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Can Animals Be Racist?

Humans are racist.

Walls and Aryan babies aside, people are biologically programmed to behave differently with people who look or act differently than us. While this could be a self-defence technique in the most evolutionary sense, for the most part, racism stems from our misconceptions and preconceived notions.

When people talk of racism, they only refer to people.  I mean, nobody talks about a racist Guinea pig. But does this mean racism is an inherently human experience? Can animals be racist? Do they possess the intellect to process complex thoughts, like discrimination, hate and disgust?

Let’s find out.

Your dog may be a racist and you may not know it!

I don’t know about other animals, but there is definitive proof that dogs do discriminate between people. Whether you call this behaviour “racism” or not, depends on you.

Research by the Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology at the National Center for Scientific Research at Aix-Marseille University in Marseille (France) proved that dogs pick up discriminatory tendencies from their owners.

In the study, 72 pet parents were asked to bring their dogs to meet a complete stranger. Upon meeting the stranger, the groups of participants were asked to display specific behaviours.

  • A third of the dog owners were asked to walk three steps forward, towards the stranger.
  • Another group was asked to stand stock-still and display no physical cues during the meeting.
  • The final group was asked to take three steps away from the stranger.

The participants were told not to speak, make any noise or indicate any sign that alarmed their dogs in any way. Next, the dogs’ reaction to the meetings were observed and what the researchers saw astounded them!

 

Dog

 

In groups where owners approached the stranger, the dogs were relatively calm and didn’t display any signs of aggression or fear.

But, in the groups where the owners stood motionless or walked away from the stranger, many dogs were observed looking sharper, taking in their surroundings carefully and watching the stranger for any reaction. Why? Because the stranger initiated an abnormal physical and emotional response in their owners – their behaviour was suddenly very different.  

These dogs were recorded looking at their owners for a sign – an approval, a confirmation – to tell them what they needed to do. They were observed standing much closer to their owners, some in slightly defensive positions.

This proved what the scientists were trying to establish – dogs modify their behaviours and actions based on social cues given by their owners.

In scientific circles, this is called “social referencing” and this is something humans do a lot. For example, there’s a large snail in your garden and your baby is really intrigued by it. She wants to go near it. She looks at you to see if that’s okay. Your frown and your expression of disgust tell her that she probably shouldn’t be going anywhere near the thing; maybe there’s something wrong with it. This is social referencing. In adults, especially in terms of racism, children learn racist tendencies by observing their parents indulge in racist behaviours. If a parent says something mean and hurtful to a coloured person, his child may do the same too because he perceives the response to be a socially-accepted one.

The racism connect

Dogs’ ability to socially reference behaviours makes them indulge in behaviours that resemble racism.

For example, if a pet owner is bigoted against a particular race or colour, he may display certain physical signs like a frown, a look of disgust, a clenching of his jaws, physically moving away from the person of his discomfort etc. His dog may observe these behaviours and over a period of time, may associate the other individual, with danger. This can make the dog behave defensive and aggressive towards this person. If the dog isn’t too aggressive, to begin with, he too may display signs of fear, when he encounters an individual or an object that reminds him of the person his owner doesn’t like. These physical cues by the owner need not be conscious either. They can be done unconsciously or subconsciously and the dog will still pick them up and react off them. 

But despite this, scientists don’t consider dogs to be racists and we shouldn’t either. The reason is that dogs have not been recorded consciously holding prejudices that give rise to bigotry and hate. Dogs feed-off the behaviours exhibited by their humans and reflect similar conduct. This makes them (at least according to our current understanding) incapable of conscious racism. 

 

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

 

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Fun Facts About the Howler Monkey

  1. There are 15 species of howler monkey and they’re all found in Central and South America. 
  2. The howler monkey is the loudest primate on the Earth. Its call – a gruff, resounding roar – can be heard even 3 miles away. You can listen to it here.
  3. Not just their voice, but the howler monkey’s sense of smell is unbelievably acute  – they can smell food from 2 miles away. 
  4. Howler monkeys aren’t herbivores, they’re folivores – they are specialists in eating leaves.  
  5. Howler monkeys are one of the few primates (including humans), who possess trichromatic colour vision. This means their eyes are sensitive to the three primary colours – green, blue & red – and they can make out the differences between colours. This helps them pick and choose the best (read – the ripest & safest) leaves to eat.
  6. A particular species of howler monkey – the Mantled Howler – uses sticks as tools to drive away intruders and scare away predators. This is extremely unusual to the species as a whole; since this type of tool usage is considered the speciality of higher-order primates like chimps and humans. 
  7. Howler monkeys are the second laziest animals of the planet, right after sloths. They spend 80% of their time on treetops just resting. The other 20% of the time? Well, they pee on, poop on and scream at other monkeys, animals and birds.
  8. Howler monkeys are an Endangered species, because of excessive hunting and habitat loss. Save them. 

 

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Black Howler Monkey & Baby (Males are completely black in colour, while females are yellowish-white) (Source)

 

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Mantled Howler Monkey – the only known howler monkey to use sticks as tools for defence. (Source)

 

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

 

 

P.S: Featured image: Howler monkey
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Celebrating Two Special Days In Paradise

Today is a good day. Today is a great day.

Today – June 5th 2019 – we celebrate World Environment Day and Global Running Day

So, here’s to an amazing Environment Day and Running Day to you and your loved ones! 

As I began my run today, I contemplated what I’d write about. I knew that this year’s theme for World Environment Day was Air Pollution. And while I did consider writing about it, I wasn’t really convinced.

Then I thought about running? Surely, as a physiological process that every species indulges in, running too comes in the purview of my blogging world.

The choice was hard. Writing about one meant foregoing the other. But then I realized that there was something I wanted to talk about a lot more than air pollution or running.

While many may talk about losing their favourite haunts to the ever-increasing curse of pollution (and yes, that’s important too); I still had something that (for now) was relatively untarnished.

In a sea of smog, I still had a piece of paradise in my city, where I could run in peace, enjoy a lungful of fresh air and watch birds and animals scamper about in joy.  

 

Cubbon Park 4
Cubbon Park (Source)

 

Say hello to Cubbon Park 

Located in the heart of India’s Garden City, Cubbon Park is a beautiful, wooded, public park, that is spread out over 300 acres of pristine land. A kaleidoscope of greens, browns, oranges and yellows, it is a place that embodies happiness. A stroll through Cubbon Park can rejuvenate you and inspire the best in you. A run can do so much more. 

Cubbon Park is a goldmine of biodiversity. 

Over 34 species of birds, belonging to 10 different families, call Cubbon Park their home. And what a home it is. The park is also home to 68 genera and 96 species of plants (overall 6000 types of plants & trees!). It is one of the largest biological ecosystems in the South of India. Look around and you may spot a cluster of Bamboo trees, Ashoka trees, Gulmohars, Banyans, Neem plants, Mahagony and more. 

Peer through the lush leaves and you’ll definitely spot massive bustling beehives and birds nests with newborn chicks, on the branches. The twittering of baby birds can be heard for miles; a sound that is so soothing. Listen harder and you may hear the trilling, screeching and singing of the many insects who also have an equal claim on this beautiful land.

Follow the trail of nuts on the ground and you may spot an industrious squirrel busy foraging for the coming season. If you’re really lucky (like I was), you may even get to see the flowering of the Bamboo trees – a rare phenomenon which happens once every 12-20 years here! 

A magnificent study

Cubbon Park has been a top research spot for biologists, zoologists and botanists. There are many scientists who believe that there are undiscovered species of animals and plants here. Studies are regularly conducted by the Horticulture department and individual researchers, to unearth the ecological diversity in Cubbon Park.  

