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How Otters' Unique Fur Keeps Them Warm in Frigid Waters

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Otters have an internal temperature of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit—nearly double that of the chilly waters off the northern California coast, where they can often be found. Unlike whales and other aquatic mammals, otters don't have blubber to keep them warm. Instead, they rely on two distinct characteristics of their fur for insulation: Its density and its texture.

Otters have the densest fur of any animal on earth—about 1000 times more dense than human hair. Each strand is sort of spiky so that it becomes entangled and matted. This thick, dense, matted layer of fur traps air bubbles that act as insulation close to the otter's skin.

When they dive down, the water pressure forces some of these air bubbles out, but meticulous grooming keeps the otter insulated. In fact, Heather Liwanag, a biologist who studied otter fur as part of her Ph.D. research at U.C. Santa Cruz, found that the fur works better than blubber at providing insulation in shallow waters.

Check out this video for a closer look at otter fur:

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Animals
This Beach Bar for Dogs Has Chicken Beer and Doggie Paddle Races
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After a summer spent playing fetch, sniffing butts, and fulfilling his duty as man’s best friend, your dog could probably use a vacation. There are few places where he’ll feel more welcome than at Monty’s Dog Beach Bar in Croatia. As Reuters reports, this canine-friendly oasis is the only bar of its kind in the Eastern European country.

Monty’s opened a year ago in the coastal town of Crikvenica and has been drawing in four-legged patrons and their owners ever since. While lounging on a sun bed with views of the Adriatic Sea, dogs lap up special "beer" brewed from chicken and vegetables. If they’re in need of something more substantial, the menu also includes ice cream made from bananas, peanut butter, yogurt, and soy milk. Senior dogs even have the option to drink medicinal teas that are supposed to boost fur growth. And if their humans get hungry or thirsty, there’s a full selection of people drinks and snacks to choose from, too.

Earlier in August, Monty’s hosted a day full of beach games that dogs and their owners could take part in together. Fifteen human-canine pairs competed in an event that had them running down a pier, leaping into the water, and swimming 100 meters back to shore. The winner, a four-year-old Samoyed mix named Nimbus, was awarded 15 pounds of kibble and a weekend stay at a nearby hotel.

The day also featured beer, ice cream, and cake-eating contests for dogs who preferred consuming calories to burning them off.

Special menu items for dogs have become a more popular sight at mainstream restaurants in recent years. Non-alcoholic beer for dogs, made from everything from dandelion to beef flavoring, is also easy to find if owners know where to look for it. But for a dog-centric bar experience close to the ocean, you may have to book a trip to Croatia. (Fido will thank you.)

[h/t Reuters]

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Microsoft’s Autonomous Gliders Stay in the Air by Mimicking Birds of Prey
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When designing different ways for vehicles to move, engineers will often look to nature. Animals have had millions of years to evolve locomotion methods that get them where they’re going fast without burning a ton of energy. Now, researchers at Microsoft have chosen the hawk, a master of energy-efficient air travel, as the model for their new autonomous gliders.

As Co.Design reports, the tech company’s “infinite soaring machine” can move through the skies without generating its own propulsion. Instead, it seeks out warms streams of air to provide the upward push, much like a hawk does.

While riding air currents doesn't take up a lot of energy, it does require some sophisticated artificial intelligence. As a substitute for millennia of animal instinct, Microsoft “trained” its glider to fly by plugging it into a video game-like simulator that showed hawks in flight. By repeatedly subjecting the technology to these virtual experiments, researchers eventually developed algorithms capable of recreating the scenes in the real world.

Using onboard sensors, the sailplane can independently navigate the skies without a motor. The gliders are no more than a few feet long, which means they don’t serve much of a practical purpose outside of research. But the aircraft’s simple design is exactly what makes them appealing to engineers.

With less hardware to worry about, they can focus on refining AI software which can be used in different types of autonomous vehicles in the future. And by testing AI navigation in the air instead of on the road, Microsoft gives themselves a much bigger test track to work with.

You can watch the infinite soaring machine take to the skies in the video below.

[h/t Co.Design]

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