Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Monday, November 27, 2006
Some things I noticed this week:
Pigging Out: Python Style
What would happen if an extremely greedy python tried to eat an alligator whole? This BBC story has the grisly answer.
If You Go Down To The Woods Today...
Insomniac bears are wandering the woods of Siberia, scaring the living daylights out of locals. According to news reports the bears can't settle down to their normal hibernation because of the unusually warm weather.
Every now and again, a wildlife film-maker does something so extraordinary it leaves you awe-struck, simply lost for words.
The National Geographic channel have just completed such a film. It's called Animals In The Womb and is precisely that: a collection of amazing ultrasound images of unborn dogs, dolphins, elephants and other animals. Visit the Animals In The Womb site to get a preview of the film and view a breathtaking gallery of photographs, including a 12 month old elephant foetus (it already weighs 26lbs and is 18 inches long) and a heart-melting image of three, incredibly peaceful looking golden retriever puppies curled up in their mother's womb. Happy Fetuses indeed. Remarkable stuff.
Panda Porn Update
Last week I mentioned that zookeepers in Thailand were showing giant pandas pornographic dvds to get them in the mood for mating. Well, the Press Association are reporting that it paid off. Reports that Chuang Chuang the male panda was spotted smoking a cigar afterwards haven't been confirmed yet.
What Not To Get Rover This Christmas
Wondering what to get your dog for Christmas? Well whatever you do, don't get Rover a robot companion. The shops are full of these yapping little automatons at the moment. Some of them are rather cute. But as this film clip of what happened when a team of researchers tried to introduce Sony's AIBO robot dog to another canine demonstrates, real dogs don't take terribly kindly to them. In the understatement of the year, the researchers concluded that :“It seems that at present there are some serious limitations in using AIBO robots for behavioral tests with dogs." Apparently the AIBO's warranty doesn't cover injuries to the robots by dogs. Now there's a surprise.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Things that caught my eye - and ear - this week:
Not So Happy Landings
Now we know why a dastardly leopard seal is the villain of the new animation movie Happy Feet.
The leopard seal stalks the Antarctic waters in search of emperor penguins, often striking when the birds are most vulnerable - as they enter and leave the water.
As this gruesome National Geographic footage shows , whether a penguin escapes the seal’s clutches or not is often a matter of luck. Some enter and leave the water safely, others make not so happy landings...
How To Control A Spooked Camel
Things you really need to know: No 19199. This is WikiHow’s rather excellent advice on how to regain control of a freaked out camel. I particularly like the tip about not pulling too hard on the reins in case you yank out the peg implanted in the camel’s nose.
Rip Van Winker?
Struggling to teach your dog to come to heel? Getting frustrated at how long it's taking to get your budgie to talk? It could be worse. Imagine spending forty years trying to get your tortoise to wink.
The World's Weirdest Sounding Dog
How Does A Barkless Dog Sing? In a very, very weird voice, that’s how.
The Basenji is the only breed of dog that can’t bark. But as this recording of a Basenji accompanying a flute reveals, they can make a whining sound that really doesn't seem to be of this world.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Every species needs a little something to add spice to their love lives now and again.
So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that those most reluctant of romeos, male giant pandas, watch pornography to get in the mood.
Chuang Chuang, a male in captivity at a zoo in Chiang Mai in Thailand, has been frustrating his keepers by avoiding his female room mate, Lin Hui, with whom they want him to make panda babies.
They've concluded Chuang Chuang simply doesn't know about the birds and the bees, so have started showing him videos of other pandas, caught in the act, as it were.
"They don't know how to mate, so we need to show the male how through videos," project chief Prasertsak Buntrakoonpoontawee told Reuters news.
To maximise their chances of getting Chuang Chuang in the mood, scientists have advised he is shown the movies when he is most relaxed and receptive. So he is settling down to his panda porn immediately after he’s had his dinner.
We all wish him luck I'm sure.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Some animal stories that caught my eye during the last week.
Crows are the world's cleverest birds. They are gifted mimics, can make their own, elaborate tools and even know how to play possum in order to lure their prey. But the unbelievably cunning birds caught on the Youtube film available here have got to be the smartest crows of the lot. Who needs a nutckracker when you've got the rush hour traffic to do the job for you? Amazing.
Tarantula venom is as hot as chilli powder, apparently.
Even killer whales need a little "me time". National Geographic have footage of an orca giving itself a full body massage and a seaweed rubdown.
And finally, is this the perfect dog?