 

Cubbon Park 3
One of the most popular running spots inside Cubbon Park – yes, there are many. (Source)

 

A runner’s paradise

Cubbon Park isn’t just a haven for the flora and fauna who have taken up residence here (and the people who study them). It is also a paradise for walkers, joggers, runners, cyclists and yoga enthusiasts. The park offers numerous trails where nature lovers can retire to and enjoy the meditative silence.  

You’ll also find heritage guides organizing guided walking tours of Cubbon Park, explaining its history and ecological significance. There’s always this gentle bustle of activity here that’s just infectious. 

Contrary to what some believe, the visitors to the park seldom disturb the flora and fauna. In fact, there are many who purchase bird seeds from government-run bird seed vans and feed the birds here. Not just the birds, there are many who feed the ants and termites sugar, honey and flour and keep them fed and energized. 

A muse for the artists

Cubbon Park isn’t just excellent for fitness enthusiasts, it is also an amazing inspiration for artists – professional and amateur. Don’t get too surprised if you see a man, woman or child with a paintbrush or a crayon in hand, sketching a tree or a pond or a flower. Because that’s exactly what this park does – kindle your creativity.

Like a second home

A single visit to Cubbon Park is enough to make you fall in love with this emerald treasure. You feel at home among the trees and among the animals, birds and insects. You never wish to leave and when you do, your thoughts are consumed about when you’d be back. 

As they say, “Home is not a place…it’s a feeling.” And I can safely say, Cubbon Park makes me feel so much…

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

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Humans Aren’t The Only Ones To Use A Midwife During Birth, Other Animals Do Too

Midwives have been a part of every culture for centuries. Many places of religious worship celebrate midwifery through paintings, sculptures and Bas reliefs.

Apart from easing the actual birthing process, midwives helped ensure the newborn was healthy, had no trouble breathing and was able to suckle well. In short, midwives ensured both the mother and baby survived. While midwives were the only option for women of yore, today they are one of the most preferred methods of birthing assistance and reproductive care.

When we talk of midwives, we envision a staid, calm person, urging the mother to push, encouraging her with kind words and helping her cope with her pain. When we think about the midwife, we envision a woman and sometimes, a man. Essentially, we envision a human being. 

Till as late as the late 1990s, it was believed that the practice of midwifery was developed by people. Surely animals did not, could not, possess a mind so sophisticated, that they could come up with a practice like midwifery. How would they know that another animal needed assistance during birth?

After all, wasn’t the one, defining difference between man and beast, the ability to empathize and help? 

 

Djungarian hamster
A Djungarian hamster (Source)

 

Animal midwifery: Where animals help other animals give birth

Nature is magnificent and one of the miracles of nature is an animal that acts as a midwife. 

Researchers were stunned to see when male Djungarian hamsters chipped-in to help their mates give birth. Provided they didn’t turn their offspring into a meal first, male Djungarian hamsters consciously pulled the pups out from the females’ birth canals. They proceeded to lick the pups clean and then shared the afterbirth with their mates. If their pups looked asphyxiated, the fathers would lick the amniotic fluid off their nose, clear their airways and help them breathe.  

Scientists believe that Djungarian hamster males experience a severe fluctuation in hormones just prior to birth and this results in an increase in cortisol and oestrogen in their bodies. This, they believe, could be one of the reasons for this unusual behaviour. The other theory has to do with the hamsters’ living conditions. Unlike other wild hamster species, Djungarian hamsters live in dry, desert environments and they spend a lot of time in their burrows with their mate, to escape from the harsh climate. This could make them more willing to help their mates during birth (compared to other hamster species where the males are nowhere near the birthing area). 

 

black Snub nosed monkey
A Black snub-nosed monkey (Source)

 

But it isn’t just Djungarian hamsters who make excellent midwives. Researchers have observed female black snub-nosed monkeys in South China also playing midwives to their bandmates during delivery. 

When a female black snub-nosed monkey is about to give birth and contractions start, she cries out using a very distinct sound. Upon hearing this sound, another female joins her and waits for the infant to crown. When he does, the midwife gently eases the baby out of the mother’s birth canal, tears open the amniotic sac and hands the infant back to the mother. Once she’s done, the midwife heads back to forage for food or take care of her own infant. The same behaviour was noticed in golden snub-nosed monkeys. 

Female bonobos too practice midwifery. This behaviour has been seen often in captivity and once in the wild. Just like the black snub-nosed monkey, the bonobo mother makes a soft, high-pitched squeal.

When she hears this, another female bonobo accompanies the pregnant mother and helps her give birth. Here too, the afterbirth was shared between the mother and the midwife.

 

Bonobo
A Bonobo (Source)

 

A primate speciality?

Djungarian hamsters aside, both the snub-nosed monkey and bonobo are primates. This makes us wonder whether their primate brains – significantly more developed than other animals’ – could be the reason for midwifery behaviour. 

But this may not be the case.

Chimpanzees, who are the closest to humans (and who possess far superior brains compared to bonobos and snub-nosed monkeys), prefer to give birth in isolation. So too other primates like gorillas and orangutans. 

But if you consider the research by primatologist Pamela Heidi Douglas, only 5 out of the 39 live births (across 31 primate species) she recorded, were done in isolation. The rest were in the company of band/troopmates. 

What makes this behaviour particularly difficult to observe, is how these animals typically give birth at night. Additionally, with these animals so adept at hiding from predators (including humans), it becomes even harder to track birthing animals. 

Empathy, intelligence or instinct?

The practice of midwifery developed in humans as we became more aware of the birthing process. Our highly-evolved brains, capable of high empathy, added to this progress. 

What we don’t know today, is if animal midwifery stems from the same reason. It could also be the desire to partake of another female’s placenta (after all, it is rich in life-saving nutrients). Or, it could just be pure instinct. 

No matter how we reason it, the concept of animals playing midwives will throw up more questions, than they answer. Only time and extensive research will reveal the truth. 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

P.S: Featured Image: Golden snub-nosed monkey 

 

 

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Which Animals Yawn?

We all yawn. In fact, I’m yawning right now.

In humans, we yawn in order to replenish oxygen levels in the body. When our breathing slows down (this typically happens when we’re sleepy or tired and our bodies fail to consciously breathe), we tend to breathe in less oxygen and hold in carbon dioxide. This imbalance of gasses alerts the brain that we are running out of oxygen. The brain then signals the body to initiate a yawn.

When humans yawn, fresh oxygen is taken in and moved down from the oesophagus to various parts of the body. When the oxygen rushes in, the carbon dioxide is pushed out and exhaled with force. This helps the body stabilize its breathing.

But humans don’t just yawn to breathe better. We yawn to:

  • Express our boredom – a very give-away physical cue.
  • Keep alert – Our heart rates increase by 30% each time we yawn, sending more blood to the brain and making us more active.
  • Make friends – Contagious yawns, anyone? (here’s another great insight – research shows children with autism do not find yawns contagious because they are more likely to miss the physical and social cues associated with yawning. This makes scientists believe that yawns could have a sociological significance in groups.)

What about other animals – do they yawn?

If a yawn were to mean “opening the mouth wide and breathing slowly”, then no, humans aren’t the only ones who yawn.

Research shows that over 27 different animals, other than humans, yawn. This list includes – African elephants, walruses, dogs, lions, camels, cats, sheep, gibbons, chimpanzees, rats, mice and foxes, amongst others. All of these animals engage in yawning behaviours in order to regulate their breathing.

If you’ve noticed, this list of animals mentions only one specific family of animals – Mammals. So, does that mean only mammals have the ability to yawn .i.e. breathe in to regulate their oxygen intake? Not really.

