6 Professional Painters from the Animal Kingdom

Note: This article was originally published in 2009. We're knee deep in server migration this week, so forgive us for reposting a few oldies/goodies.

Humans are not the only species to create art. You can argue all day about what is art and what isn't, but some animals are selling their creations, which puts them a notch closer to being true artists than most of us! Here are six different species of professional artists.

1. Koopa the Turtle

Koopa is a turtle belonging to artist Kira Ayn Varszegi. Kira taught Koopa many tricks over the years, such as standing on his hind legs and painting. Watch a video of Koopa in action. During a 5-year painting career, Koopa produced 827 paintings, which you have to admit is fast work for a turtle! He is retired now due to some health issues, although some of his paintings are still for sale. You can keep up with Koopa through his MySpace page or through Kira's blog.

2. Stewie the Tamandua

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Stewie the tamandua was what most of us would call an anteater. Stewie and his companion Pua (also a trained tamandua) appeared in one of the Dr. Dolittle sequels. In addition to acting, Stewie had a talent for painting. Watch Stewie learn to paint in this video. Unfortunately, Stewie died of an autoimmune problem in February of 2008. But he lives on in photos and artwork.

3. Cheeta the Chimpanzee

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It's no surprise that many apes, our nearest relatives, create art. Probably the most famous simian painter is Cheeta, the retired star of many Tarzan movies. Cheeta, now 76 years old, lives at the C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary in Palm Springs, California, and his main hobby now is painting. You can buy one of Cheeta's masterpieces for $125 plus shipping costs, which will help support the sanctuary.

4. Smithfield the Pig

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Smithfield the Vietnamese potbellied pig always showed an aptitude for learning new things. A resident of Richmond, Virginia, he paints pictures by holding a brush in his mouth. In addition to painting, Smithfield makes personal appearances for groups and on TV, where he performs his repertoire of tricks like posing for pictures and playing musical instruments. He has survived two bouts of cancer, which left him with a hole on the top of his snout. You can buy Smithfield's paintings through his website.

5. Cholla the Horse

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Cholla is a mustang-quarter horse mix who displays an unusual talent for painting -for a horse, that is. Cholla was 19 years old before he took a brush in his mouth. He was distrustful of humans for many years until his owner Renee won him over and he began to follow here everywhere, even watching her as she painted the fence. When Renee gave him paintbrushes and a heavy-duty easel, his art career took off. The sales of Cholla's artwork benefits an entire list of charities.

6. Hong the Elephant

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Hong is one of many elephants involved with the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project. Rescued from an abusive owner, she lives at the Maetaman Elephant Camp in Thailand, where a total of nine elephants have learned to paint. Unlike other animal artists, the elephants produce representative paintings instead of abstract art!

Originally, Khun Anchalee Kalmapijit, the Operations Director, learned elephant painting from the Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang.  Khun Anchalee initiated elephant artists learning to paint for the first time ever in Chiang Mai in 2000.  At the beginning, she and the mahouts trained the elephants to hold the brush by putting it into their trunk.  For a while, the elephants refused to hold the brush, they were uncomfortable with the strange brushes placed in their trunks and let them fall to the ground.  It took some time for them to accept it because elephants naturally pick up things by rolling their trunk and holding.  After the elephants could hold the brush by their trunk, they were given brushes with color.  Then, the elephants chose to draw lines up, down or put dots on the paper.  Their practice compares to how a human first learns to write "“ practice, practice, practice.  The elephants keep doing these until they have the skill to draw a proper line.  This step takes many months depending on how often they practice.  Some time later, when the mahouts want the elephants to paint a portrait or flowers, they put the lines that elephants can do together and train them to remember with lots of practice, bananas and sugar cane.

Watch Hong create one of her paintings in this video. When you buy an elephant painting, you help support the elephants and their sanctuaries.

I wonder how my house cats and hermit crabs would do with a set of watercolors...

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Animals
How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero
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The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]

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