Saturday, January 30, 2010

Animal Intuition: Oscar, The Cat

In this July 23, 2007 file photo, Oscar, a hospice cat with an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, walks past an activity room at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I. Dr. David Dosa profiles Oscar in a book, 'Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat.' Photo courtesy: The Associated Press/Stew Milne, File)

Oscar the cat has become quite a celebrity despite his rough-looking appearance and disdainful attitude. He has had a book written about him along with various articles in magazines and on the web; and, even one in a medical journal. Oscar is no one’s cat - he has been known to turn up his nose and walk away when offered a little affection.

Oscar’s story begins in 2005 when the staff of a nursing home adopted him. The medium-haired cat with a gray and brown back and white belly was chosen to be the final touch in making Steere House a home. It was supposed to be Oscar’s job to play with visiting children; and, provide a calming, distraction for visitors and personnel alike.

However, Oscar had other plans. He knew he had bigger work to do. He had a job to perform, a role to play at this facility; and, nothing was going to stop him. In time, Oscar’s stellar performance and record of excellence caused him to become a trusted and valued member of the staff at Steere House.

So, what role does this rescue cat play that has allowed him to become a valued member of the medical team at Steere Home?

It took about a year for his gift to be recognized; but, eventually the staff noticed Oscar’s strange behaviour. He would spend his days and nights pacing from room to room at regular intervals. The doctors at the nursing home had their rounds and Oscar had his.

At each room he would stop, look at the patient(s), sniff the air and move on to the next room. He very rarely entered the rooms – except when the patient inside was about to die. Once a patient had only a few hours to live, Oscar would jump onto their bed and lay beside them in a silent vigil.

Oscar is so accurate that the staff know it’s time to alert family members to the imminent passing of their loved one once Oscar stretches out on the bed beside the patient. Usually, the patient is so ill they have no idea that Oscar is there; however, if kept outside the room of a dying patient, Oscar will cry while scratching at the door and walls until he is let in to do his job.

Once the staff thought Oscar’s amazing streak of prophecy had come to an end when they placed him on the bed of a critically ill patient and he wouldn’t stay. Oscar jumped to the floor and left the room. Staff were confused. What had happened to Oscar's uncanny ability?

The patient actually rallied and survived another two days. When the end came, Oscar needed no reminders to take up his place beside the patient for the final few hours. In this case, the medical profession was wrong; Oscar, the cat, was right.

Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician and professor at Brown University, is the doctor who wrote the book “Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat”. He works on the third floor of Steere House which treats patients with severe dementia. Once patients get to Steere House they may already be too ill to speak or recognize friends, spouses and loved ones. Many will spend their last days fluctuating between the past and the present.

At first, Dr. Dosa thought Oscar might spook out the families with his strange talent. Oscar had become a semi-celebrity thanks to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine submitted by Dr. Dosa himself. To his surprise, the families embraced Oscar and even praised his work in newspaper obituaries and eulogies.

"People actually were taking great comfort in this idea, that this animal was there and might be there when their loved ones eventually pass," Dosa said. "He was there when they couldn't be."

"Maybe they're seeing what they want to see," he said, "but what they're seeing is a comfort to them in a real difficult time in their lives."

Dr. Dosa theorizes that Oscar may be able to detect odours given off by dying cells that humans can’t detect. No one knows whether there is a distinct odour to dying that animals can detect; but, logic would say there is. Dogs have been trained to detect drugs, cadavers, and even cancer just using their incredible sense of smell. Cats have a similarly acute sense of smell. Perhaps Oscar really can smell death.

Even if the mystery of how Oscar always knows when death is just hours away is dispelled, nothing explains why this one-time stray chooses to keep vigil with the dying until they eventually pass over. One thing is certain, as long as Oscar lives, no one at Steere House will ever die alone.

Via RealClear Politics

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Stray Dogs of Moscow, Russia

Waiting for the 8:10 To Tverskaya Maxim Marmur, Photo courtesy: The Financial Times

There are approximately 35,000 stray dogs in Moscow, Russia averaging one stray per every 300 Muscovites; or, to put it another way – approximately 84 dogs per square mile.

