Thursday, December 31, 2009

Canines turning our own technology against us

Dogs evolved along with us, to be part of our way of life, but sometimes one has to wonder if this has gone a little too far. It's one thing for them to learn that they can get a person to produce a treat by doing a cute trick, or that the couch is the comfiest place to lie when no one is watching. It's another when they start figuring out how to work our stuff - and use it against us.

In November alone, two dogs were blamed for fatal shootings. A man in California, accused of involuntary manslaughter in his wife's death, claims that his dog tripped him while he was holding a gun. In Florida, a woman accused of murdering her husband says the family dog knocked over a shotgun.

You may think these humans are trying to shift the blame, but it would hardly be the first time a dog shot someone. In January, a teenager in Arkansas lost several toes when his dog jumped onto his shotgun. Last year, a man in Oregon was shot in the leg in a similar fashion. In the latter case, as we have so often seen, the victim is perhaps unsure where his interests lie:

His son was concerned about the dog, Henry Marcum said. "He's a good dog. It's just one of those things. It's an accident."

Sure, one dog jumping onto a shotgun could be an accident. But two begins to look like a pattern.

Now, canines going after us with actual weapons is obvious enough, but are they also getting their inspiration from TV murder mysteries? In another case, foxes in England were found to be cutting the brakes on cars.

It's hard to imagine what's in it for them, so, while not normally a conspiracy theorist, I find this suspicious. Are their cousins - our "best friends" - whispering to them through the fence, saying, "Once he's out of the way, we can share the kibble?"

Again, the humans involved obviously don't read this blog:

Sgt George Blair, head of the West Wickham Safer Neighbourhood Team, said: ‘We were pleased to be able to find an innocent explanation for the cause of the damage.'

Finally, next time you think you've left the house with your dog safely contained, consider this item from the Washington Post:

STERLING, Vinson Ct., Dec. 2. An animal control officer responded to a report of two dogs roaming a neighborhood. When the officer arrived, the dogs were back in their home. The dogs' owner said the dogs had knocked a garage door opener onto the floor and escaped when the door opened.

Useful warning from Flickr user ianturton.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cow overhead: Attempted burglary or performance art?

A cow in England has gotten above herself
: A home owner who found her roof damaged and feared that burglars had been trying to get in, discovered that a cow had been jumping on the roof. This was good news for some, at least:
Local PC Ray Bradley said: "This was initially recorded on my figures as a burglary so I am glad I can take it off."

This blog's classical music correspondent suggests that the uppity cow may have been inspired by early twentieth-century surrealist ballet Le Boeuf sur le toit, "The Ox on the Roof." Could this be the start of a spate of surrealism-inspired bovines? We note that one of the founders of Surrealism was named Jacques Vache. More than coincidence?

According to Wikipedia, Vache "was known for his indifference and for wearing a monocle." Cows seem to have the indifferent attitude down pat, so if you see any wearing suspicious eyewear... well, we humans might as well get a piece of this, so, offer to be its agent and sell tickets?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Watch out for bad animals in your holiday travels

As if flying wasn't hard enough during the Christmas season, animals are making it worse: a flight from Houston to Columbus was delayed on Tuesday due to escaping otters.

Ohio's reported that the otters made a break from their carriers in the cargo hold and it took crew over an hour to recapture them so that the plane could continue on its journey. Some passengers initially thought that the excuse was simply a more original version of the usual implausible stories that airlines tell their customers, until they saw the otters dashing around on the tarmac.

What's more, upon arrival in Columbus, some found that otters had been rummaging around in their bags - perhaps trying to steal Christmas gifts, or maybe, make up for the lack of beverage service in the cargo hold:

Some of the passengers picking up bags in Columbus discovered that the animals had gotten into their luggage.

A man who had coffee in his suitcase found his bag open and covered in what appeared to be hay.

"Some otters got into them," he said. "They must have smelled the coffee."

Otter,obviously pleased with his wicked little self, by our friend Misterqueue.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blizzard bad behavior brief

We are quite busy at ABB Headquarters staring out the window wondering where next to shovel a spot in the snow for small spoiled dogs to pee, but one recent story should not pass without mention:

A man in China went to all the trouble of teaching some monkeys taekwondo, and what did they do but turn and use their newly learned skills on him:
Hu Luang, 32, a bystander who photographed the incident, said: "I saw one punch him in the eye - he grabbed another by the ear and it responded by grabbing his nose. They were leaping and jumping all over the place. It was better than a Bruce Lee film."

They say you shouldn't teach a pig to sing because it wastes your time and annoys the pig. But perhaps you ought to worry that the pig would start standing outside your window in the middle of the night, belting out arias at the top of its lungs, if these monkeys are any indication of how animals thank us for teaching them complicated human cultural activities.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Delinquent dolphin

When Moko the dolphin first appeared in a New Zealand harbor, people who obviously don't read this blog called his behavior 'playful.' Now, the Telegraph reports:

Six people have needed rescuing by lifesavers in recent days as the dolphin has become more aggressive.

Among them were two 12-year-old girls who were both injured when they were "mugged" by Moko for their boards.

And a 16-year-old surfer was stranded 500 yards offshore after the delinquent dolphin stole his board.

Gisborne man Dean Makara said he was knocked out of his kayak.

...In an earlier incident, an exhausted woman swimmer feared she would drown after Moko refused to let her return to shore because he had not finished playing with her.

Of course, there are still always those who don't seem to know whose side they should be on. Such as:

There have also been calls to appoint a "guardian" to safeguard Moko's interests.

Advocates for the creature have sprung to his defence, saying they are horrified at headlines dubbing him "Moko the Menace".

Dave Head, an environmentalist who has studied Moko, angrily dismissed reports that the dolphin was a sexual predator.

