Friday, February 23, 2018

These 7 Animals Would Absolutely Crush It at the Winter Olympics

The Olympics are designed to test elite athleticism, at least in the human realm. But what about the animal world? How would Arctic foxes fare in the Winter Olympics, or snowy owls for that matter?

These Arctic animals, and others, are fast flyers and runners, and they hunt prey with deadly accuracy.

Granted, these animals might not follow all the rules (penguins, after all, slide on their bellies, not sleds), but here are seven animals that would excel at the Winter Olympics and likely win a few gold medals while they're at it. [Beasts in Battle: 15 Amazing Animal Recruits in War]

1. Artic fox

The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) would crush any cross-country-skiing competition. This small carnivore has thick fur that helps it survive in weather as cold as minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 45 degrees Celsius), according to the San Diego Zoo. Its lush tail can curl like a scarf around its body, keeping it warm, the San Diego Zoo added.

These foxes don't use skis to get around, but the fur on their feet gives them traction as they run, acating like a natural snowshoe. In fact, their species name, lagopus, means "hare-footed" in Greek, according to the San Diego Zoo.

2. Flattie spider

Whenever the web-less spider notices a potential meal, it keeps one leg anchored and spins around until it catches its target.The flattie spider (Selenopidae) can spin much faster than an Olympic figure skater. To be exact, this arachnid can spin around in one-eighth of a second, which is nearly three times faster than the blink of an eye, according to a study published Feb. 12 in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Just like figure skaters draw their arms closer to their body to spin faster, flattie spiders pull their remaining legs toward themselves, which allows them to spin up to 40 percent faster and nail a perfect landing, with their mouth positioned next to the prey, according to the researchers who conducted the study. You can watch a video of it below.

During ski jumping, Winter Olympic athletes zoom off a ski jump and lean forward, with their skis in a V-shape as they zoom through the air and land at record distances for their respective countries.

We nominate the Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) for this event, given that the hare can go airborne, too, as it bounds through the snow at speeds as high as 40 mph (64 km/h), according to National Geographic.

4. Seal

There are few things more intense than speeding down a steep racetrack on a skeleton sled. But a seal probably wouldn't mind. These fin-footed pinnipeds slide all the time on their fat bellies as they enter and exit the water, according to Seals-World.

5. Penguins
Penguins would make world-class bobsledders. That's because they're epic tobogganers.

Bobsledding became a sport in the late 19th century, when Swiss athletes attached two skeleton sleds together and added a steering mechanism to make a toboggan, according to

Likewise, penguins plop down on their stomachs and then slide around on the ice and snow, using their feet and wings to guide and push them along. Some penguins glide on their bellies for miles at a time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

6. Crow

Curling is a complex sport rife with rules and tools — including brooms, stones and sliders. It's no leap of the imagination that crows would do exceptionally well … largely because they're so good at making and using tools.

New Caledonian crows, for instance, can fashion hooks from sticks to grab larvae and insects from crevices in logs or branches, Live Science previously reported. The Hawaiian crow is also a medal winner, finding the best sticks to reach food in awkward spots.

We're not sure if these crows would sweep the ice with brooms, but they would certainly sweep the competition if the goal were to use sticks to nab a snack.

7. Snowy owl

The biathlon has roots in Scandinavia, where people hunted on skis with rifles hung over their shoulders, according to

Snowy owls (Bubo scandiacus) don't ski and shoot, but they do fly with speed and have excellent hearing and vision that help them hunt with lethal accuracy. These owls would stand atop the podium at any animal Olympics, though they'd likely prefer a tasty lemming to a gold medal.
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Monday, February 19, 2018

Fluffy felines rule on 'cat island' Tashirojima

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi -- Here kitty, kitty! Visitors to Tashirojima Island here will have no trouble finding the fluffy winter coats of the feline inhabitants.

Often called "cat island," Tashirojima, whose perimeter is 11 kilometers, is home to some 200 cats who live alongside human residents, and are no stranger to tourists from both inside and outside of Japan. On a day in mid-December last year, this cat-loving reporter made a visit to the island and its furry citizens.
It takes roughly 40 minutes by a daily, locally run ferry to travel the17 kilometers southeast from the port of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, to one of the island's entryways, Nitoda port. As soon as you disembark from the ship, you arrive in a residential area. The second you pull a can of cat food brought along for the journey from your bag, five to six cats immediately come to investigate. They are completely unafraid of strangers. There are even some cats who don't mind being held.

