Whales and dolphins lead ‘human-like lives’ thanks to big brains, says study

The cultural brain hypothesis of human development could also explain cetaceans forming friendships and even gossiping

Life is not so different beneath the ocean waves. Bottlenose dolphins use simple tools, orcas call each other by name, and sperm whales talk in local dialects. Many cetaceans live in tight-knit groups and spend a good deal of time at play.

That much scientists know. But in a new study, researchers compiled a list of the rich behaviours spotted in 90 different species of dolphins, whales and porpoises, and found that the bigger the species brain, the more complex indeed, the more human-like their lives are likely to be.

This suggests that the cultural brain hypothesis the theory that suggests our intelligence developed as a way of coping with large and complex social groups may apply to whales and dolphins, as well as humans.

Writing in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution, the researchers claim that complex social and cultural characteristics, such as hunting together, developing regional dialects and learning from observation, are linked to the expansion of the animals brains a process known as encephalisation.

The researchers gathered records of dolphins playing with humpback whales, helping fishermen with their catches, and even producing signature whistles for dolphins that are absent suggesting the animals may even gossip.

Another common behaviour was adult animals raising unrelated young. There is the saying that it takes a village to raise a child [and that] seems to be true for both whales and humans, said Michael Muthukrishna, an economic psychologist and co-author on the study at the London School of Economics.

Dolphins
Dolphins off the coast of South Africa. Photograph: Rainer Schimpf/Barcroft Media

Like humans, the cetaceans, a group made up of dolphins, whales and porpoises, are thought to do most of their learning socially rather than individually, which could explain why some species learn more complex behaviours than others. Those predominantly found alone or in small groups had the smallest brains, the researchers led by Susanne Shultz at the University of Manchester wrote.

Luke Rendell, a biologist at the University of St Andrews who was not involved in the study, but has done work on sperm whales and their distinctive dialects, warned against anthropomorphising and making animals appear to be like humans.

There is a risk of sounding like there is a single train line, with humans at the final station and other animals on their way of getting there. The truth is that every animal responds to their own evolutionary pressures, he said.

There is definitely a danger in comparing other animals to humans, especially with the data available. But what we can say for sure, is that this cultural-brain hypothesis we tested is present in primates and in cetaceans, Muthukrishna said.

There was still much more to learn, though, he added. Studies with underwater mammals are difficult and vastly underfunded, so there is so much we dont know about these fascinating animals, he said.

The fascination, however, should not only be interesting for people studying animals. We dont have to look at other planets to look for aliens, because we know that underwater there are these amazing species with so many parallels to us in their complex behaviours, said Muthukrishna.

Studying evolutionarily distinct animals such as cetaceans could act as a control group for studying intelligence in general, and so help the understanding of our own intellect.

It is interesting to think that whale and human brains are different in their structure but have brought us to the same patterns in behaviour, Rendell said. The extent of how this is close to humans can educate us about evolutionary forces in general.

However, Muthukrishna points out that intelligence is always driven by the environment an animal finds itself in. Each environment presents a different set of challenges for an animal. When you are above water, you learn how to tackle fire, for example, he said. As smart as whales are, they will never learn to light a spark.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Pterosaurs: record haul of egg fossils from ancient flying reptile found in China

Scientists unearth 215 eggs with preserved embryos of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis, providing fresh understanding of dinosaurs cousin

A discovery in northwestern China of hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs is providing fresh understanding of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, including evidence that their babies were born flightless and needed parental care.

Scientists said on Thursday they unearthed 215 eggs of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis a species whose adults had a crest atop an elongated skull, pointy teeth and a wingspan of more than 11ft (3.5m) including 16 eggs containing partial embryonic remains.

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site, making this Cretaceous Period species that lived 120m years ago perhaps the best understood of all pterosaurs.

We want to call this region Pterosaur Eden, said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Pterosaurs were Earths first flying vertebrates. Birds and bats appeared later.

Until now, no pterosaur eggs had been found with embryos preserved in three dimensions. Researchers think up to 300 eggs may be present, some buried under the exposed fossils.

Some
Some of the 300 pterosaur eggs found at the Hami region, north eastern China. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA

The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Some birds can fly on the same day they break out from the egg, while some others will need a long period of parental care. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but cant fly, Jiang said, an unexpected finding.

The researchers believe these pterosaurs lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake. Kellner cited evidence that females gathered together to lay eggs in nesting colonies and returned over the years to the same nesting site.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

The oblong eggs, up to about 3in (7.2cm) long, were pliable with a thin, hard outer layer marked by cracking and crazing covering a thick membrane inner layer, resembling soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is difficult for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Weirdest Senses Animals Have That You Dont

People like to imagine that theyre the pinnacle of evolution, but the animal kingdom suggests otherwise. The discovery that bumblebees use hair on their legs to detect a flowers electromagnetic field offers another reminder that human senses dont always measure up. You share the planet with creatures that can smell veins, see colors you cant imagine, and communicate through their feet. Here are just a few animals with senses sharper than yours.

01

Bumblebees

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

Credit: Getty Images

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

02

Sharks

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

Credit: Getty Images

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

03

Octopuses

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

Credit: Getty Images

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

04

Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

Credit: Getty Images

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

05

Vampire bats

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

Credit: Getty Images

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

06

Pit vipers

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

Credit: Getty Images

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

07

Elephants

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

Credit: Getty Images

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

08

Roundworms

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

Credit: Getty Images

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

09

Honeybees

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Credit: Getty Images

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Three-eyed extinct reptile was a bone-headed dinosaur mimic 100 million years early

Newly discovered Triopticus primus is one of many copy-cat animals

A bizarre new extinct reptile with a domed skull of solid bone has been unearthed in Texas. If this sounds familiar, it could be because you have heard of a group of dinosaurs called the pachycephalosaurs that possessed very similar characteristics. One could almost call Triopticus a mimic were it not for the fact that it dates to 228-220 million years ago, meaning that it predates the pachycephalosaurs by over 100 million years. Moreover, Triopticus is one of numerous animals from this period (the Late Triassic) that were in some way copies of other reptiles that evolved later.

Triopticus is a small animal the preserved dome of the skull is only around 5 cm long even though it is from an adult animal, but what there is of it is very unusual. There is a large pit in the skull that resembles the eye sockets of reptiles and gave rise to the animals name, as Triopticus means three eyes. This hole does not represent an extra eye, however, but may simply be a result of the surrounding bones having enlarged and expanded leaving this space behind, rather than there being a bit missing.

Aside from the difference of this divot, comparisons to the pachycephalosaurs are more than superficial. Both have greatly enlarged domes of solid bone that sat at the back of the head above the brain, both show some extra bumps and bosses, and both even show some similarities in the microstructure of the bone. Although the rest of Triopticus is missing, it is hard not to suggest that these animals may have bashed heads with one another as the pachycephalosaurs are thought to do (although this is not covered in the paper). Such similarities of form between only distantly related organisms is termed convergent evolution and there are numerous examples of this in the fossil record and alive today (think of the hydrodynamic shapes of fish, dolphins and penguins).

Convergent
Convergent evolution between Triassic animals (left) and those that came later (right) and in particular Triopticus and pachycephalosaurs (both top) Photograph: Stocker et al., 2016

However, Triopticus and a number of the reptiles that lived alongside it show some remarkable convergences with other reptiles that came later, and most notably the dinosaurs. In the Late Triassic there were various animals showing adaptations and body plans that will be familiar to those who have browsed even childrens books on dinosaurs. There were bipedal plant eating reptiles similar to the ornithomimosaurs, herbivorous forms with leaf-shaped teeth covered in armour like the later ankylosaurs, large-headed reptiles with sharp teeth that looked like predatory dinosaurs (if on four legs rather than two), and even long-snouted semi-aquatic animals that resembled extinct and even living crocodilians.

These pairs are already known to palaeontologists, but an analysis of skull and body shapes shows how similar animals were to each other in the ages before the dinosaurs and others diverged, and then later how similar these various different forms became, despite their fairly distant relatedness. Its notable that Triopticus is a particular outlier, being even more distant from the ancestral form that the pachycephalosaurs it has quite an extreme set of anatomical features.

That convergent evolution is rampant within some groups is not big news, but the sheer range of extinct reptile species that ended up taking on similar forms (and often more than once) is a reminder of the selective pressures that evolution can bring to some lineages. Even so these are typically limited to classic ecological features like specialised teeth for eating or claws for digging, so modify the skull in such a shape more than once as seen here is quite a surprise and one hopes that more will come to light in the future. It will certainly be interesting to see if the rest of Triopticus matches the thick-headed dinosaurs in any other areas.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Zoo Tinder how technology is helping animals hook up

The Zoological Information Management System takes the guesswork out of animal attraction and helps promote genetic variety

Name: Zoological Information Management System.

Age: Eight.

Appearance: Zoo Tinder.

Let me guess. Its an app that matches couples who want to dry-hump next to the giraffe cage. If only. In actual fact, the Zoological Information Management System Zims for short is a piece of software designed to help horny animals hook up with each other.

This sounds a bit dodgy. I promise it isnt. Got an elephant with an itch it cant scratch? Check out Zims and it will find you the right elephant to give it the trunky rumpy-pumpy it has been looking for.

Yeah, this isnt helping. Oh, fine then, its adatabase of 10m animals from 22,000 different species that was created in order to promote genetic variety, with a view to improving the adaptive ability of a species.

Pardon? Incest is bad and this stops it.

Wow, none of this is sexy at all. Sorry, but it is important from a zoological perspective. Having a unified database of all captive animals containing their age, pedigree, medical records and diet should help to ensure the survival of all manner of species.

This sounds like that Channel 4 show Married at First Sight. Thats a very good analogy.

Doesnt almost every match on Married at First Sight end in acrimonious failure? Yes, but thats only because humans are stupid and picky. Zims, on the other hand, is already bearing fruit. It matched two Sumatran tigers in 2012 one from Canada and one from Australia who have since had two cubs in London zoo.

It almost sounds romantic when you put it like that. Yep. Two beasts, rutting for procreation while a busload of horrified children look on. Its basically a Mills & Boon novel.

Hang on, why London? Thats just how zoos work. They dont own the animals. If another zoo needs them, their current zoo has to give them up.

A date, a holiday and some nooky. Its practically Take Me Out. Hardly. Were talkingabout a system that allows aprocessionof unthinking creatures to get shipped around the world in order to gurn anddrool and hump at the behest of an unseenauthority figure and … oh, I get yourpoint. Yes,youre spot on.

Do say: Darling, my animal heart will for ever be intertwined with yours in the stars above.

Dont say: So, lets bonk in a cage for increased genetic diversity.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Absurd Creatures: The Bearcat Isnt a Bear or Cat But It Does Smell Like Popcorn

The binturong, aka bearcat, ain’t a monkey, but it’s got a prehensile tail. It ain’t made of Play-Doh, but its ankles can rotate around 180 degrees. And it smells like a bucket of popcorn, but it’s not a bucket of popcorn. Find out more about the bearcat in this week’s episode of Absurd Creatures!

And Im happy to hear from you with suggestions on what to cover next. If its weird and we can find footage of it, its fair game. You can get me at matthew_simon@wired.com or on Twitter at @mrMattSimon.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Evolution FTW! The Weird Stuff Animals Do to Survive

Theres a fish that makes its home in the butt of a sea cucumber. Why? Because it worked for one crazy ancestor, and winning strategies, however unseemly, get perpetu­ated by natural selection. (That goes for humans too: Our mating rituals seem normal to us, but they must be hilarious to our pets.) Ultimately, life is pretty simple: Eat, dont get eaten, and perpetuate the speciesall the rest is optional. While researching my new book, The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar (out October 25), I got familiar with a wild assortment of evolution-approved survival tactics. Here are some of my favorites.

Eat

Mantis Shrimp

Problem: Crabs and sea snails are delicious and plentiful but heavily armored.
Solution: This crustacean has little spring-loaded punching arms that strike with over 200 pounds of force, momentarily heating the water to nearly the temperature of the sun. They can smash clamshells or disarm crabs by blowing off their pincers.

Credit: Reinhard Dirscherl/Getty Images

Problem: Crabs and sea snails are delicious and plentiful but heavily armored.
Solution: This crustacean has little spring-loaded punching arms that strike with over 200 pounds of force, momentarily heating the water to nearly the temperature of the sun. They can smash clamshells or disarm crabs by blowing off their pincers.

Eat

Aye-Aye

Problem: Juicy grubs are hiding somewhere under tree bark, but how to find them?
Solution: Madagascar has no woodpeckerswhich may explain the aye-aye. By tapping on branches with its long, skeletal fingers, this nocturnal primate can tell where the insect larvae are inside. It then gnaws through the wood and fishes out the grubs with its E.T.-like middle digit.

Credit: Thorsten Negro/Getty Images

Problem: Juicy grubs are hiding somewhere under tree bark, but how to find them?
Solution: Madagascar has no woodpeckerswhich may explain the aye-aye. By tapping on branches with its long, skeletal fingers, this nocturnal primate can tell where the insect larvae are inside. It then gnaws through the wood and fishes out the grubs with its E.T.-like middle digit.

Survive

Hagfish

Problem: Being a boneless tube sock of flesh puts you at the mercy of predators.
Solution: When hagfish arent burrowing into whale carcasses (to eat them from inside), theyre an easy mark. So if a shark bites, the hagfish instantly ejects a cloud of mucus. The slime clogs the attackers gills, causing it to let go and probably asphyxiate.

Credit: Mark Conlin/Alamy

Problem: Being a boneless tube sock of flesh puts you at the mercy of predators.
Solution: When hagfish arent burrowing into whale carcasses (to eat them from inside), theyre an easy mark. So if a shark bites, the hagfish instantly ejects a cloud of mucus. The slime clogs the attackers gills, causing it to let go and probably asphyxiate.

Survive

Pearlfish

Problem: The open seafloor is a dangerous place for a slender fish.
Solution: The pearlfish finds shelter in a sea cucumbers anus. It waits for its victim to breathe (yes, sea cucumbers breathe through the wrong end) and just shimmies right in. Sometimes they go up in pairs and, scientists suspect, have sex inside. If that werent bad enough, the pearlfish may also eat its hosts gonads.

Credit: Jurgen Freund/Minden Pictures

Problem: The open seafloor is a dangerous place for a slender fish.
Solution: The pearlfish finds shelter in a sea cucumbers anus. It waits for its victim to breathe (yes, sea cucumbers breathe through the wrong end) and just shimmies right in. Sometimes they go up in pairs and, scientists suspect, have sex inside. If that werent bad enough, the pearlfish may also eat its hosts gonads.

Reproduce

Antechinus

Problem: A short breeding season timed to produce babies when food is abundant.
Solution: The male antechinus, a shrewlike marsupial, mates so frantically with so many females in three weeks that he goes blind, bleeds internally, and drops dead. But thats OK, for his genes will live on. And there will be fewer hungry mouths to feed.

Credit: Dave Watts/Alamy

Problem: A short breeding season timed to produce babies when food is abundant.
Solution: The male antechinus, a shrewlike marsupial, mates so frantically with so many females in three weeks that he goes blind, bleeds internally, and drops dead. But thats OK, for his genes will live on. And there will be fewer hungry mouths to feed.

Reproduce

Zombie Ant Fungus

Problem: Fungi often depend on wind to spread their spores, but a dense rain forest is windless.
Solution: The Ophiocordyceps fungus invades an ants body and surrounds its brain. Then it chemically mind-controls the bug up into the trees and orders it to clamp down on a leaf and anchor itself, before erupting from the ants head as a stalk and raining down spores on the ground below.

Credit: Alamy

Problem: Fungi often depend on wind to spread their spores, but a dense rain forest is windless.
Solution: The Ophiocordyceps fungus invades an ants body and surrounds its brain. Then it chemically mind-controls the bug up into the trees and orders it to clamp down on a leaf and anchor itself, before erupting from the ants head as a stalk and raining down spores on the ground below.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Anthropomorphism: how much humans and animals share is still contested

Cute internet videos and animals in childrens entertainment with human-like intentions can be useful, harmful or both depending on whom you ask

Humans have long attempted to portray the natural world as reflections of us, from giving storms names such as Desmond or Katrina to putting tasteful blue clothing on Donald Duck and Peter the Rabbit. But the science of how much humans actually share with other animals is still keenly contested.

The widely shared image of a male kangaroo cradling the head of a dying female, in front of her joey, was immediately cast as a touching display of marsupial grief, before several scientists pointed out that the kangaroos interests were probably a little more carnal than first thought.

This kind of anthropomorphism isnt new of course some of the oldest known deities combine human and beast but it has only been since Charles Darwins description of joy and love among animals that the debate has evolved on whether humans hold exclusivity over certain traits.

A
A male eastern grey kangaroo holds the head of a dead female kangaroo in River Heads, Queensland. Photograph: Evan Switzer

Animals such as apes and crows have been seen using tools previously thought a human preserve. A 44-year-old gorilla called Koko has the vocabulary of a three-year-old child after learning 1,000 words of American sign language. She has called herself Queen – evidence, her head caretaker claims, that she understands her celebrity status.

But many scientists are still keen to draw stark lines of difference between humans and other animals. Some warn that anthropomorphism, now regularly demonstrated through the online sharing of videos of pandas having tantrums or orangutans having a laugh, can be harmful.

Its almost like internet was built for anthropomorphizing animals, said Holly Dunsworth, an anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island. Humans arent the only animals capable of forming strong bonds, but to say that the kangaroo even knew the other kangaroo was dying is beyond anything we know. No one has shown that animals understand dying or where babies come from. We cant say they think that abstractly.

While Kokos grasp of language is astonishing, it lacks the nuance and complexity of the way humans communicate with each other. Theres a key difference between signals and understanding and expanding upon ideas and abstract concepts, Dunsworth said.

Other animals are more complex than purely being driven by instinct, but Im very comfortable with the explanation that they dont need abstract reasoning to do these complex behaviors, she said. We can explain behavior separate from the way humans think.

