CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

11 Amazing Animal Births Caught on Video

Original image
Getty Images

Modern technology has given us plenty of gifts (and plenty of gifs), but few of them can compare to the awe-inspiring magic of watching wild animals give birth to their adorable offspring from the comfort of our very own homes. Warning: Some of these videos get a little ... gooey.

1. Panda

The National Zoo loves to set up live cameras when they know one of their animals is expecting, and “celebrity” giant panda Mei Xiang was no exception. Panda pregnancies are notoriously hard to diagnose (they’re also hard to make happen), but Mei Xiang demonstrated classic signs of an actual pregnancy for weeks, and she delivered in a big way with the birth of a tiny cub on August 23. While her butter-stick-sized baby was followed by a stillborn twin the next day, all signs point to a healthy first cub.

2. Gorilla

The Prague Zoo trained a live camera on their beloved gorilla mom Kijivu when she gave birth to a tiny baby boy last December. The sixth gorilla born at the zoo (and the fourth for Kijivu and her mate Richard) entered the world in textbook fashion, with his mom giving birth with jaw-dropping efficiency and attention. Baby gorillas typically weigh 3 to 4 pounds at birth—half the weight of human babies.

3. Polar bears

Speaking of efficiency and attention, just imagine giving birth to two squealing polar bear cubs without assistance. That’s just what mama bear Huggies, of the Dutch Zoo Ouwehands Dierenpark, did in 2011 with her little cubs Siku and Sesi. Sure, it sounds like the babies are screaming bloody murder, but that’s just them expressing happiness at finally joining the world (we think). Here's a fun fact about polar bear reproduction: Females are induced ovulators—it's intercourse that causes their ovaries to release an egg.

4. Elephant

The Prague Zoo broke out their live camera equipment again this February when it came time for elephant mama Donna to give birth to the zoo’s very first baby. A relatively “quick” delivery (around five hours) ended with the breathtaking birth of little Sita. Research shows that elephants stay pregnant for 680 days—the longest gestational period of any creature on earth—to allow babies' brains to develop enough that they can survive from birth.

5. Giraffe

Elephant births are impressive enough, but even they can’t compare to giraffe births—especially when they take place in full view of an entire zoo full of gawkers. The Memphis Zoo welcomed baby Kofi back in August of 2008, and his birth to mom Marilyn is one of the most amazing live births ever captured on video. In just four and a half minutes, it shows the entire thing, and while there are some very tense moments, it pays off big time. Fun fact: Pregnant giraffes often return to the calving ground where they were born to give birth themselves.

6. Tiger

If you’re ready to really get in there, Tiger Canyons offers up a long look at tigress Shadow as she gives birth to multiple cubs at some very close angles. (A typical tiger litter is two or three cubs, which weigh about 2 pounds each.) The brainchild of controversial conservationist John Varty, Tiger Canyons is a Bengal tiger “re-wilding” project started back in 2000. While his methods have been criticized, Varty's ability to capture stunning live birth video is unparalleled.

7. Black bear

Though you can’t see too much when it comes to Hope the black bear’s live birth from back in 2010, what the video lacks in clear visuals it more than makes up for with boggling veracity. Mom Lily didn’t give birth to baby Hope in a zoo or on a private reserve—she gave birth in her own den in Ely, Montana, one that was outfitted with a camera by the Wildlife Research Institute in order to continue their ongoing study of Lily and her clan. Born in winter, the cubs are blind and helpless at birth and stay in the den until spring. They'll stick with mom for two years before striking off on their own.

8. Hippo

The San Diego Zoo welcomed a river hippo calf back in January of 2011 in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it delivery. Much like the delivery of baby giraffe Kofi, hippo mom Funani gave birth to little Adhama in front of a large crowd of onlookers, none of which seemed to bother her or the bobbing calf in the slightest. Momma hippos can give birth in the water or on land, but if the baby is born in the water, the mother must push it to the surface to breathe—newborns can only hold their breath for about 40 seconds (which increases to 30 minutes as adults).

9. Dolphin

Hawaiian dolphin mom Keo gave birth to her very first calf back in September of last year in an environment she must have been quite comfortable with—she too was born and raised at Waikoloa Village’s Dolphin Quest. With trainers at the ready to help and record, the star steadily delivered baby Hali'a, the first second-generation dolphin born at the facility, and reportedly a star from the moment she first started swimming. Humans assisted this birth, but did you know that dolphins are also available to assist human births?

10. Lion

The Bristol Zoo had a very good Christmas Eve back in 2010, a holiday marked by the birth of two critically endangered Asiatic lion cubs. It was the first birth for mom Shiva, who gave the zoo its first lion cubs in over a decade when she delivered male Jayendra (“Jay” for short) and female Kalyana (“Kaly” for short). Two years later, she had yet another set of twins, males Kamran and Ketan. A lion's gestation period is 3.5 months, and litters are between one and six cubs. Sadly, in the wild, 60 to 70 percent of cubs die before they make it to a year.

11. Seahorse

Seahorses are an extreme rarity in the animal kingdom—they’re one of the very few species in which the male both incubates the eggs and then actually gives birth to their offspring. Their birthing is serious business: Each delivery can spawn up to 1800 babies. While we don’t know any particulars about this seahorse daddy, we do know he’s a champion.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
arrow
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image
iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES