Thursday, December 15, 2016

How to deal with pesky woodpeckers

Ever hear a tap-tapping on your house, while you are having breakfast or working at your desk?  It's hard to tell where it's coming from.  You run outside, and there's a woodpecker on the side of your.

For 5 years, I've had woodpecker holes in the cedar siding of my house, and it's getting worse.  Some of my neighbors report their own woodpecker blues.

Here's how I solved the problem...

First, filling the holes.  For deep ones, I used polyurethane foam to fill most of the hole, then finished the outside with a epoxy-based wood filler.  Sand, then paint.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pollinators in the news

Pollinators and flowers are one of the best examples of interdependence.  They show why preserving biodiversity is important.  

Flecked with gold... a fly with hairs for catching pollen, in Hartman Creek State Park, WI
How do you know it's a fly?  Just one pair of wings... bees have two pairs.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Do tigers eat people?

Definitely, they do.

Generally, it's thought that only tigers that can't catch their ordinary prey turn to eating people.  An injured or disabled tiger turns into a man-eater.

Recently in Indonesia, several Sumatran tigers treed 5 people for three days, after they accidentally caught a tiger cub in a trap.  A sixth man was killed by the tigers.  The trapping suggests that these tigers were defending their cub.  Source

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rat bites--how dangerous are they?

Recently I was reading Katherine Boo's nonfiction book--Behind the Beautiful Forevers--about life in the slums of India.  It's a deeply disturbing account of the lives, hopes, and misfortunes of people living in abject poverty.

There were numerous accounts of children bitten by rats, including one boy with numerous infected rat bites on his butt.  It was horrifying.  But I wondered if it could really be true.  So I began an internet search.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dog survives 110-mile ride under the hood of a pickup truck

This blog started when my neighbor asserted that rats sometimes lived in cars.  I didn't believe him.  I thought, "Maybe YOUR car."

But he was right.  Since then, I've documented cats, rats, mice, squirrels, groundhogs, snakes, raccoons... and now a dog... hitchhiking under the hood of cars.

by Jaime Magana

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mice on airliners

I've seen a number of reports about rats on airliners, usually foreign airlines (Pakistan was one).  But mice are almost anywhere, so I wasn't surprised to come across the post below:

This is a report about "mice LIVING on many of the aircraft of one of the largest US major US airlines, whose aircraft we used to fly on the "interchange" program that used to exist before deregulation.*"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Can you name these wetland animals?

Take the skull challenge...

Can you name the wetland animal that matches each skull?

The relative sizes are shown.  The largest is 7 3/4" long, and the smallest is 2 3/8" long.

A. hint:  omnivore (eats a wide variety of animals and plants)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ferocious predator in our lakes and streams


There's a predator in our northeastern lakes most people don't know about. It eats its weight in flesh every day.  It has enormous claws, and 22 tentacles at the end of its snout. It's just as happy hunting by night or by day....

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Animal Hoarding" may explain Ohio animal massacre

A recent article from the New York Times, written before the killing of scores of animals released from an animal farm near Zanesville, Ohio, may explain in part what motivated Terry Thompson to keep so many animals under marginal conditions.

Animal hoarding is a disorder "in which people keep far more pets than they can care for...."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

56 dangerous animals on the loose--what would you do?

"Ohio police kill 48 exotic animals," including 18 tigers and 17 lions.  Just before the animal farm owner killed himself, he released his 56 dangerous pets.  Responding to a 911 call, the sheriff and deputies of Muskingum County, Ohio shot most of the animals.   A few were rescued alive, felled by tranquilizer darts.  Photos of massacre.

Friday, July 29, 2011

"Stranded" Emperor Penguin comes ashore in New Zealand

An Emperor Penguin was first spotted June 19 on the beach in New Zealand, 2,000 miles from it's usual Antarctic habitat.

It was the first Emperor in 44 years to be found ashore in New Zealand, so it caused quite a stir.  But in a situation like this, people jump to faulty conclusions.

I visited an Emperor Penguin colony in Antarctica, and studied Adelie Penguins in Antarctica for three breeding seasons--so I'll provide "between the lines" commentary on the Emperor story.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Attacks by killer whales on humans

Captive killer whale, or orca.  Photo by Milan Boers

Killer whales are predators of large mammals--unlike other whales, which feed on tiny krill or small fish. So... do they ever eat humans?

A popular video shows a killer whale jumping spectacularly into a group of kayakers. But the event shown is a fake, created as an advertisement for a sports drink.

So far, I haven't seen any information that kayaking where killer whales occur isn't safe.  But keep your distance--it's illegal to approach or harrass marine mammals.

Attacks on humans--very rare in the wild

There have been very few confirmed attacks on humans by wild killer whales, none of which has been fatal.

In one instance, killer whales tried to tip ice floes on which a dog team and photographer of the Terra Nova Expedition was standing. There was speculation that the barking of the sled dogs may have sounded enough like seal calls to trigger the killer whale's hunting curiosity.

Recently, a tourist in Antarctica made a remarkable video of a group of killer whales cooperating to capture a seal resting on a small ice floe.  The whales carefully eyed the seal, by bobbing their heads out of the water.  Then they cooperated to push the floe away from larger floes the seal could escape to.  Finally, in a carefully coordinated movement, all the whales rushed at the floe, creating a big wave that--after several tries--washed the seal off the floe.

This incident clearly demonstrated planning, cooperation, and close coordination.  In light of this event, the attacks on the Terra Nova photographer above can be seen as normal hunting behavior.  So, if you are kayaking in the Antarctic, don't haul out onto an ice floe to eat your lunch--unless you want to BE lunch.

In the 1970s, a surfer in California was bitten, and in 2005 a boy in Alaska who was splashing in a region frequented by harbour seals was bumped by a killer whale that apparently misidentified him as prey."

In 1820, sailors from the wrecked ship Essex were sailing across the Pacific in 25-foot lifeboats.  One night, they were attacked by a killer whale, which took a chunk out of one of the boats, then splashed about them for a while.  Finally, they drove it off by striking it with oars.  Since the attack occurred in the dark, we can't be certain it was a killer whale.

Sometimes, the slaves rebel

"Unlike wild killer whales, captive killer whales are reported to have made nearly two dozen attacks on humans since the 1970s, some of which have been fatal." From Wikipedia. These attacks are probably the result of the stressful, unnatural living conditions for captive whales.

Killer whales are highly intelligent, wild animals--so it's understandable they would object to the slavery of working to entertain humans.

Killer whale kills trainer in "premeditated" attack: Expert commentary.

Whale attacks on ships--the historical record

Moby Dick attacks pursuing whaleboats.  Source
Melville based the ending of Moby Dick on the story of the Essex.

Recently, there have been stories in the news about whales causing damage to yachts, even sinking them.  But it's difficult to determine whether these are accidental collisions, or attacks by the whales. 

Even if real attacks, the whales may have felt menaced by ships bearing down on them, or they mistook the ships for rivals.

But during the heyday of the whaling industry in the 1800s, there were two accounts of full-sized sailing ships attacked and sunk by whales.

Attack on the Essex

In 1830, the whaleship Essex was hunting in new whaling grounds along the equator, two thousand miles west of the coast of South America.  They lowered their three small whaleboats to pursue some sperm whales, but when one of the boats was damaged by the tail of a whale they had harpooned, the First Mate named Chase returned to the whaleship for repairs. 