These stray dogs can be seen everywhere in Moscow – lying in apartment courtyards, roaming the streets, riding the Metro.

Andrei Poyarkov, 56, is a biologist working at the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in south-west Moscow. Poyarkov specializes in wolves and has dedicated himself to studying the stray dogs of Moscow. His work began about 30 years ago; and, he has discovered some very interesting things.

He maintains that their appearance and behaviour has changed even over the relatively short time he’s been studying them. The stray dogs of Moscow have been around for as long as the city of Moscow Poyarkov claims; and, Vladimir Gilyarovsky, the writer and journalist, reports on them in the last half of the 19th century. Since that time to the present day, the dogs have evolved or de-evolved into a group of animals that all look similar to one another and appear to be somewhere between dogs and wolves. They are all medium-sized with thick fur, wedge-shaped heads, almond eyes, long tails and erect ears.

An interesting observation is that nearly all of the city’s strays are born into the packs. A household pet that is dumped onto the street to fend for itself will almost certainly die. Poyarkov estimates that few than 3% of these pets are accepted by the groups.

Poyarkov has found four specific designations within the stray dog packs. He identifies guard dogs, scavenger, wild dogs and beggars.

The guard dogs attach themselves to personnel, such as guards at secured worksites; and, act as their unofficial assistants. The dogs look upon the personnel as their masters and will perform jobs for them such as accompanying them on their rounds. In exchange, they are rewarded with food and, with any luck, a warm bed for the night.

The scavengers specialize in roaming the streets and eating garbage where ever they may find it. Most Muscovites realize the role these dogs play in keeping the rodent population down by eating the edible scraps on the streets and in the garbages.

The wild dogs most resemble their distant relatives the wolf. These are the ones that hunt mice, rats, and cats when the sun goes down. Again Muscovites realize the role these dogs play in keeping the rodent populations under control.

The beggar dogs; however, are the ones with the most specialized behaviours. Not only have they learned to recognize people who are carrying food; but, they can determine which ones are most likely to share that food with them. A very specialized group of beggars have even learned to ride the subway allowing them to expand their begging territories. (It is important to mention that the residents view these dogs fondly; and, there is even a website dedicated to the subway dogs: This is the group that appreciates intelligence the most. It is only through cunning and an understanding of people that they manage to remain alive.

It will be interesting to see what other revelations come to light as Vladimir Gilyarovsky continues his studies.

Via popular science and Financial Times

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Household Foodstuffs That Double as Cleaners

Photo courtesy: Real Simple

There are quite a few foods that can double as dirt-busting crime fighters. Here are 10 of them, what they clean and how to use them.

Use white bread to: Dust an oil painting. Gently dab a slice of white bread over the surface to pick up dirt and grime. (When finished throw used slice and rest of loaf in garbage. IMHO, the only thing white bread is good for is constipation.)

Use ketchup to: Remove tarnish from copper and brass cookware. Squeeze ketchup onto a cloth and rub it on pots and pans. They should go back to their coppery color in minutes. Rinse with warm water and dry with a towel. This works equally well on brass bedsteads; or, anything else made of brass or copper.

Use oatmeal to: Scrub very dirty hands. Make a thick paste of oatmeal and water; rinse well. If you have a skin condition or an itchy rash, take a cup of oatmeal and wrap it in cheesecloth. Hold under the tap while bath is running - oatmeal starch is extremely soothing.

Use rice to: Clean the inside of a vase or a thin-necked bottle. Fill three quarters of the vessel with warm water and add a tablespoon of uncooked rice. Cup your hand over the opening, shake vigorously, and rinse. Add a few grains of rice to your salt cellar to keep salt dry and free-flowing.

Use tea to: Scour rusty garden tools. Brew a few pots of strong black tea. When cool, pour into a bucket. Soak the tools for a few hours. Wipe each one with a cloth. Wear rubber gloves or your hands will be stained. Your houseplants will benefit from a semi-yearly drink of tea - it helps the soil.

Use glycerin to: Remove dried wax drippings from candlesticks. Peel off as much wax as possible, then moisten a cotton ball with glycerin and rub until clean. Add a few drops of glycerin to your bath for smooth skin.

