How Cotton Balls Helped Save Darwin's Finches
The birds used the treated cotton balls in their nests
By John Johnson, Newser Staff
Posted May 6, 2014 7:09 PM CDT
One of the Galapagos finches.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – Serious problem, simple fix. Researchers on the Galapagos Islands have helped Darwin's finches protect their nests from a dangerous new parasite, reports Scientific American. The simple fix: Scientists left cotton balls laced with a mild pesticide for the birds to take, and the finches happily wove them into their nests. Result: Nineteen of 20 nests with the cotton balls were free of the blood-sucking parasite, which has been blamed for declining finch populations of late, reports University Herald.

The pesticide is permethrin, which Reuters explains is mild enough to treat head lice in humans. It has no effect on the birds or their offpsring, but it kills the larvae of the parasitic flies known as Philornis downsi. "This parasite is not historically found in the Galapagos Islands and, therefore, Darwin's finches have not had enough time to evolve defenses against the parasites," says one of the researchers. One of his colleagues struck upon the idea when she saw the birds stealing bits of a laundry line for their nests. (Read about another Pacific island discovery involving a 63-year-old bird.)

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Showing 3 of 28 comments
Nancy Smith
May 16, 2014 10:03 AM CDT
yeesh, and out come the theoretical sages with all sorts of 'balancing' arguments, pro or con! i think of this like the trillions of doses of unecessary antibiotics that have been injected/swallowed by recent humans, that now has allowed some very nasty (but rapidy mutating) diseases to do a switcheroo and reformulate their own DNA and become even more deadly to our own species. all i can say is, "hands off", leave them be, let nature take its course, as cruel as it may be. we didn't get this far in our own evolutionary trek without these 'naturally synthesized' biota and critters, who made it without our 'intervention' and relatively narrow and short learned knowledge base. if some want these 'finches' (like the coal miner's canaries?) to pretty up your quaint apartment or lay droppings on your recycled newspaper filled enclosures, consider a virtual one, as that may be all that humans will have left after we finish mucking up the entire global life systems.
Lefty_Libby
May 7, 2014 12:52 AM CDT
Well those are just the cutest little worm and bug eaters.
James Johnson
May 6, 2014 10:33 PM CDT
How about you just let natural selection takes its course and kill off the birds? Is not that was Darwin has claimed that has occurred for millions of years?