As a last step, he fully covered the wound with the chewed leaves

Saturday, May 4th, 2024

There is widespread evidence of such self-medication in non-human animals — whole-leaf swallowing, bitter-pith chewing, and fur rubbing in African great apes, orangutans, white handed gibbons, and several other species of monkeys — but there had been only one report of active wound treatment in non-human animals, namely in chimpanzees, until scientists spotted the active self-treatment of a facial wound with a biologically active plant by a male Sumatran orangutan:

We observed a male Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) who sustained a facial wound. Three days after the injury he selectively ripped off leaves of a liana with the common name Akar Kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria), chewed on them, and then repeatedly applied the resulting juice onto the facial wound. As a last step, he fully covered the wound with the chewed leaves. Found in tropical forests of Southeast Asia, this and related liana species are known for their analgesic, antipyretic, and diuretic effects and are used in traditional medicine to treat various diseases, such as dysentery, diabetes, and malaria. Previous analyses of plant chemical compounds show the presence of furanoditerpenoids and protoberberine alkaloids, which are known to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and other biological activities of relevance to wound healing. This possibly innovative behavior presents the first systematically documented case of active wound treatment with a plant species know to contain biologically active substances by a wild animal and provides new insights into the origins of human wound care.

Orangutan Facial Wound Healing

Skeins of geese gain a 70% range advantage by flying in formation

Wednesday, May 1st, 2024

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingSwarms of drones, David Hambling explains (in Swarm Troopers), might follow the model of flocks of geese to fly further together:

Large birds are often seen flying in skeins, V-shaped formations, with the birds spaced at regular intervals.

[…]

The tip of a wing, whether it is a goose or an Airbus 380, generates a whirlpool of air known as a tip vortex. This produces a downwash beneath the wings and an upwash just outside the wing. The vortex is actually a miniature tornado that may contain airspeeds of 100mph and may be about the same size of the span of the wing that produces it. The vortex from an airliner can be dangerous, as it is strong enough to flip a light aircraft right over. Close to the ground, the vortex from an aircraft taking off may persist for more than a minute.

[…]

By flying just to the side and behind, a following goose gets the benefit of the updraft provided by its companion. This gives it free lift, equivalent to flying downhill.

[…]

Naturalists’ estimate that skeins of geese gain a 70% range advantage by flying in formation rather than individually. A detailed aerodynamic study by the US Air Force Air Vehicles Directorate found that formations of nine aircraft could achieve an 80% increase in range over the distance they could fly alone.

This zig-zagging slows it down

Wednesday, April 24th, 2024

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingSwarms of drones, David Hambling explains (in Swarm Troopers), might follow the model of pack-hunters like wolves:

Wolves are unusual among carnivores in that, in some areas, they prey largely on animals larger than themselves. Not only are moose and bison several times bigger than wolves, they are also faster. But a pack of wolves can bring down a large prey animal by working in a pack and using a set of heuristics — simple hunting tactics from a combination of instinct and experience.

[…]

During the approach, each wolf moved towards the prey until it reached a certain distance; it then moved away from any other wolves that were the same distance. The net effect was that the wolf pack spread out and enveloped the prey. If the prey tries to circle around, the pack keeps homing on it, and in simulations the prey often ended up running towards one of the pursuers and was “ambushed” by it. Even though the prey may be faster than the wolves, it keeps turning to get away from the nearest wolf. This zig-zagging slows it down so that another member of the pack travelling in a straight line can catch it.

Harris hawks provide another model:

Harris hawks are medium-sized hawks native to the Americas, found from the southwestern US to Chile and Argentina, which use a variety of approaches to attack prey. They are among the few birds of prey that work cooperatively, often in family groups of four to six birds. The most common tactic is a simultaneous attack with multiple Harris hawks diving in from different directions; a rabbit or other prey may dodge the first hawk or two before getting picked up by the third or fourth.

When prey goes to ground, the hawks switch tactics. The birds perch around the cover where their target has hidden, surrounding the prey, and then take turns attempting to penetrate the cover. As soon as the prey is flushed out, the surrounding birds swoop in and take it.

Finally, Harris hawks also carry out “relay attacks” in which multiple birds swoop down one after the other, each chasing the prey for a short distance. As it escapes one hawk, the next one in the flock takes over. Researchers have recorded up to twenty swoops in one chase over half a mile before the exhausted prey was finally taken.

