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

Hippo gets a pumpkin for a Halloween treat

Everyone loves Halloween, including the hippos at the Cincinnati Zoo, because they get to chomp down on delicious pumpkins. Read the rest

The strange, musical world of birdsong contests

At contests in Southeast Asia, bird trainers compete to see whose bird is the best singer. From Clive Bell's article in The Wire:

My colleague, accordionist Mike Adcock, chanced upon one this year in a market in Cianjur, West Java. A dozen cages were suspended high up, while below men with clipboards assessed the singing. In central Jakarta contests can attract hundreds of entrants, passionate bird trainers arriving along with their white-rumped shamas, green bulbuls or hill blue flycatchers. On one level it’s a (largely male) social occasion, on another there’s a lot of prize money at stake. A ten minute video from Phuket in Thailand shows the competitors desperately encouraging their birds from the sidelines, bending the rules by gesturing, whistling or blowing kisses. A bird with potential may be worth as much as a Toyota Fortuner. In fact a belief that it’s unlucky to put a price on a bird means they are more likely to be bartered for goods such as cars. The judges, some of whom are women, are assessing melody, rhythm and volume. One contest in Phuket demands that birds sing eight specific pitches within a defined time period...

Many of us probably feel that natural birdsong, encountered in the wild, is a particularly beautiful form of sound, and needs protecting, rather than improving via human intervention. But there are plenty who believe, for both financial and aesthetic reasons, that birds could do better, and that thorough education can raise a bird to greater heights of achievement.

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Husky puppy's first howl

Awooooooo!

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Cathulhu

Google images could not uncover the origin off this fluffy yet menacing elder one. If this is your adorable abysm of immemorial lunacy, drop us a note. [via] Read the rest

I was lucky to have a friend like Lu

I used to pretend to cry, whenever I was down, just so my dog Lucy would run up and comfort me. This worked well for a little over 16 years.

I have lived my entire life with dogs. I have been lucky enough to know several really special ones. Lucy Patterson was, from the very first day we got her, up until the minute she left, a dog that opened up every heart around her -- and then stole their food.

Lucy was a glutton. She once ate an entire 3lb bag of "Bit o' Honey" off my kitchen table. Lu proceeded to crap corn syrup and wax paper for days. I doubt she regretted it.

Lucy took a point blank shot in the face from a skunk, and in her suffering somehow decided to run back into the house and roll around in the clean laundry to try and get the stink off. She, and the house smelled for months.

Lu chewed the gear shift lever in every car she could.

When Lucy was 12 her cardiologist told us she had 3 to 6 months to live. Lucy did not hear this.

Mad at a member of our family, Lucy once took a dump at their spot on the dinner table.

Lucy would sleep on my feet, and I'd call her 'LuLu Shoes' -- when she'd sleep on my head it was known as a 'PatsPats Hat.'

Lucy trained Calliope to be a near perfect dog, but Zuul really became her mini-me. Read the rest

Rooster vs. cobra: who wins?

In the video below, a rooster in India tangles with a deadly cobra that can deliver enough venom in one bite to kill 20 people, and many more roosters. From National Geographic:

The rooster pushes the cobra away from the other chickens, sometimes dropping and pecking at it and sometimes running with the snake dangling from its beak. The bobbing movements of the rooster seem well-suited for this kind of fight, making it harder for the cobra to strike with its lethal venom.

At the end of the encounter, the rooster swallows the weakened snake whole, sliding the reptile into its beak as the creature’s muscles coil uselessly a couple more times.

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Gorgeous and fascinating look into the science of animal schooling

Animal collective behavior is not well understood, but thanks to new technologies, it's possible to isolate individual animals in order to understand how flocks, swarms, herds, and schools move as a group. Read the rest

Dogs in Navi Mumbai are turning blue

A number of very unusual-looking blue dogs have been spotted in Navi Mumbai, India. Sadly, the cause is industrial waste in the Kasadi river where stray dogs often wade. From the Hindustan Times:

A water quality test at Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation found the waste treatment was inadequate. The levels of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) — the concentration of oxygen required to sustain aquatic life — was 80 milligram a litre (mg/L). Levels of chloride, which is toxic, harms vegetation, aquatic life and wildlife, were also high....

“It was shocking to see how the dog’s white fur had turned completely blue,” said Arati Chauhan, resident of Navi Mumbai, who runs the (Navi Mumbai Animal Protection Cell). “We have spotted almost five such dogs here and have asked the pollution control board to act against such industries.”

