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Dogs Are Not Quite Colour Blind

Dogs Are Not Quite Colour Blind

Despite what you may have heard in the past, the vision of a dog is not simply black and white. In fact dogs just like their human owners have multi coloured vision. The only difference is they cannot see as many different colours as their handlers. The reason for this is because the retina of a dog has only two types of colour detecting cells (cones).

In contrast the human retina for the most has three types of cones which allows us to see more wavelengths along the visible spectrum.

Jay Neitz of the University of Washington found that the colour perception of the canine is very similar to a red-green colour blind person. These people just like dogs only have two cones with which to detect colour.

Dogs perceive colour quite differently to humans who have normal vision. Dogs perceive red as darkish brown, whilst green orange and yellow all appear to be yellowish in colour. Something which seems to be blue green to humans such as a pool of water or the ocean just seems grey to a dog whilst purple objects appear to be blue.

The research by Dr. Neitz suggests that just like colourblind people, dogs may use certain types of cues to tell one colour from another.

“A lot of the time there are good cues to help them figure it out; for example, red objects tend to be darker than green objects. So, if it’s a dark apple, a red-green color-blind person would know that it’s probably a red one, and if it’s a lighter apple, it may be a Granny Smith.”Dr. Neitz said

Despite the fact they may be colour blind it does not mean a human’s eye sight is better than their canine counterpart. Researchers have found that dog sight has evolved in such a manner that they are able to see clearly even when light is absent.

Image Credit:DOGS VIZSLA by Robert Hall, on Flickr

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Chimps Love Indian And African Music

Chimps Love Indian And African Music

If you are ever in a record store and you come across a group of chimpanzees you may well find them huddles around the Classical Indian section according to a study which tested the musical taste of mankind’s cousin.

The study found that whilst chimpanzees preferred to avoid the strong beats that are associated with western music they did like Akan tunes from West Africa and Indian ragas.

The study co author Frans de Wall of Emory University said the objective was not to find a preference for different cultures’ music however the researchers used music from Japan India and Africa to see the response of primates to specific acoustic characteristics.

Mr. De Waal and his associates said that previous study’s only tested the reaction of chimpanzees to specifically Western music. However music from other cultures may have fundamentally different properties. For example a typical western song may have one strong beat for every three weak beats. In contrast an Indian raga might have 1 strong beat for as many as 31 weak beats in a long rhythmic cycle.

In past studies, where the focus was Western music, researchers found that the primates preferred silence to any sort of music. For the current study researchers turned to other sorts of music to see if the same trait persisted.

For 12 consecutive mornings, the researches played 40 minutes of music in the outdoor enclosure of a group of adult chimpanzees. They found that the chimps gravitated to areas where it was possible to listen to the African and Indian music the best. However when researchers played Japanese or Western music with a strong beat, the chimps would flee.

“Chimpanzees may perceive the strong, predictable rhythmic patterns as threatening, as chimpanzee dominance displays commonly incorporate repeated rhythmic sounds such as stomping, clapping and banging objects,” Mr. de Waal said.

Image Credit:Chimp Chimpanzee Ape by Doug Wheller, on Flickr

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The Weird Mating Habits of The Koala Bear

The Weird Mating Habits of The Koala Bear

Koalas live a pretty idyllic life and spend up to 22 hours a day sleeping, so the obvious question becomes how on earth do they reproduce?
Koalas are solitary animals that can be found throughout the eucalypt woodlands of Australia. Each bear sets up home in an area that can range to just a few acres or in some cases hundreds of acres. Koala bears rarely run in to each other and on the odd occasion when two territorial males cross each other’s pass things can get kind of ugly.

“The fights that the males have are pretty ferocious up in the trees. We think that, by and large, the fighting is a really significant biological event for them, and that’s probably why they are not so common.” said Bill Ellis, a koala researcher with the University of Queensland in Australia.
The mating season takes place during the spring and summer and at that time interactions between animals do rise but not by much Mr. Ellis says. During the mating season roughly between midnight and 4 A.M. the male koala makes loud mating calls which are known as bellows.

In the past scientists used to believe that the most dominant male was able to mate with all the females who would seek out the dominant male by seeking out his tell tale bellow. However when Dr. Ellis took a closer look at the paternity of newborn bears in the wild they found out female koalas actually mate with a different male every years and the females use the male bellow to search for a unique mate.

Whilst it is not completely clear, scientists reckon that when a female listen to a bellow she finds attractive she will then seek out the male who made the call in his home range. When the male finds a female in his territory he will try to approach her in a tree.