At first, they thought it was blood from one of the sperm whales

Saturday, March 23rd, 2024

During a tourist excursion in Bremer Canyon, a whale-watching hotspot off the coast between Albany and Hopetoun, scientists witnessed a pod of sperm whales forming a “rosette” — that is, forming a circle with their heads together — as orcas attacked, before unleashing their defense defecation:

They described seeing a “cloud of diarrhea” permeate the water, and this rarely seen defense mechanism seemed to help the sperm whale pod escape what could have been a fatal attack by at least 30 killer whales, ABC News Australia reported.

[…]

As the event unfolded, onlookers noticed a large, “dark bubble” pop up to the water’s surface. At first, they thought it was blood from one of the sperm whales, potentially a small calf. But when the team later reviewed footage of the plume, they realized it was actually whale poop.

“Because [a] sperm whale’s diet consists mostly of squid, they actually have this really reddish colored poo,” she said.

Modern dogs have a bigger neocortex

Wednesday, December 13th, 2023

Because domestication was relatively recent, modern dog breeds live alongside ancient breeds, making comparison possible:

“About 80 percent of the dogs living on the planet today are what’s known as village dogs. These are free-ranging animals that live as human commensals. So they’re living within human society, but they’re not pets,” Hecht said.

Some initial findings from the lab include the discovery of neurological differences in dog breeds, including that premodern dogs on a whole have larger amygdala — the part of the brain that controls emotional processing and memory. Such heightened environmental-monitoring skills would come in handy for dogs deciding which humans to steal scraps from and which to avoid.

Modern dogs have a bigger neocortex — the part of the brain that controls motor function, perception, and reasoning. It may play a part in modern dogs’ increased behavioral flexibility, or ability to adapt to new environments.

Hecht’s lab connects personality and skill differences in dogs to six different parts of the brain: the regions controlling drive and reward; olfaction and taste; spatial navigation; social communication and coordination; fight or flight; and olfaction and vision

[…]

More than breed itself, pathways are impacted by a dog’s head shape and size. For example, Hecht’s lab has found that bigger dogs have larger neocortices than their smaller counterparts, and therefore generally are more trainable and less anxious. Dogs bred for their narrow skulls may see that impact their behavior.

“It stands to reason that if you’re manipulating the shape of a skull, you’re going to be manipulating the shape of the brain,” Hecht said.

Bullying was considered a virtue

Monday, October 2nd, 2023

Elon Musk by Walter IsaacsonWalter Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography explains that when Elon was twelve he was taken by bus to a wilderness survival camp, known as a veldskool:

“It was a paramilitary Lord of the Flies,” he recalls. The kids were each given small rations of food and water, and they were allowed — indeed encouraged — to fight over them. “Bullying was considered a virtue,” his younger brother Kimbal says. The big kids quickly learned to punch the little ones in the face and take their stuff. Elon, who was small and emotionally awkward, got beaten up twice. He would end up losing ten pounds.

Near the end of the first week, the boys were divided into two groups and told to attack each other. “It was so insane, mind-blowing,” Musk recalls. Every few years, one of the kids would die. The counselors would recount such stories as warnings. “Don’t be stupid like that dumb fuck who died last year,” they would say. “Don’t be the weak dumb fuck.”

Another heartwarming childhood story:

The Musk family kept German Shepherd dogs that were trained to attack anyone running by the house. When he was six, Elon was racing down the driveway and his favorite dog attacked him, taking a massive bite out of his back. In the emergency room, when they were preparing to stitch him up, he resisted being treated until he was promised that the dog would not be punished. “You’re not going to kill him, are you?” Elon asked. They swore that they wouldn’t. In recounting the story, Musk pauses and stares vacantly for a very long time. “Then they damn well shot the dog dead.”

And another:

“If you have never been punched in the nose, you have no idea how it affects you the rest of your life,” he says.

[…]

They came up from behind, kicked him in the head, and pushed him down a set of concrete steps. “They sat on him and just kept beating the shit out of him and kicking him in the head,” says Kimbal, who had been sitting with him. “When they got finished, I couldn’t even recognize his face. It was such a swollen ball of flesh that you could barely see his eyes.” He was taken to the hospital and was out of school for a week. Decades later, he was still getting corrective surgery to try to fix the tissues inside his nose.

