Stories tagged animal behavior

Oct
29
2008

He can teach you much, but give you nothing: Wait... Is this man even handsome? This IS complicated!
He can teach you much, but give you nothing: Wait... Is this man even handsome? This IS complicated!Courtesy monseurlam
Sorry to break it to you, dudes, but you aren’t just ugly ducklings—you’re just ugly. Or, if you are mirror-melting hot, those good looks are an invention all of your own, so skip the father’s day present, and get yourself something nice.

See, guys and boys, you’re dad may have taught you how to gut a possum, and he might even have given you your first possum-gutting knife, but he didn’t give you the looks that attracted all those hungry eyes at the possum market. He saved those for your sister.

It turns out that men don’t inherit their fathers’ “attractiveness”. Fathers do pass on masculine features to their sons, but there doesn’t seem to be any strong correlation between attractive fathers (or, technically, “hot dads”) and attractive sons. So says the journal Animal Behaviour.

By rating the images of hundreds of males and females, and their respective parents, the recent study hoped to test the theory that women seek out attractive mates to produce sexy male offspring, who will in turn pass on their mother’s genes.

Uh uh. The study found that hot dads didn’t necessarily have hot boys, and that unattractive fathers (or “ug dads”) didn’t necessarily have ug boys. In fact, the study found no evidence of male-to-male attractiveness inheritance at all. So that beautiful bone structure, those sparkling eyes, that indefinable something that makes you so, so foxy… where did that come from? Your mother, perhaps?

Nope, attractiveness doesn’t seem to come from your mom either. It seems that when boys are born, they’re cast out into the Land of Fug to fend for themselves, and if they find a sunny hilltop to build a face on, they have to do it on their own.

Mothers, the study found, do pass on attractiveness to their daughters. And, ironically, so do fathers—hot dads are likely to have attractive daughters. That means that daughters are getting all those good looks funneled into them from both sides! Ooooh, I hate them so much!

It’s like the legend of Puss in Boots, really. The wealthy old miller and his wife (who I believe was some sort of novelty hat heiress) were on their deathbeds at the same time (food poisoning, I believe), and were deciding how to divvy up their vast wealth between their two sons and one daughter. Keep in mind, this was before division was invented, so the two dying parents decided that the fairest thing to do would be to give all their money to the daughter and none to the sons. The daughter lived a long and very happy life, and no more needs to be said about her. One of the sons died more or less on the spot (food poisoning, I believe), and the other grabbed the miller’s cat and did a runner.

The stolen cat may or may not have had a plan for the surviving son’s well-being, but there was no way to tell, because the cat couldn’t speak English, and the son couldn’t speak Cat. So, making the best of what he had, the son forgot to feed the cat until it died, and then took its fur. (And this was clever in itself, because the son was still too poor to afford a knife, and he had to be creative—that’s where the saying “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” comes from.) The son then used the beautiful fur (it was a good cat) to make an attractive fur hat (a skill he learned from his mother), which he sold to a local eccentric. The profits from the sale were then invested in the construction of a new animal shelter/hat factory. The venture proved to be a lucrative one, and it kept the man in stockings and gin for the rest of his life, until he burned the factory down so that his own son couldn’t inherit it.

Do you see the connection? If you replace all references to money in the story with the word “hotness,” the analogy is particularly apt.

Apr
04
2008

That's one horny dinosaur, alright: Teen-aged triceratopses may have jousted to impress the ladies.
That's one horny dinosaur, alright: Teen-aged triceratopses may have jousted to impress the ladies.Courtesy wallyg

Scientists digging in central Mexico have uncovered the bones of a previously unknown dinosaur. The species, not yet named, had three horns and a massive neck frill, similar to the familiar Triceratops. The scientists peculate that these dinosaurs used their neck frills for display, to attract mates. Adolescent males may have used their horns in head-butting contests, like some modern sheep do, to establish dominance.

