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.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Bristly
A New Chew Toy Will Help Your Dog Brush Its Own Teeth
Bristly
Bristly

Few pet owners are willing to sit down and brush their pet's teeth on a regular basis. (Most of us can barely convince ourselves to floss our own teeth, after all.) Even fewer pets are willing to sit calmly and let it happen. But pet dental care matters: I’ve personally spent more than $1000 in the last few years dealing with the fact that my cat’s teeth are rotting out of her head.

For dog owners struggling to brush poor Fido’s teeth, there’s a slightly better option. Bristly, a product currently being funded on Kickstarter, is a chew toy that acts as a toothbrush. The rubber stick, which can be slathered with doggie toothpaste, is outfitted with bristles that brush your dog’s teeth as it plays.

A French bulldog chews on a Bristly toy.
Bristly

Designed so your dog can use it without you lifting a finger, it’s shaped like a little pogo stick, with a flattened base that allows dogs to stabilize it with their paws as they hack at the bristled stick with their teeth. The bristles are coated in a meat flavoring to encourage dogs to chew.

An estimated 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 have some kind of dental disease, so the chances that your dog could use some extra dental attention is very high. In addition to staving off expensive vet bills, brushing your dog's teeth can improve their smelly breath.

Bristly comes in three sizes as well as in a heavy-duty version made for dogs who are prone to ripping through anything they can get their jaws around. A Bristly stick costs $29 and is scheduled to start shipping in October. Get it here.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios