Resources for Speakers - Anecdotes About Wild Animals
Zoo Animals and People
When I first heard about the killing of a beloved gorilla after a child plummeted into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, I immediately published this tweet: "It was an unfortunate series of unintended events that left officials with no option but to make one terrible choice to avoid another horrific outcome." OK, you probably know I'm lying for two reasons: First, that's eleven more characters than Twitter allows. And second, no one ever has an even-handed social media response to a controversial event. Some blamed the team that made the decision to shoot and kill Harambe (because we're all experts at making quick decisions with lives on the line). Most blamed the parents of the 4 year-old boy who fell into the enclosure (because we're all totally awesome parents who have never had an off moment). And others blamed the parents of the zookeepers for raising people who thought it seemed like a good idea to keep a gorilla in an enclosure in the first place. But here's the bottom line. A decade ago, this event might have told us something about the complexities of parenting, zoos, animals, and first responders. But thanks to social media, this story mostly tells us something about ourselves. And it's not pretty.Webcams on birds of prey (eagles and ospreys) in their nests. Viewers get really upset when nature gets brutal. Like chick pushing smaller one out of nest, or mother feeding a small cat to chicks. Demand that operators intervene (and threaten violence when point out how hard that is.)
Biologists traditionally go off exploring exotic jungles to seek new species, but in fact, best place is:
The "McGyver" Spider
Biologist Phil Torres, working from the Tambopata national park in Peru, revealed in December that he had witnessed a tiny Cyclosa-family spider construct a replica of an eight-legged spider in a web but made only of leaves, debris, and dead insects. Since the real spider was found nearby, Torres hypothesized that the wily arachnid had built a decoy to confuse predators.
Moths make up a large portion of Yellowstone bears' diets, and they can eat up to 20,000 calories worth of moths in a day.
Brook Falls Katmai National Park Alaska bears ambushing the annual salmon run. Bear 747 - a big unit - monopolising prime position on falls - in one 3 hour session ate 15 whole salmon about 67,000 calories.
Octopuses have copper-based blood instead of iron-based blood, which is why their blood is blue rather than red.
The opposite of albino animals is melanistic - all black
Tigers have striped skin, not just striped fur. And each pattern is unique.
Keas play and they make a special warbling call that triggers play in others (even when it's taped). No other bird or non-mammal shows this contagious emotion.
Takahe are the pandas of the avian world. They eat the green shoots of tussock grass, which is practically solid cellulose, and so very low nutrient value. So takahe have to spend up to 19 hours a day feeding, and they have to get rid of the partially digested grass. As in 9 meters a day of poop.
Desert oases have a nasty trick. So much evaporation that water is too salty to drink, which also brings swarms of salt flies. These filter out the salt and are salvation to migrating swallows who get a drink by catching flies.
Candyman - The bees were bred specifically for this movie. They needed to make sure that the bees were only twelve hours old, so that they looked like mature bees, but their stinger wouldn't be powerful enough to do any real damage.
One of the most peculiar is the live-bearing fish Gambusia vittata. The female has evolved a flap of tissue that conceals the entire genital region. Copulation in these fish is extremely rapid and athletic, with the males performing a complicated torque thrust manoevre in just 50 milliseconds, including dealing with the flap. The genitalia of both sexes is so peculiar that the species was originally given its own genus, Flexipenis.
Each year, more people are killed by vending machines than by sharks.
Zebras are the most dangerous animals for zookeepers - even more than tigers - bc they bite and don't let go. They are also virtually impossible to lassoo with a rope, bc of their unfialing ability to watch the rope noose fly toward them and duck their head out of the way.
250,000 birds were killed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. About the same number die each year in the US alone, crashing into windows.
Penguins have been known to push a fellow penguin into the water to check if the area is safe and free of predators.
Peacock tail feathers are pigmented brown, but their microscopically structured surfaces make them appear blue, turquoise, and green, and often they appear iridescent.
Armadillos of the genus Dasypus (the only ones found in the US) give birth to four genetically identical young that split from the same embryo; i.e. they always have identical quadruplets. They are the only known vertebrate animals to exhibit this "polyembryony".
