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rebecca o'connell
rebecca o'connell

12 Friendly Facts About Labrador Retrievers

rebecca o'connell
rebecca o'connell

You probably have or know at least one Labrador retriever, so you should get to know them better! 

1. They’re America’s favorite breed.

Jason English

According to the American Kennel Club, the breed has taken the top spot in its rankings of most popular breeds for 24 consecutive years—the longest reign of any breed in AKC history.

2. Labs were originally used for fishing.

Labrador retrievers were bred to be the perfect water dogs: They have water-resistant double coats that provide insulation, and their short fur keeps them warm but doesn’t drag them down when it gets wet. Their webbed toes facilitate speedy swimming. Fishermen used the dogs to bring in nets, pull ropes between boats, and recover escaped fish.

3. Their name is a little misleading.

Labrador retrievers actually come from Newfoundland, not Labrador. In the 18th century, Greater Newfoundland dogs bred with smaller water dogs to produce St. John’s water dogs. These smaller canines looked a lot like modern day Labs, but with white muzzles and paws. The St. John’s water dog eventually went extinct, but it served as the ancestor for the Labrador retriever. 

4. The Earl of Malmesbury might have named them. 

The Earl brought these dogs home with him to England after a trip to Canada, and referred to his new pups as “Labrador dogs” in 1887. Since Newfoundland and Labrador are geographically close, many historians suspect the name is a result of the British commonly lumping the territories together and referring to the whole mass as Labrador. Others believe the name was a nod to the fact that the dogs were often seen swimming in the Labrador Sea. 

5. Canadian tax laws helped labs become a distinct breed.

A combination of new taxes on dogs in Canada and a quarantine of animals imported into England caused the sale of St. John’s water dogs there to come to a screeching halt. Eventually, these original labs went extinct in Canada, but the breed survived in Great Britain thanks to kennels in Scotland. Labs were finally recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1903.

6. They’re fast! 

Labrador retrievers are known for their ability to sprint. They can hit 12 miles an hour in just three seconds.

7. You can get all three colors in one litter.

Regardless of the parents’ color, a single litter can include black, yellow, and chocolate puppies. There are two genes that cause the pigmentation of the coat, so the variation can be just as common as different hair colors in a human family.

8. A nameless black Lab wandered his way into a Led Zeppelin song.

If you read the lyrics to Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” you'll notice it’s mysteriously not about dogs at all. The band named the song after a black Labrador that was wandering around the Headley Grange studio while they were recording the album Led Zeppelin IV

9. A lab went to jail ...

After killing the cat belonging to Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot’s wife, a black Labrador retriever named Pep was sentenced to life without parole. The pooch was admitted to the Eastern State Penitentiary on August 12, 1924 and did about 10 years of hard time, during the course of which he became good friends with the warden. Although it sounds like an urban legend, prison records support the story. (Pinchot, for his part, said the dog was sent there to be the prisoners' mascot.)

10. ... And another became a mayor.

OK—honorary mayor. In 1981, a black Labrador mix named Bosco won the election to be the honorary mayor of Sunol, Calif., beating out two human candidates for the job. Bosco ran as a “Re’pup’lican” and used the slogan “A bone in every dish, a cat in every tree, and a fire hydrant on every corner." The punny platform appealed to the residents of Sunol, and Bosco remained the mayor until he died in 1994. 

11. Labs are the most commonly-used breed for guide dogs.

The Guide Dogs of America say their breed ratio is 70 percent Labrador retrievers, 15 percent golden retrievers, and 15 percent German shepherds. Labs are found to be the best breed for the job thanks to their strong desire to please. They’re also the right size, easily adaptable, and easily trained. 

12. They can tell you if you have cancer.

Thanks to their powerful noses, Labrador retrievers have been trained to sniff out and identify early stages of cancer. Through work with cancer cell samples, dogs can learn to smell the disease. The canine doctors can make a diagnosis by smelling a patient’s breath, blood, or stool. So far, the only known way to screen for easy stages of ovarian cancer is by letting a lab sniff the patient—they have very high success rates. Scientists believe the labs sniff out changes in volatile organic compounds that suggest cancer.

