Friday, October 27, 2006

Carnival Of The Animals No 3 - October 27th, 2006

Welcome to the latest edition of Carnival of the Animals.

I'm writing in haste this week, partly due to pressure of work and partly
because I'm guesting as a blogger at MSN Entertainment.
It's early days yet but feel free to pop in and have a look.

OK, on with this week's submissions.

Animal communication is a beautiful thing, well most of the time. Among the more unpleasant discoveries I've come across in recent years are the fact that, in order to talk to each other, herring break wind, llamas spit in each other's faces, and, as Hueina Su confirms at Echoes of Cold Moon lobsters use another, deeply unpleasant bodily fluid to get their message across. As Hueina says: "Obviously, lobsters have entirely different social etiquette from us humans. You'd be happy that you're not dating a lobster after reading this!"

We've had posts on the world's first allergy free cat. Here, courtesy of michelle, is another one.

Regular Carnival of the Animals poster Madeleine Kane is back with A Poodle Tale

Jason Homan submitted an interesting post on barking problems in dogs. Worth a peek, or is that Peke?

Staying with dogs,Yvonne DiVita posted a nice item promoting a good cause Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.

As the Pythons would say, and now for something completely different.
Avant News posted a thought-provoking piece entitled Turns Out God Doesn't Particularly Care About Humans It's worth a read, if only because it leads you to other headlines, such as:
- Nuclear Device Destroys Crawford, Texas
- Howard Stern Claims Fatherhood of Madonna's Malawi Baby
- God Rebukes Bush for Presumption of Blessing
- Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie to Defuse North Korea's Nuclear Ambitions

That concludes this edition. As I said earlier, sorry for the haste. Not enough hours in the day. Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of the animals
using our carnival submission form. Until then...

Technorati tags:

, .

Friday, October 20, 2006

Carnival Of The Animals No 2 - October 20th, 2006

Welcome to the second, weekly Carnival Of The Animals.

I have a confession to make. Until this week, I'd never heard of the binturong.
Now, having been introduced to the creature by a fascinating post from JBruno at the voltagegate I feel like I know all there is to know about the animal otherwise known Arctictis binturong, the Malay Civet Cat, the Asian Bearcat, the Palawan Bearcat, and just simply the Bearcat. The first thing is it isn't even a bear or a cat, it's civet. And as JBruno explains, it's got an interesting evolutionary history.
The binturong has lots of rather endearing traits too. It can make a chuckling sound when happy, it sleeps suspended above the ground on branches and secretes a musky smell that is very much like popcorn. Its most impressive assets, however, are a false penis and a prehensile bushy tail, which can be used like an extra, fifth hand. Apparently it's unique among mammals in being able to use its tail like this.

Bio-luminescence, the ability to generate light independently, is a gift limited to few species. Perhaps the best-known is the Brazilian "railroad worm" which glows with a red light on its head and a green one down its side. As Sandra Porter at Discovering Biology in a Digital World reports in an interesting post, scientists have developed a new strain of zebrafish that are fluorescent. "Normally zebrafish are white with black stripes, but these zebrafish have been genetically engineered to produce a fluorescent protein that makes the fish glow," she explains. The fish are being sold as pets under the name GloFish but, Sandra explains, are intended eventually to be used as pollution detectors too. "The idea is that you could put detector fish into water, and if the water contained pollutants, the fish would glow". Illuminating stuff. (Sorry)

Lastly, if you'd like to know the answer to questions like 'Why don't dogs make good dancers?" or "Why is a dog's nose in the middle of its face?" then visit Surfer Sam who will reveal all.

Other things that caught our eye this week:

As the old north of England saying goes, there's 'nowt (nothing) as queer as folk'. Well, actually, there is. In fact there are about 500 species in which homosexuality is perfectly common. An eye-popping exhibition currently being staged in Oslo is dedicated to the animals who practice the love that dare not tweat, bark or roar its name. The exhibition website is here. Take a look at what the two male dolphins are doing to each other.

I Am The (Hungry) Walrus: The winner of this year's wildlife photograph of the year is a truly astonishing image of a walrus dining on an underwater feast of clams. The BBC has the story and a link to the picture here.

And finally, the news everyone has been waiting for. (Well everyone within a 400 yard radius of the world's noisiest sleeping equine.) Rocky the horse isn't snoring any more.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Carnival Of The Animals No 1 - October 13th, 2006

Welcome to the inaugural Carnival of the Animals.