Use club soda to: Shine up a scuffed stainless-steel sink. Buff with a cloth dampened with club soda, then wipe dry with another clean cloth.

Use hydrogen peroxide to: Disinfect a keyboard. Dip a cotton swab in hydrogen peroxide to get into those nooks and crannies. Rinse your teeth after brushing with it for whiter teeth and a more sanitary mouth. Do NOT swallow the peroxide. It works well as a wound treatment also. Clean with hydrogen peroxide for a sterile wound before bandaging. Be prepared, hydrogen peroxide foams when it touches open skin. P.S. Check the label of your mouthwash bottle. It's the hydrogen peroxide in the mouthwash that whitens your breath. Buy a bottle, it's cheaper.

Use cornstarch to: Clean grease spills on carpets. Pour cornstarch onto spots and let sit for 15 to 30 minutes before vacuuming. Cornstarch is also cheaper and healthier than talcum powder. Got a bottom or other body part that needs some powder - use cornstarch.

Use rubbing alcohol to: Erase permanent-marker stains from finished wood floors or solid-surface countertops. Pour rubbing alcohol onto a cotton ball and apply.

Via Real Simple

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

6,000 Plastic Bottles and One Village

All photos courtesy: Laura Kutner

Talk about inspiration. Peace Corps volunteer Laura Kutner (a 2002 graduate of Portland's Lincoln High School) was in Granados, Guatemala and saw two problems. Laura decided to turn these problems into challenges and do something about it.

The first challenge Laura noted was an abundance of plastic trash – bottles, bags, chip bags, candy wrappers to name a few. The other challenge was that she noticed that students had to attend classes in schools with no walls. The school’s principal told Laura that the local government had run out of money before finishing the school. The local people really needed the space for the school children and other community gatherings; so, the principal asked Laura if she could help.

Laura looked to Pura Vida for an answer. Pura Vida is an ecological movement in Guatemala that tries to find new ways to use trash. They look upon themselves as an “Ecological Movement of an Alternate Trash Management”; and, have developed a way of incorporating used pop bottles and trash as construction materials.

"A bottle project had never been done with metal before, always out of wood, but I figured why not look into it," she said.

With help provided from Hug it Forward; and material and labour from local businesses and villagers, the school project began.

The team started by collecting trash – plastic grocery bags, chip bags, plastic bottles and any other plastic waste they could find. Laura says, "First of all, there is so much plastic. Everything is packaged in plastic. I got so sick of plastic."

She and the agricultural community of 900 people with the help of surrounding mountain villagers collected more than 4,000 used plastic drink bottles from ditches, gutters and trash piles. This does not include all the other trash they collected to use for stuffing the bottles and the walls.

After the garbage was collected, they began the real work - stuffing the plastic bottles full of other trash. As many as 250 pieces of trash were crammed into each bottle using hands and sticks. Stuffing the bottles served two purposes: it contained the plastic trash while adding heft to the bottle structure taking shape.

"We all got blisters from stuffing," Kutner said.

Then they placed the bottles into the chicken wire mesh fencing stuffing more trash into the spaces between the bottles; and, the spaces between the bottles and the fence.

Laura said: “We needed A LOT of plastic trash. If the empty spaces weren't stuffed with trash then it (the cement) flew right through to the other side when we threw the cement on. We used so much trash that we could not find anymore in the town and had to go to neighboring villages to get some of theirs. It was awesome!"

After the fencing was stuffed with the waste, three layers of cement were placed on each side. At first the bottle-filled chicken wire served as a support for the cement to cling to. Once the cement was dry it created the look and stability of any other wall with the bottles now serving as insulation.

The orange building is the completed school—the bottles are inside the wall. Unless someone told you – would you be able to tell the difference between these walls and other “traditional” walls? I wouldn’t. What about the cost? This school was erected for the sum total of $3,000.00. Amazing what $3,000.00; a ton of trash; willing, joyous volunteers; and, some good old ingenuity can do.

Laura called the project "truly the perfect example of a team effort. If the entire town had not participated, it would not have happened!"

