Cover pic “Smiley.” Nicole Rayner/Mars Petcare Comedy Pet Photo Awards
How can that pic fail to put a smile on anyone’s face?
What would we do without our BFBFFs* in these difficult days. If they bring us out-loud laughter as well as everyday happiness, that’s got to be a bonus. And since this competition rattles vital extra funds into the Blue Cross‘s coffers, it’s bonus plus plus.
*Best Fur Baby Friends Forever
Sorry, no room for hitchhikers
“The Shepherd Family Road Trip.” Alice van Kempen/Mars Petcare Comedy Pet Photo Awards
Could life get any better?
“Super Happy Dog.” Dean Pollard/Mars Petcare Comedy Pet Photo Awards
My audition for Hamlet went pretty well, I thought
“Overdramatic Cat.” Iain Mcconnell/Mars Petcare Comedy Pet Photo Awards
Have you heard the one about the New Zealand penguins that broke into a sushi stall?
Last weekend police responded to an unusual call – a little blue penguin had been spotted in the centre of NZ’s capital city Wellington. The police located the bird, scooped it up, and returned it to the water whence it came.
It now seems like he/she was there casing the joint, because two days later, he/she was back, but this time with a partner-in-crime. The pair of “waddling vagrants”, as the police dubbed them, began building themselves a nest right under the sushi stall in Wellington’s busiest railway station, in the heart of the city.
If you’re struggling to imagine two penguins under a food stall, it may help to know that little blues are as tiny as they are cute. Standing at only 25 cms (10″) tall, and weighing a mere 1kg, they hold the record as the smallest species of flightless seabirds. Under a sushi stall there’s gonna be plenty of space. “Really, you won’t even notice we’re here.”
Department of Conservation manager Jack Mace said the birds were entering their breeding season, and chose the stall as a good spot to lay their eggs. With fresh meals just a beak’s reach away, what better place?
But what a shame – the police managed to lure this pair of little chancers away from the sushi with promises of salmon, and returned them to the harbour. Meanwhile to prevent any possible reoffending, wildlife officers sealed off all nooks and crannies under the stall. All the best-laid plans of little blues come to nought.
Want to pull out all the stops for your Valentine today? Looking for tips to impress? Well, you may want to think more than twice before emulating any of these strange critters.
American burying beetles, for example, have a freaky take on romance. The male beetle’s way of getting ready for love is unique. 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. And by the way, isn’t he a handsome guy? Who could resist him.
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!
Love Among the Ratites (nothing to do with rats)
The biggest birds in the world and flightless to boot, they make for “stellar dads and unusual lovers”. Ratites are the emus, ostriches, cassowaries, kiwis and rheas.
All male ratites (with the exception of the ostriches) are super-dads. They both incubate the eggs and take care of the chicks after they are hatched.
But what comes before the egg? What about 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.
For dodgy doings and trickery we enter the world of the arachnid. A certain S. American spider gift-wraps in his silk the tasty prey he’s captured, 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 indeed, beautifully wrapped. But when she tears off the layers in excitement, she discovers she’s been conned. All that’s inside are the inedible bits, worthless remains – damning evidence of his gluttony and lack of self-control. What a cheapskate.
You’ll Want for Nothing, Darling
No such scamming for this pretty little songbird. His modus operandi is 100% above board. Everything he has to 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.
I Made it Myself
How about a delicious ball of spit? And not just any old ball of spit. The male scorpion fly (so called because his tail-end, actually his genitalia, resembles a scorpion’s sting) 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.
Still, a ball of spit is one up on the ball of something else the dung beetle has to offer. I think I’ll pass, thanks.
Though we all long to feel the warm glow of basking in our Valentine’s love, there are times one might be better off alone. Watch the peacock spider pulling his best moves to woo his very irritable-looking beloved.
Oh dear. Well that didn’t quite go to plan, did it? Looks like she’s not the romantic kind.
Happily Not All Animal Courtships End That Way
Though some might seem like a fate worse than death! Take the Golden Shower of the male porcupine for example. The Golden Shower is not as it sounds, some priceless treasure Mr P bestows upon his princess. Or may be it is. You be the judge. The ‘Golden Shower’, a vital part of porcupine courtship, is an explosive jet of urine with which he drenches his lady. Apparently it encourages her to ovulate. There have to be kinder ways!
