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20 of the Animal Kingdom's Most Surprising Friendships

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KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

These interspecies friendships prove that anybody can get along if they really put their minds to it.

1. PEANUT THE RAT AND RANJ THE CAT

When Maggie Szpot adopted two rats, she was worried about how Ranj, the stray cat she brought home in 2008, would react. But she didn't need to worry about Ranj hunting Peanut and Mocha—in fact, Peanut became enamored with the cat, following him around, cuddling with him, licking his face, and eating food out of his bowl alongside him. The two remained besties until Peanut died in 2010.

2. JOEJOE THE CAPYBARA AND HIS MANY FRIENDS

Capybaras are known for being very, very chill around other animals. They're regularly spotted hanging out happily with birds perched on their backs, puppies snuggled next to them, and monkeys climbing on top of them. (There's a whole Tumblr devoted to these capybara friendships.) JoeJoe the Capybara, perhaps social media's most famous capybara, is regularly seen cuddling with puppies, swimming with ducklings, and rolling around with the baby chicks he shares a home with in Arizona.

3. JUNIPER THE FOX AND MOOSE THE DOG

Juniper is a rescued fox who made fast friends with Moose, the Australian Shepherd mix with whom she shares a home. The two sleep together, eat together, and groom each other. Their owner, Jessika, often comes into a room to find Juniper sitting on top of Moose's head as the dog patiently allows himself to be used as a couch.

4. STRONG IMPACT THE RACEHORSE AND CHARLIE THE PIG

A lot of high-strung racehorses have companion animals that keep them calm. Strong Impact, a thoroughbred that raced for eight years, found a loyal companion in Charlie, a pig. The pig chose Strong Impact out of all the other horses in the barn, going stall to stall until he found an equine companion with whom he could cohabitate. According to a New York Times story on their friendship, they act like an old married couple and hate to be separated. (Strong Impact retired from racing in 2015 and is now part of an adoption program for retired racehorses.)

5. ANTHONY THE LION AND RILEY THE COYOTE

Anthony the lion and Riley the coyote met when both were one month old, recently rescued by Keepers of the Wild, a sanctuary for rescued exotic animals in Arizona. They immediately took a liking to each other, and their love was captured in a PBS Nature episode called "Animal Odd Couples" playing, grooming each other, and standing watch over each other during naptime. (Their segment starts at about 9:45.) Riley accompanied Anthony when he left the sanctuary for surgeries for a birth defect because the animals experienced such intense separation anxiety that one wouldn't eat without the other present. Sadly, Anthony passed away several years ago, and Riley now lives with another coyote at the sanctuary, Dominic.

6. SIMON COW-ELL AND LEONARDO THE TORTOISE

Simon the cow arrived at the WFFT Wildlife Rescue Center in Thailand in February 2016 after losing part of his hind leg. He was put in a temporary space in a field while he recovered from his injury, and was eventually supposed to join two other cows at the rescue in another enclosure. Instead, he formed an intense bond with the field's other resident, a giant tortoise named Leonardo that had been rescued when a Bangkok zoo closed in 2013. Simon nuzzles Leonardo, rests his head on his shell, and follows him around everywhere. They now live together permanently.

7. J'AIME THE RHINO AND JOEY THE LAMB

When J'aime came to the Rhino Orphanage in South Africa in March 2017, she was too young and small to be housed with her fellow rhinos. A few months later, though, she found a friend in Joey, a lamb who had been rejected by his mother and was brought to the sanctuary to be hand-raised. Joey was just a few days old at the time of their introduction, and he and J'aime quickly became best buds. They go for daily walks together and eat out of the same trough. Since May, they've also had another orphan in their little herd, a lamb named Penny.

8. LEO THE LION, BALOO THE BEAR, AND SHERE KHAN THE TIGER

When police made a drug raid on an Atlanta home 16 years ago, they made quite a discovery in the basement: one lion cub, one bear cub, and one tiger cub, which the drug dealer had been keeping as pets. The animals were in bad shape, but had formed a special bond. The trio was moved to the Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary in Georgia, where they were nursed back to health. Baloo's injuries were the most serious; he had to undergo surgery to remove a harness that was so tight his flesh had begun to grow around it. "During Baloo's surgery was the only time the three brothers have ever been separated from one another, and Shere Khan and Leo became extremely agitated because of it, pacing and vocalizing for the lost member of their family of three to return," the sanctuary's website says. Baloo made a full recovery and the trio remained inseparable until 2016, when Leo passed away from liver disease. Baloo and Shere Khan continue to romp around their three-acre sanctuary.