Beside the noticeable lack of refuse on the ground after the project, Laura noticed that the community also got a new awareness of litter and its possibilities.

Kutner recounts an experience she had while on a bus. It was the first time she heard a mother tell her child not to throw an empty bottle out the window. Until the school project this had been a common practice. Another resident has begun collecting cans and hauling them into the capital, four hours away, to collect the deposit.

Laura describes her work: "I miss my family; but, I feel like I come alive when I do this kind of work."

Short video showing the building of the schoolhouse by a series of photos.

or this one - quite similar; but, worth a look.

What a spirit those villagers have. The look on those children's faces showed the joy they felt at being able to help build their schoolhouse. Students in developed countries should be so happy to learn.

Via Planet Green and Oregon

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Iceland Leads World in Evironmental Protection

Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland. Photo courtesy: O Palsson via flickr

Paradise? Sure looks like it to me!

This is Gullfoss (Golden) Waterfall, Iceland. What an absolutely breath-taking sight. Gullfoss Waterfall is located in the nation considered first in the world to be meeting their environmental policy goals.

A new survey, presented at the World Economic Forum, was produced by Yale University and Columbia University. The Environmental Performance Index measures the performances of 163 countries in ten categories. These categories include such considerations as environmental health, natural resource management, biodiversity, agriculture and climate change. The categories add up to a total of 100 points that can be earned by each country.

Iceland, (when can I move?), earned a staggering 93.5 out of 100 points making Iceland the obvious winner. Combine this score with such natural wonders as the Gullfoss Waterfalls; and, I could be persuaded to give up hearth and home and emigrate.

Iceland received this astonishing score for its efforts for environmental public health, controlling greenhouse gas emissions, and reforestation efforts. The other four countries that make up the top five are: Switzerland (89.1), Costa Rica (86.4), Sweden (86.0) and Norway (81.1).

Canada (my home) came in at 41st. Coming in behind such industrialized nations as the UK, Germany and Japan, the US came in at 61st. The US scored high in forest sustainability and the provision of safe drinking water; but, they lost serious ground in the high greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution portions. 

Some of the countries that were in a similar ranking to the US are: Paraguay, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Poland, Venezuela, Israel and Thailand. The report authors are quick to note that this score does not represent the more recent efforts by the Obama administration. This report only includes data prior to 2009.

As a note of interest, among the newly-industrialized nations Brazil and Russia rank in the same range as the US – Brazil (62nd) and Russia (69th). However, considering the industrialization in both China and India, they rank quite low on the scale – China (121st) and India (123rd).

It comes as a surprise to no one that the bottom five countries on the list are horribly impoverished, financially destitute nations in Africa: Togo (36.4/100), Angola (36.3/100), Mauritania (33.7/100), Central African Republic (33.3/100) and Sierra Leone (32.1/100).

Click here for a full list: Environmental Performance Index 2010

Via TreeHugger

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gardener's Tip: Fertilizing Roses

Photo courtesy: Beatriz Da Costa

What woman doesn't love roses?  Or man, for that matter.  Not only are they beautiful; but, their scent is hypnotizing.  Here are two ways to fertilize roses the natural way.

Flatten a banana peel and bury it under one inch of soil at the base of a rosebush. The peel’s potassium feeds the plant and helps it resist disease.  As the peel decomposes, it also adds valuable compost.

Once a year, very early spring, sprinkle a tablespoon of epsom salts around the base of your rose plants.  This will take care of any magnesium deficiency problems you may have.

Good gardening!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Most Toxic Places on Earth (final)

Giving credit where credit is due, I repeat my statement - "This is a reprint from Mother Nature Network".

Lake Karachay, Russia
According to a report by the Worldwatch Institute on nuclear waste, Karachay is the most polluted spot on Earth. It was used by the Soviet Union as a nuclear dumping site, and now the radiation level here is so high that it's sufficient to give a lethal dose after just an hour of exposure.

The nation of Haiti was once 60 percent covered in forest. Today, only 2 percent of the country still has standing trees. This picture shows an aerial of the border between Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic (right). Haiti has cleared almost every tree right up to its borders. And with the recent devastating earthquake, the island's environmental situation has worsened.

