Cool Cats & Dandy Dogs Get Ready for Clear the Shelters Day

Have you been thinking about adding to your family with a new furry? Well, tomorrow, Saturday August 19th is The Day to find yourself that one special pooch or moggie who’s sure to steal your heart away. It’s Clear the Shelters Day, when right across the USA shelters offer free or greatly reduced fees for all would-be adopters. It’s a once-a-year event to find loving homes for every fur baby in the participating shelters. Want to know more about this marvellous scheme? Click here and here

And to prod you in the right direction, here is a selection box of cat and dog trivia, facts and fun to dip into, that I hope will yield up one or two surprises.

Those of us already sharing our homes and lives with a BFF or three are pretty sure we can read them like a book, aren’t we. Every twitch of the ear, wag of the tail, arch of the back, squint of the eyes. We live with them for goodness sake. We know them so well that every time some new piece of scientific research on Felix or Fido reveals its (unsurprising) findings, we just go “Dah. Like we didn’t know that already”.

Except this time. Because I’m willing to bet these researchers have turned up an oddity that will have you eyeing your pooch anew.

The tell-tale tail

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“It now appears that when dogs feel generally positive about something or someone, their tails wag more to the right side of their rear ends, and when they have negative feelings, their tail wagging is biased to the left.

In spite of having lived with dogs all my life, I can’t claim ever to have noticed. But apparently, that left/right business isn’t as surprising as it seems at first glance. Many animal brains including humans, have a left hemisphere (which controls the right side of the body) that is activated by love, happiness, serenity. And the right hemisphere (controlling the left of the body) by withdrawal, fear, depression.

And, it’s not just, “Was that a left wag, or a right?” The language of doggy wag is a bit more complicated than we might have thought. Apart from the left/right business, the researchers noted 4 different kinds of rear end motion, and surprisingly they don’t all mean ‘I’m-so-happy-to-see-you’. Find the full wag guide here

action-2483689__340-1Cats on the other hand, just wag their tails when they are angry, don’t they? As befits the cat’s enigmatic aura, the feline wag is even more subtly nuanced than the canine. So we have:

  • The Vertical Tail and Tail Quiver
  • The Wrapped Tail
  • The Tail Flick (Or, the Straight Out and Back Tail)
  • The Swish
  • The Fluffy, Arched Tail
  • And the Twitch

What does it all mean? To whet your appetite for more, I’ll let you in on the meaning of the first, the VT & TQ: “An upright (or vertical) tail and tail quiver (or rattle tail) are often signs of a friendly greeting from your feline. An upright tail is usually a sign of a happy, confident cat” You knew that already of course! More on the cat wag guide here


It’s not fair

From a piece of research in Vienna, scientists found that dogs are right on the button when it comes to what is fair and what is not.

They put two dogs in separate cages, but where they could see each other. Each had a buzzer they could press with their paw. Sometimes when they pressed it they would both get a reward, but sometimes neither would. Sometimes one got a reward and the other didn’t. Sometimes one got a better treat than the other. What happened? The one consistently coming off worse would just give up pressing the buzzer. No-one wants to be the underdog.

But he or she would happily keep pressing the buzzer and not getting a reward, as long as the other dog didn’t get one either. Or, if there wasn’t another dog to compare themselves with – proof that it wasn’t just boredom that made them stop. The pooches were aggrieved. They stopped because it just wasn’t fair.

Is this something dogs have learned from living with us humans? It seems not. The researchers also tried the experiment on wolves – and got the same result. In fact the wolves stopped pressing even quicker, the alpha male quickest of all.

Dogs have been among us for maybe 40,000 years, but it seems their view of fairness learned long ago from dwelling as a member of a pack lives on.

Afterthought: wouldn’t it be fascinating to know how cats would respond? Would you like to venture a guess?


This dog stays wild!

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We’re talking Australian dingo here. In traditional aboriginal society, dingo pups were taken from the wild and draped around women’s waists like garments of clothing. Like you do. The women even breastfed them. In return, they kept the women warm, were an invaluable help in the hunt, a source of protection – and sometimes of food.

But before the pups reached the age of two, they were returned to the wild to breed. And in spite of thousands of years of semi-involvement in human lives, the adult dingo still to this day fails “to respond to any amount of discipline, kindness, bribery or coercion.” A dingo pup taken from the wild can not be trained up as a family pet. “Affectionate and tractable when young, eventually their carnivorous nature gets the better of them.”

The dingo’s most astounding gift though, is its ability to divine water. These wild dogs can detect water both above and below ground, and humans throughout history have put its remarkable skill to good use. Records reveal many accounts of “wild/semi-wild dingoes leading Europeans to lifesaving water springs.” And Australian place names still bear witness to this talent: Dingo Soak, Dingo Springs, Dingo Rock, Dingo Gap.

In aboriginal culture, dreaming tracks or songlines trace the dingo’s paths across the continent, from one water source to another. To one well-versed in them, the songs of the dreaming tracks serve as maps, since the words describe landmarks and waterholes. So by singing them they can navigate their way even over the vast Australian desertland. The dingo has shown them the way.

You can find out more about these fascinating wild dogs, and see an extraordinary image of Aboriginal women with dingoes wrapped around their waists here


But enough of dogs. Now for a bit of quality time with the cats.