9. CLEO THE CAT AND FORBI THE OWL

Brazilian biologist André Costa took in Forbi as a baby, and the owl became immediate friends with Cleo, Costa's cat (you can see a photo of little Forbi just hanging out on Cleo's side here). And they're still best buds!

10. BEA THE GIRAFFE AND WILMA THE OSTRICH

Both Bea and Wilma were born and raised in the 65-acre Serengeti Plain exhibit at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. Assistant curator Jason Green told People that the duo "seem to enjoy spending time together. Bea likes to use her tongue to explore her surroundings, and Wilma isn't fazed by those very close encounters."

11. THEMBA THE ELEPHANT AND ALBERT THE SHEEP

Themba became an orphan at 6 months old when his mother died after falling down a cliff. The baby elephant was rescued by a team at Shamwari Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa, who put him in an enclosure with a sheep named Albert. "All hell broke loose," filmmaker Lyndal Davies told the Daily Mail in 2008. "Themba made a dash for the sheep and chased him around his watering hole." By the next morning, though, "Albert was clearly bored and started venturing out into the main enclosure. Themba wouldn't leave Albert's side and the two were seen exploring their enclosure together, with Themba's trunk resting on Albert's back. Ever since that moment Themba and Albert have been inseparable." According to wildlife director Johan Joubert, "Albert copies everything Themba does. In fact, they have almost the exact same diet. Albert is the first sheep I have ever seen eat a thorny acacia bush." You can watch a documentary about the pair above. Sadly, while the team at the center hoped to eventually introduce Themba back into the wild, the elephant died suddenly in 2010.

12. MUBI THE MONKEY AND IAIN AND DAISEY THE JACK RUSSELL PUPPIES

Mubi, an endangered drill monkey, was born at the Port Lympne Animal Park near Canterbury, Kent, but she was quickly rejected by her mother. So zookeeper Simon Jeffrey decided to hand-rear her. "During the day I take her to work and the team look after her at the enclosure where she can see her parents," he told the Daily Mail. "When I’ve finished working in the reserve, she comes home with me." There, she spends her time playing with two Jack Russell puppies, Iain and Daisey.

13. SAHARA THE CHEETAH AND ALEXA THE DOG

Cathryn Hilker, founder of the Cincinnati Zoo's Cat Ambassador Program, adopted the cheetah and the Anatolian Shepherd puppy when they were both two months old and raised them together. "They literally moved into my house and bonded with my rugs, my furniture, and each other," Hilker told Good Morning America. For a number of years, the pair toured schools in America raising awareness for the precarious position of the wild cheetah population. They even lived together at the zoo until 2010, when Alexa retired and went to live with a trainer.

14. CASSIE THE KITTEN AND MOSES THE CROW

In 1999, a tiny stray kitten appeared in Wally and Ann Collito's yard in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. The Collitos began feeding the kitten, but they weren’t the only ones: A crow also helped take care of the kitty, feeding her worms and bugs and protecting her from other animals. Eventually, the Collitos were able to coax Cassie inside, but the cat's incredible friendship with the crow didn't end there. The crow—whom they had named Moses—would peck at the door for Cassie every morning, and they'd spend the day hanging around together. The Collitos shot video and took photos of the two canoodling because they knew no one would believe them otherwise. This routine lasted for five years, until Moses stopped showing up, presumably because he had died.

15. OWEN THE HIPPO AND MZEE THE TORTOISE

When the waves of the devastating 2004 tsunami struck the coast of Kenya, a baby hippo was separated from his herd and became stranded on a coral reef. The next day, the hippo was rescued by the residents of the village of Malindi with fishing nets and taken to Haller Park Sanctuary, where the 660-pound animal—now named Owen—cozied up to a 130-year-old Aldabra tortoise named Mzee (maybe because the tortoise’s shape and color resembled an adult hippo). At first, the tortoise wasn't interested in this friendship, but eventually, they became inseparable, eating, wallowing in a pond, and even sleeping together. They lived in the same enclosure until 2007, when Mzee was removed from the enclosure because of safety concerns; Owen has since bonded with a female hippo named Cleo.

16. SABRE THE MINIHORSE AND ARROW THE GREAT DANE

Enjoy this video of Sabre, an 11-year-old miniature horse, hanging out with his friend Arrow, a 2.5-year-old Harlequin Great Dane, on a twin mattress.