 

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A guinea pig “yawning” (Source)

 

First off, not all mammals yawn in order to regulate their breathing. Baboons and Guinea pigs yawn when they’re irritated. Here, the yawn often serves as a sign of aggression, a sign that reads “Back off or I will attack.”

Then there are fish – whose normal, typical breathing behaviour resembles a big yawn. Fish also increase the number of times they yawn, when the waters they swim in have lesser oxygen and they need to breathe more to get the oxygen they need. This is a normal and daily occurrence in fishes. In comparison, human yawns occur once-in-a-while, when the body desperately needs oxygen.

Then there are Adelie penguins, who yawn as part of their courtship ritual. Their yawns also function as comfort behaviour .i.e. behaviours that animals indulge in, to make themselves more comfortable (ex: ruffling feathers, cleaning mites, grooming each other, wallowing in mud, bathing in dust etc.). The yawns have nothing to do with breathing regulation.

You may even have seen snakes yawn. They don’t do this to breathe better; instead, they do this before eating very large prey. Contrary to popular belief, snakes don’t unhinge their jaws when eating prey which are larger than they are. Instead, they yawn to make their jaws more flexible to hold their large meal. 

So, what does this mean? What’s the purpose of a yawn?

The answer is – nobody knows. Not definitively, at least.  Yawning means very different things to different species of animals. But there is one very interesting and entertaining piece of information that animal behaviourists have unearthed. Well, two interesting pieces of information:

  • Yawns are contagious in animals too A study showed how dogs tend to yawn when they see their owners yawn. Chimpanzees in the wild have been observed yawning when their troop-mates do.
  • Primate yawns are the longest in the animal kingdomAs it turns out, the length of our yawn depends on the size of our brain. Humans are the veteran champions when it comes to yawning, clocking in an average of 6 seconds per yawn.

Want to see who our close competitors were? Read here.

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

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What’s In A Name: The Colourful (& Sometimes Hurtful) Profession of Naming New Species

Elephas maximus borneensis, Funambulus palmarum, Ajaja ajaja, Oryza rufipogon…you may have come across these or something similar in your biology textbook or an article about wildlife. They are scientific names of animals & plants – Borneo elephant, Indian palm squirrel, Spoonbills and Wild rice, in that order.

At first read, we may not really decipher which species the name refers to. But when we do, we are pleasantly surprised.

One of the most exciting activities in the scientific community, is taxonomy – the science of grouping a newly discovered species. A part of this job involves naming the species.

While enjoyable, the process of naming a new species is also a very complicated task; which involves a lot of research, word play and sarcasm. If you’ve ever wanted to know how plants & animals get their scientific names, you’re at the right place.

 

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Source: Pixabay

 

The rules of naming

The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature is the governing body which has complete control over all things taxonomy. It is the Code which spells out how an animal can be named and what rules must be followed while naming.

According to the Code, there are 3 cardinal rules that all taxonomists need to follow when naming an animal:

  • Don’t use a used name – The name must be completely unique.
  • Don’t be insulting – The name must not be rude to anyone.
  • Don’t name the species after yourself – The final name cannot include the name of the taxonomist.

Sounds simple enough? Unfortunately it isn’t.

There are many cases in the past when scientists named an animal to either gain recognition or to take a dig at a competitor.

There was Dr. May Berenbaum, the VP of Entomological Society of America, who named a species of urea-eating cockroach after herself – Xestoblatta berenbaumae. Of course, she did say that fame wasn’t her focus when she did this. Dr. Berenbaum was already a highly-reputed scientist in the community and she only wanted to showcase her passion for creepy crawlies by naming one after herself.

 

Cockroach xestoblatta-berenbaumae-male-female
Xestoblatta berenbaumae (Source)

 

Then there was famed 1700s botanist, the Father of Taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus. He is renowned today, not just for his contribution to taxonomy, but also for being unbelievably petty and mean towards people he didn’t like. At the height of his career, he used fellow botanist and friend Johann Georg Siegesbeck’s name as inspiration to name a foul-smelling genus of weed – Sigesbeckia orientalis – after Siegesbeck publicly criticised Linnaeus’ method of species classification. This, many believe, was meant to be a dig at Siegesbeck’s  jealousy at Linnaeus’ success.  

 

Anderson (Mrs), active 1858; Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Later Carl von Linne
Carl Linnaeus, the Father of Taxonomy (Source)

 

St Paul Wort
Sigesbeckia orientalis aka St. Paul’s Wort (Source)

 

And who can forget Daniel Rolander, Linnaeus’ most-hated protégé?  After Rolander refused to share his field study results and samples from his trip to Suriname with Linnaeus, the latter promptly went ahead and got him banned from leading scientific and academic institutions of the time. To add salt to injury, Linnaeus also named a type of dung beetle – Aphanus rolandri – after Rolander. Ouch. 

Loosely translated to English, Aphanus rolandri means “inconspicuous Rolander”. Now that’s what I call a double whammy.

 

Beetle aphanus_rolandri
Aphanus rolandri (Source)

 

Here’s one more – Famed palaeontologist O.A. Peterson named a species of prehistoric pig as Dinohyus hollandi, after Director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History W.J. Holland, for the latter’s annoying habit of hogging the limelight. Holland was known in scientific circles for taking credit for every research paper published by his students, irrespective of whether he contributed to it or not.

 

 

Okay back to the rules of taxonomy

Barring these and a few other instances of inspired, but hurtful name-calling, taxonomy has for the most period, been a civilised affair.

When naming an animal or a plant, taxonomists are told to consider the specialty of the species as inspiration. So, when scientists found a new genus of tiny sea snails, they named them Ittibittium; given how they were much smaller in size compared to another genus of sea snails – Bittium.

 

Snails Ittibitum
Genus Ittibittium (Source)

 

The second way to name a new species – find another creature that looks exactly like it and name the new species after that. Enter Scaptia beyonceae, a species of horse fly which is renowned for possessing a giant, golden bottom. Who else in the animal kingdom had such a big, tanned, booty? Why, Beyoncé of course.

 

Fly Scaptia-beyonceae
Scaptia beyonceae & Beyoncé (Source)

 

TV shows and story book characters have inspired species names too. A newly discovered species of jellyfish was named Bazinga reiki after The Big Bang Theory’s protagonist Sheldon Cooper’s famous catchphrase “Bazinga”. The bacteria genus Midichloria was named after a fictional alien species called “midichlorians” described in the cult classic Star Wars.  Then there’s the fossil of a large turtle, discovered in 1992 – Ninjemys oweni, named after the hit show Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

 

 

So, to encapsulate

Scientific names must be unique, kind, not self-glorifying and clever. They must take inspiration from the species itself or another, just like it.

Can only scientists name a new species?

Although scientists who discover the species usually get the honour of naming them, some scientists allow members of the public to send their suggestions.

In 2000, Dr Nerida Wilson discovered a species of nudibranch in the Indian ocean. She didn’t have a name for the animal. So, she decided to let the people decide. She invited names from the public and the submissions were reviewed by a panel of expert taxonomists. Finally, the entry by Patrick from New South Wales was chosen and the nudibranch was named – Moridilla fifo.

 

Nudibranch fifo
Moridilla fifo (Source)

 

Oh yes, here’s something else…

The names don’t need to be in Latin.

Although Latin was the language of taxonomy in the 1700s, today, there’s no strict rule requiring taxonomists to name species in Latin or Greek. You can provide a name in any language of your choice and taxonomists will tweak the spelling to resemble Latin or Greek, without actually changing or translating the name itself.

Want to name a species yourself?

Go on and keep your eyes peeled for opportunities. Who knows, the next big discovery could be named by you.

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

PS: Featured image: Hierarchy in taxonomy Dinohyus hollandi – Fossil; Representative imageBazinga reikiMidichloriaNinjemys oweni 
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Do Other Animals Sweat and Do They Stink?