Cuddles & Cat Flu

This research aimed to find out what effect if any positive interaction with humans has on shelter cats’ health and wellbeing. So, on arriving at a Vancouver cat shelter, each cat was divided into one of two groups. The ‘treated’ group got quality interaction with a human 4 times a day, 10 minutes each time, for 10 days. The control group had someone stand outside the cats’ cage with averted eyes for the same amount of time.

Surprise, surprise, these are the findings:

  • Human interaction by petting, playing and grooming improved shelter cats’ welfare
  • ‘Treated’ cats were more content and less anxious and frustrated
  • ‘Treated’ cats had increased levels of immumoglobulin [meaning healthier immune systems]
  • ‘Treated’ cats had less respiratory disease

cat-714358_960_720Even if that falls into the cat-egory (ahem) of research results stating the obvious, it does prove one thing: much as they pretend they don’t – putting on every appearance of just about tolerating us and condescending to live with us on their terms only – they do actually need us after all!


But before we get carried away with that good news, I regretfully have to confirm what we all always suspected –

Dogs really do love us more than cats

Five times as much in fact, so the scientists tell us. Who knew you could measure love? Find out how they do it here

Cat lovers take heart though – they do love us a bit😊


Now for something altogether more serious

Are Felix and Fido driving climate change?

American Professor Gregory Okin decided to find out. And these are his sobering findings:

  • Meat-eating US dogs and cats create 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year – equivalent to a year’s worth of driving from 13.6 million cars
  • That tonnage of carbon dioxide makes up 25 – 30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the States overall
  • If the 163 million American dogs and cats were a separate country of their own, “their fluffy nation would rank fifth in global meat consumption behind only Russia, Brazil, the United States and China”. Now that is scary.
  • And don’t forget the ‘waste’ – they produce 5.1 million tons of feces, as much as 90 million Americans

So what’s the answer? Our dogs and cats are family. No way are we going to give them up, even for the best environmental reasons in the world. Prof Okin doesn’t offer solutions, other than his half-joking suggestion that we transfer our affections to naturally vegetarian pets like hamsters or birds – or little ponies that can mow our lawns. Well, I have a couple of suggestions:

  1. Feed your furry friend veggie/vegan dog and cat foods, like Ami, Benevo, and Yarrah. Taurine and arachidonic acid are vital for cats, but these brands do contain them, so don’t listen to those who like to tell you a cat can’t live on a vegetarian diet
  2. DON’T give up the chance to save the life of a rescue pet – a lovable little critter that might well end up euthanized – by getting your BFF from a pet store or breeder. You would simply be lining the pockets of people who exploit dogs and cats just for money.
  3. ALWAYS go to your nearest animal shelter – TOMORROW! – and give a loving home to a pet who’s been abandoned through no fault of their own. They will reward you a thousand times over.

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#adoptdontshop


And finally, just for fun!

 

Actions to take for dogs and cats

Sign up to Cruelty Free International’s campaign to put an end to cruel experiments on dogs here

Speak out for the dogs and cats suffering at Liberty research here

Sign to end the killing in US animal shelters here

(All images Pixabay)

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The App that Wakes You to a Sweet Dawn Chorus Any Time of Day

Are you up with the lark, bright and shining early in the morning? No? Well, not to worry. Even night owls who prefer rising at a more civilised hour can now be eased gently from slumber into the new day by the sweet music of birdsong. All courtesy of – believe it or not – a museum.

If you’re anything like me the very word ‘museum’ may make you want to yawn tiredly and walk off in search of a place to sit down and a strong coffee. But Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History and its design lab The Studio have found a fun up-to-the-minute way to share its treasures with us that is anything but old and dull, dusty and fusty.

Ok, “a natural history museum-based alarm clock” app doesn’t sound that appealing, I’ll admit. But don’t let that description put you off. The ‘Dawn Chorus’ app (Apple & Google) is sheer delight, with 20 melodious bird songs to choose from, in any combination you like.

Move over shrill jarring of the bedside alarm. Make way for the music of nature itself.
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The birds of Dawn Chorus. Image courtesy of The Studio

“Like nature’s dawn chorus, this app grows louder as different birds join together in song. But unlike those birds that sing outside your window, these ones can be snoozed. Give your phone a shake to rattle the birds on their branches and hush them up.”

But what makes Dawn Chorus different from other museum apps? After all, museum apps are nothing new. Many provide virtual guided tours of their collections.

The thing is, do you actually keep one of those on your phone? Fascinating as they are (and I have used them) I have to admit that I don’t.

So the Studio designed Dawn Chorus to make it a more permanent member of our phone app family, to embed itself in our daily life. One that would open up to us – most of whom are never likely to darken the august doors of the Pittsburgh Carnegie! – the museum’s fabulous natural history resources. And in a way we can interact with, customise to suit ourselves, and ring the changes whenever we wish.

If we’re keen to know more about the little songsters, there’s info on each of the 20 at our fingertips. And all accompanied by the enchanting paintings of Sam Ticknor, an artist with The Studio.

Oh, and did I say? The app is free.

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Image courtesy of The Studio

Just one little glitch for those of us who don’t live in the northeast USA – all 20 birds are local to that area. Not that the choristers sound any the less sweet for that.