According to those who live on the island -- a mere 64 people as of the end of October 2017, according to the Ishinomaki Municipal Government -- black cats or cats with a black and white pattern are the most common. The descendants of the chinchilla longhair variety brought in from off-island in the past also stand out among the felines. They gather in groups at every spot on the island, from the port to the island's residential areas. The groups gathered around the port are said to have a wilder demeanor, while those operating around the houses are gentler. In the past, the island has generated domestic "star cats" such as the timid and loveable "Tare-mimi (droopy eared) Jack" and more.

The cats are burly from their life outdoors but still undeniably cute. During the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, many of the cats reportedly ran to higher ground and survived. The social group "Nyanko Kyouwakoku" (Kitty republic) comprised of local oyster farmers and others takes on the role of looking after their fuzzy neighbors. The group began as a volunteer network in 2011, with seven staff members who set out cans of cat food and other supplies to keep the cats' bellies full. Ayame Ogata, 85, the proprietor of the lodging "Kaihinkan," commented, "There are other remote islands in Japan called 'cat island,' but the cats on Tashirojima island are the most plump and cute, aren't they?"

In September 2016, the cat republic built a space for visitors to interact with the cats at the former site of Tashirojima elementary and junior high school. At the "shima no eki" (island rest stop), visitors can enjoy a light meal as well as purchase original cat merchandise. "Even though opinions are divided in places like the island assembly, if it is for the sake of the cats, no one objects," said deputy director of the group Yutaka Hama. "That's the kind of precious existence they have enjoyed for so long."

After spending an unforgettable two days on the island, where there is even a Shinto shrine devoted to a cat god, an idea tugged at the back of my mind upon setting foot on the ferry back to Ishinomaki:

Even though 2018 is the year of the dog, how about visiting Tashirojima and searching for your favorite cat? (By Hiroshi Endo, Sendai Bureau)
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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pets are friends, not property

Whether you adopt, buy or come by it happenstance, giving a home to an animal is a huge responsibility. You become their lifeline and owning a pet is not something that should be taken lightly.
Pets are friends
I’ve seen students who live in a dorm or an on-campus apartment with puppies who know the rules regarding pets in on-campus housing, yet choose to disregard those rules. Students are putting themselves in a position to be potentially kicked out of housing or be forced to find their animal a new home. As a result of these rules, the pet is passed around from home to home, living with strangers in a cage when all-in-all the situation itself was completely avoidable.

A pet is not a necessity. Just because you want one, doesn’t mean you should get one. Yes, you can afford the adoption fee or maybe you got the animal for free, but can you afford to feed it, pay the vet bills as needed and provide adequate shelter with consistent love and attention? If you answered no to any of those questions, you don’t need a pet and should not try to get one. Don’t be an irresponsible pet owner.

Animals need to form a bond with their owner, that’s the point of owning a pet. If they are getting passed around person to person, home t0 home, they aren’t forming a bond with you, and it’s just like they were back at the shelter getting affection from randoms each week. It’s confusing for them not knowing who their primary caretaker is.

With that being said, if you are looking for a pet and are ready to be a responsible pet owner, Wichita Falls Animal Services has dropped the adoption fee to $14 with an approved adoption application on Feb. 14 only. This offers people an affordable option to find a furry friend and give it a forever home.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

'Vampire' Deer?! 5 South Korean Animals You May See at the 2018 Winter Olympics

A lizard with no lungs, a deer with vampire fangs and a little black bird carrying around human baby teeth in its beak all walk into a country.

This is no joke set-up — this is a real snapshot of the eccentric biodiversity of South Korea (well, except maybe for the baby teeth thing… more on that in a minute).

As the 2018 Winter Games unfold in Pyeongchang, can the viewing public count on any surprise animal cameos akin to the 30 or 40 dog-size rodents called capybaras that invaded the golf links during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro? Live Science investigated the funkiest fauna of the Korean Peninsula and compiled this list of the likeliest suspects.

Musk deer

vampire deer
Any Olympians who wander too far into the forested hills outside Pyeongchang might come home with horror stories about the smelly, vampire-fanged denizens of the woods. Male Siberian musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) may look fierce with their saber teeth, but they're actually harmless herbivores. "The males have these long sabers to fight each other during the mating season," Jack Tseng, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, previously told Live Science.

