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Wikimedia Commons

Adorable Agoutis Have Good Reason to Go to Bed Early

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Wikimedia Commons

When it seems there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I need to do, it’s easy enough to adjust. If I’ve got a lot of different stories to work on, maybe I’ll get up an hour or two earlier than I normally do, or put in a few more hours of work after dinner. It’s not fun stretching the workday out like that, but the worst thing that happens is I lose a little sleep or have to DVR True Detective for later

For some other animals, though, putting in extra hours can be deadly. 

Meet the agouti, a Central and South American rodent that looks a little like a streamlined, long-limbed guinea pig. These little guys spend most of their time looking for fruits, seeds and other food—some of which they eat right away and some of which they store away for the rainy summer season. 

The agouti’s main predator is the ocelot, a medium-sized cat also known as the “dwarf leopard.” Fortunately for agoutis, the two species are on opposite schedules. When researchers from Europe, Central America, and the U.S. tracked the animals with camera traps and radio collars, they found a whopping 94 percent of the agoutis’ activity took place during the day, while 78 percent of the ocelots’ took place at night. 

Between midnight and dawn, the researchers found 30 ocelots for every one agouti, which means late hours are risky business for the rodents. Early to bed and late to rise keeps an agouti alive, it seems. 

But some agoutis, like the 10 radio-collared animals that were killed by ocelots at night during the study, don’t have the luxury of keeping normal business hours. If their home range has lots of food, they can afford stay in their burrows later in the morning and get back there earlier in the evening. If they have less food around, though, they’ve got to work harder and longer to get it. Maybe they go foraging a little earlier, or stay out a little later. Either way, the researchers found that agoutis in less food-rich areas were more active when it was dark out, and more likely to make a meal for an ocelot. Too much work can be a killer. 

Agoutis aren’t too different from us, the researchers say. We’re both busy mammals with too much to do, and not enough time to do it. “The next time your alarm seems too early, and the sky is still dark outside, consider the chances there is an ocelot outside your bedroom,” they write on their blog. “Maybe its ok to hit snooze one more time.”

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Big Questions
Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?
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A dog's behavior can often prove confusing to their human colleagues. We know they like to eat their own poop, but puzzle at their motivations. We're surprised when dogs give a ladybug the same greeting as a home intruder.

Topping the list of eccentric canine behavior: Why do dogs howl at sirens? Is there some genetic predisposition to responding to a high-pitched alarm from passing ambulances or police vehicles?

As it turns out, the reason dogs howl at sirens is because of their ancestry—namely, the wolf. When members of a pack are fractured and spread out, their companions will howl to provide a way of locating them. Think of it as nature’s GPS: By howling, dogs are able to communicate their respective locations to one another, even across long distances.

Since dogs really don’t know what a cop car is supposed to sound like, they’ll often interpret a siren as an animal’s howl. It’s also possible that dogs consider sirens to be a sign that something is abnormal in their environment, and that they want you, the pack leader, to be aware of it.

Contrary to belief, a dog is rarely howling because the noise hurts their delicate ears. If that were the case, some experts say, then they would display other behaviors, like running and hiding.

The more a dog hears and responds to a siren, the more they might be compelled to continue the behavior. That’s because dogs who howl and then notice the sound drifting away might begin to associate their vocalizing with the disappearance of the noise. In the future, they’ll probably recall that they “drove” the interloper away with their warbling and repeat the process.

While howling is usually harmless, sometimes it can be a sign that your pet is feeling separation anxiety from an owner or that they’re feeling unwell. If howling persists even without a screaming siren within earshot, you might consider taking them in for a check-up.

If you’ve wondered why dogs howl at sirens, now you know. It’s simply a way of signaling their location and not because it pains them. Owners, on the other hand, might feel differently.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Calm on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July can be rough for dogs. Fireworks displays light up their senses with unfamiliar noises, flashes, and smells, and parties flood their homes with strange guests who may invade the rooms they usually have as private retreats. And when distressed dogs escape, howl, or thrash around the house, Independence Day can quickly become a nightmare for their owners, too. To minimize Fido's stress this holiday, we spoke to some dog experts to discover the best ways to keep your canine calm on the Fourth of July.


Anthony Newman, the dog whisperer who runs New York City's Calm Energy Dog Training, says that exercise is a great way to help your dog let off some nervous energy. “Whenever Fido is going to be neglected for an extended period of time, or around any stressful stimuli, it always helps to tire him out just before—and even during the night if you can,” Newman says. “As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog! He’ll be calmer, happier, and more peaceful.”


Dr. Stephanie Liff, head veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care, says the best place to keep your pet during a fireworks show is inside and away from the windows. “If the pet is very scared, an escape-proof crate or a sound-insulated room, such as an internal bathroom, may help the pet to feel more secure,” Liff tells us. “If you cannot keep your pet inside, make sure that the pet is prevented from escape (monitor all exits and tell guests to monitor your pet).”


While your dog may feel more secure in a room away from all the noise, Newman points out that keeping your dog isolated in another room for too long can be stressful for your pet. “Release his curiosity and let him in on the fun, to run around and play with both two-legged as well as four-legged guests,” Newman says. “Then back to his obedient room, bed, car, crate, or spot. Rinse and repeat as needed throughout the night."


According to Newman, the best way to keep your dog calm during the chaos of July 4th is to stay in charge. “If your dog winces, shivers, and runs away at loud noises, the last thing he wants is to feel like nobody else is looking out for him,” Newman says. Don’t let your dog run rampant around the house or follow him around trying to soothe him. Instead, Newman says it's important to “take control by attaching a super-light leash that you can grab and lead him whenever you need.”


In extreme cases of nervousness, Liff says that you should talk to your vet about medication to sedate your dog.


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