Why Animals Can't Talk
For four decades, the inability of nonhuman primates to produce human speech sounds has been claimed to stem from limitations in their vocal tract anatomy, a conclusion based on plaster casts made from the vocal tract of a monkey cadaver. We used x-ray videos to quantify vocal tract dynamics in living macaques during vocalization, facial displays, and feeding. We demonstrate that the macaque vocal tract could easily produce an adequate range of speech sounds to support spoken language, showing that previous techniques based on postmortem samples drastically underestimated primate vocal capabilities. Our findings imply that the evolution of human speech capabilities required neural changes rather than modifications of vocal anatomy. Macaques have a speech-ready vocal tract but lack a speech-ready brain to control it.
Crocs Using Tools
Researchers documented crocodiles using tools. They'd gather a couple of sticks and push them along with their snouts, hoping to lure nest-building birds to their doom.
There is no such thing as a vegetarian snake. They eat nothing but other animals.
Naked Mole Rats
Most animals same size live for about 5 years, but NMRs 30 years (live in tunnels underground, so little exposure to predators of infectious diseases). They don't get cancer, and they cope with very high levels of toxic drugs or environments, apparently by stopping damaged cells from dividing.
Hummingbirds were in peril because their migration path was being squeezed by urban development in California removing the nectar plants they depended upon to refuel on their flight from Mexico to Oregon. But hummingbirds are beautiful and cute, so many Americans have put up feeders to deliver liquid sugar.
After the last bucardo (a wild goat species) died, scientists brought a clone to life, making the bucardo the first species to become de-extinct. The clone died after seven minutes, also making it the first species to go extinct twice.
Lace monitors dig into a termite mound to lay their eggs, the termites then reseal the mound keeping the eggs at a constant temperature. The lizard returns 9 months later to dig the eggs out so they can hatch.
Roar, the most dangerous movie ever made. The movie had 110 untrained lions, tigers, cheetahs, cougars and jaguars, which led to 70 cast and crew members being injured. The injuries ranged from broken bones to scalpings and gangrene.
An estimated 400–800 million tons of prey are annually killed by the global spider community which collectively weigh probably about 25 million tons.
Some octopuses will engage with you. They might reach out an arm and touch your hand. They will investigate an object you present to them, giving every impression of thinking about it as they do so. All the while, they will appear to watch you with their large, mobile eyes. ... In other words, an encounter with an octopus can sometimes leave you with the strong feeling that you've encountered another mind.
Wild horses in the Camargne in France - some conventional herds with alpha male and harem, and bachelor stallions without any mares - but also groups of mares with 2 stallions, who were lifelong friends - useful way to break free from low social status by co-operation
In 1921, researchers for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife stated categorically in a journal that "the one predatory animal" inspiring practically nothing "good" is the mountain lion, but recent research in the journal Conservation Letters credits the animal for saving the lives of many motorists by killing deer, thus tempering the current annual number (20,000) of driver-deer collisions. Even killing deer, mountain lions still trail pussycats as predators; researchers in Nature Communications in 2013 estimated that "free-ranging [U.S.] domestic cats" kill at least 1.4 billion birds and 6.9 billion small mammals annually.
Studies of other primates have shown that chimps are more aggressive than humans (they will hunt down monkeys in a pack, usually because a chimp female will give them sex in exchange for monkey meat). Bonobos are further down the empathy end of the friendliness spectrum - spend their time grooming, playing games and having sex (Billy Connolly was quoted as saying he wanted to come back as "half bonobo, half kiwi" - the latter because they spend about 20 hours a day asleep)
Researcher Patricia Brennan of Yale University told a conference in July that a duck's penis may vary in length from year to year--depending on their competition that year. Their penises waste away after each mating season and regrow, and Brennan found that they regrow longer if there are other males around. (Female ducks are known to have corkscrew-shaped vaginas, and thus a centimeter or two can make a big difference for success in mating.)
Oceanic squid live in the deep deep ocean where it's too dark to see if the other is a guy or a gal. So male squid leave packages of sperm on every squid they meet and hope for the best.
When female fruit flies hear male courtship songs, they turn on immune system genes, apparently getting ready for potential infections.