Humans sweat in order to regulate body temperature.

When our bodies get too hot, they release water, minerals and salt in order to cool themselves down. Without sweat, our bodies would overheat, our organs would start to malfunction and soon we would have a heatstroke; which could be fatal.

But what about other animals? Do they sweat too?

Yes, they do. So, this is one question you don’t have to sweat over.

  • Dogs and cats sweat through their paws/pads. You can see faint wet footprints on really hot days.
  • Horses sweat too. Their sweat contains a detergent-like compound known as “latherin”, which helps clean their coats and keep them cool. This compound is the reason why you see a foam-like layer on horses’ coats on really hot days or when they’re overworked.
  • Monkeys, chimps, gorillas and orangutans all sweat too. But we can’t see them sweat like we do, since their sweat glands are located below their fur.
  • Hippos secrete a really scary-looking liquid, called “blood sweat”. This liquid contains a reddish-orange pigment (which gives it its blood-red colour) and it offers anti-bacterial and cleansing properties, which keep the hippo healthy. In addition to this, it functions like sweat and regulates the hippo’s body temperature.

You know who doesn’t sweat? Pigs.

Pigs regulate their body temperatures by wallowing in the mud. So, they don’t sweat like we do. The expression “sweating like a pig” actually refers to pig iron, which is a type of iron metal. During the smelting process, pig iron tends to heat-up to a very high temperature. When it cools down, it reaches dew point, resulting in the formation of large dew droplets on the iron. 

 

piglet-3386356_1280
Sweating like a pig? (source)

 

What about the stench?

Okay, lets set the record straight.

Human sweat actually doesn’t have an odour of its own. The bacteria located on the skin, especially those around the sweat glands, start to break down the sweat compounds when sweat is produced. The resultant changes in the chemical make-up of the sweat leads to the release of an odour, which stinks.

There’s something else too.

Humans have two types of sweat glands –  Eccrine sweat glands (which are found all over the body) and Apocrine sweat glands (which are found under the armpit & around the anus). When the Apocrine sweat glands mature and start to function after a child hits puberty, it releases a thick & oily sweat, different from the one released by the Eccrine sweat glands. It is this thick and oily sweat that produces a terrible stink when broken-down by bacteria.

So, what about animals? Do they stink too?

Pigs don’t sweat the way we do and so they don’t produce any stench whatsoever. The same goes for any other animal that doesn’t sweat the way humans do.

What about the ones that sweat like us? Well, the bodies of other “sweating” animals do produce smells; just not the ones we’re talking about. 

Other types of body odour

The smell produced by animal body secretions shouldn’t be confused with sweat-induced smell. Some secretions, like musk, civet & ambergris (which are derived from musk deer, civet cats and sperm whales respectively) , aren’t sweat. In other cases, animal body odour is actually pheromones, which are released by animals to inform potential mates that the animal is willing to receive sexual partners.

Then there are gorillas, which produce a smell, unique to each individual troop member. But these odours act as social markers, providing other troop members and enemy gorillas information about the animal. These smells have been shown to affect how gorillas behave with one another.

But coming back to sweat and its stink; there is still no strong evidence to show that animals which do sweat like humans, stink like humans too. So far humans are the only ones who produce copious amounts of sweat and who stink up the joint when they sweat.

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

P.S: Featured image
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Humans aren’t the Only Ones Who Have Oral Sex, Other Animals Do It Too

It was a warm summer’s day in 2013 when scientists researching fruit bats in Southern India noticed a unique behaviour in their subjects. The bats – who lived in an old fig tree in the village of Malumichampatti in Tamil Nadu – were performing oral sex on their mates!

This was a startling revelation to the scientists. Till date, this behaviour hadn’t been noticed in Indian fruit bats. Up until then, it was only observed in Chinese fruit bats, but no other bat species. This discovery was new and exciting.

Only a human experience?

Humans have for long indulged in oral sex. Myths and ancient books from around the world mention oral sex aka. fellatio (oral sex on males) and cunnilingus (oral sex on females), in various capacities.

There was the Egyptian Goddess Isis, who blew life into her husband Osiris’s body by sucking on his penis, after he was murdered by his brother Set. In the ancient Indian book of Kamasutra, there is an entire chapter dedicated to the use of aupariṣṭhaka (the art of oral sex) in love making. In the ancient city of Pompeii, archaeologists unearthed baths predating 79 AD, with wall paintings of couples engaging in oral sex. 

Popeii fresco
The ancient fresco on the walls of Pompeii’s public bath. (Source)

Based on these evidences, scientists assumed that oral sex was the domain of human pleasure. That is until they found other animals engaging in it too.

Non-penetrative sex for non-humans

Animals have evolved to have sex. This includes both penetrative and non-penetrative sex.

Pet dogs and cats are excellent examples of animals which engage in non-penetrative sexual behaviours – chair mounting, dry humping and self-stimulation (auto-fellatio). In farms, the same behaviour can be observed in horses and birds The same is true of wild animals like turtles, walruses and monkeys (amongst others), who indulge in self-love.

With masturbation on the table, oral sex doesn’t seem too-far-off a possibility.

Animals like fruit flies, squirrels, bonobos, wolves, brown bears, sheep, Dunnock birds and Darwin’s bark spiders have been observed engaging in oral sex. The reason for this isn’t clear yet, although there are a few theories:

Theory #1: Oral sex can help prolong sexual activity

With the Indian fruit bats, scientists noticed that oral sex served to increase the time bats spent performing penetrative sex. The male bats would begin mating, with about 50 seconds of oral sex, followed by 10-20 seconds of penetrative sex. They would then revert to about 90 seconds of oral sex and finally back to penetrative sex of much longer duration.

This has led to conjectures regarding the connection between oral sex and the length of penetrative sex.

Dunnock Prunella modularis perched on bramble with dark background Potton Bedfordshire. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.
A Dunnock bird. (Source)

Theory #2: Oral sex can remove bad bacteria from the vagina

The second theory proposed by researchers talks of the role of oral sex in animal health.

Some scientists believe that enzymes in the animal’s saliva can remove (and sometimes kill) bad bacteria, which live on/inside the mate’s sexual organs. This was one of the theories suggested regarding the Indian fruit bats from Tamil Nadu.

Another related theory suggests that cunnilingus, may be used by males to wipe-off sperms by competitors; thereby ensuring that only their sperms successfully take root. This is the theory used to explain the behaviour of Dunnock birds; where the male pecks at the female’s cloaca until older sperm masses drop out of her body. He mates with her only after this pre-copulatory display. This he does, it is believed, to prevent his mate from mothering another male’s brood.

Theory #3: Oral sex can improve the quality and mobility of the sperm

Another theory surrounding animal oral sex is that of sperm quality. It is assumed that fellatio may remove old, ineffective sperm and allow the male to use fresh, healthy sperm when mating.

Oral sex has also been presumed to improve the mobility of sperm, allowing the sperm to travel farther through the female’s reproductive tract and ensuring a successful pregnancy.

On this note, scientists have suggested that oral sex may work the other way too – make the female more receptive to mate, by stimulating the production of natural lubrication in the reproductive tract. In fact, this theory has been suggested regarding human females too.

Theory #4: Oral sex doesn’t serve any purpose, except pleasure

Finally, the last theory considers pleasure as the only purpose for the presence of oral sex in the sexual repertoire of non-human animals.

There are many animals like bonobos and macaques, who have been observed experiencing true pleasure during sex. They engage in play during the sexual act. For these few animals, mating doesn’t serve a reproductive purpose alone. They have sex because they like it.

Some scientists believe that in these species, oral sex may only be a tool to increase pleasure; and nothing more. A lot like in humans.