An unconscious belief that bears, horses and dolphins possess human desires and thoughts wrapped up in odd costumes can be detrimental for children, some psychologists have argued.

Last year, Patricia Ganea, a psychologist at Toronto University, ran a series of experiments on three to five-year-olds where they were given information about animals in straight factual form and then in a more fantastical anthropomorphized way.

She found that the children were likely to attribute human characteristics to other animals and were less likely to retain factual information about them when told they lived their lives as furry humans.

Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes Photograph: AP

Ganea said attributing human-like intentions and beliefs is a very natural way to explain certain animal behaviors and can be useful in generating empathy for mistreated animals. But she adds there is a downside.

Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes in the natural world, she said. It can also lead to inappropriate behaviors towards wild animals, such as trying to adopt a wild animal as a pet or misinterpreting the actions of a wild animal.

Common depictions of animals in childrens entertainment is likely to amplify this message, Ganea said.

Jiminy Cricket is the voice of conscience and not an accurate description of what insects behave like, she said. But, yes, the human-like animal representations in the media are likely to increase the tendency to anthropomorphize the natural world.

But its clear from multiple experiments that some animals are closer to being human than others. In tests, monkeys have given up the chance of food so that older or weaker members of the clan can eat. A chimpanzee named Santino has shown a remarkable ability to plan ahead and hold grudges by calmly gathering and hiding piles of stones ready to hurl at visitors who gawp at him in his zoo enclosure in Sweden.

Santino

Santino the stone-throwing chimp, is watched by a group of visitors at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden. Photograph: Neurology/AP

Its not just primates. Scientists have gathered evidence that elephants sacrifice their wellbeing for the good of the group and grieve their dead. Young elephants that have lost parents to poachers have suffered a type of post traumatic stress disorder, trumpeting loudly and unusually at night and showing other signs of agitation. Mapping of the brains of several different species shows that they share similar neurons to humans that process social information and empathy.

Its categorically wrong to say that animals dont have thoughts and emotions, just like its wrong to say they are completely the same as us, said Carl Safina, a biologist and author of a book called Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, which argues that sneering at anthropomorphism risks eroding our empathy with species we are helping wipe out at a rate unseen since the time of the dinosaurs.

Great apes have large brains and complex social lives, wolves live in structured families. But herrings dont have social structures. So we cant say all animals are the same.

But humans are an extreme example of everything. We are simultaneously the most compassionate and the cruelest animal, the friendliest and most destructive, we experience the most grief and cause the most grief. We are a complicated case.

The idea that a kangaroo would hold anothers head to say farewell as they die is overdone, Safina said, but its inaccurate to dismiss any notion of understanding or even loss.

Its fair to say many animals have richer social lives and a richer palette of strategic abilities than we give them credit for, he said. We should get better acquainted with the animals we share the world with. If only because they are so beautiful and so interesting.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Enormous Bird That Can Ride the Wind for 10,000 Miles

The Proclaimers would walk 500 miles, and then they’d walk 500 more, just to be the type of people who would walk 1,000 miles. Which is admirable, though relatively tame compared to the antics of the albatross. This enormous bird rides the wind for up to 10,000 miles. Check out this week’s episode of Absurd Creatures to learn more!

Find every episode of Absurd Creatures here. And Im happy to hear from you with suggestions on what to cover next. If its weird and we can find footage of it, its fair game. You can get me at matthew_simon@wired.com or on Twitter at @mrMattSimon.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

British couple celebrate after birth of first cloned puppy of its kind

West Yorkshire couple Laura Jacques and Richard Remde enlisted South Korean firm offering dog-cloning service for £67,000

A British couple have made history after a surrogate dog gave birth to the first cloned puppy of its kind on Boxing Day.

In the first case of its kind, the boxer puppy was cloned from the couples dead dog, Dylan, almost two weeks after it died. The previous limit for dog cloning was five days after death.

Laura Jacques, 29, and Richard Remde 43, from West Yorkshire, were grief stricken after their boxer died at the age of eight in June, having been diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumour.

The pair decided to try to clone Dylan and enlisted the services of the controversial Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which offers a commercial dog-cloning service for $100,000 (67,000) per procedure. It is the only laboratory of its kind in the world. They have hailed the birth as a miracle.

The male puppy has been named Chance, after a character in Jacques favourite film, Disneys Homeward Bound. He is expected to be joined in three days time by a second cloned puppy this one will be named Shadow after another character in the film.

Jacques said she and Remde were overwhelmed after witnessing the birth by caesarean section on Saturday in the operating theatre at Sooam.

Dylan,

Dylan, who died in June this year. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The whole thing just feels surreal, she said. I lost all sense of time. I have no idea how long everything took, the whole thing made me feel very disoriented. I was just clinging on to Richard for about an hour and a half after Chance was born.

After they got him out I still couldnt quite believe it had happened. But once he started making noises I knew it was real. Even as a puppy of just a few minutes old I cant believe how much he looks like Dylan. All the colourings and patterns on his body are in exactly the same places as Dylan had them.

Remde said: I was much more overwhelmed with emotion at the birth than I expected to be.

The couple said the puppy was feeding well from his mother. Im trying to get my head round the fact that this puppy has 100% of the same DNA as Dylan, said Jacques. Its quite confusing but Im telling myself that Chance is just like one of Dylans puppies.

I had had Dylan since he was a puppy, she said. I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world.

Sooam, the leading laboratory in the world for dog cloning, has produced more than 700 dogs for commercial customers. The technique involves implanting DNA into a blank dog egg that has had the nucleus removed.

Jacques heard about dog cloning from a documentary about a competition Sooam ran for one UK dog owner to have their dog cloned free of charge. Rebecca Smith was the winner and her dachshund, Winnie, who is still alive, was successfully cloned.

David Kim, a scientist at Sooam, said the birth of the two cloned dogs was exciting for the laboratory because samples were taken from Dylan 12 days after he died. This is the first case we have had where cells have been taken from a dead dog after a very long time, he said. Hopefully it will allow us to extend the time after death that we can take cells for cloning.

There are no regulations on the cloning of pets, although the cloning of human beings is illegal, and in August the European parliament voted to outlaw the cloning of farm animals.

Hwang Woo-suk, one of the leading researchers at the Sooam laboratory, is a controversial figure. In 2004, he led a research group at Seoul University, in South Korea, which claimed to have created a cloned human embryo in a test tube. An independent scientific committee found no evidence of this and in January 2006 the journal Science, which had originally published the research, retracted it. He was part of the team delivering the cloned puppy on Boxing Day.

The RSPCA expressed concern about dog cloning. A spokesperson said: There are serious ethical and welfare concerns relating to the application of cloning technology to animals. Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates. There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumours, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns.

Jacques, a dog walker, and Remde, who runs a building company, Heritage Masonry & Conservation, had to take two sets of samples from their dead dog after the first set of samples did not grow in the laboratory. Remde made two trips in quick succession to South Korea to deliver the cell samples. They are now waiting for the birth of the second puppy and are hoping to adopt the puppies two surrogate mothers and bring four dogs back to the UK next July after the quarantine period has ended.

Key dates in the cloning of Dylan

11 June: Couple told their eight-year-old boxer dog Dylan has an inoperable brain tumour. They were told he might live for up to 18 months with treatment.

30 June: Dylan dies after a cardiac arrest.

1 & 2 July: Vet allows the couple to keep Dylan with them for a few days before burying him. Jacques starts researching the possibilities of cloning a dead dog.

2 July: Dylan is refrigerated in a funeral parlour. Couple purchase medical equipment from Boots to take a skin sample from Dylan to send to Sooam in South Korea in the hope that they can clone him.

4 July: Remde flies to South Korea with the samples, delivers them to laboratory staff waiting at the airport and immediately gets on a plane back to the UK.

5 July: Dylans remains are frozen until a date is fixed for his burial.

6 July: Sooam says it does not think the samples Remde has flown to South Korea could be used to create a cloned puppy.

7 July: Sooam asks whether the couple still have the dog and if so whether they want to try to extract more samples for cloning.

10 July: The couple struggle to take samples from Dylan, whose body remains frozen before burial. A small sample of cells is finally secured around midnight.

11 July: Remde flies to South Korea again to deliver the samples. Sooam receives the cells having never attempted to clone a dog 12 days after its death.

21t October: Sooam confirms the cells have grown to a sufficient degree that the cloning process could start.

23 November: Sooam says a pregnancy has been verified.

24 November: Sooam says a second pregnancy has been verified.

26 December: First boxer puppy is born on Boxing Day.

29 December: Second puppy due.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Why Do Dogs Love Yoga Mats So Much?

You unfurl your yoga mat at home, ready to stretch out into downward dog and take some deep breaths. Just for a second, you look away to grab your water bottle and block. But when you turn around, you find that your pup has already staked her territory on your mat, doing some stretches of her own.

If you’re an asana-ing dog person, you’ve probably already figured out a way to tap into your canine’s weird yoga mat affinity. Some people let their dogs hang out on the corner of the mat while they practice, others buy yoga mats specifically for their dog to chill on while they do sun salutations. Some people even practice Doga, which, yes, is the term for dog yoga.

Cats enjoy yoga mats, toobut mostly because those feline jerks love sinking their claws into the soft material. Dogs love for yoga mats, on the other hand, is a bit more perplexing. Why are dogs are so into yoga mats? We looked to science to help us figure out whats going on.

It Stinks

Scent is one of a canines most important senses. They have relatively large noses with a lot of mucosa to help them trap scent molecules. (When dogs lick their noses, they’re often tasting the molecules that their noses have picked up.) Inside canine nasal passages are up to 300 million olfactory receptors—compared to about 5 to 6 million in humans—and an olfactory bulb in their brain that can process about 40 times more information than ours.

Simply put, a dog’s sense of smell is tens of thousands of times better than a human’s. They can use that sense of smell for all kinds of things, from sniffing out drugsand bombsto hunting down prey. And studies have shown that smelling their favorite humans with that big wet nose of theirs seems to trigger something like love.

Emory University neuroscience and psychology professor Gregory Berns and his colleagues trained a group of dogs to lay still in fMRI machines. Once the pups were inside and ready to be scanned (with special earmuffs to protect their sensitive hearing from the noisy whirring machine, of course), researchers held up four smell swabs to each dogs nose: One from the armpit of a familiar human, one from the armpit of a strange human, one from the anal area of a familiar dog, and another from the anal area of a strange dog. For all the pups, the caudate nucleusthe area that lights up in humans when were anticipating something positivewas most activated by the familiar human.

There are different theories for why dogs have this reactiona Pavlovian response to a receiving treats from this personorsome kind of evolutionary trigger fromseeing certain humans as a higher-level part of their packbut what’s most interesting is that the familiar humans typically werent the ones feeding the dogs and doing routine care, but secondary caretakers who would play and spend time with the dogs. The response we saw then represents more of a recognition of a social bond thats not immediately tied to feeding,” says Berns.

The researchers swabbed from the armpit because they wanted samples that were hormonally and pheremonally unique to that person. We wanted the stinky stuff, Berns says. Now, think about your yoga mat. You lay down on it, you sweat on it, you rub your body along it as you do cobra and upward dog. And, most likely, you dont wipe it down after every single yoga session. For a dog, it is a smelly, hormone-drenched B.O. sponge. And, because they love you, they love your stank.

Happy Feet

But why else might a dog like walking and stretching on a yoga mat, particularly if it doesnt belong to their owner? To answer this, lets take a look at dog anatomy. The only place dogs sweat is their paws, which is why an overheated or nervous dog might leave damp paw prints in its wake. Think of it like getting sweaty, clammy palms before a big meeting.

Bacteria creates human body odor by breaking down sweat and wetness and, in turn, burping out stink. Same goes for pooches. Their feet, moistened by sweat glands, attract bacteria that create a distinctive scent—some dog owners say it smells like Fritos.

Pawing, then, is one of the ways smell-driven dogs can mark where theyve been (aside from urinating, which, let’s hope that hasn’t happened to your yoga mat). Its why your dog might scratch the ground after they poop. And it also might be the reason they want to tread all over your yoga mat.

But the simplest explanation may be that dogs like yoga mats for the same reason we do: Matsare comfortable and dont slip around. Yoga mats do not jar their joints, but act as absorbent cushions, says Arden Moore, pet expert and the author of books including What Dogs Want. Unlike rugs and mats on tile and wood floors in our house that can cause a moving dog to slip and slide, yoga mats stay in place. They are less frightening or intimidating than rugs.

Whatever the reason, there’s no reasonyou shouldnt indulge your dog’s love for your yoga mat—as long as they dont mistake it for a pee pad, chew on it, or totally get in your way during chaturanga. Sothe next time youre ready for some vinyasa, youll know why your dog is doing poses next to you: Because they love you. And that strange, rectangular stank-sponge that you insist on standing on.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

The Worlds Most Metal Bird Makes Darkness Out of Chaos

The mating dance of the male superb bird of paradise is like nothing else on Earth. To win the affection of a female, he forms a sort of satellite dish with his body, revealing an entrancing band of blue. He jumps about like this, clicking in the face of the rather drab female, who appears simultaneously intrigued and horrified.

Other species of birds of paradise may vary in their plumage and tactics, but they share something remarkable: their black feathers. OK, maybe not remarkable at first glance, but a study out today in the journal Nature Communications reveals that those feathers absorb 99.95 percent of light. That’s nearly none more black, and virtually identical to the 99.965 percent of light that Vantablack, the world’s darkest artificial substance, can absorb. And it’s all thanks to black feathers structured like a forest of chaos.

The black feathers of the male bird of paradise eat light. Which again, metal. That’s because unlike your typical bird feather, which is more or less neatly structured with branches that branch off of branches, kind of like a fractal, the bird of paradise feather looks like an irregular forest of trees (see the image below for a comparison).

This leads to a whole lot of cavities in the feather. “Light strikes the feather, and is repeatedly scattered within these cavities,” says Harvard evolutionary biologist Dakota McCoy, lead author of the paper. “Each time it scatters, a little bit is absorbed, so that's how they become so black.” (Nitpicky thing I should probably mention: The feathers absorb 99.95 percent of directly incident light, meaning light coming from straight ahead, where the female would be standing. When it comes to light from all sides, the figure is more like 96.86 percent.) Which is particularly odd because human-made super-blacks rely not on chaos, but strict patterning of structures.

A comparison of a normal feather, top left, and a feather from a paradise riflebird, top right. The bottom panels are the feathers coated in gold. Notice how the riflebird’s still appears a deep black.
Dakota McCoy

This is known as structural absorption, and it’s fundamentally different from how pigment works in the animal kingdom. A pigment on, say, a parrot, absorbs certain wavelengths of light and reflects others, manifesting as color. The idea behind the structural absorption of the bird of paradise's super-black, on the other hand, is light keeps bouncing around the "forest" of structures, absorbing and absorbing.

The male bird of paradise takes things to the next level for a very good reason: sex. Let’s return to the example of the superb bird of paradise and its dance of seduction. The little prince of darkness creates that satellite dish with his wings, revealing a striking band of blue set against that striking black. This blue is also a structural color, though in this case it’s structural reflection, not absorption. So it bounces light around the structure to give a sort of sheen that changes depending on the angle. Again, this is different from straight pigment in that pigment reflects or absorbs certain wavelengths of light without all the bouncing around.

“The whole point, we think, of these feathers is to trick her eye and brain into thinking that there's less light illuminating the male than there really is,” says McCoy. “So to her eye, when her world is an incredibly dark black background and then a vivid blue spot, the spot looks even brighter, and it even looks like it's glowing.” It may even look like it’s floating in space.

This delicate dance isn't about hubris—it's about sexual selection. The male puts on his show because females can afford to be picky about who they mate with. The debate over why this evolved is still a contentious one, but it may have been that long ago, nice feathers were an indication that a bird of paradise male was healthy and parasite free. Females picked the highfalutin males, and an arms race ensued, with males developing ever more ostentatious displays. So it may be that these days, a male with super-black feathers and a pretty blue band isn't necessarily more healthy. It might be that he's bluffing. Which would all explain why females are so drab—this isn’t an adaptation to, say, camouflage better at night, otherwise you’d expect both sexes would rock it.

What’s curious is why we don’t see these kinds of feathers more often among birds. After all, absorbing almost all the photons that hit the feathers can in a sense make a bird invisible. “It may be that it really affects the waterproof-ability of those feathers, it may be that it's more costly to produce those feathers,” says Jack Dumbacher, curator of ornithology and mammalogy at the California Academy of Sciences. “There must be some kind of downside. Maybe they wear out more quickly and have to be replaced more often.”

Clearly, though, evolution has deemed super-black feathers to be useful for the bird of paradise, which means they may well be useful for humans too. Because the black magic of the bird of paradise feather literally goes deeper. McCoy and her team imaged the feathers with a scanning electron microscope, but with this technique the electron beam tends to electrostatically charge specimens and mess with image quality. So they had to ground the feathers.

“We blasted it with gold so that we could look at it under a microscope,” says McCoy, “but then we noticed amazingly that it still looked black even though we had put a 5 nanometer layer of gold over the entire surface.” The super-black feather, it seems, just won’t quit being super black.

Which could be great news for materials science. Super-black materials made in the lab rely on regularity to scatter light—a bunch of tiny cones, for instance, one after another across a surface. That’s like precise and elegant classical music compared to the bird of paradise’s metal-as-hell method. So maybe engineers can embrace that chaos to create new materials out of keratin, the same stuff that makes up feathers (and your hair and nails, by the way). Especially since traditional super-black materials tend to be fragile.

“Feathers are really robust, they're hard to break, and they're made of this super cheap thing,” says McCoy. “So if we can easily 3-D print or some other simple cheap way of manufacturing this, I think it could be useful.”