Penguin females will have sex with males other than their mates in exchange for precious nest stones. Some males will even bring extra stones afterwards, as a sort of performance bonus. First known observation of prostitution outside primates.
Chimps and Bonobos Empathy and Aggression
Studies of both chimps, which are famously aggressive, and bonobos, which are much more empathic. Both these primates have DNA that is nearly identical to that of humans. Argue that homo sapiens inherits both the violent competitive traits and the gentle ones. Bonobos greet colonies outside their own with grooming, playing games and having sex. So the trick is to understand how bonobo society managed to escape humanity's xenophobia and our tendency to discount the lives of our enemies.
Chimps can be machiavellian - capable of deception. In an experiment, a chimp was shown several boxes containing food, and another one with a snake in it. He led the other chimps to the box with the snake in it: they fled screaming, leaving him to enjoy the feast in peace
"Streamers," according to workers at the state-of-the-art solar plant in California's Mojave Desert, are birds that cross the path of the 300,000 garage-door-sized mirrors that magnify the sun's rays on their way to producing steam to power 140,000 homes. Those birds, instantly fried, vanish in plumes of smoke at the rate of perhaps one every two minutes, according to an August Associated Press dispatch from Ivanpah Dry Lake near the Nevada border. According to federal wildlife officials, the plant's bright light attracts insects, which then attract even more birds. The operator, BrightSource Energy, said there is no feasible way to protect the birds.
Auckland NZ has a bylaw making it a crime to feed wild/feral birds. A woman was fined $700 for feeding pigeons in her back yard.
In British India there was a little problem with cobras. The obvious solution was to put a bounty on them. The only problem was that the price for each cobra the British were offering was greater than the cost of breeding and raising a cobra. The result was people breeding tons of snakes to claim the bounty. When the government realized what was happening they scrapped the whole program. People raising the now worthless cobras set them loose. The end result was a big cobra problem.
Blind as a Bat
There are over 1200 species of bats in the world and not one of them is blind.
Animals That Can't Move Backwards
Emu and kangaroos can't move backwards. In fact, it's because they're always "moving forward" that they're on the official seal of Australia.
Not So Fast
Four villagers in northeast Kenya, angry that cheetahs were killing their goats, lay in wait one night in November and then chased down and captured the cheetahs. Cheetahs are regarded as the fastest mammals on Earth, but they lack endurance; Kenyans are marathon prodigies. Indeed, the cheetahs were captured only when they ran out of gas after about four miles of pursuit by the Kenyans, and were handed over alive, and exhausted, to the Kenyan Wildlife Service.
Stopping elephants raiding farmers' crops in Sri Lanka
Elephants do not like citrus of any kind. They will not approach a home or garden, no matter how food-filled it is, if it means passing through a row of citrus trees. So Project Orange Elephant's goal is to get as many local farmers as possible to plant orange trees around their home gardens to create a soft buffer and deter invading elephants. (And set up factories to process oranges into juice for sale.)
Rare Species of Animals
Biologists Studying Rare Species Have to Be Quick: Researchers learned from reports in early 2010 of a new monkey species in Myanmar, with a nose so recessed that it habitually collects rainfall and constantly sneezes. However, according to an October National Geographic dispatch, by the time scientists arrived to investigate, natives had eaten the monkey. (The sneezing makes them easy for hunters to detect.) (Researchers studying a rare species of Vietnamese lizard had an easier time in November. After learning of the species and rushing to Ba Ria-Vung Tau province, a team from La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif., found the lizards being routinely served in several restaurants' lunch buffets.)
Recurring Theme: From time to time, Buddhist groups attempt to improve their "karmic balance" by doing good deeds for Earth's animal cohabitants. (Previously, News of the Weird mentioned a California group's "freeing" fish by buying out a pet shop's inventory and liberating the "lucky" fish into the Pacific Ocean, where they were undoubtedly eaten almost immediately by larger fish.)
Animals and Languages
"Why is it that humans can learn language, and learn it so easily, yet no other species can be taught a language?" "No matter how hard you try to tempt chimpanzees with bananas, the overwhelming conclusion of 20-30 years of researchers teaching chimps sign language is how completely inept they are. Tracts have been written on this and claims that 'This chimp has 173 signs' but they're all nouns and requests for food."
