Saturday, November 18, 2017

Secret Lives of Animals


In Africa, a species of termite builds columns of mud and spit, sometimes up to 18 feet tall. Paper wasps with brains the size of two grains of sand can recognize the faces of their fellow wasps. On the seafloor, dozens of unique marine bacteria, worms and crustaceans make their homes within rotting bones of dead whales.
Why do animals do such strange things? In this issue, scientists offer answers to this question. They also reveal surprising discoveries about how animals think and feel. And they explain how some of the oddest creatures ever to roam the earth came by their weird traits.

The animal behaviors that seem peculiar to us humans actually make a lot of sense for survival. Take, for instance, those termites. It turns out that their mud house is climate-controlled—the CO2 from the bugs' respiration rises out of the top of the mound, whereas at night the outer chambers of the column let in oxygen to keep the critters from suffocating. Other insects have crueler survival tactics. The female jewel wasp injects venom directly into a cockroach's brain to paralyze it, preserve it and feed it to her unborn spawn.

Humans tend to think that we are unique in our intelligence, social skill and depth of emotion. Yet we think too much of ourselves. The humble chicken, for example, is strikingly clever. Males secretly subvert the pecking order—going behind the back of their more dominant rivals to court females. In the horse world, mares seem to provide the social glue to the herd—a job once attributed to stallions. Some wild animals even show what could be construed as grief: dolphins will carry the body of their dead calves with them, and elephants will revisit the bones of lost herd members for years after they die.

And then there are animals that are simply jaw dropping. The prehistoric bird Pelagornis sandersi, with its 24-foot wingspan—more than twice the wingspan of the albatross—was an unparalleled ocean soarer. And deep in the tunnels of wetlands, a tiny mole with a fleshy, pink nose the shape of a star devours up to five items of prey a second.

Enjoy this tour of the secret lives of animals. My guess is that you will feel somewhat at home, even among the strangest creatures. After all, we are animals, too.
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Friday, November 17, 2017

How Animals and Plants Weather Hurricanes


Studies suggest not all critters fare well in extreme weather, though some thrive.
Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico. With sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, much of the US territory has been without power for weeks. Many residents lack running water, hospitals have been limping along on backup generators, and the island’s agriculture has been essentially flattened. The toll on local wildlife remains far from appreciated, but it’s clear from Maria and other hurricanes that some animal populations suffer from big storms—while others thrive.

Endangered animals are of paramount concern to conservation biologists. When a few key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) were spotted on Big Pine Key in Florida after Hurricane Irma swept through, it prompted a sigh of relief. Likewise in Puerto Rico, one native islander, the endangered Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata), seems to have fared “surprisingly well” after Maria, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) spokesman Mark Davis tells The Scientist.

Vibrant and vocal, these birds are rare in the wild. A. vittata were first listed as critically endangered in 1968, with their numbers dipping to 13 in less than a decade. Since then, conservationists have been working tirelessly, breeding the birds in captivity and releasing them into the wild, to boost their numbers. In 1989, 47 individuals flitted about the island, with at least 12 forming breeding pairs.

Then, Hurricane Hugo hit that year, ravaging the island and the birds. The population fell to just 22. It rebounded and then again, devastating storms in 2015 stripped the forest of food and the birds’ numbers plummeted. Now, Hurricane Maria has marked the island, but the birds’ numbers, at least those in captivity, seem to be stable. Damage to the aviaries caused the death of a few birds, probably from heat or the stress of being moved to different cages, Michelle Eversen, a biologist and program coordinator for FWS in the southeast U.S. and Caribbean, wrote to Davis. In the wild, “we don’t know how many survived or if they are having difficulty finding food after the storm,” Eversen reported. But researchers working with the captive birds have seen wild Puerto Rican parrots near two of the aviaries on the island—a hopeful sign.

Strategies to survive
Not all birds have been so lucky. A masked booby, probably blown off course as Hurricane Jose worked its way up from the tropics in September, landed on the shores of Massachusetts recently. Workers at Wild Care Cape Cod, a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Eastham, tried to take care of the bird, but it was reported dead October 3.

