Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

From a zoo in Shenzhen Province, China (via The Telegraph.)

May this year bring greater respect, understanding, and empathy for all living creatures on the earth.
Happy 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Master of Camouflage Stirs Things Up

Nothing quite compares to the octopus when it comes to camouflage. Over at Science Blogs, Greg Laden posted this amazing video. Like the man in the video, I had to watch the slow motion replay before I believed this wasn't some kind of trick of the film maker. Check this out!

Isn't that incredible? The common octopus uses a network of pigment cells and specialized muscles in it's skin to blend into its surroundings. It can assess its surroundings and change to blend in seconds so it can literally hide in plain sight. And the ink it ejects if spotted not only obscures the predator's view, but also dulls the predator's sense of smell so the octopus has a better chance of escape. But the octopus doesn't just rely on its camouflage to save it. It also has a wicked jaw that can deliver a vicious bite and venomous saliva to boot. And, as if that weren't enough, it possesses a keen intelligence.

Octopuses have long been thought of as the most intelligent of all the invertebrates, but recent studies by researchers like Jennifer Mather are proving that they are quite capable of problem solving, tool use, heck they even exhibit play behaviors. This ranks them right up there with the most intelligent beings on earth. In fact, they are causing quite a stir, since octopuses are asocial beings. So, proof of their intelligence sort of blows Nicholas Humphrey's social theory of intelligence out of the water. The original theory was expanded to argue animal intelligence by esteemed researchers like Jane Goodall, who posit that the need for intelligence in "higher mammals" like chimpanzees and elephants, for instance, is due to their social structures.

So, the octopus is stirring up the cognitive studies world and forcing researchers to rethink long-standing false assumptions, such as the notion that something must be human-like in some way, possess social skills and humanistic qualities, to have smarts. Not so much. Yet another reason for me to admire the octopus.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Because I can always count on them for the latest and greatest information on all things bird, I am happy to support The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you have not already learned this about me, I am a total bird geek. Give me a pair of binoculars, a spotting scope, and some camouflage, and I can be happy hiking for days following my ears to the next glimpse of some fantastic feathered friend. I even worked in an aviary with tropical forest birds for many years. The photo is of me helping my curator band a Blue Crowned Hanging Parrot, one of the smallest parrots in the world.

Last year's best holiday gift was Cornell Lab's Bird Songs Bible, which plays the birds' songs so you can hear them as you look up their information. 

Cornell Lab's overall mission is to "interpret and conserve the earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds." Here is what John Fitzpatrick, their current director, has to say about their work. “Daily, every person under this roof is committed to focusing our unique resources, our ingenuity, and our appreciation of nature toward studying and teaching about the living earth.” 

By way of a thank you this year, Cornell Lab sent out a lovely video to their members. I thought I would share it so you can see some of the amazing things they film and study. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Very Merry Zooliday!

One of my favorite things to do when I worked as a zookeeper was create fun things to give my animals for enrichment. Because captive animals are often bored in their enclosures, zookeepers spend a good portion of every day trying out different things to keep them entertained, active, and healthy. The holiday season provides all kinds of opportunities for the animals and keepers alike to get into the festive spirit. So, I thought I would share some photos from zoos around the world to show you what some of the animals have been up to.

Over at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, they've been hosting a holiday enrichment fest for their animals for several years. Here are a few of their posted photos -

Here's a photo by Rick Stevens of Bethyl, Taronga's elderly Kodiak Bear checking out her fun new toy -

And at the Belfast Zoo, the primates are enjoying their visit from Saint Nicholas a little early this year -

And stateside, at the Wildwood Wildlife Park, in Marshfield, Wisconsin, a cougar decided his presents were offensive, but he had fun shredding them -

At the North Carolina Zoo, we used to gather all of the Christmas trees after the holidays were over and give them to the animals as enrichment. Sadly, I can't seem to find any of those photos. All you zoo peeps, if you have some fun holiday images you'd be willing to post, please email them.

I hope you and all your loved ones, including the fur-covered variety, have a wonderful holidays.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Animal Magnetism

Annette Swofer's got it, apparently. She came home over the weekend in Tauranga, New Zealand to find a visiting baby seal sleeping on her couch. And this seal strayed quite a ways from it's mother to visit with Annette, crossing a busy street, climbing some stairs, and entering through the cat door in her kitchen.

Annette says she thought she was hallucinating at first, and she didn't really know what kind of animal it was, only that it wasn't a cat or a dog because it had flippers. She asked her friend to be sure she wasn't seeing things, and seemed relieved to find he could see it, too.

In an article at The Mary Sue, she was quoted as saying, "It's kind of like finding an elephant in your house." Actually, Annette, it's really not at all like that, but thanks for making me laugh -a lot. And thanks for calling the animal rescue people who returned the pup to its natural habitat. You can find more about this over at Huffington Post.

And speaking of people with animal magnetism, Cornell University's Round Robin posted a lovely article on the new Chris Linder book, Science On Ice. I am very excited about this book. I'll admit it's mostly because of the fantastic photographer, because I love his work. Although, I am also interested in the project's findings and the story of this amazing group of scientists who braved the elements of the Antarctica to study the Adelie Penguins. They nest on the world's largest glacier. Here is a fantastic video on their adventure. How could I resist a penguin video? Perhaps it should be said that penguins and baby seals possess human magnetism.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dog Diva on the Catwalk

When I heard the fantastic photographer Lisa Pitcher was calling for models for her fine arts shoot, I was thrilled. I never thought I'd be one of those moms who would gladly turn their kid into a diva to live vicariously. Well, I am. Of course, if you know me, you know my kids are all of the fur-covered variety. So, Miss Cinco de Mayo, who in all honesty was already a doggy diva, found herself volunteered for a turn on the catwalk.

I wasn't really sure how she would respond to this, since she is typically a little worry wart. Plus, she doesn't really care for me pointing my camera in her direction. But, Lisa not only has the eye, but also the touch for easing her subjects and capturing their personalities. In her own words, Lisa describes her photographic vision:

"I am not interested in using my camera to merely document a subject, I am always looking for avenues to peel off the obvious and reveal with my lens the emotional heart of the subject. Light, angle, colors, depth of field- I utilize all of these to capture what makes that person/animal who they are."

So, with the help of various treats and a whole lot of "You're the star" treatment, Cinco is now certainly poised to become the first Canine Vogue cover girl! Thanks to Lisa Pitcher for immortalizing my Cinco and for agreeing to share her images here. I highly recommend you visit her website and take a look at her other portraits!