Next, the whaleship was attacked twice by a bull sperm whale, about 85 feet long.  Here's a description of the the second ramming, from a wonderful book* by Nathaniel Philbrick:

Chase turned and saw a vision of "fury and vengeance" that would haunt him in the long days ahead.

     With its huge scarred head halfway out of the water and its tail beating the ocean into a white-water wake more than forty feet across, the whale approached the ship at twice its original speed--at least six knots.  Chase, hoping "to cross the line of his approach before he could get up to us, and thus avoid what I knew, if he should strike us again, would prove our inevitable destruction," cried out to Nickerson, "Hard up!"  But it was too late for a change of course.  With a tremendous cracking and splintering of oak, the whale struck the ship just beneath the anchor....  This time the men were prepared for the hit.  Still, the force of the collision caused the whalemen's heads to jounce on their muscled necks as the ship lurched to a halt on the slablike forehead of the whale.  The creature's tail continued to work up and down, pushing the 238-ton ship backward until... water surged up over the transom.

     One of the men who had been belowdecks ran up onto the deck shouting, "The ship is filling with water." (p.83)

 Within ten minutes of the crash, the ship was awash and capsized.  Over the next day, the men salvaged what they could from the wreck, made sails for their three 25-foot whaleboats, and then prepared to sail 4,500 miles back to the coast of South America.  During that three-month ordeal, they ran out of food, and began to eat one another.  Only eight of the 20 crew members survived.

This wasn't the only sinking due to a whale.  In 1807, the whaleship Union accidentally collided with a sperm whale at night and sank.  Thirty years later, the whaleship Ann Alexander, also cruising in the Pacific, became the second vessel to be "stove by a whale."  Source

Etching by William Bradford

While scores of smaller whaleboats pursuing whales had been smashed to bits over the years, in 1820 Nantucketers had never heard of a deliberate ramming of the mothership.

Why did the whale attack?

The attack on the Essex was so well-observed, and so apparently deliberate that--ever since--people have wondered about it.  Chase said: "He came directly from the shoal [group of whales] which we had just before entered, and in which we had struck three of his companions, as if fired with revenge for their sufferings."

In his modern retelling, Philbrick suggests that the whale may have mistaken the Essex for a rival bull.  A whale's vision in the water is limited, so they depend on "echolocation," a kind of sonar.  The Essex was only slightly longer than the attacking bull, though it was three times the whale's weight.  Before the attack, the First Mate was using a hammer to repair the damaged whaleboat.  The hammer may have made sounds, conducted through the hull and into the water, which resemble the clicking sounds that bulls make when they challenge one another.

Today, much has changed, making a deliberate attack much less probable.
  • Most commercial whaling has ended.
  • Whales are less numerous, and the remaining bulls are smaller.
  • Whales are more familiar with humans and their ships.
  • Ships are larger--and many make a lot of  noise.

#     #     #

*  I heartily recommend In the Heart of the Sea by N. Philbrick.  It's exciting, well-written, and puts everything in historical context.  But it's only the latest of several accounts on the sinking of the Essex.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Coyote attacks

Coyotes used to be a symbol of the American West--the stuff of folklore and cowboy song. Throughout the 1900s, they were spreading to the East. Now they are common throughout the country, often living right under the nose of urban residents. For example, wildlife experts estimate there are over 2,000 living in Chicago, even downtown, where one walked into a Quiznos store.

I live in Madison, Wisconsin. If you walk on our lakes in winter, after fresh snow has fallen, you will see a myriad of coyote tracks, along with those of other mammals like fox, beaver, mink, deer, raccoon, rabbit, and squirrel.

Coyote tracks look like those of a medium-sized dog, except that they typically trend straight as an arrow. In contrast, dog tracks are nearly always found looping out and back to human tracks, or zig-zagging.

Fox tracks also head in a beeline, but are a good deal smaller than coyote tracks.

Although there are doubtless many coyotes living in your area, it's rare to hear them howl. That's because they are extremely wary of humans.

Coyote attacks

In March of this year, coyotes attacked dogs several times in Cape Cod. These attacks may have involved rabid coyotes, since coyotes usually avoid dogs as large as the ones attacked.

But there are other reasons why coyotes attack dogs: It may be for food (in the case of small dogs), or because coyotes see dogs as a threat to their territory or to their young.

Healthy coyotes are extremely wary of humans--but attacks on humans have occurred in Cape Cod, and recently in a suburb of New York. There was a fatal attack last year on a woman in Canada.

Don't worry--attacks on humans are extremely rare. The few that do occur are the inevitable result of large numbers of people and coyotes living close to one another. Your chances of you or your pet being injured by a dog are far greater.

The Coywolf

Now that I've put your mind at rest--here's some unexpected news. The coyotes in Massachusetts are actually wolf-coyote hybrids. That explains why coyotes there are larger than the coyotes out West, where they originated. The adults on Cape Cod weigh 30-40 pounds.

Jonathan Way and three other wildlife biologists studied coyotes caught in traps on Cape Cod and near Boston. Their conclusions about wolf-coyote hybrids are based on studies of DNA from the animals. They think that as the coyotes spread eastward through Canada, they interbred with the Eastern Wolves found there.

Other conclusions from the study

  • Although coyotes do interbreed with dogs in the western US, they don't in the Northeastern states.
  • "Coyote social groups...are made up of family groups.... Offspring typically remain with their parents anywhere from 6 months to about 2 years of age before dispersing to new areas.... "
  • "Typically 3–5 adults live together in a territorial pack...." The advantages of living in packs are better success in hunting large prey (like deer), better defense of the territory, improved survivability of pups, and preventing theft of prey already killed. The packs typically consist of a breeding pair, plus a few related animals.
  • These "coywolves" seem to prefer prey more typical of coyotes than wolves. Wolves prey almost entirely on deer, whereas the hybrids eat anything from deer to rabbits to small rodents, not to mention pets, pet food left outside, and garbage.
  • They travel long distances (10-15 miles a day).
  • If you live near woods, don't leave small children or small pets outdoors alone.
  • Don't leave pet food outdoors; keep garbage cans covered.
  • Cats are especially vulnerable--some coyotes appear to specialize in eating cats. 
More links

New York Times review article on coyotes
More advice about living with coyotes
Coyotes--Never out of sight, or mind (excellent essay)
Eastern coyote/coywolf web page by Jonathan Way
The coyote wars on Cape Cod
Animal attack files
Purchase Suburban Howls--a book by Jonathan Way
New book on Coyotes with good reviews
Coyote Attack.  Book for children

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Penguin jumps into boat to escape killer whales

I stumbled onto this great video of a gentoo penguin in Antarctica, escaping killer whales.  It shows some tourists in an inflatable boat, watching killer whales chasing penguins.  Suddenly, to the surprise of the tourists, a penguin lands in their boat.

Predators of penguins

In the Antarctic, killer whales and leopard seals regularly eat penguins.  The predators usually patrol along the coast just outside the penguin colony, where large numbers of the aquatic birds come and go.  I haven't watched killer whales preying on penguins, but I have seen many attacks by leopard seals on Adelie penguins--close relatives of the gentoos.