So metalheads, rejoice. New super-black materials may be headed your way, thanks to the sexual adventures of the bird of paradise. Which if it isn’t the name of a metal band out there, it should be.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Should we stop keeping pets? Why more and more ethicists say yes

Ninety per cent of Britons think of their pet as part of the family 16% even included them on the last census. But recent research into animals emotional lives has cast doubt on the ethics of petkeeping

It was a Tupperware tub of live baby rats that made Dr Jessica Pierce start to question the idea of pet ownership. She was at her local branch of PetSmart, a pet store chain in the US, buying crickets for her daughters gecko. The baby rats, squeaking in their plastic container, were brought in by a man she believed was offering to sell them to the store as pets or as food for the resident snakes. She didnt ask. But Pierce, a bioethicist, was troubled.

Rats have a sense of empathy and there has been a lot of research on what happens when you take babies away from a mother rat not surprisingly, they experience profound distress, she says. It was a slap in the face how can we do this to animals?

Pierce went on to write Run, Spot, Run, which outlines the case against pet ownership, in 2015. From the animals that become dog and cat food and the puppy farms churning out increasingly unhealthy purebred canines, to the goldfish sold by the bag and the crickets by the box, pet ownership is problematic because it denies animals the right of self-determination. Ultimately, we bring them into our lives because we want them, then we dictate what they eat, where they live, how they behave, how they look, even whether they get to keep their sex organs.

Treating animals as commodities isnt new or shocking; humans have been meat-eaters and animal-skin-wearers for millennia. However, this is at odds with how we say we feel about our pets. The British pet industry is worth about 10.6bn; Americans spent more than $66bn (50bn) on their pets in 2016. A survey earlier this year found that many British pet owners love their pet more than they love their partner (12%), their children (9%) or their best friend (24%). According to another study, 90% of pet-owning Britons think of their pet as a member of their family, with 16% listing their animals in the 2011 census.

Domestic
In the US, 1.5m shelter animals are euthanised each year. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is morally problematic, because more people are thinking of pets as people They consider them part of their family, they think of them as their best friend, they wouldnt sell them for a million dollars, says Dr Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and one of the founders of the budding field of anthrozoology, which examines human-animal relations. At the same time, research is revealing that the emotional lives of animals, even relatively simple animals such as goldfish, are far more complex and rich than we once thought (dogs are people, too, according to a 2013 New York Times comment piece by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns). The logical consequence is that the more we attribute them with these characteristics, the less right we have to control every single aspect of their lives, says Herzog.

Does this mean that, in 50 years or 100 years, we wont have pets? Institutions that exploit animals, such as the circus, are shutting down animal rights activists claimed a significant victory this year with the closure of Ringling Bros circus and there are calls to end, or at least rethink, zoos. Meanwhile, the number of Britons who profess to be vegan is on the rise, skyrocketing 350% between 2006 and 2016.

Widespread petkeeping is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the 19th century, most animals owned by households were working animals that lived alongside humans and were regarded unsentimentally. In 1698, for example, a Dorset farmer recorded in his diary: My old dog Quon was killed and baked for his grease, which yielded 11lb. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, animals began to feature less in our increasingly urban environments and, as disposable income grew, pets became more desirable. Even as people began to dote on their pets, though, animal life was not attributed any intrinsic value. In Run, Spot, Run, Pierce reports that, in 1877, the city of New York rounded up 762 stray dogs and drowned them in the East River, shoving them into iron crates and lifting the crates by crane into the water. Veterinarian turned philosopher Bernard Rollin recalls pet owners in the 1960s putting their dog to sleep before going on holiday, reasoning that it was cheaper to get a new dog when they returned than to board the one they had.

Maine
Nine per cent of British pet owners love their animal more than their children. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

More recently, however, several countries have moved to change the legal status of animals. In 2015, the governments of Canada and New Zealand recognised animals as sentient beings, effectively declaring them no longer property (how this squares with New Zealands recent war on possums is unclear). While pets remain property in the UK, the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 stipulates that pet owners must provide a basic level of care for their animals. Pets are also property in the US, but 32 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington DC, now include provisions for pets under domestic violence protection orders. In 2001, Rhode Island changed its legislation to describe pet owners as guardians, a move that some animal rights advocates lauded (and others criticised for being nothing more than a change in name).

Before we congratulate ourselves on how far we have come, consider that 1.5m shelter animals including 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats are euthanised each year in the US. The number of stray dogs euthanised annually in the UK is far lower 3,463 but the RSCPA says investigations into animal cruelty cases increased 5% year on year in 2016, to 400 calls a day.

Can I stick my dog in a car and take him to the vet and say: I dont want him any more, kill him, or take him to a city shelter and say: I cant keep him any more, I hope you can find a home for him, good luck? says Gary Francione, a professor at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey and an animal rights advocate. If you can still do that, if you still have the right to do that, then they are still property.

Crucially, our animals cant tell us whether they are happy being pets. There is an illusion now that pets have more voice than in the past but it is maybe more that we are putting words into their mouth, Pierce says, pointing to the abundance of pets on social media plastered with witty projections written by their parents. Maybe we are humanising them in a way that actually makes them invisible.

If you accept the argument that pet ownership is morally questionable, how do you put the brakes on such a vast industry? While he was writing his 2010 book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Herzog was studying the motivations of animal rights activists and whether it was emotion or intellect that pushed them towards activism. One of the subjects, Herzog says, was very, very logical. After he had become a vegan, eschewed leather shoes and convinced his girlfriend to go vegan, he considered his pet cockatiel. I remember; he looked up wistfully. He said he got the bird, took it outside, let it loose and it flew up, Herzog recalls. He said: I knew she wouldnt survive, that she probably starved. I guess I was doing it more for myself than for her.

Although Pierce and Francione agree that pet ownership is wrong, both of them have pets: Pierce has two dogs and a cat; Francione has six rescue dogs, whom he considers refugees. For now, the argument over whether we should own animals is largely theoretical: we do have pets and giving them up might cause more harm than good. Moreover, as Francione suggests, caring for pets seems to many people to be the one area where we can actually do right by animals; convincing people of the opposite is a hard sell.

Tim Wass, the chair of the Pet Charity, an animal welfare consultant and a former chief officer at the RSPCA, agrees. It has already been decided by market forces and human nature the reality is people have pets in the millions. The question is: how can we help them care for them correctly and appropriately?

If the short history of pet ownership tells us anything, it is that our attitude towards animals is prone to change. You see these rises and falls in our relationships with pets, says Herzog. In the long haul, I think petkeeping might fall out of fashion; I think it is possible that robots will take their place, or maybe pet owning will be for small numbers of people. Cultural trends come and go. The more we think of pets as people, the less ethical it is to keep them.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Why Are So Many Dead Whales Washing Up in the Bay Area?

There’s no one way to describe the scent of a beached, rotting whale. See, it really depends on time and space: So long as you’re more than 20 feet away, you don’t smell a thing. But if you’re downwind, the sour stench will just about bowl you over. Its bite sits heavily instead of sharply in your throat. If a zombie wore week-old gym socks, this is what it would smell like.

Then consider the time of death. Whales are full of bacteria, just like us, so when they wash up dead, their body cavities play host to microbial anarchy. As the whale lies there on the beach in the sun, the bacteria multiply. Lots of different kinds of bacteria, spreading and eating up nutrients and giving off gas—which builds up, bloating the body to the point that it’s dangerous to deflate.

Video by Matt Simon

Which is why on a beach 13 miles north of San Francisco, a dozen scientists are carefully prodding a 58-foot female fin whale laid out on her back. “You'll usually see the stomach swell quite big, almost like if you have a stomach that's too full,” Barbie Halaska tells me—standing more than 20 feet from the whale, of course. She’s coordinator for strandings at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, and this is her necropsy (that’d be an autopsy for a non-human being). Wearing a teal hat and orange waders and elbow-length gloves, she walks around the whale, poking at it.

When you cut through the blubber layers, she adds, you start to see the muscle tense under the pressure of gas. “So you just poke little holes and you go along to let the gas escape.” It hisses like an inflatable mattress full of death.

Halaska and a dozen other scientists from the MMC and the California Academy of Sciences aren’t here to learn whale anatomy. They’re here to understand what happened to this bleached-white whale, which shows no outward signs of trauma, other than the typical nicks and scratches that come with being a massive animal swimming through the sea. Maybe the whale got tangled up in fishing nets and drowned. Or a ship struck it and the animal had manifested all its damage internally. Or disease had felled the whale.

Whatever the cause, its appearance builds on a bad omen: This is the third reported stranding in the Bay Area in a week. The average here for an entire year is five to seven. So what’s going on?

What these folks know for sure is that this particular whale is in an “advanced” state of decay. Someone reported it stranded on Duxbury Reef, near the town of Bolinas, three days before, and it died who knows how long before that. “Every time you go into a whale,” Halaska tells me before turning and heading back to her subject, “you go into it with an open mind.”

The scientists, armed with foot-long knives that look like miniature pirate swords, slice through blubber, peeling the flesh off in sheets. (Please be advised that you're coming up on a photo of this scene, which contains gore.) At this stage of decay, it’s easier to slice than if it were fresh, like cutting through a grape. A blond gentlemen in a backwards cap uses a meat hook to drag chunks of blubber into a tide pool, tossing them with a schlop when the stuff hits rock and a splash when it hits standing water. Rivers of whale blood make their way through the pools and into the sea. All the while, a gang of seagulls inches closer, eventually getting the courage to snag a piece of meat. They fight over it at first, but then seem to lose interest. Again, advanced state of decay.

Halaska comes back to my safe aromatic distance from the whale and invites me to get a real whiff. She leads me along the animal’s split-open abdomen.

“So this first layer that you're probably smelling is most likely blubber,” she says, “maybe a little bit of muscle. You can kind of smell the iron a little bit.”

“Can you smell it?” Halaska laughs. “I can’t smell it anymore.”

I can smell it, alright. Really, I'm lucky to be here for this relatively early necropsy, because with some other whales, the team doesn’t do just one. If the whale is big enough, they’ll do an initial exploration, then come back after it’s rotted more for better access to bones. At that point, the insides are more or less soup.

Matt Simon

Halaska brings me toward the tail. “Then if you stand here, this will be the intestinal contents, so you've got a little bit of brownish red material,” she says. That’d be the foul puddle on the ground. “It's just a different smell, it's almost like feces combined with a little bit of fat.”

“Not bacon grease fat,” she clarifies.

I leave her to her work. The team slices deeper, every so often puncturing cavities and letting out a hiss of gas. Beneath all that blubber, they’ve revealed a massive band of purple flesh running down the whale’s left side. It’s severe hemorrhaging, and pretty much only one thing can do that to an animal this size: a ship strike.

But you know what they say about assumptions. Just days before, a gray whale had washed ashore on Tennessee Valley Beach, nine miles to the south. “When we went out the first day, we saw that there were clear skull fractures, so we were thinking maybe a ship strike,” says Halaska. After all, this is a major shipping area. “But when we got in there, she had clear lines on her neck and into the muscle layer where she had this chronic bruising from an entanglement.” She’d run into a net, probably drowned or died of exhaustion, and then was struck by a ship.

Hemorrhaging on this new whale, though, is a big clue. That only happens to tissue while an animal is still alive. So the team digs deeper.

On the right side of the whale, a scientist cutting through flesh pulls out worm-like endoparasites—those would be parasites that live inside their host, common for a whale—and puts them in a plastic baggy. Then he pulls out a rib fragment about six inches long. He holds it in the air and calls out to Halaska over the top of the whale. She yells back to set it aside, so he lays it carefully on a slice of blubber on the beach.

Next Halaska climbs atop the whale's belly. She’s after the sternum, that bit of bone in the middle of your ribs. She slices away with her mini-sword, cutting out a huge square of flesh that she kicks to the ground. She too finds rib fragments.

Rib fragments from the stranded whale. Note the bruise on the second from the top.

Matt Simon

Halaska scrambles down. At this point, her waders are not only covered in whale muck, but she’s also got a small purple smear of it on the right side of her face. “I actually found one rib that has bone bruising,” she tells me. “So what happens is, it was hit and it causes the bone itself to bleed, it taints the bone pink. So it was definitely alive when it was hit.”

The team finds more fractured ribs, as well as fractured vertebrae near the head. The skull itself is fractured, all with associated hemorrhaging.

A ship strike, through and through—you just couldn’t tell it from the outside, likely because the skin was so decayed. The damage stretches from the whale’s left side, up and over into her sternum, with fractures also on the left side, where that fellow found his own rib fragment. “So it looks almost like she rolled when she got hit,” Halaska says. “It's unfortunate. It really sucks. It sucks for her.”

“I honestly hope for that animal's sake it was instant,” she adds.

That doesn’t make us humans merciful. This fin whale was a victim of the Bay Area’s bustling commerce, ships steaming through the Golden Gate with little regard for our ocean-going mammalian relatives. So long as the Bay Area exists, that won’t end.

But by proving that ships are killing whales—by slicing through rotten flesh and hunting for rib fragments and crawling atop massive bodies—Halaska and her team can help influence policy. Getting ships to slow down in certain areas, for instance. “Every case that we do just helps to further inform the public and inform policymakers what's happening in the oceans,” Halaska says.

It’s increasingly clear something has to change. That other whale that got tangled and then was struck by a ship? Someone reported it beached on May 18, two days after NOAA got word of a ship entering San Francisco Bay with yet another fin whale draped across its bow. That animal sank and resurfaced in Alameda, near Oakland. It was towed to Angel Island in the bay, where scientists tied it to a post at high tide. Then once low tide came along, they did their necropsy, found fractures and hemorrhaging, and confirmed the cause of death.

The fin whale sprawled at my feet will enter the annals of science, but will see little ceremony beyond that. Towing it out to sea and sinking it would be too difficult. You certainly can’t blow it up, as Oregon learned the hard way in 1970. You could bury it, sure, but that’s not really necessary. This whale will be left to rot where it lies. That may not please beachgoing humans, but the scavengers will certainly appreciate it—seagull company excluded.


More Great WIRED Stories

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Pterosaurs: record haul of egg fossils from ancient flying reptile found in China

Scientists unearth 215 eggs with preserved embryos of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis, providing fresh understanding of dinosaurs cousin

A discovery in northwestern China of hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs is providing fresh understanding of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, including evidence that their babies were born flightless and needed parental care.

Scientists said on Thursday they unearthed 215 eggs of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis a species whose adults had a crest atop an elongated skull, pointy teeth and a wingspan of more than 11ft (3.5m) including 16 eggs containing partial embryonic remains.

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site, making this Cretaceous Period species that lived 120m years ago perhaps the best understood of all pterosaurs.

We want to call this region Pterosaur Eden, said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Pterosaurs were Earths first flying vertebrates. Birds and bats appeared later.

Until now, no pterosaur eggs had been found with embryos preserved in three dimensions. Researchers think up to 300 eggs may be present, some buried under the exposed fossils.

Some
Some of the 300 pterosaur eggs found at the Hami region, north eastern China. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA

The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Some birds can fly on the same day they break out from the egg, while some others will need a long period of parental care. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but cant fly, Jiang said, an unexpected finding.

The researchers believe these pterosaurs lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake. Kellner cited evidence that females gathered together to lay eggs in nesting colonies and returned over the years to the same nesting site.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

The oblong eggs, up to about 3in (7.2cm) long, were pliable with a thin, hard outer layer marked by cracking and crazing covering a thick membrane inner layer, resembling soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is difficult for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Three-eyed extinct reptile was a bone-headed dinosaur mimic 100 million years early

Newly discovered Triopticus primus is one of many copy-cat animals

A bizarre new extinct reptile with a domed skull of solid bone has been unearthed in Texas. If this sounds familiar, it could be because you have heard of a group of dinosaurs called the pachycephalosaurs that possessed very similar characteristics. One could almost call Triopticus a mimic were it not for the fact that it dates to 228-220 million years ago, meaning that it predates the pachycephalosaurs by over 100 million years. Moreover, Triopticus is one of numerous animals from this period (the Late Triassic) that were in some way copies of other reptiles that evolved later.

Triopticus is a small animal the preserved dome of the skull is only around 5 cm long even though it is from an adult animal, but what there is of it is very unusual. There is a large pit in the skull that resembles the eye sockets of reptiles and gave rise to the animals name, as Triopticus means three eyes. This hole does not represent an extra eye, however, but may simply be a result of the surrounding bones having enlarged and expanded leaving this space behind, rather than there being a bit missing.

Aside from the difference of this divot, comparisons to the pachycephalosaurs are more than superficial. Both have greatly enlarged domes of solid bone that sat at the back of the head above the brain, both show some extra bumps and bosses, and both even show some similarities in the microstructure of the bone. Although the rest of Triopticus is missing, it is hard not to suggest that these animals may have bashed heads with one another as the pachycephalosaurs are thought to do (although this is not covered in the paper). Such similarities of form between only distantly related organisms is termed convergent evolution and there are numerous examples of this in the fossil record and alive today (think of the hydrodynamic shapes of fish, dolphins and penguins).

Convergent
Convergent evolution between Triassic animals (left) and those that came later (right) and in particular Triopticus and pachycephalosaurs (both top) Photograph: Stocker et al., 2016

However, Triopticus and a number of the reptiles that lived alongside it show some remarkable convergences with other reptiles that came later, and most notably the dinosaurs. In the Late Triassic there were various animals showing adaptations and body plans that will be familiar to those who have browsed even childrens books on dinosaurs. There were bipedal plant eating reptiles similar to the ornithomimosaurs, herbivorous forms with leaf-shaped teeth covered in armour like the later ankylosaurs, large-headed reptiles with sharp teeth that looked like predatory dinosaurs (if on four legs rather than two), and even long-snouted semi-aquatic animals that resembled extinct and even living crocodilians.

These pairs are already known to palaeontologists, but an analysis of skull and body shapes shows how similar animals were to each other in the ages before the dinosaurs and others diverged, and then later how similar these various different forms became, despite their fairly distant relatedness. Its notable that Triopticus is a particular outlier, being even more distant from the ancestral form that the pachycephalosaurs it has quite an extreme set of anatomical features.