Oct
21
2007

It knows when you are sleeping; it knows when you're awake: And it knows what you've been thinking.  (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
It knows when you are sleeping; it knows when you're awake: And it knows what you've been thinking. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Like Santa, elephants totally know if you’ve been bad or good

The “bad or good” value judgment depends on whether or not you plan on killing them. “Them” being the elephants, of course, not Santa. No one should plan on killing Santa. He would know what you were up to if you planned it.

People do occasionally plan on killing elephants, however, which is presumably why they have gotten good at telling who these people are. New research shows that African elephants are often able to distinguish, through sight and smell, between humans who are a potential threat and those who are generally harmless.

For the purpose of the study, scientists from the University of St. Andrews compared the reaction of elephants from Amboseli National Park in Kenya to people from the nearby Maasai and Kamba tribes. While Kamba will generally only attack elephants when they invade their farmland, Maasai will occasionally spear elephants as a show of virility. It has been observed that elephants will become defensive or run away as Maasai approach, even when they are still several kilometers away.

The Kamba and Maasai are fairly distinct as to their diets and dress. The Maasai traditionally wear red shawls; the Kamba do not. The Maasai eat lots of milk, and sometimes cattle blood and beef, whereas the Kamba eat plenty of vegetables and maize, and some meat. Scientists believed that this difference in diet could be apparent to an elephant’s sensitive sense of smell.

To test the elephants’ sight reactions, the scientists displayed clean and unworn pieces of white cloth and red cloth on bushes in Amboseli. They found that the animals acted “significantly more aggressively toward the red cloths.” This is one of the more obvious points at which elephants and Santa diverge in their behavior – we all know that Santa has an almost perverse attraction to red cloth.

The St. Andrews researchers then presented elephants with clothing that had been worn for five days by either a Maasai or Kamba man. The elephants seemed to react with greater fear towards the clothing worn by Maasai men, running faster and further away from it, and towards tall grass for cover. Also, according to the researchers, these elephants took significantly longer to relax after they stopped running.

When the same experiments were repeated on Santa, scientists observed that he behaved in a similar fashion, running and hiding from some pieces of clothing but not others. Santa’s reactions of fear, however, appeared to correspond to the clothing of particular individuals, not to that of entire groups. Researchers were denied access to the famous “lists,” unfortunately, and so were unable to crosscheck for specific names. When asked how they intended to continue their research on Santa, the scientists enigmatically replied, “We have no plans.”

Oct
15
2007

It doesn't look sad: But, then again, it's not eating.  (Photo by crafterm on flickr.com)
It doesn't look sad: But, then again, it's not eating. (Photo by crafterm on flickr.com)
Crocodile tears. Crocodile tears, crocodile tears, crocodile tears… Where to begin?

Crocodile tears have long been held to be the “holy grail” of animal cruelty advocates worldwide. Practically unique in the animal kingdom, open displays of crocodile emotion have traditionally eluded even the most ardent of professional animal abusers. Whereas fish cry constantly, and most mammals and birds can be made to at least tear up with a threatening glance, crocodiles present an altogether more complicated challenge.

It seems that the legend of crocodile tears began, among Westerners at least, in the 15th century, with the publication of the book “The Voyage and Travel of Sir John Mandeville,” which contained the passage, “In that country be a general plenty of crocodiles …These serpents slay men and they eat them weeping.”

Mandeville’s observations, however, have been nigh on impossible to replicate in the last six hundred years. While most animals succumb to weeping after a smack or two, the bony scutes embedded in crocodile skin make this sort of treatment a waste of time. Indeed, these scutes often allow crocodiles to survive gunshot wounds (scutes, or osteoderms, are what compose the armor of armadillos, as well as that of extinct animals, like anklyosaurs, or the SMM’s glyptodont).

Verbal abuse is no more effective than physical, with “You’re so fat” comments and “Yo mama” jokes barely appearing to even register with most crocodiles. Also, lacking any substantial sort of “psychology” crocodiles and their kin are essentially immune to psychological mistreatment.