But, if you are a dab hand at programming, or just like tinkering around, the app is open-source, and you can customise with bird calls from your own neck of the woods too. Just go to Github to download the source code.

It’s The Studio technician Jeffrey Inscho’s hope that the app will raise awareness of the museum’s important conservation work. And that “museums [in general] will play more central roles in our modern society, and apps like this can pave the way.”

The rest of us might just welcome a sweeter way to ease us into the new day

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Please help other birds with these petitions:

Stop migrating birds being slaughtered in Malta and Cyprus

Fight for Flight – Stop mutilating birds in zoos

Indonesia: ban the trade in wild birds

Urge Jewish Community to do Kaporos with Money not Chickens

 

Sources

Don’t like to wake up to your alarm clock? Try this gentle birdsong app from Carnegie Museum – ZME

Introducing Dawn Chorus – Studio

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3 Genius Ways of Helping Rescue Dogs – & Cats – But Mainly Dogs!

“This was just a small, tiny, organic, nice gesture of kindness and it’s resonated with people all across the country. Anybody can do it. It doesn’t have to a be big thing; it can just be walking a dog.”

Luis Escobar, coach at Californian high school St. Joseph’s one day surprised his runners with a bunch of four-leggers super keen to join them on their run – pooches normally cooped up in the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter.

Fun was had by all, regardless of leg number. Luis made this little video.

As you can see, all relished being out in the big wide world, though one was a bit of a tortoise. And Fred – well Fred preferred to travel in style (reminds me of my own rescue canine!) It proved for him a tactic with a payoff, because he scored himself a nice new home – runner and ‘Fred-carrier’ Josh Menusa and his family ended up adopting him.

As if this little story is not wonderful enough, after Luis posted his video on Facebook, his simple but genius idea caught fire and spread all over the country. And why wouldn’t it? Runners love to run, and so do pups – a match made in heaven.

Find out more here


Now for genius off-the-wall idea no.2 – books

A good run-out, yes that makes sense, but books? For dogs? Seems the mutts are particularly partial to a good animal yarn. But if you’re letting your imagination run wild with visions of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles”, “Lassie”, and “101 Dalmations” lining the walls in dog pens, let me bring you gently back down to earth. Dogs are clever but not that clever. Or maybe they are, because they let us do the work for them and in some choice shelters they have a child human read to them. Why keep a dog and bark yourself, is what they say.

The kids sit on the floor in front of the pens so it’s the dog’s choice how much he/she wants to interact. It’s a quiet gentle activity that seems to have a calming effect on stressed animals.

It helps shy and fearful dogs overcome their insecurities and increase their chances of being adopted.”

This little guy is rapt!

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Pic Humane Society of Missouri/Facebook

And everyone’s a winner:

  • The kids aren’t frightened of making a mistake reading to animals as they would be with people. It increases their confidence – animals are so nonjudgmental
  • A study at the University of California found that children who participated in a 10-week reading program at a shelter saw a 12 percent improvement in their reading
  • It is the perfect way to teach children the importance of compassion, and the need to adopt not shop
  • It helps create positive ties between a shelter and the community it’s in

Why not find out if your local shelter has such a scheme, and if not, suggest they might like to start one.

Plenty more lush ideas of how you can show your love for shelter animals here


Our third genius idea really is genius! Where do folk rustle up these amazing ideas? I wish I knew. Here you go – optical illusions

Under the slogan, “There’s always room for more. Adopt”, World for All in Mumbai, India commissioned these marvels that speak better than words because they speak to the heart.

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All 3 amazing pics by Amal Jadhav for World for All’s adoption event

What family could resist finding a place in their lives for a needy animal after seeing these? The pics’ impact was huge. Attendance at the adoption event was up 150 percent from the previous year, and saw 42 adoptions. The plan is to repeat the event yearly after such phenomenal success.

Thanks to the Dodo for that uplifting story


So there we have it – three stories of fun ways to help get animals out of shelters and into loving homes. When you decide to get a dog or a cat to make your home complete, ‘paws’ for thought, and ADOPT, DON’T SHOP.

Just look at these sad statistics:

  • The Daily Mail reported that the number of stray or abandoned dogs in the UK reached 110,000 in 2013, and that 21 are put down every single day.
  • The RSPCA rescued and collected 118,994 animals of all kinds in 2015 in the UK, and were only able to rehome 47,651 of those.
  • The ASPCA tells us that in the USA approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats.
  • And that each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats)

And they are not just numbers. Each individual one an aching heart just crying out for a loving home. #AdoptDontShop Helping Abused or Abandoned Animals


To end on a brighter note, a bit of doggy fun for dog slaves everywhere.

The Amazing Abilities of Dogs – Take the Quiz here

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Cover pic Twitter pic: guywholoveshiscat🐈 @noxtea0x0

If you love cats, look no further to be amused and amazed.  I invite you to dig out your roll of coloured tape, go mark out a square with it on your floor, and wait for your kitty to stroll by. Does your fur baby do this? It seems most pusses need no purrsuasion.

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Twitter pic:

Uhuh, here comes another!

Twitter pic: Jen @JeniNiquette

This puddled puss almost resisted. But no, it seems for moggies sitting is mandatory.
And another! Purple tape, pink tape, blue tape – whatever.