That convergent evolution is rampant within some groups is not big news, but the sheer range of extinct reptile species that ended up taking on similar forms (and often more than once) is a reminder of the selective pressures that evolution can bring to some lineages. Even so these are typically limited to classic ecological features like specialised teeth for eating or claws for digging, so modify the skull in such a shape more than once as seen here is quite a surprise and one hopes that more will come to light in the future. It will certainly be interesting to see if the rest of Triopticus matches the thick-headed dinosaurs in any other areas.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Weirdest Senses Animals Have That You Dont

People like to imagine that theyre the pinnacle of evolution, but the animal kingdom suggests otherwise. The discovery that bumblebees use hair on their legs to detect a flowers electromagnetic field offers another reminder that human senses dont always measure up. You share the planet with creatures that can smell veins, see colors you cant imagine, and communicate through their feet. Here are just a few animals with senses sharper than yours.

01

Bumblebees

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

Credit: Getty Images

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

02

Sharks

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

Credit: Getty Images

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

03

Octopuses

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

Credit: Getty Images

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

04

Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

Credit: Getty Images

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

05

Vampire bats

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

Credit: Getty Images

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

06

Pit vipers

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

Credit: Getty Images

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

07

Elephants

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

Credit: Getty Images

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

08

Roundworms

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

Credit: Getty Images

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

09

Honeybees

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Credit: Getty Images

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Dog DNA study reveals the incredible journey of man’s best friend

Descended from the grey wolf, domesticated dogs have been companions to humans for about 33,000 years, a genetic study has shown

Mans proverbial first best friend was probably a grey wolf that may have made contact with the first human companions about 33,000 years ago, somewhere in south-east Asia.

About 15,000 years ago, a small pack of domesticated dogs began trotting towards the Middle East and Africa. Canis lupus familiaris made it to Europe about 10,000 years ago, and when civilisation began in the Fertile Crescent, and humans began to build farmsteads and villages with walls, dogs were already there to help keep guard, herd the first flocks, and demand to be taken for a walk.

The details of the story the characters, the action and the precise locations are unknowable. But the outlines of the great adventure are written in DNA.

Scientists from China, Canada, Finland, Singapore, Sweden and the US report in the journal Cell Research that they compared the genomes, or genetic inheritances, of 58 canids. These included 12 grey wolves, 12 indigenous dogs from the north Chinese countryside, 11 from south-east Asia, four village dogs from Nigeria and 19 specimens of selective breeding from Asia, Europe and the Americas, including the Afghan hound, the Siberian husky, the Tibetan mastiff, the chihuahua and the German shepherd.

Because each genome is a text copied (with regular misspellings, or mutations) through the generations, and every genome is related to every other genome, any comparison begins to tell a story of family connections and separations long ago. The more texts that can be compared, the more certain the story they start to tell.

After evolving for several thousand years in east Asia, a subgroup of dogs radiated out of southern East Asia about 15,000 years ago to the Middle East, Africa as well as Europe. One of these out-of-Asia lineages then migrated back to northern China and made a series of admixtures with endemic east Asian lineages, before travelling to the Americas, the scientists say.

Our study, for the first time, reveals the extraordinary journey that the domestic dog has travelled on this planet during the past 33,000 years.

The grey wolf connection has been made before, along with the link with East Asia. The scientists, led by Guo-Dong Wang, a molecular biologist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, have once more confirmed it. The indigenous Chinese dogs revealed closer links to their wolf ancestors, and retained the greatest genetic variety, another indicator that the domestic canine began somewhere in East Asia. The modern European specialist breeds showed less genetic diversity, suggesting that they descended from a subset of the first dogs, and the DNA of village dogs of Africa showed even less diversity, implying that they owed their origins to an even smaller set of migrant ancestors.

But the same genetic evidence suggests that at least some dogs from Europe and western Asia may have travelled back into China to interbreed, complicating the story. The ancestral dog and wolf may have continued to interbreed for a while, but the scientists are confident enough of their findings not only to put a date for the emergence of what became the domestic dog around 33,000 years ago but even to guess at an original or founder population of about 4,600 individuals.

Whether these joined forces with Ice Age human hunter gatherers, or whether they stayed as wild as the wolves, scavenging on human kills, and subsequently joined up with human companions as part of the civilisation package about 15,000 years ago on the journey to the west, is still uncertain.

Our study, for the first time, begins to reveal a large and complex landscape upon which a cascade of positive selective sweeps occurred during the domestication of dogs, the scientists write. The domestic dog represents one of the most beautiful genetic sculptures shaped by nature and man.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Absurd Creatures: The Bearcat Isnt a Bear or Cat But It Does Smell Like Popcorn

The binturong, aka bearcat, ain’t a monkey, but it’s got a prehensile tail. It ain’t made of Play-Doh, but its ankles can rotate around 180 degrees. And it smells like a bucket of popcorn, but it’s not a bucket of popcorn. Find out more about the bearcat in this week’s episode of Absurd Creatures!

And Im happy to hear from you with suggestions on what to cover next. If its weird and we can find footage of it, its fair game. You can get me at matthew_simon@wired.com or on Twitter at @mrMattSimon.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Barbra Streisands dog cloning is a modern tragedy. Pets are meant to die | Stuart Heritage

To own an animal is to learn about the inevitability of dying not that loved ones can be replicated in a lab if we cough up enough cash, writes Guardian columnist Stuart Heritage

Barbra Streisand might not brim with the white-hot cultural relevance she used to, but nobody can deny that shes a trier. For example, when everyones back was turned, she went off and created her very own Black Mirror episode.

In her episode, a broken-hearted millionaire realises that she cannot bear to part with her sick dog, so she spends an inordinate amount of money to have it cloned. However, with every passing day, the millionaire realises the futility of her gesture. The clones dont behave like the original, and the differences between old and new tear at her soul until she drowns the puppies in a lake.

Apart from the last part (it wouldnt be Black Mirror unless it ended on a note of harrowing violence) this has all actually happened. In a recent Variety interview, Streisand revealed that her Coton de Tulear dogs, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, were created in a lab. She had them made, at great expense, from genetic material taken from her dog Samantha, who died last year.

Tragically, she now hints that it might have been a mistake. The new dogs might look like Samantha, but dont behave like her. Im waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness, she said.

Without sounding too solipsistic, a big part of owning a pet is to learn about death. You take custody of an animal knowing that youre likely to outlive it. While its alive you swaddle it in as much love as you possibly can, and then it dies, and then youre bereft, and then, slowly, you learn how to move on. Little by little, pets equip you with the tools to deal with grief.

Barbra
Barbra Streisand refused to let go. Photograph: KMazur/WireImage

I vividly remember the day my first pet died a guinea pig called Smartie. My mum met me at the school gates and told me that Smartie had passed away that morning. She told me that it wasnt anyones fault, and that Id feel sad for a while, but the sadness would eventually fade. It would hurt, but it would be OK.

I remember grappling with the enormity of the information. I was six, after all, and this was my first experience of death. But Im pleased it happened. Its something that everyone needs to go through. Had my mum met me at the school gates with a bubble-wrapped Smartie clone, and explained that theres no such thing as death so long as a South Korean laboratory continues to churn out exact genetic reproductions of everything youve ever loved at tens of thousands of pounds a pop, you can understand how it might have skewed my understanding of mortality a little.

And thats the saddest part of this Barbra Streisand news. It isnt that the clones were expensive and that her money would have been better going to charity. It isnt that she paid for them at all, rather than adopting a couple of strays from a shelter. Its that she refused to let go. She failed to grasp the most fundamental point of life: it ends. And once its over, you can never get it back. Nothing not prayer, not magic, not science can replace what was gone. You can come close, but itll never quite be the same. Some things you just cant run from.

Stuart Heritage is a Guardian columnist

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

British couple celebrate after birth of first cloned puppy of its kind

West Yorkshire couple Laura Jacques and Richard Remde enlisted South Korean firm offering dog-cloning service for £67,000

A British couple have made history after a surrogate dog gave birth to the first cloned puppy of its kind on Boxing Day.

In the first case of its kind, the boxer puppy was cloned from the couples dead dog, Dylan, almost two weeks after it died. The previous limit for dog cloning was five days after death.

Laura Jacques, 29, and Richard Remde 43, from West Yorkshire, were grief stricken after their boxer died at the age of eight in June, having been diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumour.

The pair decided to try to clone Dylan and enlisted the services of the controversial Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which offers a commercial dog-cloning service for $100,000 (67,000) per procedure. It is the only laboratory of its kind in the world. They have hailed the birth as a miracle.

The male puppy has been named Chance, after a character in Jacques favourite film, Disneys Homeward Bound. He is expected to be joined in three days time by a second cloned puppy this one will be named Shadow after another character in the film.

Jacques said she and Remde were overwhelmed after witnessing the birth by caesarean section on Saturday in the operating theatre at Sooam.

Dylan,

Dylan, who died in June this year. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The whole thing just feels surreal, she said. I lost all sense of time. I have no idea how long everything took, the whole thing made me feel very disoriented. I was just clinging on to Richard for about an hour and a half after Chance was born.

After they got him out I still couldnt quite believe it had happened. But once he started making noises I knew it was real. Even as a puppy of just a few minutes old I cant believe how much he looks like Dylan. All the colourings and patterns on his body are in exactly the same places as Dylan had them.

Remde said: I was much more overwhelmed with emotion at the birth than I expected to be.

The couple said the puppy was feeding well from his mother. Im trying to get my head round the fact that this puppy has 100% of the same DNA as Dylan, said Jacques. Its quite confusing but Im telling myself that Chance is just like one of Dylans puppies.

I had had Dylan since he was a puppy, she said. I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world.

Sooam, the leading laboratory in the world for dog cloning, has produced more than 700 dogs for commercial customers. The technique involves implanting DNA into a blank dog egg that has had the nucleus removed.

Jacques heard about dog cloning from a documentary about a competition Sooam ran for one UK dog owner to have their dog cloned free of charge. Rebecca Smith was the winner and her dachshund, Winnie, who is still alive, was successfully cloned.

David Kim, a scientist at Sooam, said the birth of the two cloned dogs was exciting for the laboratory because samples were taken from Dylan 12 days after he died. This is the first case we have had where cells have been taken from a dead dog after a very long time, he said. Hopefully it will allow us to extend the time after death that we can take cells for cloning.

There are no regulations on the cloning of pets, although the cloning of human beings is illegal, and in August the European parliament voted to outlaw the cloning of farm animals.

Hwang Woo-suk, one of the leading researchers at the Sooam laboratory, is a controversial figure. In 2004, he led a research group at Seoul University, in South Korea, which claimed to have created a cloned human embryo in a test tube. An independent scientific committee found no evidence of this and in January 2006 the journal Science, which had originally published the research, retracted it. He was part of the team delivering the cloned puppy on Boxing Day.

The RSPCA expressed concern about dog cloning. A spokesperson said: There are serious ethical and welfare concerns relating to the application of cloning technology to animals. Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates. There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumours, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns.

Jacques, a dog walker, and Remde, who runs a building company, Heritage Masonry & Conservation, had to take two sets of samples from their dead dog after the first set of samples did not grow in the laboratory. Remde made two trips in quick succession to South Korea to deliver the cell samples. They are now waiting for the birth of the second puppy and are hoping to adopt the puppies two surrogate mothers and bring four dogs back to the UK next July after the quarantine period has ended.

Key dates in the cloning of Dylan

11 June: Couple told their eight-year-old boxer dog Dylan has an inoperable brain tumour. They were told he might live for up to 18 months with treatment.

30 June: Dylan dies after a cardiac arrest.

1 & 2 July: Vet allows the couple to keep Dylan with them for a few days before burying him. Jacques starts researching the possibilities of cloning a dead dog.

2 July: Dylan is refrigerated in a funeral parlour. Couple purchase medical equipment from Boots to take a skin sample from Dylan to send to Sooam in South Korea in the hope that they can clone him.

4 July: Remde flies to South Korea with the samples, delivers them to laboratory staff waiting at the airport and immediately gets on a plane back to the UK.

5 July: Dylans remains are frozen until a date is fixed for his burial.

6 July: Sooam says it does not think the samples Remde has flown to South Korea could be used to create a cloned puppy.

7 July: Sooam asks whether the couple still have the dog and if so whether they want to try to extract more samples for cloning.

10 July: The couple struggle to take samples from Dylan, whose body remains frozen before burial. A small sample of cells is finally secured around midnight.

11 July: Remde flies to South Korea again to deliver the samples. Sooam receives the cells having never attempted to clone a dog 12 days after its death.

21t October: Sooam confirms the cells have grown to a sufficient degree that the cloning process could start.

23 November: Sooam says a pregnancy has been verified.

24 November: Sooam says a second pregnancy has been verified.

26 December: First boxer puppy is born on Boxing Day.

29 December: Second puppy due.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Bird That Kicks the Ever-Loving Crap Out of Its Prey

Birds of prey: soaring, swooping, landing all cool on a branch like it’s nothing. Eh, not really for me, says the secretary bird. This avian prefers to kick its victims to death, even snakes. It’s this week’s episode of Absurd Creatures! Come for the kickboxing, stay for the ’90s hip-hop reference.

Find every episode of Absurd Creatures here. And Im happy to hear from you with suggestions on what to cover next. If its weird and we can find footage of it, its fair game. You can get me at matthew_simon@wired.com or on Twitter at @mrMattSimon.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Africats to the Purr-ymids: DNA study reveals long tale of cat domestication

Study of ancient genetic material from Egypt to Viking graveyards reveals all tamed cats descended from one rodent-catching African subspecies first tamed by Near East farmers 9,000 years ago

The untold story of how cats came in from the wild to commandeer the finest armchairs and win over the internet has been laid bare by a comprehensive analysis of ancient feline DNA.

Drawing on genetic material from mummified cats in Egypt, and remains from Viking graveyards and stone age sites, researchers pieced together how cats first came to live with humans and ultimately spread around the world as their companions.

Scientists extracted DNA from the bones, teeth, hair and skin of more than 200 long-dead animals found at sites in the Near East, Africa and Europe. The material shows that all tamed cats today descend from the African wildcat or Felis silvestris lybica, a subspecies found in North Africa and the Near East.

Having established the root of our relationship with cats, the scientists found that the path to domestication probably began when early farmers in the Near East began to stockpile grain about 9,000 years ago. From that moment on, there was no looking back.

With the invention of agriculture, stocks of grain built up in villages, the stocks attracted rodents, and the rodents attracted cats, said Thierry Grange, a senior researcher on the team at the University of Paris Diderot. Once the animals proved their worth as pest exterminators, the relationship appears to have blossomed.

Nature video on cat DNA analysis

Further DNA specimens suggest that migrating farmers took cats with them as they moved into Europe, with remains in Bulgaria and Romania dating to 6,000 years ago. But as the researchers describe in Nature Ecology and Evolution, more cats arrived in a second wave of domestication that had its roots in Egypt.

African cats dominated the mummified felines found in Egypt and the same species spread to Europe in the Roman era where for a time they were more popular than the cats that arrived from the Near East. The DNA from one cat came from the ancient Red Sea port of Berenike where the Romans traded from 2,000 years ago. The Vikings carried cats on their boats too, to keep rodent stowaways under control at sea.

When you go to sea, you are totally dependent on the food you take with you, and you have ropes and other organic matter on board, said Grange. If rodents destroy all that, its a disaster.

It was only in the middle ages that a genetic mutation that produces tabby cat markings appeared, first in south-west Asia and then in Europe and Africa, marking the time when humans moved beyond simply living with cats to breeding them for fancy coats and other characteristics.

And while the process of taming cats and bringing them into the home has brought them closer to humans, the animals are still arguably the most aloof and murderous of household animals. The cat is probably the wildest of the domestic animals, said Grange. And part of that is living its own life and not caring too much about there being humans around.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Should we stop keeping pets? Why more and more ethicists say yes

Ninety per cent of Britons think of their pet as part of the family 16% even included them on the last census. But recent research into animals emotional lives has cast doubt on the ethics of petkeeping

It was a Tupperware tub of live baby rats that made Dr Jessica Pierce start to question the idea of pet ownership. She was at her local branch of PetSmart, a pet store chain in the US, buying crickets for her daughters gecko. The baby rats, squeaking in their plastic container, were brought in by a man she believed was offering to sell them to the store as pets or as food for the resident snakes. She didnt ask. But Pierce, a bioethicist, was troubled.

Rats have a sense of empathy and there has been a lot of research on what happens when you take babies away from a mother rat not surprisingly, they experience profound distress, she says. It was a slap in the face how can we do this to animals?

Pierce went on to write Run, Spot, Run, which outlines the case against pet ownership, in 2015. From the animals that become dog and cat food and the puppy farms churning out increasingly unhealthy purebred canines, to the goldfish sold by the bag and the crickets by the box, pet ownership is problematic because it denies animals the right of self-determination. Ultimately, we bring them into our lives because we want them, then we dictate what they eat, where they live, how they behave, how they look, even whether they get to keep their sex organs.

Treating animals as commodities isnt new or shocking; humans have been meat-eaters and animal-skin-wearers for millennia. However, this is at odds with how we say we feel about our pets. The British pet industry is worth about 10.6bn; Americans spent more than $66bn (50bn) on their pets in 2016. A survey earlier this year found that many British pet owners love their pet more than they love their partner (12%), their children (9%) or their best friend (24%). According to another study, 90% of pet-owning Britons think of their pet as a member of their family, with 16% listing their animals in the 2011 census.

Domestic
In the US, 1.5m shelter animals are euthanised each year. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is morally problematic, because more people are thinking of pets as people They consider them part of their family, they think of them as their best friend, they wouldnt sell them for a million dollars, says Dr Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and one of the founders of the budding field of anthrozoology, which examines human-animal relations. At the same time, research is revealing that the emotional lives of animals, even relatively simple animals such as goldfish, are far more complex and rich than we once thought (dogs are people, too, according to a 2013 New York Times comment piece by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns). The logical consequence is that the more we attribute them with these characteristics, the less right we have to control every single aspect of their lives, says Herzog.

Does this mean that, in 50 years or 100 years, we wont have pets? Institutions that exploit animals, such as the circus, are shutting down animal rights activists claimed a significant victory this year with the closure of Ringling Bros circus and there are calls to end, or at least rethink, zoos. Meanwhile, the number of Britons who profess to be vegan is on the rise, skyrocketing 350% between 2006 and 2016.