Bonobos
A Bonobo troop. (Source)

Oral sex and homosexuality in the animal kingdom

When talking about the sexual behaviours of animals, the question does arise – is oral sex in non-human animals restricted to heterosexual mates or does it include homosexual mates too (given how oral sex is common to both heterosexual and homosexual couples in humans)?

The answer – its species-dependent.

Primates like bonobos and macaques have been observed engaging in both heterosexual and homosexual behaviours, which includes oral sex. Other animals like dolphins, who are reputed for their varied sexual antics, have been observed engaging in homosexual behaviour, but not oral sex in particular. 

This makes it very hard to define whether there is any connection between oral sex and sexuality the animal kingdom or not; or if like humans, there is absolutely no connection. 

Understanding animal sexuality

With greater awareness, scientists are slowly peeling-back the layers surrounding animal sexuality. We are learning more today about sex, reproduction and pleasure, than we ever did before.

Understanding sexuality in the animal kingdom is also helping us understand human sexuality better. It is allowing scientists to understand human physiology and human evolution better too.

Studies like these are doing one other thing – redefining what it means to be human and what it means to be animal. As the lines dividing humans from animals blurs, we may need to rethink much about ourselves and the world.  

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

P.S: Featured image: Greater Indian fruit bat.

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Do Animals Cry and Do They Mourn?

What’s your definition of “crying“?

  • The act of expressing emotions through the production of tears?

  • The physiological response of your body to counteract dryness in the eyes?

If its the first definition, then No, animals don’t cry. However, if its the second definition, then Yes, animals do cry. Animals apart from humans don’t feel what we normally call/define “emotions“. If an animal produces tears in its eyes, its most probably the result of dryness in the eyes or an eye infection.

Of course, this answer isn’t completely comprehensive either. We have animals like elephants who remember the grievances caused against them by humans years ago. We know for a fact that elephants have excellent memories and can hold grudges. We know that elephant mothers are distraught when their calves die. In one village in Southern India, an elephant herd destroyed an entire village through which the corpse of a calf was dragged through (the villagers were disposing-off the calf’s corpse a few days after its death and the scent of the corpse attracted the elephants). Elephants go so far as to investigate the corpse – using their trunks to feel the body and the bones. Sometimes they come back day-after-day, to investigate the bones until the smell wears-off.

Other animals like rhinos, Western scrub jays, chimpanzees and giraffes may not hold grudges, but they have been observed “mourning” their dead. Research shows that rhinos and scrub jays converge around their dead comrades and issue vocalizations that sound different to their normal communication – similar to the sounds humans make when crying. Giraffes have been spotted waiting for their dead calves to get up for hours, even days on end. One of homo sapiens‘ closest relatives – chimpanzees – carry their dead offspring with them for days. Chimps have been noticed tenderly grooming their dead, arranging their fur, posturing their limbs and swatting away insects and predators, keeping the corpses safe for days.

Crying and tears have been observed during some of these cases, but not all. Therefore, there is neither clarity nor validity as to whether animals can feel emotion, can cry or can really mourn (according to our definition of these, at least).

In the scientific community, there is a huge rift between the two groups who study the phenomenon of emotional responses, mourning and crying in animals – one group that truly believes that animals can feel and the other group that believes that humans anthropomorphize animals (attribute human emotions to inanimate objects or natural phenomenon) . The debates and the fights for academic supremacy are endless. Currently, there is enough evidence to support both claims –

  • Animals can really feel.

  • Animals can’t really feel – we only think so, because we anthropomorphize them.

Unfortunately, this creates more problems when trying to understand this phenomenon. Additionally, the concern of possible anthropomorphism often scares researchers and scientists from conducting further studies; at the (assumed) risk of discrediting their other discoveries/research. You see, in the scientific community, one of the worst things a scientist can be accused of is anthropomorphism.

So, until we have more evidence, we cannot make definitive calls regarding the emotional capacity or “crying” ability of non-human animals.

 

NISHA PRAKASH

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Why Are Marsupials Found Only In Australia?

Take a look at global animal distribution and you’ll notice how each country in the world has a specific type or species of animal, that isn’t found anywhere else.

One such group of animals is the Marsupials – animals that possess a pouch which they use to raise their young in. Some of the best examples of Marsupials are kangaroos, koalas, possums and wombats.

When we think about marsupials, we always associate them with the Land Down Under. Why is it that marsupials are found only in Australia?

Okay, let’s take a moment to set the record straight. Marsupials aren’t found only in Australia. They are also found in South America, Central America and certain parts of North America & Southern Canada. The best example of an American marsupial is the Opossum

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An opossum

Scientists believe that the first marsupials were actually born in South America and they crossed Antarctica to finally land on and inhabit Australia. This was 180 million years ago, when Australia, Antarctica and South America were a single super-continent called Gondwana. A common marsupial ancestor born in South America branched into two distinct species, with one residing in the Americas and the other migrating to Australia. Today, over 200 species of marsupials are found in Australia, 100 in South America and 13 in Central America – all descendants of the single American ancestor. 

Gondwana
A representative image of the ancient super-continent of Gondwana (image source)

So, the question we should be asking now is – “Why are a majority of the animals that are found in Australia, marsupial?” Or, a better question would be, “Why are so many marsupials still alive in Australia, when most of their American counterparts are extinct?” What makes Australia such a fertile ground for the birth (& survival) of so many marsupial species?. 

The answer can be two-pronged. One line of thinking states that the geography of the country-continent is the reason for a high percentage of marsupials in Australia.

Australia has been a landmass that has remained largely separate from other continents for millions of years. This meant, it was subject to weather and soil conditions that was completely different from what was found on other continents. In turn, this affected the type of plants that grew on the continent, which changed the diet of the Australian marsupials significantly from their American counterparts. The researchers who support this theory believe that the diet offered by Australia was more conducive to the development of the marsupial species as a whole, compared to the diet elsewhere.

The second theory is that, since Australia was largely and for a very long time secluded and protected from the invasion of foreign species, the marsupials of yore didn’t have much competition to face for shelter, food and water. Additionally, the predominantly marsupial population ensured the birth of more marsupials and over time, the continent was soon overrun by marsupials. 

On the other hand, the Americas blossomed with many distinct species of animals, leading to intense competition for resources and as a result, the extinction of many marsupial species. We need to remember here that marsupial babies are born underdeveloped due to the lack of a placenta. They need additional time compared to their placental or egg-born cousins to grow into strong & mature creatures. With so many threats lurking around and such few resources to be shared by thousands of animals, it was just a matter of time before the genetically-weaker marsupial species in the Americas went extinct. 

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A short list of placental mammals and marsupials commonly found in the wild (image source)

The future of Australia’s marsupials

So, what’s next for our pouched friends?

Species around the world are experiencing the brunt of habitat loss and governments are implementing conservation projects to keep them safe. In Australia, the kangaroo is given protected status – with criminals found injuring or killing them, getting a one-way ticket to prison. But not all marsupials have been afforded this luxury, making conservation a challenging endeavour.

Additionally, some species like the antechinus, are going extinct for another (never-anticipated) reason – their suicidal mating tendencies – and have stumped scientists. Experts are now scrambling to save these almost-extinct species, but it may already be too late. 

In terms of whether we’ll see any new marsupial species being discovered anytime soon; only time will tell. For now, the focus is on preserving the population that is present in the Land Down Under.

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

P.S: Featured image: Pixabay
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5 Fun Facts About Dugongs

Dugongs are marine animals which belong to the family Dugongidae. They are part of the order called Sirenia aka sea cows, which also includes the manatees. They can be found dispersed across the Indian ocean, Pacific ocean and the region between East Africa & Australia. 

