To Make a Tiger Photo-Ready, Just Spritz Some Perfume

Not everyone has what it takes to be a model, but wildlife photographers face a different problem entirely—their subjects don’t even know they’re posing. As such, sometimes the experts behind the camera need to employ some tricks of the trade, and as National Geographic reveals in the video below, that sometimes means pulling out a pricey fragrance.

In the short movie "How to Catch a Tiger with Joel Sartore," NatGeo photographer Joel Sartore attempts to get the perfect shot of a South China tiger at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Filmmaker Morgan Heim documents the struggle, which results in the use of a Prada perfume after two-and-a-half hours of failing to capture the attention of the uninterested wildcat.

Turns out, zookeepers often use fragrances to keep all kinds of large felines happy and healthy. Eau de toilettes—along with spices and essential oils—often serve as sensory enrichment for wildcats in controlled environments who are less exposed to a variety of olfactory experiences. In the wild, researchers use perfumes to lure the animals, with mixed results, though they’ve proved to be helpful in drawing the cats to hair traps or snares, which collect follicle samples when animals rub against them. With the hair, scientists are able to perform DNA tests, which can aid all sorts of research.

It’s not just perfume either: in 2010, Wildlife Conservation Society researchers at the Bronx Zoo in New York identified Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men as one of the more popular scents among its cheetahs. (It wasn't the favorite among cats in the wild; they declined to reveal which scent was.)

Louise Ginman, the Unit Supervisor for Carnivores at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia told Scientific American that they’d found lions and tigers to be the most receptive—snow leopards were as well—and that Obsession for Men was indeed one of the favorites.

Pat Thomas, a general curator at the Bronx Zoo, described fragrance testing to National Geographic, in which the big cats behaved a lot like your kitty does after breaking into the catnip: "Some would encourage this really powerful cheek rubbing behavior where these big cats would literally wrap their paws around a tree and just vigorously rub up and down. Sometimes they would start drooling, their eyes would half close, almost like they were going into a trance."

Scientific American reports that the big cats’ attraction to fragrances isn’t just about them having high-end taste—it’s because of a chemical compound in perfumes called civetone, which was originally taken directly from civets but is now produced synthetically.

See how the power of perfume makes for a stellar snapshot—like the one here from Sartore—in the NatGeo video down below.

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Good News, Dog Parents: You Can Teach Puppies as Well as Their Canine Moms Can

If you’ve ever adopted a puppy, you probably know how frustrating it can be to teach your new family member the basic tenets of common decency, like not to pee on the carpet or tear up a whole roll of toilet paper.

In other areas, though, pups are rather impressive learners, capable of mimicking some human behaviors. In fact, for some tasks, they learn just as effectively from watching people as they do from watching other dogs, including their own mothers, a new study in Nature revealed.

Researchers from Hungary and the UK took 48 young puppies of various breeds and studied the conditions under which they can be taught to open a puzzle box containing food. The experiment revealed that the puppies were able to learn how to open the box regardless of whether the task was first demonstrated by a person, their mother, or an unfamiliar dog. In other words, not only are puppies capable of social learning, but they're able to learn tasks from humans they don't know—in this case, the experimenter.

However, researchers were surprised to learn that the puppies were more likely to learn how to open the box by watching an unfamiliar dog than by watching their own mothers. That may be because puppies spend more time looking at—and thus, learning from—an unfamiliar dog that intrigues them. This differs from other species such as kittens, which “learn to press a lever for food more rapidly from their mother than from an unfamiliar adult,” the study notes.

In addition, the puppies were able to perform the task again after a one-hour break, indicating that they had retained some memory of the learning experience.

The ability of dogs to learn from humans has been recorded in previous research. A 2015 study revealed that dogs learn better by demonstration (or the “do as I do” method) than training techniques that involve a system of punishments and rewards. The "do as I do" approach probably isn't the most practical method of teaching your pup to do its business outside, but if you already have an adult dog at home, your new puppy can follow the older dog's lead and learn by example.

Michael Hutchinson
Spiders Can Fly Through the Air Using the Earth's Electric Field
A spider exhibiting ballooning behavior.
A spider exhibiting ballooning behavior.
Michael Hutchinson

Every so often, otherwise Earth-bound spiders take to the air. Ballooning spiders can travel hundreds of miles through the air (and, horrifyingly, rain down on unsuspecting towns). The common explanation for this phenomenon is that the spiders surf the wind on strands of silk, but there may be other forces at work, according to a new study spotted by The Atlantic.

In the research, published in Current Biology, University of Bristol scientists argue that Earth's atmospheric electricity allows spiders to become airborne even on windless days. To test their hypothesis, the researchers exposed spiders in the lab to electric fields similar to those naturally found in the atmosphere.

When the electric field was turned on, the spiders began to exhibit behavior associated with ballooning—they "tiptoed" on the ends of their legs, raised their abdomens, and released silk. Spiders only exhibit this behavior when ballooning. And when they did become airborne, the spiders’ altitude could be controlled by turning the electric field on and off. When the electric field was on, they rose through the air, but when it was off, they drifted downward.

This provides a potential explanation for why spiders take to the skies on certain days but not others, and how they can fly in calm, windless weather— something scientists have puzzled over since the early 19th century. (Even Darwin was flummoxed, calling it "inexplicable," The Atlantic notes.) However, the researchers note that these electric fields might not be totally necessary for ballooning—wind alone might work perfectly fine on some days, too. But understanding more about when and how spiders become airborne could help us predict when there will be large masses of arachnids flying through the skies (and hide).

[h/t The Atlantic]


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