Sep 28, 2011

Too sad; don't read

Washington Post article on the "growing at-home pet euthanasia movement that is beginning to relocate one of pet ownership’s most painful rituals, the final, one-way trip to the vet’s office."

Sep 15, 2011

Bird vs. Building

How many birds has your building killed today?

The Times says an estimated one billion birds die, per year, crashing into buildings! What! "There are no easy fixes," says the article. Less reflective glass, patterns, nets, even glass with ultraviolet signals, are unappealing options for designers, though they've been implemented successfully in some cases, and may soon be required, by law, for new buildings in San Francisco.

Lighting also is a problem, at night, when bright lights can confuse birds.

But Glen Philips of the New York City Audubon makes a good point: "I hope there will come a time when putting up an all-glass building is like wearing a fur coat."

Sep 10, 2011

Dolphins may have names

Except for the whole murdering for fun thing, dolphins are awesome. They may even call to each other using different whistles for different individuals - that is, names. (Well, it's not a whistle, it's a vibrating membrane. Ew!)

Each individual has an identifying whistle, which his friends copy, though they repeat it a bit differently, which suggests they're not just mimicking. In fact, pairs only use each other's whistle when they've become separated. Neat!

Sep 9, 2011

Crazy elks, murd'rous moose

Wednesday night, a drunken moose (Eurasian elk) got herself stuck in an apple tree, which had to be pared back and winched down so she could curl up on the grass and pass out. She slept in, but seemed to be fine later the next day.

Apparently this is not uncommon in Sweden, where moose are known to indulge in fermenting apples. Sadly, their revels can end badly. Ingemar Westlund, 68, was just cleared of murder charges after police concluded his wife was killed by a moose, probably a drunk one. That moose remains at large.

A note here: BBC says “elk,” CNN says “moose.” Elk and moose are distinct members of the deer family, Cervidae, but their names are interchangeable. Except that you will know the Commie scum if they call a moose (Alces alces) an elk (Cervus canadensis)!

Final note: animals get drunk all the time. Elephants are even worse than moose, because they go stampeding through villages, over homes and people. They can even do harm to themselves, like our friend stuck in the tree.

Wild animals should be given a respectable distance even when they aren’t drunk, of course. But just like humans, unless you have some Excedrin and mimosas on hand, animals are deadliest during a hangover!

Love to Stephanie, thanks to Shamie.

More about Lolong, the lovable giant man-eating crocodile

Earlier this week, residents of a farming township in the southern Philippines celebrated the live capture of a suspected killer: a one-ton, 20-foot, male saltwater crocodile. In case you’re wondering, that’s fucking huge. It took 100 people to hoist this amazing creature out of its creek - up which it was, presumably, sans paddle.

“Lolong” stands accused of eating a child two years ago, and may be responsible for a fisherman going missing in July. However, wildlife official Ronnie Sumiller says there’s an even bigger croc still on the loose.

Saltwater crocodiles can grow to 23 feet, and may live more than 100 years. Experts estimate that Lolong is 50 years old - since eating children and fishermen is a sign of midlife crisis in most crocodiles.

Crocodiles differ from alligators in a number of ways. Alligators have wider snouts, while a crocodile snout almost comes to a point. Alligators prefer freshwater, crocodiles are fine with saltwater. Gators play poker on Thursdays, crocs get togged up and enjoy a round of golf on Sundays. That’s just the way it is. Also, crocodiles are distinguished by two teeth that jut up outside the mouth like smug tusks. But the two share a common family tree - along with caimans and gharials, whatever those are - that appeared 84 million years ago.

So, they’re awesome. Should they be bound up with heavy ropes and posts and trucked off into captivity for being large carnivores? Probably not. According to The Philippine Star, Lolong’s already stressed out, muzzled and caged to be gawked at by crowds and taunted by children.

It’s great that there’s an even bigger one still at large ("Lo-longer"). I say let the monsters multiply!

Sep 6, 2011

One-ton croc captured in the Philippines

Actually felt pretty horrible for this big guy, even though it's a nightmare!

Jun 30, 2011

Loukanikos the awesome Greek riot dawg

Since 2008, Loukanikos has barked alongside protesters in Greece, where fears of a default have pressured the government to enact harsh austerity measures.

Loukanikos means "Sausage" in Greek. Story here.

Jun 3, 2011

Bottlenose murderers

Don't let the bottlenose dolphin fool you. Behind Tersiops' innocent snout there's a cold killer.

“They just seem so quiet and nice,” says a jellyfish, one of the dolphins' neighbors. But reports continue to accumulate of cetaceans killing their fellow seafarers.

Why? What motivates them? It doesn't appear to be competition for food. Though it may just be for fun, a recent finding points to a new explanation. Mark Cotter and colleagues at Okeanis observed bottlenose dolphins chasing, ramming, and drowning lone harbor porpoises in the Pacific.

Since 21 of 23 dolphins were male, they must obviously have been murdering with that age old motive: sexual frustration.

