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Do animals dream?

8 Nov

The answer appears to be yes:

University of Chicago biologists Amish Dave and Daniel Margoliash looked into the brains of zebra finches and discovered something similar. These birds are not born with the melodies of their songs hardwired into the brains; instead, they have to learn to sing their songs. When they’re awake, the neurons in part of the finches’ forebrain called the robutus archistriatalis fire following their singing of particular notes. Researchers can determine which note was sung based on the firing patterns of those neurons. By piecing together the electrical patterns in those neurons over time, Dave and Margoliash can reconstruct the entire song from start to finish.
Later, when the birds were asleep, Dave and Margoliash looked again at the electrical activity in that part of their brains. The firing of those neurons wasn’t entirely random. Instead, the neurons fired in order, as if the bird was audibly singing the song, note for note. It might be said that the zebra finches were practising their songs while they slumbered.

You can find the original papers here.

Paying crows to clean up cigarette butts

1 Nov

From FastCompany:

“If a bird drops a cigarette butt in the machine’s funnel, a camera will verify that it’s a cigarette, and then the machine will automatically dispense a small piece of food. They expect the birds to learn quickly.”

Horse facial expressions communicate information

25 Oct

An interesting PLOS paper describing The Equine Facial Action Coding System.

From the paper:

Horses are predominantly visual animals, with reasonable visual acuity that, at 23 cycles per degree, is better than domestic cats and dogs. While horses’ use of head and body posture in signaling has been described in observational literature, surprisingly their use of facial expressions has been largely overlooked. This is despite attempts to quantify facial expressions in horses’ close relatives, plains zebra (Equus quagga), and reports that horses do routinely use some apparently complex facial expressions (e.g. snapping and the estrous face, which both involve pulling back the lips and flattening of the ears)

(Hat tip to BoingBoing)

 

Temperaments and paw preference in cats

9 Oct

Bio-behavioral asymmetries are not unique to humans. A recent paper reports that paw preference in cats is linked to their temperament:

Research points to a relationship between lateralization and emotional functioning in humans and many species of animal. The present study explored the association between paw preferences and emotional functioning, specifically temperament, in a species thus far overlooked in this area, the domestic cat. Thirty left-pawed, 30 right-pawed, and 30 ambilateral pet cats were recruited following an assessment of their paw preferences using a food-reaching challenge. The animals’ temperament was subsequently assessed using the Feline Temperament Profile (FTP). Cats’ owners also completed a purpose-designed cat temperament (CAT) scale. Analysis revealed a significant relationship between lateral bias and FTP and CAT scale scores. Ambilateral cats had lower positive (FTP+) scores, and were perceived as less affectionate, obedient, friendly, and more aggressive, than left or right-pawed animals. Left and right pawed cats differed significantly on 1 trait on the CAT scale, namely playfulness. The strength of the cats’ paw preferences was related to the animals’ FTP and CAT scores. Cats with a greater strength of paw preference had higher FTP+ scores than those with a weaker strength of paw preference. Animals with stronger paw preferences were perceived as more confident, affectionate, active, and friendly than those with weaker paw preferences. Results suggest that motor laterality in the cat is strongly related to temperament and that the presence or absence of lateralization has greater implications for the expression of emotion in this species than the direction of the lateralized bias. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

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.

“WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? CHILDREN RIDING ALLIGATORS”

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:

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