Widespread petkeeping is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the 19th century, most animals owned by households were working animals that lived alongside humans and were regarded unsentimentally. In 1698, for example, a Dorset farmer recorded in his diary: My old dog Quon was killed and baked for his grease, which yielded 11lb. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, animals began to feature less in our increasingly urban environments and, as disposable income grew, pets became more desirable. Even as people began to dote on their pets, though, animal life was not attributed any intrinsic value. In Run, Spot, Run, Pierce reports that, in 1877, the city of New York rounded up 762 stray dogs and drowned them in the East River, shoving them into iron crates and lifting the crates by crane into the water. Veterinarian turned philosopher Bernard Rollin recalls pet owners in the 1960s putting their dog to sleep before going on holiday, reasoning that it was cheaper to get a new dog when they returned than to board the one they had.

Maine
Nine per cent of British pet owners love their animal more than their children. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

More recently, however, several countries have moved to change the legal status of animals. In 2015, the governments of Canada and New Zealand recognised animals as sentient beings, effectively declaring them no longer property (how this squares with New Zealands recent war on possums is unclear). While pets remain property in the UK, the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 stipulates that pet owners must provide a basic level of care for their animals. Pets are also property in the US, but 32 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington DC, now include provisions for pets under domestic violence protection orders. In 2001, Rhode Island changed its legislation to describe pet owners as guardians, a move that some animal rights advocates lauded (and others criticised for being nothing more than a change in name).

Before we congratulate ourselves on how far we have come, consider that 1.5m shelter animals including 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats are euthanised each year in the US. The number of stray dogs euthanised annually in the UK is far lower 3,463 but the RSCPA says investigations into animal cruelty cases increased 5% year on year in 2016, to 400 calls a day.

Can I stick my dog in a car and take him to the vet and say: I dont want him any more, kill him, or take him to a city shelter and say: I cant keep him any more, I hope you can find a home for him, good luck? says Gary Francione, a professor at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey and an animal rights advocate. If you can still do that, if you still have the right to do that, then they are still property.

Crucially, our animals cant tell us whether they are happy being pets. There is an illusion now that pets have more voice than in the past but it is maybe more that we are putting words into their mouth, Pierce says, pointing to the abundance of pets on social media plastered with witty projections written by their parents. Maybe we are humanising them in a way that actually makes them invisible.

If you accept the argument that pet ownership is morally questionable, how do you put the brakes on such a vast industry? While he was writing his 2010 book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Herzog was studying the motivations of animal rights activists and whether it was emotion or intellect that pushed them towards activism. One of the subjects, Herzog says, was very, very logical. After he had become a vegan, eschewed leather shoes and convinced his girlfriend to go vegan, he considered his pet cockatiel. I remember; he looked up wistfully. He said he got the bird, took it outside, let it loose and it flew up, Herzog recalls. He said: I knew she wouldnt survive, that she probably starved. I guess I was doing it more for myself than for her.

Although Pierce and Francione agree that pet ownership is wrong, both of them have pets: Pierce has two dogs and a cat; Francione has six rescue dogs, whom he considers refugees. For now, the argument over whether we should own animals is largely theoretical: we do have pets and giving them up might cause more harm than good. Moreover, as Francione suggests, caring for pets seems to many people to be the one area where we can actually do right by animals; convincing people of the opposite is a hard sell.

Tim Wass, the chair of the Pet Charity, an animal welfare consultant and a former chief officer at the RSPCA, agrees. It has already been decided by market forces and human nature the reality is people have pets in the millions. The question is: how can we help them care for them correctly and appropriately?

If the short history of pet ownership tells us anything, it is that our attitude towards animals is prone to change. You see these rises and falls in our relationships with pets, says Herzog. In the long haul, I think petkeeping might fall out of fashion; I think it is possible that robots will take their place, or maybe pet owning will be for small numbers of people. Cultural trends come and go. The more we think of pets as people, the less ethical it is to keep them.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Enormous Bird That Can Ride the Wind for 10,000 Miles

The Proclaimers would walk 500 miles, and then they’d walk 500 more, just to be the type of people who would walk 1,000 miles. Which is admirable, though relatively tame compared to the antics of the albatross. This enormous bird rides the wind for up to 10,000 miles. Check out this week’s episode of Absurd Creatures to learn more!

Find every episode of Absurd Creatures here. And Im happy to hear from you with suggestions on what to cover next. If its weird and we can find footage of it, its fair game. You can get me at matthew_simon@wired.com or on Twitter at @mrMattSimon.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Pterosaurs: record haul of egg fossils from ancient flying reptile found in China

Scientists unearth 215 eggs with preserved embryos of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis, providing fresh understanding of dinosaurs cousin

A discovery in northwestern China of hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs is providing fresh understanding of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, including evidence that their babies were born flightless and needed parental care.

Scientists said on Thursday they unearthed 215 eggs of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis a species whose adults had a crest atop an elongated skull, pointy teeth and a wingspan of more than 11ft (3.5m) including 16 eggs containing partial embryonic remains.

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site, making this Cretaceous Period species that lived 120m years ago perhaps the best understood of all pterosaurs.

We want to call this region Pterosaur Eden, said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Pterosaurs were Earths first flying vertebrates. Birds and bats appeared later.

Until now, no pterosaur eggs had been found with embryos preserved in three dimensions. Researchers think up to 300 eggs may be present, some buried under the exposed fossils.

Some
Some of the 300 pterosaur eggs found at the Hami region, north eastern China. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA

The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Some birds can fly on the same day they break out from the egg, while some others will need a long period of parental care. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but cant fly, Jiang said, an unexpected finding.

The researchers believe these pterosaurs lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake. Kellner cited evidence that females gathered together to lay eggs in nesting colonies and returned over the years to the same nesting site.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

The oblong eggs, up to about 3in (7.2cm) long, were pliable with a thin, hard outer layer marked by cracking and crazing covering a thick membrane inner layer, resembling soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is difficult for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

No more monkey business: why primates should never be pets

About 4,500 primates are in private hands in the UK many of them suffering poor conditions. Is it time for a ban?

Primate owner Laura was scanning the internet adverts for monkeys she could try to rescue when she spotted one from a man in the Cotswolds who was clearly finding caring for two common marmosets extremely difficult. This is a common problem: primates are wild animals and keeping them is complex, expensive anddemanding.

She contacted the man and agreed to collect the two adult monkeys one male and one female. They had been kept in a tiny shed in his garden and were in a terrible condition. Hed fed them almost entirely on porridge, baby food and fish fingers. When I asked if he had given them any fruit or vegetables, he remembered that hed occasionally fed them grapes. Neither monkey had ever been seen by a vet. The male had severe dental problems and his tail was a mixture of matted hair and bald patches.

Like many of us, Laura (not her real name) grew up fascinated and enthralled by monkeys, and although she had never intended to keep primates, she found herself rescuing the two marmosets. She soon realised that the female was pregnant and, two weeks later, twin males were born. Soon after, the adult male was booked in for surgery to fix his tail and teeth. While the marmoset was under anaesthetic, the vet discovered that his tiny body was riddled with metabolic bone disease caused by poor nutrition and insufficient light. Sadly the male died during the operation though, with his twisted bones and body bloated by gas, it seemed a slight blessing when his heart finally stopped.

A
A common marmoset in the Atlantic rainforest, Brazil. Photograph: Alamy

This sad story doesnt stop there. Before he died, hed managed to get the female pregnant again and soon another three tiny males were born. Laura then rescued another adult male (this time from Luton), and what had started out as a single pair now turned into a family of seven with the new male acting as a surrogate father.

They all now live in at her family home in Lincolnshire in a specially made enclosure with specialist heating,specific lighting, indoor and outdoor runs and an ever-changing regime of feeding and behavioural enrichment. A contraceptive implant has ensured no more little monkeys have since arrived on the scene and now, finally, both the monkeys and keeper are happy.

But Laura admits that primates make awful pets: They urinate on everything to mark their territory and smell terribly; they need constant care and easily cost thousands of pounds every year to keep. People have this idea that they can touch and cuddle them but I never touch mine as theyre not tame. If I did, Id expect to be bitten. Even with my most relaxed animal, I wouldnt dream of it as it would stress him out too much. Its such a selfish thing to have them as pets. Get a dog or have a baby just dont get a monkey!

Welcome to the world of primate ownership: the legal position is complex, the ethics troublesome, and even the owners themselves have conflicted feelings about keeping monkeys at home. Id tried contacting several other primate owners but, with this one exception, none would speak to me. I got a sense that they knew it was wrong at some level and were uncomfortable talking about it.

I am a primatologist and have worked with chimpanzees in Africa, orangutans in Indonesia and green monkeys in the Caribbean. I love primates and have dedicated years to working with them, but there is not a chance I would want one as a pet.

Squirrel
Squirrel monkeys are on the dangerous animals list. Photograph: Alamy

But there are people who want to an estimated 4,500 primates (which covers apes, monkeys and lemurs, bushbabies and lorises) are privately owned in the UK. While some of these are owned by trained experts and represent specialist breeding groups, the vast majority are pets, living in peoples homes. Often owned by individuals with nothing more than good intentions and the misguided desire to own a cool pet, it is clear that there are very few privately owned captive primates in the UK in such a lucky situation as the ones Laura rescued.

Dr Sharon Redrobe a veterinary surgeon and the CEO of Twycross Zoo, Warwicks knows first-hand just how hard primate husbandry is. By definition, a pet is an animal we touch and play with in our homes and in no way is it in a primates best interest to be constantly touched and played with by people. They need their own social groups, are extremely hard to care for and often grow up to be aggressive and impossible to control. Owners then take them to a vet, expecting them to be magically fixed. Theyre wild animals and, in that respect, no different to tigers. You wouldnt keep a tiger at home, so dont keep a monkey.

Redrobe is quick to point out that in the past keeping pet primates was far more socially acceptable and that places such as Twycross were actually founded by people who liked to keep pet monkeys themselves, but she says times have moved on.

The world has changed hugely since the 1950s and 60s. We didnt know any better then; now we do. If you really love monkeys, let them be monkeys. Maybe help them by sponsoring one in a zoo or sanctuary.

Despite such complicated care needs, high welfare concerns and the serious risks associated with the spread of certain diseases between people and non-human primates, it is still legal to keep primates as pets in the UK regardless of how endangered they are or how dangerous they may be.

The care of primates is covered by the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 and Defras Code of Practice for the Welfare of Privately Kept Primates (the primate code) of 2010. The act, which states that animal owners must prevent unnecessary suffering and must take all reasonable steps to meet their animals needs, is hard to enforce as most pet primates in the UK are kept in secret.

The
The young capuchin monkey that German authorities confiscated from Justin Bieber in 2013. Photograph: Christof Stache/AFP

The primate code is primarily to explain the welfare and management needs of the animals and a breach of its provisions is not actually an offence though it could be used as evidence in court in animal welfare cases. The code, which applies to everything from gorillas to lemurs, is further weakened as it is subject to broad interpretation specific groups are not covered in any real detail.

The keeping of some primate species, such as capuchins, is thankfully restricted under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (1976), but many, including marmosets are not listed. A 2014 RSPCA report found that 81% of pet primates in the UK belonged to the marmoset group originally from South America.

Other primates, such as cotton-top tamarins, are critically endangered and should receive the highest level of legal protection from international trade.

With little awareness surrounding laws and a general lack of consequences for those failing to comply with regulations, many feel that the law should change and that a total ban on the keeping of pet primates in the UK should be introduced.

Rachel Hevesi, the director of Wild Futures, a primate sanctuary in Looe, Cornwall, knows all too well just how weak the current legislation is. Weve had over 150 primates come to us over the years and, without exception, every single one has had physical or psychological problems or, in many cases, both, she says.

Hervesi wants to see a full ban on keeping primates as pets and sees success lying in a positive list style of legislation, where any specific primate species allowed to be kept as pets would be listed. With no species being proposed as being suitable, this blanket, prohibition-type law means that there would be little room for misinterpretation. Such legislation is already present in Belgium and several other European countries and has led to not only a reduction in the overall number of primates being kept as pets, but also to an increase in members of the public reporting illicit pet owners.

Primatologist
Primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall. Photograph: Diana Sanchez/AFP

Hevesi is hopeful that the British government will bring a ban into force in the near future. When the primate code was introduced in 2010, it was agreed that the government would review its success after a five-year period. Defra failed to hold that review in 2015, but has since promised to reassess the legislation this year.

Key stakeholders including the Primate Society of Great Britain, the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Biaza), Born Free and Four Paws all support a ban on pet primates and are gathering evidence and data for the government review.

Hevesi says: The trade relies on the ignorance of the buyer and the greed of the breeders. Weve never met a keeper who has deliberately set out to harm their primate pet; its a lack of awareness and skills.

The image of primates as clever and interactive little human-like animals that can live alongside and play with us may seem appealing and a recent batch of unthinking celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Beyonc and the Kardashians posing with primates has only added to the problem but without exception, every expert, academic, welfare officer and zoo keeper agrees that primates are wholly inappropriate as pets.

Whereas dogs and cats have been specially bred for generations as pets to a point where we have selected specific behavioural and physical traits that make them perfect companions most primates bred as pets are only the result of two or three generations in captivity and are, in most respects, still wild and untamed animals.

Renowned primatologist and conservationist Dr Jane Goodall has worked with wild and captive primates for decades and knows them better than anyone. Every primate belongs in an environment that is as close to a wild setting as possible. They are beautiful and intelligent animals, but highly complex with very specific needs. They simply do not belong in our homes as pets.

With such strong opposition to the UK primate pet trade, it is hoped that a ban can soon be drafted and introduced to protect the needs and welfare of these highly intelligent, though difficult to keep, wild animals.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Weirdest Senses Animals Have That You Dont

People like to imagine that theyre the pinnacle of evolution, but the animal kingdom suggests otherwise. The discovery that bumblebees use hair on their legs to detect a flowers electromagnetic field offers another reminder that human senses dont always measure up. You share the planet with creatures that can smell veins, see colors you cant imagine, and communicate through their feet. Here are just a few animals with senses sharper than yours.

01

Bumblebees

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

Credit: Getty Images

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

02

Sharks

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

Credit: Getty Images

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

03

Octopuses

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

Credit: Getty Images

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

04

Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

Credit: Getty Images

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

05

Vampire bats

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

Credit: Getty Images

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

06

Pit vipers

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

Credit: Getty Images

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

07

Elephants

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

Credit: Getty Images

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

08

Roundworms

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

Credit: Getty Images

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

09

Honeybees

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Credit: Getty Images

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Evolution FTW! The Weird Stuff Animals Do to Survive

Theres a fish that makes its home in the butt of a sea cucumber. Why? Because it worked for one crazy ancestor, and winning strategies, however unseemly, get perpetu­ated by natural selection. (That goes for humans too: Our mating rituals seem normal to us, but they must be hilarious to our pets.) Ultimately, life is pretty simple: Eat, dont get eaten, and perpetuate the speciesall the rest is optional. While researching my new book, The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar (out October 25), I got familiar with a wild assortment of evolution-approved survival tactics. Here are some of my favorites.

Eat

Mantis Shrimp

Problem: Crabs and sea snails are delicious and plentiful but heavily armored.
Solution: This crustacean has little spring-loaded punching arms that strike with over 200 pounds of force, momentarily heating the water to nearly the temperature of the sun. They can smash clamshells or disarm crabs by blowing off their pincers.

Credit: Reinhard Dirscherl/Getty Images

Problem: Crabs and sea snails are delicious and plentiful but heavily armored.
Solution: This crustacean has little spring-loaded punching arms that strike with over 200 pounds of force, momentarily heating the water to nearly the temperature of the sun. They can smash clamshells or disarm crabs by blowing off their pincers.

Eat

Aye-Aye

Problem: Juicy grubs are hiding somewhere under tree bark, but how to find them?
Solution: Madagascar has no woodpeckerswhich may explain the aye-aye. By tapping on branches with its long, skeletal fingers, this nocturnal primate can tell where the insect larvae are inside. It then gnaws through the wood and fishes out the grubs with its E.T.-like middle digit.

Credit: Thorsten Negro/Getty Images

Problem: Juicy grubs are hiding somewhere under tree bark, but how to find them?
Solution: Madagascar has no woodpeckerswhich may explain the aye-aye. By tapping on branches with its long, skeletal fingers, this nocturnal primate can tell where the insect larvae are inside. It then gnaws through the wood and fishes out the grubs with its E.T.-like middle digit.

Survive

Hagfish

Problem: Being a boneless tube sock of flesh puts you at the mercy of predators.
Solution: When hagfish arent burrowing into whale carcasses (to eat them from inside), theyre an easy mark. So if a shark bites, the hagfish instantly ejects a cloud of mucus. The slime clogs the attackers gills, causing it to let go and probably asphyxiate.

Credit: Mark Conlin/Alamy

Problem: Being a boneless tube sock of flesh puts you at the mercy of predators.
Solution: When hagfish arent burrowing into whale carcasses (to eat them from inside), theyre an easy mark. So if a shark bites, the hagfish instantly ejects a cloud of mucus. The slime clogs the attackers gills, causing it to let go and probably asphyxiate.

Survive

Pearlfish

Problem: The open seafloor is a dangerous place for a slender fish.
Solution: The pearlfish finds shelter in a sea cucumbers anus. It waits for its victim to breathe (yes, sea cucumbers breathe through the wrong end) and just shimmies right in. Sometimes they go up in pairs and, scientists suspect, have sex inside. If that werent bad enough, the pearlfish may also eat its hosts gonads.

Credit: Jurgen Freund/Minden Pictures

Problem: The open seafloor is a dangerous place for a slender fish.
Solution: The pearlfish finds shelter in a sea cucumbers anus. It waits for its victim to breathe (yes, sea cucumbers breathe through the wrong end) and just shimmies right in. Sometimes they go up in pairs and, scientists suspect, have sex inside. If that werent bad enough, the pearlfish may also eat its hosts gonads.