Kabwe, Zambia
Lead and cadmium soak the hills of Kabwe after decades of mining and processing. Children here have lead concentrations five to 10 times the permissible U.S. Environmental Protection Agency levels, and the ground is so contaminated that nothing can be grown.

Appalachia, West Virginia
Mountaintop removal mining is one of the world's most environmentally destructive practices, and it is most associated with coal mining in West Virginia's Appalachian Mountains. Whole mountaintops are removed to get to the coal, which increases erosion and runoff thick with pollutants, poisoning streams and rivers throughout the region.

Dzerzhinsk, Russia
The Guinness Book of World Records has named Dzerzhinsk the most chemically polluted city on Earth, and in 2003 its death rate exceeded its birth rate by 260 percent. More than 300,000 tons of chemical waste were improperly dumped here between 1930 and 1998.

Riachuelo Basin, Argentina
The Riachuelo Basin is a waterway whose name is synonymous with pollution. More than 3,500 factories operate along the banks of the river, a landscape that also includes 13 slums, numerous illegal sewage pipes running directly into the river, and 42 open garbage dumps.

Vapi, India
Sitting at the southern end of a 400-kilometer-long belt of industrial estates, the town of Vapi is a dumping place for chemicals of every kind. Levels of mercury in the groundwater are 96 times higher than safety levels, and heavy metals are present in the air and the local produce.

Earth's orbit
Believe it or not, even space contains copious amounts of pollution. An estimated 4 million pounds of space debris — nuts, bolts, metal and carbon, even whole spacecraft — currently orbit the Earth, threatening satellites, communication and even the lives of our astronauts.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Most Toxic Places on Earth

The world's population stands at nearly 7 billion people. As you can see from the photos below, we have not been very effective as stewards of the planet. We must rectify the damage we have done; and, allow everyone a healthy environment to live in.

This is a reprint from Mother Nature Network.

Citarum River, Indonesia
The Citarum has been called the world's most polluted river. Around five million people live in the river's basin, and most of them rely on its flow for their water supply.

Chernobyl, Ukraine
Chernobyl is the town in northern Ukraine home to the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. Once home to more than 14,000 residents, the town remains mostly uninhabited and unsafe today due to extensive radioactive contamination.

Linfen, China
Linfen has more air pollution than any other city in the world. Sitting at the heart of China's coal belt, smog and soot from industrial pollutants and automobiles blacken the air at all hours. It is said that if you hang your laundry here, it will turn black before it dries.

The North Pacific Gyre
An island of trash twice the size of Texas floats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, circulated by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. The trash, which is mostly made up of plastic debris, floats as deep as 30 feet below the surface.

Rondônia, Brazil
Rondônia is a state in northwest Brazil which, along with the states of Mato Grosso and Pará, is one of the most deforested regions of the Amazon rain forest. Thousands of acres of forest have been slashed and burned here, mostly to make room for cattle ranching.

Yamuna River, India
The Yamuna is the largest tributary of the Ganges River. Where it flows through Delhi, it's estimated that 58 percent of the city's waste gets dumped straight into the river. Millions of Indians still rely on these murky, sewage-filled waters for washing, waste disposal and drinking water.

La Oroya, Peru
La Oroya is a soot-covered mining town in the Peruvian Andes. Ninety-nine percent of the children who live here have blood levels that exceed acceptable limits for lead poisoning, which can be directly attributed to an American-owned smelter that has been polluting the city since 1922.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Scientist Debunk 3-Second Memory for Fish

Photo courtesy:

Sometimes serendipity just happens. In my stingray blog, I took issue with the three-second memory theory for fish. I maintained that since I had trained goldfish to respond to a tapping sound when being fed, that I and millions of fish fanciers worldwide knew that this theory was wrong.

The following is a reprint from vindicating fish fanciers everywhere.

Australian scientists have debunked the myth that fish have a three-second memory, they can actually recall information for up to five months.

"Fish can remember prey types for months. They can learn to avoid predators after being attacked once and they retain this memory for several months. And carp that have been caught by fishers avoid hooks for at least a year," lead author Kevin Warburton said.

