Watering Hole – July 19, 2010

When does being called a “bird brain” become a compliment?   If the bird is a crow, then it is a compliment.  Crows are extremely good at problem solving.

As researchers explore the nature of the intelligence of animals, the corvid family presents some arresting examples of brainy birds. The most common corvids are crows, ravens, and jays; other relatives are the rooks, magpies, choughs, nutcrackers, and jackdaws. The familiar corvids are large, noisy, and social, and they are not shy in the presence of people. They play pranks, tease other animals, and engage in aerial acrobatics for fun. Crows live happily in human settlements and have found many ways to exploit the curious human trait of discarding food.The strong social structure of corvids has been widely studied, as have their complex vocalizations and cooperative actions. Pioneering animal behaviorist Konrad Lorenz studied jackdaws in his native Austria; his King Solomon’s Ring reports his interactions with them and observations for their behavior.

Corvids are known to mimic human voices and other sounds and to enjoy the confusion that results. Zookeeper Gerald Durrell recounted the antics of his pet magpies, who learned to imitate the Durrell’s maid’s call to the chickens to come and be fed. When the magpies got bored, they called the chickens, who came running in anticipation of a treat. When the disappointed chickens went back to roost, the magpies called them again, and again, and the chickens, no match for the clever magpies, fell for the ruse every time.

Read more at this link, Cleverness of Crows

More here.

Now it’s your turn to Speak Up.

Passages of the Deep

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This new exhibit at the Oregon Coast Aquarium is called “Passages of the Deep“.  This area used to house the Keiko, the killer whale (from the movie “Free Willy”. They have transformed the area:

In an underwater adventure. visitors are immersed in Keiko’s former home through acrylic tunnels surrounded by several feet of sea water. Passages of the Deep has proven to be an unique attraction. As though they were taking a walk into the open ocean, visitors are able to come face to face with large sharks, rockfish and bat rays swimming above and below. Waves surging against the tunnel gives visitors the impression they are beneath the ocean. And the Oregon shipwreck resting on the bottom increases the feeling of being early undersea explorers.

It was difficult to get clear shots because the fish were moving so quickly, but I tried. It was also really unnerving walking over the acrylic floor with the sharks swimming below..

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What is it?

This was a very odd looking fish in one of the colorful new displays (“Oddwater”) at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport Oregon that I visited this last weekend. This particular fish almost looked alien.. Or perhaps one of the characters from the Disney/Pixar animated film “Monsters, Inc.”!

All the “plant life” in the tanks were made of very colorful and odd shaped  blown art glass. Fascinating display to be sure!

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Looks could kill!

Recently a dear friend came by for dinner and among other discussions I brought up the Alsatian Hamster. I was really serious, because the animal is another example for the complexity of environmental issues. It faces extinction, because the Alsatian farmers have switched production of cabbage, which left space for the lupin, the animal’s diet, to corn the gas-guzzler’s new, “green” diet. Well the idea of “Save the Hamster” cracked up our friend big time and any attempt at reintroducing the focus on bio-fuels into a reasonable discussion went out of the window. Why is that? The Alsatian hamster looks a lot like a oversized and overweight rat with a stubbed-nose. No panda bear and definitely not “Knut” or “Flocke” the more than cute polar bear cubs. So the Alsatian hamster has to fend for itself, well, it has the European Commission on its side, like so many animals whose looks range from ugly, to outright weird or disgusting.

“The Independent” has a heart for the ugly and names a few:

The Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat: With a name like that you could end up in a magazine of Luna Lovegood’s father. It is endangered, because of changes in farming and because species like the Dingo have been introduced into it’s habitat.

The Saiga Antelope: Nice body, but look at the nose! The male’s horns are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine making them the target for poachers. Do I want to know what the horns are used for? No. 

Long-beaked echidna: This one is a long shout from the cute little hedgehog you can find in your garden. Current threats include hunting with specially trained dogs and loss of forest habitat to logging, mining and farming.

Giant Salamander or “hellbender”: Not so lovingly called “snot otters” or “devil dog”, too. Their habitat is endangered from pollution. They need clean clear water to thrive. The sheer size of them (up to six feet) makes them quite impressive indeed.

The Solenodon: As well as having a poisonous bite a solenodon has glands in the armpits and in the groin, which give off a goat-like smell. The poor wretch doesn’t have much going for it, the introduction of cats, dogs and mongoose sounded the death-knell for them.

The Aye-Aye: This one’s a victim to its own appearance. It is considered an evil omen and killed on the spot if happened upon by locals in Madagascar. The disappearance of the rain forest its natural habitat clinches the raw deal. Have a look at the links! Every single one of these creatures has something going for it, if only making the world a more interesting place.

3000 Walrus Die in Stampede

From MSNBC:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Several thousands Pacific walruses above the Arctic Circle were killed in stampedes earlier this year after the disappearance of sea ice caused them to crowd onto the shoreline in extraordinary numbers, deaths some scientists see as another alarming consequence of global warming.

The deaths took place during the late summer and fall on the Russian side of the Bering Strait, which separates Alaska from Russia.

“It was a pretty sobering year — tough on walruses,” said Joel Garlach-Miller, a walrus expert for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Unlike seals, walruses cannot swim indefinitely. The big, tusked mammals typically clamber onto the sea ice to rest, or haul themselves onto land for just a few weeks at a time.

But ice disappeared in the Chukchi Sea this year because of warm summer weather, ocean currents and persistent eastern winds, Garlach-Miller said.

Read the rest of this sad story here.