The great geneticist JBS Haldane put it best: "The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we CAN suppose." Weird, wonderful - and often downright unbelievable - new insights into the animal world pop up to surprise us seemingly every day. This week, for instance, we learned why woodpeckers don't get headaches and - perhaps - why elephants are getting increasingly angry with us humans. The aim of this carnival is to bring as many of these discoveries as possible to as wide an audience as possible. We want to do this every Friday, providing you with an entertaining and, hopefully, informative walk on the wild side at the end of each week.
Since announcing this first carnival a week ago, a few of you have been kind enough to post items. Thanks for all your contributions, they are all listed here. We've also added a few other things we've seen and liked this week. If you enjoy what you see here, spread the word, add us and our other cited bloggers to your list of links and send your own posts in to us via the Blogcarnival form which you can find here.

OK, on with the carnival, and first, the items submitted this week:

One of the most blogged about stories on the web this past week has been a major New York Times piece on the mental meltdown supposedly being experienced by elephants. I blogged about it myself. Not everyone is impressed by the NYT's reasoning, however. Josh Rosenau, who writes Thoughts From Kansas, has an alternative viewpoint which he expresses here Rosenau wonders whether, rather than falling to pieces mentally, elephants are actually staging their equivalent of an insurgency. Rather than being victims of a form of mindless, mass hysteria, he asks, "why not assume that they know exactly what they're doing?"
"Elephants are long-lived, and have very structured societies. Older elephants teach younger ones the ways of the world, and a lot of people point to the loss of older elephants in the ivory trade as a cause of rising elephant violence. Given that elephants are social animals capable of abstract reasoning, communication over long distances, even producing art. They see their territory occupied by outsiders, and some young males respond by attacking the invaders, even at the cost of their lives.," he says.

With Winter around the corner - at least, here in the Northern Hemisphere - a large chunk of the animal kingdom is preparing to hunker down and hibernate.Different species have evolved all sorts of strategies for surviving the coldest months, none more original than the one described in a, er, cool post by the the guys at Salamander Candy. They reveal how wood frogs effectively turn themselves into lollipops, freezing themselves so that their heart and other organs slow down to a near stop. With the demands on their body reduced to a minimum, the frogs can survive the Winter months on the reserves of frozen glucose in their system.

Much has been written in recent weeks about the arrival of the world's first, specially designed hypoallergenic cats. The news that you can now buy a furry friend that won't trigger your asthma and other allergies has met with a mixed reaction amongst cat lovers. Some can't wait to fork out the $4,000 (just over £2,000) being charged by breeders in the US. Others, like poetic comic Madeleine Kane , lament the fact that "A kitty whose genes/Are swept allergen clean" demands "such hefty fees". Methinks Ms Kane has put her finger on the key issue here. Who in their right minds is going to pay so much money for a pet, especially one that, the minute you let it out the back door, is going to cover itself in soil, grass and excrement, not to mention - if I may steer you to a popular post of my own - the blood of the birds, mice and other creatures it is going to kill by night. If that lot don't make you sneeze, nothing will. Significantly, a couple of days after Ms Kane posted her piece, a company selling genetically cloned cats at some $30,000 a throw announced it was going out of business.

Breanne Boyle sent in a nice post on a question every dog owner must have asked themselves at some point: How do you stop your pooch puking in the car? Read her take on this rather sticky subject here.

Finally, three other blogs and stories that caught our eye this week:

One of the big blog-generators this week was, of course, the Ig Nobel prizes, the annual awards for people working on the (lunatic) fringe of science. I like a million others couldn't resist blogging about scientist Ivan Schwab, who was rewarded with an Ig Nobel for discovering why woodpeckers don't get headaches. Visit here to read the original paper in which Schwab revealed how "evolution has provided the woodpecker with a thick bony skull with relatively spongy bone, especially at the occiput, and cartilage at the base of the mandible to partially cushion the incessant blows". Genius.

Eek, a new species of mouse has been discovered. Mus cypriacus, the Cypriot mouse, is the first new mammal to be unearthed in Europe in many years, although you have to wonder why it's taken us so long to find him. Apparently he predates man by thousands of years. Blogger John M Lynch at Stranger Fruit introduces this fascinating little fellow.

Ever seen a starfish walk along the beach? Visit The Science Pundit and be amazed.