Birds, like us and other animals, take a few different strategies in the face of storms. Some leave before it hits. They can sense drops in barometric pressure, so they know when to go. Others fly straight into a storm, though tracking birds with satellite tags has shown that the success of that strategy is mixed. Still other birds, such as the Puerto Rican parrots, shelter in place. What researchers don’t yet know is how well these tactics work.

“There aren’t a huge number of studies about what animals do in hurricanes,” says biologist Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The studies don’t exist because they are hard to do; surveying animals in extreme weather isn’t really realistic.
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Monday, July 31, 2017

7 tips for healthy fair animals


1. Sanitize
Keep animals’ pens at a fair or show as clean and dry as possible. Be sure to dispose of waste, used bedding and uneaten food regularly.

2. Limit contact
Do not come into contact with or enter the pens or stalls of animals from other farms. If contact cannot be avoided, wash hands and disinfect clothing and shoes before returning to your own animals.

Do not allow your animals to come into contact with animals from other farms and avoid sharing equipment with other exhibitors. Limiting contact between animals, exhibitors and equipment from different farms reduce the risk of contamination.

3. Feed and water
Provide clean water and feed to animals through the show or fair. Do not make changes to the feed or water type or sources during an exhibition. Also, keep unused feed, foraging and equipment covered to avoid contamination.

4. Avoid interspecies-contact
House and transport animals according to their species. Goats or sheep and cattle, in particular, should not be transported or housed together because of disease risks.

If possible, also limit traffic between exhibitors of different species or wash hands and change clothing before handling a different species.

5. Disinfect
Do not use the same equipment for animals at an exhibition and animals at the farm. Disinfect all equipment before bringing it back to the farm. This helps to protect animals that remain at the farm from contamination from the show.

6. Dispose
Dispose of any leftover bedding, feed and forages after the exhibition either at the show or at an appropriate site off the farm.

7. Isolate
After returning home from a show or fair, animals should be isolated from the rest of the herd for two-four weeks to avoid contamination. Monitor these animals for any signs of disease.

Even animals that do not appear to be ill right away can spread disease. Feed or care for animals who did not attend a show or fair before caring for animals who returned from a show or fair.

Sources: Preventing the spread of animal diseases — Applications for youth livestock shows by Rosie Nold, extension youth animal science specialist; David R. Smith, extension beef/dairy veterinarian, Michael C. Brumm, extension swine specialist, University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension; Livestock trailer safety, extension.org; Biosecurity checklist for livestock exhibitors, Washington State Department of Agriculture; Keeping your livestock show animals healthy, The Poultry Site; Keeping animals healthy, Penn State Extension.

(Farm and Dairy is featuring a series of “101” columns throughout the year to help young and beginning farmers master farm living. From finances to management to machinery repair and animal care, farmers do it all.)
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Saturday, July 29, 2017

The US parrot that mimics other animals


 Einstein, an African grey parrot that lives in a zoo in Tennessee, mimics a dog's bark, a wolf’s cry and more.
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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tasmanian Devil


The Tasmanian devil is NOT just a Looney Tunes cartoon character! It is a most unusual mammal, found only on the island state of Tasmania, a part of Australia. It is also a marsupial, related to koalas and kangaroos. Why the “fiery” name and reputation for an animal the size of a small dog? Devils are black in color and are said to have fierce tempers! Their oversize head, neck, and jaws are well suited to crushing bones. They make eerie growls while searching for food at night. And when a group of devils feeds together at a carcass, harsh screeching and spine-chilling screams can be heard. Tasmanian devils have behaviors that may seem odd or scary to us, but they have a different meaning in devil society:
A mouth that opens quite wide - While the famous gape, or yawn, of the Tasmanian devil looks threatening, it is more likely to express fear and uncertainty than aggression.

A foul odor - There is the foul odor that a devil releases, but this is produced under stress, not when the devil is calm and relaxed.

Fierce snarls and high-pitched screams -These are used to establish dominance at feeding time around a carcass.