Early in the last century, one scientist when so far as to rub onion and salt into a crocodile’s eyes*. While he may have had the beginnings of a mouth-watering recipe for crocodile eyeballs, the experiment yielded no tears, leaving many to believe that the notion of crocodile tears was a myth in the first place.

Not so, says University of Florida zoologist Kent Vliet. Vliet’s recent research seems to indicate that crocodiles do cry, but probably not for the reasons one might expect.

Part of the problem with looking for crocodile tears, as you can probably imagine, is distinguishing the tears from plain old water. With fish, which are emotionally unstable and weak-willed, it’s quite safe to assume that they are crying constantly, constantly surrounded by water as they are. Crocodiles are much more inscrutable.

What Vliet did was to videotape captive caimans and alligators (both close relatives to the crocodile) while they were feeding. These captive animals have been trained to eat on dry land, unlike wild crocodiles, which often feed while at least partially in the water. The tapes showed the crocodilians’ previously dry eyes not only crying, but also sometimes even “frothing and bubbling” as they ate.

There you have it. The precise reason for crocodile tears is still something of a mystery, though. Vliet believes that the tears may be the result of the huffing and hissing that generally accompanies crocodile feeding, with the air being pushed through the sinuses forcing tears from the lacrimal glands.

The main purpose of the crocodile’s lacrimal glands is the same as for our own – to lubricate the eyes. It’s possible that tear production during eating is to help lubricate food, as some of the tears would run through the sinuses and mix with saliva in the mouth. The tears might also help protect the eyes, which recede somewhat into the crocodile’s head as it manipulates its mouth. After all, "there's a lot of drama going on around the head while they are subduing prey," says Vliet.

So next time you’re being cruel to a crocodile, don’t feel bad if it isn’t crying; it’s not your fault. You just have to be more creative. Try feeding it a really disgusting meal, or giving it a little food and then taking it away – there’ll always be a satisfying way to bring a crocodile to tears, for those who are willing to try hard enough.

*This is apparently true – a scientists really did try rubbing onions and salt in a crocodile’s eyes to see if it would cry.

Sep
20
2007

Bees attempt to asphyxia-ball a man: Little do they know that he breathes through his thighs.  (image courtesy of Max xx on flickr.com)
Bees attempt to asphyxia-ball a man: Little do they know that he breathes through his thighs. (image courtesy of Max xx on flickr.com)
I tend to get “stuck” on things. You know, mentally.

Like, when Pokemon were big, I had to “catch ‘em all.” I’d fall asleep at night, just thinking how to catch all those Pokemon. Should I lure them into clever traps, or subdue them with a water-based attack? Or should I just go out and buy them?

Or “connect-the-dots”? You do one connect-the-dots puzzle, and tell me you aren’t totally hooked.

Lately, though, I’ve constantly been thinking about the weird and violent things insects do. How could I not? I mean, it’s all over the news - the other day there was the story about fire ants eating baby birds, and today I learn that it’s just been discovered that some honeybees kill their enemies by suffocating them.

I know! Who would have thought? But French scientists have observed Cyprian honeybees mobbing their archenemy, the Oriental hornet, in such a way that they block its breathing passages. The hornets’ exoskeletons are too hard for honeybee stingers to penetrate, so they seem to have adapted this new defensive behavior.

Certain Asian varieties of honeybees have been known to mob hornets and kill them simply by causing them to overheat inside a ball of bees (a behavior known as “thermo-balling”), but Cyprian honeybees are unable to raise their temperature enough to harm more heat tolerant hornets. Instead, they seem to specifically target the abdominal openings of the hornets, covering them with their own bodies, and preventing the hornets from breathing.

This is what we like to call “news you can use.” For a long time I’ve been relying on “thermo-balling” myself, wrapping myself around opponents in the hope that they might be vulnerable to a slight rise in body temperature. This technique almost never wins a fight, but, perhaps, if I could modify my behavior to be a little more like the Cyprian honeybee…

Anyway, that’s the sort of stuff that’s been on my mind lately. I fully expect the news tomorrow to reveal that beetles use nets to capture their prey, or that horseflies frequently resort to blackmail.