Nursery For Baby Animals
In Congo, a nursery has been established for baby gorillas and chimps whose mothers had been killed for bush meat. Just as needy as human babies - constantly seeking cuddles and attention, so human helpers usually seen lugging them around in backpacks (cue cute photo). During the day the older ones are let loose in a small area of forest nearby where they could practice being wild animals.
Baby Animals Development
CHIMPANZEES have long been known for their ability to mimic humans. Now scientists have found that the mental development of baby chimps can even be more advanced than children of the same age. The chimps were reared by humans after being rejected by their mothers. One group was given 4-5 hours a day of individually tailored 'mothering' while the other chimps were given more basic human care. The scientists found that the cognitive performance at nine months of those which had received the extra care was significantly better than the other group. They also outperformed infants in orphanages in Greece and Romania and were similar to a typical American baby.
Whales have their own form of baby talk to communicate with offspring, scientists have found. Female cetaceans use a special language when in the presence of their own calves that they do not use with adults.The discovery was made by scientists studying the distinctive clicks that whales use to communicate when members of a group. They found distinctive patterns between mothers and calves.
Animals Using Tools and Planning
A chimp that makes piles of concrete rocks to later throw at zoo visitors is being cited as proof that the apes plan for future events. He collects rocks from the bottom of the moat around his enclosure before the zoo opens, and stores them in piles on the side of the island that faces the zoo's visitors. He also hacks pieces of concrete from the artificial rocks at the centre of his enclosure and adds them to the piles. It's very hard to stop him because he can always find new stones, and if he can't find them he manufactures them. Luckily since chimps don't have a good aim, and throw underarm, there haven't been any serious injuries.
Rhesus monkeys have always posed delicate problems in India, where they are both revered (by Hindu law) and despised (for damaging property and roaming the streets begging for food). In Delhi, the rhesus population has grown dramatically, aided by the Hindus who feed them, and streets and private property are increasingly fouled. However, Amar Singh's business is good. He owns 65 langurs (apes much more vicious than rhesus monkeys) and, for the equivalent of about $200 per month, periodically brings one or two by a client's house to urinate in the yard so that the rhesus monkeys will steer clear.
Binti, a gorilla at a zoo outside of Chicago who became a "bona fide hero" (according to newspaper accounts) by saving a 3-year-old boy who had fallen into the gorilla enclosure; Binti picked the boy up gently and carried him to a door where paramedics waited. There is often less to such accounts than meets the eye. What appear on the surface to be instances of insight, reflection, empathy or higher purpose frequently turn out to be a fairly simple learned behavior, of a kind that every sentient species from humans to earthworms exhibits all the time.
Penguins Falling Over Backwards Urban Legend
(It turned out to be an Urban(?) Legend, but it was a good story while it lasted) Penguins were supposedly falling over backwards when planes flew overhead - apparently because planes were a novelty in their breeding grounds penguins had not had time to adapt their behaviour, so they just kept moving head back and back and back as the plane flew over, and eventually toppled over - would have been an amusing effect in a large colony as domino effect cascaded. Someone actually got a grant (and the loan of some RAF helicopters) to study the phenomenon in Falklands (pilots probably just as bored as the penguins)(maybe they started the story in the first place) and found that the birds completely ignored the aircraft.
Dogs and cats, as well as wild animals searching for food sometimes show up with their heads caught in fences, buckets, or food containers (and, to avoid starvation, need to be freed by helpful humans). In a suburb of Adelaide, in March, a deadly Eastern brown snake turned up needing similar aid, but it being Australia, its head was stuck in a beer can.
Austraian blck kites spread bush fires (which flush out small mammals) by picking up burning sticks and dropping them in dry grass.
Protection Against Predators
A conservation biologist at Australia's University of New South Wales said in July that his team was headed to Botswana to paint eyeballs on cows' rear ends. It's a solution to the problem of farmers who are now forced to kill endangered lions to keep them away from their cows. However, the researchers hypothesize, since lions hunt by "stealth" (and tend to pass up kills if the the prey spots them), painting on eyeballs might trick the lions on to other prey. (For the same reason, woodcutters in India wear "face"-painted masks--backward--for protection against tigers.)