The Cyrano Syndrome: When Romance Is A Risky Business, Let Someone Else Take The Heat

What do you do when you're in the mood for love - but you know looking for romance can kill you? It's a not uncommon dilemma in the natural world and it's one that's been facing male crickets on Hawaii. The crickets attract females by singing out to them. But their calls can also attract a parasitoid fly, which lays eggs on the male that burrow into his body before consuming and killing him. A new study, reported in today's Science , suggests that male crickets have solved the problem by evolving into a new, silent type of cricket, known as the flatwing. The flatwings rather sneakily wait for their male cricket relatives to start singing - then congregate around them in the hope of interecepting interested females. It rather reminds me of the unchivalrous young buck in Cyrano de Bergerac who let the poetic Cyrano drive the beautiful Roxanne wild with passion - then jumped the queue to bed her. The jury is out on who will die out first, the crickets still willing to risk all for love, or the flies who find their normal prey giving them the silent treatment. The findings are reported in Biology Letters, (Biol. Lett. 2, 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0539, 2006)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Over The Edge: Are Elephants Suffering A Mass Nervous Breakdown?

Are elephants experiencing a mass nervous breakdown? And is the behaviour of human society the root cause of their psychological meltdown? That's the rather worrying question being asked by an increasing number of scientists.
Reports of elephants attacking human communities are becoming increasingly common. Last week a 34-year-old Briton was trampled to death while on his honeymoon in the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya. Dozens of similar incidents are reported worldwide every year. A major investigation in this week's edition of the New York Times magazine , suggests that these attacks are the result of a series of catastrophic, psychological changes that have been inflicted on the giant creatures by human colonisation of their habitats. Writes reporter Charles Siebert:

"All across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia, from within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings. In fact, these attacks have become so commonplace that a new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990’s to monitor the problem."

Siebert goes on to explain that many scientists thing the roots of this conflict lie in a form of "chronic stress, a kind of species wide trauma" precipitated by the breakdown of the elephant's tight-knit, family-oriented way of life.

"Decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss, they claim, have so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture."

The article also offers a warning. Yes, ultimately, elephants are going to lose their struggle for supremacy with us. But they are not going to lie down without a ferocious fight.

"It has long been apparent that every large, land-based animal on this planet is ultimately fighting a losing battle with humankind. And yet entirely befitting of an animal with such a highly developed sensibility, a deep-rooted sense of family and, yes, such a good long-term memory, the elephant is not going out quietly."

Chilling and highly recommended reading.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Gay Pride: Even Lions Are Homosexual

Homosexuality is rife within the animal kingdom. In recent years, scientists such as Bruce Bagemihl have opened our eyes to the fact that species from octopuses and dolphins to rams and giraffes have same-sex relations. It's still vaguely shocking, however, to see that most macho of creatures, the male lion openly indulging in what Oscar Wilde called 'the love that dare not speak its name'. Males, apparently, have sex together while they hunt for available females, and are thoroughly uninhibited about it too. Watch this Youtube video clip and you'll never use the phrase gay pride in the same way again.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Carnival Of Animals: Let Us Know What Animal Stories Are Catching Your Eye

Given the amount of you (quietly) dropping in to have a look, we've decided to host a blogging 'carnival' at Between now and next Friday (October 13th) you can post us items from your blogs, preferably on stuff that's caught your eye in the animal world. It might be your musings on a news story, a photo or a video clip. It could be your take on a scientific paper just published in a journal or a new piece of wildlife footage. They can be as serious or as silly as you like. Head here, to our Carnival Of Animals space to post your contribution. Look forward to hearing from you. Augustus B.

Why Woodpeckers Don't Get Headaches: And Other (Ig)Nobel Prize Winning Discoveries

Science's wackiest awards have just been presented again. And once more the Ig Nobel prizes have thrown up a hilarious collection of strange but true discoveries from the (lunatic?) fringe of scientific research. The awards, given out by the Journal of Improbable Research each year, reward work that Ig Nobel founder Marc Abrahams says "first makes you laugh, then makes you think". This year's winners include a team who investigated the eating habits of a species of dung beetle - it turns out they are very finicky about their faeces - and a Welshman who exploited people's inability to hear high-frequency sound as they get older to create a high-pitched alarm that can clear the streets of teenagers. Our favourite award, however, went to Ivan Schwab of the University of California, Davis, who received the Ig Nobel ornithology prize for a paper that explains why woodpeckers don't get headaches. After years of research and agonising, Davis discovered that muscles around a woodpecker's sensitive brain tissues are arranged in such a way that they act like a shock absorber. This leaves woodpeckers free to headbang away to their hearts content. As Dr Abrahams put it in his speech at the awards, held at Harvard last night, his dedication to solving this vexing problem "will give new meaning to the old phrase, to rack your brains." A list of the Ig Nobel prize-winners in full is here while this Guardian report looks at the awards in more entertaining detail.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ultimate Party Animals - Part III