The researchers at Charles Sturt University, Australia, say that three-second rule is "absolute rubbish." No one is sure where they myth started but you needn't look any further than Finding Nemo to know it exists--not that I didn't love Ellen Degeneres' Dory.

Researchers trained young fish to associate a sound with feeding time. Each time they played that particular sound…the fish would return. They found minnows to be at least as intelligent as rats.

Fish not only remember, they can increase their food-catching skills and even carry out acts of deception. For example, cleaner fish in reef environments act on their best behavior when a larger feeder is nearby.

Warburton said: "What's fascinating is that they co-operate more with clients when they are being observed by other potential clients. This improves their 'image' and their chances of attracting clients."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Crystal Cave to be Flooded

Giant crystals dwarf researchers in the Crystal Cave. Photo via veoverde

How spectacular is this? What a place of beauty and wonderment! Another planet? The inside of an iceberg? This is Mexico’s Cave of Crystals.

This natural wonder was discovered in 2000 when silver miners broke through a wall in a mineshaft. This cave has crystals that can measure 30 feet in length – the largest in the world.

Unfortunately, only a few geologists have been able to visit this amazing site so far; and, it seems that only a handful more will be able to view this marvel before it is filled water.

One of the biggest reasons it is so hard to investigate is the heat and humidity inside the cave.

Recently, Iain Stewart, a professor from the University of Plymouth, Great Britain, led a team from the BBC into the Crystal Cave to show them the amazing formations attached to the mines of Naica in northern Mexico. The conditions in the cave make extended exploration of the cave impossible without special gear.

According to the BBC, the temperature reaches 50°C (122°F) with humidity at 100 percent. Prof. Stewart explains, “The combination means that when you inhale air, the surface of your lungs is actually the surface cooler than the air is. This means that the fluids begin to condense into the lungs - and this is not good news.” Actually, this sounds like drowning without water to me.

To tolerate the challenging conditions in the cave, explorers wear special refrigerant suites which contain a breathing system.

Prof. Stewart realizes how fortunate he is to have had the chance to see the Crystal Cave. The owners of the silver mine have no intention of preserving the cave for others to see for generations to come. He says, “They do not earn any money (from the cave), and sooner or later, when the financial situation of the mines change, will be closed. The water pumps will be removed and the cave will be flooded, and the crystals, again, will be out of our reach.”

Prof. Stewart and other geologists like him are hopeful that there will be similar discoveries to replace this one; and, there seems to be geological indications that more caves may lay waiting to be discovered.

Prof. Stewart says, “To begin with, the geology around the cave suggests that there may be more crystal caves in the region around Naica. But, more broadly, the crust of the Earth must have more wonders like this.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stingrays Determined to be Tool Users

Photo courtesy: ellenm1/Flickr

Once again, we have underestimated the intelligence of another species. Just recently, I did a blog on octopod intelligence that showed them to be more intelligent than originally thought.

Fish have always been thought of as “simple reflex animals” not capable of creativity or even memory for that matter. As an example, the latest wisdom says goldfish have a memory span of three seconds. I find that hard to believe as I (and millions of fish enthusiasts worldwide) have trained goldfish to respond to a tap on the glass at feeding time. Just before I put the food in, I would tap twice on the glass. I always put the food in the same corner; and, my goldfish soon realized that the tapping meant food. They were fed once a day, with 24 hours not 3 seconds separating feedings. It took less than a week; but, as soon as they heard those taps, they all swarmed to the feeding corner with mouths gaping open. So, it comes as no surprise to me (or a million others) that scientists are now finding out that marine animals are more intelligent and more creative than previously thought.

Researchers are now realizing that the reasoning abilities of the stingray can rival that of birds, reptiles and mammals. Part of the reason these marine animals have been considered cognitively simple is because they have been so difficult to study say scientists.

However, scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel managed to design some clever, creative tasks that would help to determine the intelligence of stingrays.

Photo courtesy: EarthNews

Stingrays are known to use jets of water to dislodge food from plants; and, scientists wondered about their problem-solving abilities.

