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Death by Anteater

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With their long snouts, bushy tails, and beautifully patterned coats, giant anteaters are cute—in a weird sort of way. And their babies ride around on their moms' backs for their first year, which is adorable. But if you’re ever tempted to try and snuggle one or throw a leash on it and take it for a stroll, though, a recent case study in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine shows that getting in an anteater’s face is a very bad idea. 

In their report, researchers from Brazil document the case of a giant anteater that attacked and killed a human hunter in self-defense. The man, a 47-year-old Brazilian, was hunting with his two sons in the forest when their dogs cornered an adult anteater, which reared up on its hind legs in a defensive position sometimes known as “an anteater’s hug” (here’s a different species, the collared anteater, in a similar stance). While the men were armed with rifles, they didn’t want to shoot their dogs by accident, so the man drew his knife and approached the anteater. 

When he got close, the animal lashed out at him with its four-inch claws, which the animals normally use to dig up anthills and termite nests, but which can also be devastating weapons. The anteater scratched and bruised the man’s neck and right leg, and punctured his left arm twice and his left leg eight times. While his sons managed to free him and shoot the anteater, the animal's claws had damaged the man's femoral artery, and he bled out and died at the scene. 

“The tragic case described here was first and foremost an accident,” the researchers say. Giant anteaters prefer to avoid humans or retreat from them, but that’s not always an option because of their poor vision and hearing. Defensive attacks are rare, and happen only when someone corners the animals or makes them feel trapped. The consequences of doing that are plain in this incident, which, the researchers say, “should serve as a warning to respect the boundaries between wildlife and humans, especially when they co-inhabit a given area.”

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Animals
Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
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Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

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The Queen's Racing Pigeons Are in Danger, Due to an Increase in Peregrine Falcons
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Queen Elizabeth is famous for her love of corgis and horses, but her pet pigeons don't get as much press. The monarch owns nearly 200 racing pigeons, which she houses in a luxury loft at her country estate, Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England. But thanks to a recent boom in the region’s peregrine falcon population, the Queen’s swift birds may no longer be able to safely soar around the countryside, according to The Telegraph.

Once endangered, recent conservation efforts have boosted the peregrine falcon’s numbers. In certain parts of England, like Norfolk and the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, the creatures can even find shelter inside boxes installed at local churches and cathedrals, which are designed to protect potential eggs.

There’s just one problem: Peregrine falcons are birds of prey, and local pigeon racers claim these nesting nooks are located along racing routes. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, some pigeons are failing to return to their owners.

Pigeon racing enthusiasts are upset, but Richard Salt of Salisbury Cathedral says it's simply a case of nature taking its course. "It's all just part of the natural process,” Salt told The Telegraph. "The peregrines came here on their own account—we didn't put a sign out saying 'room for peregrines to let.' Obviously we feel quite sorry for the pigeons, but the peregrines would be there anyway."

In the meantime, the Queen might want to keep a close eye on her birds (or hire someone who will), or consider taking advantage of Sandringham House's vast open spaces for a little indoor fly-time.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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