The importance of a des res
For crayfish, a spacious home is the only way to a females heart. Bigger is always better. Males live with as many females as they can squash into their coral shelters, so competition for large dens is fierce. Homeless bachelors spend most of their time looking to upgrade their real estate, and guys with big houses are too scared to leave.
Stories About Animal Revenge
Animal revenge - numerous stories of animals taking revenge on supposedly smarter humans:
Animal Revenge In Fiction
- Banjo Patterson wrote a hilarious short story called The Loaded Dog about guys in Outback town trying to get rid of a rabbit under the pub; tied a bomb to a mongrel dog and chucked him under the building - unfortunately he didn't like it there and ran under a brand new truck ...
Animal Friends Co-operation
Wild horses in the Camargne in France - some conventional herds with alpha male and harem, and bachelor stallions without any mares - but also groups of mares with 2 stallions, who were lifelong friends - useful way to break free from low social status by co-operation
Cloning Extinct Animals
Suggestion that should clone the extinct Tasmanian Tiger, but tweak genes to give it by 10% more muscle mass and so strength to see off dingoes etc
Botanist who trained monkey to climb up into forest canopy to get flower specimens. Once they were travelling along steep mountain path and saw specimen growing on a liana hanging down from path. "Go down" instructs botanist. The monkey looks at him , SHRUGS in contempt, and pulls up the liana.
New Years Eve 2019 group of German women set off 5 celebratory Chinese lanterns (bought off internet bc banned in G for last 10 years). When they landed they set fire to a zoo which incinerated 30 apes, gorillas and chimps.
Bird Feeding Behaviour Adapting to Modern Environments
British wagtails have developed a new feeding technique. They lurk near petrol station forecourt - when car pulls into pumps they dash out and pick off the insects impaled on the bumper and grille
All animals have instinctive behaviours, which make sense in the evolved environment. Cliff dwelling seagulls push out any rocks that fall into their nests; they retrieve any eggs that roll out. How do they decide what is a rock and what is an egg? Researchers found the gulls pushed out anything with sharp pointy corners. They identified rocks by feel, ignoring colour. But if an object was outside the nest they ignored shape, and simply retrieved anything that was same speckled brown colour of their eggs. So of course the sharp enquiring minds of the reearchers wanted to know how the birds would respond to a speckled brown cube. So put this evil "egg" in nest and this is what happens: first the gull pushes it out, because its got sharp edges. The it pulls it back into the nest because of the colour. This goes on forever; out of the nest and into the nest all day long. Looks stupid, but in natural environment, without mad scientists, the simple rules work perfectly: sharp-equals-stone, speckled-equals-egg.
Crows are Smart
The house crow population reached ten pairs; enough to constitute a significant threat to the Socotra specials. Attempts to trap them consistently failed; crows are smart. So the Socotra Archipelago Conservation and Development Programme, backed by Birdlife International, came up with a brainwave: get the children to do it. They offered a reward to any child bringing in a crow's nest full of young. It worked and the last few birds have just been shot.
More Smart Birds
British researchers, writing in the journal Evolution in November, described a species of birds in Africa's Kalahari Desert that appear to acquire food by running a "protection racket" for other birds. The biologists hypothesize that because drongo birds hang out at certain nests and squawk loudly when predators approach, the nest's residents grow more confident about security and thus can roam further away when they search for food - but with the hunters gone, the drongos scoop up any food left behind. (The researchers also found that drongos are not above staging false alarms to trick birds into leaving their food unguarded.)
Two orphaned chough chicks have survived after a foster father (another clough) stepped in to rear them. For three weeks he fed them while they were in their nest on a cliff on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, and then taught them to fly. "We are not sure that this behaviour had ever been recorded in choughs before," an RSPB officer said. The bird may have been involved in the death of the father, in a fight over territory. It is thought that the female may have pined to death for her mate of 14 years. Choughs are on the amber conservation list and there are fewer than 500 breeding pairs in the UK.
