Humpback whale saves a researcher

I recently read a very interesting story in All Creatures: The Animals Who Share Our Lives, (July/Aug 2019) about an encounter with a humpback whale. What intrigued me was the intelligence and compassion that the whale showed to a research diver.

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image from pixabay

Nan Hauser a whale biologist who is the president of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, was snorkeling by the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean when this incident took place in 2017.

A humpback whale swam right toward her and started to push her in such a way that she wound up on the whale’s head. Then the whale tried to put her under his pectoral fin. When the whale realized that she could not breathe under his fin, he lifted her up out of the water. While out of the water Ms. Hauser saw a female humpback whale aggressively slapping the water with her fin, which whales do to frighten away a predator.

Ms. Hauser then noticed another very large shape in the water. It turned out that it was a 15-foot tiger shark coming directly for her. The whales saved her life that day. But the story doesn’t end there. A little over a year later Ms. Hauser was out with another research team in a boat. The same male humpback whale swam next to the boat, put his head out of the water and looked at Ms. Hauser. He did not pay attention to anyone else.

This is not an isolated incident since it is not unusual for whales to protect members of other species. What does this tell us about whales? It shows many aspects of an animal’s mind and feelings. If you think of all the implications that acts of kindness such as these imply, it is truly amazing. The whale had to recognize that there was danger to another species. Then it had to gently protect the species at risk. In the case of Ms. Hauser, the whale had to have an understanding that humans cannot breathe underwater even though they may have seen them in scuba gear, breathing underwater. It shows a form of caring, compassion, and the fact that the whale remembered her a year later, shows that the whale specifically remembered Ms. Hauser. There is so much we do not know about animals and so much to learn.

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A new strain of distemper is a risk for dogs

“The new strain of canine distemper virus was identified by UNH pathologists in collaboration with colleagues at Cornell University, University of Georgia, Northeast Wildlife Disease Cooperative, N.H. Fish and Game, and Vermont Fish and Game. Over a one-year period, pathologists diagnosed canine distemper virus infection in eight largely carnivorous mammals in southeastern New Hampshire and north central Vermont. The animals included three fishers, two gray foxes, one skunk, one raccoon, and one mink.”

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While this new strain may not be a risk for the rest of the country, it would be diligent to alert your veterinarian to the new distemper strain. According to the report a raccoon in Rhode Island was found to have it in 2004. This indicates that it is not new and has potentially spread. There is always the chance in time, it will spread across the country.

 

Male fertility drops in humans and dogs

According to research by the scientists at the University of Nottingham, there has been a 50% reduction in male fertility globally, for both humans and dogs. The study shows that there are two causes. One is DEHP a common plasticizer which is found in carpets, flooring, upholstery, clothes, wires and toys as well as the industrial chemical polychlorinated biphenyl 153 (PCB). Although it has been banned world-wide, it is still found in the environment, including in food.

Another study shows that most of PCB 153 (90%) is ingested through food. The foods likely to have it are, fish and fish products, including fish oils which have the highest amount. Next are milk, eggs and dairy products and meat and meat products.

Another report has shown that foxes and deer also have the PCB’s and DEHP in their bodies. How did they get them? If wildlife has been exposed to PCB’s what about other animals such as cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, etc.?

At the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollution (POP), PCBs were classified as POP’s and precipitating countries agreed to ban all production of PCB’s and to eliminate them by 2025. But that does not help us today or those exposed previously.

What comes to mind for me are the “editable” products that are sold as a way to clean your dog’s teeth. Most do not advertise that they are 100% digestible. What are the non-digestible ingredients? Are they plastic or some similar product?

Many dog toys are made of plastic. How does this fit into the picture? What about other chew toys made for dogs? Do they contain PCB’s and other harmful ingredients?  These are all things to consider.

This is important information for the dog breeder who may experience a problem with the male dogs in their breeding program. It could be the answer as to why.

The good news is that scientists are working on a solution to solve the drop in male fertility rate and both dogs and humans will benefit from it.

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Worldwide, birds eat up to 500 million metric tons of insects

It is rather amazing how many insects’ birds eat a year. To give you an idea of how much they eat, one metric ton equals 2204 lbs.

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Most of the energy that birds get from eating insects (and seeds for seed eating birds) goes to maintaining their energy. Little goes to their body weight, according to a study led by Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland.

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This is one reason why it is important to offer a bird friendly habitat in your own backyard. Many birds eat both seeds and insects, depending on the time of the year and the weather. Woodpeckers that eat mostly insects will eat seeds in the winter when insects are scarce.

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A bird friendly habitat will offer shelter, food, water and nesting sites for all types of birds. Offering seeds and suet in the winter will keep insect eating birds in your area and that will benefit you and your garden in the warmer time of the year.

It is also interesting to note that spiders consume as much and more insect than birds. They eat between 400 and 800 insects a year.

Bees can do math!

Researchers have designed a test that proves bees can do basic math.

Since scientists have known that bees understand the concept of zero, they wanted to determine if bees could perform the basic math functions of adding and subtracting. Their tests have shown that bees can do this.

This is very important because solving math problems requires the use of both long- and short-term memory and the complex mental management of numbers.

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The team from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia taught the bees to recognize colors that represent addition and subtraction. Once the bees were taught the meaning of the colors, they were able to use the colors to solve math addition and subtraction problems. While this level of math may seem simple to us, it really involves complex thought processes.

In past studies, beekeepers claimed that they did not get stung by their bees (at least not too much) because the bees understood that they meant no harm and were friendly to the keepers. If bees can perform mathematical functions it is certainly reasonable that they could understand their relationship to bee keepers.

