istock
istock

9 Facts About West Highland White Terriers

istock
istock

These adorable dogs were bred to be hard-working and fierce—but that doesn’t mean they won't want to cuddle. Learn more about these fluffy white dogs. 

1. THEY STARTED OUT AS RATTERS.

West Highland white terriers were bred in Northwestern Scotland as working dogs, and were used to clear out mines, farms, and barns of rats or other vermin. Westies would also accompany hunters on fox and rabbit hunts, scaring the game from their burrows. They’re very closely related to other terriers in the area, such as Cairns and Skyes. 

2. THEIR WHITE FUR KEEPS THEM SAFE. 

The Westie’s distinctive snow-white fur helped it stay visible during hunts. In the 1800s, Colonel Edward Donald Malcolm of Poltalloch, Scotland (in Argyllshire) was hunting with a pack of Cairn terriers, when he accidentally shot his favorite dog after mistaking it for a rabbit or fox. Upset by this loss, Malcolm vowed to only hunt with white dogs, which could easily be seen even when obscured by foliage. [PDF] Some Cairn terriers and Scottish terriers are born white, so these lighter-furred dogs were bred until the offspring were consistently white. 

3. THE BREED HAS HAD A FEW DIFFERENT NAMES. 

While Malcolm was breeding his Poltalloch terriers (named after his estate), George Campbell, the 8th Duke of Argyll was also attempting to breed all-white terriers under the name Roseneath terrier, after his castle in Roseneath. The breed was accepted by the American Kennel Club in 1908 as the Roseneath Terrier, but the name was changed to the West Highland white terrier a year later

4. THEY'RE BUILT TO MOVE UNDERGROUND …

When burrowing underground to flush out game, Westies need to be able to squeeze through some tight spots. Their bullet-shaped bodies and thinner, heart-shaped thoraxes help them wriggle through underground caverns to chase after rodents. 

5. … BUT THEY STILL OCCASIONALLY GET STUCK. 

Westies are an ambitious breed, and might attempt to squeeze into spaces smaller than their bodies will allow. When they find themselves wedged somewhere they can’t escape, it’s up to the owner to pull them out. The hunting dogs have been bred to have an extra sturdy tail that can be used to yank the dogs out of holes. (That being said, don't go around pulling a Westie's tail unless it's absolutely necessary.) 

6. THEY'RE LOUDMOUTHS. 

These verbal dogs like to alert you of everything from passing cars to squirrels in a tree. West Highland white terriers were bred to have big barks so that hunters could hear their dogs barking underground (an especially useful trick if they got stuck). Their bark also makes for a great alarm, but don’t expect to use them as guard dogs—they’re more likely to become friends with any intruder.

7. THEY HAVE A DOUBLE-LAYER COAT. 

Westies have a wiry coat on top with a soft undercoat underneath. The top coat sheds the dirt and debris that the dogs used to collect underground, while the bottom coat keeps the canines warm. Westies require regular haircuts and brushing to keep their white coat clean and bright.  

8. THEY REQUIRE A LOT OF TRAINING. 

Westies are not an ideal choice for first-time dog owners. The willful dogs are independent and like to do things their own way. If you remain diligent, you can usually have yours fully trained within six months—but that’s a big "if." 

9. WATCH FOR SUNBURN (ESPECIALLY ON THEIR EARS).

The little dogs have sensitive ears, so some sunscreen is recommended if you plan on spending a lot of time in the sun. Yes, dogs can get sunburned too

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
iStock
iStock

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]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero
iStock
iStock

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]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios