Spoiling old dogs in their twilight years by retiring them to the sofa and forgiving them their stubbornness or disobedience, doesn’t do our four-legged friends any good. Regular brain training and lifelong learning create positive emotions and can slow down mental deterioration in old age. Physical limitations, however, often do not allow the same sort of training as used in young dogs. In a new study, a team of researchers led by cognitive biologists from Vetmeduni Vienna propose computer interaction as a practical alternative. In the training lab, old dogs responded positively to cognitive training using educational touchscreen games. The aim now is to get the interactive “dog sudoku” ready for home use. [continue]
That’s a happy development. I have some low-tech puzzle games for my dog, and she is very happy when I take them out of the closet. I wonder how she would react to the touch-screen games.
When we hear about the ways humans are affecting wild animals, it’s often in terms of numbers: populations, habitat area, or even fatalities. But off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, people are having a very different kind of influence: in response to human activity, local bottlenose dolphin populations are forming entirely new social groups. [continue]
Doctors have stumbled on an unlikely source for a drug to ward off brain damage caused by strokes: the venom of one of the deadliest spiders in the world.
A bite from an Australian funnel web spider can kill a human in 15 minutes, but a harmless ingredient found in the venom can protect brain cells from being destroyed by a stroke, even when given hours after the event, scientists say.
If the compound fares well in human trials, it could become the first drug that doctors have to protect against the devastating loss of neurons that strokes can cause. [continue]
Thanks to Khurram Wadee for posting a link to this article on Diaspora. That’s how I found it.
The little auk is by any measure a tiny bird. At just 160 grams, which is about one third the weight of a pigeon, yet, it has as a surprisingly big influence on the landscape near Thule in Northwest Greenland.
It turns out that many larger animals like musk ox, geese, reindeer, foxes, hares, and many more have much to thank the little bird for: auk poop provides nutrients for grass and flowers. However, it also makes the nearby lakes and waterways so acidic that almost nothing can survive there besides algae.
“The auk literally transforms the landscape,” says co-author Thomas Alexander Davidson from the Department of Bioscience and The Arctic Research Centre at Aarhus University, Denmark. [continue]
On a couple of recent nights, an eclectic group of ratters converged on an alley near City Hall about an hour after sunset. The lineups included two border terriers; a wire-haired dachshund; a Jack Russell terrier/Australian cattle dog mix; a Patterdale terrier, an intense, no-nonsense breed that’s uncommon in this country; and a feist, a type of dog developed in the American South to tree squirrels.
“Get ‘im! Go!” Serge Lozach yelled as his cairn terrier, Hudson, streaked down an alley after a fleeing rat. Unlike many of the other owners, Lozach doesn’t breed or show dogs, but he has taken Hudson to several alley hunts.
“I like watching him have fun,” Lozach said.
Although the dogs have hunting instincts, it takes training to capitalize on them. Just because your pet runs after backyard squirrels doesn’t mean it could ever catch one.
When at its best, the alley pack works together. One dog will sniff out a rat and signal its whereabouts, often by barking. Another leaps at the hideaway to rout the quarry, and then a third lurches to catch it as it flees. A rat that scuttles into the open might get caught in a rundown, or even a tug of war, between dogs that circle and flank it.
After making a kill with a bite or a shake, the hunters trot back, rat in mouth, and allow their owners to take it from their jaws. The night’s kill ends up in a trash bin. [continue]
I’ve marvelled at the killer whales here, but it had never crossed my mind that killer whale culture might differ from place to place. But maybe it does! From Hakai Magazine: One Ocean, Many Killer Whale Cultures.
In the cold, dark waters off the southern tip of Iceland, killer whales work together to corral fish into tight balls, taking turns to stun and devour them. Groups of up to 200 whales will enter the fray, feeding on these concentrated schools of herring. A few months later, some of these same whales will be 1,000 kilometers away, working in small groups to hunt seals along the Scottish coast.
The observation that Icelandic killer whales are fluid in both their choice of prey and their group size surprised researchers studying the whales’ social structure. This behavior, discovered by Sara Tavares of Scotland’s University of St Andrews, was unlike that of the intensively studied killer whales of the northeast Pacific, which have more rigid and hierarchical relationships. There, resident killer whales feed on salmon, stick to relatively small home ranges, and live in stable kinship groups led by a matriarch. In contrast, northeast Pacific transient killer whales are marine mammal specialists that live in small groups and travel over wide ranges. While transients also form family groups, it is not uncommon for individuals to form temporary associations with other transient killer whales. Residents and transients, however, rarely interact.
