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It's Not Easy Potty Training A Cow

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Cows poop. No kidding, right? It’s news to me, and probably to a lot of other city slickers out there, though, that they poop between 10 and 15 times a day. Plus, they pee around 10 times a day.

All that waste adds up pretty quickly (and piles up, too, if the cow doesn’t move around a lot), and causes some significant health and environmental problems on dairy farms. Ammonia and nitrogen get released and contribute to air pollution. Standing in their own filth can make the cows sick or give them hoof problems. Dirty, poop-crusted cows also mean that the farmer loses time cleaning them off before each milking. If he doesn’t at least keep the udders clean, then there’s the risk of milk contamination or lower milk quality.

Training the cows to go in a certain spot or at a certain time would go a long way towards controlling all that poop and curbing these problems. And that’s just what three Canadian scientists set out to do in a study published earlier this month. They knew that dairy farmers often had problems cleaning their cows’ feet because as soon as the animals stepped into the footbath, they’d go to the bathroom and contaminate the water. They also knew that some cows kept in barn stalls had been successfully conditioned, with mild electric jolts, to back up before pooping to keep the waste out of the stall. They combined these two ideas and wondered if water could be used as a stimulus to get cows kept in more open housing systems or in pastures to only do their business in specific places.

They ran four different tests with 12 Holstein dairy cows. In the first, the cows walked through either an empty or full footbath while their “eliminative behavior” was dutifully recorded. In the second, the cows stood still in either an empty footbath, a full one, or one with running water. In the third, the cows stood in an empty bath and either had water, air, or nothing sprayed at their feet. The fourth test was a repeat of the first.

Overall, none of the stimuli reliably got the cows to relieve themselves. More cows went in the full footbath (67 percent) than the empty one (42 percent) in the first test, but there was almost no difference between the two when the test was repeated at the end of the experiment. The researchers also noticed that defecation and urination generally decreased in each test as the days wore on. All this leads them to think that the cows pooped not so much because of the water itself but because the novel experience of getting in the footbath was frightening. The trick to getting cows to go on command, then, might be scaring the crap out of them.

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Oakley Originals, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0
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Animals
Could Imported Sperm Help Save America’s Bees?
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Oakley Originals, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

It might be time to call in some sexual backup for male American bees. Scientists have started impregnating domestic honeybees with foreign sperm in the hopes that enlarging the gene pool will give our bees a fighting chance.

These days, the bees need all the help they can get. Colonies across the globe are disappearing and dying off, partly due to the increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides and partly from a parasite called the varroa mite. The invasive mite first landed on American shores in 1987, and it's been spreading and sickening and devouring our bees ever since.

Part of the problem, researchers say, is that the American bee gene pool has gone stagnant. We stopped importing live honeybees in 1922, which means that all the bees we've got are inbred and, therefore, all alike. They lack the genetic diversity that allows species to adapt to changing conditions or new threats. So when the mites come, they all get hit.

Many apiarists now rely on anti-mite pesticides to keep their charges safe. While these treatments may help keep the mites away, they aren't great for the bees, either—and the mites have begun to develop a resistance. But beekeepers feel like their hands are tied.

"I lost 40 percent of my colonies to varroa last fall," Matthew Shakespear of Olson's Honeybees told NPR. "I'm not taking any more chances. We've already done five treatments, compared with the two treatments we applied this time last year."

But there might be another way. Experts at the University of Washington have started to—how can we put this delicately?—manually encourage drones (male bees) in Europe and Asia to give up their sperm. All it takes is a little belly rub, and the drone, er, donates 1 microliter of fluid, or one-tenth of the amount needed to inseminate a queen bee.

Fortunately, the bees don't mind at all. "They're really accommodating," bee breeder and researcher Susan Cobey told NPR.

So far, the scientists' attempts to crossbreed foreign and domestic bees have been successful. Within their test colonies, genetic diversity is up.

"This doesn't mean they are superior in performance to the other bees," researcher Brandon Hopkins said. "It means we have a better chance of finding rare and unique traits." Traits, Hopkins says, like genetic resistance to the varroa mites—a quality shared by donor bees in Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Georgia.

Other beekeepers are opting for a more hands-off approach, introducing imported queens to their domestic hives. Shakespear bought his from Cobey, who reared them from bees she collected in Slovenia.

"Maybe these new genetics can deal with the varroa mites naturally," Shakespear said, "rather than having to rely on chemicals. It's time to start widening our gene pool."

[h/t The Salt]

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Natural History Museum
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London's Natural History Museum Has a New Star Attraction: An Amazing Blue Whale Skeleton
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Natural History Museum

In January 2017, London’s Natural History Museum said goodbye to Dippy, the Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton cast that had presided over the institution’s grand entrance hall since 1979. Dippy is scheduled to tour the UK from early 2018 to late 2020—and taking his place in Hintze Hall, The Guardian reports, is a majestic 82-foot blue whale skeleton named Hope.

Hope was officially unveiled to the public on July 14. The massive skeleton hangs suspended from the hall’s ceiling, providing visitors with a 360-degree view of the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth.

Technically, Hope isn’t a new addition to the Natural History Museum, which was first established in 1881. The skeleton is from a whale that beached itself at the mouth of Ireland's Wexford Harbor in 1891 after being injured by a whaler. A town merchant sold the skeleton to the museum for just a couple of hundred pounds, and in 1934, the bones were displayed in the Mammal Hall, where they hung over a life-size blue whale model.

The whale skeleton remained in the Mammal Hall until 2015, when museum workers began preparing the skeleton for its grand debut in Hintze Hall. "Whilst working on the 221 bones we uncovered past conservation treatments, such as the use of newspaper in the 1930s to fill the gaps between the vertebrae," Lorraine Cornish, the museum's head of conservation, said in a statement. "And we were able to use new methods for the first time, including 3D printing a small number of bones missing from the right flipper."

Once restoration was complete, Hope was suspended above Hintze Hall in a diving position. There she hangs as one of the museum’s new major attractions—and as a reminder of humanity’s power to conserve endangered species.

"The Blue Whale as a centerpiece tells a hopeful story about our ability to create a sustainable future for ourselves and other species," according to a museum press release. "Humans were responsible for both pushing the Blue Whale to the brink of extinction but also responsible for its protection and recovery. We hope that this remarkable story about the Blue Whale will be told by parents and grandparents to their children for many years to come, inspiring people to think differently about the natural world."

Check out some pictures of Hope below.

 “Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

“Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

“Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

“Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

[h/t Design Boom]

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