Friday, November 10, 2006
Thursday, November 09, 2006
So now I know why this giant iguana came to visit our room when we were on holiday in Brazil. He was a lounge lizard - on the look out for a party.
Scientists have just discovered that reptiles have personalities, with “asocial” ones preferring their own company and others - like our friend the green iguana - enjoying a bit of a social life.
In a long-running experiment, Julien Cote of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France collected together a group of wild pregnant lizards. When their offspring were born he tested their reaction to the scent of other lizards. He then watched them interact with other lizards as they grew up.
The lizards that showed an aversion to the scent of lizards tended to shun the company of other reptiles when they grew up. He called these “asocial”. The ones that had been attracted to the scent actively sought out places where there was a high population of lizards.
Scientists are excited about the results. They seem to indicate that animals have distinct personalities, which mould the way they interact in the world.
Friday, November 03, 2006
The sloth is a much-maligned creature. Name another animal that's had one of the seven deadly sins named after it?
Most of us know it's not exactly the prettiest or the most dynamic of creatures, spending an average of 18 hours a day asleep. A few of us probably know that it moves so slowly fungus grows between its toes. But until I got this great post from Joe Kissell at Interesting Thing Of The Day I certainly didn't know the female of the species can shriek like a Hollywood scream-queen or, even more interestingly, that sloths provide a home for a veritable menagerie of other creatures. "One effect of the sloth’s languid pace of life is that it can’t be bothered to groom itself. This turns out to be beneficial to several varieties of algae and mold that grow inside the sloth’s hollow hairs," Joe explains. But it's not only algae that are attracted to this hirsute haven. Beetles have been found in their hundreds living on a single sloth and there is a type of moth (Bradipodicola hahneli) that lives exclusively in the sloth's hair. "Not only does it feed on the algae, but it also deposits its eggs in the sloth’s droppings, where they pupate and hatch, and then fly off to look for another sloth to live on," says Joe.
So perhaps it's time to re-evaluate the sloth. He may be slow, deeply unattractive and lazy, but no one can fault his generosity. And that's definitely no sin.
Another animal that gets a bad press is the panda, or more specifically panda mothers.
Much of the blame for the near catastrophic decline in the giant panda population has been laid at the door of the female of the species. They can only conceive once a year and are receptive to males for only three days. If they produce twins - which they do in sixty per cent of cases - they will only care for one of the cubs, leaving the other to die. But as ZenKitty at Echoes of Cold Moon saw at first hand, the panda's maternal instincts can be as strong as those of any other animal.
Squirrels aren't exactly the most popular creatures either, at least, not when they run up your stairs and hide in your house. Regular contributor Mad Kane has posted a cautionary tale about just such an invasion - and the curious impact it had on her marriage.
Some other things that caught our eye this week:
Elephants joined humans, great apes and dolphins as the only species known to be able to recognise themselves in the mirror. But did they like what they saw in the morning, that's the question?
Red wine drinking mice have delivered an early Christmas present for the world's gluttons.
Robin Hood, eat your heart out! Have a look at this fantastic film of an archerfish landing itself some insect lunch.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
They were talking, of course, about the world's first test-tube koalas.
As you'll probably know, the trio of koalas are the result of an artificial insemination programme being run by an Australian university. Scientists there plan to build up a koala sperm bank (now there are three words I never thought I'd string together in a sentence) to help protect the dwindling species.
My problem this morning was this. I know a little about the koala. And they're reputation as the world's cuddliest creature is ill-deserved. For a start, koala babies don't just eat eucalyptus leaves - as is commonly thought. They also eat their mother's own faeces, which - whilst it helps their immune system - makes them rather unpleasant to be around. Second, koalas are notoriously promiscuous and prone to a number of sexually-transmitted diseases, including chlamydia. (Is it any wonder there's a need for a clean batch of sperm at the bank to preserve the randy blighters?) Third, they are lazy slobs. Koalas spend most of their day asleep, and even when they're awake pass away the time, er, resting or eating. Finally, koalas are a menace to human society. For one thing, they can be vicious if handled wrongly. Second they have fingerprints that are identical to those of humans. The similarity is so great they can cause complete chaos when Australia's CSI-style forensic teams arrive at crime scenes.
So as I sat there with the kids, I had two options: one to keep quiet and coo along at the adorable little furries. Or two, explain that they were looking at a bunch of violent, lazy, poo-eating creatures with weird fingerprints and loose morals. As you've probably guessed, I went for option one. Well, I figured, they had enough frights on Hallowe'en last night.