The findings of Tavares’s team show a much less stable association between Icelandic killer whales. They found that groups frequently break apart and come back together, and that it’s not just the prey type, but how the prey act that may be driving their relationships. [continue]
In the middle of Alberta’s boreal forest, a bird eats a wild chokecherry. During his scavenging, the bird is caught and eaten by a fox. The cherry seed, now inside the belly of the bird within the belly of fox, is transported far away from the tree it came from. Eventually, the seed is deposited on the ground. After being broken down in the belly of not one but two animals, the seed is ready to germinate and become a cherry tree itself. The circle of life at work.
Diploendozoochory, or the process of a seed being transported in the gut of multiple animals, occurs with many species of plants in habitats around the world. First described by Charles Darwin in 1859, this type of seed dispersal has only been studied a handful of times. And in a world affected by climate change and increasing rates of human development, understanding this process is becoming increasingly important. [continue]
Feral swine, first introduced by some of the earliest European explorers to America, have been roaming Florida for the past 500 years, and are now present in at least 35 states. The invasive pigs are well-known as a destructive environmental menace, tearing up sensitive habitats and endangered plants and animals in their search for food. But the hogs can also dig up important archaeological sites, destroying an irreplaceable historical record.
“The damage feral pigs do to everything else — crops, wetlands, endangered species — it can all grow back,” said Richard Engeman, a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “But once you move artifacts around, that doesn’t grow back.”
When rooting for food, the pigs regularly dig several inches or more below the surface, potentially moving or destroying artifacts. The trails they make also speed up erosion. [continue]
Facial recognition is a biometric system that identifies or verifies a person from a digital image. It’s used to find criminals, identify passport and driver’s license fraud, and catch shoplifters.
Yes, and to invade the privacy of an entire populace, tracking innocent people who should be left in peace.
But can it be used to identify endangered lemurs in the jungles of Madagascar?
Yes, said Anil Jain, biometrics expert and university distinguished professor at Michigan State University.
Jain and his team modified their human facial recognition system to create LemurFaceID, the first computer facial recognition system that correctly identifies more than 100 individual lemurs with 98.7 percent accuracy. [continue]
What if the creatures in the lake near you aren’t really supposed to be there? From Hakai Magazine, this is Amorina Kingdon’s article on invasive crayfish in Washington state: Pinch Me.
In Pine Lake, as in many waterways across the Pacific Northwest, native signal crayfish and invasive red swamp crayfish are duking it out, and the red swamps seem to be winning. (To be called “invasive” and not just non-native, a species has to cause ecological damage.) Kuehne and Chunlong are working with University of Washington freshwater ecologist Julian Olden, who has been holding the line at Pine Lake for six years. Along with the study I’m observing today, he’s distributed crayfish traps to the lake’s residents, asking them to release native signal crayfish and “dispose” of any red swamps they catch, trying to see if citizen science can beat back an invasive species and help the signals recover. That’s why Kuehne, Chunlong, and I are disappointed to see the red swamp.
But should we be? Around the world, humans have introduced different species of crayfish into each other’s territories, where they sometimes thrive, sometimes barely survive, and sometimes wipe out the native populations. A species such as the signal crayfish might be the underdog here, but a hostile invader in European waterways. When it comes to crayfish, choosing sides is never simple. Should humans try to correct the damage—or should we leave well enough alone? [continue]
Do you dream of where you’d like to go tomorrow? It looks like rats do.
When the animals are shown a food treat at the end of a path they cannot access and then take a nap, the neurons representing that route in their brains fire as they sleep – as if they are dreaming about running down the corridor to grab the grub.
“It’s like looking at a holiday brochure for Greece the day before you go – that night you might dream about the pictures,” says Hugo Spiers of University College London.
Like people, rats store mental maps of the world in their hippocampi, two curved structures on either side of the brain. Putting electrodes into rats’ brains as they explore their environment has shown that different places are recorded and remembered by different combinations of hippocampal neurons firing together. [continue]
The boozing starts from 7am. Though large amounts are often drunk, the sessions are orderly, even sociable. A skinful later, and always before nightfall, enough is enough and they rest.
They are the chimpanzees of Bossou, south-eastern Guinea, and their secret is finally out. With 17 years of evidence in hand, scientists have declared the troop the first wild chimpanzees to indulge in regular, habitual drinking.
The west African chimps were observed in their natural forest habitat from 1995 to 2012. The action, captured on video, centred around raffia palms. Local communities harvest sugary sap from the trees, which ferments into a rich, alcoholic brew in hours.
To extract the sweet, white sap, tappers cut a wedge in the tree and suspend a container beneath. They leave it there to fill and lay leaves over the top to keep the bugs out. In a few weeks, a single tree can yield 50 litres of sap.