In fact, musk deer, which are native to mountainous habitats around Asia and Russia, have far more to fear from humans than the other way around: Male deer are routinely poached for their eponymous scent glands, which can be worth nearly $20,455 per pound ($45,000 per kilogram) on the black market, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In 2016, South Korean researchers started work on cloning the musk deer to save the species from extinction.

Korean magpie

Korean magpie
The Korean magpie (Pica pica sericea) is a stocky, black, crow-like bird with a white belly and blue-striped wings. Korean magpies are popular enough in South Korea to land a spot on the Google Doodle inaugurating this year's Winter Games — but these little black birds have had a foothold in culture for a lot longer than Google has been around. Magpies are a common symbol of luck in Korean folklore, and they sometimes even fill in for the tooth fairy. Some Korean children reportedly learn to throw their baby teeth onto the roofs of their homes so that a magpie will fly off with the discarded chompers and bring back healthy new ones in their place.

Despite their folkloric reputation, magpies probably don't take kindly to repeated projectile tooth attacks. According to a 2011 study, Korean magpies can learn to recognize individual human faces and remember which individuals have posed a threat to the safety of their nests.

White-naped crane

White-naped crane
 White-naped cranes (Antigone vipio) are elegant, endangered and apt to spend winter in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. In other words, they're the perfect symbol of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The species takes its name from the white stripe running down the back of its neck, but it might be more striking for the vivid red patches around its eyes. According to the International Crane Foundation, white-naped cranes breed primarily in northeastern China and Mongolia, but several hundred birds fly south to the Korean DMZ every winter. (Thousands of others continue on to one of several artificial feeding stations in Japan.) This Korean stopover may be critical to the species' survival, the IUCN says. Due to the ongoing loss of their wetland breeding grounds to human activities, the cranes are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.

Wild boar

Wild boar
You might not expect the king of the mountain predators to oink, but according to reports from the Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Headquarters, wild boars (Sus scrofa) are "now at the top of the food chain in Korea."

The scruffy swine spend most of their time in mountain ecosystems, but in recent years, they have become increasingly comfortable venturing down into cities. Wild-boar sightings in Seoul, for example, have increased 11-fold, from 56 city sightings in 2012 to 623 in 2016, the Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Headquarters said, mostly occurring between September and December, when there is less food available in the hills. As natural predators like tigers have become extinct from Korea, boars thrive — and that's making human-boar interactions more common than ever.

Lungless salamander
Lungless salamander
 Meanwhile, lurking under a nearby rock, a lungless salamander breathes through its skin. The Korean crevice salamander (Karsenia koreana) was only discovered in 2003, and scientists still don't know much about it. The critter mostly keeps to itself underneath rocks in limestone forests and bears a lot of similarities to the North American lungless salamander family, also called Plethodontidae, which comprises most of the world's salamander species. So far, K. koreana is the only lungless salamander to have been detected in Asia, but it was probably once just one among many others that are now extinct, researchers believe.

"The habitats in Asia are appropriate for these animals — so it is strange that they became extinct there and not here," David Wake, a biologist and salamander expert at the University of California, Berkeley, previously told Live Science.

In other words: Amphibian enthusiasts hoping to see more lungless salamanders on the Korean Peninsula probably shouldn't hold their breath.
read more "'Vampire' Deer?! 5 South Korean Animals You May See at the 2018 Winter Olympics"

Monday, February 12, 2018

Pets improve your mental health, new study suggests

It is estimated that there are 10 million cats and 11.5 million dogs kept as pets in the UK – and new research suggests they could be improving the mental health of their human companions.
A new study, published in BMC Psychiatry, conducted by researchers from the universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Southampton, is the first systematic review of the evidence related to the comprehensive role of companion animals and how pets might contribute to the management of long-term mental health conditions.

The researchers reviewed 17 international research papers to explore the extent, nature and quality of the evidence implicating the role and utility of pet ownership for people living with a mental health condition, and to identify the positive, negative and neutral impacts of pet ownership.

The research highlighted the ‘intensiveness’ of connectivity people with companion animals reported, and the many ways in which pets contributed to the work associated with managing a mental health condition, particularly in times of crisis.