The leopard seal skins the penguin after catching one, tossing it violently too and fro while hanging onto a flap of skin, until the skin comes off.

For the much larger killer whales, skinning penguins is probably too delicate a task.  For them, a penguin would be little more than a peanut is for us.

Outmaneuvering predators

Penguins can probably turn much more tightly than a a seal or killer whale, so that is their only hope of escape--that, or jumping up onto the ice (or onto a boat). 

When trying to catch penguins on land with a snowmobile (for scientific research), the penguins easily out turn the vehicle.  You have to jump off the snowmobile with a net, and dash after them for the final capture.

By swimming fast under water, then turning upward, penguins can jump about two meters above the water at the edge of an ice floe, plopping down onto their feet on the ice.  They need to do this because the chunks of floating ice have vertical edges, often several feet high.  Floating sea ice can be about ten feet thick.  If 1/10 of that floats above the surface, then the penguins have to be able to jump at least one foot high to get onto a typical block of ice.

So, having a penguin escape onto a small boat would be a perfectly normal kind of behavior.  Once landing, and seeing the people, the penguin normally wouldn't be afraid, because they have no land predators (other than scavenging birds that take chicks).  So over the eons, they have lost their fear of any large animals on land, because it serves no purpose.

However, penguins do have a sense of personal distance.  They would normally be uncomfortable with a person being closer than about six feet--although the exact distance depends on the personality of the individual penguin.

What I found interesting about this video was that the penguin didn't seem to mind a number of people closer than six feet.  I suspect he sensed that he was safer where he was on the boat.  In the water, it would have been almost certain death.

Grabbing a breath of air

In the video, you can see a number of penguins briefly popping out of the water as they try to escape the killer whales.   This is called "porpoising."  It has several functions:
  • The penguins can see where they are and where the nearest safety lies.  While they can see well under water, they can see further through the air.
  • When briefly jumping above the water, the penguins grab a breath of air.  Unlike whales and porpoises, which have a blow hole in the top of the head, penguins breathe through their mouths, so they have to get clear of the water.
  • When coasting through the air, there is less resistance than when coasting through water.  So porpoising saves energy.
Penguins probably grab a breath of air every hundred feet or so.  So if you see a few penguins "porpoising," there are probably a lot more swimming underwater in the same area.

#     #     #

Other cases of animals landing on boats here: Right whale lands on sailboat, South Africa. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What to do if you are attacked by a bird

As a Ph.D. student in Ornithology, I was attacked by many species of birds.

Ninety-nine percent of all attacks by wild birds happen when birds are defending their nests.  You are too close to their nest.  Back away, and the attacks will cease.   Sometimes these defensive attacks will start when you are still a good distance from the nest.  They are more motivated to attack if they have eggs or chicks.  If they are just building the nest, they are less likely to attack, and may just abandon the nest--considering the location too risky.

And the other 1% of attacks?  Many species of birds--Eastern Kingbirds, Red-wing Blackbirds, Crows, Ravens--attack hawks and owls, even when the predator isn't near their nests.  This is called "mobbing."   Smaller birds mob crows.  There's a wonderful video on You Tube of an Eastern Kingbird riding on the back of a flying hawk, while pecking it.

Crows can be trained to "mob" people.  In one interesting experiment at a University, researchers donned a "Dick Cheney mask, while handling trapped crows.  The crows learned to recognize the Cheney face, and later when releassed, mobbed other people wearing the Cheney mask.  I don't have direct experience with being "mobbed," so I can't say how common it is.  Probably quite uncommon.

Wild birds do not get rabies, so you don't have to worry about attack by a rabid bird.

A bad rap for the birds

It's possible that someone might have tamed a bird, such as a parrot.  It might approach you, attempting to land on your shoulder.  You might misinterpret this as an attack. 

Once I had a pet Ring-billed gull that I reared from an egg.    I used to take it out for practice flights. My telephone number was on a band on its leg. When it reached adolescence at the end of the summer, on one of these flights it said "good-bye" and flew off.   About a week later I received a call from the campus policeman.  "I have a sick bird here with your phone number on it.  Is it yours?  Do you want to pick it up?"   The bird wasn't sick--it was just begging from people on the street, and this was such strange behavior they thought it was sick.

Here's another example of a tame bird getting a bad rap.  One of my fellow grad students, Jerry McGahan, was studying the Andean Condor.  He had found a chick on a nest in the Andes, and brought it back for study.  Now nearly full-grown, he would take it out for an exercise flight on campus around suppertime, when few people were about.

One lazy summer day, a coed had fallen asleep on the campus lawn, and was still there snoozing when Jerry brought his huge black bird, with it's six-foot wingspread, out for a flight.  The magnificent bird rose and circled around, then descended to land next to the coed.    Perhaps she heard its wings or sensed a shadow, for just as it landed, she awoke in stark terror.

I've heard that ostriches have a nasty kick.

Many kinds of birds, such as gulls and corvids (crows, ravens, and jays) will try to snatch food from your hand or picnic table.  In San Francisco Bay, they follow the ferries and cruise ships.  If , while crossing the Bay, you hold something in your hand to eat, gulls will swoop down and try to snatch it.  Again, this isn't an attack, but many people misinterpret the bird's intentions.  I've even had one of the jays of the Western US land on my head while I was popping something tasty into my mouth.    At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, house sparrows hop around the tables, looking for scraps.

If freeloading birds bother you, put away the food, or go indoors.  At the very least, don't hold it in a way they stand a chance of grabbing it.  Like the gulls afraid of the teddy bear eyes, all birds are very visual, very clever, and very fast.  They are watching and judging your every move.

There is one bird species, recently discovered, with poisonous plumage.

Some birds like sandpipers fly fast in tight formations.  If you are walking on the beach, one of these flocks might pass nearby and frighten you.  But it's purely an accident--they meant no harm.

Some feisty birds I've known

If you walk by their nests, Adelie penguins will charge out and attack.  Males are more aggressive than females.  They will fix their bill to your pants, and beat you on the shin with their hard, bony flippers.  If you spend a lot of time among penguins, your legs will soon be covered with little blood blisters (from their bites) which we call the "penguin pox."  There's a lot of variation in aggressiveness, depending on the penguin's sex, age, personality, time of year, and so on.  Some just flee when you pass by; a few will attack even if you are 15 feet from their nest.

Most kinds of gulls and shorebirds will attack when you walk close to their nests on the ground.  Many are colonial; when you enter the colony, all rise into the air and circle, giving alarm calls.  It can be frightening and confusing with so much noise.   Some of the birds who have nests close to where you are standing will swoop down to peck your head, hit it with their feet, or defecate on you.  Once I was in a Forster's Tern colony checking on nests.  There were only 11 nests, but the feisty little birds actually drew blood from my scalp.

Ornithologist Don Miller, who often worked with Ring-billed Gulls, had a good defense for these swooping attacks.  He wore a pith helmet (like you see in old safari movies).  This effectively kept the bird droppings out of his hair (the helmet was splattered with white), and protected his head from blows.  But for an added measure of protection, he glued  two movable teddy bear eyes to the back of the helmet.  It turns out that if a swooping bird sees you are looking, it will be more cautious, and not actually hit you.   So the fake eyes make the birds keep their distance.  They still swoop, but they won't come close enough to hit you.

South Polar Skuas defecate, swoop and hit like their cousins the gulls, only skuas are a bit heavier and more fierce.  Their haranguing cries are pretty distinctive when they attack.

Ground-nesting Killdeers, on the other hand, will try to lead you away from their nest with the "broken wing" display.  No attack is involved, just a very convincing job of acting.

My scariest experience with birds

I was out walking alone late in the fall.  I noticed the leaves on the trail were quite disturbed, almost as if someone had been raking them.  After about a quarter mile, the trail ended at a cliff.  Just as I neared the cliff, the woods exploded with sound, and scared me to death.  A flock of about 20 wild turkeys took to the air, with their powerful wings slapping against the leaves and branches, making a dreadful racket.  It turns out the turkeys had been turning over the leaves, looking for food.  They moved silently ahead of me.  But when I came to the cliff, they could no longer escape on the ground, so they were forced to fly.

Red-wing black birds are common and pretty aggressive.  Since their nests are well-hidden in cattails (or sometimes in fields), you may have no idea you are close to a nest.  Swallows can be aggressive, and some nest in groups (colonies).

Geese and swans are very aggressive in defense of nests and young.  George Archbald told me of an unusual incident.  He had set up a breeding pair of swans (with wings clipped) on a small pond near his home in Baraboo, WI.   The pond was part of a small RV park.  One day, a man from the park was wading along the shore of the pond, and approached the nest, which was on the far shore from the RV park.   The swans fiercely attacked, clubbing him stoutly with their wings.  The man, forced into deeper water, struggled to regain the bank.  In the ensuing melee, he lost his wedding ring, and was quite angry about the swan attack.  But it was really his fault.

Cranes are also very fierce, and have very long, sharp bills.   I believe there is one freak case of a crane killing a man, by pecking him in the eye (and into the brain), where the skull is weak.  I'm sure the crane was either cornered, or defending its nest or young.

If you pull them out of their Antarctic burrows, Snow Petrels will explosively regurgitate a smelly, bright orange oil over you.  It can permanently stain your clothes.

Many birds have sharp toenails for defense, not to mention sharp beaks.  Once I visited writer Fran Hammerstrom at her home.  She had a Great Horned Owl for a pet, and that day, it was perched on her bare hand.  As I entered the living room, the owl became startled, and sudenly dug its long talons into her hand.  Fran said, very calmly, "Would you please come over here, and remove these talons from my hand?" She had to repeat several times as I struggled to understand what had happened, and what she wanted.   I grasped the talons of one foot with my fingers, and pried them from her bleeding hand, as the owl stood there rigid as a statue.

The bottom line

Fear of birds is greatly exaggerated.   Wild birds are quite harmless, for the most part, although some know how to look very threatening.  Hitchcock's movie The Birds gave them a bad name.   Insects, siders, poison arrow frogs, venomous snakes and lizards, snapping turtles, poisonous sea shells, and toothy mammals are more dangerous, on the whole, than birds.

If attacked, cover your head and move away until they stop.  If you are in a gull, swallow, or heron colony--your presence is very harmful to the birds.  The uproar will lead to the death of many chicks, especially if the weather is cold or wet.  It's essential that you leave the colony immediately.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Does predator urine repel problem animals?

In any discussion about rodents or other problem animals, you come across advertisements or testimonials about "predator urine."  They are at the top of any Google search about "mice in my car."

Now, research reported in Science magazine provides some support for urine:

"Even if a mouse has never seen a cat before, he'll turn tail when one is nearby.  Researchers suspected that the rodents somehow sniff out their would-be assassins, but exactly what they smelled was unclear.  Now scientists have isolated the compound, one of a class of urinary proteins that are secreted by cats, snakes, and a variety of other predators."

So, does this mean I should rush out an buy a bottle of fox urine? 

NO!   Reasons why urine is a poor solution:
  • There's no guarantee that what you are buying is effective, or even predator urine.
  • People who sell this stuff make a living by spreading disinformation.
  • Most pests are smart and adaptable--without a real predator around, they will lose their fear of the scent.
  • Do you really want to be putting urine or mothballs in your new car?
  • If it works for mice, that doesn't mean it works for squirrels.
  • The proven methods of pest control are far more effective: deny them food, entry, and shelter.
Think about it...  If you have a rodent problem, there's probably a population explosion going on.  There's something about your house or yard that's attracting them, and causing them to breed.  There's so many, they are starting to get really hungry, and looking for new places to hide and feed. 

They are desperate!  Under these extreme conditions, even if predator pee has a small repellent effect, they are not going to pay much attention!  You need to find out what is attracting them, and increasing their numbers--and then eliminate that.

The time you might take to locate and spread predator pee is better spent looking for the real cause of your pest problem.  Is there accessible cat food in the garage?

Remember--there's no free lunch... except for the mice in your garage.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Trapping and releasing problem animals--Does it work?

I've had comments posted to this blog about trapping and releasing problem animals as a humane solution.  I'm reprinting below the best explanation I've seen about why "trap and release" isn't a good idea.

"...It is also a misconception that you can move a wild animal to a new area, release it and it will instantly settle down and live happily ever after. Nature just isn't like that and releasing animals in a new area is a very tricky operation. It is unlikely that there will be a vacant territory and the animal will therefore wander widely in a strange area looking for somewhere to live. Since it does not know the area, it will not know the danger spots or best feeding sites. Invariably it will die fairly soon and it would have been far more humane to have killed the fox rather than dump it in a strange area.
Since dumping animals like this is clearly inhumane, such action could well be an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960.

Finally, many people do not want foxes released on their land. In this, their concerns are entirely justified; since displaced foxes do not know where to hunt, they are particularly likely to cause greater problems to farmers by killing fowl."  Source
Summary--why "trap and release" isn't a good idea
  • Not humane--animal will probably die anyway.
  • You are giving your problem to someone else. 
  • Only a few kinds of animals can be easily trapped--and you might be bitten.
  • Moving animals can upset natural populations, can spread disease, and may be illegal.
"Trap and release" is neither "humane," nor is it a "solution."

This bad idea is promoted by the makers of traps, for obvious reasons.

The only real solution is to avoid attracting animals--eliminate all food and shelter.  Make sure you aren't providing pet food in your back yard, or storing it uncovered in your garage.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Blurring the lines between humans and other species

Recently, scientists proposed that interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals occurred between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago in the Middle East.  The conclusion was based on the extraction and analysis of DNA from the bones of Neanderthals.  "Archaeologists have been debating for years whether the fossil record shows evidence of individuals with mixed features."  Source.

The scientists see "evidence for gene flow only from Neanderthals to modern humans."  So if you see someone with a heavy brow or receding chin who looks kind of primitive, he may indeed have some Neanderthal genes.

The recent discovery of a new species of human in a cave in Siberia suggests that three species of humans coexisted at the same time--modern humans, Neanderthals, and the new species.   The preliminary finding, reported in the NY Times, was based on DNA from a single finger bone.

So the question naturally arises--did either humans or Neanderthals interbreed with the third species?  The plot thickens!  The hobbit-like Flores Man may have been a fourth species on earth at the same time.

And all this raises the question--have humans ever interbred with chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, or gorillas?  Again, there is some evidence that the ancestors of modern humans and the ancestors of chimps interbred at some time in the distant past.  Today, the birth of a hybrid child would create enormous legal and ethical problems--so much so that the existence of such a child would probably be kept secret.  What possible motivations could lead to creation of such a child?