Twitter pic:

Squares of ribbon, paper, even shoes – the kitties will park in the middle without pro-cat-stination.
What pawsible reason can there be for this strange behaviour?

“We know that cats like safe spaces. It’s possible that the marking on the floor creates some illusion on the floor that doesn’t actually exist,” says certified cat behavior consultant Mikel Delgado. “It might have enough similarity to a low-sided box that a lot of cats are attracted to it for safety.”

Certified cat behavior consultant Ingrid Johnson agrees, pointing out that cats have poor close-up vision, so they may well mistake the tape for a shallow box – and we all know how cats love boxes.

“Their vision is built for distance and speed, watching a mouse run across the field,” she says. “Close up they’re virtually blind 8 to 12 inches off their muzzle.”

Curiosity killed the cat

So the saying goes. And cats are certainly curious. Your puss may just be purrusing a new strange object on your floor.

Cats in circles

Circles, hexagons, heptagons – cats can’t get enough.

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(Photo: SneakyChino/imgur)

But if it’s just curiosity, why the sitting?

Mikel Delgado has the last word: “Maybe just chalk it up to cats being mysterious,” he says.

Now just get out that tape and go!

Source

 How to mess with your cat by drawing a square’  Mary Jo DiLonardo

 

Teddy Bear the Porcupine’s Valentine’s Treats!

❤️What can I say? ❤️Enjoy, and❤️Happy Valentine’s Day❤️to you!❤️

8 More Kinds of Animal Craziness

What you never knew you wanted to know about animals – but you really do

Episode 2

Did you know that –

Chimps

Are champs at recognizing rumps? It’s not the face, but the butt they look at to tell one buddy from another – and they do it just as easily as humans distinguish faces. Bright colours, it seems, count for both species. In humans, females’ red lips are attractive to males, a fact well-known to lipstick manufacturers. No lipstick for chimp females though. It’s the red rump that’s the big turn-on in chimp society. The redder the better because when the rump blushes even deeper crimson the male knows his lady is ovulating and it’s now or never.

The Mysterious ‘Silkhenge Spider’

In the jungles of Peru and Ecuador, builds a very special protective playpen for its young? In spite of extensive publicity in the world of science, no-one yet knows what species this clever beast belongs to. Watch this video of spiderlets being born, and hear the scientists trying to unravel the mystery

Grizzly Bears

Run fast? So fast they would win the race against that lightning-speedster Usain Bolt himself, no competition. Don’t be fooled by that large lumbering appearance. These beasts can run at 30mph, and that’s just when they’re cruising. If you put them under pressure or make them mad, who knows what their top speed might be? Never try to outrun a grizzly. If Usain couldn’t do it, you and I certainly can’t!

The female shark

Has learned to grow an extra-thick skin? And not because she gets insulted more than most. It’s just that during mating, her male counterpart has the unpleasant habit of biting her – hard. Those jaws are not a thing to be trifled with!

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Tarantulas

Are right-handed? At least we think so. Right-handed? With 8 legs, or is that arms? I reckon the Honduran curly hair tarantula deserves a prize for its name alone. And if not for its name, its size. It’s as big as a grapefruit. Eek. It seems more often than not, male curly-hairs choose to take a right turn rather than a left in a laboratory maze, when in either direction there’s the promise of their favourite food, cockroaches. Ditto in pursuit of females. The difference is statistically significant (ie. happens more often than if by chance). “Furthermore, the team observed that the male spiders prefer to use their right eyes and feet while moving.” Not so much right-handed, more right-footed then.

Whatever, there’s no call for alarm, arachnaphobes. It seems this species is pretty docile, unless you’re a cockroach that is. And isn’t he a magnificent beast?

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Japanese snails

Are a knockout? Literally. Two snail species of the genus Karaftchelix are said to be “unusually aggressive”. Can you even imagine an aggressive snail? A contradiction in terms, surely. But these ones are veritable Snail Samurai. While most snails in danger retreat into the safe haven of their shell, these two kinds are no shrinking violets. They use their shell not for retreat, but attack – as a weapon of war, swinging it vigorously and very effectively at their predator, the carabid beetle. See the warriors in battle here:

Egyptian fruit bats

Bicker? A lot. They row over food, feud over their favourite spots in the roost, and even have romantic tiffs. And the way they talk varies depending on the particular bat person they are addressing. No different from us then. Before this latest study, scientists thought all that noise was just saying ‘get the heck out of here’, or words to that effect. But after running 15,000 calls through a “machine learning algorithm” (don’t ask – I don’t know) the researchers discovered the squabbling was much more complex than you might expect. And they expect more intriguing discoveries from bat-speak yet to come.

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Humans

Used to have a penis bone? Seriously. What is a penis bone? What’s it for, and how come we were so careless as to lose it? It’s scientific name is a baculum, and it’s an ‘extra-skeletal’ bone, which means it’s not attached to the rest of the skeleton, “but floats daintily at the end of the penis”. Again, eek. A variety of mammals have hung on to theirs but ours is not even vestigial like the appendix – it’s gone for good. The scientists have various colourful speculations as to its purpose. And also why our evolution alone among primates found no further use for one. As you may have suspected, it’s all about the mating game. Different species, different mating strategies. Some need’em, others don’t.

To find out more about how we lost the penis bone and see a photo, click here. More links to today’s animal craziness at the bottom of the page.