17. JET THE DOLPHIN AND MIRI THE SEA LION

Though these two animals would normally be fierce competitors in the wild, at the Pet Porpoise Pool Marine Park in Coffs Harbour, Australia, they're the best of friends. Jet and Miri met as babies, and according to pool specialist Amy Carter, "They struck up a friendship really early on as they are the youngest. If Jet sees Miri going past he sticks his head out of the pool to say 'hi' and they make noises to each other."

18. PIPPIN THE DEER AND KATE THE GREAT DANE

In 2008, Isobel Springett rescued a fawn that had been abandoned by its mother in her yard, placing the tiny animal in the dog bed with her Great Dane, Kate. "She tucked her head under the dog's elbow," Springett told People. "Her whole demeanor changed. I knew she was a good dog, but I didn't expect her to mother the fawn." Though the deer eventually returned to the wild, she still visits, now with her own fawns. And though her babies won't get close, Pippin still comes in for a nose rub, which Kate returns. "There's a strong connection," Springett says, "but they have no idea it's a weird one."

19. TARRA THE ELEPHANT AND BELLA THE DOG

Get your tissues out for this one: For eight years, Tarra was best buds with Bella, a mutt who had wandered onto the grounds of Tennessee's Elephant Sanctuary. They had such a strong bond that Bella would let the elephant stroke her on her stomach with her foot, and when Bella had a spinal injury that confined her to the sanctuary office, Tarra "just stood outside the balcony—just stood there and waited," sanctuary co-founder Carol Buckley told CBS. "She was concerned about her friend. ... Bella knows she's not an elephant. Tarra knows she's not a dog. But that's not a problem for them."

But in 2011, Bella was found dead, probably of a coyote attack. "When I looked around and saw there was no signs of an attack here. No blood, no tuffs of hair, nothing," director of elephant husbandry, Steve Smith, told CBS. "And Tarra, on the underside of her trunk, had blood—as if she picked up the body. Tarra moved her."

20. ANONYMOUS CAT AND FOX

Fishermen in Lake Van, Turkey, spotted this wild cat and a fox playing, snuggling, and sharing fish together—and they've been at it for more than a year!

This story originally ran in 2014.

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Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.

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Animals
15 Incredible Facts About Pigeons
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iStock

Though they're often described as "rats with wings" (a phrase popularized by the movie Stardust Memories), pigeons are actually pretty cool. From homing instincts to misleading rump feathers, here are 15 things you might not know about these avian adventurers.

1. THEY MIGHT BE THE FIRST DOMESTICATED BIRD.

The common city pigeon (Columba livia), also known as the rock pigeon, might be the first bird humankind ever domesticated. You can see them in art dating back as far as 4500 BCE in modern Iraq, and they've been a valuable source of food for thousands of years.

2. THEY WON OVER CHARLES DARWIN—AND NIKOLA TESLA.

Pigeon-breeding was a common hobby in Victorian England for everyone from well-off businessmen to average Joes, leading to some fantastically weird birds. Few hobbyists had more enthusiasm for the breeding process than Charles Darwin, who owned a diverse flock, joined London pigeon clubs, and hobnobbed with famous breeders. Darwin's passion for the birds influenced his 1868 book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, which has not one but two chapters about pigeons (dogs and cats share a single chapter).

Nikola Tesla was another great mind who enjoyed pigeons. He used to care for injured wild pigeons in his New York City hotel room. Hands down, Tesla's favorite was a white female—about whom he once said, "I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman and she loved me. When she was ill, I knew and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life." Reportedly, he was inconsolable after she died.

3. THEY UNDERSTAND SPACE AND TIME.

In a 2017 Current Biology study, researchers showed captive pigeons a series of digital lines on a computer screen for either two or eight seconds. Some lines were short, measuring about 2.3 inches across; others were four times longer. The pigeons were trained to evaluate either the length of the line or how long it was displayed. They found that the more time a line was displayed, the longer in length the pigeon judged it to be. The reverse was true too: If the pigeons encountered a longer line, they thought it existed in time for a greater duration. Pigeons, the scientists concluded, understand the concepts of both time and space; the researchers noted "similar results have been found with humans and other primates."

It's thought that humans process those concepts with a brain region called the parietal cortex; pigeon brains lack that cortex, so they must have a different way of judging space and time.

4. THEY CAN FIND THEIR WAY BACK TO THE NEST FROM 1300 MILES AWAY.

A pigeon flying in front of trees.
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The birds can do this even if they've been transported in isolation—with no visual, olfactory, or magnetic clues—while scientists rotate their cages so they don't know what direction they're traveling in. How they do this is a mystery, but people have been exploiting the pigeon's navigational skills since at least 3000 BCE, when ancient peoples would set caged pigeons free and follow them to nearby land.