It’s Christmas. Time to put your feet up. Ready for a festive quiz question to mull over with your mince pie, cuppa, glass of wine?
How many acorns does a squirrel need to stash to get him/her through the dark cold days of winter?
I’ll give you a few clues:
a small acorn weighs about 10 grams
a hefty one closer to 14
and a squirrel eats an average of 450 grams a week
By my reckoning that’s about 37 and a half average-size acorns a week. And if December, January and February together add up to 13 weeks, it makes the seasonal total 488 to the nearest nut. That’s a lot of acorns to bury – and importantly, find again.
Have you ever played that party game where you are presented with 25 random household objects on a tray, you have 1 minute to study them before the tray is removed, and then you have to write down every item you can remember?
Well, I hate to tell you this but when it comes to memory, a squirrel is a pretty major contender for the prize. Because research has it that a squirrel remembers where it has hidden a good 95% of its nut-shaped snacks.
This year I planted 343 spring-flowering bulbs in my garden, and I had to mark everything with small sticks to avoid digging up bulbs already planted, while planting more. No way could I remember where 343 bulbs were buried, so remembering approaching 500 tiny burial spots under a carpet of fallen leaves is a feat indeed. (But maybe that’s just me🤔)
3,000 and they stillremember exactly where 95% of them are buried. How is that possible?
Grey squirrels “scatter-hoard”, so it’s one nut, one hole. But it’s not random. They sort their harvestings, clustering each type of nut or seed with its kind. It’s called “chunking”, and helps to “decrease the memory load”, as scientists put it.
They also sort their stash according to their ‘best before date’ – how long they are likely to ‘keep’ once buried. And by the acorns’ tannin content. Our squirrels are not partial to the bitter taste – nice white tannin-light acorns are for eating right away. The darker tannin-heavy nuts are buried, left to leach out some of the compound over time. Both of these ways of sorting the nuts may also serve as aides memoire. “That patch is where I put my bbf-February stash, and that one my vintage acorns ‘brut’.”
It used to be thought that the little tree dwellers had awful memories and located their buried chow by scent. But what if, as does happen, several squirrels cache their hoards in the same area? How would they tell theirs apart from the others? Don’t all acorns smell much of a muchness?
For our clever furry friends, it’s no problem. A 1991 study tested them out in just such a situation and found individual squirrels were easily able to locate their own personal caches. So it can’t just be that delicious nutty smell that’s guiding them straight to target.
“From my own observation, I think they are using landmarks,” says Japanese researcher Pizza Ka Yee Chow. “They recognise the trees, and they are gauging the distance between themselves, the tree and their own nests.” (Besides, simply following their noses wouldn’t be much use when the earth is covered in a blanket of snow.)
Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re above a bit of opportunistic thieving from each other. From a convenient lookout in a nearby tree they watch their counterparts burying acorns and hiding the signs of soil disturbance with a careful sprinkle of autumn leaves. Waiting until the hoarders are gone, the watchers get right in there and dig up their ill-gotten swag.
(Perhaps the surprisingly huge number of nuts cached is in anticipation of such lawless looting. And also allowing for the 5% they will probably forget. No squirrel is perfect!)
But forewarned is forearmed. If the hoarders realise they’re under surveillance, they only pretend to cache the nut, then strew the leaves and scurry off to bury it in a spot safely away from prying squirrel eyes.
It’s not just in their remarkable ability to locate vast numbers of nuts that they top the leaderboard for memory. The squirrel’s longer term recall is enviable too. In her 2017 study, the same researcher found that once a squirrel has solved a problem to get an edible treat, when presented with the same problem after a gap of 2 years, they instantly remember exactly how they did it the first time.
“These little creatures may be way smarter than we thought,” she says.
Or are they …
They may have got the measure of their thieving fellows, but here comes another woodland robber, the cunning blue jay.
Still, in spite of sitting there watching the squirrel bury the nut, it can’t be said the jays home in on the precise location first try. Come on jays, you’re supposed to be clever corvids.
Perhaps the squirrels can keep the Best Memory trophy after all.
(Even though no-one still seems entirely sure exactly how they do it.)
