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5 Fast Facts About Drunk Birds

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Every wet season, helpless Australians watch as wasted parrots rain down from their skies. Elsewhere, flocks of tipsy songbirds are constantly smacking into windows, towers, and moving cars. What’s behind this airborne alcoholism? Fermented berries and nectars, which can make life miserable for careless avians. Here’s a quick primer on winged boozers. 

1. Inebriated Birds Slur Their Songs.

Pro tip: Don’t drink and tweet. In an offbeat study conducted last year at Oregon Science & Health University, captive zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) received spiked drinking water. According to researcher Christopher R. Olson, the alcohol rendered these test subjects “a little bit quieter” than normal and “less organized in their sound production.” Everyone’s got a buddy like that.

2. Finches Are Real Lightweights.

“We’ve yet to invent the bird breathalyzer, but we can take a small blood sample,” Olson says. By doing so, his team found that the zebra finches started acting tipsy when their blood alcohol levels reached .05 to .08 percent—just below America’s legal driving limit. Also, sobering up can be a long, arduous process because birds don’t metabolize ethanol efficiently.

3. Certain Species Have Throats that Help Get Them Drunker.

With an atypically-large liver, you’d think the Bohemian waxwing (Bombycilla garrulous) would have no trouble drinking its pals under the birdfeeder. However, as Hank Green explains above, another trait makes waxwings especially bad at handling the hard stuff: Their very stretchable esophaguses often double as temporary storage units wherein fruit can ferment internally.

4. Some Drunk Birds Will Keep Upright by Leaning on Walls.

Another tactic involves using their own wings to prop themselves up when flying’s out of the question.    

5. Avians May Learn to Identify Fruits That Can Get Them Hammered.

In 2011, a dozen English blackbirds (Turdus merula) were found lying dead for no apparent reason—until autopsies revealed fermented berries in their stomachs. Curiously, the victims were all adolescents. Why? Scientists can’t be certain, but it’s been suggested that blackbirds start to distinguish between safe and hazardous berries as they grow.

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Animals
25 Shelter Dogs Who Made It Big
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If you’ve been thinking of adding a four-legged friend to your brood and are deciding whether a shelter dog is right for you, consider this: Some of history’s most amazing pooches—from four-legged movie stars to heroic rescue dogs—were found in animal shelters. In honor of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, here are 25 shelter dogs who made it big.

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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