Bird Mating Behaviour
Bird called the Grey Shrike which mates for life, but the boys also slip off for a bit on the side - his mates all get fed, but the 'wife' gets (low-cal) insects; the mistress gets lizards and small birds (diamonds for the lover; cubic zircons for the wife) (BTW do you know difference between a Jewish wife and an Italian wife? An Italian wife gets fake diamonds and real orgasms)
Biologist Michelle Solensky, of Ohio's College of Wooster, reported late last year in the journal Animal Behavior that male monarch butterflies are such calculating inseminators that they even decide the optimal level of sperm necessary for reproductive advantage. While injecting fluid, the male can "selectively" determine how much of it will be fertility cells, depending on how much residual sperm the female holds from previous suitors (and thus to always inject more than the other guys did). Solensky told New Scientist magazine that the penis acts as a kind of "dip stick" to check the quantity already present. [New Scientist, 1-7-09]
IgNobel prize to guy in Rotterdam working in museum with high glass windows which birds regularly crashed into. One day an unusually loud thud sent him outside to see a dead mallard duck lying on ground with another drake standing beside it. To his amazement the survivor mounted the dead bird and proceeded to mate enthusiastically with it, stopping only when chased away. He wrote it up in biological journal as first known case of homosexual necrophilia in mallards (IgNobles are awarded for research that couldn't, or shouldn't, be replicated)
Birdwatchers and Twitchers
British birdwatcher reported sighting rare Scandinavian robin (they get caught in storms; 15hr flight; pretty stuffed when arrive) - unfortunately his cat had just eaten it
Animal Status Symbols
Not just humans who covet status symbols A huge lobster guarding a watch ( a Citizen pulsar, still going) which had been in water at least 3 yrs
Ducks and Ducklings
Sideswipe pic of mother duck leading her ducklings. First pic she's stepping on to grating over storm drain, followed by her brood. Second pic she's across, she only has 1 duckling left and she's looking down the grating.
Animal Delayed Gratification
Delayed gratification - can teach orangutan to pick smaller bowl of food (for later reward) but not a chimp
Animals Can Count
Animals can count up to about 4 - (obvious survival value if know local lion pride has 4 members and you can only see 3) We know that even pre-language babies can count because they will stare longer at a 'surprising' number ie if they see 2 dolls put behind a screen but only 1 there when screen removed. Birds like crows can count - they will watch a farmer hide in ambush to shoot them - can't fool them by having 3 men go in and 2 come out, but you can bluff them if 4 go in and 3 come out
Troop of baboons first studied 20 years ago - strongest and most aggressive males controlled a tourist resort garbage dump, where they managed to eat tainted meat which killed them. Left behind the females and the less aggressive males. A cultural swing towards affection and grooming was seen. Even though original survivors have died, replacements still maintain peaceful culture, suggesting that they learn the advantages from peers and elders
The blowfly looks and behaves a lot like its housefly cousin but has a distinctive blue, green, or black metallic sheen. While they are best known as noisy pests, blowflies can actually help solve murder cases and repair nasty injuries. Because female blowflies lay eggs on fresh cadavers almost immediately, forensic scientists can look for deposited eggs and newborn larvae to determine when a person died. In medicine, the fly's young offspring are sometimes used in "maggot therapy" to prevent infection of open wounds by selectively consuming dead tissue and secreting enzymes that kill bacteria.
Hedgehogs unique in that they don't bother to stop moving to defecate - so long tapered droppings up to 10m long, sometimes irridescent with chitin
Cloning Extinct Animals
Should scientists use Genetically Modified parasite to kill off possums? (70million possums in New Zealand predate young pohutokawa trees, birds eggs; infect deer and cattle with bovine TB) Which is the greater evil - destruction of native environment or a GM organism, presumably after testing and with appropriate safeguards
Lighter Conversation Starters
What separates us from all other animals is that we don't use our tongues to clean our genitals
Eagles may soar but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines
Save the whales - collect the full set
He thinks he's a goat - he's been like that since he was a kid
My cockatiel died - we were playing badminton
Why do elephants have big ears? Noddy won't pay the ransom
Little boy in park getting pissed off at all pigeons hanging around "Fuck off Fuck off" he cries. A LOL (Little Old Lady) comes up to him and tells him quietly and calmly explains "They're just after your sandwiches. If you don't want them around, just say "Shoo! Shoo! - Then they'll fuck off"