Researchers still have no idea how a female decides whether she is interested in a specific male or not however if it turns out that she doesn’t want to mate with a particular male she will cry out. Males are much larger than females and they can at times try and force themselves on unwilling females who will respond by either biting, scratching and climbing away or even jumping to another tree.

Ellis adds that females seem to reject males successfully more often than they accept them in the wild. However when female does accept a particular business, no time is wasted and the pair quickly get down to business.

“It’s not a particularly gentle process,” Mr. Ellis said.

The male mounts the female from behind and bites the back of her neck before copulating with her very briefly. Like most other marsupials including kangaroos the male koala has a double headed penis. The female koala has two vagina and a third vagina forms at a later stage for the process of birthing and closes back up after.

Image Credit:Koala by John White, on Flickr

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Scientists Discover Ancient Zebra Migration Route

Scientists Discover Ancient Zebra Migration Route

Conservationists have observed a 300 mile zebra migration in the grasslands and floodplains of Southern Africa, which is the longest known trek of any land mammal.

The discovery offers an astonishing glimpse of how wildlife is able to endure despite declining populations.

“We’re living in an age where the great migrations are declining. Songbirds in the United States are not migrating like they used to. Large mammals in southern Africa are declining. It’s fascinating to discover this one migration that nobody’s known about until now, and especially in such a well-known, well-studied animal.” said Robin Naidoo, a researcher for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the lead author of the new study.

For the purposes of the study which was published last month, Dr. Naidoo and his team collared eight female Burchell zebras for two years with GPS tracking devices. The eight sample zebras were part of a population of thousands of zebras that have travelled back and forth between Botswana and Namibia over a number of months. The zebras travelled for 300 miles and traced a migratory route that was marked by food supply, water, wet and dry season, which the authors claim could well be an ancient route.

What the researchers found most surprising for the researchers were that the zebras travelled along a straight line point to point, and the route is longer than any of the routes travelled by previous record holders, the mammals of the Serengeti.

Currently the most serious threats to migrating wildlife is the construction of guarded borders between different countries as well as highways and railroad tracks that stop animals from moving and end up changing their environments. According to a study published in 2011, there was a 15000 year old zebra migration in Botswana that simply vanished following the construction of fences back in 1968. The migration reappeared again when the fences were removed in 2004.

The new study which was a collaboration suggests that in spite of human intervention, some migratory traditions can persevere.

Image Credit:zebra by Timothy P. Icture, on Flickr

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Koala Bears Hug Trees To Stay Cool

Koala Bears Hug Trees To Stay Cool

The mere mention of the Koala bear immediately conjures up the image of an adorable creature hugging a tree whilst cocking its head to one side.

According to a new study, scientists have worked out why the Australian marsupial is such an avowed tree hugger. Simply put the tree trunks help keep the koala bear cool.

Study co-author Michael Kearney, who is an ecologist at Australia’s University of Melbourne says hugging trees is a useful way of getting rid of excess heat during a hot day.

Tree huggers

Nobody has previously asked the question of why koalas hug trees given they spend so much time up in them, where they sleep and munch on leaves. In the past people used to believe they were simply taking a break in a more stable spot after eating a meal in the branches Dr. Kearney said.

As a result the discovery came as a surprise to Dr. Kearney and his doctoral candidate student Natalie Briscoe who were actually trying to work out how koalas on French Island very near Melbourne would respond as the Australian continent heats up as a result of climate change. For most of the year they region is cool however during the summer the temperature can regularly spike above 40 degrees Celsius.

Ms. Briscoe measured both shade and wind levels but was unable to find any particular trends. She then pointed an infrared thermometer at the tree trunks the koalas were hugging and found they were considerably cooler than the ambient temperature of the air, sometimes by as much as 5 degrees Celsius.

Ms. Briscoe also found that koalas clung to acacia trees despite the fact their normal diet is eucalyptus leaves.

“As it got hotter the koalas went farther down the trees and started to really hug onto the tree trunks. That seemed strange to us until we figured out that the trees are a bit cooler.” Dr. Kearney said

Stay cool

Like dogs, and a few other mammals, koala bears pant in order to stay cool, this lets evaporated moisture in their mouths carry heat away from their bodies.

When the team analysed koala bear heat transfer they found that the bears save half of the water that would be used for panting by hugging trees instead.

Most of the water koalas have comes from their diet, but because the eucalyptus leaf is spiked with a toxin the bears are only able to eat a limited amount before suffering harm from the toxin Dr. Kearney said.

This means hugging trees is critical to the survival of a koala bear on a hot day, enabling them to cool down without wasting water through panting.

