Tag Archives: anthropomorphism

There was so much squirrel news that it didn't fit into 2017. So we're starting off 2018 with the last bits of my squirrel roundup!! 

Red squirrel vs Gray squirrel – the battle continues

Good news for the red squirrel in the Highlands of Scotland where a reintroduction project seems to be meeting with success. The endangered squirrels were all but extinguished in the area, due to habitat loss and competition with the larger, more robust gray squirrel. Next year researchers will begin monitoring the populations stability.

Locals are asked to report any sightings of gray squirrels, who are the “arch enemy” of red squirrels. However, those sightings typically lead to killings – as gray squirrels are invasive and spread squirrel pox – which they are not susceptible to – but is deadly to red squirrels. Not everyone in the UK is on board with this plan to cull the population of grays, with over 120,000 people signing a petition to end the practice.

Northern Ireland is engaged with its own conservation efforts, and the Belfast zoo recently celebrated the arrival of five baby squirrels (known as kittens). And these tiny but mighty creatures led the forestry agency in Northern Ireland to give up plans to build a new road as it would directly encroach on red squirrel turf.

In Canada, biologists have been observing the spread of gray squirrels in urban areas. These squirrels no longer rely on the yearly tree mast to survive; instead the spread of their population seems to be highly related to the presence of bird feeders. With few predators (primarily raptors and owls), squirrels continue their march toward world dominance. Or least being one of the most successful invasive species around.

Squirrels in history - Cute lepers

DNA testing confirmed that a UK woman who died approximately 1000 years ago perished from a strain of leprosy that was also found in Sweden and Denmark. This strain is a close relative to the one that many red squirrels carry in the modern era. Scientists hypothesize that it was humans' love of squirrel fur that may have been their downfall -- and that they trade in squirrel pelts and meat from the Vikings led to the British pandemic in the 11th century. For the squirrels, it may have just been sweet revenge.

(Oh and the Cute Lepers are a band that I think is pretty good. And a good band name!)

And speaking of cute...

Nothing gets people going like animals doing things that are human-like. Sure, a picture of a squirrel in a tree is cute, but get them to do something like push a tiny shopping cart, and the crowd goes wild. Perhaps the squirrels are playing Quidditch, or musical instruments! These British squirrels are living in the lap of luxury, while other industrious squirrels are hard at work using tools. Of course, these internet obsessions say much more about us humans than about squirrels (although they are very easy manipulated for photo ops with food)!!

Squirrels getting stoned?

As recreational pot becomes legal today in California, I’m sure many people can relate. Even squirrels need a break from reality once in a while. This squirrel ate some mushrooms and “checked out.” The internet claims he was taken to a vet and recovered. Regardless, the mushrooms had a serious effect on the squirrels (not sure it was so fun for the squirrel).

And you thought squirrels were clean-cut. A woman in a British churchyard was taking pictures of her toddler feeding squirrels, until she noticed one squirrel enjoying a nut alongside a syringe. No word on whether squirrels are eligible for harm reduction programs.

 

Late and Breaking Crime Report!

Police were called to a home in New York where a squirrel had broken into a home. The squirrel was in the kitchen eating cookies when the police arrived.

And that concludes the squirrel roundup -- until next time!! Happy New Year!! May 2018 be a good one for everyone!

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corenApparently there is nothing more offensive to the pet-loving masses than suggesting that pets might not love everything we do. Stanley Coren, a psychologist who has been very active in studying the human-animal bond, recently presented his observations that when analyzing randomly selected photos of humans hugging their dogs, over 80% of the dogs appeared to be exhibiting behavioral signs of stress (to be clear, some dogs seemed perfectly happy with the hugs, just not too many of them). Now, this was not a peer-reviewed study, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. ...continue reading

Exploring empathy in animals

oxyA nice little review of new study about voles exhibiting empathic behaviors toward one another. It features a squirrel studying alum from my lab, Stephanie Preston! I would add that some of the willingness to look at empathic behaviors in other animals is not neccessarily due to a shift away from abhorring anthropomorphism, but a shift away from anthropocentrism!

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Highlighting Misleading Headlines

Humans seem want to know two things about their pets: WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? and DOES (S)HE UNDERSTAND ME? This desperation leads to endless click-bait about what exactly is going on in our fuzzy friends' minds.

What is my cat thinking?

A new device (that has no peer-reviewed testing that I can find) - basically a fancy collar that measures activity - claims to tell you if your cat is playful (OK, that I believe), or happy or annoyed.  The collar will measure heart rate and temperature (how accurately?), but consumers should know that we have no accepted measures of "happiness" or "annoyance" in pets. I feel pretty confident in saying this collar cannot tell you what your cat is thinking. BUYER BEWARE!

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This week's cute and bizarre

We humans are a little self-obsessed, we just love images of squirrels doing things we do

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sqlordsI think maybe if I used recreational drugs, this video would have been even funnier. I can’t even really understand it.

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Anthropomorphism impedes our understanding of animal behavior

anthroThis fascinating study had 4 and 5 year old children read one of two versions of a story about animals - one with anthropomorphism, and one that used factual language. Results suggested that children who read the story where animals were depicted with human-like traits were more likely to assign human psychological, but not physical, traits to animals later.  The Thoughtful Animal at Scientific American tells us more about it here.

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