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Finally Darwin's Finches Have Humans On Their Side

Update Date: May 06, 2014 10:15 AM EDT

On the Galapagos Islands where Darwin's finches reside, (tiny birds are so called because these inspired Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection) humans have come forward to provide them life-saving assist. 

It might sound ironic because it was man who introduced a non-native species of parasitic fly to the islands and is also responsible for the bird's life-threatening predicament. 

These parasitic flies lay eggs in the finches' nests and when the blood-sucking maggots hatch, baby birds in the nest are doomed, wrote Nature World News.

"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," University of Utah biology professor Dale Clayton, told Reuters.

Up until now, finches had no way to defend themselves against the parasitic flies. Some years 100 percent of nestlings have been killed by bloodthirsty maggots. 

Clayton along with collaborators, gave Darwin's finches on the Galapagos Islands a fighting chance for survival by soaking cotton balls in an insecticide. Finches gathering building material for their nest would collect the cotton balls from despensers and incorporate the insecticide-laden fibers into their nests, killing the blood-sucking fly maggots and a few other insets as well, said researchers. 

"It might kill a few other insects in the nest. This is the same stuff in head-lice shampoo you put on your kid," Clayton said in a statement. "Permethrin is safe. No toxicologist is going to argue with that. The more interesting question is whether the flies will evolve resistance, as human head lice have done."

Post experiment, researchers found that the finches took well to cotton with about 85 percent of the nests surveyed having the fibers incorporated into their nests. 

"If the birds insert a gram or more of treated cotton - about a thimbleful - it kills 100 percent of the fly larvae," Clayton said.

The research has been published in the journal Current Biology.

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