Here are five facts about them: 

  1. Apart from manatees, dugongs are the only marine animals that are strictly herbivorous, eating sea grass, weeds and aquatic plants. All other marine animals are omnivorous. 
  2. The closest relative of dugongs is the Steller’s Sea Cow, which was driven to extinction in the mid-1700s.
  3. A dugong’s gestation period lasts one year and females give birth once every 3-7 years. 
  4. Although they resemble seals and walruses in appearance, dugongs are actually more genetically similar to elephants. That’s because these animals evolved from the same ancestor. 
  5. According to the IUCN Red List, dugongs have a “Vulnerable” classification; meaning they are very vulnerable to becoming extinct if conservation efforts aren’t set in place. As of today, less than 7500 dugongs are alive in the world.  

 

Bonus

The name “dugong” comes from the Malay word “duyung“, which means “Lady of the Sea“. Before scientists officially documented this species, sailors & fishermen out at sea assumed dugongs (and their cousins, the manatees) to be mermaids, sirens and other mystical creatures. This was predominantly because of the way these animals swam.

Dugongs and manatees rise out from the underneath the water and perform tail-stands (where they stand & balance on the tip of their tails) when coming up for air. This prompted sailors & fishermen to assume they were the mythical sea-dwelling creatures they grew up hearing about. 

 

 

Steller's Sea Cow
A representative image of a Steller’s Sea Cow – the extinct relative of the dugong (image source)

 

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Some more facts about dugongs (image source: pinterest)

 

Video: Now let’s see a dugong in action

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

P.S: Featured image: National Geographic; Dugong vs Manatee: Indigoscuba
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5 Fun Facts About Africa’s Great Migration

You may have seen it on television – it’s an event that National Geographic has always loved to film. A grand spectacle and a treat for the senses, the Great Migration in Africa is the annual movement of the world’s largest (non-human) land animal group from one part of Africa to the other, in search of food and safer breeding grounds*.

Wildebeests, antelope, zebra and big cats congregate for five months of rigorous walking, eating, birthing and killing. Here are 5 amazing facts about it:

  1. The Great Migration starts in Tanzania at the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation areas and ends at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The migration starts in the month of November and the animals reach their destination in March.
  2. A recorded 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and thousands of antelope make the migration each year. The animals travel a staggering 2900 kilometres (1800 miles) in total, from Tanzania to Kenya and back during this journey.
  3. The Great Migration follows one of the most dangerous routes in Africa. Animals making the journey have to deal with hungry predators (lions, cheetahs & crocodiles), treacherous floods, the uncaring African sun, mean-spirited tsetse flies and physical tiredness. More than 250,000 wildebeests and thousands of zebras and antelopes die each year on the journey. This is excluding the thousands of calves who are left orphaned and vulnerable to predators after their mothers die. A recorded 3000 lions follow the herds on their journey, picking off the weak and the injured.
  4. More than a foraging mission, the Great Migration is a breeding expedition. Pregnant wildebeests move from Tanzania to Kenya for better environmental conditions for calving. An estimated half a million baby wildebeests are born annually during the migration. In the peak of the calving season (February), more than 8000 wildebeest calves are born in a single day!
  5. Although they look like they’re confused and panicked all the time, the massive herds of wildebeests, zebras and antelopes actually function together as one cohesive unit. They display a tactic researchers call “swarm intelligence”, where they carefully analyse, strategise and implement a  plan of action to get safely past any threat together. There’s no “I” in this family.

 

Bonus

There is still no established and accepted explanation for the occurrence of the Great Migration.

Some scientists believe the changing chemistry of the grass could be the reason for the movement. When levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in the Serengeti grassland reduces, the wildebeests may be encouraged to move elsewhere for more nutritious meals, acting as the catalyst for the Great Migration. Others believe that the migration may be the result of a co-ordinated effort helmed by a leader. But so far there has been no evidence of there ever being an alpha-wildebeest in any herd. Then there are those scientists who believe that the Great Migration is the consequence of instinct and DNA – a purely biological process that has no other reason.

Well, whatever the rationale, fossil records show that the Great Migration has been in occurrence in East Africa for over one million years.

 

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The Great Migration – Route Map (image source)

 

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A sea of wildebeests, zebras and antelopes greet the eyes during the Great Migration. Often, these herds extend all the way to the horizon; but they don’t stop there. They go on & on. (image source)

 

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Wildebeests crossing the Mara river – this is where they are most vulnerable to attack from crocodiles. (image source)

 

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A wildebeest mother with her newborn calf. (image source)

 

Video: Watch the culmination of the Great Migration – wildebeest giving birth & a newborn’s first, wobbly steps. 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

P.S: Featured image
*Humans take the crown for the farthest migrations in search of food and shelter. 
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Deceptive Sizing: 3 Newborn Animals Who Are Ridiculously Smaller Than Their Parents

Ah baby animals…these bundles of joy have been lighting up the wild for millennia. While everyone has been raving about their cuteness, not a lot of people have spoken about their size. Let’s face it, when it comes to size, some animals are impressive…impressively small. 

Here are 3 animals whose babies are way smaller than you thought they would be: 

 

Kangaroos

Kangaroo adults can reach heights of 5.25 feet (1.6 meters) and can weigh 90 kilograms (200lbs). But their newborn joeys are smaller than gummy bears, often smaller than 25 millimeters. 

 

 

Watch the incredible journey this little joey makes to reach the safety of its mother’s pouch:

 

 

Pandas

At their heaviest, adult pandas can weigh 160 kilograms (350 lbs). But their tiny cubs weigh only 1/900th of their mother’s weight! Now that’s really tiny. 

 

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A panda mom with her newborn cub

See that little pink floppy thing on the left side? yup, that little nugget is the cub.

Here’s a fun question; what do you call a group of pandas? An embarrassment! Ha ha, all jokes aside, a group of pandas is called “an embarrassment” because of the boisterous way in which panda cubs play when they’re together. It could embarrass any mum. 

Now indulge in some cub time by watching twin panda cubs embark on their first 100 days of life. 

 

 

Elephants

One of the most intelligent animals on the planet, elephants have longest gestation period in the wild. It takes their bodies 22 months to fully develop the calf (imagine being pregnant for almost two years!). But surprisingly, baby elephants when born are only 90 kilograms (200 lbs), while their heavy-weight mothers, aunts and sisters (and not to forget, their brothers and fathers) can reach ridiculously high weights of 3600 kilograms (4 tonnes)! 

 

 

Watch as this newborn calf, just hours old, meets his herd-mates, learns how slopes are not a baby’s friend and discovers the forest he is to grow up in. 

 

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

 

 

 

 

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5 Fun Facts About Possums

Posssums are marsupials (pouched mammals) that are found in North America. They are the only marsupial species found outside Australia and New Guinea. They belong to the order Didelphimorphia, to which belong 95 species of possums. 

 

Here are 5 fun facts about them: 

  1. Possums are renowned for their ability to “play dead”. In reality, possums don’t actually “play” dead. Their paralysis and almost-dead like state is an involuntary physiological reaction where their nerves and muscles literally freeze and stop working for hours due to stress. This in-built defense mechanism has allowed the possum to survive from pre-historic times. 
  2. Lyme disease is a tick-bite induced disease that results in terribly itchy and inflamed rashes, joint pain and fatigue. Possums in your backyard is a great defense against Lyme disease. It’s been found that possums prey on over 5000 of the ticks and fleas that spread the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. 
  3. Apart from the venom of the Coral Rattlesnake, possums are immune to all other snake venom. That’s why they regularly prey on snakes in the wild. A few years ago researchers created an anti-venom using possum peptides (short chain amino acids linked by peptide bonds), which they injected into mice. They then injected snake venom into the mice only to find the venom absolutely useless. 
  4. Rabies virus require very hot temperatures to develop and spread. But possums have very low body temperatures compared to other mammals and this makes them invulnerable to rabies. You can almost never find a possum with rabies. 
  5. Primates aren’t the only species to be gifted with opposable thumbs. Possums have opposable thumbs called “halux” on their feet and they use them to climb atop the steepest trees and into the deepest sewers in search of food. 