I hope you have enjoyed these fun facts. I actually put them together with another more serious purpose in mind. Shouldn’t we marvel at the infinitely fascinating,  colourful, varied and complex life on this planet of ours, and do all that we can to keep it safe? Sadly, new species are being discovered that are already extinct. There is so much we don’t know. So much more to discover and wonder at. Let us treasure it at its true worth which is beyond price.
Please take a look at this list of simple eco-friendly things we can all do to make a difference:
 40 Unexpected Ways You Can Help the Environment Right Now
And this one is the daddy of all eco tip lists:
Green Eco Tips for a Healthy Planet

 

If you want to find out more about chimps rump recognition, click here

To find out more about the amazing silkhenge spider, click here

To find out more about speedy grizzlies, click here

To find out more fascinating facts about sharks, click here

To find out more about this wondrous Honduran arachnid and his right-footedness, click here

To discover the evolutionary significance of the samurai snails, click here

To learn more about bickering bats click here

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Gifts Animals Give – & Strictly No Socks!

No socks this year please Santa. But what is on your list? A ball of spit? A skewered frog or two? Or some silk-wrapped ‘pre-loved’ insect remains? No? Well, what about stolen goods then.

If you watched the last episode of Planet Earth II you can’t fail to have noticed  sundry animals getting up to all kinds of skullduggery, not to mention some downright theft. Sneaky, opportunistic – or just clever? Well, one poor little guy living near a golf course in Australia wasn’t as clever as he thought, and his gift-giving went horribly wrong.

Karma
The scene opens with our hero – a bower bird – fussing over his art work in front of his bower, arranging and rearranging, intent on enticing a prospective mate – or two, or three…
For his colour scheme he choses white, enlivened with a splash of red here and there: a red plastic fork, a red bottle top, lengths of red string. Still he contemplates his beak-work with dissatisfaction.

Something is missing and he knows just what it is. His neighbour has hit the jackpot with the latest find for his own showpiece – a red plush heart the size of a child’s hand. It seems so improbable, but yes, really, a red plush heart. How did that get on the golf course? Whatever, no bower bird of the opposite sex is going to be able to resist that!

Envy is eating our guy up, but he knows all he has to do is loiter nonchalantly in a nearby tree and wait. His patience is rewarded – the possessor of The Heart flies off to find more objets d’art for his masterpiece. Our guy wastes no time. He swoops and carries off the prize. Back home he makes the wondrous heart the centrepiece of his display.

Soon his artistry (and thievery) bear results – a visitor arrives to inspect his creation.

Our little guy parades one cherished object after another before his guest, starting with the red plastic fork. But the visitor is not impressed. How about a length of red string then? Boy, this one is hard to please. There’s nothing for it but to offer up his pièce de resistance – The Red Heart. He hopes this will clinch the deal, and yes, finally, his gift is a winner. His visitor graciously accepts the proffered heart.

But oh no, now what’s happening?!? Our little guy has been duped. Far from falling for his charms, the prospective mate flies off with his most treasured (but stolen) possession. She is no lady, and not just because she’s a trickster and a thief – ‘she’ is in fact a juvenile male. Well all’s fair in love and war they say, and there surely is no honour among bower bird thieves.

I Made it Myself

A red plush heart as a gift to impress your lady is one thing. But how about a ball of spit? And not just any old ball of spit. The male scorpion fly (so called because his tail-end resembles a scorpion’s sting, actually his genitalia) offers his girl a ball a whole tenth of his body-weight in spit. That’s an impressive amount of spit. If the protein-rich saliva wins her over, she eats it, and the deal is sealed.

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Still, a ball of spit has got to be better than a ball of something else, which is the dung beetle’s offering to his beloved!

Do I Look Stupid?

Dodgy doings and trickery are not exclusive to the bower bird. A certain S. American spider gift-wraps his prey in spider silk before offering it to his beloved. But who knows what’s really inside that silk parcel? This gent is prone to giving in to his greed and presenting his sweetheart with an offering that is, yes, beautifully wrapped. But when she tears off the layers in excitement, she discovers she’s been conned. All that’s inside is the evidence of his gluttony, the worthless remains of his prey. What a cheapskate. And no Mr. spider-guy, trying to claim it’s “pre-loved” simply will not cut it.

You’ll Want for Nothing, Darling

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Great Grey Shrike

No such scamming for this pretty little songbird. His modus operandi is 100% above board. Everything he has on offer he puts on conspicuous display to catch the eye of passing females. But don’t be deceived by those cute looks, this little avian has a startlingly macabre side. His love gift is a well-stocked ‘larder’… of corpses. If you’re ever in Scandinavia and stumble across  a spiky bush gruesomely adorned with the carcasses of insects, frogs, toads, fish, lizards, mice, voles, stoats, bats or maybe even other birds , all brutally skewered on its thorns, you’ll know ‘the butcher bird’ is not far away.

S*x

You may have noticed a common thread running through the antics of all our dudes so far, and it’s a three-letter word beginning with ‘s’. Those fellas without exception expect a full return on their gifts. But the critters up next have no such ulterior motives with their giving. A bunch of well-brought up crows in Washington State give gifts just to say ‘Thanks’.

