.

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Finnish wildlife photographer Lassi Kujala recently found a number of dead birds, including more than ten common redpolls (Carduelis flammea) and a yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella). They had all been killed by two or three great tits (Parus major). This is not the first incident where this 14 cm-long bird weighing up to 21 grams has been reported to kill other birds.

For the most part, great tits feed on insects and seeds. For their size they are quite powerful, as their bill can be used to break hazelnuts and acorns. They can also use tools. In 1993, great tits were reported to use conifer needles to reach insect larvae hidden in bark.

In 2009, Peter Estock of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology spent two winters observing great tits interacting with hibernating pipistrelle bats in Hungary. Estock and his team were following up on anecdotes of dead and injured bats found with wounds that were possibly inflicted by the great tit.

Estock observed several kills, and the bodies of the bats were picked clean enough to rule out the possibility that great tits were killing them for roosting space.

The great tits would fly slowly and systematically across the cave face listening out for bat noises. When a bat was located, it would be killed and feasted upon.

To further test whether the great tits were killing for food, Estock hung a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.