[…]

After the school fight, Errol sided with the kid who pummeled Elon’s face. “The boy had just lost his father to suicide, and Elon had called him stupid,” Errol says. “Elon had this tendency to call people stupid. How could I possibly blame that child?”

When Elon finally came home from the hospital, his father berated him. “I had to stand for an hour as he yelled at me and called me an idiot and told me that I was just worthless,” Elon recalls. Kimbal, who had to watch the tirade, says it was the worst memory of his life. “My father just lost it, went ballistic, as he often did. He had zero compassion.”

The girl’s father beat the beaver to death

Friday, July 14th, 2023

A rabid beaver bit a young girl while she was swimming in a northeast Georgia lake:

Kevin Beucker, field supervisor for Hall County Animal Control, told WDUN-AM that the beaver bit the girl on Saturday while she was swimming off private property in the northern end of Lake Lanier near Gainesville.

The girl’s father beat the beaver to death, Beucker said.

Don McGowan, supervisor for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division, told WSB-TV that a game warden who responded described the animal as “the biggest beaver he’s ever seen.” The warden estimated it at 50 or 55 pounds (23 or 25 kilograms), McGowan said.

The beaver later tested positive for rabies at a state lab.

[…]

State wildlife biologists said beaver attacks are rare. They said the last one they remember in Lake Lanier was 13 years ago.

That’s not nearly as rare as I would have expected.

Florida county under quarantine after giant African land snail spotted

Tuesday, June 20th, 2023

Part of Florida’s Broward County is under quarantine after giant African land snail spotted:

Florida’s agriculture officials have contended with the giant African land snail before, and in the past referred to it as “one of the most damaging” mollusk subtypes in the world. The snail is unusually large, growing to be as long as 8 inches as an adult, and can procreate in enormous quantities as it lays thousands of eggs at a time. It poses significant threats to vegetation, consuming at least 500 different types of plants as well as paint and stucco. In addition to causing property damage, the snails also pose serious health risks for humans, as they carry a parasite called rat lungworm that can cause meningitis.

Officials set a quarantine order for Pasco County, about half an hour north of the city of Tampa, last summer, after confirming at least one sighting of the invasive snail species. More than 1,000 giant African land snails were captured there over the course of several weeks, said agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried at the time, and most were found alive.

The giant snails, which, authorities believe, likely arrived in Florida when someone brought it home to the U.S. as a pet, are notoriously difficult to eradicate and getting rid of them entirely can take years. Florida’s agriculture department has recorded only two instances where the snail was fully eradicated, since infestations were first reported in the state in the 1960s.

As it turned and ran the ice axe fell out of his head

Friday, January 6th, 2023

Clint Adams was mountain goat hunting on Alaska’s Baranof Island in October with his friend, Matt Ericksen, his girlfriend, Melody Orozco, and their guide, when he heard the guide yell three words that nobody ever wants to hear in bear country:

“Oh, fuck. Run!”

By the time Adams realized what was happening, his guide was already running past him and reaching for the .375 H&H bolt-action rifle that was slung over his shoulder. Adams’ own rifle was strapped to his pack, and the only weapon at hand was the ice axe he’d been using to claw his way up the mountain. When the big boar chased after the guide and passed within arm’s reach of Adams, he took the ice axe and swung with both hands, burying the pointy end in the bear’s skull just behind its ear.

[…]

Adams then watched as the bear tackled the guide from behind, and the two rolled down to a flat spot below. The guide was on his back trying to shoulder the rifle as the eight- to nine-foot boar reared back on its hind legs. That’s when Adams saw that the axe was still lodged in the bear’s head.

Adams is 6’6” and weighs 285 pounds.

The impaled bear then reared up over the guide, who shouldered his rifle and fired a shot straight up into the air. Adams says he distinctly remembers seeing the muzzle blast ruffle the bear’s fur. The shot spooked the bear just enough for it to step back and hesitate. At this point, Ericksen drew the .357 revolver strapped to his chest and fired three shots at the bear through the brush.

The boar charged the guide again, and the guide leveled his rifle and shot a second time. Ericksen fired two more rounds from his pistol. Adams says they still don’t know if any of those shots even hit the bear, but they all kept screaming and eventually the bear ran off. They never saw the bear again, and although the guide reported the incident, Adams has no idea if the bear died or not. He did, however, get his ice axe back.

