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©AMNH/D. Finnin
©AMNH/D. Finnin

10 Facts About Cuban Animals From AMNH's New Exhibition, '¡Cuba!'

©AMNH/D. Finnin
©AMNH/D. Finnin

Though many of us think of Cuba as one island, it’s actually an archipelago made up of more than 4000 islands and keys—20 percent of which is protected area. In its new bilingual exhibition “¡Cuba!”, the American Museum of Natural History looks at the cultural history of the country as well as its natural history, showing everything from how Cuban cigars are made to the endemic creatures that can be found only on Cuba. AMNH scientists have been working in Cuba for more than a century—their first expedition was made in 1892—and this exhibition was created in partnership with scientists at the Cuban National Museum of Natural History. “¡Cuba!” opens to the public on Monday, November 21; here are few things we learned at the preview.

1. Cuba is home to some 372 species of bird, 24 of which are endemic. One such bird is the Cuban parakeet, whose numbers have been depleted by the pet trade; one of the only places you can see big flocks of the birds is in Cuba’s Zapata National Park.

©AMNH/R. Mickens

2. Of the 190 species of butterfly that can be found in Cuba, at least 35 species are endemic to the island, including the clearwing butterfly (Greta cubana). Though it could once be found all across the island, these days its range is restricted to protected areas of humid forests.

3. Want to tell a Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) from an American croc (Crocodylus acutus)? Look for bony ridges behind the eyes, which American crocodiles lack.

©AMNH/D. Finnin

4. In prehistoric times, Cuba was home to the largest owl that has ever lived: Ornimegalonyx. AMNH’s exhibition has the first scientifically accurate rendering of this enormous bird, which was more than 3 feet tall.

5. Solenodon cubanus—a venomous, 2-pound mammal endemic to Cuba and commonly known as almiqui—was once believed to be extinct. Then, in the mid-1970s, scientists discovered one of the animals in Humboldt Park; today, scientists know of 11 individuals, though evidence suggests there may be more out there.

©AMNH/R. Mickens

6. The patterns and colors on the shells of Polymita land snails vary widely even within the same species; scientists theorize this diversity is an adaptation the snails use to confuse predators.

7. Like the other armored fishes in its genus, the Cuban gar (Atractosteus tristoechus) has adapted to breathe air.

©AMNH/R. Mickens

8. Take a trip to “¡Cuba!” and you’ll see a Cuban boa (Epicrates angulifer), a mostly ground-dwelling snake that hangs out around the mouths of caves—the better to grab bats from the air when they fly by.

9. Cuba is home to the bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), the smallest bird in the world. It weighs just one-twentieth of an ounce.

©AMNH/D. Finnin

10. Millions of years ago, Cuba was home to primates, the last of which, Paralouatta varonai, weighed up to 20 pounds and may have been related to howler monkeys. When it was discovered, the skull above was missing large sections; scientists used modern monkeys to reconstruct its face. 

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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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technology
Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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iStock
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science
There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
iStock
iStock

Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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