In fact, there's a rumor that famed zoologist George Schaller was called in to consult on such a case.

An organism with genes from more than one species is called a "chimera."  A human-mouse chimera was created when a human gene was inserted into a mouse.  Imagine the problems if intelligent mice escape from the lab!

Blurred boundaries in literature

The subject of humans breeding with or falling in love with apes sometimes surfaces in literature.  In the short story “Reflections of a Kept Ape,” Ian McEwan writes about "a woman who initiates a sexual relationship with a pet monkey—narrated from the point-of-view of the monkey."  Source

In "The Woman and the Ape" by Peter Hoeg, an intelligent ape escapes and makes off with an alcoholic woman, who eventually falls in love with the ape.

The sad story of Lucy

Lucy was a chimpanzee, raised from infancy by a human family--an experiment to see if a chimpanzee could learn human language, given the proper human upbringing.   Since Chimps can't form human vocal sounds, Lucy was taught American Sign Language.   She eventually learned well over 100 signs, and could engage in simple conversations. 

But as Lucy matured, she became extremely disruptive to her adoptive parents.  She developed great strength, along with unpredictable and unmanageable behavior.  Faced with losing any semblance of a normal life, her parents traveled the world, looking for some place where they could safely and humanely leave Lucy.  The problem was, Lucy thought she was human.

The chimp was eventually placed on an island in Gambia, along with other tame chimps being returned to the wild.  Unlike the others, Lucy alone thought she was human, and so she refused to learn how to forage as a wild chimp.  Janice Carter stayed with Lucy for a long time, living inside a cage on the island, trying to set an example of what Lucy needed to do.  Go here to learn about the haunting and tragic end to this story. 

Lucy was marooned in the strange dimension between humanity and animals.

*     *     *
More on Neanderthals here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sailboat sinks after encounter with whales

There have been several reports of sailboats being rammed and sunk by whales.  Here's the latest.  These are certainly scary-sounding events, like something out of the novel "Moby Dick." Let's try to figure out what's really going on.

 Sinking near Baja California, October 28, 2009

"U.S. Coast Guard air crews came to the rescue Wednesday of five people drifting in a lifeboat in Mexican waters after the sailboat they had been in capsized and sank several hundred miles south of Point Loma, authorities reported."  "Crew members said it was a whale ramming the boat's rudder -- and not the high winds at sea --that caused the boat to capsize.  The captain of the boat, Eugenie Russell, said, 'They were big ... I would say a good 50 feet ... I remember seeing 7 or 8 of them.'"More.

The whales involved may have been gray whales.  At this time of year, they migrate down the coast from Alaska to lagoons on the west coast of Baja California, where they give birth to their calves.   They arrive in the lagoons mid-December, and stay until April.   During that time, they become a prime tourist attraction.  Guides take 20-foot boats with about ten tourists per boat out to see the whales.

This winter, I had the opportunity to take one of these tours in the Ojo de Liebre Lagoon.  The whales are "friendly" and curious--some of them coming right up to the boat and even touching it.  The guides say they like to scratch their backs on the boats--but on our trip, any whale-to-boat contact, if any, was probably accidental.  But the whales do come so close you can reach out to touch them, and we did.

Friendly gray whale approaches tour boat in a Mexican lagoon.

A gray whale calf raises his head from the water to look at people.

I saw a video posted on YouTube, probably taken during one of these tours, where the video claims the whale was attacking the boat.  This is pure baloney--the video showed only friendly behavior, similar to what I saw from my boat--and, the video did not show any contact with the boat.  So, there's hype around, and you can't believe everything you hear.

From the news story above, we learn the whale "rammed" the rudder.  Rudders are relatively easy to damage.  Since the boat was sailing in strong winds (30 kts), any loss of control could have caused the boat to capsize, and possibly to sink.  So this doesn't sound like a crazed, aggressive attack on the sailboat.   It could have been just an accidental collision.

Probably it was not a case of the boat coming between a mother and her calf, because it was unlikely that gray whales would have calves at this time and at this offshore location.

 Sinking near Hawaii, July 25, 2006

 A sailboat 450 miles north of the island of Hawaii sank after an encounter with a whale.  "The crew of the Mureadrittas XL believe that they were rammed by a female whale, after they had inadvertently got between mother and calf." More.

The whale may have been a humpback whale.  This species breeds around Hawaii, then migrates to the coast of Alaska with their calves for a summer of feeding.

Incident near Santa Barbara, Feb. 2, 2006

 "A large gray whale charged a 27-foot boat on a sightseeing cruise off Santa Barbara, totaling the vessel and sending one of one of its passengers to the hospital. The Bayliner was cruising off Leadbetter Beach Wednesday evening when the whale came up from under its right bow, belly-flopped onto the ship, and crushed its cabin."
"Gormley says the whale emerged from the water again and ran its tail along the boat's flank, knocking over Bob Thornburgh and tearing down the vessel's railing."

"The whale then approached the boat a third time. Gormley estimates the animal as being about 30 feet long."

"Bob Thornburgh was briefly treated for cracked ribs at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. His wife says it seemed like the whale had consciously collided with the boat."

"But Wayne Perryman, a researcher with the National Marine Fisheries Service in San Diego, says the boaters probably encountered a gray whale, which are common in waters off southern California this time of year, and rarely show aggressive behavior."  Source.

Beware of inaccurate or exaggerated reporting.  The photo posted with this article was the wrong species--a humpback.  The headline of this article claims "Whale attacks...."   The first line of the report claims "the whale charged...."

There is too little information here to speculate about what might have caused the incident, or even if it was an "attack."  It might have involved a mother protecting her calf, though usually they don't migrate north till a bit later.    Whales do leap out of the water--I saw gray whales breaching off Baja California. 

Given the huge number of auto-deer collisions on US roads each year, you can easily expect some boat-whale collisions along the gray whale's coastal migration route.  If you hit a deer on the highway, is it fair to say you were "attacked" by the deer?   In collisions with whales, the action is underwater--so people jump to conclusions.

Here's a possible scenario other than attack:  A fast approaching speedboat might alarm the whale, which jumps clear of the water to see what's making all the noise.  By the time the whale is falling back, the boat speeds under it.  Next, the damaged boat stops near the whale and looks menacing to the whale.  The whale imagines he has been attacked, and tries to defend himself, explaining the further contact between boat and whale.
Other accounts of collisions or attacks
Whale "attacked" Italian boat in 1922
Whaling ships "stove by whales" in the 1800s

Historical accounts--hunting gray whales in Baja

"These magnificent, highly intelligent creatures were not always so friendly.  In the mid-nineteenth century American whalers discovered the lagoon and mercilessly hunted them to the point of extinction.  The cornered, nursing mothers turned on their tormentors with such violence that the whalers called them 'devilfish.'"  The whales "tried to avoid the boats, but when that was impossible they turned around and attacked, smashing boats, breaking bones and throwing the sailors into the shark-infested waters."Source.

Captain Scammon wrote: "the casualties from coast-whaling are nothing to be compared with the accidents that have been experienced by those engaged in taking the females in the lagoons.  Hardly a day passes but there is upsetting or staving of boats, the crews receiving bruises, cuts, and in many instances, having limbs broken; and repeated accidents have happened in which men have been instantly killed, or received mortal injury."

