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Animal Planet

Plight of Injured Toucan Sparks Global Movement—and New Animal Planet Documentary

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Animal Planet

Animal lovers and tech nerds alike are going to want to tune in for this one: On Wednesday, August 24, Animal Planet will premiere the documentary Toucan Nation, which follows the story of a wounded toucan named Grecia. 

When the toucan first came to veterinarian Gloria Soto’s office in Costa Rica, it was in bad shape: injured, starving, and at death’s door. “He was covered in blood and in a lot of pain,” Soto told mental_floss in 2015. “He couldn’t feed himself because the entire top half of his beak had been knocked off." (Grecia may or may not be male; because toucans are sexually dimorphic—males and females look the same—it can be hard to determine gender without a blood test.)

Toucan beaks are as functional as they are beautiful. Studies of the beak’s structure have shown that it serves as a sort of climate control system, cooling hot birds and helping them stay warm in the cold. Without one, a toucan would be far more vulnerable to the climate of its natural habitat.

Unfortunately, this was not Soto’s first abused wild bird. In her time at the Zoo Ave rescue center, the veterinarian has seen a lot of injured birds, many of which had been attacked by teenagers. 

Soto and her colleagues cleaned the toucan up, nursed it back to health, and named it Grecia, after the village where it was found. Once Grecia was doing a little better, staffers snapped a photo. The picture of a beautiful bird with a sickeningly broken bill went viral. The image sparked protests and demands for new animal welfare laws. In Costa Rica and around the world, people were paying attention.

It also caught the attention of Luciano Lacayo, an exchange student studying in Costa Rica. Lacayo set up a crowdfunding campaign (warning: the linked page features an upsetting photo) to get Grecia a custom-fitted prosthetic beak. Donations poured in. The campaign eventually earned more than 200 percent of its original goal, which should be more than enough to get Grecia re-beaked. In June, it was also announced that Grecia is getting a new enclosure, which will be open to the public.

Grecia’s story continues on Animal Planet this Wednesday, August 24, at 10 p.m.. You can watch the trailer below.

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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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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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