And, as reported by Sky News:

Olympic kayaking double gold medallist and surf lifesaving instructor Alan Thompson said reports of Moko's behaviour were exaggerated.

He told The New Zealand Herald: "If you don't like the way he plays, then don't go out in the water."

And, a whole storyful of dolphin huggers in the local Gisborne Herald, titled "Don't Blame Moko," includes the following quote:

“It is an honour to have Moko and experience first- hand Mother Nature and [Maori sea god] Tangaroa. I have never heard of dangerous dolphins, only people being saved by them.”

But to the contrary, as readers of this blog know, despite their inexplicable charming, peaceful, new-agey-t-shirt-decoration reputation, dolphins are sexual harrassers, and gang rapists, and babykillers.

Add that to the fact of this dolphin's age - what the Telegraph described as an "exuberant and insolent hormone-pumped teenager" - and you've got a recipe for interspecies disaster, when the other species is one as clueless as our own.

Marine Science expert Professor Mark Orams has compared Moko's personality change to humans going through puberty.

"He's doing what we all do as teenagers," he said.

"He's testing his boundaries, but he's testing them on humans - and humans are coming off second best."

Photo of Moko with human trying to eliminate herself from the gene pool from the Gisborne Herald.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fruit flies like a banana, but they like a gin and tonic even better

If this blog called an Alcoholic Animals Anonymous meeting, it would be attended by a pretty wide variety of species, including elk, elephants, and badgers.

You can also find video of drunk squirrels, and if you believe the photos here, our mythical meeting might also attract chickens, woodchucks, otters, rats, rabbits, cats, dogs, goats and ferrets. (The crab, I suspect, is clearly a setup.) If you prefer classier journalistic sources, here the New York Times mentions drunkenness in at least half of those creatures and also cows, monkeys, pigs and lorises.

Mammals aren't the only culprits, either: we've seen in previous posts that bees are worse than college students when it comes to their taste for booze.

Bees are fairly complicated as insects go, though, and you might figure that such a hard-working insect might need to drink to relax more than most. But now research reveals that even fruit flies can become alcoholics. As reported by Science News:

Earlier studies found that alcohol has profound physiological effects on fruit flies, but the new study is one of the first to offer flies the choice to drink. Anita Devineni and Ulrike Heberlein, both of the University of California, San Francisco, devised a fly-sized drinking device reminiscent of the water bottles in hamster cages.

Given the choice between plain and alcoholic beverages, the study found, fruit flies preferred alcohol. They also developed a tolerance, gradually coming to prefer stronger drink. The researchers observed drunken behavior, although in fruit flies, this was pretty much confined to "hyperactivity and loss of coordination," since they were not given access to lampshades to put on their heads or cars to drive into stationary objects.

If you've ever wondered how certain alcoholic beverages become popular and traditional despite how nasty they taste, this study also suggests that this phenomenon extends to much more primitive creatures than ourselves:

Fruit flies accustomed to alcohol continued to drink despite potential harm, the team found. When the researchers laced the booze-food mix with small amounts of the toxic chemical quinine, those flies continued to drink, even though fruit flies normally avoid the chemical. “I was actually pretty surprised when they continued to drink it,” Devineni says.

Remarkably lovely photo of fruit fly from Flickr user Max xx.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Retriever commits arson

A dog started a fire at a home in Wales resulting in 6,000 pounds worth of damage. As reported by the North Wales Daily Post:

The dog jumped up and nudged on a switch for a range oven. That heated up a chip pan on the griddle which eventually set fire to the kitchen. Owner Paul Gregson said: “We’re calling him Alfie the arsonist now.”

The dog's owner theorized that he was looking for something to eat:

Three-year-old Alfie is a liver-coloured, flat-coated retriever who Paul described as “very lively, bouncy and smelly”.

He added: “The breed is a cross between a pointer and a red setter. They are slow to mature – if they mature at all. He exists to eat. He’s a walking stomach.”

This blog's official Flat-Coated Retriever expert, when contacted, was unsurprised by this story, given that her dog had once turned on the stove and filled the kitchen with gas. "This is why I have childproof knobs on all my burner knobs," she commented, and provided the above photo of a flatcoat, thus thwarted from arson, trying to figure out how to start a flood instead.

An additional flatcoat owner who was consulted described an incident in which her dog waved his tail over the burner and caught it on fire. She now has an electric stove.

They tell you to do your breed research, but, man, you don't find this stuff in the books.

Monday, December 7, 2009

That'll show 'em

Bees. We're supposed to appreciate them for pollinating our food, and be in a panic about a mysterious disease affecting them. We're also supposed to be impressed that these tiny creatures have an amazing communication system, where they're able to direct their hivemates to food using a complex dance.

I was pleased to run across this comic for those of us who are tired of being told to be impressed by animals, suggesting a way to take it out on bees:

(Click the cartoon for larger version, or see the original at Abstruse Goose.)

As we saw earlier, of course, the dance might not be all it's cracked up to be. Check out another cartoon where the bees agree here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Innocent man arrested for murder committed by drunk elk

The post title says it all on this one: A man in Sweden was arrested and jailed for ten days after finding the body of his wife, who had not returned from walking her dog. He has now been cleared of suspicion after technicians found physical evidence pointing to a very different perpetrator, according to the BBC:
Now the case has been dropped after forensic analysis found elk hair and saliva on his wife's clothes.

No motive has been reported, but the following is a warning to shiftless gardeners that your lazy clean-up habits can have dangerous consequences:
The European elk, or moose, is usually considered to be shy and will normally run away from humans. But Swedish Radio International says the animals can become aggressive after eating fermented fallen apples in gardens.

Threatening elk look by Flickr user SigmaEye.