Love squirrels? You may want to watch the BBC’s Super Squirrels. Apparently fox squirrels can remember where they buried 9,000 nuts! Super squirrels indeed.
PS Just to put in a good word for the much-maligned grey squirrel :-
“Nuts clearly are dependent on either gravity or animals for dispersal. Squirrels are one of the most important species in this regard.
“But not all squirrels provide this service. Red squirrels store nuts in piles on the ground. Those piled-up nuts tend to dry out and don’t take root. Whereas grey squirrels bury nuts all over the place, and [sometimes] forget them. That results in trees [like oak, beech and hazel] growing in new areas.”
Grey squirrels are not simply forgetting where they put 5% of their autumn nut haul, they are providing eco-services😊
May peace and compassion reign over all living beings this Christmas, and may we each play our part in 2019 to help liberate the world’s oppressed, human and non-human.
And the answer is ……… (Clue: don’t be fooled by the picture above)
🐾🐾DOGS!🐾🐾 But of course you knew that already, didn’t you?
Well, it’s true for women at least. It’s unclear why a college in New York state opted to research women’s sleep in particular, but research it they did. Their study has the serious and meaningful title “An Examination of Adult Women’s Sleep Quality and Sleep Routines in Relation to Pet Ownership and Bedsharing”
“Compared with human bed partners, dogs who slept in the owner’s bed were perceived to disturb sleep less and were associated with stronger feelings of comfort and security.”
Conversely, cats who slept in their owner’s bed were reported to be equally as disruptive as human partners, and were associated with weaker feelings of comfort and security than both human and dog bed partners.”
So it turns out cats are the worst. Do you think cats care? Course not. They know who really rules the roost. Besides, it’s totally beneath them to compete against lesser beings.
And in any case, it seems women who sleep with their canine friends go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Boring…
With Christmas coming up and another new year about to begin, we may think about adding a fur baby to our family. Here are 8 great reasons to adopt a dog (or a cat, depending on how much sleep we want!)
Who wants to support puppy mills or breeders who are just in it for the money?
Rescue buddies come in all shapes, shades, sizes and personalities – there’s a perfect fit out there for the pooch-shaped hole in our lives
Most ‘pre-owned’ mutts are already house-trained – phew!
Our new bff will already have the vet’s seal approval, and be microchipped, vaccinated, often spayed or neutered
Pure gold as he/she is, our rescue canine will cost a lot less than buying from a store or breeder
We will save a life. In the UK 5,000, in the U.S. 670,000 shelter dogs are euthanised each year. Those are not statistics. Those are doggy individuals with hearts full of love and hope
We can never be lonely with that pup by our side
We will reap all the unquestioning love and devotion brimming from those big brown eyes
And now we have a 9th – they are THE best snuggle-monsters! After all, hasn’t science just proved it?
PS The researchers didn’t question me, but it makes no difference to the results. My little rescue dog – who by day would bite the postman’s ankles if he got half a chance – is by night under the covers snuggled up close, his head on my shoulder – bliss!
Cover photo: Overall winner Mary McGowan ‘Caught in the Act’ (Photo: Mary McGowan/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards) Mary also won the Affinity Photo People’s Choice Award and Alex Walker’s Serian Creatures of the Land Award.
What can I say – enjoy!
‘While these images are downright humorous, the competition highlights the serious issue of conservation and partners with Born Free Foundation, a wildlife charity that works to help wild animals living in captivity.
‘The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards encourages its followers to follow their mantra. “We want you to take up our banner of wildlife conservation, bang the drum, beat the cymbal and make some noise, we need to spread the word – wildlife, as we know it, is in danger, all over the world and we need to do something to help save it.”‘ – from MNN
If you never had the Japanese down as a nation of animal-lovers, get this – on the Japanese rail network Animals Rule.
