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Animals from 60 different species are best pals at this Arkansas critter refuge (photos)

Via Bored Panda, photographs from Rocky Ridge Refuge in Arkansas, a facility that cares for abused and abandoned animals from some 60 domestic and wild species. [Facebook, website].

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Why are so many snowy owls showing up in places so far south from the Arctic?


Image: Norman Smith releasing a snowy owl in Duxbury, Mass., that had recently been captured at Logan airport in Boston. Photographed by Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times.

John Schwartz at the New York Times has a wonderful story up about a strange trend involving snowy owls: They seem to be showing up a whole lot in places very far from their normal habitat within the Arctic Circle. Places like Washington, DC; Boston; Virginia, and the like. John:

“This year’s been bizarre,” said Dan Haas, a birder in Maryland. “The numbers have been unprecedented. Historic.”

No one is sure why so many snowies are showing up in so many places — whether it can be attributed to more food in their Arctic habitats than usual, or climate change at the top of the world. “Think about the canary in the coal mine,” said Henry Tepper, the president of Mass Audubon, “you think about the snowy owl in the Arctic.”

Go read the whole piece. Great photos, too.

Animal Planet's "nature" shows: whistleblowers detail crimes, animal cruelty, fakery

Mike from Mother Jones writes, "Mother Jones' James West looks into the dark side of the network's turn toward wildlife reality TV, and uncovers some disturbing revelations about a hit show. It boils down to this, West writes: 'The raccoon incident is just one of numerous instances on 'Call of the Wildman' sets of alleged animal mistreatment and possible infringements of state and federal law, the result of what sources describe as cavalier and neglectful production practices. A seven-month Mother Jones investigation -- which drew on internal documents, interviews with eight people involved with the show's production, and government records -- reveals evidence of a culture that tolerated legally and ethically dubious activities, including: using an animal that had been drugged with sedatives in violation of federal rules; directing trappers to procure wild animals, which were then 'caught' again as part of a script; and wrongly filling out legal documents detailing the crew's wildlife activities for Kentucky officials.'"

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Friendly seals off the coast of England

"We've been visiting here for the last six years to say hello to the seal pups and we've never had this much interaction before," writes Jason Neilus, of a visit to the Farne Islands. "They were everywhere and all over us!!!! After a nightmare drive there with the worst traffic coupled with the imminent arrival of the St. Jude storm we didn't think this trip was going to be worth the effort but once again the seals made every second worthwhile." [Video Link via Arboath]

What do you call a baby porcupine?

You will never believe this. It's just too damn cute. They're porcupettes, people. Baby porcupines are porcupettes. Maggie 14

One of the last known photos of the Formosan Clouded Leopard is a picture of a vest

It's a nice-looking vest, but it does make a rather strong point about humans' role in animal extinctions. The Formosan Clouded Leopard was one of the animals declared extinct in 2013. Maggie 4

Mongooses synch their reproductive cycles

Science suggests that, despite popular belief, human women's menstrual cycles don't necessarily synch up when they live together. Banded mongoose females, on the other hand, do synch up their reproductive cycles enough that mongoose babies are all born right around the same time. Maggie 2

Dolphin-safe tuna is a danger to other animals

In an older post that I hadn't seen before, David Shiffman of the Southern Fried Science explains how the ostensible success of "dolphin-safe tuna" has actually led to tuna fishing methods that are a much bigger threat to ocean wildlife — from tuna, themselves, to endangered sea turtles and sharks. Maggie 11

Forgotten history: When the squirrels came to town

Prior to the mid-19th century, squirrels were thought of as fantastic woodland creatures, rather than the urbane, city-dwelling vermin they are today. In fact, the available evidence suggests that, up until this point, there really weren't a whole lot of squirrels living in cities in the United States — at least, not with the ubiquity that they now do. What changed? A couple of things, according to a paper published in The Journal of American History. First, human architects and city planners got really into the idea of urban greenspace for the first time, constructing elaborate parks like Central Park in New York. Second, the humans then imported squirrels from the countryside to add to the bucolic ambiance they were hoping these parks would foster. The rest, as they say, is all rodent breeding and natural selection.

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Don't be scared of the vampire squid

The name Vampyroteuthis infernalis means "Vampire squid from hell". And vampire squid are freaky looking creatures — red with cloudy eyes that can appear blue or blood red, depending on how the light hits them. But appearances can be deceiving. Turns out, the squid from hell has eating habits more in line with those of Bunnicula. The squids' entire diet is made of "marine snow" — floaty little bits of algae, poop, and bacteria.

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Man tries to swap alligator for beer (video!)

Miami, Florida resident Fernando Caignet Aguilera, 64, was cited after he attempted to trade an alligator he found in a nearby park for a 12-pack of beer at a convenience store. According to CNN, he faces six months in jail and a $500 fine for "taking possession and selling an alligator, which is a second-degree misdemeanor."

Swim with the piggies

Better than swimming with the dolphins (though maybe not as awesome as wading with the platypuses), Pig Island in the Bahamas is home to miniature piggies who paddle around the bay seeking handouts from charmed tourists. Maggie 17

FDA finally addresses problem of antibiotic overuse by meat industry — sort of

Back in September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report connecting the use of antibiotics in livestock to antibiotic resistance in humans. It was an important step in turning science into action. Although human use and misuse of antibiotics and the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals are important parts of the puzzle of antibiotic resistance, the massive use of antibiotics by the agricultural industry also plays a key role. In fact, the vast majority of antibiotics used in the United States are used by animals. (Reasonable estimates range as high as 80%.)

What's more, the vast majority of that antibiotic use has nothing to do with the health of the animals. The antibiotics have the side effect of promoting weight gain. Important drugs like penicillin and tetracycline are regularly doled out to cows and pigs and chickens as part of their daily feed in order to make them fatter — a practice which has been shown to directly reduce those drugs' effectiveness at treating actual illness in humans. Today, the FDA announced that it plans to change this ... but there are problems.

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Rats vs. Easter Islanders: How the Islanders (sort of) won

Jared Diamond's account of the collapse of Easter Island society is well known by now — how the Islanders decimated their ecosystem and drove themselves to the brink of starvation by using up the island's natural resources at a furious rate. But that's not the only possible explanation for how Easter Island lost its tree cover and ended up with a much-reduced population. In fact, some anthropologists say there's not really any hard evidence that the Islanders were practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, clearing the land with fire.

Instead, this other theory blames the little creature pictured above — the Polynesian rat, an invasive species that stowed away on canoes and chewed its way through the roots, sprouts, and seeds of Easter Island's trees. Instead of willfully destroying themselves, this scenario has the islanders desperately adapting to a quickly changing environment. It's not that the changes had nothing to do with people — the rats got there with human help, after all — but the angle of the story changes somewhat, becoming less about the destructive aspects of human nature and more about the lengths humans will go to in order to survive.

Image: Cliff from Arlington, via CC license

Pink praying mantis disguises itself as a flower

Native to the Malaysian rainforest, this orchid mantis does such a good job of mimicking local flora that it inspired Alfred Russell Wallace to propose that some animals mimic plants in order to lure in the pollinators they hope to eat.

It would also go nicely in a thematic collection with the pink fairy armadillo.