birdienl: (Jane Eyre)
I was nominated for this award by Carissa at Musings of an Introvert. Thank you so much, Carissa!

The rules of this award are as follows:
a) Answer the eleven questions of the tagger
b) Share eleven facts about yourself
c) Nominate up to eleven other bloggers
d) Ask those nominees eleven new questions

There we go! First up are Carissa's questions:
1. Where do you go to decompress from the world?
When my pony was alive, this was definitely the riding school where she lived. I could almost literally feel the stress falling from my shoulders when I spent time there with her and among the other horses. I believe animals are great stress-relievers! Nowadays it's just at home, with a good book or a nice series.
Read more... )
birdienl: (Horses)
We probably all wondered once what an animal was thinking and wished it could speak, so we could ask it just that. Animal cognition is a fascinating field of study, which shows us time after time animals might be less thoughtless than we anticipated!

The animals which have shown the longest memory in a research setting have so far been dolphins. Research showed that after 20 years of seperation, dolphins still recalled the whistles of former companions. Dolphins use unique whistles, akin to our names to communicate. Dolphins which had been housed together 20 years ago, still reacted when the whistle of their former mate was played to them. They approached the source of sound and started responding with their own whistle. When whistles were played from dolphins they had never met, this reaction was not seen. The scientists were amazed about this, as dolphins only have a lifespan of about 20 years in the wild. They believe the long memory is important because dolphins form 'fluid' social groups, they may leave one group and join another multiple times in a lifetime. It is therefore important for them to remember identities of dolphins they encountered long ago to decide whether or not this may be someone they want to approach or avoid upon meeting them again.
Other animals with almost equally longterm memories are great apes and elephants.

In some memory tasks, animals might even top our human memory. For example, the visual memory of chimpanzees is amazingly strong. When presented with an image of randomly scattered numbers and later asked to identify the position of each number in order, chimpanzees did better than human test subjects. Chimps seem to posses a sort of photographic memory, remembering the details of an image even if just glimpsed for a view seconds!

Why this subject? )
birdienl: (Horses)
Oh dear, I just saw that it was over a month since I did my last '100 things' post :-0 High time for some new interesting facts!

The balsa tree (Ochroma pyramidale) is a large, fast-growing tree native to the rainforests of Middle and Southern America. The trees, which can grow up to 10 meters high in only 3-4 years, are harvested for their soft and light wood.

The tree produces large flowers, which only open for a single night. The flowers can produce up to 50 ml of nectar each and this makes them very attractive to all kind of animals. Especially because the tree flowers at the end of the rainy season, when there is little other food about. Animals which feed on the nectar are as diverse as moths, bats, hummingbirds, opossums and monkeys! Some other animals do not feed on the nectar themselves, but do gather on flowering balsa trees to catch prey which comes to drink, such as snakes and predatory insects. In this respect, ecologists sometimes compare the flowering balsa tree to an African watering hole on the savanna, because of the amount of animals it attracts and supports.

Ofcourse plants do not produce nectar just to support animals, in return they 'expect' the animals to pollinate them, in other words, help with their reproduction. The main pollinators of the balsa tree are thought to be mammals: bats, monkeys, woolly opossums and the kinkajou and olingo (nocturnal animals related to raccoons)

A kinkajou with lots of balsa pollen on its cheek next to an open balsa flower.
birdienl: (Academia)
Again, sorry for my lack of posting here recently... It's been really warm here in The Netherlands and my motivation and productivity has dropped to 0. I therefore thought a nice topic for this '100 things post' might be, the way animals cope with the heat!

Most animals are clever and simply avoid being in the heat. They are active during the night or during the cool hours of the day only. For the rest of the time they retire to a cool place in a cave or burrow or bury themselves beneath the sand. The Round-tailed Ground Squirrel hibernates both during the winter and during the hottest part of the summer, simply sleeping away the heat!

Animals who do 'decide' to be active during the day, have many anatomical and physiological adaptations to keep cool. Some lizards have longer legs, so their body is higher above the ground while running and they will absorb less heat. Owls and some other predatory birds gape with their mouths open and quickly flutter their throat cavity to lose heat by evaporation of water. Desert foxes and rabbits have much larger ears than their relatives in cooler areas. These ears, with their many blood vessels release their body heat.

A little more extreme is urohydrosis, the trick vultures and storks use to keep cool. They urinate on their legs, which cool by evaporation and the cooled blood will be recycled through the rest of the body...