Monkeys, dogs, goats, lobsters (lobsters?!) and a tortoise proudly hold the official title of stationmaster at rail depots around the country. The most famous to occupy the post in recent years was a cat called Tama, who died in 2015 at the good old age of 16. Her funeral ‘was attended by thousands of local commuters and admirers hailing from near and far. Following a period of mourning, the newly minted Honorable Eternal Stationmaster was replaced by Nitama, a former apprentice of Tama who beat out other candidates for the job partially based on her “willingness to wear a hat.”‘
The only thing vaguely similar of which we can boast here in the UK, is the day last April when a large herd of cows took it upon themselves to congregate on Hever station platform in Kent. Strangely, in spite of having a wealth of applicants to choose from, Network Rail declined to appoint any of them to their staff.
But Network Rail does have one heartening animal trick up its sleeve. Paradoxical, startling, but nonetheless true – the rail network and surrounding land managed by NR is possibly the most biodiverse wildlife haven in the UK. An unseen Shangri-la for rare and endangered species such as the large blue butterfly, the dormouse, the osprey, the natterjack toad and the great crested newt. If we were permitted access, which of course we are not, we might also find an abundance of lizards, grass snakes, slow worms, water voles, deer, foxes, badgers, and bats.
But – and it’s a very big but – the network is both haven and hazard. Between 2003/4 and 2013/14 the number of animals struck by trains tripled, and the unfortunate animals logging up the highest death count are deer.
“Deer have excellent peripheral vision, but most deer incidents take place while the beasts are traversing the railway as part of their natural movement pattern between habitats at dawn/dusk – a time when more trains are running as part of the morning and evening peaks.”¹
What is Network Rail doing to prevent animals getting on the tracks?
Not an awful lot it seems. They “educate land owners about the dangers and disruption caused by animal incursions, emphasising the need to keep gates securely closed and encouraging them to use additional measures such as electric fencing.”
And that’s it. Good as far as it goes, and fine for domestic animals: horses, sheep and cattle – but if we look for NR’s ideas on keeping deer and other wildlife off the tracks, we draw a blank. This in spite of their desire to minimise collisions and costly disruptions to the rail timetable.
Over in Japan, they do things differently
Yes, certainly there is the same imperative not to let collisions with animals mess up the schedule. (Magnify that sixty-fold. The Japanese don’t have a name for super-efficiency for nothing, and Japanese trains are precise to the second. Last November a rail company felt compelled to issue a public apology for one of its trains departing 20 seconds early, at 9.44.20, instead of 9.44.40 – can you imagine it!)
And yes, as in the UK, the most frequent victims of death by train are deer. The deer are “reportedly attracted to the lines due to a need for iron in their diets, licking up small iron filings left behind by the grinding of train wheels on the tracks.”
But in Japan it’s not just about the timetable. As their unlikely choice of stationmasters/mistresses attest, in the world of the locomotive the Japanese have a care for animals. And that extends to the wild kind, whose interaction with trains is too often fatal.
Creatures as small as turtles can come a cropper, as well as cause delays, so one rail company has worked with wildlife experts to create safe crossings in the form of special turtle trenches running underneath the tracks. Rail workers even carry out regular inspections to see if the little guys need an extra helping hand.
For the bigger animals the usual ropes, fences, and flashing lights have all been tried – without success. Now, displaying a creativity sadly lacking in Network Rail, the Japanese are coming up with all kinds of imaginative ways to prevent costly timetable disruptions and animal deaths.
One of the most out there was someone’s brainwave of mixing water with lion dung garnered from a safari park, and spraying the solution along the track. Hey presto, it worked! Not one deer was run over. Even though Japanese deer have never seen a lion, it seems they recognise the smell of an apex predator when they come across it.
The dung spray though 100% effective, did have several drawbacks:
The spraying was very labour-intensive, impractical on a larger scale
It got washed away in the rain
And finally, it REEKED! Railway staff, passengers, and folk living near the line alike, all complained
Based on the observation that the deer are drawn to the iron from the lines, one company developed another effective method to divert the deer – definitely less off-the-wall and decidedly less offensive than the lion poop – ‘yukuru’, simple salt-lick blocks containing the vital ingredient iron.
When it really hit home
One night in 2015 a family of deer were crossing the tracks when a young fawn at the rear of the group was struck by a train and killed. Yuji Hikita, an employee of Kintetsu Railway Co. saw it happening. And continued to watch while a parent deer stood motionless, staring down at the fallen fawn for a full 40 minutes. After witnessing the whole heart-wrenching scene, he determined to find a way to stop such a sorrowful event happening again.
Hikita’s focus was on finding a way to help the deer cross the tracks in safety, rather than simply blocking them out.
He made an on-the-ground study of the deers’ movements. Finding hoof prints and dung (deer droppings, not lion!) helped him establish which spots the animals used as crossing points. The line was enclosed with 2 metre-high netting, but crossing places were left open. In the crossing gaps, ultrasonic waves formed temporary barriers at the riskiest times, dawn and dusk, but were switched off overnight when the trains stopped running.
The ultrasonic waves, inaudible to us, have the advantage of not being a terribleassault on human senses like the lion poop.
Hikita’s ingenious plan won him a 2017 Good Design Award.“This is an excellent example of how railway companies can tackle the deer-train collision problem from the deer’s perspective,” a judge for the Good Design Award said in 2017, “and it owes to the countless number sacrificed in the accidents.”
Meanwhile researchers at the RTRI (Railway Technical Research Institute) have been testing trains that snort like a deer and bark like a dog. With the usual Japanese precision and attention to detail, the formula is thus: a three-second burst of deer-snort noises, followed by 20 seconds of dog-barking.
The deer-snorting noises replicate deer’s alarm warnings to each other, which would alert any real deer getting too close to the tracks. The dogs’ barking finishes the job by scaring them away. And the snort-bark formula works. In fact, it’s proving so successful the Institute is considering setting up stationary snort-bark devices along the tracks near crossing places favoured by the deer.
“Fiona the hippo knows who will win Super Bowl 2018. This is science.”
Harmless fun or shameless exploitation? A bit of both. Fiona certainly looks to be enjoying her salad, so hopefully no hippo was harmed in the making of this video.
All I can add to my previous post about adorable Fiona, is that Cincinnati Zoo knew what it was doing when it appointed its marketing director. No profitable opportunity is missed. He/she is making the little hippo worth her ever-expanding weight in gold for the zoo’s coffers.
The zoo is non-profit, so let us hope all those extra dollars Fiona is unwittingly spinning will conserve wildlife where we want it to be – in the wild.
Update 5th February 2018
Fiona was right on the button, or should I say, on the lettuce. She picked the underdog Eagles and the underdogs won! I believe the POTUS will be visiting Cincinnati this week. I do hope he doesn’t get to pay a visit to little Fi. Now that would be cruelty to animals.
Scientists said, “It chose freedom”. I say, “She chose freedom.”The story of the cow who prized freedom above the safety of home.
The story is set in Poland. So, as the heroine of this tale remains nameless as yet, I shall call her Swoboda, Polish for ‘Freedom’.
Ornithologist Adam Zbyryt was the first to spot her near the wild primeval forest of Bialowieza.“It’s not unusual to see bison near the Bialowieza Forest, but one animal caught my eye. It was a completely different shade from the rest of the herd, light-brown”he told a Polish news channel.
On closer inspection Swoboda turned out to be a Limousin cow, a French breed common in Poland. In spite of living on the hoof, so to speak, and exposed to the Polish winter, she was looking good – apparently healthy and unfazed by the snow and the giant bovines with horns of her adopted herd.
Another sighting of Swoboda took place this week, this time by biologist Rafal Kowalczyk. She is still keeping up with the bison, and happily still in fine fettle. At night wolves patrol the edges of the Bialowiez wilderness. A lone cow would be no match against such fearsome predators. For Swoboda to be surviving there, the bison must be protecting her.
All the same, Swoboda remains a bit of an outsider, not fully integrated in the herd. And while that is a cause for concern, if she can survive the winter, not getting too close to her shaggy friends could be a blessing in disguise. What if a big male bison were to take a fancy to her? End result – a hybrid calf. Diluting the bison genes would threaten the survival of the bison population, as of now standing at a precarious 520. What the herd needs is healthy bison babies with 100% bison genes.
And worse for Swoboda, a half-bison calf would likely be too big for her to carry and safely deliver. It could endanger her life.
All in all, come Spring someone may have to guide Swoboda back to the safety of confinement with her own kind. (Temporary safety. Safe that is, until humans are done with her.)
Meanwhile, stay close to your woolly friends Swoboda, and keep on relishing that sweet taste of freedom!