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Stefano Corso via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists Suggest Checking Your Chickens for Fleas

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Stefano Corso via Wikimedia Commons

Attention, backyard chicken farmers: the cage-free lifestyle may not be as good for your birds as you think. A new study out of California found that infestation with fleas, mites, and lice was common among cage-free birds.

Researchers Amy C. Murillo and Bradley A. Mullens blame the free-range lifestyle. A cage-free existence may indeed be better for the birds’ well-being, they write in the Journal of Medical Entomology, but roaming around together in the grass exposes them to all kinds of would-be blood-suckers. And that’s no good for anyone.

Murillo and Mullens visited 20 backyard chicken habitats in Southern California, and selected five hens at random from each flock for what amounted to a day at the chicken spa.

Image Credit: Alec Yzaguirre

Each chicken was first subjected to a “visual inspection”—they were held and looked at—and any visible parasites were picked off with tweezers. Some of the birds were then sprayed under their wings, around their bellies and heads, and down their backs with a parasite-killing solution, which was then rubbed gently into their skin by hand. These chickens received a “gentle ruffling” of their feathers to dislodge any dead passengers, which were then collected. The other hens enjoyed “gentle bathing” in a dishpan. After the birds were scrubbed and rinsed off, the researchers used a sieve to filter all the parasites out of the bathwater.

Let me tell you: Those chickens deserved a spa day. The researchers found parasites on birds from 16 of the 20 sites. There were fleas, three types of mites, and six types of lice. Some chickens had more than 100 parasites apiece, and some were host to more than one species. These hens were not well. Parasite infestation raises a bird’s stress level and can keep her from laying or eating as much as she ought to. It’s a fate no backyard chicken keeper would wish on their birds.

The best way to maintain a parasite-free backyard flock is to keep parasites from ever getting in, Murillo said in a press release. People should keep their chickens from interacting with wild birds and other animals (including people), and should enforce a quarantine period for any new flock members. Insecticides should be used carefully and sparingly, as treating birds with the wrong chemicals can be unsafe for them, their eggs, and any people who might eat them.

So the next time you feel tempted to give your favorite chicken a big squeeze, maybe take a closer look first. Your chicken might be due for a little pampering.

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Animals
25 Shelter Dogs Who Made It Big
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Focus Features

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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iStock

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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