There's one other thing you can do as an animal living in the heat: just tolerate it. The Antilope Squirrel's body temperature can rise up to over 40 C/104 F without damaging it's organs.

Maybe if I had such ears I could also enjoy sitting outside in this weather, instead of hiding myself in front of the ventilator inside...
birdienl: (Academia)
Nature can be cruel. Many animals either eat other animals or are on the menu themselves. There are instances of feeding however, where it doesn't all end in blood-shedding and death!

Multiple species of moths, butterflies and bees feed on tears of larger animals. The tear fluid, produced to clean the eye and keep it moist, is full of salts and proteins. These substances are valuable sources of nutrition for the insects, especially in areas far away from other sources of salt (sea water). Though the tear-feeding does not harm the larger animals, species are often targeted on the basis of them being unable to brush the insects away. Therefore most targeted species are large, placid animals, such as turtles or antilopes.

In Madagascar a species of moth was recently discovered to drink from the eyes of sleeping birds. Madagascar, with it's unique fauna, does not have any large mammals (the largest are half-apes, which could easily brush off the insects with their arms). Therefore, the moths have adapted to feed on this unique host!

birdienl: (Academia)
Yes, I know I've been AWOL the last two weeks... I have been very busy at work and in the evenings I only wanted to crash on the couch and watch some tv. But I hope in the coming time I'll have some more time to post here. Beginning with a 100 things challenge  post, about the subject which has been most on my mind in the last few weeks: chickens!

The current domestic chicken was domesticated from the Red Junglefowl, a tropical bird of the pheasant family and still scientifically belongs to the same species (Gallus gallus). The Red Jungle fowl itself can still be found in the wild in Eastern Asia. Three other closely related junglefowl species have most likely also contributed to our modern domestic chicken.

The exact date and place of the domestication of the chicken remains a puzzle, but it is believed to have occurred about 8000 years ago somewhere in Asia. Genetic studies point to multiple domestication events. The earliest archaeological evidence of domesticated chickens is found in China in the 6th millennium BC in a relatively widespread area. On Mesopotamian clay tablets of 2000 BC, mentions of chickens are found. In Egypt around this time, depictions of the birds adorned royal tombs. The ancient Egyptians also first mastered the art of artificial incubation of chicken eggs, freeing hens to lay more eggs.

Interestingly, it is believed chickens were first domesticated for the purpose of cockfighting in stead of eating! Until the large-scale meat and egg production of the 20th century, chickens have always been of use to humans, but have not, like the ox and the horse, significantly influenced human history.

 photo egypt_food_zps3feaf650.jpg
Chickens and chicken eggs among other food on an ancient Egyptian mural
birdienl: (Academia)
You'd think that in the 21st century, scientist know of every living creature in every corner of the earth. But no, new species of plants and animals are still discovered regularly.

In 1992, a group of researchers from the WWF found skulls of an unknown bovid in hunter's huts in a nature reserve in Vietnam. The villagers called the animal saola, which translated means 'spindle-horned'. The researchers proposed a survey to observe the living animal, but 20 years later, there is still no report of a sighting in the wild of a saola by a scientist, though it had been captured on camera-trap footage. In 2010, a saola was captured by villagers, but it died before it could be released back into the wild. In the last few years, some more saola have been captured, but none of them survived for long, making scientists believe these animals cannot sustain captivity.

The very limited information known about the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) tells us that they live in mountain forests of Vietnam and Laos. The animals are shy and never enter cultivated fields or come close to villages. They are reported to eat small leafy plants and live in couples or groups of three. Though it it unknown how many saola are living in the wild,
they might be the rarest bovid species and one of the world's rarest mammal species.

I think it is nice to hear nature still has secrets for us, even in 2013!

Here are my answers to the 'Top 5'-meme I posted last week:

[ profile] ever_maedhros asked for my Top 5 classical music pieces:
Click to read )

[ profile] msantimacassar asked for my Top 5 period drama couples and also had the nerve to ask for my Top 5 books (tssk..)!
Click to read )

And [ profile] caffeinatedlife asked for my Top 5 classics I would like to see (re)adapted
Click to read )
birdienl: (Default)
Rats are a nuisance, right? They carry diseases, eat animal feed and most people are just plain frightened of them. But, people in mine infested regions of Mozambique and Thailand are very grateful for the help of the trained African giant pouched rats to make their land safe again.