 

Bonus

Contrary to popular belief, possums and opposums aren’t the same animal. They also don’t belong to the same species. For one, possums belong to the Didelphimorphia order in North America, while opossums belong to the order Phalangeridae in Australia. Both animals look similar, but behave completely differently. It was because of this similarity in physical features that led scientists to confuse the opposum for a possum. 

 

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Possums are excellent climbers and use their tails as rudders and as a fifth limb to improve their dexterity. (image source)

 

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A possum with her young (image source- pixabay)

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

P.S: Featured image – Wikipedia 
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5 Fun Facts About Bison

Bison, also called the American Buffalo, are a species of Bovine found in North America. They are a Near Threatened species with only 500,000 left in the wild. 

Here are 5 fun facts about them:

  1. Bison have lived in the area that is now known as Yellowstone National Park since prehistoric times. Researchers believe these animals are more than 2 million years old and have survived the ice age. 
  2. Adult bison can weigh up to 2000 pounds. Although its such a heavy animal, a bison can run at record speeds of 35 miles/hour. That’s faster than Usain Bolt’s Olympic record speed of 27.8 miles/hour. 
  3. You can easily tell how a bison is feeling by looking at its tail. Calm bison will leave their tails down and swish it around – the movement seems effortless. But an angry bison, especially one that’s about to charge, will have its tail straight upwards, pointing towards the sky. 
  4. Bison calves are called “red dogs” because of the colour of their fur. When bison calves are born, they are orange-red in colour and they turn brown-black as they age. 
  5. A bison’s hump is made of strong muscles. This lump of muscle, supported by the animal’s strong vertebral column, helps the bison shovel large amounts of snow and dirt from the ground when its foraging for food. Unlike the camel (which uses its fat-filled hump as a source of energy during times of scarcity), a bison can’t use its hump as anything other than a snow/dirt shovel. 

 

Bonus

Analysis of migratory patterns show that the bison made their way to North America from Asia during the Pliocene Epoch via the natural land bridge that connected Asia to North America, before the split of the Pangaea. So, although the bison is now the USA’s national mammal, it was never their indigenous species. 

 

Video: Two juggernauts go head-to-head in a fight to the finish for land and ladies. What happens next? 

 

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A cave painting of a bison from historic times – proof that bison roamed the lands during the olden days.

 

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A newborn bison calf with its mother. You can see the remnants of the birth coming from the bison mother.

 

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

P.S: Photo Credits: Pixabay

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5 Fun Facts About Sheep

  1. Dolly the sheep was the first mammal to be cloned in the world. She was born in 1996 and died in 2003 due to lung disease. Now 8 other species have been cloned after her. 
  2. Like to eat lamb or mutton? If yes to the former, you enjoy dining on young sheep. But if its the latter you like, adult sheep are your preferred meal. 
  3. A sheep’s natural diet constitutes invasive plants .i.e. plants or weeds that are not native to a geographical area and which wreak havoc on the health of native plants and animals (ex: moss, vines etc). That’s why farmers and conservationists use sheep in a process called “conservation farming“, where they consciously rear sheep to eat & clear any invasive plant species in a fragile ecosystem. 
  4. Sheep may appear dull and stupid, but they are quite intelligent and can recognize human voices and faces. They are often observed developing close bonds with specific people or animals on the farm. In fact, many sheep have “best friends” in their own flocks!
  5. Don’t you just love water-proof cosmetics? You need to thank sheep for that. Sheep produce a water-proof fatty oil called “lanolin” to keep their wool dry. It is this oil that is used as a base to produce water-proof make-up. 

 

Bonus

Apart from humans, sheep are the only animals who show a conscious lifelong preference for same-sex mates. A 1994 study showed that 8% of the males in sheep flocks prefer to partner with other males for life, even if there is no dearth of fertile females. In other animal species, a variety of factors from shortage of mates to lack of sexual pleasure can temporarily encourage homosexuality in animal groups.  

 

Sheep 4
Sheep live in tight-knit flocks. Lambs grow up playing with each other. 

 

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Orphan lambs are put with foster moms who have lambs of their own and are producing milk. This can be a very tricky affair for both farmers and lambs. Read all about it here

 

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Sheep wool never stops growing. Sheep need to be sheared at least once a year to prevent the onset of any dermatological diseases or pest-caused diseases. In 2004, Shrek, a merino sheep from New Zealand hid inside a cave for six years because he was scared of getting sheared. By the time he was coaxed out and caught by farmers, he had enough wool on him to produce 20 full-length men’s suits!

 

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Bighorn Sheep from North America have horns that weigh as high as 14 kilograms. 

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

 

 

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5 Fun Facts About Rats

  1. April 4th is celebrated as World Rat Day. This day was chosen in honour of the date of incorporation of the Ratlist, a mailing list that’s dedicated to the care and upkeep of pet rats. 
  2. A rat’s whiskers are its “hearing” devices. The whiskers pick up vibrations from the ground and inform the rat the size of the object/creature coming towards it and the direction it is coming from.
  3. Rats have been observed making a high-pitched laughing noise when they play. 
  4. A rat’s teeth never stop growing. They can grow up to 5 inches per year. These teeth are so strong, they can gnaw through lead and aluminum sheeting!
  5. Rats have really good memories and can recognize faces & places. Their superb memory is one of the reasons why they don’t get lost in mazes and drain pipes. 

 

Bonus

In countries like Cambodia, Angola and Zimbabwe, Giant African rats are trained to detect landmines. In fact, these rats have saved countless lives through their super-rat landmine-detecting abilities. 

To qualify as a landmine-detector, the rats have to undergo a gruelling 6-9 months training and must pass an accreditation test. Read all about this interesting process here. You can also meet some of these heroes at Apopo

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A rat training to detect landmines

 

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Rats make great house pets as they are very easy to maintain.

 

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Wild rats carry over 35 different diseases that are really dangerous to humans.

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

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5 Fun Facts About Zorse

  1. Zorse is a real animal. It is the cross-bred offspring of a zebra stallion and a horse mare.
  2. The combination of the horse and zebra genetic material has given the Zorse a stunning genetic blueprint. A Zorse is always immune to the genetic diseases that are common to both its parents.
  3. Although its fur colour can come from either of its parents, most of the physical features of the Zorse come from the Zebra father, making it a very strong & hardy animal, fit for the wild. However, its personality and temperament are exactly like its Horse mother, making it very easy to train. That’s why the Zorse is used as a pack animal in certain places of North America.
  4. The Zorse has a 360-degree vision and can turn its eyeballs completely around to see. However, it has two blind spots – one behind the head and one directly below the nose.
  5. The Zorse is by birth sterile and can’t reproduce. However, mating behaviours have been observed in the animals, both in the wild and in captivity.

 

Bonus

Unlike Ligers and Tigons, which come from different combinations of lion and tiger mating, Zorse foals are born genetically the same irrespective of whether they are reared through a zebra stallion-horse mare mating or a horse stallion-zebra mare mating. However, since zebras are rarer and scientifically more valuable to breeding programs than horses are, no zebra owner voluntarily wastes time on having their female zebra give birth to a Zorse.