“After that second shot [from the guide], the bear looped down and got level with me about 30 yards away,” Adams says. “We’re making a ton of noise at that point, and it bluff charged once or twice. It took two steps forward, two steps back, and as it turned and ran the ice axe fell out of his head.”

[…]

Adams also says the whole experience opened his eyes to how gunshots help stop a charging bear. He says that because they were in dense brush in tight quarters, bear spray would have been useless, and he thinks that the muzzle blast from the guide’s rifle might have deterred the bear even more than the bullet.

“This might sound silly, but after going through that and seeing how the bear responded, I honestly would feel the most safe from a charging bear with a foghorn in my hand,” Adams says. “When I saw that .375 go off, it was not only the sound, but more so it was the air that hit the bear in the face. It was just amazing how that bear reacted when it got hit with the muzzle blast.”

He adds that, in his opinion, if you’re going to carry a pistol in bear country—which, of course, you should—your best would be to carry a 10mm Glock with a 19-round magazine and “make as many bangs as you can.”

Posturing is an important part of fighting. With that in mind, a compensated pistol might be especially effective.

Speaking of Glocks and bears:

Sam Kezar reckons he’d be either dead or disfigured if he hadn’t spent all summer fast-drawing his Glock. He bases that conclusion on a sobering calculus of time and distance—the two seconds required for a Wyoming grizzly bear to cover 20 yards—and the fact that Kezar somehow managed to get off seven shots from his 10mm in that span of time as he was staring terror in the face. As the bear was closing fast, and he was backpedaling into the unknown.

We see a similar pattern of results in humans

Saturday, October 22nd, 2022

It used to be that if researchers needed obese rats for a study, they would just add fat to normal rodent chow, but it turns out that it takes a long time for rats to become obese on this diet:

A breakthrough occurred one day when a graduate student happened to put a rat onto a bench where another student had left a half-finished bowl of Froot Loops. Rats are usually cautious around new foods, but in this case the rat wandered over and began scarfing down the brightly-colored cereal. The graduate student was inspired to try putting the rats on a diet of “palatable supermarket food”; not only Froot Loops, but foods like Doritos, pork rinds, and wedding cake. Today, researchers call these “cafeteria diets”.

Sure enough, on this diet the rats gained weight at unprecedented speed. All this despite the fact that the high-fat and cafeteria diets have similar nutritional profiles, including very similar fat/kcal percentages, around 45%. In both diets, rats were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. When you give a rat a high-fat diet, it eats the right amount and then stops eating, and maintains a healthy weight. But when you give a rat the cafeteria diet, it just keeps eating, and quickly becomes overweight. Something is making them eat more. “Palatable human food is the most effective way to cause a normal rat to spontaneously overeat and become obese,” says neuroscientist Stephan Guyenet in The Hungry Brain, “and its fattening effect cannot be attributed solely to its fat or sugar content.”

Rodents eating diets that are only high in fat or only high in carbohydrates don’t gain nearly as much weight as rodents eating the cafeteria diet. And this isn’t limited to lab rats. Raccoons and monkeys quickly grow fat on human food as well.

We see a similar pattern of results in humans.

When people get richer, they get more resilient

Friday, October 14th, 2022

We are incessantly told about disasters — heat waves, floods, wildfires, and storms — when people have become much, much safer from all these weather events over the past century:

In the 1920s, around half a million people were killed by weather disasters, whereas in the last decade the death toll averaged around 18,000. This year, like both 2020 and 2021, is tracking below that. Why? Because when people get richer, they get more resilient.

Weather-fixated television news would make us think disasters are all getting worse. They’re not. Around 1900, about 4.5 per cent of the land area of the world burned every year. Over the last century, this declined to about 3.2 per cent In the last two decades, satellites show even further decline: in 2021 just 2.5 per cent burned. This has happened mostly because richer societies prevent fires. Models show that by the end of the century, despite climate change, human adaptation will mean even less burning.

And despite what you may have heard about record-breaking costs from weather disasters — mainly because wealthier populations build more expensive houses along coastlines — damage costs are actually declining, not increasing, as a per cent of GDP.

But it’s not only weather disasters that are getting less damaging despite dire predictions. A decade ago, environmentalists loudly declared that Australia’s magnificent Great Barrier Reef was nearly dead, killed by bleaching caused by climate change. The Guardian newspaper even published an obituary. This year, scientists revealed that two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef shows the highest coral cover seen since records began in 1985. The good-news report got a fraction of the attention the bad news did.