Image Credit:Koala Bear by Trev & Chris Barre, on Flickr

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Fall In Pelican Population May Signal El Nino

Fall In Pelican Population May Signal El Nino

A success story for endangered species seems to be in trouble it is though because of El Nino

This year the California brown pelican completely failed to breed at their Mexican nesting sites according to surveys. Scientists are being very cautious with the reason and are avoiding citing any one single cause for the decline in numbers of fuzzy headed baby pelicans. There was a similar drop however during a previous El Nino event.

Dr. Daniel Anderson of the University of California Davis has seen this phenomenon before and says other reasons could include habitat loss and overfishing of sardines. However this year’s decline is the biggest such drop in baby pelican numbers Dr. Anderson has seen in nearly 50 years.

El Nino has yet to be officially declared by scientists though there is a 78 per cent probability of some kind of climatic event occurring by the summer.

The behavior of pelicans suggest they are already responding to a developing El Nino this year and whilst the weather event has still to develop into its full blown format the behavior of birds certainly suggests that it is likely to happen.

How warm water hurts baby birds

El Nino is a natural weather event where cool water in the Eastern Pacific Ocean is displaced by warmer water which ends up disrupting the population of fish. During previous such events the Brown Pelican tracked the shifting food supply and flocked to a more northerly fishing ground according to the research.

More data is needed to link the decline in breeding to El Nino.

The small number of hatchlings indicate there is a lack of food for adults at their breeding ground in Baja. This year if the birds arrived at their breeding grounds at all, many simply abandoned their nests according to surveys.

The breeding numbers have sunk to about 1 per cent of their average.

Expect a rebound

Pelicans have a long life span and can breed for decades, so it is not such a major problem when breeding fails over a single year and is unlikely to have a significant impact on the population. However the effect of El Nino on fish populations could result in a second consecutive year of breeding failure for the pelican. The birds require between 100 to 150 pounds of fish per hatchling over a period of five months.

At one time the Brown Pelican was critically endangered and very close to extinction as a result of the effects of DDT on their eggs. In the 1960’s scientists realized the bird’s eggs were unusually thin and attributed it to the pesticide. After the United States banned DDT in the 1970’s the population recovered.

Image Credit:Pelican Trio by Ken Slade, on Flickr

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Chinese Military Adopt Monkeys To Combat Bird Menace

Chinese Military Adopt Monkeys To Combat Bird Menace

During war time on more than one occasion animals have answered the call of duty. Mongolian horses for example transported Genghis Khan and his hordes into battle. Elephants carried Hannibal and his troops over the Alps into Italy and the dogs of war are faithful servants playing the role of sentries, trackers and dog scounts.

The macaque monkey is the latest conscript into China’s People’s Liberation Army and serves to protect an air base from the presence of birds according to a report in the Washington Post.

The air base has long suffered a flock of birds which can cause catastrophic accidents when they get sucked into engine. In a 2009 passenger plane crash into the Hudson River, a bird strike was blamed and was just one of countless accidents they have caused.

Military personnel have trained the monkeys to climb the air base trees and destroy any birds nests they find. The airbase has tried a variety of strategies to combat the menace including firecrackers, scarecrows, and nets all of which were to no avail because the birds simply returned to their nests days later.

The monkeys are certainly earning their keep the Chinese military says. By whistle command the primates climb up the trees and destroy the birds nest and so far the troupe of macaques have destroyed over 180 nests and the birds so far have not returned.

Image Credit:Backlit macaque family by Tambako The Jaguar, on Flickr

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Dogs Have Growls For Every Occasion

Dogs Have Growls For Every Occasion

When a dog talks to you the growl can mean many different things. A new study suggests that dogs have different growls for different occasions and what is more surprising is that other dogs can tell the difference.

An example of this is when a dog is playing and makes a growl, that sounds quite difference to when a dog is growling in reaction to a threatening stranger. When scientists played back the recorded sound of these two types of growls to other dogs, those dogs behaved differently depending on which growl they heard.

Peter Pongracz of Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary says what is particularly interesting about the finding is there was proof that dogs understand one another through vocalization. A few other species have hinted at this ability including monkeys, however it is largely unproven in the animal world.

“We’ve researched a lot about how dogs communicate with humans, and how humans communicate with dogs, but how dogs communicate within the species is fairly new,” Pongracz said.

The researchers recorded growls from as many as 20 fully mature dogs in three different context. In one situation the dog was kept on a leash and given a meaty bone. In another situation the dog was recorded playing tug of war with its owner and in a third situation the researchers had another dog try and snag the bone from the owner which would result in a guard growls. The final scenario involved holding the dog on a leash whilst an adult male stranger approached silently, continually staring at the dog which provoked a threatening growl from most of the dogs.

