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Yawning Is Contagious for Some Parakeets, Too

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Pet parakeets mimic more than just speech. Budgerigars, or budgies, a parakeet species native to Australia, also mirror each other’s yawns. The budgie is the first non-mammal discovered to be susceptible to contagious yawning. 

Lots of animals yawn, which scientists speculate could serve as a way to increase oxygen to the brain and perhaps cool the brain down. However, contagious yawning—a social phenomenon that may be related to empathy—has only been observed in four mammal species. Humans, chimps, dogs, and rats all begin to yawn if they witness another animal do it. Now a team of psychologists from the State University of New York at Oneonta report in the journal Animal Cognition that parakeets can make each other yawn, too.  

Image Credit: Andrew Gallup

First, the researchers set up pairs of birds next to each other in cages. Some birds could see each other, but other pairs were blocked off. Sometimes the pairs were birds who lived in a flock together, while on other days the birds were strangers. When the birds could see each other, they were more likely to yawn within a five-minute span of each other, suggesting that yawning is, in fact, a contagious behavior for budgies. Unlike dogs and chimps, the budgies didn’t seem to be biased toward yawning in response to their friends. They were equally likely to catch a yawn from a strange bird as from one in their own flock. 

In the second test, budgies were shown videos of other budgies; previous studies had shown the birds would respond to video as they would to a live bird. One four-and-a-half-minute video showed a supercut of a yawning bird, while the control video showed clips of the budgie doing other activities. When the video showed a budgie yawning, the test birds were significantly more likely to yawn themselves. 

Yawning in response to sensing or thinking about the action in others may represent a primitive form of empathy,” the researchers write, concluding that budgies might provide a good model to study empathetic processing. 

[h/t: Eurekalert]

Banner image from Gallup et. al, Animal Cognition (2015)

Watch a School of Humpback Whales 'Fish' Using Nets Made of Bubbles 

Just like humans, humpback whales catch many fish at once by using nets—but instead of being woven from fibers, their nets are made of bubbles.

Unique to humpbacks, the behavior known as bubble-net feeding was recently captured in a dramatic drone video that was created by GoPro and spotted by Smithsonian. The footage features a school of whales swimming off Maskelyne Island in British Columbia, Canada, in pursuit of food. The whales dive down, and a large circle of bubbles forms on the water's surface. Then, the marine mammals burst into the air, like circus animals jumping through a ring, and appear to swallow their meal.

The video offers a phenomenal aerial view of the feeding whales, but it only captures part of the underwater ritual. It begins with the group's leader, who locates schools of fish and krill and homes in on them. Then, it spirals to the water's surface while expelling air from its blowhole. This action creates the bubble ring, which works like a net to contain the prey.

Another whale emits a loud "trumpeting feeding call," which may stun and frighten the fish into forming tighter schools. Then, the rest of the whales herd the fish upwards and burst forth from the water, their mouths open wide to receive the fruits of their labor.

Watch the intricate—and beautiful—feeding process below:

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Big Questions
Why Do Dogs Love to Dig?
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Dog owners with green thumbs beware: It's likely just a matter of time before Fido turns your azalea bed into a graveyard of forgotten chew toys. When dogs aren't digging up your prized garden, they can be found digging elsewhere in your yard, at the beach, and even between your couch cushions at home. But what exactly is behind your dog's drive to turn every soft surface he or she sees into an excavation site?

According to Dr. Emma Grigg, an animal behaviorist and co-author of The Science Behind a Happy Dog, this behavior is completely normal. "When people say 'why do dogs dig,' the first thing that always comes to mind is 'well, because they're dogs,'" she tells Mental Floss. The instinct first appeared in dogs' wolf ancestors, then it was amplified in certain breeds through artificial selection. That's why dogs that were bred to hunt rodents, like beagles and terriers, are especially compelled to dig in places where such animals might make their homes.

But this tendency isn't limited to just a few specific breeds. No matter their original roles, dogs of all breeds have been known to kick up some dirt on occasion. Beyond predatory urges, Dr. Grigg says there are two main reasons a dog may want to dig. The first is to cool off on a hot day. When stuck on an open lawn with little to no shade, unearthing a fresh layer of dirt untouched by the sun is a quick way to beat the heat.

The second reason is to stash away goodies. Imagine your dog gets bored with chewing his favorite bone but knows he wants to come back for it later. Instead of leaving it out in the open where anyone can snatch it up, he decides to bury it in a secret place where only he'll be able to find it. Whether or not he'll actually go back for it is a different story. "There's a disconnect with modern dogs: They know the burying part but they don't always know to dig it up," Dr. Grigg says.

Because digging is part of a dog's DNA, punishing your pet for doing so isn't super effective. But that doesn't mean you should stand idly by as your yard gets turned inside-out. When faced with this behavior in your own dog, one option is to redirect it. This can mean allowing him to dig in a designated corner of the yard while keeping other parts off-limits, or setting up a raised flowerbed or sandbox especially to satisfy that urge. "You can get him interested in the area by burying a couple bones or some interesting things in there for him to dig," Dr. Grigg says. "I like the idea of buried treasure."

If your dog's motive for digging is more destructive than practical, he may have an energy problem. Dogs require a certain amount of stimulation each day, and when their humans don't provide it for them they find their own ways to occupy themselves. Sometimes it's by chewing up shoes, toppling trash cans, or digging ditches the perfect size for twisting ankles. Fortunately, this is nothing more walks and playtime can't improve.

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