  • There's a lot of hype about whale "attacks."  Quite likely, many incidents are accidents or have less aggressive interpretations.
  • Because they are large, collisions with whales can result in serious damage.  This adds to the hype.
  • Whale collisions are just one example of many kinds of dangerous accidents involving animals, from flaming squirrels to moose on the highway. 
  • Given the long history of human attacks on whales, and the fact that some of those whales may still be alive, it's amazing that whales aren't more aggressive.  They seem to be highly intelligent, playful, and peaceful creatures.
  • Any talk of aggressive behavior should be balanced with the many accounts of whales helping or even saving humans. 
#     #     #

There is a remarkable video showing a group of killer whales in the Antarctic teaming up to create a wave to wash a seal off an ice flow.  It shows leadership by one whale, planning, and close coordination.  According to a recent article in Science magazine, different populations of killer whales specialize in different kinds of prey, using different techniques.  If the Terra Nova story is an illustration of the same kind of technique to get seals of floes, then this kind of behavior goes back a hundred years.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

If you like frogs...

My son Chris, making the acquaintance of a frog.

If you like frogs, you'll love David Robertson's blog, with his wonderful photos.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why a three-legged bear walks upright

Recently a video of a bear walking upright has been popular on You Tube, with over 200,000 views.  The bear was missing one front leg--she apparently found it easier to walk on her two hind legs, than to hobble about on three. 

Earlier, I reported on Faith, the dog born without front legs.  Faith was taught to walk on her hind legs, but only with lots of training.  So how was a wild black bear able to teach herself to walk on hind legs, while a dog required so much training?  Bears and dogs are related, according to biologists, so you might expect similar behavior.

Part of the explanation for Faith's slow progress in learning to walk--is that, lacking front legs from birth, she couldn't learn to walk as a puppy, even on four legs. But the bear with three legs probably learned to walk normally on four legs as a cub.

Generalists VS specialists

The habits of bears and dogs give more insight.  Bears are generalists, in diet and behavior, while dogs are specialists.  Bears eat almost anything, from berries to ants to fish.  Dogs, the descendants of wolves, are much more restricted to eating meat.  Being specialists, their anatomy isn't so easily adapted to a variety of tasks.

Bears are much more flexible, in both behavior and gait.  They can use their big clumsy-looking paws for delicate tasks.  A black bear named "Yellow-Yellow" in the Adirondack Mountains recently learned to open the bearproof containers that hikers use for storing food. 

Dogs, in contrast, don't do much with their paws except run, dig, or hold a bone.

In the wild, bears occasionally rear up on their hind legs.  They may do this to appear more frightening, to see over obstacles, or to reach food.  Grizzly bears rear up to reach for cones of the pinyon pine.  Since occasional standing on two legs is part of their normal behavior, it's understandable that a three-legged bear could easily discover the benefits of walking for longer distances.

Efficiency matters

Wild chimpanzees also walk occasionally on their hind legs, especially when carrying food in their hands.  But in comparison to humans, walking on hind legs is very inefficient for chimps.   It takes far more energy for chimps to walk than it does for humans.  They have short legs and a bent-over posture.

I doubt if the efficiency of walking on two legs has been measured for bears--but it must be rather inefficient, because their hind legs are so short.  Nevertheless, if you're a bear with only three legs--two legs may beat three, especially over even ground.

But don't expect bears with four legs to take up strolling anytime soon.  They wouldn't get many miles to the calorie.

*    *    *

Photo of wild grizzly opening a refrigerator.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to rodent-proof your home

I've reported about keeping rodents out of your car--and the same methods will keep them out of your house.  In fact, if your garage is a home to rodents, your car is at risk, too.

In your home, they are just a nuisance (and sometimes a health hazard).  But in your car--you're talking about some serious repair bills--rodents cost one man over $25,000.

So here's a video with some good advice--I've checked it out.

In short, the video recommends:
  • Closing all entry points to the house that are 1/4" or larger, especially where pipes enter.
  • Controlling all food sources in your house, especially pet food.
To this I would add:  The Victor snap traps work really well for mice.  Bait them with cheese or peanut butter, and place them on the floor along walls.

This website has some sound advice and products for getting rid of mice.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rotifers try "abstinence only"--for 30 million years

Rotifers live in temporary pools of water, like your bird bath or rain garden.

Rotifers are tiny multicellular animals that live in pools of water. For one kind of rotifer, no males have ever been found.
Photos with permission by Aydın Örstan.

Talk about a dry spell!

One kind of rotifer, the Bdelloid rotifers, haven't had sex for 30 million years. For three centuries since their discovery, no one has seen any eggs or male rotifers. Just females. Ouch!

This had scientists scratching their heads, since theory argues that sex has many advantages. It's supposed to help rabbits keep one step ahead of the foxes, in the evolutionary arms race. Giving up sex is thought to be an evolutionary dead end--less than 1% of animal species reproduce without sex.
So what gives with the rotifers? How have they turned "no sex" into a good deal?

Rotifers do have one mortal enemy--it's a tiny fungus. If rotifers ingest fungal spores, the spores catch in their throats, sprout, and digest the rotifer from the inside out. If spores of the fungus are present in your bird bath, it won't be long before all the rotifers are dead.
And rotifers can't use sex to jazz up their biological defenses against the fungus. Now scientists at Cornell have discovered that the rotifers escape from the deadly fungus--by a kind of "hide and seek" strategy.

Dry up and blow away

It turns out that rotifers are one of the few kinds of animal that can survive completely drying out--and they can do this at any stage in their life cycle. When your rain garden dries up, the rotifers turn to dust, and are blown about from place to place. They can survive for as long as 9 years as dust. Then, add a drop of water, or a film of moisture on some moss, and they come back to life within an hour!

The fungus can also survive drying, but not for so long. And they don't blow about so readily. So when the rotifer lands in another damp spot, the chances are--there won't be any fungus there. The rotifers take a long drink, plump up, and go about their business, filtering tiny particles of food out of the water. But whatever their business is, it isn't... sex.

Reported in Science, 29 January 2010, p. 574-6

More on rotifers--Aydın Örstan's wonderful blog on invertebrate animals.
Wikipedia article.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Orangutan picks a lock, deceives his keepers

An orangutan (not the one of the story). Photo by Glintle.

Radiolab (1/25/10) reports how an orangutan at a zoo in Nebraska repeatedly used a curved piece of metal to pry open a service door and escape, to spend his time climbing in tall trees outside his exhibit.  The piece of metal was curved so he could hide it like a denture in his mouth.  He escaped only when he couldn't be observed by the keepers. 

Not only does figuring out how the door worked show a high degree of intelligence--but the deception also shows his ability to understand the minds of his keepers.

Dogs are also capable of deception and counting.

Comment to the above story from Marc McAllister

"When I was a teen I rode my bike to the St Louis zoo. There the animals were in deep pits and you observed them from above behind a low concrete wall. The Orangutan had picked a sympathetic human and was crouching down looking pitiful and reaching up toward this man who finally reached down toward him. In an instant the ape had leaped up surprisingly high, grabbed the man's arm, climbed him and was over the wall and making his escape. He had totally played the guy. The zookeeper said he had used this trick repeatedly and they were redesigning the cage. Smart creatures that totally understand human nature."