Their navigational skills also make pigeons great long-distance messengers. Sports fans in ancient Greece are said to have used trained pigeons to carry the results of the Ancient Olympics. Further east, Genghis Khan stayed in touch with his allies and enemies alike through a pigeon-based postal network.

5. THEY SAVED THOUSANDS OF HUMAN LIVES DURING WORLD WARS I AND II.

Pigeons' homing talents continued to shape history during the 20th century. In both World Wars, rival nations had huge flocks of pigeon messengers. (America alone had 200,000 at its disposal in WWII.) By delivering critical updates, the avians saved thousands of human lives. One racing bird named Cher Ami completed a mission that led to the rescue of 194 stranded U.S. soldiers on October 4, 1918.

6. TWO PIGEONS ALMOST DISTRACTED FROM THE DISCOVERY OF EVIDENCE OF THE BIG BANG.

In 1964, scientists in Holmdel, New Jersey, heard hissing noises from their antenna that would later prove to be signals from the Big Bang. But when they first heard the sound, they thought it might be, among other things, the poop of two pigeons that were living in the antenna. "We took the pigeons, put them in a box, and mailed them as far away as we could in the company mail to a guy who fancied pigeons," one of the scientists later recalled. "He looked at them and said these are junk pigeons and let them go and before long they were right back." But the scientists were able to clean out the antenna and determine that they had not been the cause of the noise. The trap used to catch the birds (before they had to later be, uh, permanently removed) is on view at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

7. YOU CAN TRAIN THEM TO BE ART SNOBS …

Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe and two colleagues earned an Ig Nobel Prize in 1995 for training pigeons, in a lab setting, to recognize the paintings of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and to distinguish between the painters. The pigeons were even able to use their knowledge of impressionism and cubism to identify paintings of other artists in those movements. Later, Watanabe taught other pigeons to distinguish watercolor images from pastels. And in a 2009 experiment, captive pigeons he'd borrowed were shown almost two dozen paintings made by students at a Tokyo elementary school, and were taught which ones were considered "good" and which ones were considered "bad." He then presented them with 10 new paintings and the avian critics managed to correctly guess which ones had earned bad grades from the school's teacher and a panel of adults. Watanabe's findings indicate that wild pigeons naturally categorize things on the basis of color, texture, and general appearance.

8. … AND TO DISTINGUISH WRITTEN WORDS.

In a 2016 study, scientists showed that pigeons can differentiate between strings of letters and actual words. Four of the birds built up a vocabulary of between 26 and 58 written English words, and though the birds couldn't actually read them, they could identify visual patterns and therefore tell them apart. The birds could even identify words they hadn't seen before.

9. FLUFFY PIGEON FEET MIGHT ACTUALLY BE PARTIAL WINGS.

A white pigeon with curly feathers and fluffy feet.
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A few pigeon breeds have fuzzy legs—which hobbyists call "muffs"—rather than scaly ones. According to a 2016 study, the DNA of these fluffy-footed pigeons leads their hind legs to take on some forelimb characteristics, making muffed pigeon legs look distinctly wing-like; they're also big-boned. Not only do they have feathers, but the hindlimbs are somewhat big-boned, too. According to biologist Mike Shapiro, who led the study, "pigeons' fancy feathered feet are partially wings."

10. SOME PIGEONS DISTRACT FALCONS WITH WHITE RUMP FEATHERS.

In a life-or-death situation, a pigeon's survival could depend upon its color pattern: Research has shown that wild falcons rarely go after pigeons that have a white patch of feathers just above the tail, and when the predators do target these birds, the attacks are rarely successful.

To figure out why this is, Ph.D. student Alberto Palleroni and a team tagged 5235 pigeons in the vicinity of Davis, California. Then, they monitored 1485 falcon-on-pigeon attacks over a seven-year span. The researchers found that although white-rumped pigeons comprised 20 to 25 percent of the area's pigeon population, they represented less than 2 percent of all the observed pigeons that were killed by falcons; the vast majority of the victims had blue rumps. Palleroni and his team rounded up 756 white- and blue-rumped pigeons and swapped their rump feathers by clipping and pasting white feathers on blue rumps, and vice versa. The falcons had a much easier time spotting and catching the newly blue-rumped pigeons, while the pigeons that received the white feathers saw predation rates plummet.

