Monthly Archives: May 2015

For the birds!

3D printing is changing science!

We often hear the results of the studies, but not about all the challenges of actually conducting them! One lab that studies birds that lay eggs in other species' nests (known as brood parasitism) in the past had to make their "fake eggs" by hand, using plaster of paris - making it difficult to make every egg exactly the same. 3D printing has now made it possible to save time, make better experimental stimuli, and still fool those birds.

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How do you find a good nut?

If you're a bird, you might want to know if that peanut is a good one. Mexican Jays use head movements (very similar to those made by squirrels) to weigh peanuts, and use this information to choose heavier ones to eat.

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Dinosaurs: More like mammals than we realize?

Were dinosaurs actually warm-blooded? A reanalysis of dinosaur growth data that treats birds and dinosaurs as part of the same "family" (since birds are considered dinosaurs) suggests growth patterns of an "intermediate" category - somewhere in between warm-blooded and cold-blooded.

Contagious yawning: Not just for primates

budgiesIf you yawn when someone else near you yawns, you're not alone. Contagious yawning is considered a primitive form of empathy. That's why we thought only primates did it, you know, all that "humans are special" stuff? A new study demonstrates contagious yawning in budgies, a highly social, intelligent parrot.






Squirrels and crime

A man told a couple that squirrels had damaged their roof and he’d be happy to fix it…just pay up front please! The couple got some cash, the man took it, and needless to say, no squirrels were actually involved.

A squirrel in NYC bit a subway worker when she tried to shoo him away…perhaps the squirrel was late for his train? Paramedics took the worker to the hospital for treatment.

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Several animals, including a gray squirrel, were seized from a couple in Savannah, Georgia. Police had a search warrant, although it’s not clear why.

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When you are in pain, how does your doctor know where it hurts? You usually have to tell them. You might draw on an image of a body exactly where you are experiencing pain, or rate your pain on a scale. Pain is typically described as an unpleasant sensation, with physical, emotional and cognitive components.



When an animal is in pain, can we tell? Maybe. For some animals, there might be clear signs of pain, such as an obvious injury. In the “old days” philosophers such as Descartes did not believe that animals felt pain, even if they had an injury; it is only in the last 30-40 years that scientists have acknowledged the likelihood that animals (particularly other vertebrates) feel pain, and that we should behave under the assumption that they do.

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Goldfish vs. Humans: But can they multi-task?

Every now and then I find a click bait study pretty amusing. A new study (including measuring human brain activity) finds that over the last 15 years or so, our attention spans have gotten even shorter (from 12 seconds to 8 seconds). The culprit? Perhaps cell phones and the huge amount of information we try to take in by staying "connected." Goldfish, who haven't been impacted by changes in technology, are still holding strong with 9 seconds of attention to give to a task. The Onion had something to say too.

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It's been over a month since I updated you on squirrel news, and it appears that squirrels have been very busy since then.

Squirrel Damages

The historical Derby Summer House in Massachussetts is in critical state, due to damage ccaused by squirrel chewing. Subsequent water damage and squirrel poo equals over $200K in repairs needed to be done.

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Squirrels also seem to like a Nebraska City building that houses the passport office and juvenile services. Nests and squirrel poo were found above the ceilings throughout the building, leading to a major cleanup and remodel.

A house fire near Chicago was caused by a burning squirrel nest in the attic: was the squirrel drunk and smoking in the nest?

A driver swerved to avoid a cat chasing a squirrel and hit a fire hydrant. No word on if the cat or squirrel were okay.

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People were not so lucky in Florida, where a squirrel caused four car pile-up and a death, after a driver stopped in traffic to avoid hitting the rodent.

Squirrel-related deaths in history: 60 years ago a boy was killed by squirrel poison on a Northern California island.

Adding to the list of diseases that squirrels may carry (such as West Nile and the Plague…) squirrels have now been identified as carriers of Lyme disease. And this is just one reason you should not pet wild squirrels!

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All about pets!

Don't we all want to know the truth about cats?

First of all, sometimes I wish I had cable! I'm dying to check out "The Truth about Cats" on the National Geographic Channel.

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There are some teasers posted of John Bradshaw's "tail up" study, as well as a piece on whether images of kittens enhance cognition!

Should we replace pets with robots?

You might not think that your relationship with your pet (especially if it seems to be a good one) might be fraught with ethical concerns. Should we think of pet-keeping along the lines of animal use for research - something that should be reduced or replaced? This blog brings up many questions and interesting facts about our pet-keeping practices (the rates of "death" by neglect is similar for Tamagotchi and real pets).

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The Loss of a Pet Has a Huge Impact

And while our relationships with our pets might be complicated, we know that for many of us, they are incredibly important! @CompanionAnimalPsych reviews a recent study showing that people who recently lost a pet dog, compared to those whose pet dog was still living, reported greater stress and decreased quality of life.

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The manuscript is open access so you can read it yourself!






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Lining the Yahtzee cup with felt can prevent Yahtzee Barf

Well, perhaps I should start by explaining the Yahtzee Barf. Saturday night at our pad is pizza night (we make pizza), and sometimes we play games too. One night we were playing Yahtzee, with one of our cats sitting nearby (she likes to help). We couldn’t help but notice that every time we shook the dice in the Yahtzee cup, our cat started gagging. The behavior would stop as soon as we stopped shaking the dice in the cup, and then would start again with each turn. What the heck? We coined this behavior “Yahtzee Barf” and did what any reasonable person would do, we lined the Yahtzee cup with felt so it wouldn’t make a loud, rattling noise each time we shook the dice.

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Cats are more communicative than we know

catcommWe've all heard that cats are mysterious and don't communicate, but those of us who work with cats are trying to bust those myths. This article interviews a few cat experts (including Sharon Crowell-Davis, John Bradshaw, and moi! How'd I end up in that mix???) about how cats communicate and how to better understand what they are trying to tell us.

What your cat is trying to tell you: Stop playing with the tin foil!

A fascinating new study was just published that suggests that certain high-pitched sounds (including crumpling tin foil) can trigger seizures in older cats. I have a lot of thoughts about this that will likely merit a blog post next week. In the meantime: read away!

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What's up in canine science?

A lot as usual! @DogSpies talks with Dr. Monique Udell, about the state of dog science, and points the way to some current open access dog studies (meaning: you can read them even if you aren't affiliated with a university!!!) in her latest blog.

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That big, bumbling sunfish isn't so lazy after all

I love seeing the sunfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (which is apparently the only place to have captive sunfish on display). They look so ancient and blobby, but turns out their quite good at hunting. Scientists attached accelerometers and cameras to some sunfish to see what they get up to. Turns out: eating lots of jellyfish!

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