Lions ate suspected poacher

Lions near South Africa's Kruger National Park ate a suspected poacher over the weekend.

"It seems the victim was poaching in the game park when he was attacked and killed by lions," Limpopo police spokesman Moatshe Ngoepe said. "They ate his body, nearly all of it, and just left his head and some remains."

Police found a hunting rifle and ammo near the body.

(BBC News) Read the rest

Double clitorises, spiked penises, and other reptilian reproductive parts

Reptiles have unusual reproductive equipment. For example, female snakes and lizards have two clitorises. Meanwhile, the male tuatara has no penis. "The male simply mounts the female and places the opening of his cloaca—-the cavity where the intestinal, genital, and urinary tracts meet in reptiles—-over hers," writes Tina Deines in a National Geographic article. From Nat Geo:

The hemipenes(double penis) of lizards and snakes sport tiny spikes and hooks.

Scientists have a few ideas about why hemipenes exhibit this sort of ornamentation. According to one hypothesis, male and female genital form has adapted so that mating can occur only between a male and female of the same species. The genitals of males and females of the same species fit together, and the spikes and hooks could help the male keep his hemipenis in place during mating.

One study found that those spikes and hooks may also increase the duration of copulation, thereby increasing mating success.

“I would stress that the female genitalia need to be studied in order to fully understand the function of elaboration of the male genitalia,” says (University of Queensland zoologist Christopher) Friesen.

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Researchers trained killer whale to speak English words

Researchers at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile trained an orca named Wikie to mimic words like "hello," "bye-bye," and other human speech sounds. John Lilly, I wish you were around to be part of this conversation. From the New York Times:

“We wanted to study vocal imitation because it’s a hallmark of human spoken language, which is in turn important for human cultural evolution,” said José Zamorano-Abramson, who led the study as a postdoctoral researcher at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. “We are interested in the possibility that other species also have cultural processes...."

The learning of culture, including vocal traditions, “is a key capability in the intertwining lives of killer whales,” he said, “and one that is critically harmed in captivity,” where animals are isolated and unable to develop the depth of emotions they would in the wild...

"Imitation of novel conspecific and human speech sounds in the killer whale (Orcinus orca)" (Royal Society)

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United Airlines denied a woman trying to fly with her emotional support peacock

United Airlines barred Dexter, an emotional support peacock, from boarding a flight at Newark International Airport on Saturday. From the Washington Post:

United Airlines confirmed that the exotic animal was barred from the plane Saturday because it “did not meet guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size.”

“We explained this to the customer on three separate occasions before they arrived at the airport,” an airline spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday to The Washington Post...

The peacock’s owner, who was identified by the Associated Press as Ventiko, a photographer and performance artist in New York, told the news agency that she bought the bird its own ticket.

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Octopus attacks and kills a dolphin from within, while being eaten

A dolphin ate an octopus, but the octopus got its revenge -- it attacked the dolphin's internal organs, killing it in turn.

From National Geographic:

Stephens says that the 4.6-pound cephalopod appeared to have grabbed onto Gilligan's larynx with a tentacle, preventing it from reconnecting to the dolphin's breathing apparatus and effectively suffocating him to death.

"That octopus might have been, in theory, dead, but the sucker was still functional," Stephens says, adding that while nobody wins in a situation like this, "the octopus gets a bit of a last hurrah."

There's a study in Marine Mammal Science detailing the entire grisly affair.

For the fifteen years I've been blogging, I have really had only one consistent message: Do not mess with octopuses, people. They will cut you. They will cut you while they are inside you.

(Image from Marine Mammal Science) Read the rest

Why Is Blue So Rare In Nature?

Blue as a pigment in nature is incredibly rare. Most animals with blue coloration achieve it through microscopic structures in their skin, fur, or feathers. This helpful explainer delves into the details. Read the rest

World's smallest species of wildcat could fit in the palm of your hand

The Rusty Spotted Cat of Sri Lanka weighs two pounds when it is an adult. Read the rest

Watch rescue video of puppies trapped in a pool of tar. It has a happy ending.

In Udaipur, Rajasthan, India, three puppies were immobilized in a pool of tar. Fortunately, someone called Animal Aid, an organization that rescues and treats street animals.

Prying them loose was impossible for the tense rescue team, so we had to cut the tar loose from the rocks below and bring the puppies and the tar and gravel they were stuck in back to the hospital. Determined volunteers and staff spent hours to soften the tar with oil and dishsoap, with time out only to plant kisses on the puppies’ noses. Multiple warm baths later…and wow. For babies who had been on the brink of death, this is what happiness looks like.

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Scientist finds shimmering blue moths last seen in 1887

A Polish entomologist has observed and recorded footage of a bee-like moth called the Oriental blue clearwing. Read the rest

Are pitch-lowered bird calls what dinosaurs sounded like?

Something nice, perhaps even wonderful, is going viral! Are birdcalls "slowed down", or lowered several octaves, examples of what the dinosaurs would have sounded like?

