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10 Stocky Facts About Bernese Mountain Dogs

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This charming dog from the Swiss Alps conjures up images of idyllic pastures in mountainside settings. Learn more about the draft dog and its heritage. 

1. THEY HAIL FROM SWITZERLAND. 

Since the breed is so old, the details about its creation are a little slim. Some believe they came about when Romans brought mastiff-like dogs to Switzerland 2000 years ago. Others contest this theory, as the remains of large dogs have been found in Switzerland dating to before the Romans crossed the Alps. Unfortunately, there is very little art or literature to help shed any light. Berners are working dogs, and artists generally chose to put more glamorous hunting and lap dogs on the canvas.

2. THE NAME REFERS TO WHERE THE BREED IS FROM. 

Bernese mountain dogs get their name from the area where they were bred: Bern Canton, the central region of Switzerland. 

3. IT'S A TYPE OF SWISS MOUNTAIN DOG. 

Swiss mountain dogs, or Sennenhund, are large working dogs that originated in the Swiss Alps. They're known for their stocky figure, calm temperament, and tri-color coat. Besides the Berner, the others are the Appenzeller, Entlebucher mountain dog, and Greater Swiss mountain dog. While they all look similar, only the Bernese mountain dog has the signature long flowing fur. 

4. THEY WERE BRED AS WORKING DOGS. 

This powerful breed was developed to have strong legs to endure the rocky terrain of the mountains. Originally they were used as herding and guard dogs for farm families. Their friendly and calm personality makes them great companions as well. 

5. EVENTUALLY THEY BECAME DELIVERY DOGS. 

In 1850, cheese plants started to open up, and producers wanted to move large shipments of food. The strong dogs would pull carts filled with dairy products and bread to different farms. Sometimes small children would accompany the dogs, but Berners were perfectly capable of doing it on their own. [PDF] The trend of draft dogs caught on, and soon countries like Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and even Canada were using the dog-carts. While the canine-drawn carts were a necessity in the Alps, in other parts of the world they were used as a novelty.

6. THEY'RE CRAZY STRONG. 

These dogs are well muscled and eager to please. They can haul up to 1000 pounds—10 times their own weight. 

7. LOVE OF THE ST. BERNARD ALMOST WIPED OUT THE BERNER. 

In the late 1800s, the St. Bernard was the ‘It’ dog of Switzerland. As popularity for the big dog rose, people began to forget about the Swiss mountain dogs. Fanciers loved the St. Bernard’s uniform coloration and distinct origin. The Swiss Kennel Club started in 1883 and chose not to recognize any of the mountain dogs, opting to showcase instead the St. Bernard and other hounds of the region. Soon, only farmers in remote areas had use for the Bernese mountain dog and others of its kind. The breed would have been wiped out entirely if not for an innkeeper named Franz Schertenleib, who as a child had heard stories about the dog. He popularized the breed by promoting it across Switzerland and Europe.

8. CARTING CAN BE A SPORT. 

While there is no longer a need for cart-pulling canines, that doesn’t mean the dogs have lost for their love for it. Berner owners recognize that the dogs were bred to pull carts and come to life when they do it. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America holds a carting competition so Berners can show off their stuff. 

9. THEY'RE A LITTLE IMMATURE. 

Bernese mountain dogs mature a bit slower than other dogs, so they require consistent and patient training. 

10. BERNERS HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR. 

These floppy dogs love making their owners happy and often respond well to laughter. If they find a particular antic or action will make their owners laugh, they’re sure to repeat it. One book refers to this as the “Berner chuckle.” 

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Animals
How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Animals
Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero
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The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]

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