A strong sneeze - No, they aren’t catching a cold! Instead, the sneeze may come before a fight between devils. These are mostly spectacular bluff behaviors, all part of a ritual to lessen any real fighting that may lead to serious injuries. After a nose-to-nose confrontation during which their ears flush red! one or both animals usually back down.
The Tasmanian devil is NOT just a Looney Tunes cartoon character! It is a most unusual mammal, found only on the island state of Tasmania, a part of Australia. It is also a marsupial, related to koalas and kangaroos. Why the “fiery” name and reputation for an animal the size of a small dog? Devils are black in color and are said to have fierce tempers! Their oversize head, neck, and jaws are well suited to crushing bones. They make eerie growls while searching for food at night. And when a group of devils feeds together at a carcass, harsh screeching and spine-chilling screams can be heard. Tasmanian devils have behaviors that may seem odd or scary to us, but they have a different meaning in devil society:
A mouth that opens quite wide— While the famous gape, or yawn, of the Tasmanian devil looks threatening, it is more likely to express fear and uncertainty than aggression.
A foul odor— There is the foul odor that a devil releases, but this is produced under stress, not when the devil is calm and relaxed.
Fierce snarls and high-pitched screams— These are used to establish dominance at feeding time around a carcass.
A strong sneeze— No, they aren’t catching a cold! Instead, the sneeze may come before a fight between devils. These are mostly spectacular bluff behaviors, all part of a ritual to lessen any real fighting that may lead to serious injuries. After a nose-to-nose confrontation—during which their ears flush red!—one or both animals usually back down.
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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Watch a rattlesnake plan attack by clearing path for its strike


The snakes checked out the area for signs of prey and then, once they had identified a burrow, forcibly jerked their heads and necks to move surrounding grass (see video, below). The hunters proceeded to wait for their prey in an ambush spot for up to 3 hours.
Perhaps the snakes are modifying their habitat to try and increase their hunting success

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Friday, June 23, 2017

World’s smallest deer: Philippine Mouse Deer


This is the smallest hooved mammal – the Philippine mouse deer, locally known as Pilandok, it’s only about 40 centimeters tall, which makes it also the cutest deer in the history of ever. That said, it’s not technically a member of the deer family, but it’s freaking close enough for me.
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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Seagull Falls Into Tikka Masala Curry, Comes Out Looking Orange


A hungry seagull was left bright orange after falling into a vat of waste curry outside a food factory on Monday.
The bird was apparently trying to nab a piece of chicken from the container of tikka masala when it ended up falling in.

The animal was taken from the site in Wales to Vale Wildlife Hospital near Tewkesbury where vets cleaned it up and made sure it wasn’t injured.
“The strong curry aroma actually hit us before we opened the box,” veterinary nurse Lucy Kells told Solent News. “It was absolutely overwhelming and I thought ‘that smells fantastic’.”

“We had to give him a shower and clean him with washing up liquid. Surprisingly, he was actually very well behaved. The gull is doing great now - he still smells a little of curry, but he is now much whiter.”
It’s thought the bird became trapped because the curry was too thick for him to fly away.

The distinctive colouration caused by the turmeric led to people of Facebook dubbing him “Gullfrazie”.

He’ll now be kept in a cage to regain his strength, then transferred to an outdoor aviary to redevelop the waterpoof coating on his feathers.
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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Kitten Sees Itself In The Mirror For The First Time


The world is a strange place for a newborn kitten - everything is huge and confusing, and you learn new things everyday.

This little cutie named Wiske had an absolutely adorable reaction to her first time seeing a mirror, when she clearly couldn’t tell what was going on.

YouTube Simon Newport shared the footage of the feline newborn last week, and later uploaded an ‘Inception’-style follow up of Wiske watching herself watching herself in the mirror. Confusing, but very cute.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Island fox of California


The island fox is a small fox that is native to six of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of California
California. These include Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands.

Its diet in the remote areas consists of mice, crickets, beetles, earwigs and fruits from plants such as cactus. Campers are warned not to feed the cute critters.

The island fox is one-third smaller than its mainland ancestor, the grey fox, at 12 to 13 inches in height and four to five pounds in weight.

It is the only carnivore unique to California. Thanks to conservation efforts, the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species now lists the island fox as near threatened from endangered.
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