Sparklies Are a Girl’s Best Friend

This murder of crows (that really is what seems a totally inappropriate collective noun for them) delivers all kinds of trinkets to Gabi, a young Seattle girl. Their offerings are invariably bright, shiny and small – small enough, naturally, to be carried in a crow’s beak.

Gabi had a habit of sharing her packed lunch with her feathered friends on her way to and from the school bus. Soon they were lining up on the fence waiting for her. So she began feeding them properly every day in her garden. It wasn’t long before she started to find little offerings left on the food trays – buttons, beads, bits of glass, earrings, paper clips, even a little silver ball.

One crow found the lens cap her mom had lost from her camera. He was seen dunking it in the bird bath as if to clean it before leaving it for her on one of the trays. To date she’s amassed quite a collection of little trinkets, and she treasures every one.

Stuff the ‘murder of crows’! Wouldn’t a much more fitting collective name for these clever, appreciative birds be ‘a courtesy of crows’?

The Gift that Says You Must Try Harder

Let experts disembarrass you though of the notion it’s “Thank you” your cat wishes to express when she drops her latest poor little victim on the carpet at your feet. Cat behaviorists say it’s the feline equivalent of a slap on the wrist, moggie’s way of venting her acute disappointment at your painful lack of hunting skills, and a much-needed lesson in how it’s done.

Cat behaviourists may think they’re doing us a favour with this unsolicited tidbit of information. But in this instance I reckon ignorance is bliss. Allow us to keep our happy little illusions. Forget the experts spoke. Of course our cats are saying “Thank you” and “I love you”. Aren’t they?

So, which animal is the bees’ knees, the cat’s pyjamas of gift-givers?

Just for their adorable good manners, the crows get my vote.

Compared with corpse larders, spit and dung though, socks may not be looking such a bad option after all!

Merry Christmas!

hsmno


Merriment aside

At the very end of Planet Earth II, Sir David Attenborough says this:

“Surely it’s our responsibility to do everything in our power to create a planet that’s not just for us but for all life on Earth

Sir David’s impassioned plea for the planet is sobering. Let’s hope the movers and shakers of the world took note, and that it prompts the rest of us as individuals to shoulder that responsibility on ourselves and do “everything in our power’ to live in a conscious, animal-friendly, life-friendly, eco-friendly, sustainable way.

Let’s make this our gift to the planet

There could be no better way of kickstarting 2017

Sign up to Veganuary here

Check out Veganuary’s Facebook page here

Discover a great resource for sustainable living tips here

Sources

5 Gifts That Animals Give Each Other – Center for Biological Diversity – Medium

The girl who gets gifts from birds – BBC News magazine

Cover pic socks from Sock It To Me

Related posts

8 Kinds of Animal Craziness

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8 Kinds of Animal Craziness

Cover pic from Pixabay: Jumping Spider

What you never knew you wanted to know about animals – but you really do

Episode 1

Did you know that –

Worms

Can actually taste sunshine? Yes, I did say ‘taste’. They don’t have eyes. Which makes sense since they’re underground most of the time. But on the odd occasion they do pop up, they taste light with LITE-1, a protein from a family of taste-receptors. LITE-1 enables these little animals to taste light 50 times better than we humans can see it via light-receptors in our eyes. I wonder what it tastes like.

Lionesses

Can grow themselves a magnificent mane of fur, exactly like their mate, the King of Beasts? Five lionesses in Botswana are the living proof of this strange anomaly. One is even going around roaring like a male, and ahem, humping other females. The world has more than enough testosterone already thanks ladies.

Spiders

‘Listen’ with the hairs on their legs? So, without ears, they can hear us talking from right across the other side of the room. That leg hair vibrates in response to sound waves from our voices, which in turn triggers neural signals to the eight-leggers’ brain. Fortunately, they can’t actually make out what we’re shrieking: ‘Get that spider out of here!’ To them it just sounds like a really bad phone connection. I never say that by the way. I’m a big fan.

wasps-1780846__340.jpgWasps

Help make wine? It’s true! Yeast is the magic alchemy that turns grapes into wine. And where does the yeast comes from? Wasps’ guts, would you believe. Certain wasps store wild yeasts in their guts over winter. When the wasps feast on the following year’s grape harvest the yeasts are left behind on the fruit. No glass of velvety hints-of-citrus chardonnay without our winemaking friends the wasps.

emus-163028_960_720Ratites (nothing to do with rats!)

the biggest birds in the world and flightless to boot, make for ‘stellar dads and unusual lovers’? The ratites are the emus, ostriches, cassowaries, kiwis and rheas.

All male ratites (except ostriches) are super-dads. They both incubate the eggs and take care of the chicks after they are hatched.

So now to the interesting bit, the big birds’ love life. Very unusually in birds, ratites have penises, “really dense, collagenous penises” that they push out of their body cavity to mate. Truly. What can I say?

A Never Before Seen Chinese Spider

Camouflages itself to look exactly like a leaf? And that’s not all. To make the disguise even more convincing, s/he picks dead leaves up off the ground, drags them up the tree to its chosen twig and attaches them there with spider silk. It’s a case of spot the one among many that isn’t actually a leaf. The creature was finally rumbled when an unusually sharp-eyed arachnologist noticed suspicious glints of silk apparently attaching leaves to a tree. On closer inspection and to his great surprise, one of the leaves turned out to be a very cunning creature, until that moment completely unknown to humans. And probably also to its prey until sadly it’s too late for them.

horse-582472_960_720Horses

Can express opinions and tell us if they’re too hot, too cold, and if they want their blanket on or not? The only thing about this news hot off the press that I find surprising is the scientists’ wonderment at discovering what they never knew before – that equids have the ‘intelligence’ to communicate with us. I imagine the horses would be laughing up their sleeves, if they had sleeves to laugh up.