The Belgian NGO APOPO started training these rats to sniff out the scent of landmines and indicate their presence to their handler by scratching the ground. The insignificant weight of these rats mean the landmines won't detonate when the animals walk over them. The African giant pouched rats are longlived for rodents, they can reach an age of 6-8 years. 

The demining operations with the so-called HeroRATS started in 2004 in Mozambique and in 2010 a second project has started along the Thai-Cambodian border. In Mozambique, the operations have cleared 2,5 million square meter of land of the danger of mines. 

APOPO has also started a project to train these rats, with their exceptional olfactory abilities, to detect tuberculosis in human sputum samples. The project is still in the testing phase, but so-far it looks very promising: the rats can increase the TB detection rate by 43% compared to microscopy!

birdienl: (Default)
It's that time of the year again, when many birds head of to their wintering grounds. It's an amazing feat for any migrating birds species to travel yearly for many hunderd or thousand kilometers, but the bird topping all this is the Artic tern. This elegant white seabird, weighing only about 85-120 grams, breads on the coast of the northern parts of North America and Eurasia during the summer of the northern hemisphere. It will however be wintering in the Antartic region, reaching the southernmost parts of the Antartic ice. To accomplish this, the bird must fly at least 19.000 km (12.000 miles) two times each year! This is by far the longest regular migration of any animal.

Recent research using electronic tracking devices showed that some Artic terns even cover a much longer distance. Eleven birds, breeding in Iceland or Greenland covered on average 70.900 km/year during the research period. These high numbers are believed to be caused by birds taking a meandering course on their trip round the world, to take advantage of prevailing winds. 

birdienl: (Default)
There are some very weird animals in the world.... A few of these belong to the family of the Monotremes, an order of mammals which is singular for the fact that it lays eggs in stead of giving birth to life young. The most famous of these is no doubt the platypus, but also four species of echidnas or spiny ant eaters belong to the Monotremes. While the platypus is only found in Australia, the spiny ant eaters are endemic to New Guinea, with one species also occuring in Australia. From fossile evidence it is known there used to be a much larger number of Monotreme species and they used to occur over a larger part of the world.

As mentioned, Monotremes lay eggs. However, the egg is retained for a while within the mother and actively supplied with nutrients. After birth, the baby animals drink milk from their mothers. However, as the Monotremes have no nipples, the milk is suckled from pores in the skin. 

Next to this difference, Monotremes have other anatomical differences from other mammals. They have a so-called cloaca (also found in birds and reptiles): one single opening for the urinary, genital and gastrointestinal tract. Monotremes have a reptile-like gait, as their legs are on the sides in stead of underneath their bodies. They all have a spur in the ankle region, in echnidas, this has not apparent function, but it contains a powerful venom in the male platypus.

Short-billed echnida

birdienl: (Default)
Lonesome George was a Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii), a subspecies of the Galápagos tortoise native to Pinta Island in Equador. He is believed to have been the last remaining member of his subspecies and was thereby one of the rarest creatures on earth.

In the mid-20th century, the subspecies was already believed to be extinct due to hunting and the distruction of Pinta Island's habitat by goats. But in 1971 a single male was discovered on Pinta Island. Lonesome George was brought to live at the Charles Darwin Research station at the Galápagos island of Santa Cruz. Efforts were made to mate George with females of closely related species. Though a few females have laid eggs, none has hatched. Lonesome George died on the 24th of June, 2012. He is believed to have been over 100 years old, but this is not extremely old for a Galápagos tortoise.

birdienl: (Default)
Have you ever seen a white foal? Most likely not, as most white horses are born coloured (black, brown, chestnut)! Usually within the first year of their life they start to change colour and have reached their 'adult' colour at ages 6-8. The process resembles the graying process in humans, but is ultrafast in these horses. As the hair looses it's pigment, but the skin remains pigmented, white horses should actually be called gray. 

True white horses are rare. Their foals are born white. They have both unpigmented (pink) skin and skin, but their eyes can be brown, hazel or blue, so they are not albinos. Because these horses have such light skin, they are very susceptible to sunburn and melanomas.

As an announcement this is a bit late, as the event is already in full swing... Still I want to encourage all of you who love the costumes in period dramas to check out Period Drama Fashion Week at one of my favourite blogs Elegance of Fashion! There are interesting posts about all aspects of period drama fashion, polls about favourite costumes and a quiz!