Reproduce

Antechinus

Problem: A short breeding season timed to produce babies when food is abundant.
Solution: The male antechinus, a shrewlike marsupial, mates so frantically with so many females in three weeks that he goes blind, bleeds internally, and drops dead. But thats OK, for his genes will live on. And there will be fewer hungry mouths to feed.

Credit: Dave Watts/Alamy

Problem: A short breeding season timed to produce babies when food is abundant.
Solution: The male antechinus, a shrewlike marsupial, mates so frantically with so many females in three weeks that he goes blind, bleeds internally, and drops dead. But thats OK, for his genes will live on. And there will be fewer hungry mouths to feed.

Reproduce

Zombie Ant Fungus

Problem: Fungi often depend on wind to spread their spores, but a dense rain forest is windless.
Solution: The Ophiocordyceps fungus invades an ants body and surrounds its brain. Then it chemically mind-controls the bug up into the trees and orders it to clamp down on a leaf and anchor itself, before erupting from the ants head as a stalk and raining down spores on the ground below.

Credit: Alamy

Problem: Fungi often depend on wind to spread their spores, but a dense rain forest is windless.
Solution: The Ophiocordyceps fungus invades an ants body and surrounds its brain. Then it chemically mind-controls the bug up into the trees and orders it to clamp down on a leaf and anchor itself, before erupting from the ants head as a stalk and raining down spores on the ground below.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Three-eyed extinct reptile was a bone-headed dinosaur mimic 100 million years early

Newly discovered Triopticus primus is one of many copy-cat animals

A bizarre new extinct reptile with a domed skull of solid bone has been unearthed in Texas. If this sounds familiar, it could be because you have heard of a group of dinosaurs called the pachycephalosaurs that possessed very similar characteristics. One could almost call Triopticus a mimic were it not for the fact that it dates to 228-220 million years ago, meaning that it predates the pachycephalosaurs by over 100 million years. Moreover, Triopticus is one of numerous animals from this period (the Late Triassic) that were in some way copies of other reptiles that evolved later.

Triopticus is a small animal the preserved dome of the skull is only around 5 cm long even though it is from an adult animal, but what there is of it is very unusual. There is a large pit in the skull that resembles the eye sockets of reptiles and gave rise to the animals name, as Triopticus means three eyes. This hole does not represent an extra eye, however, but may simply be a result of the surrounding bones having enlarged and expanded leaving this space behind, rather than there being a bit missing.

Aside from the difference of this divot, comparisons to the pachycephalosaurs are more than superficial. Both have greatly enlarged domes of solid bone that sat at the back of the head above the brain, both show some extra bumps and bosses, and both even show some similarities in the microstructure of the bone. Although the rest of Triopticus is missing, it is hard not to suggest that these animals may have bashed heads with one another as the pachycephalosaurs are thought to do (although this is not covered in the paper). Such similarities of form between only distantly related organisms is termed convergent evolution and there are numerous examples of this in the fossil record and alive today (think of the hydrodynamic shapes of fish, dolphins and penguins).

Convergent
Convergent evolution between Triassic animals (left) and those that came later (right) and in particular Triopticus and pachycephalosaurs (both top) Photograph: Stocker et al., 2016

However, Triopticus and a number of the reptiles that lived alongside it show some remarkable convergences with other reptiles that came later, and most notably the dinosaurs. In the Late Triassic there were various animals showing adaptations and body plans that will be familiar to those who have browsed even childrens books on dinosaurs. There were bipedal plant eating reptiles similar to the ornithomimosaurs, herbivorous forms with leaf-shaped teeth covered in armour like the later ankylosaurs, large-headed reptiles with sharp teeth that looked like predatory dinosaurs (if on four legs rather than two), and even long-snouted semi-aquatic animals that resembled extinct and even living crocodilians.

These pairs are already known to palaeontologists, but an analysis of skull and body shapes shows how similar animals were to each other in the ages before the dinosaurs and others diverged, and then later how similar these various different forms became, despite their fairly distant relatedness. Its notable that Triopticus is a particular outlier, being even more distant from the ancestral form that the pachycephalosaurs it has quite an extreme set of anatomical features.

That convergent evolution is rampant within some groups is not big news, but the sheer range of extinct reptile species that ended up taking on similar forms (and often more than once) is a reminder of the selective pressures that evolution can bring to some lineages. Even so these are typically limited to classic ecological features like specialised teeth for eating or claws for digging, so modify the skull in such a shape more than once as seen here is quite a surprise and one hopes that more will come to light in the future. It will certainly be interesting to see if the rest of Triopticus matches the thick-headed dinosaurs in any other areas.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Anthropomorphism: how much humans and animals share is still contested

Cute internet videos and animals in childrens entertainment with human-like intentions can be useful, harmful or both depending on whom you ask

Humans have long attempted to portray the natural world as reflections of us, from giving storms names such as Desmond or Katrina to putting tasteful blue clothing on Donald Duck and Peter the Rabbit. But the science of how much humans actually share with other animals is still keenly contested.

The widely shared image of a male kangaroo cradling the head of a dying female, in front of her joey, was immediately cast as a touching display of marsupial grief, before several scientists pointed out that the kangaroos interests were probably a little more carnal than first thought.

This kind of anthropomorphism isnt new of course some of the oldest known deities combine human and beast but it has only been since Charles Darwins description of joy and love among animals that the debate has evolved on whether humans hold exclusivity over certain traits.

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A male eastern grey kangaroo holds the head of a dead female kangaroo in River Heads, Queensland. Photograph: Evan Switzer

Animals such as apes and crows have been seen using tools previously thought a human preserve. A 44-year-old gorilla called Koko has the vocabulary of a three-year-old child after learning 1,000 words of American sign language. She has called herself Queen – evidence, her head caretaker claims, that she understands her celebrity status.

But many scientists are still keen to draw stark lines of difference between humans and other animals. Some warn that anthropomorphism, now regularly demonstrated through the online sharing of videos of pandas having tantrums or orangutans having a laugh, can be harmful.

Its almost like internet was built for anthropomorphizing animals, said Holly Dunsworth, an anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island. Humans arent the only animals capable of forming strong bonds, but to say that the kangaroo even knew the other kangaroo was dying is beyond anything we know. No one has shown that animals understand dying or where babies come from. We cant say they think that abstractly.

While Kokos grasp of language is astonishing, it lacks the nuance and complexity of the way humans communicate with each other. Theres a key difference between signals and understanding and expanding upon ideas and abstract concepts, Dunsworth said.

Other animals are more complex than purely being driven by instinct, but Im very comfortable with the explanation that they dont need abstract reasoning to do these complex behaviors, she said. We can explain behavior separate from the way humans think.

An unconscious belief that bears, horses and dolphins possess human desires and thoughts wrapped up in odd costumes can be detrimental for children, some psychologists have argued.

Last year, Patricia Ganea, a psychologist at Toronto University, ran a series of experiments on three to five-year-olds where they were given information about animals in straight factual form and then in a more fantastical anthropomorphized way.

She found that the children were likely to attribute human characteristics to other animals and were less likely to retain factual information about them when told they lived their lives as furry humans.

Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes Photograph: AP

Ganea said attributing human-like intentions and beliefs is a very natural way to explain certain animal behaviors and can be useful in generating empathy for mistreated animals. But she adds there is a downside.

Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes in the natural world, she said. It can also lead to inappropriate behaviors towards wild animals, such as trying to adopt a wild animal as a pet or misinterpreting the actions of a wild animal.

Common depictions of animals in childrens entertainment is likely to amplify this message, Ganea said.

Jiminy Cricket is the voice of conscience and not an accurate description of what insects behave like, she said. But, yes, the human-like animal representations in the media are likely to increase the tendency to anthropomorphize the natural world.

But its clear from multiple experiments that some animals are closer to being human than others. In tests, monkeys have given up the chance of food so that older or weaker members of the clan can eat. A chimpanzee named Santino has shown a remarkable ability to plan ahead and hold grudges by calmly gathering and hiding piles of stones ready to hurl at visitors who gawp at him in his zoo enclosure in Sweden.

Santino

Santino the stone-throwing chimp, is watched by a group of visitors at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden. Photograph: Neurology/AP

Its not just primates. Scientists have gathered evidence that elephants sacrifice their wellbeing for the good of the group and grieve their dead. Young elephants that have lost parents to poachers have suffered a type of post traumatic stress disorder, trumpeting loudly and unusually at night and showing other signs of agitation. Mapping of the brains of several different species shows that they share similar neurons to humans that process social information and empathy.

Its categorically wrong to say that animals dont have thoughts and emotions, just like its wrong to say they are completely the same as us, said Carl Safina, a biologist and author of a book called Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, which argues that sneering at anthropomorphism risks eroding our empathy with species we are helping wipe out at a rate unseen since the time of the dinosaurs.

Great apes have large brains and complex social lives, wolves live in structured families. But herrings dont have social structures. So we cant say all animals are the same.

But humans are an extreme example of everything. We are simultaneously the most compassionate and the cruelest animal, the friendliest and most destructive, we experience the most grief and cause the most grief. We are a complicated case.

The idea that a kangaroo would hold anothers head to say farewell as they die is overdone, Safina said, but its inaccurate to dismiss any notion of understanding or even loss.

Its fair to say many animals have richer social lives and a richer palette of strategic abilities than we give them credit for, he said. We should get better acquainted with the animals we share the world with. If only because they are so beautiful and so interesting.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Evolution row ends as scientists declare sponges to be sister of all other animals

Question of whether sponges or comb jellies were first to branch off the evolutionary tree from the common ancestor of all animals may be answered

A longstanding row in animal evolution has come to a head, with a team of scientists claiming they have ended the debate over which type of creature is the sister of all other animals.

Researchers have been torn for years over whether sponges or marine invertebrates known as comb jellies were the first type of creature to branch off the evolutionary tree from the common ancestor of all animals.

Now researchers say the debate is over: the sponges have won.

We need to try to understand the sponges much better if we want to understand the nature of animals and our own deepest ancestry, said Davide Pisani, co-author of the research and professor of phylogenomics at the University of Bristol.

The finding, say experts, is no trivial matter, as it could have drastic implications for what the last common ancestor of all animals looked like.

Sponges are simple humble, in a sense creatures that live at the bottom of the sea; they are filter-feeders, they dont do much, said Pisani. The comb jelly is a very different creature. They are extremely pretty and rather complicated, he added, pointing out that comb jellies look a bit like jellyfish and can propel themselves through water, create patterns of light and have both a simple nervous system and a gut including a mouth and anus.

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A Mnemiopsis leidyi, a species of comb jelly known as a sea walnut. Photograph: AP

If the comb jellies are the sister of all of us, then we either are in a situation where the last common ancestor of all the animals was quite complex, [having] a nervous system, a gut and muscles and then the sponges [lost these features] or all these things we see in the comb jellies evolved multiple times in animals, he said, adding that the scenario also posed other puzzles such as what the ancestral creature would have preyed on.

If the sponges are the sister group of everything else then we can assume a much simpler scenario, said Pisani. Then the assumption is we evolved from a filter-feeder organism.

With different models of evolutionary relationships applied to the same genetic data throwing up either a triumph for the sponge side of the debate or the comb jellies, the researchers of latest study turned to statistics to resolve the issue.

With this type of approach you can evaluate the extent to which alternative models are capable of describing a dataset, so you can say this model is good for this specific dataset and this model is not good, said Pisani.

The results, published in the journal Current Biology, were clear, he said. Models that provide a much better description of the data invariably find the sponges at the root of the tree, for all of the datasets that have been published up to now.

That, he adds, ties in well with the fact that the closest living relatives of all animals are filter-feeding aquatic organisms called choanoflagellates.

But the findings he said, should offer us all food for thought. I think part of why people love this debate so much is the comb jellies are beautiful and the sponges are somewhat ugly. The sponge is the underdog in a sense, he said. So it is quite nice to know that we have really humble beginnings, rather than this glamorous start.

While Pisani believes proponents of the comb jellies might continue the debate, he says the wrangle is drawing to a close. From my perspective, yes, this is the last word, he said.

Antonis Rokas, professor of biological sciences and biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University, and who has previously published studies supporting the idea that comb jellies are the oldest sister group to all other animals, welcomed the research. [It] is a great step in the right direction toward resolving the debate, he said, adding that the analyses comparing the accuracy of models are insightful.

But, he said, the new approach brings with it its own difficulties, leading him to believe the jury is still out. With this study, the authors have significantly tipped the balance toward the sponges-sister hypothesis, he said. But I will eagerly await to see what are the effects of adding additional genomes from both sponge and ctenophore lineages, as well as models that do not reduce the information provided from the data, before considering the debate solved.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Dogs have pet facial expressions to use on humans, study finds

Showing tongues and puppy eyes, and facial movement in general, was more likely when scientists faced the animals, suggesting conscious communication

Dogs really do turn on the puppy eyes when humans look at them, according to researchers studying canine facial expressions.

Scientists have discovered that dogs produce more facial movements when a human is paying attention to them including raising their eyebrows, making their eyes appear bigger than when they are being ignored or presented with a tasty morsel.

The research pushes back against the belief that animal facial expressions are largely unconscious movements, that reflect internal sentiments, rather than a way to communicate.

Facial expression is often seen as something that is very emotionally driven and is very fixed, and so it isnt something that animals can change depending on their circumstances, said Bridget Waller, professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Portsmouth, and an author of the study.

The research joins a number of studies probing the extraordinary relationship between humans and their canine companions, including work suggesting dogs understand both the words and the tone of human speech.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study involved researchers using a video camera to record the facial movements of 24 dogs over a series of experiments in which a human either faced the animal, or faced away, and presented the dog with a tidbit, or did not.

The recordings were then examined by the team frame by frame to determine changes in the facial muscles of the canines.

The results reveal that the pooches produced far more facial expressions when the human was facing the dog, than when they turned away in particular, the animals were more likely to show their tongues and raise their inner eyebrows.

But the presence of food had no impact on the animals expressions. That suggested canine facial expressions were not just down to excitement, and cast doubt over whether dogs use their facial expressions to twist their owners around their paws, said Waller.

We wanted to see if dogs would produce the most facial expressions when they saw the face and the food, because that might then tell us they are trying to intentionally manipulate the human in order to get the food and we didnt see that, said Waller.

The study suggested doggy expressions were not simply the result of internal emotions, but could be a mechanism of communication. The team noted their work didnt show whether dogs simply learn to pull faces when a human pays attention to them, or whether it reflect a deeper connection. But, they said, it was notable that the animals tended to make their eyes appear bigger a trait humans are known to find cute.

[The research] tells us that their facial expressions are probably responsive to humans not just to other dogs, said Waller. [That] tells us something about how domestication has shaped [dogs], and that it has changed them in order to be more communicative with humans, in a sense.

However, the team stressed the research does not shed light on what the dogs might be trying to communicate, or whether the movements are intentional.

I think this adds to a growing body of evidence that dogs are sensitive to our attention, said Juliane Kaminski, another author of the study, also from the University of Portsmouth. Which is not necessarily something that a dog owner would be surprised about.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Absurd Creatures: The Bearcat Isnt a Bear or Cat But It Does Smell Like Popcorn

The binturong, aka bearcat, ain’t a monkey, but it’s got a prehensile tail. It ain’t made of Play-Doh, but its ankles can rotate around 180 degrees. And it smells like a bucket of popcorn, but it’s not a bucket of popcorn. Find out more about the bearcat in this week’s episode of Absurd Creatures!

And Im happy to hear from you with suggestions on what to cover next. If its weird and we can find footage of it, its fair game. You can get me at matthew_simon@wired.com or on Twitter at @mrMattSimon.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Pretty gruesome: giant coconut crab seen hunting birds

Researcher in remote Chagos Islands says he saw crabs, previously thought to be scavengers, hunting and killing seabird

A large, land-dwelling crustacean known as a coconut or robber crab has been seen hunting and killing a seabird, the first time such behaviour has been observed in the species.

The phenomenon was witnessed by a researcher, Mark Laidre of Dartmouth College, while he was studying the giant crabs in the remote Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, New Scientist reported.

According to Laidre, the crab climbed a tree and attacked the seabird in its nest situated on a branch close to the ground. The crab broke the birds wing, causing it to fall out of its nest and then took to the bird with its claws, breaking its other wing and leaving it incapacitated.

Once the bird was unable to move, other coconut crabs arrived and pulled the bird apart in scenes Laidre described as pretty gruesome.

Location of Chagos Islands

Coconut crabs are the largest land-dwelling invertebrate. They can weigh up to 4kg and grow up to one metre wide. They are common in coral atolls across the Indian and Pacific Oceans and can be the largest animal in their environment.

The crabs behaviour of actively hunting and killing a large, vertebrate animal has never been witnessed before and has significant implications for how the crabs may affect their island ecosystems.

Previously thought to be scavengers, Laidres discovery suggests the crabs may dominate their ecosystems and could discourage other animals, particularly seabirds, from inhabiting islands where they would be forced to nest on the ground.

Further research by Laidre goes some way to confirming this hypothesis. He conducted surveys that found that birds were less likely to live on islands where coconut crabs lived, and vice versa.

Whether this behaviour is a one-off or widespread remains to be seen. Laidre plans to set up remotely activated cameras at entrances to the crabs burrows to find out.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Barbra Streisands dog cloning is a modern tragedy. Pets are meant to die | Stuart Heritage

To own an animal is to learn about the inevitability of dying not that loved ones can be replicated in a lab if we cough up enough cash, writes Guardian columnist Stuart Heritage

Barbra Streisand might not brim with the white-hot cultural relevance she used to, but nobody can deny that shes a trier. For example, when everyones back was turned, she went off and created her very own Black Mirror episode.

In her episode, a broken-hearted millionaire realises that she cannot bear to part with her sick dog, so she spends an inordinate amount of money to have it cloned. However, with every passing day, the millionaire realises the futility of her gesture. The clones dont behave like the original, and the differences between old and new tear at her soul until she drowns the puppies in a lake.