Luckily for people afraid of dogs, researchers are developing a machine to do the sniffing. The dogs are expensive to train, and can only smell a certain number of samples a day, so automating the process would be ideal. An electronic nose is currently in production to cut out the cost of dog training.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated. 


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Andreas Trepte via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5
Climate Change Has Forced Mussels to Toughen Up
Andreas Trepte via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5
Andreas Trepte via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5

Researchers writing in the journal Science Advances say blue mussels are rapidly evolving stronger shells to protect themselves against rising acid levels in sea water.

Bivalves like mussels, clams, and oysters aren’t good swimmers, and they don’t have teeth. Their hard shells are often the only things standing between themselves and a sea of dangers.

But even those shells have been threatened lately, as pollution and climate change push the ocean's carbon dioxide to dangerous levels. Too much carbon dioxide interferes with a bivalve’s ability to calcify (or harden) its shell, leaving it completely vulnerable.

A team of German scientists wondered what, if anything, the bivalves were doing to cope. They studied two populations of blue mussels (Mytilus edulis): one in the Baltic Sea, and another in the brackish waters of the North Sea.

The researchers collected water samples and monitored the mussel colonies for three years. They analyzed the chemical content of the water and the mussels’ life cycles—tracking their growth, survival, and death.

The red line across this mussel larva shows the limits of its shell growth. Image credit: Thomsen et al. Sci. Adv. 2017

Analysis of all that data showed that the two groups were living very different lives. The Baltic was rapidly acidifying—but rather than rolling over and dying, Baltic mussels were armoring up. Over several generations, their shells grew harder.

Their cousins living in the relatively stable waters of the North Sea enjoyed a cushier existence. Their shells stayed pretty much the same. That may be the case for now, the researchers say, but it definitely leaves them vulnerable to higher carbon dioxide levels in the future.

Inspiring as the Baltic mussels’ defiance might be, the researchers note that it’s not a short-term solution. Tougher shells didn’t increase the mussels’ survival rate in acidified waters—at least, not yet.

"Future experiments need to be performed over multiple generations," the authors write, "to obtain a detailed understanding of the rate of adaptation and the underlying mechanisms to predict whether adaptation will enable marine organisms to overcome the constraints of ocean acidification."

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University of Adelaide
Scientists Find Potential Diabetes Drug in Platypus Venom
University of Adelaide
University of Adelaide

The future of diabetes medicine may be duck-billed and web-footed. Australian researchers have found a compound in platypus venom (yes, venom) that balances blood sugar. The team published their results in the journal Scientific Reports.

So, about that venom. The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) may look placid and, frankly, kind of goofy, but come mating season, the weaponry comes out. Male platypuses competing for female attention wrestle their opponents to the ground and kick-stab them with the venom-tipped, talon-like spurs on their back legs. It’s not a pretty sight. But it is an interesting one, especially to researchers.

Animal venoms are incredible compounds with remarkable properties—and many of them make excellent medicine. Many people with diabetes are already familiar with one of them; the drug exenatide was originally found in the spit of the venomous gila monster. Exenatide works by mimicking the behavior of an insulin-producing natural compound called Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). The fact that the lizard has both venom and insulin-making genes is not a coincidence; many animal venoms, including the gila monster’s, induce low blood sugar in their prey in order to immobilize them.

It’s a good strategy with one flaw: GLP-1 and compounds like it break down and stop working very quickly, and people who have trouble making insulin really need their drug to keep working.

With this issue in mind, Australian researchers turned their attention to our duck-billed friends. They knew that platypuses, like people, made GLP-1 in their guts, and that platypuses, like gila monsters, make venom. The real question was how these two compounds interacted within a platypus’s body.

The researchers used chemical and genetic analysis to identify the chemical compounds in the guts and spurs of platypuses and in the guts of their cousins, the echidnas.

They found something entirely new: a tougher, more resilient GLP-1, one that breaks down differently—and more slowly—than the compounds in gila monster spit. The authors say this uber-compound is the result of a "tug of war" between GLP-1’s two uses in the gut and in venom.

"This is an amazing example of how millions of years of evolution can shape molecules and optimise their function," co-lead author Frank Gutzner of the University of Adelaide said in a statement.

"These findings have the potential to inform diabetes treatment, one of our greatest health challenges, although exactly how we can convert this finding into a treatment will need to be the subject of future research."

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