Feb 4, 2011

Of mice and moths

Yes, it's come to this: mice are being tested as explosive sniffers for airport security.

Israeli start-up BioExplorers "claims that trained mice can be better than full-body scanners and intrusive pat-downs at telling a bona fide passenger from a terrorist carrying explosives," says a recent article in New Scientist.

Mice apparently have a more acute sense of smell than dogs, and require less attention. They were conditioned to smell the traces of eight key explosives.

The same article reports that moths can be used as bomb detectors as well.

"Different chemicals produce distinct voltages on the antennae that the moths use to sense aromas, so the team wired up the moths to record these levels."

So, there you are, world, the absurd fixes you're willing to dream up in place of real solutions.

Sep 7, 2010

Nature's monsters

Of course there's no such thing as ugly animals, but there's an entertaining attempt to treat the oxymoron in the New York Times: "A Masterpiece of Nature? Yuck!"

It stars the star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata), a tunneler and part-time swimmer from the low, wet parts of eastern North America. It is the world's fastest forager. Pretty much its whole face comprises the eponymous "star-nose," a wheel of eleven pairs of supersensative "tendrils," radiating around a mouth that's hungry for insects, worms, and other small invertebrates.

"The star-nosed mole's brain processes the information [from its pink, fleshy tendrils] at a very high speed, which approaches the upper limit at which nervous systems are capable of functioning," says Neurophilosophy blog at ScienceBlogs. "Approximately half of the brain is devoted to processing sensory information from the nose."

It's true, C. cristata may have brains, but it is not a classical beauty. See the Times for more pictures - both a slide show and reader submissions.

Other supposedly ugly animals:

The blobfish (
Psychrolutes marcidus), facing extinction;

Warthogs, "neither graceful nor beautiful..." (
Phacochoerus africanus);

The manatee (
Trichechus spp.), a bloated, mopey torpedo shunned by researchers;

And our own Sphynx cat, an inbred "gargoyle of human creation!"

Sep 1, 2010

Bedbugs take over

Bedbugs (Cimex lectularis) are gross, creepy, and they're multiplying, virtually usurping power in New York City and the entire state of Ohio. But, as a great article from the New York Times points out, they don't appear to spread disease, and there may be more to fear from the pesticides used against them.

According to the article, few researches focus on this particular parasite; "most study grants come from the pesticide industry and ask only one question: What kills it?"

Those researchers that do specialize in bedbugs are charmingly kooky: "The classic bedbug strain that all newly caught bugs are compared against is a colony originally from Fort Dix, N.J., that a researcher kept alive for 30 years by letting it feed on him."

Since 2006, the fight has cost over $250 million nationwide, a vexing battle since the blood-suckers resist most pesticides. Currently, hope is fixated on propoxur, which the EPA warns may be carcinogenic, banning it for indoor use in 2007. Ohio, with four winners in Terminix’s top 15 bedbug-infested cities, is leading 25 other states in petitioning for an emergency exemption.

It’s a toss-up between dangerous chemicals: "authorities around the country have blamed house fires on people misusing all sorts of highly flammable garden and lawn chemicals to fight bedbugs," says the AP.

Maybe our blood-eating buddies are here to stay. They’ve even found their way into national politics.

Jun 13, 2009 spreads some healthy animal paranoia

Have to admit, I'm a bit jealous of the animal coverage at, a magazine I stopped reading about 15 years ago. Their recent contribution to man's endless quest to understand his animalian brethren includes stories of a spiteful grizzly bear, a manipulative dolphin, crows taking over Japan, etc. etc. Plus they use funny curse words.

Jun 12, 2009

Jellies: Rulers of the sea??!!

Terrible, just terrible. "Jellyfish threaten to 'dominate' oceans."

New methods for controlling these awful things include exploding them with sound waves. Apparently the species currently increasing are not generally considered to be edible. Darn.

I've written more about these menaces elsewhere. I don't want to think about it anymore today.

Jun 5, 2009

Tool-using rookies; a squirrelous video; uproarious wordplay

Unlike their corvine cousins, rooks don't show off their tool-using ability in the wild, but that doesn't mean they're a simpler breed. Given appropriate conditions in the lab - and a "tasty morsel" like a waxworm to tempt them - rooks (Corvus frugilegus) can use various combinations of sticks and stones to dip their beaks in some treats. They can even modify a stick or a piece of wire to complete the task.

See the videos at BBC News.

"The interesting thing about the rooks is that they do not use tools in the wild," says the deliciously named Christopher Bird, the study's lead author.

"The upshot," says the Economist, "is that toolmaking, at least in crows, does not look like a specifically evolved ability but rather an extension of general intelligence. Perhaps wild rooks are not presented with a need to use tools, and so don’t bother."

Other non-primates - elephants, cetaceans, various birds and rodents - also use tools. There may be uncounted species among them like the rooks who just don't exhibit tool use in the wild, where it's unnecessary.

And here we have a delightful video of the lengths those rascally sciurids will go to for a treat or a candy bar - not so different, us and the animals, hmm?