The leader of this particular piece of research told the BBC, “Horses are often considered to be not very intelligent but this shows that using the right methods they can actually communicate and express their opinions and they can take choices that seem sensible to us even. Oh, the arrogance of the human race vis a vis the nonhuman animal kingdom knows no bounds!

I think it says far more about humans’ clodhopping inability to understand other creatures than it does about the latter’s abilities, don’t you?

American Burying Beetles

Have some freaky mating fetishes? Yes, we’re back to That again. But this is courtship as you’ve never known it. The male beetle has a uniquely bizarre way of getting ready for love. No bunches of red roses for his beloved. What he likes to sniff out for her is a nicely rotting corpse. And why not. It seems he can smell a carcass (small mammal or bird) from miles away – well, at least two miles, which is still pretty impressive.

He uses the ‘scent’ to lure the female to the spot and together they go to town ripping fur (or feathers) from the cadaver. Then they roll what’s left into a ball, ‘seasoning’ it with their oral and anal secretions. Eek.

The next step is equally macabre. They bury the carcass ‘ball’ in a grave lined with its own fur or feathers. Once the task is completed, it’s ‘down to business’. Finally, the now fertilised eggs are deposited in a tunnel right next to the grave. When the baby burying beetles hatch there’s a tasty well-‘seasoned’ corpse right there for them to feast on. Go beetles!

And on that somewhat gruesome note we must end this episode of the weird and wonderful. I’m sure there will be more to come.

If you want to know more about worms loving the taste of sunshine, click here

If you want to know more about be-maned lionesses and see a photo of this oddity of nature, click here

If you want to know more about spiders’ hearing with their hairy legs, click here

If you want to know more about wasps and wine, click here

If you want to know more about ratite dads & lovers, click here

If you want to have a go yourself at spotting the cunning Chinese leaf spider, click here Update 13th December 2016 Scientists have now chosen the binomial Latin tag for this newly-discovered creature. They think it’s odd shape resembles the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and have named it after the hat’s original owner Godric Gryffindor. So it’s official. The trickster is called Eriovixia gryffindori. Eriovixia denotes its genus, and gryffindori this particular species. Click the link for some good pics.

If you want to know how the horsey ‘take my blanket off’ discovery was made, click here

If you want to know more about the corpse-sniffing American burying beetle, click here

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Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2016

The Man Who Makes Music for Elephants

15 Animal Myths That Are Absolutely False!

 

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Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2016

Deliciously funny finalists from the CWP Awards 2016

Nature … as you’ve never seen it before

Cover photo by Gil Gofer

Mihai Andrei for  ZME Science

We all know the classical wildlife photography shots: majestic tigers, glorious elephants, dazzling landscapes. But nature isn’t only about that – nature can be funny too. So while photography may be a serious matter, every year, the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards celebrate the wild and the fluffy, the cute and the hilarious animals which we see too rarely.

Founded by two passionate wildlife photographers, the awards are not only about the laughs, though: “way more importantly, this competition is about conservation,“ organizers told Bored Panda. They’re working with Born Free Foundation, a conservation charity which attempts to protect wildlife. Here are some of the best photos of this year:
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Photo by Angela Bohlke

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Photo by Adam Parsons

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Photo by Philip Marazzi

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Photo by Perdita Petzi

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Photo by Mario Gustavo Fiorucci

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Photo by Artyom Krivosheev

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Photo by CWPA

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Photo by Henrik Spranz

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Photo by Tom Stables

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Photo by Anup Deodhar

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Photo by Patricia Bauchman

I can’t decide whether my favourite is the frog or the owls!

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The Man who Makes Music for Elephants

“The elephant has worked for humans for too long. It was used in wars, it was used to deforest its own home. What is the little thing I can do as a human to say sorry, for my species for what we have done to them?”

says Paul Barton, the man who dragged a piano up a mountain to play for aging injured elephants.

Remember Prince Charles talking to his plants to make them grow better? You probably don’t. It was thirty years ago after all. At the time he took quite a pasting in the press. But studies prove that plants do indeed seem to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ different sounds. Clearly HRH’s plants’ taste in voices is different from mine!

Then someone discovered that plants also like music, Mozart proving top favourite on the plant-playlist. The Japanese went into this big. They found that ‘Mozart bananas’ and ‘Mozart tomatoes’ ripen more quickly and taste sweeter. And it wasn’t just the plants. Other food products like miso and soy sauce turned out better when made to music. Japanese sake develops “a richer fragrance and milder taste” when treated to an hour of Mozart played twice a day for the month it takes to ferment. Or so its brewer claims.

And – and this is about as nuts as it can get – how about playing Mozart operas to microbes in a sewage works? Well, going nuts with melodious Mozart saves money it seems. A sewage works just south of Berlin has a specially designed sound system to faithfully recreate the proper spread of orchestral sound you get in a concert hall. Playing Mozart operas – and yes, it has to be operas – speeds up the breakdown of the biomass, saving them €1000 a month, which is not to be sniffed at. (Sorry!) Poor Mozart. He could never have dreamed he would be brought so low. Once performing to the glitterati of Europe, now to sewage microbes.

