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Monkeys Use Mosquito Repellent, Too

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about what happens when you slip spiders and other animals recreational drugs. A tidbit that didn’t make it into the post was that scientists working with capuchin monkeys in South America had often seen the monkeys grabbing certain types of millipedes, crushing them and then massaging the dead insects into their fur. Sometimes it was a social event—four or five monkeys would share the same millipede, rubbing it all over themselves and then passing it to a friend. Afterwards, they started drooling and their eyes sometimes glazed over. Maybe, some of the scientists speculated, the millipedes were mildly psychoactive and the monkeys were getting high off of their secretions.

When a team of researchers actually analyzed the chemicals that the millipedes produced, though, they realized that the monkeys weren’t catching a buzz, but getting rid of one. The millipedes produced two chemicals, both compounds called benzoquinones, that happen to be excellent mosquito repellents. The monkeys were using the millipedes like bug spray. A later study supported that idea by placing the millipedes’ secretions between some hungry mosquitoes and a container of human blood. The mosquitoes landed and fed less, and flew around at a distance from the container more, when the benzoquinones were present than when they weren’t.

After discovering what the millipedes were for, one of the zoologists who worked on the second study began giving benzoquinone-soaked napkins to the capuchins at the Smithsonian National Zoo, where he worked. After a few rub downs with the napkins, the monkeys would start to abandon their regular keeper when they saw the zoologist coming and run towards him with outstretched arms. There’s good reason for that sort of reaction. Mosquitoes are always annoying, but during the South American rainy season, they can descend on a poor capuchin in thick clouds. Along with an itch, their bites might also leave behind the eggs of the parasitic bot fly, which will develop under the monkey’s skin and create a festering cyst that eventually bursts open with maggots.

Given how much fun that sounds like, the side effects of a millipede rubdown don’t seem as bad. Some benzoquinones are toxic and carcinogenic, and contact with them can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, and mouth that leads to a glassy-eyed look, drooling, and pain—plus, from a human perspective, an overall impression that a monkey might be stoned. For these reasons, the researchers who did these studies don’t recommend that you self-medicate with millipedes to keep the bugs away. One scientist who copied the capuchin technique of crushing a bug with his teeth to release the chemicals fell to his knees in pain when the benzoquinones got into his mouth.

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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