When I started graduate school, I decided I wanted to study the cognition and behavior of wild animals in their own habitat. In my case, it's "wild" fox squirrels whose habitat happens to be a college campus.
I spend a lot of time outside with the squirrels. Sometimes it's a lot of time for very little data. Part of the reason it takes so long is that sometimes they decide they need a little siesta during an experimental session. And when this happens, there's really not much we can do...but wait. They are volunteers, after all.
If Karma Chameleon is stuck in your head, you're not alone
I've suffered from "earworms" for as long as I can remember. I ALWAYS have a song stuck in my head (it's not always an annoying one, but there are many popular ones, such as "Mountain Song" by Jane's Addiction, Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" and Peter Gabriel's "Big Time"), so I'm very excited to see that scientists are taking on this interesting problem as a focus for research in a new study published at PlosONE.
Is musicality something unique to humans? It’s a question scientists have been asking for years, but I thought I’d dig a little deeper after seeing a recent video of a cat playing with a theramin (an eerie-sounding, electronic instrument).
I think the first thing to recognize is that musicality in humans is a broad spectrum – some of us love to listen to music, some of us love to create music, some of us love to dance and sing, and (strangely to me) some people could care less about any of it. Some people have perfect pitch,and others are tone deaf. Any time we try to determine if animals can do something we human animals can do, it’s important to think about how we define that ability.
Three new marsupial species discovered in Australia; have sex until they disintegrate
It's gotta be tough being a male antechinus; you have sex until your body falls apart and then you die from stress while still desperately seeking one last "romp." It seems like a bad idea, but I guess as long as you get your sperm passed along before you pass, it will get your genes out into the world and your offspring will likely follow the same lifestyle. I'd like to know what the lady antechinus are up to. Read more here.
Citizen Science - Sea Lion Identification
When I hear about projects that get the general public interested in - and actually DOING - science, I get excited. Scientists in Western Australia are interested in how crowd-sourced photos of sea lion snouts can help them reliably identify individuals by their unique whisker patterns. Booyah!
Cats are more active before feeding time
If you have a cat, you may already know this - I even made a movie about my cat's obsessive circling around the house before mealtime:
Scientists have now found EVIDENCE that cats are more active by having them wear activity monitors and manipulating the number of times a day while holding the total amount of food constant! Feeding cats multiple, small meals a day increases their active time and may be a good strategy for preventing obesity (Personally, I also like food puzzles for cats!).
While this isn't the species I study, I'm a big fan of ground squirrels. The problem, is of course, in part caused by humans feeding them; I always have to wonder if there's another way (hawks? dogs?)...You can read about it here
We all do it, most of us do it at least once every day, but we don’t like to talk about it much. You never see people doing it in the movies or on TV, and there aren’t many songs* about it. When we do it, we try our best to hide the sounds, smells or sight of it from others. Despite the secrecy, it has implications for our health as individuals, but perhaps even more importantly, on a global level. What the heck am I talking about? Defecation.
Defecation, also known as pooping, shitting, dropping the kids off at the pool, number 2, crapping, pinching a loaf, laying cable, dropping a bomb, taking a dump…I could go on…and on, BUT, someone else has already done that for me. David Waltner-Toews’ recent book “The Origin of Feces” caught my attention immediately from the title. I’m a sucker for Darwin and a good pun, plus who doesn’t want to learn more about poo? So I knew I had to check this toilet-twinkie tome out.
Waltner-Toews takes us on an exciting journey exploring the ecology of feces and how we as humans deal with it. The key question of the book is: how did shit become such a huge problem for us? But the subtext is why is it so hard for us to talk about feces frankly, and why are we so quick to flush and forget?
In the animal kingdom, if you are vulnerable, you have a few options. Two of them: hang out with others (safety in numbers) OR BE STINKY! Being smelly was favored by nocturnal animals that need protection from predators. What's my excuse? Read about the study here.
Side note: One of the authors is named "Stank"owich.