Close observation revealed that the white patches distract birds of prey. In the wild, falcons dive-bomb other winged animals from above at high speeds. Some pigeons respond by rolling away in midair, and on a spiraling bird, white rump feathers can be eye-catching, which means that a patch of them may divert a hungry raptor's focus long enough to make the carnivore miscalculate and zip right past its intended victim.

11. DODOS WERE RELATED TO TODAY'S PIGEONS.

Two blue and green Nicobar pigeons.
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Though most of this list focuses on the rock pigeon, there are 308 living species of pigeons and doves. Together, they make up an order of birds known as the columbiformes. The extinct dodo belonged to this group as well.

Flightless and (somewhat) docile, dodos once inhabited Mauritius, an island near Madagascar. The species had no natural predators, but when human sailors arrived with rats, dogs, cats, and pigs, it began to die out, and before the 17th century came to a close, the dodo had vanished altogether. DNA testing has confirmed that pigeons are closely related to the dodo, and the vibrant Nicobar pigeon (above) is its nearest genetic relative. A multi-colored bird with iridescent feathers, this near-threatened creature is found on small islands in the South Pacific and off Asia. Unlike the dodo, it can fly.

12. AT ONE POINT, MORE THAN ONE-QUARTER OF ALL THE BIRDS LIVING IN THE U.S. MAY HAVE BEEN PASSENGER PIGEONS.

Wild/feral rock pigeons reside in all 50 states, which makes it easy to forget that they're invasive birds. Originally native to Eurasia and northern Africa, the species was (most likely) introduced to North America by French settlers in 1606. At the time, a different kind of columbiform—this one indigenous—was already thriving there: the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). As many as 5 billion of them were living in America when England, Spain, and France first started colonizing, and they may have once represented anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the total U.S. bird population. But by the early 20th century, they had become a rare sight, thanks to overhunting, habitat loss, and a possible genetic diversity issue. The last known passenger pigeon—a captive female named Martha—died on September 1, 1914.

13. THEY'RE REALLY GOOD AT MULTITASKING.

According to one study, they're more efficient multitaskers than people are. Scientists at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum put together a test group of 15 humans and 12 pigeons and trained all of them to complete two simple jobs (like pressing a keyboard once a light bulb came on). They were also put in situations wherein they'd need to stop working on one job and switch over to another. In some trials, the participants had to make the change immediately. During these test runs, humans and pigeons switched between jobs at the same speed.

But in other trials, the test subjects were allowed to complete one assignment and then had to wait 300 milliseconds before moving on to the next job. Interestingly, in these runs, the pigeons were quicker to get started on that second task after the period ended. In the avian brain, nerve cells are more densely packed, which might enable our feathered friends to process information faster than we can under the right circumstances.

14. PIGEONS PRODUCE FAKE "MILK."

Only mammals produce genuine milk, but pigeons and doves (along with some other species of birds) feed their young with something similar—a whitish liquid filled with nutrients, fats, antioxidants, and healthy proteins called "crop milk." Both male and female pigeons create the milk in the crop, a section of the esophagus designed to store food temporarily. As is the case with mammal milk, the creation of crop milk is regulated by the hormone prolactin. Newly-hatched pigeons drink crop milk until they're weaned off it after four weeks or so. (And if you've ever asked yourself, "Where are all the baby pigeons?" we have the answer for you right here.)

15. ONE STUDY SUGGESTS THAT, GIVEN THE RIGHT CONDITIONS, THEY'RE AS GOOD AT IDENTIFYING CANCER AS DOCTORS.

We've already established that pigeons are excellent at differentiating between artists and words, but a 2015 study revealed they can also distinguish between malignant and benign growths in the right conditions. Researchers at University of California Davis Medical Center put 16 pigeons in a room with magnified biopsies of potential breast cancers. If the pigeons correctly identified them as either benign or malignant, they got a treat, According to Scientific American.

"Once trained, the pigeons' average diagnostic accuracy reached an impressive 85 percent. But when a "flock sourcing" approach was taken, in which the most common answer among all subjects was used, group accuracy climbed to a staggering 99 percent, or what would be expected from a pathologist. The pigeons were also able to apply their knowledge to novel images, showing the findings weren't simply a result of rote memorization."

Mammograms proved to be more of a challenge, however; the birds could memorize signs of cancer in the images they were trained on but could not identify the signs in new images.

No matter how impressive their results, "I don't anticipate that pigeons, no matter how good they become at pathology or radiology, will be playing a role in actual patient care—certainly for the foreseeable future," study co-author Richard M. Levenson told Scientific American. "There are just too many regulatory barriers—at least in the West."

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