The negative aspects of pet ownership were also highlighted, including the practical and emotional burden of pet ownership and the psychological impact that losing a pet has.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Helen Brooks, said: ‘Our review suggests that pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions. Further research is required to test the nature and extent of this relationship, incorporating outcomes that cover the range of roles and types of support pets confer in relation to mental health and the means by which these can be incorporated into the mainstay of support for people experiencing a mental health problem.’
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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Ancient Fish Strutted Seafloor Before Land Animals

The little skate has been both swimming and walking for hundreds of millions of years. Jeff Rotman/The Image Bank/Getty Images
Ancient Fish
Where did you get that walk? Like many people, you might guess our vertebrate gait originates with the first backboned creatures to scramble out of the sea, but a study published in Cell on Feb. 8, 2018 indicates the first walkers did it underwater.

The late-Devonian vertebrate land invasion, roughly 382 million years ago, was a big deal in Earth's history. Previously confined to the ocean, our tetrapod forefathers took to the surface world and, over the course of millions of years, traded fins and gills for limbs and lungs. (Tetrapod just refers to vertebrates with two pairs of limbs.)

Here's a quick video refresher, courtesy of the journal Cell and associate professor and co-author Jeremy S. Dasen and his colleagues:

The remarkable thing, says the team of researchers, is that the neural circuits involved in ambulatory limb control were already established millions of years before the first tetrapod strutted its stuff. In other words, much of the software was in place well before the walk-about hardware.

The researchers studied the neural circuitry of the little skate (Leucoraja erinacea). This cartilaginous fish might not be much to look at, but it's considered one of the most primitive vertebrates alive today. Travel back roughly 420 million years and you'll find a common ancestor of both skates and tetrapods.

The little skate is also interesting because it's one of several ambulatory fish that "walk" across the seafloor. The skate uses its large pectoral fins to swim and smaller pelvic fins to walk with alternating, left-right motions, much like the gait of a land animal. This similarity impressed the researchers, but the similarities would go beyond movement.

Dasen and his colleagues employed RNA sequencing to study the expressed genes in the skate's motor neurons. Many of these genes pop up in mammals as well — and that includes neural subtypes involved in the muscle control of bending and straightening limbs. This, according to the study findings, constitutes a conserved genetic program for walking.

Dasen says that neither "swimming" nor "walking" accurately describe the skate's movements, but perhaps this isn't too surprising given the human-centric nature of language.

"The skate/ray mode I would call 'ambulatory swimming' whereas the axial/tail-based is more like 'spinal swimming,'" Dasen notes via email. "The ambulatory swimming mode is really the one which made walking possible in both skates and tetrapods."

The study sheds light on the underwater history of walking, but the researchers hope that it will lead to an improved understanding of motor neurons and even the treatment of human neurological disorders.

Dasen stresses that while the neural complexity of higher organisms hinders our studies of animals such as mice, the little skate's archaic simplicity makes it a perfect starting point.

"I think one of the advantages of studying neural circuits in skates is that they can accomplish this behavior using a relatively simple set of connections between neurons and muscle," Dasen says. "We hope we can exploit this simplicity to understand the basic architecture of the circuits controlling walking."

The exact wiring of these circuits is still not fully understood in humans or other tetrapods, but such knowledge could one day aid in the treatment and repair of human spinal cord injuries and motor neuron diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

But as the saying goes, you have to crawl before you can walk – or should we say swim?
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Friday, February 9, 2018

Giant rabbits apparently make great pets

The Flemish Giant is also called the "king of rabbits" because of his large size, longevity and personality. These rabbits can reach immense size very quickly. By seven or eight weeks of age, they can already weigh four pounds or more. A Flemish Giant is a sweet, lovable companion that can be kept inside, and he blends well into family life.
Giant rabbits

"The giant breeds are really rewarding as well," Stewart said. "The giant rabbits may not always be the first rabbit someone thinks of for companion animal, but they actually have some of best temperaments and have a very docile nature."

The rabbit on the United flight was a continental rabbit, which is a breed recognized in Europe, but not by ARBA in the United States. The ARBA recognizes a similar giant breed called the Flemish Giant, which is the largest recognized breed in the U.S., according to Stewart.

All domesticated rabbits originated from what was originally the European wild rabbit, according to Stewart. The Flemish Giant rabbit can reach 20-30 pounds, but can be larger, according to Stewart.