The carp are coming!

"If you haven't yet seen the YouTube videos of Asian carp flinging themselves out of the water, head-butting anglers and hurling their hideous, slimy selves at passing motorboats, you really ought to check them out. "

Read more here.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

What to do when attacked by a rabid animal

A gray fox lies on a warm road after dark in Big Bend National Park.

Rabid fox hangs on

Recently, a woman jogger in Arizona was attacked by a rabid fox.  At first, the fox didn't appear aggressive, but as she backed away it attacked, clamping its jaws to her arm.  With the fox hanging on, she ran a mile to her car, where she succeeded in removing the fox from her arm and trapping it in the trunk of her car.  Later, the fox bit an animal control officer when he removed it from the trunk.  SourceMore detail.

I credit the woman for her coolness, and for trapping the fox (which later proved to be rabid).  I blame the animal control officer, who should have been more cautious.

The above fox story isn't all that unusual.  Rabies cases are increasing in Arizona.  Here are some similar stories:
"Man Attacked by Rabid Bobcat Strangles Animal to Death With Bare Hands"
"An Encounter With a Rabid Skunk"   This one's a real nightmare--a guy, sleeping outdoors, wakes up with a skunk biting his nose.  See the hilarious photo of his nose.

Which animals carry rabies?

Any mammal can carry the rabies virus.  In the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern US, there has been an epidemic of rabies in raccoons since the 1970s.  More recently, rabies has been common among skunks in the Midwest. 

The "reservoir" for rabies is thought to be wild bat populations, so bats are always suspect.  (This doesn't mean you kill all bats.  If one blunders into your house, open the windows; or just put on gloves, and put it outside, then wash your hands.)

The greatest risk comes from infected bats, monkeys, raccoons, foxes, skunks, cattle, wolves, coyotes, dogs, cats, or mongoose.  You can also catch rabies from infected domestic farm animals, groundhogs, weasels, bears and other wild carnivores. But rodents, such as mice and squirrels, are seldom infected.

In many parts of the world, dogs are the most common carriers.  But in the US, due to laws that require dogs to be vaccinated, dogs are seldom infected.

A person (or other animal) usually becomes infected from the bite of a rabid animal.  The virus is carried in the saliva.  But people have become infected without being bitten, so it's important to wash carefully if you have contact with a rabid animal.

How rabies is spread

After a long incubation period, rabies attacks the brain, causing the rabid animal to become excitable and aggressive--hence the tendency to attack and bite.  As the disease progresses, the animal may become partially paralyzed, uncoordinated, and may drool.

The virus actually takes over the animal's brain, directing the animal to attack and to spread the virus.  Better than science fiction.  Presumably, the virus is spread among wild populations when the excitable victims bite or lick one another.

Recognizing a rabid animal

Wild animals are nearly always extremely cautious around humans.  So when you see an animal that seems fearless, or even boldly aggressive, that's a good sign the animal has rabies.

If the animal is merely fearless, but not aggressive, back away cautiously--don't excite the animal.  But if it's approaching fast, get away as fast as you can.

For example, my friend Liz drove into a park, to go for a walk.  As soon as she got out of the car, she was approached by a raccoon.  It walked up to her fast and purposefully.  She tried to scare it away by clapping her hands, but the raccoon paid no attention.  She responded by climbing on top of her car, since there was no time to unlock.   The raccoon tried to climb after her, but the metal was too slippery.  When another car drove into the lot, the raccoon approached the driver as he got out, and he, too, climbed on top of his car.  Then he crawled back into the car through the open window (someone else inside opened it for him).  While the raccoon was occupied with the second car, Liz climbed down, drove away, and reported the raccoon.

There are three things besides rabies that could explain this raccoon's overly bold behavior:
  • It may have been hungry--and trained by previous handouts to see humans as a source of food. 
  • Or, it may have been a hand-raised pet, released back to the wild, and now very hungry.  However, in either case, the raccoon would still show caution.  It would seem to be testing an invisible barrier of fear.  If you made a sudden motion, it would probably scamper back, then cautiously approach again.  It would look very alert and hesitant.
  • Finally, it might be defending its burrow or its young.  Never mess with a mother with young.
Since raccoons are active at night, and this happened during daylight, the raccoon's behavior was especially abnormal.

Do your best to decide if the animal is rabid--or whether one of these other situations applies.  Use your head!  I don't advise being afraid of all animals that approach, because the great majority are just looking for handouts.  So there's no point in locking yourself in the car for an hour, if the animal is showing the usual, cautious behavior--and it's an area where wild animals may have been fed in the past.

Recently, a new behavior has been observed in rabid foxes.  Normally, they are extremely wary of humans.  But some rabid foxes lose their fear, come into settled areas, and approach people.  Beware of tame foxes!

However, note that wild skunks are normally somewhat tame.  That's because, with their chemical weapon, they have little to fear from predators--so they have a placid nature.

The bottom line: Don't feed wildlife, and avoid animals that appear tame.  If they are aggressive, get away as fast as possible.   But running in panic isn't advisable--like Liz, use your head (or your car).

What to do if you are bitten

If you had contact with the animal but weren't bitten (skin broken), it's still necessary to wash skin thoroughly and flush exposed mucous membranes such as eyes, nose or mouth with water.  Check with your doctor.

If the skin is broken, wash the wound as above for 5 minutes, and apply an antiseptic to the wound.(povidone-iodine, iodine tincture, aqueous iodine solution or ethanol alcohol ).

If bitten, you must see your doctor for a series of injections within 10 days of the bite.  The injections are expensive, but today no more painful than shots for the flu.  They are nearly 100% effective--but if you omit the shots and the animal was rabid, your chances of a terrible death are nearly 100%.

In the US, only 1-2 people die from rabies each year, but worldwide, about 55,000 die each year.  India is the country with the highest death toll, followed by Vietnam, then Thailand.

If a bat is found in a room with an infant, vaccination for rabies is usually indicated.  Babies have died from rabies, even though no bite could be found.

If you are bitten, don't panic.  The shots are going to be effective---you're going to be all right.  But think--how can you prevent others from being at risk from this animal?  At the minimum, report it immediately to the authorities.  If possible, trap or kill the animal.  That way, it's no longer a threat, and it can be tested for rabies.

What about dog bite?

In the US, dogs are unlikely to have rabies.  But in other parts of the world, take a dog bite very seriously!

Again, use your head.  If the dog is defending it's territory, that's probably the reason for the bite.  But if you are away from a house, and attacked suddenly by a strange dog, that's suspicious.  Look for other signs of abnormal behavior, such as un-coordination or drooling.

There are good reasons, other than rabies, to report dogs that bite.  In some areas, the owners are required by law to tie up the dog and keep it under observation, to rule out rabies.

If bitten, use common sense.  For example, if there's a good explanation for the attack, and you know the dog, and it's vaccinated against rabies, and yor can later observe it (within 10 days) to make sure it isn't sick, then shots may not be necessary.

Can I get rabies from a bird?

No, wild birds do not carry rabies.  But experimentally, birds have been given rabies.  They do not get as sick as mammals do.  Source.