What is amazing is that the tiny bee brain can do this. As we discover more ways to communicate with animals and insects, it will open a whole new world and understanding of our animal and insect friends.

The only barrier we have to fully understanding other creatures is the barrier of language. How amazing this finding is because it shows us how much we have yet to learn.

Beech trees are dying, and nobody’s sure why

I do not often write about plants since my expertise is mainly dogs and cats, but as a tree lover, I felt it important to pass along this information.

“In a study published in the journal Forest Pathology, researchers and naturalists from The Ohio State University and metroparks in northeastern Ohio report on the emerging “beech leaf disease” epidemic, calling for speedy work to find a culprit so that work can begin to stop its spread.”

The disease has been found in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Canada. If a tree is infected it will have dark green bands between the veins of the leaves. As the disease progresses the leaves get very dark, shrink and get leathery. Then the limbs that have the disease do not produce buds. From there the tree dies. According to the report young trees are usually hit harder than older trees.

Trees of all kinds are important to wildlife and people. We have already had an infestation in parts of the country that have killed Oak trees and Hemlocks. Elm trees never recovered from the Dutch Elm disease. I would hate to see another species of tree die.

If you suspect that any of your trees are affected, I would suggest that you contact your local agricultural agency or DCNR office. Let’s hope that we can stop the Beech tree disease.

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Beech leaf disease symptoms include dark banding between the veins in early stages, followed by crinkling leaves.

Credit: Forest Pathology, Ohio State

Goats can read human faces and prefer people who smile!

Although Dr Alan McElligott is currently based at the University of Roehampton, he led the study at Queen Mary University of London to determine if goats react to human facial expressions. He found that goats would rather interact with people who smile and are happy. The study further showed that goats use the left hemisphere of their brain to react to positive facial expressions.

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Anyone who works with goats recognizes that they are very attuned to human body language, but this study shows that goats recognize facial expressions and the emotions that they represent. Past studies have shown that dogs, birds and horses also have this ability.

Goats, horses, birds  and dogs  represent a wide spectrum of the animal kingdom. It stands to reason that many other animals, both domestic and wild have the same abilities to some degree. The challenge is to devise a way to test a wider range of animals and birds. It is exciting to be able to understand more about the animals that we love and anticipate what future studies will teach us.

A new species of tick invades the Mid-Atlantic

The longhorned tick, (Haemaphysalis longicornis), also known as the bush tick or cattle tick can seriously hurt or even cause death in livestock. The ticks can last for up to a year without feeding. They have been found in other countries such as Russia, China, and Japan.

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(Although this is not a longhorned tick, it is about the size of the tick. The longhorned tick has a pattern on its body that resembles a turtle shell.)

When the tick infests cattle, it can cause severe blood loss and even death, especially in calves. In dairy cows it can cause reduced milk production and in sheep poorer wool quantity and quality. This is because the tick transmits theileriosis.

In humans and pets the tick can transmit Q-fever and anaplasmosis. Q-fever can cause death in humans. The symptoms include “high fever, headache, sore throat, malaise, nausea, diarrhea, chest pain, nonproductive cough, pneumonia, and hepatitis. Neurological manifestations occur in about one percent of patients and could develop into meningitis, encephalitis, myelitis and/or peripheral neuropathy. Endocarditis, infection of the heart valves, is the most serious manifestation. However, it is usually found in patients with preexisting valvular disease. Unfortunately, the mortality rate is increasingly high, currently at 65 percent.”

The signs of Anaplasmosis are “Fever, Severe headache, Muscle aches, Chills and shaking. Less frequent symptoms of anaplasmosis include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, cough, diarrhea, aching joints and change in mental status.

Although people of any age can get anaplasmosis, it tends to be most severe in the aging or immune-compromised. Severe complications can include respiratory failure, renal failure and secondary infections.”

Although the longhorned tick has only been found in the Mid-Atlantic, it is just a matter of time until it will be found across the country.

African wild dogs sneeze to vote

Dr Neil Jordan, a research fellow at UNSW Sydney and Taronga Conservation Society Australia and Reena Walker, of Brown University in the US, have studied the wild dogs, (Lycaon pictus) of Botswana found that these canines sneeze to vote whether or not they should go hunting.

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A pack of wild African dogs. Photo by Megan Claase

The study showed that if the dominant pair were not part of the vote, that approximately ten more sneezes were needed to make the decision. The team studied 68 social gatherings from 5 African wild dog packs living in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The act of sneezing to vote shows the cognitive ability and process of these wild dogs.

We know that our pet dogs sneeze to show joy, now we have to wonder if they lived in groups, would they also communicate with each other by sneezing to decide daily activities.  What an interesting thought.

 

Can humans identify the emotions of all air-breathing animals?

A study by researchers at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Ruhr-Universität Bochum, in collaboration with colleagues from Alberta, Canada, and Vienna, Austria, say yes!

Humans are capable of identifying the emotions of all air-breathing beings via the sounds that they make.

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The research team headed by Dr Piera Filippi, currently at the University of Aix-Marseille and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, included, among others, three academics from Bochum: philosophy scholar Prof. Dr. Albert Newen, biopsychologist Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Onur Güntürkün and assistant professor Dr Sebastian Ocklenburg.

To test their theory, they used 75 people whose native language was English, German or Mandarin. The participants listened to audio recordings of nine different species of land-living vertebrates to include, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, and birds.

The participants were able to identify both high and low levels of arousal in all species. This suggests that there is a universal ability to communicate emotions. If humans can identify the emotions of other animals, it stands to reason that this ability is not unique to humans and that all animals have the ability.

Of course, pet owners have seen this to be true with their pets. They always seem to know how we feel and we know how they feel.