So this is all my roundabout way of saying, should we really be so surprised that many non-human animals enjoy music? I guess most of us have seen the delightful Jazz for Cows. Now watch this wonderful man jamming some 12-part blues with Peter the elephant at Elephant Stay. Have those ellies got rhythm!

Paul Barton’s duet partner as well as the pair’s avid audience are very special elephants – old, injured, many blind, still bearing the injuries sustained in their lives working in Thailand’s teak forests, but now enjoying a peaceful retirement in two not-for-profit sanctuaries.

Teak was the palm oil of the twentieth century – in such great demand in the 70s and 80s that commercial logging destroyed swathes of irreplaceable forest land and made extinct hundreds of plants and animals. Tribal peoples were forced from their forest homes. The elephants too were victims, many blinded by the twigs and branches scratching their eyes as they hauled out the heavy logs –  being made to tear apart their own habitat. And being abused and mistreated along the way.

When Thailand finally put a stop to the deforestation in 1989, the elephants and their mahouts were out of a job. A mahout will not keep a burned out elephant that no longer makes him money, so some were just abandoned. After enduring so many years of pain and deprivation, they were left without the skills to survive alone. Those still capable of providing their mahouts with a living  were put to work for tourists, carrying them on trekking trips, being made to perform in circuses, or begging in the city streets. Out of the frying pan into the fire. The elephants used for trekking are made to carry very excessive loads, worked for 10 hours a day, and inadequately fed. Please never go on one of these camps, and tell all your friends too. Likewise circuses.

Their fate in the cities was no better – I say ‘was’ because the Thai government no longer allows elephants in the cities where the hot asphalt scorched their sensitive feet and they never got enough to eat.

One such victim of human cruelty is Para, blinded by the logging she was forced to do and then cast aside when she was no longer any use. It’s so good to know she now lives peacefully on the banks of the River Kwai in ElephantsWorld, a non-profit ‘retirement home’ for old, injured and distressed pachyderms.

Enter Paul Barton, English artist and musician.  When he reached 30 Paul decided it was time for some adventure in his life and applied for  a 3-month teaching post at the Piano School in Thailand, a part of the world he’d always wanted to visit. That was in 1996. Paul’s three months turned into 20 years. He found his adventure. He also found love, and a wife. And it just so happened that his wife was interested in animal conservation and activism. What do you get when you join together in holy matrimony an animal activist and a musician? Why music for elephants, of course! And this is how Paul came to be playing the piano to Para, in his own words:

I had previously worked with blind children for two years and seen the impact music had in their lives. So I wanted to try out that theory with these blind elephants. This elephant [Para] in particular was so intelligent, I thought she would appreciate some music. I thought hard about what kind of music she would like to hear and finally settled on Beethoven. Her reaction was so surprising.

Elephants eat a lot of food. A lot. When an elephant gets to eat, it’s a bit like a dog. A dog will eat its food so quickly because it’s not sure if it will ever eat again. And elephants are the same. Once they get their hands on some juicy leaves, they will eat and eat and nothing can tear them away from their food.

That morning I brought the piano in early to the sanctuary. Plara was taken to a field full of juicy bamboo shoots and she began eating with a single minded dedication. I started to play Beethoven and she stopped eating. There was this half eaten bamboo shoot sticking out of her trunk while she stared at me. That was a reaction never seen before. An elephant stopped eating because of music. That was the beginning of this project.

Paul has been playing music to elephants ever since, at both Elephant Stay & ElephantsWorld.

For his 50th birthday, Paul decided on something special.

The elephant has worked for humans for too long. It was used in wars, it was used to deforest its own home. What is the little thing I can do as a human to say sorry, for my species for what we have done to them?” he said.

He dreamed up a special challenge to raise funds for his elephant friends  – dragging a piano up a mountain where they liked to gather. And there he treated them to the soothing tones of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata, the slow movement.

If you play classical music to an elephant, something soft and beautiful, something that human beings have been listening to for hundreds of years, something that is timeless- and you play that to an elephant that is blind and they’ve never heard music before- the reaction is priceless. There is a special bond between you and the elephant. You are communicating with them in a different language. That language is neither our nor theirs. There is something infinitesimally wonderful in a piece of Beethoven that connects me to that elephant and that feeling is otherworldly.

And here he is with his appreciative audience.

 

If you can’t get enough of Paul’s music for elephants, he has a playlist of 23 videos.

PS Paul would like people to know that the keys of his piano are plastic, NOT ivory.

If you would like to donate to ElephantsWorld, you can do so here.

You can also stay at ElephantsWorld and work as a volunteer for one month.

Sign the petition to TripAdvisor to stop promoting cruel wildlife tourist attractions here.

With grateful thanks to dear friend Lisa Ladysa for bringing my attention to this heartwarming story.

Sources

Music for Elephants: How Paul Barton is apologising to blind elephants for crimes of humanity – Your Story

Man Hauls a Piano Up a Mountain in Thailand and Plays Beethoven for Injured Elephants – Open Culture

Music for Elephants