But the chimps have cottoned on. In a study published on Wednesday, scientists report 51 incidents of the chimps raiding the palm sap containers. The apes found a big leaf – often one covering the container – and chewed it to form an absorbent sponge or a folded scoop. They then plunged this into the sap, pulled it out and drank. [continue]
“I’m an aquatic entomologist, and dragonflies and damselflies are the most colorful and noticeable insects in the habitats in which I work,” says Dr. Celeste A. Searles Mazzacano, a staff scientist and Aquatic Conservation Director at the Xerces Society. In her role as the project coordinator for the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, she continues to add acclaim to these fast and furious little critters, “The nymphs are amazing predators with extremely cool adaptations for feeding—hinge-toothed lower lips that shoot out faster than the eye can see—and respiration rectal gills that double as a jet-propulsion chamber!”
The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) is a collaborative partnership that was set up between experts, nongovernmental programs, academic institutions, and federal agencies from the United States, Mexico, and Canada, in which citizen scientists play an integral role. There are many questions currently surrounding dragonfly migration that MDP is trying to answer. For example, says Dr. Mazzacano, “What is the southern extent of migration, what is the relationship between resident and migratory members of the same species at the same site, and do all individuals that migrate south from a single place, go to the same destination in the south, or do individuals drop out and overwinter at different latitudes?” The primary goal of the project is to answer some of these questions and to provide information needed to create cross-border conservation programs to protect and sustain this amazing migratory phenomenon. [continue, see amazing photo]
The Finnish Reindeer Herder’s Association has come up with a clever plan to reduce the death toll by applying a reflective spray to the animals’ antlers, thus making the reindeer easily visible to drivers in the long, dark, winter nights. If the test, to be run this February on 20 reindeer, is successful, the method will be applied to the rest of the Finnish reindeer population, a staggering 200,000 animals. [see full article and photo]
If you give a chimp an oven, he or she will learn to cook.
That’s what scientists concluded from a study that could help explain how and when early humans first began cooking their food.
“This suggests that as soon as fire was controlled, cooking could have ramped up,” says Alexandra Rosati, an evolutionary biologist at Yale and a co-author of the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Evidence suggests early humans learned to control fire between 400,000 and 2 million years ago.
Rosati and Felix Warneken, a psychologist at Harvard University, carried out the study at a chimpanzee sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. First, the researchers gave the chimps a device that appeared to work like an oven. [continue]
An effort to use a fake, life-sized orca to scare off hundreds of sea lions crowding docks off the Oregon coast ended, at least temporarily, with the fiberglass creature belly-up after it was swamped by a passing ship.
Still, Port of Astoria Executive Director Jim Knight said the sea lions briefly “got deathly silent” when the orca sailed into view. That was just before it started listing and tipped over Thursday night. [continue]
Marine animals: 1. Humans: 0.
But hmm. Oregon, unwanted marine animals…. does that ring any bells? Reminds me of the exploding whale story. The humans lost that round, too.
When I first saw a picture of the blanket octopus I did a double take. I’d never heard of a blanket octopus before, which is surprising given the internet’s obsession with both large cephalopods and bizarre animals. A two meter long octopus dressed like a fashion icon certainly falls under both categories. But the truth is, blanket octopuses are incredibly elusive. Very few videos exist, and not much is known about their biology. [continue]
Or their use of weapons! Oh my, their weapons. This article includes photos, video, and the nunchuk weapon thing.
Compared with early birds, late risers are more likely to be cuckolded, a group of international researchers has found. The study’s lead author said they found that early risers used that time to mate with birds not in their social pair. Melatonin-implanted birds did not sire as many birds and later cared for nestlings fathered by an early riser in their nest. Study results provide insight into the evolution of the body clock. [continue]
Jaroslav Flegr is no kook. And yet, for years, he suspected his mind had been taken over by parasites that had invaded his brain. So the prolific biologist took his science-fiction hunch into the lab. What he’s now discovering will startle you. Could tiny organisms carried by house cats be creeping into our brains, causing everything from car wrecks to schizophrenia?
In a study that challenges current ideas about the insect brain, researchers have found that honey bees on cocaine tend to exaggerate.
Normally, foraging honey bees alert their comrades to potential food sources only when they’ve found high quality nectar or pollen, and only when the hive is in need. They do this by performing a dance, called a "round" or "waggle" dance, on a specialized "dance floor" in the hive. The dance gives specific instructions that help the other bees find the food.
Foraging honey bees on cocaine are more likely to dance, regardless of the quality of the food they’ve found or the status of the hive, the authors of the study report.
The findings, detailed this month in the Journal of Experimental Biology, shed new light on the famous honey bee dance language, said University of Illinois entomology and neuroscience professor Gene Robinson, who led the study. The research also supports the idea that in certain circumstances, honey bees, like humans, are motivated by feelings of reward. [continue].
Scientists are talking for the first time about the old idea of resurrecting extinct species as if this staple of science fiction is a realistic possibility, saying that a living mammoth could perhaps be regenerated for as little as $10 million.
The same technology could be applied to any other extinct species from which one can obtain hair, horn, hooves, fur or feathers, and which went extinct within the last 60,000 years, the effective age limit for DNA. [continue]