Shocking video of an electric eel leaping from its tank

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This intense slow-motion video, depicting an electric eel jumping from a tank to zap a faux alligator head, accompanies a new scientific paper by Vanderbilt University biologist Kenneth Catania. From Nature:

Catania first spotted the behaviour during earlier laboratory experiments with electric eels (Electrophorus electricus), when they would leap upwards to attack a metal-rimmed net as he was trying to fish them out of their tanks. He analysed it by presenting the eels with carbon rods and aluminium plates at which they struck; the video’s plastic alligator, with its flashing light-emitting diodes that are powered by the eel’s electrocution, is his dramatic demonstration of the effect...

The behaviour allows eels to directly shock their opponents, rather than having their voltage dissipated by water.

It is the first time that this has been recorded in a research paper, Catania says — although he argues that his discovery supports a widely disbelieved observation made more than 200 years ago by the Prussian explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. In a paper published in 1807, von Humboldt recounted that he had seen South American native fishermen herding horses into a pool of electric eels; the eels would discharge themselves against the horses and could be fished safely when they were exhausted.

According to Catania, there are other mysteries of the electric eels left to be solved, like how it can electrocute another creature without zapping itself in the process.

"Leaping eels electrify threats, supporting Humboldt’s account of a battle with horses" (PNAS)

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Genetic study suggests dogs emerged independently from two wolf populations

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The origin of dogs is a hot topic among biologists, who've fought over whether there's a single point of origin from wolves and when and where it (or they) happened. A new study suggests the answer is twice, independently, from populations of wolves in western Europe and in east Asia. But they interbred, so most modern dogs are descended from both western and eastern groups.

The geographic and temporal origins of dogs remain controversial. We generated genetic sequences from 59 ancient dogs and a complete (28x) genome of a late Neolithic dog (dated to ~4800 calendar years before the present) from Ireland. Our analyses revealed a deep split separating modern East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs. Surprisingly, the date of this divergence (~14,000 to 6400 years ago) occurs commensurate with, or several millennia after, the first appearance of dogs in Europe and East Asia. Additional analyses of ancient and modern mitochondrial DNA revealed a sharp discontinuity in haplotype frequencies in Europe. Combined, these results suggest that dogs may have been domesticated independently in Eastern and Western Eurasia from distinct wolf populations. East Eurasian dogs were then possibly transported to Europe with people, where they partially replaced European Paleolithic dogs.

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Watch sharks in a frenzied whale feast

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Impressive drone footage of more than 70 tiger sharks chowing on a whale near Shark Bay in Gascoyne, Western Australia. Eco Abrolhos Cruises posted the video to the company's Facebook page:

Passengers on our 14-day Geraldton to Broome and everywhere in between were treated to an unexpected phenomena while cruising inside Dirk Hartog Island. Something to show and tell the grandchildren.

(The Australian)

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This cat is freaked out by a snake in a toad's mouth

Wouldn't you be too? (via Dangerous Minds)

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Pause for Dog Meme, Please

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Sometimes the simplest things in online life are the most sublime

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Endangered species ads: animals being 3D printed

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A new ad campaign from the International Fund for Animal Welfare features rendered images of cross-sectioned endangered animals on the beds of 3D printers, being printed out, layer by layer. Read the rest

Alligator visits human home, tries to ring doorbell, flops over adorably

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Alligator sightings are pretty common in South Carolina's Lowcountry region around this time of year. But a genuine gentleman alligator whose momma raised him to ring the doorbell when he comes a-callin on a human neighbor--well, that's just downright precious.

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This wilderness helicopter pilot and his trusty dog co-pilot have the best life

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His name is Mister Bentley, and he's an English Bulldog, and yes these incredible photos of this dog flying in a helicopter over the most beautiful wilderness along Canada's western coast are real.

Bradley Friesen is a helicopter pilot based in Vancouver, Canada. His YouTube channel and Instagram feed are full of delightful images from the air, with this wonderful pup as his co-pilot. Who's a good doggie?

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What sound does this animal make? Google just got better at answering that.

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Do a Google search for 'animal noises.' You should see a field up at the top of your search results that shows images of various animals, and audio samples of a noise each of them makes.

