Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rodent junk food junkies

Animal addicts are nothing new on this blog. But now researchers have shown that in addition to drink and drugs, rats can become addicted to junk food.

Anyone who's seen wild rats foraging in dumpsters would probably suspect that they are attracted to the worst products of mankind's grocery-industrial complex. But now, as reported by Science News, a couple of fiendish neuroscience researchers have brought this out in the open. Two neuroscientists named Paul, Johnson and Kenny,
loaded up on typical Western fare, including Ho Hos, sausage, pound cake, bacon and cheesecake. Johnson fed rats either a standard diet of high-nutrient, low-calorie chow, or unlimited amounts of the palatable junk food. Rats that ate the junk food soon developed compulsive eating habits and became obese.

The researchers found that the rats' brains showed the same changes as those of addicts, and what's more, that they would keep eating junk food even if they learned that an electric shock would follow it. And the rodents find it just as hard to break the habit as you do:

When the junk food was taken away and the rats had access only to nutritious chow (what Kenny calls the “salad option”), the obese rats refused to eat. “They starve themselves for two weeks afterward,” Kenny says. “Their dietary preferences are dramatically shifted.”

Maybe this should be the next big government nutrition education campaign. The next time you reach for that bag of chips, think about it - Do you really want to lower yourself to the level of a rat?

Picture of rat with cookie - which is so cute that it really contradicts the whole point of this post, I know - by Flickr user Klara Kim.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Embarassment drives bear to murder

This blog tries to avoid the kind of bad animal behavior that ends up with people being actually dead, and you probably don't want to click on the link if you don't like gory details. But this story seemed too significant to pass up.

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- A bear on ice skates attacked two people during rehearsals at a circus in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, killing one of them, Kyrgyz officials said Friday.

In the incident, which happened Thursday, the 5-year-old animal killed the circus administrator, Dmitry Potapov, and mauled an animal trainer, who was attempting to rescue him.

"The incident occurred during a rehearsal by the Russian state circus company troupe which was performing in Bishkek with the program, Bears on Ice," Ministry of Culture and Information director Kurmangazy Isanayev told reporters...

After the incident, the circus was cordoned off by police and emergency service workers. Experts have been brought in to examine the bear, which was shot and died at the scene.

Russia has a long-standing tradition of training bears to perform tricks such as riding motorcycles, ice skating, and playing hockey. Fatal attacks are unusual.

We don't usually take the animals' side here, but all I can say is, I don't know how these bears dress for the show, but if I thought they were going to make ME wear one of those ice skating tutus in public, I might bite someone's leg off too.

Buy the skating bear pictured at Kat's Creations, and then for the love of God give the poor thing a t-shirt and some blue jeans.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bird terrorizes idyllic English village

As reported by the Telegraph:

A jackdaw has caused havoc in the quiet village of Cromwell, Nottinghamshire, by undoing washing from lines, turning newspaper pages and perching on the wing mirrors of moving cars.

OK, I know, you wish you had the kind of life where having clothespins undone counted as havoc. But seriously:

"We were by our porch when he suddenly landed on Paul's head and started pecking at his ear," said Mrs Gardiner. "I started to worry he might peck at Paul's eyes so I shooed him off but he hopped down and then got inside my husband's trouser leg.

"It eventually flew away, but since then has been a regular visitor to my home and neighbours. At first he was looked on as a friendly little thing but now he's just seen as intrusive.

"He unpegs the washing, turns the pages of the newspaper before you are ready and pick-pockets things from your pocket."

Turns the pages of the newspaper before you're ready. Imagine the horror! As a newspaper writer myself, I am indignant at the idea that a human reader would miss some of my precious words because a bird reads faster than they do.

And yet, some people never learn whose side they should be on:

Jeremy Hutchinson, Newark and Sherwood District Councils' environmental health reactive team leader, said: "We're tracking down a humane trap to capture the jackdaw, which would then be handed to a resident who has volunteered to take it as a pet."

Obviously cheeky jackdaw from Flickr user foxypar4.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Car thief turns out to be a bear

There is nothing I can add to this headline, this photo, or this story from the Denver Post.

The car alarm was blaring, and there was a light moving around inside.

A couple in the Colorado Mountain Estates subdivision near Florissant thought someone was trying to steal their car early Wednesday.

When deputies from the Teller County Sheriff's Office responded at about 2:30 a.m., they discovered a young bear in the car.

The bear was as surprised to see the deputies as the deputies were to see the bear, said Mikel Baker, spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office.

One of the two deputies took some pictures of the bear, opened the car door, and the bear was gone in a flash, said Baker.

According to Baker and Teller County Sheriff Kevin Dougherty, this bear — like so many others — was very smart and had learned how to open car doors.

But as the bear rummaged around the car causing extensive damage, the door closed and it couldn't figure how to get out.

The light the couple saw moving in the car was the dome light of the vehicle, which momentarily wrapped around the bear's head, said Dougherty.

Baker said that bears are extremely hungry as they prepare for hibernation. No food should be left in a car, she said, as bruins, with their keen sense of smell, will detect the food and try to get inside.

In recent years, one bear practically destroyed a car after yogurt was left in it. Afterward, investigators found yogurt smeared throughout the car, said Baker.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Roundup: Birds behaving badly

Flying freeloader: Reuters reports that a passenger flight in South Korea was delayed by a bird trying to get a free ride.