The scientists recorded growls from 20 adult dogs in the three different situations. During the playful situation, the dog and its owner played tug of war. In another situation, the dog was kept on a leash and given a large, meaty bone. Then the researchers had another dog try to snag the bone, triggering the meat owner to react with a “guard” growl. (Both dogs were held on leashes by their owners, and no dogs were hurt). Finally, the owner stood behind the dog and held its leash while a 25-year-old male stranger approached slowly and silently, continually staring at the dog. This prompted a threatening growl from many of the dogs.

Mr. Pongracz says there was a major difference between the play growl and the two other growls which he says the researchers called agnostic. Play growls tend to be higher pitched and shorter in length. However what was most interesting is the researchers were unable to find significant acoustic differences between the two agnostic growls.

Whilst the scientific equipment and the researchers were unable to tell the difference, the dogs seemed to be able too. When the scientist replayed their recordings to see if other dogs reacted any differently they found that the growl associated with food guarding was far more effective than any of the other growls at deterring other pooches who were thinking about stealing an unattended bone.

Image Credit:Growling Dog by Gavin Chin, on Flickr

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How To Calculate The Age of Your Dog

How To Calculate The Age of Your Dog

It’s a real shame that dogs age so much quicker than humans as any pet owner will tell you. One attempt at measuring the lifespan of a dog is to use the dog year to quantify the difference between humans and dogs.

The usual technique for calculating dog years is simply to multiply the dogs age in human years by seven. This would mean a one year pooch would be 7 years old and a 2 year old dog would really be 14. This method basically assumes that humans have an average lifespan of 70 years and dogs have an average lifespan of 10 years.

This method however has a number of flaws says Stanley Coren who is a professor at the University of British Columbia and author of several books. The most obvious problem is 70 years old is no longer the average human lifespan. Whilst the lifespan of a dog varies and depends on its breed and size.

The key flaw Mr. Coren maintains is that a 1 year old dog is sexually mature and able to reproduce which cannot be said for the 7 year old human child.

As a result Mr. Coren has come up with his own technique to calculate the age of a dog in terms of human years. A one year old dog is similar to a 16 year old person, as 2 years of age the dog is similar to a 24 year old adult and for the next three years after, until the dog reaches 5 each additional year is the equivalent of five human years.

After reaching five years old, to calculate the age of the animal, its size must be considered in the equation Mr. Coren says. Smaller dogs tend to have longer life spans than larger ones. To take this into account Mr. Coren things that for small dogs each additional year equals four dog years for smaller pooches and for larger breeds an additional year is six dog years.

Under this system an eight year old Miniature poodle would be 51 dog years old whilst an 8 year old Great Dane would be 54 dog years old.

Image Credit:Charlie the Boxer Dog by SueShane on Flickr

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Adopting An Animal Can Improve Quality of Life

Adopting An Animal Can Improve Quality of Life

An increasing number of studies show that having a pet and in particular dogs means owners not only get a great companion but have an improved quality of life.

Dogs have a long history of making their owners feel good, and can have an extremely calming effect.

Peggy McCardle from the National Institute of Health says there is growing evidence that pets have psychological and physical health benefits.

According to research from the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, pet owners have a lower probability to developing heart disease and have lower cholesterol and blood pressure irrespective of income levels, body mass index or smoking habits.

In the past other studies have suggested that dogs are able to sniff out diseases ranging from certain types of cancer to diabetes related health problems.

Queens University in Belfast undertook a study of 138 pet owners with diabetes and found that two thirds of dogs experienced a behavioral reaction when their owners underwent a dangerous drop in blood sugar.

Pet therapy

Petting an animal has already been proven to help those fighting sickness or battling depression. Back in 2008 the American Heart Association undertook a study which found that senior citizens as well as patients who recently underwent surgery had faster recovery rates and responded better to treatment if they had contact with dogs.

“Pet therapy is a well received mode of helping many varied groups, for example hospitalized youth, elderly people and HIV-AIDS patients. Such benefits as decreased blood pressure, decreased heart rates and decreased feelings of neglect and hopelessness have all been well documented scientifically.” said Danny Joffe, a medical director at the Calgary Animal Referral and Emergency Centre in Alberta, Canada.

Mr. Joffe added that pet therapy can be successful when other types of therapy fail. One example he cited was of an elderly lady who had been institutionalized and had not spoken for many years. Despite many attempts by her hospice staff to get her to communicate, nothing seemed to work. After interaction with a canine therapy group visitation dog she spoke to her caregiver and said “very nice dog.”

University of Missouri-Columbia researchers undertook a study which suggests single adults and women are less likely to have to deal with depression when they own a dog. The study also suggested there is no downside to owning a dog because it did not add to the owners depression.

Image Credit:Whistle Boy By Will Marlow on Flickr

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