Not long ago, environmentalists constantly used pictures of polar bears to highlight the dangers of climate change. Polar bears even featured in Al Gore’s terrifying movie An Inconvenient Truth. But the reality is that polar bear numbers have been increasing — from somewhere between five and 10,000 polar bears in the 1960s up to around 26,000 today. We don’t hear this news, however. Instead, campaigners just quietly stopped using polar bears in their activism.

It all goes back to a well-heeled cock

Tuesday, October 11th, 2022

I didn’t know the origin of “well-heeled,” so I looked it up:

Originally American English, from a literal use in cockfighting: a well-heeled cock was provided with sharp spurs and could inflict maximum damage. From this developed the American frontier slang sense of being well-equipped, and thence the modern sense of being well supplied with money.

Low height off the ground and innate agility

Thursday, October 6th, 2022

I was pretty sure that corgis weren’t bred simply to look ridiculous, but I didn’t know exactly what they were bred for:

Welsh Corgis were cattle herding dogs; the type of herding dog referred to as “heelers”, meaning that they would nip at the heels of the larger animals to keep them on the move. The combination of their low height off the ground and the innate agility of Welsh Corgis would allow them to avoid the hooves of cattle.

I love the notion of being too short to kick.

I remember being amused years ago when I learned that the similarly short-legged dachshund was a fierce badger-hound:

The standard-sized dachshund was developed to scent, chase, and flush out badgers and other burrow-dwelling animals. The miniature dachshund was bred to hunt small animals such as rabbits.

World’s first cloned arctic wolf is now 100 days old

Friday, September 30th, 2022

Chinese researchers have created the world’s first cloned arctic wolf, and it is now 100 days old:

Scottish scientists proved back in 1996 that it was possible to clone a mammal using a cell from an adult animal. Possible — but not easy. Dolly the sheep was the only successful clone in their 277 attempts.

Maya is the world’s first cloned arctic wolf

Cloning is still a challenging process — fewer than 25 animal species have been cloned to date, so the first successful cloning of a species is still newsworthy 25+ years after Dolly’s birth.

The journey to creating the first cloned Arctic wolf began in 2020, when researchers at Sinogene Biotechnology, a Beijing-based biotech, teamed up with the polar theme park Harbin Polarland.

Using skin cells donated by Maya, an arctic wolf housed at Harbin Polarland, Sinogene created 137 embryos using female dogs’ eggs. They then transferred 85 of the embryos into 7 beagle surrogates.

In July 2022, one of those beagles gave birth to a healthy cloned Arctic wolf, also named Maya.

Orcas attack boats off coast of Spain and Portugal

Sunday, August 28th, 2022

There is no record of an orca killing a human in the wild, but orcas are now attacking boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal:

Still, two boats were reportedly sunk by orcas off the coast of Portugal last month, in the worst such encounter since authorities have tracked them.

The incident involving the Storksons is an outlier, says Renaud de Stephanis, president and coordinator at CIRCE Conservación Information and Research, a cetacean research group based in Spain. It was farther north — nowhere near the Strait of Gibraltar, nor the coast of Portugal or Spain, where other such reports have originated.

That is a conundrum. Up to now, scientists have assumed that only a few animals are involved in these encounters and that they are all from the same pod, de Stephanis says.

[…]

Scientists hypothesize that orcas like the water pressure produced by a boat’s propeller. “What we think is that they’re asking to have the propeller in the face,” de Stephanis says. So, when they encounter a sailboat that isn’t running its engine, “they get kind of frustrated and that’s why they break the rudder.”

[…]

The population of orcas along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts is quite small. Scientists believe that the damage to boats is being done by just a few juvenile males, says Jared Towers, the director of Bay Cetology, a research organization in British Columbia.

[…]

Towers points out that such “games” tend to go in and out of fashion in orca society. For example, right now in a population he studies in the Pacific, “we have juvenile males who … often interact with prawn and crab traps,” he says. “That’s just been a fad for a few years.”

Back in the 1990s, for some orcas in the Pacific, something else was in vogue. “They’d kill fish and just swim around with this fish on their head,” Towers says. “We just don’t see that anymore.”