"Giant rabbits are bred for size," Stewart said. "The Flemish giant we have recognized in the United States has no maximum weight, they can be as heavy as possible, but they are a little different body type than the continental, but both have a heavy thick bone, a broad head and these long ears."
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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Love stories from former shelter pets and their adopters

Lola Hawkins + Bellatrix 

At 10 years old, Lola Hawkins has already experienced love at first sight. She was browsing the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center website this November when she came upon a tan and black tabby kitten with a half-pink, half-black nose.

“I saw her picture online and I said, ‘That’s the one. I need her,” the self-described “crazy cat lady” said. “I knew she would be my perfect match.”

Lola’s mom Susan issued her daughter a challenge: finish an egg roll during one of their dinners at Thai Spice, and she could adopt the cat of her dreams.

“But I could only eat half,” Lola lamented. “I didn’t finish it in time, so I spent the night crying and crying. But we went to the shelter anyway to meet her, and I found out after we left that my mom had put in an application.”

Later that week, they took the new kitten home to North Liberty. Lola called her Bellatrix after the vicious and cunning Harry Potter villain.

“I was going to name her Ginny Weasley, but look at her.” Lola flicks a feather toy through the air, and Bellatrix springs to claw after it. “Does she look like a Ginny?”
Despite the kitten’s frisky nature, Lola said she initially bonded with Bellatrix over their mutual shyness. It wasn’t long before they became “best friends forever,” Lola said. She even lets Bellatrix plant kisses directly on her mouth. “It feels weird to have her sandpapery tongue on my lips. But it’s love.”

Caring for cats is nothing new to Lola, an active participant in the Iowa City Animal Center’s Read to the Paw program. The Van Allen Elementary student visits the shelter every Thursday to plop on a donated dog bed in one of the cat rooms and read Shel Silverstein, J.K. Rowling and Roald Dahl books to the residents. Hearing human voices works to calm and socialize shelter animals.

“They always open up to me,” Lola said. “I will hold the books up to the glass wall so they can see the pictures. Sometimes I feel like they’re laughing at the jokes.”

Lola plans to keep up with Read to the Paw until she’s old enough to be a full volunteer at 14. Someday, she wants to adopt an all-black cat named Sirius — “hopefully Bellatrix doesn’t kill him!” — and open a cat rescue. Or be an architect. For now, she’s enjoying life as a cat mom.

“Bellatrix definitely is my cutie patootie,” Lola said. “This is her forever home and I want her to love it forever.”

Tammy Bloomhuff + Wally 
On any given day, Tammy Bloomhuff can be found walking with more than 400 pounds worth of dogs.

“I’ve been knocked down, dragged, had my eyes clawed,” Bloomhuff said. “It happens with big dogs.”

Bloomhuff is currently mother to Stella, a part-Pyrenees Mountain dog whose thick white coat makes even single-digit temperatures comfortable; bull mastiff/lab mix Maybelle, nicknamed “Lump the Destroyer”; and the newest super-sized rescue, Wallace, nicknamed Wally.

Bloomhuff has rescued dogs and cats from California to Iowa — from shelters, a Dollar General parking lot or families dropping them off at her Muscatine home.

“It just kind of snowballed,” she said. “People know you’re a sucker and they’ll bring them by. You start seeing the need. When you hear some of the reasons people give them up — they shed, they’re not housebroken, he loves me too much — that’s probably the craziest one I’ve heard. It’s just common sense: if you don’t want him, don’t take him home.”

Wally, called Parsons during his stay at the Iowa City Animal Center, is a yellow lab mix with glowing yellow-green eyes. He and several other dogs were seized from a farm outside of Iowa City in March 2017, where they were kept on short outdoor leashes and had little to no interaction with humans. Bloomhuff adopted Wally in May 2017.
“The first time I brought him home he hid in the cupboard. Everything scared him,” she said.

Today, Wally loves to romp with his canine siblings in the field behind their house, go for a swim or take a ride in the tailgate of Bloomhuff’s truck. He’s still shy in public, but clings to his adopter’s side.

“He’s really smart; it’s a little scary,” Bloomhuff said.

When she’s not caring for her own pets, Bloomhuff works to liberate puppy mills with the organization Iowa Voters for Companion Animals Against Puppy Mills. Nine Iowa puppy dealers were named in the Humane Society’s 2017 “Horrible Hundred,” an annual report of the most problematic dog breeding and selling facilities in the U.S. Bloomhuff said she and other activists have been working tirelessly to shut down even one mill.