Wikipedia article.   CDC info on rabies.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weird photos of animals

You might enjoy these photos of animals.  Creepy, weird, surprising, and funny.

And here's the famous  photo of crasher squirrel, along with its many clones.

Here's the centipug.

Here's a slide show of a few of my own.  I've posted a preview below.

Squirrel drinking beer at the Student Union, Madison, WI.

The story behind the photo
I'm a wedding photographer--I was photographing a wedding at the Student Union in Madison, WI.  On the terrace nearby, hundreds of students sit about, drinking beer, while freeloading squirrels, sparrows, and starlings hop about. 

The light was just right--so I asked the bride to put her cup of beer down, while I took her photo.  There was no table nearby, so she placed her cup on the ground.  When we finished the photo, I went to get her beer, and there he was--the squirrel swilling her beer.  With his head in the cup, he didn't see me as I took the photo from only a few feet away.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Crow control in Tokyo

Tokyo as been waging war on its crows for eight years.  The crows sometimes dive at people, and they "cause technological havoc. They nest in utility poles and cause blackouts; they even steal fiber-optic cables to build nests, sometimes disabling parts of the broadband network."

But despite fighting the crows for eight years, and spending millions of dollars, crow populations in Tokyo climbed 21% from last year to 21,200 this year.

"The crow budget for 2009 is about $700,000," says Tokyo's crow czar. "The year before, it worked out to around $50 for every crow killed. But we have to spend this money because people are complaining."  He says the city's garbage attracts crows from surrounding areas.

Some of the money has been spend on making garbage less accessible to the crows, and on improving garbage disposal.  The city also has created huge traps, which catch mostly young, inexperienced crows.  The crows are removed from the traps and gassed.

The NPR story concludes with the comment: "finding the right balance between man and nature isn't easy."

Attitude adjustment needed

Ever since Hitchcock's film, The Birds, there's been a certain amount of hysteria about our feathered friends,  when they get a little aggressive.

Obviously, by Tokyo Official's own admission, garbage is the cause of the problem.  If they are unable or unwilling to control that cause, crows and rodent pests will continue to be a problem.  If crows are damaging electrical equipment, then equipment should be redesigned to be "crow proof."

Part of the answer lies in educating the public, so they learn to live with crows, and even enjoy them.  These are highly intelligent animals.  Recently, one species of crow was found to be making and using tools. They are like a nation of immigrants, living silently among us.  Except we object  when they are not so silent or invisible. "Finding the right balance" might involve an attitude adjustment.

Learning about crows, and interacting with them, can be a pleasure.  I have tried calling to crows, imitating their voices.  It always gets a reaction.  Even looking at crows tends to upset them, since in my town they depend on going unnoticed.

I'm not sure why crows sometimes harass people in Tokyo.  I know they will defend their nests, by swooping at people who approach their nest.  Destroying nests would be more effective than trapping crows.

They may also just be trying to get food.  They may have learned that by swooping at people who are snacking, the snacks will be dropped.  In this case, it should be possible to "teach these crows a lesson."  Some bear control people in western states of the USA are taking this "behavioral modification" approach--shooting painful pellets at bears, and otherwise teaching them that freeloading doesn't pay. 

Crows are also known to "hold a grudge" against individual people.  Researchers went about trapping crows, while the trapper wore a Dick Cheney mask.  Later, when other researcers donned the mask, crows began to harass them, indicating that crows are capable of recognizing the face of an individual person.  

This behavior is called "mobbing," seen often in the wild, when crows chase and harass hawks or owls.  Crows are mobbed in turn by birds like redwing black birds, or eastern kingbirds.  Mobbing is a behavior that has long puzzled scientists who study animal behavior, because it seems to be "altruistic"  It exposes the mobbing birds to danger, while not benefiting them directly. 

So many of the pest control efforts I read about are ineffective.  The solution usually is just controlling access to garbage or food.   And nothing beats understanding the behavior of the animal in question.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

St Bernard rescued after tail freezes to pond

"St Bernards have become famous for leading daring Alpine rescues but one 16-month-old dog needed rescuers of its own after its tail was frozen to the ice on a golf course pond."   Source

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Powerful new tool for concerned citizens

On this blog, you'll see news about problems with animals.  A lot of these, like rodents trashing your car, are private--your problem to solve.  Others, like when the woman jumped into the polar bear pool at the zoo, deserve a call to 911.

But quite a few problem are public--for example, people feeding animals, or food available to animals because garbage is improperly stored.  Problems like these can be solved with the help of a new Web site....

Fix this problem: turtle crossing needed

"See Click Fix" is "a local advocacy Web site that lets users write about issues to encourage communication between residents and local government. SeeClickFix users post a complaint about problems that occur within a set of boundaries on a Google Map, like graffiti at a bus stop or potholes on a busy street, and the site communicates the problem to the appropriate government agency and marks the problem on the map.

Users can comment on the issue or label it resolved. Government agencies can post on the site to respond to residents, and journalists can use the site to communicate with readers and see which issues are most pressing to people.

Ben Berkowitz, the chief executive of SeeClickFix, said the tool went beyond government: 'Anyone can be held accountable: a business, nonprofit, even a private citizen.'" Read more.

Fixing problems involving animals

While the above example mentions problems like potholes in streets, we can use the site for animal problems like:
  • Improperly stored garbage--cans with lids off, tipped over dumpsters, etc.
  • Trash that's attracting rodents, or other areas frequented by rodents.
  • People creating a nuisance by feeding wildlife.  For example, some towns have large populations of skunks because a few people put out unlimited catfood for feral cats.  You can make anonymous posts.
  • Areas on highways were wildlife cross.
  • Cruelty to animals.
  • Report a deer carcass by the highway.
So go to, and start solving problems in your neighborhood!

How to use "SeeClickFix"

You do not need an account on SeeClickFix--but you can easily start one if you already have a Facebook account. The site does have Pro accounts for businesses that require a fee, but citizens do not have to pay a membership fee.
  1. Citizens start here.
  2. In the box under "citizens get started," type in your city, neighborhood, or zip. Experiment with the map or lists of neighborhoods till you find the area you want to work within. I'd recommend your city, since the site is new.
  3. Check out to see what problems your neighbors have reported. But probably there won't be any, since SeeClickFix is new.
  4. Next, report your first problem. Click on the tab "report an issue."
  5. Indicate where your issue is. You can type in an address, or you can use the map to drag the symbol over the right location. Use the arrows to move the map till it covers your area. When done, click "go to step 2."
  6. State the problem. First enter something short and clear in the "summary" blank. This will be the name of your problem, so make it short, clear, and descriptive. If more details are needed, you can add them in the space below.
  7. Next, it's highly recommended to add a photo.
  8. Add your e-mail address in the blank. It will not be shared with the public.
  9. When you are done entering, click on "report your issue."
  10. Next, wait for a bit while your photo and report are uploaded. Next, you will see some suggestions above for what to do next. For example, you can email your report to your facebook friends, or you can even print a ready-made flier to slip under your neighbor's door.
Next, make some attempts to solve the issue yourself, and post what you are doing on the comments below the posting of your problem. You need to set an example that this system works, and that problems get fixed.

Think of SeeClickFix as a public bulletin board where problems are aired and people work together to solve them.

It's a great new tool for citizens--but if no one picks up the tool, no work gets done.