Period Drama Fashion Week at Elegance of Fashion
birdienl: (Default)
The world is illuminated by glowing organisms. Glow-worms and fireflies are perhaps the best-known members of a group of creatures who glow in the dark - also known as bio-luminescence, but there are many more insects, jellyfish, crustaceans, molluscs, fish, fungi and microorganisms who possess this ability.

The chemistry of the glowing is similar in all these animals. Central are the molecules known as luciferins, which emit light when they are oxidated (a similar reaction to burning, but with all the energy released as light in stead of heat). There are different luciferins, which emit light of different wavelengths, meaning we can animals glowing with different colours. Glow-worm luciferin emits green light, while the luciferin found in most marine creatures produces a blue glow. Glows in yellow and red can also be found within the animal kingdom. The glow of deep-sea fish is usually not produced by the fish itself, but by bio-luminescent bacteria they house in a special organ. 

Glowing is done for a variety of reasons. Glow-worm females use it as a beacon to attract males, while glow-worm larvae seem to emit the light to warn predators they are toxic. Bio-luminescence in fungi probably serves to attract insects which disperse the spores. Anglerfish dangle a glowing lure in front of their mouth to attract prey withing striking distance!

birdienl: (Default)
Maintaining a constant warm body temperature seems so obvious for us humans we never really think about it. But for many wild animals there is a downside, heating the body costs a metabolic fortune. It was already known small mammals, such as mice and rodents, can drop their body temperature when food sources are low and in this way save energy. Recently, researchers from the University of Göttingen in Germany have found out horses also possess this trick. First, they tested Przewalski horses, the horse race closest to the wild predecessor of all horses. When they were found capable of regulating their body temperature, the researchers were curious to know whether this ability was lost in domesticated horses or not. So they tested Shetland ponies next, feeding some animals 30% less compared to control animals. The ponies being fed less turned out to have a 1,1 C lower body temperature and also a slower heart rate. 

So, these domesticated animals have retained the ability that their wild ancestors also had, which gives them the ability to survive harsher conditions with less food. Aha, now I know why my Shetland ponies seem to grow from noting but air!


birdienl: (Default)
Icelandic horses are one of the purest breeds of horses in the world. These animals, which should by their size actually be called a pony, are the only horse breed on the island, so no cross-breeding can take place. Laws also do not permit Icelandic horses who left the island to return. These little hardy horses (often between 1.30 and 1.40 m high) have two extra gaits (next to walk, trot and canter) compared to most other horse breeds: tölt and pace.

birdienl: (Default)

This week, I finally watched War Horse, which I've been looking forward to since I first heard of the movie being made. I mean, a historical epic movie about a brave horse? That is precisely up my street! I enjoyed it tremendously!

I will not give you a lengthy review, because there are more than enough of those around the WWW already. Let's just say it was a movie that touched my heart, and I believe it will touch many other viewer's hearts, because it is a truly unique tale of the horrors of war and the strength of everyone who lives through it.

The movie led me to search the web for true stories of war horses and I found many. Here are two I would like to share with you:

Be brave, be brave! )
birdienl: (Default)
Meet my mum's newest 'tenant' (it's actually her neighbour's sheep, he 'parks' them in my mother's paddocks sometimes): it's a sheep who thinks it's a goat! At least, I've never seen any other sheep climb up against the fence when he sees someone approaching. I was LOLing when I first saw him do it! It's a very tame sheep as well and he likes a pet on his head.

In other animal related news (less cute..), it's been so warm here lately, my worst nightmare has come flying into my room again: a cockchafer. I'm not afraid of most creepy crawly thing, he, I even worked with large tropical ticks during my research internship. But this beetle, almost 3 cm long, is just so big and noisy and clumsy, it flies into anything, including me! I have some in my room every spring when I have my windows open. I heroically caught this one by throwing a big towel over it and shaking that outside my window! (Then I closed all the windows and waited till my heart took to it's normal rhytm again...)

birdienl: (Default)
I saw a roe deer this morning, when leaving the drive of our house. Our house actually borders on a forest, but there's quite a busy road in between, so it's not like I see deer every day. In fact, I've never seen one so close. It was standing just a few metres inside the forest, and we stared at each other for like a minute, the cars racing by in between us.

It was magical.
birdienl: (Cranford)

... no, I don't think of the arrival's gate at Heathrows, but I go to, because what cheers you up better than baby animals!

February 2017

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