“You can’t get anywhere,” she said. “But you just have to keep trying. It’s time.”

Though she works harder than the average pet owner, Bloomhuff sees no downsides to pet ownership — save one.

“The only bad thing is they don’t outlive ya,” she said, rubbing Wally’s head.

Doug Ongie + Seymour and Peabody
In a crisply restored, 1920s house on Governor Street, a white and ginger cat named Seymour rests at the top of a cat tower next to a potted avocado tree. Hearing a crinkle from his treat bag, Seymour flings himself from the tower, sending it wobbling. Doug Ongie tosses treats into the kitchen and dining room, one by one. Seymour knows this game — he darts between rooms before the next treat is tossed.

“He’s just a good cat,” Doug says simply. “He’s part of the family.”

Seymour was a former Solon farm cat, then Iowa City Animal Center resident. Doug and his wife Sheila went to the shelter in 2012 with the intention to adopt a kitten, “but they were so spastic,” Doug said. “I looked over and saw Seymour. He had his paw up on the cage, and he wasn’t getting as much attention as the others. We thought we could give that to him.”

The Ongies kept Seymour’s shelter name. Doug is now fully familiar with his quirks, such as a tendency to run to the door when he or Sheila gets home and flop over for a belly rub, like a dog.
“He’s a funny cat. He’s very earnest,” Doug said. “He’ll move his tail when I’m talking to him.”

Seymour has a soft spot for Doug as well: He tends to curl up with Doug at night, while Peabody prefers Sheila.

Peabody was once a stray cat in the Ongies’ neighborhood, his long brown hair full of matts. The couple gave him shelter one night during a thunderstorm, and he’s been their cat ever since. It wasn’t exactly “happily ever after” — health problems had the Ongies rushing Peabody to the emergency room and syringe-feeding the cat five to seven times a day for months. Years later, Doug said Peabody’s happy and healthy.

“He doesn’t know how to meow properly,” Doug noted. “He just goes mmmm.”

The Ongies’ decision to adopt cats was precipitated by a trip to Monterrey, where they stayed in an AirBnB housing a three-legged dog named Zeus.

“Strangely, after that we came home wanting a pet,” Doug said. “We’re cat people, though. It fits our personality best.”

Kenzie Gann + Duncan
On April 18, 2015, Kenzie Gann’s 9-year-old cavalier king Spaniel, Tobi, suddenly and tragically passed away.

“What happened next was a fast downward spiral of my mental health,” said Gann, a Cedar Rapids resident. “I was diagnosed as traumatized.”

Not long after, a coworker at Lucky Pawz, the dog daycare at which Gann worked, tentatively recommended she meet an Iowa City Animal Center dog. It was an Australian shepherd mix named Calgary, who Gann would later call Duncan.

“He sat so nicely and put his head down when I pet him. I played with him that day and two more times before pulling the trigger,” Gann said. “Fate would have it that exactly three months after losing Tobi, Duncan would come home with me. It gives me chills to this day to think about.”

Gann said it was clear Duncan had experienced abuse and neglect in his past. He trusted her, but would hide from strangers, flee from other dogs and cower at loud noises. When Gann was out, Duncan would confine himself to his kennel so as to avoid her roommates.
That is, until Gann started taking the pup to work with her at Lucky Pawz.

“He went from screaming and running when a dog wanted to play to being the running pup who splashed in pools and jumped onto the playground,” Gann said. “He needed to trust that he was safe around people, which means not forcing them on him. Once he knows you, he’s the biggest dog I’ve ever met who actually likes being held.”

“I’m not sure why he latched onto me so fast — we laugh that I’m his emotional support human.”

Gann said she owes her happiness to the Iowa City Animal Center — and the second love of her life.

“[I’m] a girl who saved a pup who really saved her.”

Emma McClatchey is celebrating Valentine’s Day with her love, a former shelter cat named Ludwig. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 236.
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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Chinese scientists discover spider with a tail trapped in 100 million-year-old amber

Two teams of scientists on Monday unveiled a "missing link" species of spider with a scorpion-like tail found perfectly preserved in amber in Southeast Asia's forests after at least 100 million years.
In studies published side-by-side in Nature Ecology and Evolution, one team argued that male sex organs and silk thread-producing teats link the creature to living spiders.