A reddit user debunks the speculation, but substitutes an experimental effort to recreate dino song, by sound artist Courtney Brown.

Actually, though birds are descendants of dinosaurs, their voiceboxes (the syrinx) have no evolutionary precursor organ. The syrinx also didn't evolve until after the KT extinction, so this video really has no relation at all to what dinosaurs may have sounded like. Going even further, there is no evidence that dinosaurs actually had voiceboxes, as it is a soft tissue organ, which don't fossilise well. The sound dinosaurs made probably came from resonating air in nasal/skull cavities...

Anyone with an ounce of scientific credibility knows that dinosaurs sounded like Norm McDonald standing on a British plug.

UPDATE:

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Cat prison backpack

This portable cat prison (Amazon) fully incarcerates your feline friend and you can throw it on just like any other backpack.

From the product description:

Take your pet out to the ballgame, on a plane, or to the vet in your choice of colors and budget friendly designs. Small pets, such as cats and rabbits can be difficult to keep in carriers. Semi-sphere Design: semi-sphere can stop them from escaping and keeps them safe in your care.

Great tips in the Q&A section:

Question: What do i do if my animal needs to use the restroom Answer: Take the cat out

I did not photoshop a screaming kitten into the product image. That is the one they market it with. Read the rest

Help fund a statue honoring the first cat in space

On October 18, 1963, a lovely feline named Félicette became the first cat in space in a trip lasting just 15 minutes and including several minutes of weightlessness. Three months later, scientists euthanized Félicette to study how the flight may have impacted her biology. Now, a fellow named Matthew Serge Guy has launched a Kickstarter to fund a statue in Paris memorializing Félicette. From the Kickstarter:

There are conflicting stories on whether the French space programme simply found Félicette as a stray on the streets of Paris, or if she was purchased from a cat dealer. Either way, she became one of 14 cats put into training for this spaceflight mission.

Ultimately Félicette was chosen, apparently due to her calm nature. But other reports indicate it may have been because the other 13 cats had put on too much weight....

It’s also important to note that Félicette, alongside many other animals that have braved space travel in the name of science, was ultimately an unwilling participant in this experiment. For this mission alone she, alongside 13 other cats, experienced arduous training prior to the mission and eventually gave her life. In that respect, this statue should serve as a reminder of the sacrifices made by all animal astronauts throughout the Space Race.

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Absolutely wonderful finalists of the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

They appear to be having more fun than most of us.

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Houdini Honey Badger Escapes Every Time

From a nature show on BBC 2, here's the story of a Honey Badger who cannot be confined! He’s smarter than Houdini. Read the rest

Watch delighted swimmers flee from curious killer whale

Watch these swimmers on Hahei Beach, New Zealand flee from a killer whale, aka an orca, last weekend. "You guys are idiots," says the cameraperson. Killer whales don't attack people in the wild. From the New Zealand Herald:

"They came in very close, about 10 metres from shore," (said Gary Hinds, chairman of the Hot Water Beach Lifeguard.)

It's a sight locals see about once to twice a season.

"They come in to feed on stingrays and stuff like that," Mr Hinds said.

"Some people don't see them, but the ones who do are in awe of seeing these orcas so close into the shore."

Surf lifesavers kept an eye on the situation to ensure people kept a safe distance and didn't get into trouble going out to look.

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Dying 59-year-old chimpanzee recognizes old friend

Mama was 59 years old, the oldest among the Royal Burgers Zoo chimpanzee colony in Arnhem.

Jan van Hooff (emeritus professor behavioural biology at Utrecht University and co-founder of the Burgers colony) who has known Mama since 1972, visited her in the week before she died of old age in april 2016. It took a while before she became aware of Jan's presence. Her reaction was extremely emotional and heart-breaking. Mama played an important social role in the colony. This has been described in "Chimpanzee Politics" by Frans de Waal, who studied the colony since 1974.

Visit before the end comes, and stay close enough to know when it's coming. Read the rest

Horses' facial expressions similar to those of humans

Horses use 17 discrete facial movements in communication, compared to 27 for people, 16 for dogs, and 13 for chimpanzees. University of Sussex researchers determined this by studying the musculature under a horse's face and watched videos of horses of all ages and multiple breeds. This enabled the scientists to create a catalog of facial behavioral sequences named EquiFACS (Equine Facial Action Coding System.) From National Geographic:

Jennifer Wathan, the study’s lead author, says the similarities between horse movements and human ones are striking. They include raising inner eyebrows (“puppy-dog eyes”) to show fear, surprise, or sadness; pulling back lip corners (smiling) in greeting or submission; and opening eyes wide to indicate alarm...

Her team’s research, which is already helping veterinarians and trainers, could also connect facial expressions to emotional states. “We don’t know much about the emotional lives of animals,” she says. “What does a positive emotion look like? This tool could help us see it.”

"EquiFACS: The Equine Facial Action Coding System" (PLOS One) Read the rest

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