"The bird got in through an open airplane door and was spotted during boarding," said Cho Hyung-chul, a spokesman for Korean Air Line. The passengers on the flight were asked to leave the plane as the airline tried to prevent the bird from taking the domestic flight.

The flight's 123 passengers were put on board a different plane and sent on their journey, which was delayed for nearly three hours, the airline said.

Really, you could understand another animal trying this, but is it too much to expect a bird to do its own flying?

Some things never change
: In Missouri, police tasered and handcuffed a loose emu, much like we saw in one of the early stories reported on this blog.

Causing its own problems: You might think it's bad enough that the bird in this video is apparently trying to sexually violate the head of an innocent zoologist. But the problem is worse than simple avian perversion, because this is an almost extinct kakapo from New Zealand. Read about the kakapo here and see how the last thing that this bird needs is to be misdirecting its mating urges. Really, some animals seem to actually want to go extinct.

Apparently perfectly well behaved crow minding its own business by jurisdog.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I can't hear what you're saying with this buzzing in my ears

The wiggle dance of the bees: one of the wonders of evolution. Imagine these tiny creatures, their brains probably the size of the head of a pin (I'm guessing, I'm doing all the rest of the work here, YOU go look it up) communicating the location of food to their hivemates with a complex choreography indicating direction relative to the position of the sun and distance correlating to the duration of the dance.

It's an uncontroversial fact about the amazing abilities of animals. Or is it? According to a recent article in New Scientist, some researchers have begun to have doubts. They claim that under controlled experimentation where bees can't also use cues like smell, they - like many of us - don't seem to be exactly paying attention:

A litany of recent evidence suggests that while bees can follow the dance, they often fail to decode it properly, or ignore it completely.

In one study, GrĂ¼ter and his colleague Walter Farina of the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina found that among bees that attend to a dance, 93 per cent ignore the instructions and head to a food source they already know about (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol 275, p 1321). Similarly, bees often seem unable to follow the instructions. Some watch more than 50 runs and make several sorties out of the hive but never find the food.

The result of this is that some scientists downplay the importance of the dance as a method of communication, but these scientists clearly know little about bad behavior. Your spouse or teenager may ignore your request to take out the trash, and your idiot friend may disregard your recommendation for a fantastic Thai restaurant and head straight to McDonald's, and we all know people who can't follow directions to save their lives. No one concludes from that, that human language isn't a valid communication system, right? We already know that bees are drunks and druggies, so what do you expect?

Thanks to Misterqueue that I didn't have to go out and take my own picture of a bee this time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dog thinks he deserves a palace

When you're a world leader, you get used to a certain lifestyle, and it can be hard to adjust when your term is over. Apparently the same is true if you're the dog of a world leader, and at least in the case of the little dog belonging to former French president Chirac, this can lead to some pretty bad behavior.

BBC - Since stepping down from office in May 2007, Jacques Chirac has admitted he has found retirement hard going but apparently it is his dog, Sumo, who has suffered most acutely.

Used to roaming the large gardens of the Elysee Palace, the Maltese terrier has found down-sizing to an apartment on the Quai Voltaire unbearable and, according to Mrs Chirac, severe depression has turned him from an innocent white fluff-ball into a ferocious attacker of ex-presidents.

In January this year, Mr Chirac had to be hospitalised after the dog sank his teeth into an unnamed body part.

In this latest attack, Mrs Chirac said that Sumo had been lying quietly at her feet but flew into a violent rage on the approach of her husband.

The dog leapt up and nipped the former French leader in the stomach.

"I was very scared because there was blood. It's terrible, the small teeth like that. He was going wild. He wanted to jump up and bite again," she said.

I know, you want to laugh - it's just a little white fluffball. But speaking as the owner of a small dog with very high standards myself, I can sympathize. I don't want to think about what would happen if I caused her a disappointment of this monumental a nature.

The dog has reportedly been sent to live on a farm in the French countryside. At least, that's what the president's wife says and everyone believes her.

Bad Maltese by Flickr user Natalia Romay.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Missing the point

And just missing the event... Last week was the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, and the winner of the honor as most banned book last year was And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about the famous gay penguin family in New York's Central Park, mentioned in this post.

The ALA says that banning requests are often due to objections to 'positive portrayals of homosexuality.' Such a ridiculous thing to object to about penguins when they have so many real flaws, such as being unsupportive to their handicapped spouses when parenting and when their relationships, gay and straight, are worthy of soap opera.

Find some more banned books to read - we may be a week late but apparently they never go out of style - including one about a fictional gay guinea pig couple, at the Banned Books website.

Another penguin from birdman Misterqueue.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Make sure you know who your friends are

Last week in Tacoma WA, a raccoon got into a house, tore up the bathroom, and attacked the family dog, who is expected to recover from scratches that needed stiches, although he'll have to wear one of those embarassing cones for a week.

But that raccoon, who got in through a pet door, apparently isn't the worst of them:

Animal Control agents told (dog owner) Leopold such attacks aren't uncommon. In fact, they say raccoons will sometimes befriend dogs to get to their food, then they turn on the dogs.

"When the dogs trust them enough, they let the raccoon follow them inside the house to get their food," said Leopold.

Bad raccoon by Flickr user LexnGer.