Apart from the last part (it wouldnt be Black Mirror unless it ended on a note of harrowing violence) this has all actually happened. In a recent Variety interview, Streisand revealed that her Coton de Tulear dogs, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, were created in a lab. She had them made, at great expense, from genetic material taken from her dog Samantha, who died last year.

Tragically, she now hints that it might have been a mistake. The new dogs might look like Samantha, but dont behave like her. Im waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness, she said.

Without sounding too solipsistic, a big part of owning a pet is to learn about death. You take custody of an animal knowing that youre likely to outlive it. While its alive you swaddle it in as much love as you possibly can, and then it dies, and then youre bereft, and then, slowly, you learn how to move on. Little by little, pets equip you with the tools to deal with grief.

Barbra
Barbra Streisand refused to let go. Photograph: KMazur/WireImage

I vividly remember the day my first pet died a guinea pig called Smartie. My mum met me at the school gates and told me that Smartie had passed away that morning. She told me that it wasnt anyones fault, and that Id feel sad for a while, but the sadness would eventually fade. It would hurt, but it would be OK.

I remember grappling with the enormity of the information. I was six, after all, and this was my first experience of death. But Im pleased it happened. Its something that everyone needs to go through. Had my mum met me at the school gates with a bubble-wrapped Smartie clone, and explained that theres no such thing as death so long as a South Korean laboratory continues to churn out exact genetic reproductions of everything youve ever loved at tens of thousands of pounds a pop, you can understand how it might have skewed my understanding of mortality a little.

And thats the saddest part of this Barbra Streisand news. It isnt that the clones were expensive and that her money would have been better going to charity. It isnt that she paid for them at all, rather than adopting a couple of strays from a shelter. Its that she refused to let go. She failed to grasp the most fundamental point of life: it ends. And once its over, you can never get it back. Nothing not prayer, not magic, not science can replace what was gone. You can come close, but itll never quite be the same. Some things you just cant run from.

Stuart Heritage is a Guardian columnist

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Whales and dolphins lead ‘human-like lives’ thanks to big brains, says study

The cultural brain hypothesis of human development could also explain cetaceans forming friendships and even gossiping

Life is not so different beneath the ocean waves. Bottlenose dolphins use simple tools, orcas call each other by name, and sperm whales talk in local dialects. Many cetaceans live in tight-knit groups and spend a good deal of time at play.

That much scientists know. But in a new study, researchers compiled a list of the rich behaviours spotted in 90 different species of dolphins, whales and porpoises, and found that the bigger the species brain, the more complex indeed, the more human-like their lives are likely to be.

This suggests that the cultural brain hypothesis the theory that suggests our intelligence developed as a way of coping with large and complex social groups may apply to whales and dolphins, as well as humans.

Writing in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution, the researchers claim that complex social and cultural characteristics, such as hunting together, developing regional dialects and learning from observation, are linked to the expansion of the animals brains a process known as encephalisation.

The researchers gathered records of dolphins playing with humpback whales, helping fishermen with their catches, and even producing signature whistles for dolphins that are absent suggesting the animals may even gossip.

Another common behaviour was adult animals raising unrelated young. There is the saying that it takes a village to raise a child [and that] seems to be true for both whales and humans, said Michael Muthukrishna, an economic psychologist and co-author on the study at the London School of Economics.

Dolphins
Dolphins off the coast of South Africa. Photograph: Rainer Schimpf/Barcroft Media

Like humans, the cetaceans, a group made up of dolphins, whales and porpoises, are thought to do most of their learning socially rather than individually, which could explain why some species learn more complex behaviours than others. Those predominantly found alone or in small groups had the smallest brains, the researchers led by Susanne Shultz at the University of Manchester wrote.

Luke Rendell, a biologist at the University of St Andrews who was not involved in the study, but has done work on sperm whales and their distinctive dialects, warned against anthropomorphising and making animals appear to be like humans.

There is a risk of sounding like there is a single train line, with humans at the final station and other animals on their way of getting there. The truth is that every animal responds to their own evolutionary pressures, he said.

There is definitely a danger in comparing other animals to humans, especially with the data available. But what we can say for sure, is that this cultural-brain hypothesis we tested is present in primates and in cetaceans, Muthukrishna said.

There was still much more to learn, though, he added. Studies with underwater mammals are difficult and vastly underfunded, so there is so much we dont know about these fascinating animals, he said.

The fascination, however, should not only be interesting for people studying animals. We dont have to look at other planets to look for aliens, because we know that underwater there are these amazing species with so many parallels to us in their complex behaviours, said Muthukrishna.

Studying evolutionarily distinct animals such as cetaceans could act as a control group for studying intelligence in general, and so help the understanding of our own intellect.

It is interesting to think that whale and human brains are different in their structure but have brought us to the same patterns in behaviour, Rendell said. The extent of how this is close to humans can educate us about evolutionary forces in general.

However, Muthukrishna points out that intelligence is always driven by the environment an animal finds itself in. Each environment presents a different set of challenges for an animal. When you are above water, you learn how to tackle fire, for example, he said. As smart as whales are, they will never learn to light a spark.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Pterosaurs: record haul of egg fossils from ancient flying reptile found in China

Scientists unearth 215 eggs with preserved embryos of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis, providing fresh understanding of dinosaurs cousin

A discovery in northwestern China of hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs is providing fresh understanding of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, including evidence that their babies were born flightless and needed parental care.

Scientists said on Thursday they unearthed 215 eggs of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis a species whose adults had a crest atop an elongated skull, pointy teeth and a wingspan of more than 11ft (3.5m) including 16 eggs containing partial embryonic remains.

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site, making this Cretaceous Period species that lived 120m years ago perhaps the best understood of all pterosaurs.

We want to call this region Pterosaur Eden, said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Pterosaurs were Earths first flying vertebrates. Birds and bats appeared later.

Until now, no pterosaur eggs had been found with embryos preserved in three dimensions. Researchers think up to 300 eggs may be present, some buried under the exposed fossils.

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Some of the 300 pterosaur eggs found at the Hami region, north eastern China. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA

The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Some birds can fly on the same day they break out from the egg, while some others will need a long period of parental care. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but cant fly, Jiang said, an unexpected finding.

The researchers believe these pterosaurs lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake. Kellner cited evidence that females gathered together to lay eggs in nesting colonies and returned over the years to the same nesting site.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

The oblong eggs, up to about 3in (7.2cm) long, were pliable with a thin, hard outer layer marked by cracking and crazing covering a thick membrane inner layer, resembling soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is difficult for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

British couple celebrate after birth of first cloned puppy of its kind

West Yorkshire couple Laura Jacques and Richard Remde enlisted South Korean firm offering dog-cloning service for £67,000

A British couple have made history after a surrogate dog gave birth to the first cloned puppy of its kind on Boxing Day.

In the first case of its kind, the boxer puppy was cloned from the couples dead dog, Dylan, almost two weeks after it died. The previous limit for dog cloning was five days after death.

Laura Jacques, 29, and Richard Remde 43, from West Yorkshire, were grief stricken after their boxer died at the age of eight in June, having been diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumour.

The pair decided to try to clone Dylan and enlisted the services of the controversial Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which offers a commercial dog-cloning service for $100,000 (67,000) per procedure. It is the only laboratory of its kind in the world. They have hailed the birth as a miracle.

The male puppy has been named Chance, after a character in Jacques favourite film, Disneys Homeward Bound. He is expected to be joined in three days time by a second cloned puppy this one will be named Shadow after another character in the film.

Jacques said she and Remde were overwhelmed after witnessing the birth by caesarean section on Saturday in the operating theatre at Sooam.

Dylan,

Dylan, who died in June this year. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The whole thing just feels surreal, she said. I lost all sense of time. I have no idea how long everything took, the whole thing made me feel very disoriented. I was just clinging on to Richard for about an hour and a half after Chance was born.

After they got him out I still couldnt quite believe it had happened. But once he started making noises I knew it was real. Even as a puppy of just a few minutes old I cant believe how much he looks like Dylan. All the colourings and patterns on his body are in exactly the same places as Dylan had them.

Remde said: I was much more overwhelmed with emotion at the birth than I expected to be.

The couple said the puppy was feeding well from his mother. Im trying to get my head round the fact that this puppy has 100% of the same DNA as Dylan, said Jacques. Its quite confusing but Im telling myself that Chance is just like one of Dylans puppies.

I had had Dylan since he was a puppy, she said. I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world.

Sooam, the leading laboratory in the world for dog cloning, has produced more than 700 dogs for commercial customers. The technique involves implanting DNA into a blank dog egg that has had the nucleus removed.

Jacques heard about dog cloning from a documentary about a competition Sooam ran for one UK dog owner to have their dog cloned free of charge. Rebecca Smith was the winner and her dachshund, Winnie, who is still alive, was successfully cloned.

David Kim, a scientist at Sooam, said the birth of the two cloned dogs was exciting for the laboratory because samples were taken from Dylan 12 days after he died. This is the first case we have had where cells have been taken from a dead dog after a very long time, he said. Hopefully it will allow us to extend the time after death that we can take cells for cloning.

There are no regulations on the cloning of pets, although the cloning of human beings is illegal, and in August the European parliament voted to outlaw the cloning of farm animals.

Hwang Woo-suk, one of the leading researchers at the Sooam laboratory, is a controversial figure. In 2004, he led a research group at Seoul University, in South Korea, which claimed to have created a cloned human embryo in a test tube. An independent scientific committee found no evidence of this and in January 2006 the journal Science, which had originally published the research, retracted it. He was part of the team delivering the cloned puppy on Boxing Day.

The RSPCA expressed concern about dog cloning. A spokesperson said: There are serious ethical and welfare concerns relating to the application of cloning technology to animals. Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates. There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumours, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns.

Jacques, a dog walker, and Remde, who runs a building company, Heritage Masonry & Conservation, had to take two sets of samples from their dead dog after the first set of samples did not grow in the laboratory. Remde made two trips in quick succession to South Korea to deliver the cell samples. They are now waiting for the birth of the second puppy and are hoping to adopt the puppies two surrogate mothers and bring four dogs back to the UK next July after the quarantine period has ended.

Key dates in the cloning of Dylan

11 June: Couple told their eight-year-old boxer dog Dylan has an inoperable brain tumour. They were told he might live for up to 18 months with treatment.

30 June: Dylan dies after a cardiac arrest.

1 & 2 July: Vet allows the couple to keep Dylan with them for a few days before burying him. Jacques starts researching the possibilities of cloning a dead dog.

2 July: Dylan is refrigerated in a funeral parlour. Couple purchase medical equipment from Boots to take a skin sample from Dylan to send to Sooam in South Korea in the hope that they can clone him.

4 July: Remde flies to South Korea with the samples, delivers them to laboratory staff waiting at the airport and immediately gets on a plane back to the UK.

5 July: Dylans remains are frozen until a date is fixed for his burial.

6 July: Sooam says it does not think the samples Remde has flown to South Korea could be used to create a cloned puppy.

7 July: Sooam asks whether the couple still have the dog and if so whether they want to try to extract more samples for cloning.

10 July: The couple struggle to take samples from Dylan, whose body remains frozen before burial. A small sample of cells is finally secured around midnight.

11 July: Remde flies to South Korea again to deliver the samples. Sooam receives the cells having never attempted to clone a dog 12 days after its death.

21t October: Sooam confirms the cells have grown to a sufficient degree that the cloning process could start.

23 November: Sooam says a pregnancy has been verified.

24 November: Sooam says a second pregnancy has been verified.

26 December: First boxer puppy is born on Boxing Day.

29 December: Second puppy due.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Weirdest Senses Animals Have That You Dont

People like to imagine that theyre the pinnacle of evolution, but the animal kingdom suggests otherwise. The discovery that bumblebees use hair on their legs to detect a flowers electromagnetic field offers another reminder that human senses dont always measure up. You share the planet with creatures that can smell veins, see colors you cant imagine, and communicate through their feet. Here are just a few animals with senses sharper than yours.

01

Bumblebees

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

Credit: Getty Images

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

02

Sharks

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

Credit: Getty Images

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

03

Octopuses

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

Credit: Getty Images

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

04

Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

Credit: Getty Images

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

05

Vampire bats

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

Credit: Getty Images

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

06

Pit vipers

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

Credit: Getty Images

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

07

Elephants

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

Credit: Getty Images

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

08

Roundworms

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

Credit: Getty Images

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

09

Honeybees

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Credit: Getty Images

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Evolution FTW! The Weird Stuff Animals Do to Survive

Theres a fish that makes its home in the butt of a sea cucumber. Why? Because it worked for one crazy ancestor, and winning strategies, however unseemly, get perpetu­ated by natural selection. (That goes for humans too: Our mating rituals seem normal to us, but they must be hilarious to our pets.) Ultimately, life is pretty simple: Eat, dont get eaten, and perpetuate the speciesall the rest is optional. While researching my new book, The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar (out October 25), I got familiar with a wild assortment of evolution-approved survival tactics. Here are some of my favorites.

Eat

Mantis Shrimp

Problem: Crabs and sea snails are delicious and plentiful but heavily armored.
Solution: This crustacean has little spring-loaded punching arms that strike with over 200 pounds of force, momentarily heating the water to nearly the temperature of the sun. They can smash clamshells or disarm crabs by blowing off their pincers.

Credit: Reinhard Dirscherl/Getty Images

Problem: Crabs and sea snails are delicious and plentiful but heavily armored.
Solution: This crustacean has little spring-loaded punching arms that strike with over 200 pounds of force, momentarily heating the water to nearly the temperature of the sun. They can smash clamshells or disarm crabs by blowing off their pincers.

Eat

Aye-Aye

Problem: Juicy grubs are hiding somewhere under tree bark, but how to find them?
Solution: Madagascar has no woodpeckerswhich may explain the aye-aye. By tapping on branches with its long, skeletal fingers, this nocturnal primate can tell where the insect larvae are inside. It then gnaws through the wood and fishes out the grubs with its E.T.-like middle digit.

Credit: Thorsten Negro/Getty Images

Problem: Juicy grubs are hiding somewhere under tree bark, but how to find them?
Solution: Madagascar has no woodpeckerswhich may explain the aye-aye. By tapping on branches with its long, skeletal fingers, this nocturnal primate can tell where the insect larvae are inside. It then gnaws through the wood and fishes out the grubs with its E.T.-like middle digit.

Survive

Hagfish

Problem: Being a boneless tube sock of flesh puts you at the mercy of predators.
Solution: When hagfish arent burrowing into whale carcasses (to eat them from inside), theyre an easy mark. So if a shark bites, the hagfish instantly ejects a cloud of mucus. The slime clogs the attackers gills, causing it to let go and probably asphyxiate.

Credit: Mark Conlin/Alamy

Problem: Being a boneless tube sock of flesh puts you at the mercy of predators.
Solution: When hagfish arent burrowing into whale carcasses (to eat them from inside), theyre an easy mark. So if a shark bites, the hagfish instantly ejects a cloud of mucus. The slime clogs the attackers gills, causing it to let go and probably asphyxiate.

Survive

Pearlfish

Problem: The open seafloor is a dangerous place for a slender fish.
Solution: The pearlfish finds shelter in a sea cucumbers anus. It waits for its victim to breathe (yes, sea cucumbers breathe through the wrong end) and just shimmies right in. Sometimes they go up in pairs and, scientists suspect, have sex inside. If that werent bad enough, the pearlfish may also eat its hosts gonads.

Credit: Jurgen Freund/Minden Pictures

Problem: The open seafloor is a dangerous place for a slender fish.
Solution: The pearlfish finds shelter in a sea cucumbers anus. It waits for its victim to breathe (yes, sea cucumbers breathe through the wrong end) and just shimmies right in. Sometimes they go up in pairs and, scientists suspect, have sex inside. If that werent bad enough, the pearlfish may also eat its hosts gonads.

Reproduce

Antechinus

Problem: A short breeding season timed to produce babies when food is abundant.
Solution: The male antechinus, a shrewlike marsupial, mates so frantically with so many females in three weeks that he goes blind, bleeds internally, and drops dead. But thats OK, for his genes will live on. And there will be fewer hungry mouths to feed.

Credit: Dave Watts/Alamy

Problem: A short breeding season timed to produce babies when food is abundant.
Solution: The male antechinus, a shrewlike marsupial, mates so frantically with so many females in three weeks that he goes blind, bleeds internally, and drops dead. But thats OK, for his genes will live on. And there will be fewer hungry mouths to feed.

Reproduce

Zombie Ant Fungus

Problem: Fungi often depend on wind to spread their spores, but a dense rain forest is windless.
Solution: The Ophiocordyceps fungus invades an ants body and surrounds its brain. Then it chemically mind-controls the bug up into the trees and orders it to clamp down on a leaf and anchor itself, before erupting from the ants head as a stalk and raining down spores on the ground below.

Credit: Alamy

Problem: Fungi often depend on wind to spread their spores, but a dense rain forest is windless.
Solution: The Ophiocordyceps fungus invades an ants body and surrounds its brain. Then it chemically mind-controls the bug up into the trees and orders it to clamp down on a leaf and anchor itself, before erupting from the ants head as a stalk and raining down spores on the ground below.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Three-eyed extinct reptile was a bone-headed dinosaur mimic 100 million years early

Newly discovered Triopticus primus is one of many copy-cat animals

A bizarre new extinct reptile with a domed skull of solid bone has been unearthed in Texas. If this sounds familiar, it could be because you have heard of a group of dinosaurs called the pachycephalosaurs that possessed very similar characteristics. One could almost call Triopticus a mimic were it not for the fact that it dates to 228-220 million years ago, meaning that it predates the pachycephalosaurs by over 100 million years. Moreover, Triopticus is one of numerous animals from this period (the Late Triassic) that were in some way copies of other reptiles that evolved later.

Triopticus is a small animal the preserved dome of the skull is only around 5 cm long even though it is from an adult animal, but what there is of it is very unusual. There is a large pit in the skull that resembles the eye sockets of reptiles and gave rise to the animals name, as Triopticus means three eyes. This hole does not represent an extra eye, however, but may simply be a result of the surrounding bones having enlarged and expanded leaving this space behind, rather than there being a bit missing.