In one test, some food is hidden in a small plastic tube with only one opening. The stingray demonstrated some keen problem-solving abilities by lying on top of the tube and directing jets of water into the opening forcing the food out. The video of this and another problem-solving stingray can be watched at EarthNews.

Dr. Michael Kuba, the scientist in charge of the research, explains that the jet of water the stingray is using meets the basic definition of a tool. A study conducted by Dr. Benjamin Beck in 1980 caused researchers to define tool use as “using an agent to achieve a goal”.

Tool use is known to occur among fish. At least one other species, the Archer fish manipulates water into jets in much the same way the stingray does. The Archer fish is an amazing shot considering they are below the water line trying to hit an insect on a leaf above the water surface. The average success rate is an astonishing 86%; while, the best of them achieved a mind-boggling 91%.

Stingrays have long been included in the shark category due to the similar skeleton composition of cartilage instead of bone. It was thought that stingrays were similar sharks and were “reflex machines having very acute senses; but, limited cognitive capacities”.

Dr. Kuba says the research may lead to a better understanding of the "vertebrate thought process" and the evolution of vertebrate cognition. The scientists from Israel, Austria and the USA published their study in the journal Animal Cognition.

Via EarthNews and Treehugger

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quotable Quotes...

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

- T.S. Eliot

Points to Ponder...

Why is it that the people who know the least know it the loudest?

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Odd Blog (I warned you about)

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

If scientists have their way, one day these adorable little sheep will be engineered to never, ever burp. It has nothing to do with polite manners; but, rather the methane that is released every time an animal releases gas – from either end of the digestive tract.

As we all know, methane is one of the greenhouse gases that contributes to global warming. Usually, cows are the brunt of the methane diatribes; but, they are by no means the only culprits. In Australia at the present time, the agriculture sector is second only to industry in production of greenhouse gases. Agriculture accounts for 16% of total emissions with two-thirds of this gas being released from Australia’s livestock.

Scientists are working on the premise that by breeding sheep that burp less, the amount of total emissions will be considerably reduced.

The Sheep Co-operative Research Centre is doing this one-of-a-kind “burp” research. They will be using approximately 700 sheep representing 20 different genetic lines. After meals, the sheep will be herded into a booth where scientists will measure their burp/methane output.

One scientist conducting the study, Dr. Roger Hegarty, is hoping to better understand sheep burps:
“We're looking into how to reduce emissions from sheep - all over Australia teams are testing different approaches: changing the microbes in the gut, changing their diet, or changing the genetics of the animal. Our sheep studies are aiming to find out if there is genetic control over methane production and, if so, is that a good thing to pursue?”

“Methane is the exhaust from livestock, and - just as you can't put your hand over the exhaust pipe of a car and expect it to keep running - we're treading carefully to reduce emissions without causing other problems. There really is a global effort on this - it will take a lot of hard yakka (talk) and time.”

Dr. John Goopy of the NSW Department of Industry and Innovation says even a reduction 10% would be a good thing.

He went on to say, "Once we work out how to reduce methane emissions, and if our strategies prove to be valid, we will keep gaining advantage and over time there will be larger decreases in methane emissions," he said.

Dr Hegarty said scientists were also looking to do a similar thing with beef cattle if these studies proved successful.

Via TreeHugger, and couriermail

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Solar/Wind Powered "Green" Ferry

Reprinted from G Living:

What could be better than seeing the Statue of Liberty in person? How about traveling there in a noiseless and fumeless boat?

That’s exactly how the ride will be when New York City’s new solar and wind powered hybrid ferry is operating service. Completely petroleum-free, the ferry itself is called “Miss Statue of Liberty” and is being made in partnership with Solar Sailor of Australia. When running, the ferry uses a sail covered in solar panels that collects energy from the sun and wind. (If the vessel goes over 6 knots, a diesel main propulsion engine cuts in.) This 600 passenger, 115 foot trimaran ferry can also be plugged in and the batteries recharged.