The other team pointed to the long tail and a segmented body to argue that Chimerarachne yingi belongs instead to a far more ancient and extinct lineage at least 380 million years old.
Either way, the researchers agree that C. yingi fills a yawning gap in the evolutionary saga of the nearly 50,000 species of spiders that spin webs and trap prey around the world today.

"It's a missing link between the ancient Uraraneida order, which resemble spiders but have tails and no silk-making spinnerets, and modern spiders, which lack tails," said Bo Wang, a palaeobiologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing and lead author of the study, suggesting C. yingi has more in common with their present-day, eight-legged cousins.

Remarkably, the previously unknown species was simultaneously discovered by two groups of scientists, each of which unearthed two specimens locked in translucent amber teardrops.

By coincidence, both teams submitted their findings to the same journal, which coordinated the joint release.

With a total body length of about six millimeters (one-fifth of an inch) – half taken up by the tail – C. yingi is, truly, an itsy bitsy spider.

The filaments made by four nipples extruding from the back end of its abdomen were probably not there to spin webs, the researchers speculated.

Venom glands

"Spinnerets are used to produce silk for a whole host of reasons: to wrap eggs, to make burrows, to make sleeping hammocks, or just to leave behind trails," said Paul Selden, Wang's co-author and a professor at the University of Kansas.

C. yingi also boasts pincer-like appendages, called pedipalps, used to transfer sperm to the female during mating, a signature trait of all living spiders.
Its whip-like tail or flagellum, also known as a telson, likely "served a sensory purpose," Wang told AFP.

By contrast, modern spiders use silk spun into webs to monitor changes in their surroundings.

They also have venom secreted from special-purpose glands, but neither of the studies was able to confirm that C. yingi could poison its prey.

Both teams used X-ray computed tomography scanning technology to remotely dissect their specimens.

The new species was discovered in the jungles of Myanmar, which yields nearly 10 tonnes of amber every year.

"It has been coming into China where dealers have been selling to research institutions," Wang said.

Amber has been crucial for tracing the early ancestors of spiders – but only up to a certain point.

"Spiders have soft bodies and no bones, so they don't fossilize very well, so we rely on special conditions – especially amber – to find them," Wang explained.

But working back in time, the trail of animal remains in amber ends about 250 million years ago, making it very difficult to trace the spider's earliest origins.
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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Rare Albino Dolphin Spotted Off California Coast

A 3-year-old albino dolphin was spotted swimming with its mom in California's Monterey Bay last week, and the little one appears healthy, scientists say.
albino dolphin
The crew of a Blue Ocean Whale Watch boat saw the albino Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus) swimming with its mom on June 7 about 3 miles (nearly 5 kilometers) offshore near Moss Landing. They identified it as the same animal that was last seen on Sept. 29, 2015, said Kate Cummings, a naturalist and co-owner of the whale-watching company. Before that, other tour operators had seen the albino animal in Monterey Bay in 2014, when it was a small calf, she said.

"Albinism in the wild is incredibly rare, and I believe this is the only known albino Risso's dolphin in the eastern Pacific," Cummings told Live Science. [See Photos of the Rare Albino Risso's Dolphin]

Albino animals like this one are white (or pink) because the cells that normally produce melanin — the pigment that gives skin, hair and eyes their coloration — are not doing their job (or not doing it well). Its pink eyes result from light reflecting off the red blood vessels in the dolphin's retinas, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Nonalbino animals have melanin in their pupils that absorbs incoming light, keeping it from reflecting off of the retina.

This white dolphin may look cute, but albino animals often have health problems. "Albino animals may be more prone to skin problems because there's no melanin to protect the skin from UV [ultraviolet] rays, and they can have poor eyesight and hearing," Cummings said. "As far as we can tell, this juvenile appears healthy."

When Cummings and her crew spotted the dolphin, it was swimming with its mom and a pod of about 50 Risso's dolphins, including many other juveniles.

"Risso's dolphins often form nursery pods, which consist of mothers and their calves," Cummings said. "They were most likely on the hunt for squid, their favorite food source."

Squid are partly to blame for the circular markings seen on most Risso's dolphins, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Risso's dolphins sometimes rake their teeth against other dolphins' bodies, which can also result in scarring.

No other cetacean has the distinctive vertical crease seen on the foreheads of these dolphins, which have indistinguishable beaks, according to NOAA.
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