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Molly Harwood
Molly Harwood

Birds Cope with Loss by Strengthening Other Relationships

Molly Harwood
Molly Harwood

You can’t keep a great tit down. Scientists say the little birds deal with the loss of a flockmate by forging new relationships and strengthening the ones they’ve got, much the same way grieving humans seek solace in community. The researchers published their findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Can animals grieve? A mounting pile of observational data suggests that they can, and do. Elephants, wolves, apes, parrots, and lemurs—all intensely social animals—are all known to alter their behavior after a death, visiting grave sites, moaning, or refusing to eat.

As human settlements continue their creep and sprawl into wild populations, understanding how a single animal’s death affects others is more important than ever. 

To learn more, researchers focused on a group of more than 500 great tits (Parus major) in Oxford, England, that have been part of ongoing research since the 1960s. All of the birds wear ID anklets, some of which contain microchips for even easier tracking.

The researchers followed the birds through the winter breeding season, monitoring each individual’s movements among the group. Once a week for four weeks, the scientists carefully netted a few birds and took them back to an aviary for a few days to see how their flockmates would respond. The “missing” birds hung out there over the weekend, then rejoined their mates the following Monday.


Molly Harwood

Their absence was noted. Each temporary abduction prompted a sort of social huddling together of the birds that remained. They grew tighter with birds they knew and formed new relationships, turning to the bird community for support. When the missing birds returned, they were welcomed back into the fold, and were mostly able to pick up their relationships where they'd left off.

“Great tits are very sociable birds, and their relationships shape almost every aspect of their lives,” lead author Josh Firth of Oxford University said in a statement.

“A real benefit of studying these birds is that we can run experiments to test the principles of social behavior. Interestingly, in this case the results appear surprisingly similar to what has been suggested for humans.”

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Animals
The Simple Way to Protect Your Dog From Dangerous Rock Salt
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iStock

Winter can be a tough time for dogs. The cold weather usually means there are fewer opportunities for walks and more embarrassing accessories for them to wear. But the biggest threat to canines this time of year is one pet owners may not notice: the dangerous rock salt coating the streets and sidewalks. If you live someplace where this is a problem, here are the steps you need to take to keep your pooch safe until the weather warms up, according to Life Hacker.

Rock salt poses two major hazards to pets: damage to their feet and poisoning from ingestion. The first is the one most pet owners are aware of. Not only do large grains of salt hurt when they get stuck in a dog’s paws, but they can also lead to frostbite and chemical burns due to the de-icing process at work. The easiest way to prevent this is by covering your dog’s paws before taking them outside. Dog booties get the job done, as do protective balms and waxes that can be applied directly to their pads.

The second danger is a little harder to anticipate. The only way you can stop your dog from eating rock salt from the ground is to keep a close eye on them. Does your dog seem a little too interested in a puddle or a mound of snow? Encourage them to move on before they have a chance to take a lick.

If, for some reason, you forget to follow the steps above and your pet has a bad encounter with some winter salt, don’t panic. For salty feet, soak your dog's paws in warm water once you get inside to wash away any remaining grit. If your dog exhibits symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and disorientation and you suspect they’ve ingested rock salt, contact your vet right away.

Even with the proper protection, winter can still create an unsafe environment for dogs. Check out this handy chart to determine when it’s too cold to take them for a walk.

[h/t Life Hacker]

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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