He who crows first...is on top

Roosters are infamous for their early-morning cock-a-doodle-do, but a new study looked closer at this behavior. Turns out that the first to crow is the dominant rooster in the bunch. If you take him away, the next in line in the pecking order takes over those wake-up alarm duties. But the subordinate roosters always waited for the boss to crow first, even if he did so later than usual.

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Enriched hamsters show "optimism"

A new study showed that hamsters who lived in an enriched environment with toys and lots of bedding were more likely to give "optimistic" responses to ambiguous stimuli. Cognitive bias has been studied in many species - such as rats, dogs, and even bees. Animals were trained that one location had delicious sugar water, and the opposite location had yucky quinine-infused water. Animals were later trained on "in-between" locations - would the likelihood to approach depend on whether they had enrichment? Yes. Open source means you can read the manuscript here! Or just read a summary here!

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Could you help your dog be less afraid of weird stuff?

Turns out your dog looks to you to figure out whether something new is good or bad. This is called social referencing! (Note: looks like cats may do it too) @DogSpies' Julie Hecht reviews some research on how dogs get cues from owners that help them determine whether to approach or avoid something weird (in this case a "Crazy Green Monster"). Awesome as always!

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Salamander Brigade! #CitSci to the Rescue!

If a salamander is going to make babies, they have to head to a vernal pool. In some places, that means a deadly trek across a freeway, resulting in many (50-100%) squished amphibians.  Conservationists in New Hampshire started a Citizen Science program to track both live and dead salamanders and give them a little help crossing the road. The Salamander Brigade has over 600 volunteers and helped 25K salamanders get to the pool, and hopefully, find a mate. They've also started photographing and ID-ing salamanders by their individual markings, and found that many of the same salamanders make the cross-freeway trek year after year! So COOL!

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What are the best ways to manage feral cat populations?

To know, we need more data! So scientists in Toronto and Guelph are putting tracking devices on feral cats to learn more about the activity and patterns of movement. They hope to address the human end of things as well, looking into how people care for and feel about both pet and feral cats.

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If your parent sucks, find a new one

Scientists have been studying how baby zebra finches respond to variation in parenting quality (measured as foraging skills) - and it turns out if they have a bad role model, the baby birds seek out a new adult to serve as a better one.

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That trunk was made for sniffing...landmines?

Immediately following the Angolian civil war,  a number of local-dwelling elephants were killed by landmines. Since then, it seems that the elephants have learned to sniff out and avoid mines. Army researchers are training elephants to detect TNT (ethically dicey) but are also using elephant's skills and physiology as a starting ground to build bio-inspired technology that could detect bombs (less dicey).

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Squirrel attacks

Squirrels world-wide have apparently been on a collective, crazy, aggressive rampage:

Animal control was called to the scene near Kansas City, when three squirrel attacks were reported in one 24-hour period, including one incident that sent a victim to the emergency room.

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A German squirrel was “arrested” for chasing a woman, only to be fed honey and apples once officers realized he was just exhausted.

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...continue reading

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Drunk Squirrel Wreaks Havoc

drunksquirrelA squirrel broke into a bar, turned on the beer taps, smashed glasses, ate some potato chips, and took a "walk of shame" the next morning. Brilliant!

 

 

Fairy Wrens Learn about Danger

Some birds seem to respond to alarm calls of other species of birds - but how do they know danger is lurking? A new study showed that fairy wrens could associate the presence of a predator overhead with unfamiliar alarm calls - and respond appropriately.

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A Database of Lions

Computers will be able to track and monitor the behavior and movements of lions via its Lion Identification Network of Collaborators and software designed to identify individual lions. This will be easier (and less stressful on the lions) that tagging them with GPS. The goal is to understand how lions access and use resources.

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What's Up With Meat?

I've been a vegetarian for over 25 years, but I still find discussions about why people eat some animals and not others, the environmental impact of the meat industry, and the ethical questions behind eating (or not eating) meat, to be fascinating. @SavorTooth aka Nathanael Johnson, is leading the charge at Grist, for a series of discussions and articles on the complexities of eating other animals.

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Last week I was fortunate enough to attend and present my research at the 2015 ISAZ (International Society for Anthrozoology) conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. It was an amazing conference, with research presentations and talks on everything from anthropomorphism, animal-assisted therapy, welfare issues, our relationships with our pets, animal shelter issues, and so much more!

I STORIFIED most of the tweets from the conference, in case you want to read more about what happened. There were many highlights, including John Bradshaw's keynote talk, meeting other folks who are actively promoting science and behavior via social media, and of course talking about almost nothing but animals and research for many days.

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And stay tuned at the ISAZ2015 website, they promised an updated PDF of the program soon, and of course, check out the organization and become a member if you are interested in issues related to human-animal interactions!

 

 

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I wrote about it for the Berkeley Science Review!

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Tonight I'm headed back to the east coast...this time to attend and present at the Conference of the  International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ) (that's human-animal interactions, yo!). I haven't attended this conference since 2009, so I'm really excited to be back again.

This year's conference features a keynote from one of my fave cat scientists, John Bradshaw; sessions on the history of human-animal interactions, shelters & animal welfare, animal behavior, attitudes toward animals, and animal assisted therapy. My research collaborator and I will be presenting our work developing a scale to measures pet owner's care for their cats.

Sound awesome? Don't worry, I will be live-tweeting as much as I can, and you can follow at #ISAZ2015! And if you'll be there...come say hello!

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A ship? Or a spider?

Spidespiderrs can "sail" across waters, using wind and their limbs to control where they go. Spiders can even use their silk as an anchor, releasing the silk to slow down their movement. Awesome.

 

 

Kick-Ass Kangaroos

Kangaroos are cute, but male kangaroos have long arms to punch other kangaroos. And win over ladies.

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When I start feeling bad...

about getting my PhD studying squirrels, Seriously Science? is always around to lift my mood. This study looked at whether it's easier to fart standing up or lying down. The spoiler: let 'em rip standing up.

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Power Outages

Squirrels are busier than ever, with recent power outages reported in Hingham, MALouisville, KYRoanoke, VALubbock, TXDayton, OHEverett, WAKingston, NHMeriden, CTCollege Station, TX (officials said the squirrel was “electrocuted”), and Piedmont, AL, where the mayor held up the fried squirrel for display.

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...continue reading

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A new study looks at pica and chewing behavior in cats.

Does your cat like to chew on things that aren’t food? If so, you are not alone. I personally have had cats who liked to chew paper (one cat shredded my rent check once), cardboard, corners of the carpeted cat tree, and the ever-popular plastic bag. Have you ever wondered WHY your cat does this?

When an animal ingests non-food items, that behavior is called pica. Humans do it too, with the most common targets being dirt or paint (yum!). The cause is not well-understood, with nutritional deficiencies, parasites, need for fiber, and obsessive-compulsive disorders all being tossed into the ring of possible reasons.

A new study, “Characterization of pica and chewing behaviors in privately-owned cats: A case-control study,” tried to get a handle on some of the factors that characterize pica in housecats. Previous research has suggested an influence of breed on the ingestion of fabric, with oriental cat breeds showing a predilection toward fabric-chewing and ingestion. Others have suggested that being housed indoors only is a factor, pointing to boredom and stress as a possible cause.

...continue reading

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