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How do cats always land on their feet?

Those are some stunning acrobatics from an African Caracal. (BBC's "Life in the Air")

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Watch these cute Barn Owls learn how to fly for the first time

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“Luna and Lily have grown from helpless little chicks to near adult barn owls and now they're beginning to learn how to fly.”

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See the cute and strange underbelly of animals

Familiarize yourself with the underside of myriad animals, from turtles and birds to bats and cats. (Wakaleo Animal Channel via Laughing Squid)

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Will we ever live in a world without pets?

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Today we travel to a future without pets. What would it take for us to give up our fuzzy, slithery, fishy friends? Should our pets get more rights? And if we didn’t have dogs or cats, would we domesticate something else to take their place?

Flash Forward: RSS | iTunes | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Patreon

In this episode we also run through a couple of possible ways we might wind up in a pet-free world. Which, to me, sound really sad. Thankfully (spoiler alert) it’s probably never going to happen.

Illustration by Matt Lubchansky

▹▹ Full show notes

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National Poo Museum will be crappy in a good way

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Next month, the Isle of Wight Zoo in England is opening a National Poo Museum! The new exhibition will include preserved feces from a wide array of animals, from the Lesser Madagascan Tenrec to lions, and of course a 38 million-year-old coprolite, fossilized crap such as the specimen seen above.

"It's stinky, unpleasant and sometimes dangerous stuff — but it’s all around us and inside us too — and perhaps surprisingly our planet would be a much poorer place without it," a museum spokesperson told the County Press. Read the rest

Should Cesar Millan be fed to pigs?

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So-called "dog whisperer" Cesar Millan thought he had a great idea to fix a dog who had killed two pet pigs. He'd let it off the leash near a new pig, then inflict whatever pseudoscientific, domineering bullshit he does to dogs to make dogs temporarily obedient. Unfortunately, the dog immediately ran over to the pig and bit part of it its ear off before anyone could stop it.

Far from being chastened, the producers apparently used the footage to market his show, reports The Dodo:

The clip has raised a storm of controversy on social media, along with a petition to get Millan off the air permanently.

Jim Crosby, an outspoken animal behaviorist who has trained hundreds of dogs, thinks Millan may have even committed a crime under section 597 of California's criminal code.

"Even if we let the first engagement slide as an accident," he writes on Facebook, "this documents several felony counts occurring in California at the 'Dog Psychology Center' as directed and permitted by the trainer. It may also qualify as 'baiting' under the various state and federal dog and animal fighting statutes."

The original promo clip seems to have been removed; all that I could find are outraged commentaries with sinister music and such. Here's another one, also commentated but with the original audio:

Psychology Today's Mark Derr says Cesar's methods are antiquated and his fans threaten critics.

… the best learning outcome would be for National Geographic to take a stand for dogs, pigs, and other animals and remove Cesar Millan from the air until he reforms his act.

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Unicorn chased down and returned to owner

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Police responding to reports of a unicorn on the loose chased down the mythological beast to find a suitably-augmented pony that had escaped from a children's birthday party.

"She was kind of running amok in some orchards with some white blooms," said Sandra Boos, whose family owns the horse named Juliette. "So, she kind of blended in with the scenery.

"She turned out to be stealthier than we would have imagined."

Juliette, who belongs to 5-year-old Tatum Boos, was finally found in an orchard, wrangled back into custody and returned to her Madera County stable in a fairy-tale ending.

"I was afraid," Tatum said. "She got in a timeout because she was being a bad pony."

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99-year-old woman wakes to an exotic "honey bear" sleeping on her chest

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This is a kinkajou, or "honey bear," a mammal who usually calls the Central and South American rainforests its home. That's far from Miami, Florida, where one scared the hell out of a 99-year-old woman who woke up to find it sleeping on her chest. The animal ran off into the attic where her son-in-law was able to lure it into a cage. He brought it to the South Dade Avian & Exotic Animal Medical Center where veterinarian Don J. Harris identified it.

“I don’t know, I guess her first impression was it might be a cat, but when they both got a look at each other, they both freaked out," Harris said.

According to the Miami Herald, the kinkajou's owner has been found. Read the rest

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