MPCB officials said they had taken cognisance of the complaint. “Allowing the discharge of dye into any water body is illegal. We will take action against the polluters as they are destroying the environment,” said Anil Mohekar, regional officer, MPCB, Navi Mumbai. “We have directed our sub-regional officer to investigate,” he added.

Animal rights activists have, however, wondered whether the move comes too late. “We have only spotted blue dogs so far. We do not know if birds, reptiles and other creatures are affected or if they have even died owing to the dye discharged into the air,” said Chauhan.

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Drawing things in the nape of a sleeping otter's belly fur

Otter Wolrd (sic) has dozens of videos featuring otters doing cute ottery things, but the one embedded here shows a man drawing things in a sleeping otter's furry belly. [via Metafilter] Read the rest

Just a tiny hedgehog sitting on a piece of bread

This tiny little hedgehog appears to be sitting on a piece of bread.

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Watch pink legless lizards, mysterious dongs of the desert

The dongs of the deep have nothing on the hearty Mexican mole lizard, aka dongs of the desert.

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Watch a very cute bat gobble up a banana

Watch Denise Wade of Bat Conservation and Rescue QLD in Queensland Australia feed a banana to a a rescued bat. The bat was hit by a car and the driver kindly covered the injured animal with a box until help arrived.

"On this occasion we have a happy outcome and with no broken bones and only a slight concussion, Miss Alisha (named for the car's driver) will spend a short time in care before being released back to her colony," writes Wade.

(via Neatorama) Read the rest

Why don’t house cats roar?

It turns out lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars are the only species of cat that can roar. SciShow explains why in this new video. Read the rest

Scientists discover transparent frog

Scientists discovered this new species of "glass frog" in Ecuador's Amazon lowlands. Hyalinobatrachium yaku's belly is so transparent that you can clearly see its kidneys, bladder, and beating heart. From Science News:

Yaku means “water” in Kichwa, a language spoken in Ecuador and parts of Peru where H. yaku may also live. Glass frogs, like most amphibians, depend on streams. Egg clutches dangle on the underside of leaves, then hatch, and the tadpoles drop into the water below. But the frogs are threatened by pollution and habitat destruction, the researchers write. Oil extraction, which occurs in about 70 percent of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, and expanding mining activities are both concerns.

"A marvelous new glassfrog (Centrolenidae, Hyalinobatrachium) from Amazonian Ecuador" (ZooKeys) Read the rest

Cats domesticated themselves

In many, animal species are domesticated when humans bring them into their homes whether they want to be there or not. For example, it's mostly accepted that humans domesticated wolves, breeding them in captivity until they became the modern dogs we love today. Now, a new study of cat genetics reveals that cats just kind of hung around humans for thousands of years before they were domesticated. From Casey Smith's article in National Geographic:

The earlier ancestors of today’s domestic cats spread from southwest Asia and into Europe as early as 4400 B.C. The cats likely started hanging around farming communities in the Fertile Crescent about 8,000 years ago, where they settled into a mutually beneficial relationship as humans’ rodent patrol.

Mice and rats were attracted to crops and other agricultural byproducts being produced by human civilizations. Cats likely followed the rodent populations and, in turn, frequently approached the human settlements.

“This is probably how the first encounter between humans and cats occurred,” says study coauthor Claudio Ottoni of the University of Leuven. “It’s not that humans took some cats and put them inside cages,” he says. Instead, people more or less allowed cats to domesticate themselves.

A second lineage, consisting of African cats that dominated Egypt, spread into the Mediterranean and most of the Old World beginning around 1500 B.C. This Egyptian cat probably had behaviors that made it attractive to humans, such as sociability and tameness.

The results suggest that prehistoric human populations probably began carrying their cats along ancient land and sea trade routes to control rodents.

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Fisherman catch first documented two-headed porpoises

Fishermen in the North Sea near the Nethelands caught the first two-headed porpoises ever documented. The trawler crew found the animal already dead in its nets. From Deinsea, the journal of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam:

"The crew of the fishing vessel thought it would be illegal to keep the dead porpoise and they threw the specimen back into the sea. Fortunately, first a series of photographs was taken. The specimen, however, is lost for science and natural history."

"The first case of conjoined twin harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena (Mammalia, Cetacea)" (Deinsea via Mysterious Universe)

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