We can't resist a good legless animal video here at Why Pandas Do Handstands, and today brings more, rather entertaining images of drunk and disorderly behaviour. Officers from the Colorado Divison of Wildlife were called to a school near Boulder yesterday after sightings of a very wobbly bear in the viccinity. Sure enough, they discovered the giant creature having a hard time putting one foot in front of another. The sight of the stumbling animal sent panic waves running through the Lyons Elementary School were children were just turning up for class. The wildlife officers were able to deal with the problem quickly and efficiently, however. The bear was tranquilised, tagged then locked up while it slept things off. As usual, fermented fruit was to blame for the animal's inebriated state. At this time of the year, bears eat constantly so that they bulk up enough to survive their five month hibernation during Winter. "They are eating 20,000 calories a day this time of year," said Claire Solohub of the CDOW. She reckoned this one had "found itself a nice apple tree or plum tree." You can watch a video of the drunken bear here at WFTV.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Why Doesn't A Cat Ever Go Splat?: High Rise Syndrome Explained

Why do cats that fall from higher altitudes suffer lesser injuries than those that fall from lower heights? A revealing National Geographic video presents some intriguing new answers to this eternal cat conundrum, a phenomenon New York vets call "high rise syndrome". A group of Park Avenue vets became so spooked by the way cats sustained worse injuries in falls from the twelfth floor of tower blocks than they did when they fell from greater heights they began studying the aero-dynamics of the cat. They discovered what many cat lovers have long known, the feline has a brilliant self righting mechanism, probably inherited from its ancient, tree-dwelling ancestors. As it falls through the air, the cat's brain is sent a series of messages from its eyes and inner ear that sets its head rotating back into an upright position. As its fall continues the cat twists its spine then arches its back to absorb the shock of impact better. When it comes to so-called "high rise syndrome", the key thing is that the more time the cat has to go through this process, the more time it has to get into position and the more time it then has to relax about is fall to earth. Cats that fall from higher altitudes can apparently enter a sort of freefall, like a parachutist. This relaxes them, in turn reducing the amount of trauma they suffer when they hit earth. The New York vets concluded that cats that fall from lower levels reach the ground rigid and less relaxed, thus suffering more trauma. So there you have it - if you want your cat to live its nine lives, move to the nineteenth floor.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Ultimate Stick Insect: The Spider That Produces Glue Through Its Feet

And you thought Spiderman was impressive...
German scientists have revealed that tarantulas climb vertical walls by oozing a super-adhesive silky substance - through their feet.
The spider's extraordinary ability to defy gravity has long been attributed to a combination of their claws and the tiny hairs that are attached to their feet. The latter form weak electro-magnetic attractions that attach the spider to solid surfaces. Their silk-spinning skills have been well-documented too. The sticky silk is pumped out through abdominal structures known as spinnerets and is used, amongst other things to capture prey and form protective shields for the spiders' young.
But it is only now that scientists have spotted spiders generate the glue-like substance through their feet as well, providing them with a third method for fixing themselves to sheer surfaces.
"We have discovered that the tarantula has a third attachment mechanism, which depends on fibres exuded from nozzle-like structures on its feet," said Stanislav Gorb, from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tubingen, Germany, who reported the discovery in this week's Nature. "These fibrous secretions function as silken tethers and, when laid down on glass plates, appear as 'footprints'."
The results have caused a real stir in scientific circles. Spider expert Professor Fritz Vollrath from Oxford University told the BBC today that the idea of arachnid's spinning foot silk had been regarded as something of an "old wife's tale". "It's incredible - just like Spiderman. If the stuff is so good he can pull a train around, how does he get it off? And that's the thing for the spiders: first they have to glue themselves down and then they have to get themselves off again. It's very clever," he said.
The discovery is exciting from an evolutionary perspective too. It raises the question of which came first, foot silk or abdominal silk. Or did spiders evolve the two techniques separately?

Photo: Max Planck Institute