 

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A mother horse with her zorse foal

 

Zorses come in a variety of colours: 

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

 

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5 Fun Facts About African Wild Dogs

  1. Each African wild dog has a unique spotting/marking on its fur. These markings serve the same purpose as human fingerprints and help researchers and gamekeepers keep track of individual pack members.
  2. Unlike in other animal groups where males leave and females stay behind; male wild dogs stay in their birth pack for life, while females leave and join other packs after reaching sexual maturity. This ensures there is no inbreeding.
  3. African wild dogs follow a community-based rearing of their young. Every adult member of the pack is responsible for the safety & upbringing of the pups and both males and females share babysitting duties.
  4. Wild dogs packs are extremely loving and caring, often taking care of the injured members of their packs for years. Healthy, adult dogs give feeding priority to pups and injured pack members, even before feeding themselves.
  5. Wild dogs are extremely intelligent and plan hunts well in advance. In fact, it’s this intelligence, coupled with team work and endurance that makes them successful in 80% of all attempted hunts. In comparison, lions are successful only 17%-19% of the time.

 

Bonus

Humans have tried to domesticate wild dogs like they did other canids, but have remained unsuccessful. Why? Wild dogs have an inherent suspicion towards any animal apart from their own pack-members and they have an intense dislike towards being touched. All domesticated dog species on the other hand, were very friendly and liked being petted, even when wild. 

 

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Wild dog pups, just weeks old

 

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Wild dog pack in the midst of a hunt 

 

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Every adult wild dog in the pack is responsible to teach pups the ways of the wild

 

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Wild dogs are very curious about their environment

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Indri

  1. Indris are a type of lemur found in Madagascar. They are very rare and an estimated 10,000 are left in the wild, making them critically endangered species.
  2. Indris produce songs to communicate with each other, which comprise of a series of roars and grunts. These songs are so hauntingly beautiful, they’re thought to be as good as the vocalizations humpback whales make as part of their mating ritual.
  3. Indris are a matriarchal society. A female leads the troop for foraging and determines the troop hierarchy.
  4. Indris mate for life and only seek out a new partner when their mates die.
  5. Female indris are fertile only for a single day in the year and they must mate then to ensure pregnancy.

Bonus

Unlike in other lemurs, the indris’ small tail doesn’t serve any purpose and doesn’t help them walk or jump. Instead, indris depend on their muscular legs to jump from tree branch to tree branch. They can jump 10 feet across in a single leap.

Video:

Sir David Attenborough meets an Indri

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An indri 

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A baby indri

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A mother-baby pair

-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Puma

  1. Pumas are known by 80 different names around the world. Some of the ones you may have heard of are – Cougar, Panther, Mountain Lion, Catamount & Shadow Cat.
  2. Puma cubs are born with spots on their fur, which they lose as they begin to age.
  3. Big cats roar, while small cats snarl. Unlike lions & tigers, puma can’t roar, but they can snarl. This makes them small cats, despite being the fourth heaviest cat species in the world.
  4. There are only 50,000 breeding Pumas in the wild, making them “Near Threatened” according to the IUCN Endangered Species list.
  5. Puma cubs start hunting small prey at 6 months of age. That’s the fastest of all the cats.

 

Bonus

Pumas are excellent jumpers. They can jump as high as 5.4 meters upwards onto a tree. That’s almost twice as high as the World Record high jump of 2.45 meters by Cuban athlete Javier Sotomayor.

 

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A puma resting 

 

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A puma hunting a bear cub. The mother bear runs to save its cub. 

 

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A puma cub

 

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A puma running

 

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A mother-cub pair

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Wolverines

  1. Wolverines belong to the Mustelidae family, which includes badgers, otters, minks and beavers.
  2. Wolverines secrete a very foul-smelling liquid from their anus to throw-off predators and marauders. This liquid has given them the name “skunk bear”.
  3. Wolverines use a unique tactic to hunt. They climb onto tall trees and pounce onto their prey from the top. Sometimes, the force of the fall is enough to maim or kill the prey.
  4. In a fight between a bear and a wolverine, the bear will more likely be the first to back-off. Why? Wolverines are known for their nasty temper and nastier bite.
  5. The word “wolverine” means “glutton” in Latin. Wolverines will hunt/scavenge anything that comes in their path and pick the bones clean within hours. They’re also great at sneaking food out of traps set by researchers.

 

Bonus

A “wolverine” is actually the male of the species. The female is called an “angeline” and  wolverine cubs are called “kits”.

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An adult wolverine in captivity

 

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A newborn kit

 

Video: Wolverine kits with their mother

 

So now that you know these amazing facts, which wolverine do you prefer? Comment below. 

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-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Armadillos

  1. Armadillos swallow large quantities of air to inflate themselves into a balloon-like shape and float across water bodies.
  2. The three-banded armadillo is the only one of its species that can form into a complete ball. Its shell is so hard that even dogs can’t break it.
  3. When startled, armadillos jump 3-4 feet vertically into the air. This is the biggest cause of fatal accidents between cars and armadillos.
  4. The nine-banded armadillo becomes mother to 4 genetically-identical quadruplets each time it gives birth. Why? It produces a single egg that divides into 4 equal and completely identical parts.
  5. Armadillos are the only animals other than humans which can contract leprosy.

 

Bonus:

Armadillos are a delicacy in the United States. In fact, there’s a special dish called the Hoover Hog which locals in the southern United States make, using roadkill armadillo, fresh veggies and spices.  

However, I strongly discourage you to try this dish, as it is one of the causes of leprosy transmission between armadillos and humans.

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A three-banded armadillo rolling into a complete ball

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Glyptodon; an extinct animal believed to be one of the ancestors of the modern-day armadillo

 

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A baby armadillo being fed milk

 

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Three banded armadillo

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Screaming hairy armadillo

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Andean hairy armadillo

 

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Minke Whales

  1. Minke whales have two V-shaped blow-holes on their heads. They can hold their breath up to 15 minutes.
  2. Minke whales are very shy and typically swim alone. But they are also curious and can be spotted swimming up to ships and looking up at people.
  3. The killer whale is the minke whale’s natural enemy.
  4. Minke whale pregnancies last 11 months long and calves spend up to 5 years with their mothers.
  5. Minke whales live up to 50 years of age.

 

Bonus:

Minke whales are the second smallest whales on the planet, measuring only 24 feet in length and weighing just under 4.3 metric tonnes. This is just a fraction of the world’s largest whale, the blue whale, which swims at 98 feet in length and weighs 180 metric tonnes.

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Size of a Minke whale compared to other whales

 

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A killer whale attacking a Minke whale

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A pod of Minke whales

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

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5 Fun Facts About Chevrotain aka Mouse Deer

  1. Chevrotain are found only in Asia and Africa.
  2. Chevrotain are super small in size. The various sub-species of the mouse deer range in size between that of a Chihuahua and a Jack Russell Terrier.
  3. Although they resemble deer and have mousey faces, the chevrotain are not related to either of the animals. In fact, they belong to a separate, mostly-extinct species called Tragulidae, of which they are the only surviving members.
  4. They have very long and sharp fangs which they use during battle for territory and mates. Their bites can put even Dracula to shame.
  5. Female chevrotain are pregnant for most of their adult lives. They mate and get pregnant within a few hours of giving birth.

 

Bonus

Chevrotains walk down into the river bottom and remain submerged for up to 4 minutes at a time when they sense the presence of predators.  They may also create secondary burrows for themselves underwater where they stay until the danger passes. To see what this is like, watch the video below.

 

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A chevrotain’s fangs are very sharp and long. Males have longer and sharper fangs than females.

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Chevrotain mating

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A mother chevrotain feeding a fawn. Mothers stand on three legs, lift a leg in the air and feed their fawns. 

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Fawns are one of the smallest creatures in the wild

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A mouse deer in the Thai forest

 

-NISHA PRAKASH