Why would deer respond to human infant cries?

Two deer species have been found responding to distress cries of other species, including seals and humans. Why? These sounds all share some common sound structures and patterns, but the deer only responded when the frequency of non-deer cries was similar to that of their own infants. Structure and pattern may be a universal way to detect "someone is in danger" - and it may be helpful to know there is danger in the area, even if those making the calls are a different species. Read more here.

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Dolphins give victory squeal

When dolphins complete a task successfully and get a fish, they let out a "victory squeal." But turns out the sound is not just for the fish! They also make the victory squeal when the trainer blows the whistle that tells them "good job! fish are coming" - showing the power of associative learning and signals (such as clickers and other secondary reinforcers) that indicate a reward is on the way. Learn more here!

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Are Dogs Susceptible to the Placebo Effect?

Looks like...yes! Dogs that were given a tranquilizer for separation anxiety continued to experience reduced anxiety even when given a vitamin pill. It's possible that the dogs learned that taking a pill = feeling less anxious, and this effect continued even when the pill was inert. Fascinating! And again shows the power of associative learning!

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Turns out it just might. I wrote all about it over at the Berkeley Science Review...check it out!

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Why we don't want to be "pigeon-toed"

If you live in the city, you likely see a lot of pigeons, and you likely see a lot of pigeons that could use a pedicure (if they have any toes left). WHY are pigeon feet so wonky? @TetZoo tries to work it out here:

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The short answer, injuries from urban "stuff" - but I think there are still more questions! Why so many pigeons and not other urban birds, like crows?

Read more here, where pigeon experts Dr. Haag-Wackernagel and Dr. Lisa Jaquin discuss how fibers get tangled in pigeon feet and cause all kinds of problems (thanks to SavorTooth for that tip!).

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Squirrel Drug-Running

A Russian squirrel took off with a baggie of drugs, teens chase, police get curious...you can't make this stuff up.

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Does this squirrel dress better than most college students?

Sneezy the campus squirrel has gained notoriety (and much media coverage) for her high tolerance for being dressed in cute outfits. A "squirrel whispering" student at Penn State has even turned this squirrel's cuteness into an enterprise, including a Facebook page with over 25,000 "likes." Is this squirrel-sploitation or just ridiculously cute? Is this putting Berkeley squirrels to shame?

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You can learn to love brown rice

Well it looks like the methods may be a little sketchy, but a small study suggests that people can learn to see healthy food as rewarding (and show less reward response in the brain to things like donuts and cookies). Can't we have it both ways? I love brown rice AND donuts.

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Ground squirrel too tubby; gets stuck in own burrow

Stocking up for the winter is a good thing, unless it's too much of a good thing, as in the case of this ground squirrel. Luckily he was helped out by some passers-by.

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Squirrel flirts with death at NASCAR race

In another "squirrel vs sports" moment, a squirrel almost got squished by sprinting across the racetrack at a recent NASCAR event.

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Social Learning in Lizards

Perhaps you've assumed that reptiles and amphibians aren't so smart. You're wrong! The cold-blooded cognition lab at the University of Lincoln is just one of the labs starting to focus on these very interesting creatures. A new study from Macquarie University in Sydney showed that young skinks could learn how to solve a task (which colored container contained a mealworm) faster by watching a demonstrator skink, one of the first studies to show social learning in these not-so-social creatures.

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It may not be your veterinarian.

All pets have needs - food, water, comfort, attention, stimulation. But how do we know that we are meeting a cat's welfare needs? Behavior problems can be one indicator that a pet's needs are not being met (although a lack of overt behavior problems should not be assumed to mean that all needs ARE being met). Another way to get at the question is outright ask people what they know about cat behavior and welfare, which is exactly what some scientists in Portugal did. The study, "Comparison of interpretation of cat’s behavioral needs between veterinarians, veterinary nurses and cat owners" was recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

Scratching is a basic need for all cats.  Photo by Mr. TinDC via Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/2287537534/in/photostream/

Scratching is a basic need for all cats.
Photo by Mr. TinDC via Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/2287537534/in/photostream/

In the study, there were three groups of participants: 226 veterinarians, 132 vet techs and 582 cat owners who were bringing their cat to the vet. All participants were asked to what extent they agreed with several feline behavior/welfare related statements, such as "Scratching behavior is natural and needed for all cats" and "Some forms of play by the owners can lead to aggression."

The 11-item questionnaire statements broke down into three general categories related to either Elimination, Stress-Releasers or Human Stimulation. The development of the questionnaire is rather glossed over (all we know is that it was previously "pre-tested" on 50 people), so you may be thinking there are some categories or questions missing, and you may be right. But let's get to the findings.

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Do you look like your pet?

For some strange reason, we are really good at matching photos of strangers and their dogs. This finding has been demonstrated in a few studies, and a new study delved deeper - and it turns out that if you can't see the eyes of either the dog or the owner, it is ever so much harder to match the two...so whatever it is that makes people and their dogs seem like they belong together - it's in the eyes!

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A festival of squirrels

Where in the world would more than 7000 people gather to celebrate squirrels with music, beer, fireworks, face painting and even a bridge for squirrels to cross the road without getting squished by cars? Longview, Washington, a place I really need to visit one day.

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Squirrel season has begun

For the record, I am a vegetarian and not exactly pro-hunting. But…last year was a mast year for many areas, and squirrel populations are up. Quotes like “it’s a good way to introduce kids to firearms” and “someone is bound to have a good recipe” are not exactly a fast track to my heart.

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