Aside from the difference of this divot, comparisons to the pachycephalosaurs are more than superficial. Both have greatly enlarged domes of solid bone that sat at the back of the head above the brain, both show some extra bumps and bosses, and both even show some similarities in the microstructure of the bone. Although the rest of Triopticus is missing, it is hard not to suggest that these animals may have bashed heads with one another as the pachycephalosaurs are thought to do (although this is not covered in the paper). Such similarities of form between only distantly related organisms is termed convergent evolution and there are numerous examples of this in the fossil record and alive today (think of the hydrodynamic shapes of fish, dolphins and penguins).

Convergent
Convergent evolution between Triassic animals (left) and those that came later (right) and in particular Triopticus and pachycephalosaurs (both top) Photograph: Stocker et al., 2016

However, Triopticus and a number of the reptiles that lived alongside it show some remarkable convergences with other reptiles that came later, and most notably the dinosaurs. In the Late Triassic there were various animals showing adaptations and body plans that will be familiar to those who have browsed even childrens books on dinosaurs. There were bipedal plant eating reptiles similar to the ornithomimosaurs, herbivorous forms with leaf-shaped teeth covered in armour like the later ankylosaurs, large-headed reptiles with sharp teeth that looked like predatory dinosaurs (if on four legs rather than two), and even long-snouted semi-aquatic animals that resembled extinct and even living crocodilians.

These pairs are already known to palaeontologists, but an analysis of skull and body shapes shows how similar animals were to each other in the ages before the dinosaurs and others diverged, and then later how similar these various different forms became, despite their fairly distant relatedness. Its notable that Triopticus is a particular outlier, being even more distant from the ancestral form that the pachycephalosaurs it has quite an extreme set of anatomical features.

That convergent evolution is rampant within some groups is not big news, but the sheer range of extinct reptile species that ended up taking on similar forms (and often more than once) is a reminder of the selective pressures that evolution can bring to some lineages. Even so these are typically limited to classic ecological features like specialised teeth for eating or claws for digging, so modify the skull in such a shape more than once as seen here is quite a surprise and one hopes that more will come to light in the future. It will certainly be interesting to see if the rest of Triopticus matches the thick-headed dinosaurs in any other areas.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Why Do Dogs Love Yoga Mats So Much?

You unfurl your yoga mat at home, ready to stretch out into downward dog and take some deep breaths. Just for a second, you look away to grab your water bottle and block. But when you turn around, you find that your pup has already staked her territory on your mat, doing some stretches of her own.

If you’re an asana-ing dog person, you’ve probably already figured out a way to tap into your canine’s weird yoga mat affinity. Some people let their dogs hang out on the corner of the mat while they practice, others buy yoga mats specifically for their dog to chill on while they do sun salutations. Some people even practice Doga, which, yes, is the term for dog yoga.

Cats enjoy yoga mats, toobut mostly because those feline jerks love sinking their claws into the soft material. Dogs love for yoga mats, on the other hand, is a bit more perplexing. Why are dogs are so into yoga mats? We looked to science to help us figure out whats going on.

It Stinks

Scent is one of a canines most important senses. They have relatively large noses with a lot of mucosa to help them trap scent molecules. (When dogs lick their noses, they’re often tasting the molecules that their noses have picked up.) Inside canine nasal passages are up to 300 million olfactory receptors—compared to about 5 to 6 million in humans—and an olfactory bulb in their brain that can process about 40 times more information than ours.

Simply put, a dog’s sense of smell is tens of thousands of times better than a human’s. They can use that sense of smell for all kinds of things, from sniffing out drugsand bombsto hunting down prey. And studies have shown that smelling their favorite humans with that big wet nose of theirs seems to trigger something like love.

Emory University neuroscience and psychology professor Gregory Berns and his colleagues trained a group of dogs to lay still in fMRI machines. Once the pups were inside and ready to be scanned (with special earmuffs to protect their sensitive hearing from the noisy whirring machine, of course), researchers held up four smell swabs to each dogs nose: One from the armpit of a familiar human, one from the armpit of a strange human, one from the anal area of a familiar dog, and another from the anal area of a strange dog. For all the pups, the caudate nucleusthe area that lights up in humans when were anticipating something positivewas most activated by the familiar human.

There are different theories for why dogs have this reactiona Pavlovian response to a receiving treats from this personorsome kind of evolutionary trigger fromseeing certain humans as a higher-level part of their packbut what’s most interesting is that the familiar humans typically werent the ones feeding the dogs and doing routine care, but secondary caretakers who would play and spend time with the dogs. The response we saw then represents more of a recognition of a social bond thats not immediately tied to feeding,” says Berns.

The researchers swabbed from the armpit because they wanted samples that were hormonally and pheremonally unique to that person. We wanted the stinky stuff, Berns says. Now, think about your yoga mat. You lay down on it, you sweat on it, you rub your body along it as you do cobra and upward dog. And, most likely, you dont wipe it down after every single yoga session. For a dog, it is a smelly, hormone-drenched B.O. sponge. And, because they love you, they love your stank.

Happy Feet

But why else might a dog like walking and stretching on a yoga mat, particularly if it doesnt belong to their owner? To answer this, lets take a look at dog anatomy. The only place dogs sweat is their paws, which is why an overheated or nervous dog might leave damp paw prints in its wake. Think of it like getting sweaty, clammy palms before a big meeting.

Bacteria creates human body odor by breaking down sweat and wetness and, in turn, burping out stink. Same goes for pooches. Their feet, moistened by sweat glands, attract bacteria that create a distinctive scent—some dog owners say it smells like Fritos.

Pawing, then, is one of the ways smell-driven dogs can mark where theyve been (aside from urinating, which, let’s hope that hasn’t happened to your yoga mat). Its why your dog might scratch the ground after they poop. And it also might be the reason they want to tread all over your yoga mat.

But the simplest explanation may be that dogs like yoga mats for the same reason we do: Matsare comfortable and dont slip around. Yoga mats do not jar their joints, but act as absorbent cushions, says Arden Moore, pet expert and the author of books including What Dogs Want. Unlike rugs and mats on tile and wood floors in our house that can cause a moving dog to slip and slide, yoga mats stay in place. They are less frightening or intimidating than rugs.

Whatever the reason, there’s no reasonyou shouldnt indulge your dog’s love for your yoga mat—as long as they dont mistake it for a pee pad, chew on it, or totally get in your way during chaturanga. Sothe next time youre ready for some vinyasa, youll know why your dog is doing poses next to you: Because they love you. And that strange, rectangular stank-sponge that you insist on standing on.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Should we stop keeping pets? Why more and more ethicists say yes

Ninety per cent of Britons think of their pet as part of the family 16% even included them on the last census. But recent research into animals emotional lives has cast doubt on the ethics of petkeeping

It was a Tupperware tub of live baby rats that made Dr Jessica Pierce start to question the idea of pet ownership. She was at her local branch of PetSmart, a pet store chain in the US, buying crickets for her daughters gecko. The baby rats, squeaking in their plastic container, were brought in by a man she believed was offering to sell them to the store as pets or as food for the resident snakes. She didnt ask. But Pierce, a bioethicist, was troubled.

Rats have a sense of empathy and there has been a lot of research on what happens when you take babies away from a mother rat not surprisingly, they experience profound distress, she says. It was a slap in the face how can we do this to animals?

Pierce went on to write Run, Spot, Run, which outlines the case against pet ownership, in 2015. From the animals that become dog and cat food and the puppy farms churning out increasingly unhealthy purebred canines, to the goldfish sold by the bag and the crickets by the box, pet ownership is problematic because it denies animals the right of self-determination. Ultimately, we bring them into our lives because we want them, then we dictate what they eat, where they live, how they behave, how they look, even whether they get to keep their sex organs.

Treating animals as commodities isnt new or shocking; humans have been meat-eaters and animal-skin-wearers for millennia. However, this is at odds with how we say we feel about our pets. The British pet industry is worth about 10.6bn; Americans spent more than $66bn (50bn) on their pets in 2016. A survey earlier this year found that many British pet owners love their pet more than they love their partner (12%), their children (9%) or their best friend (24%). According to another study, 90% of pet-owning Britons think of their pet as a member of their family, with 16% listing their animals in the 2011 census.

Domestic
In the US, 1.5m shelter animals are euthanised each year. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is morally problematic, because more people are thinking of pets as people They consider them part of their family, they think of them as their best friend, they wouldnt sell them for a million dollars, says Dr Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and one of the founders of the budding field of anthrozoology, which examines human-animal relations. At the same time, research is revealing that the emotional lives of animals, even relatively simple animals such as goldfish, are far more complex and rich than we once thought (dogs are people, too, according to a 2013 New York Times comment piece by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns). The logical consequence is that the more we attribute them with these characteristics, the less right we have to control every single aspect of their lives, says Herzog.

Does this mean that, in 50 years or 100 years, we wont have pets? Institutions that exploit animals, such as the circus, are shutting down animal rights activists claimed a significant victory this year with the closure of Ringling Bros circus and there are calls to end, or at least rethink, zoos. Meanwhile, the number of Britons who profess to be vegan is on the rise, skyrocketing 350% between 2006 and 2016.

Widespread petkeeping is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the 19th century, most animals owned by households were working animals that lived alongside humans and were regarded unsentimentally. In 1698, for example, a Dorset farmer recorded in his diary: My old dog Quon was killed and baked for his grease, which yielded 11lb. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, animals began to feature less in our increasingly urban environments and, as disposable income grew, pets became more desirable. Even as people began to dote on their pets, though, animal life was not attributed any intrinsic value. In Run, Spot, Run, Pierce reports that, in 1877, the city of New York rounded up 762 stray dogs and drowned them in the East River, shoving them into iron crates and lifting the crates by crane into the water. Veterinarian turned philosopher Bernard Rollin recalls pet owners in the 1960s putting their dog to sleep before going on holiday, reasoning that it was cheaper to get a new dog when they returned than to board the one they had.

Maine
Nine per cent of British pet owners love their animal more than their children. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

More recently, however, several countries have moved to change the legal status of animals. In 2015, the governments of Canada and New Zealand recognised animals as sentient beings, effectively declaring them no longer property (how this squares with New Zealands recent war on possums is unclear). While pets remain property in the UK, the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 stipulates that pet owners must provide a basic level of care for their animals. Pets are also property in the US, but 32 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington DC, now include provisions for pets under domestic violence protection orders. In 2001, Rhode Island changed its legislation to describe pet owners as guardians, a move that some animal rights advocates lauded (and others criticised for being nothing more than a change in name).

Before we congratulate ourselves on how far we have come, consider that 1.5m shelter animals including 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats are euthanised each year in the US. The number of stray dogs euthanised annually in the UK is far lower 3,463 but the RSCPA says investigations into animal cruelty cases increased 5% year on year in 2016, to 400 calls a day.

Can I stick my dog in a car and take him to the vet and say: I dont want him any more, kill him, or take him to a city shelter and say: I cant keep him any more, I hope you can find a home for him, good luck? says Gary Francione, a professor at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey and an animal rights advocate. If you can still do that, if you still have the right to do that, then they are still property.

Crucially, our animals cant tell us whether they are happy being pets. There is an illusion now that pets have more voice than in the past but it is maybe more that we are putting words into their mouth, Pierce says, pointing to the abundance of pets on social media plastered with witty projections written by their parents. Maybe we are humanising them in a way that actually makes them invisible.

If you accept the argument that pet ownership is morally questionable, how do you put the brakes on such a vast industry? While he was writing his 2010 book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Herzog was studying the motivations of animal rights activists and whether it was emotion or intellect that pushed them towards activism. One of the subjects, Herzog says, was very, very logical. After he had become a vegan, eschewed leather shoes and convinced his girlfriend to go vegan, he considered his pet cockatiel. I remember; he looked up wistfully. He said he got the bird, took it outside, let it loose and it flew up, Herzog recalls. He said: I knew she wouldnt survive, that she probably starved. I guess I was doing it more for myself than for her.

Although Pierce and Francione agree that pet ownership is wrong, both of them have pets: Pierce has two dogs and a cat; Francione has six rescue dogs, whom he considers refugees. For now, the argument over whether we should own animals is largely theoretical: we do have pets and giving them up might cause more harm than good. Moreover, as Francione suggests, caring for pets seems to many people to be the one area where we can actually do right by animals; convincing people of the opposite is a hard sell.

Tim Wass, the chair of the Pet Charity, an animal welfare consultant and a former chief officer at the RSPCA, agrees. It has already been decided by market forces and human nature the reality is people have pets in the millions. The question is: how can we help them care for them correctly and appropriately?

If the short history of pet ownership tells us anything, it is that our attitude towards animals is prone to change. You see these rises and falls in our relationships with pets, says Herzog. In the long haul, I think petkeeping might fall out of fashion; I think it is possible that robots will take their place, or maybe pet owning will be for small numbers of people. Cultural trends come and go. The more we think of pets as people, the less ethical it is to keep them.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/01/should-we-stop-keeping-pets-why-more-and-more-ethicists-say-yes

Anthropomorphism: how much humans and animals share is still contested

Cute internet videos and animals in childrens entertainment with human-like intentions can be useful, harmful or both depending on whom you ask

Humans have long attempted to portray the natural world as reflections of us, from giving storms names such as Desmond or Katrina to putting tasteful blue clothing on Donald Duck and Peter the Rabbit. But the science of how much humans actually share with other animals is still keenly contested.

The widely shared image of a male kangaroo cradling the head of a dying female, in front of her joey, was immediately cast as a touching display of marsupial grief, before several scientists pointed out that the kangaroos interests were probably a little more carnal than first thought.

This kind of anthropomorphism isnt new of course some of the oldest known deities combine human and beast but it has only been since Charles Darwins description of joy and love among animals that the debate has evolved on whether humans hold exclusivity over certain traits.

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A male eastern grey kangaroo holds the head of a dead female kangaroo in River Heads, Queensland. Photograph: Evan Switzer

Animals such as apes and crows have been seen using tools previously thought a human preserve. A 44-year-old gorilla called Koko has the vocabulary of a three-year-old child after learning 1,000 words of American sign language. She has called herself Queen – evidence, her head caretaker claims, that she understands her celebrity status.

But many scientists are still keen to draw stark lines of difference between humans and other animals. Some warn that anthropomorphism, now regularly demonstrated through the online sharing of videos of pandas having tantrums or orangutans having a laugh, can be harmful.

Its almost like internet was built for anthropomorphizing animals, said Holly Dunsworth, an anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island. Humans arent the only animals capable of forming strong bonds, but to say that the kangaroo even knew the other kangaroo was dying is beyond anything we know. No one has shown that animals understand dying or where babies come from. We cant say they think that abstractly.

While Kokos grasp of language is astonishing, it lacks the nuance and complexity of the way humans communicate with each other. Theres a key difference between signals and understanding and expanding upon ideas and abstract concepts, Dunsworth said.

Other animals are more complex than purely being driven by instinct, but Im very comfortable with the explanation that they dont need abstract reasoning to do these complex behaviors, she said. We can explain behavior separate from the way humans think.

An unconscious belief that bears, horses and dolphins possess human desires and thoughts wrapped up in odd costumes can be detrimental for children, some psychologists have argued.

Last year, Patricia Ganea, a psychologist at Toronto University, ran a series of experiments on three to five-year-olds where they were given information about animals in straight factual form and then in a more fantastical anthropomorphized way.

She found that the children were likely to attribute human characteristics to other animals and were less likely to retain factual information about them when told they lived their lives as furry humans.

Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes Photograph: AP

Ganea said attributing human-like intentions and beliefs is a very natural way to explain certain animal behaviors and can be useful in generating empathy for mistreated animals. But she adds there is a downside.

Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes in the natural world, she said. It can also lead to inappropriate behaviors towards wild animals, such as trying to adopt a wild animal as a pet or misinterpreting the actions of a wild animal.

Common depictions of animals in childrens entertainment is likely to amplify this message, Ganea said.

Jiminy Cricket is the voice of conscience and not an accurate description of what insects behave like, she said. But, yes, the human-like animal representations in the media are likely to increase the tendency to anthropomorphize the natural world.

But its clear from multiple experiments that some animals are closer to being human than others. In tests, monkeys have given up the chance of food so that older or weaker members of the clan can eat. A chimpanzee named Santino has shown a remarkable ability to plan ahead and hold grudges by calmly gathering and hiding piles of stones ready to hurl at visitors who gawp at him in his zoo enclosure in Sweden.

Santino

Santino the stone-throwing chimp, is watched by a group of visitors at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden. Photograph: Neurology/AP

Its not just primates. Scientists have gathered evidence that elephants sacrifice their wellbeing for the good of the group and grieve their dead. Young elephants that have lost parents to poachers have suffered a type of post traumatic stress disorder, trumpeting loudly and unusually at night and showing other signs of agitation. Mapping of the brains of several different species shows that they share similar neurons to humans that process social information and empathy.

Its categorically wrong to say that animals dont have thoughts and emotions, just like its wrong to say they are completely the same as us, said Carl Safina, a biologist and author of a book called Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, which argues that sneering at anthropomorphism risks eroding our empathy with species we are helping wipe out at a rate unseen since the time of the dinosaurs.

Great apes have large brains and complex social lives, wolves live in structured families. But herrings dont have social structures. So we cant say all animals are the same.

But humans are an extreme example of everything. We are simultaneously the most compassionate and the cruelest animal, the friendliest and most destructive, we experience the most grief and cause the most grief. We are a complicated case.

The idea that a kangaroo would hold anothers head to say farewell as they die is overdone, Safina said, but its inaccurate to dismiss any notion of understanding or even loss.

Its fair to say many animals have richer social lives and a richer palette of strategic abilities than we give them credit for, he said. We should get better acquainted with the animals we share the world with. If only because they are so beautiful and so interesting.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/15/anthropomorphism-danger-humans-animals-science