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The Phonograph School of Languages for Parrots

21 Jun

Atlas Obscura tells the remarkable story of Philadelphia’s Phonograph School of Languages for Parrots established in 1903:

One of the school’s most distinguished alums was a parrot that, in the morning, could tell the children in its house it was time for school and, at night, could “ask them, with a knowing look, if they have mastered their lessons and express the hope that they have been good scholars.” This bird belonged to an unnamed famous actress.

A woman named Mrs. Hope—the school’s founder and only teacher—started the academy because her husband, a bird seller, found that he could make 10 times the profit on a single parrot if it could talk. She wanted in.

The Lassie Effect

12 Jun

Not a big surprise, but still interesting, The New York Times reports on the Lassie Effect. Dog owners who walk their dogs are healthier than those who don’t. The dogs are also healthier.

But even though walking the dog can have lifesaving health benefits for owners and pets, a surprisingly large number of dog owners rarely, if ever, walk or otherwise exercise their dogs, research shows. Scientists who had studied the Lassie effect remained puzzled about why someone would forgo an activity that is good for them, potentially imperiling the well-being of both owner and pet.


5 Jun

Over at Dangerous Minds we find a post on the Los Angeles Alligator Farm. Between 1907 and 1984 you could have your child photographed riding on an alligator.

A little internet searching shows that this ill advised practice has not died out:

Nature or nurture?

27 May

Big cats and small cats

12 May

The semester is almost over, a good time to indulge in some cat videos.

Can mice meditate?

17 Mar

Over at Deric’s Mindblog there is a post about this paper on mouse meditation! Here is the abstract:

Meditation training induces changes at both the behavioral and neural levels. A month of meditation training can reduce self-reported anxiety and other dimensions of negative affect. It also can change white matter as measured by diffusion tensor imaging and increase resting-state midline frontal theta activity. The current study tests the hypothesis that imposing rhythms in the mouse anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), by using optogenetics to induce oscillations in activity, can produce behavioral changes. Mice were randomly assigned to groups and were given twenty 30-min sessions of light pulses delivered at 1, 8, or 40 Hz over 4 wk or were assigned to a no-laser control condition. Before and after the month all mice were administered a battery of behavioral tests. In the light/dark box, mice receiving cortical stimulation had more light-side entries, spent more time in the light, and made more vertical rears than mice receiving rhythmic cortical suppression or no manipulation. These effects on light/dark box exploratory behaviors are associated with reduced anxiety and were most pronounced following stimulation at 1 and 8 Hz. No effects were seen related to basic motor behavior or exploration during tests of novel object and location recognition. These data support a relationship between lower-frequency oscillations in the mouse ACC and the expression of anxiety-related behaviors, potentially analogous to effects seen with human practitioners of some forms of meditation.

Here’s the Indian version of the Mickey Mouse show:

The bird has a mind of its own

10 Feb

When I saw this I though of this passage from Henry Beston’s The Outermost House

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

(Hat tip to BoingBoing)

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