Solar Sailor’s founder, Robert Dane, and Circle Line (the ferry operator that provides service to the Statue of Liberty) both agree that the ferry is a beautiful ship that has enormous potential to make people more aware of the environment. Said to cost between $2-3 million dollars more than a conventional ferry, Circle Line believes cutting fuel usage by about a third each year will make it worthwhile financially.

While ferry operators in San Francisco, Hong Kong, Germany and Shanghai have inquired about the green ferry, Sydney’s already got one in their harbor and New York’s is set to sail in 2008.

From there it’ll be a race to see who gets one next…

Via GLiving

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Newly-Discovered Species Already Endangered

Cloudforest at an imperiled mountain site, Cerro Pata de Pajaro, in western Ecuador. Photograph: Paul S Hamilton/RAEI

In the misty beauty of a threatened rainforest in Ecuador, a team of scientists have discovered a new species of snail-sucking snake, 30 varieties of frog and a gecko so tiny it can perch on the top of a pencil. Amazing discoveries; but, already endangered. How can this be? We’ve only just found them; and, we might lose them in the very near future?

Unfortunately, these new discoveries were found in an area that is being rapidly deforested threatening them and the other animals there with extinction. Cerro Pata de Pájaro is the area of rain and cloud forest where the species were found; but, approximately 95% of the surrounding areas have been felled to make way for farming, said Paul Hamilton, leader of the expedition for Reptile and Amphibian Ecology International.

A glass frog from western Ecuador shows its beating heart through its transparent chest. Photograph: Paul S Hamilton/RAEI

As if this cornucopia of new species isn’t enough, in the remaining forest cover scientists have made several more important, equally amazing discoveries. Each mountaintop in the region is its own microhabitat, with its own variety of frog, lizard, and other small animal.

"In this part of Ecuador, if you go to one spot you can find 20 or 30 species of frog, and if you go to the next site over you will see a whole bunch of different ones," said Hamilton.

Important discoveries included a snake with striking red markings and a blunt snout that allows the snake to jam it’s snout into the hole of a snail shell and suction to suck the snail right out of its shell; frogs which lay their eggs in trees, rather than in water; salamanders that have no lungs but breathe entirely through their skin; geckos and at least four previously unseen types of stick insect.

An unidentified snail-sucking snake of the genus Sibon recently found in western Ecuador. A similar species is found nearly 600 miles away in Panama. Photograph: Paul S Hamilton/RAEI

Deforestation and climate change are forcing the animals to make drastic changes in their lifestyles if they are to survive. Higher temperatures and drought are forcing them to move to higher elevations in search of cooler, wetter climates. Frogs which depend heavily on the moist tree cover to protect their eggs are in the greatest danger.

It appears that we might lose these species before we learn anything about them other than they exist.

Via guardian

Friday, January 15, 2010

Using Bees to Battle Crows

Crows scavenge through bags of garbage in an alley of Tokyo's Ikebukuro entertainment district. Despite measures to control the number of crows in the city, their population has grown to more than 20,000 in the past eight years. Photo courtesy: Katsumi Kasahara/AP

It is always heartening to see a problem solved the natural way. For the past decade, Japan has been using an inventive solution to an on-going problem. In Japan, crows are considered to be a menace and the feathered nuisances are multiplying like mad due to the rich feast of street garbage they find in Japan – Tokyo in particular.

The war on crows began about 10 years ago. The unverified story is that a crow buzzed Gov. Shintaro Ishihara as he played golf, prompting a declaration that he would turn crow-meat pies into Tokyo's favorite dish. That never happened. But the battle continues today, with mixed results.

Crows are a very raucous bird; and, their cawing can rattle the nerves. Combine this with their curious, aggressive nature and incredible intelligence; and, you have a formidable opponent.

Npr tells us this story:
The sound of crows cawing makes Yumiko Kono's heart beat faster as she pounds around Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo. A long-distance runner, Kono covers at least seven miles a day. She is highly sensitive to sound, since she is blind. She runs with the aid of a companion. A year and a half ago, she was attacked by a crow in the park, an experience that traumatized her.

"A crow landed on my head just for an instant while I was running," Kono says. "It was like it was using my head as a jumping board. I was surprised, then scared. Now, when I hear crows cawing and their wings flapping, I still get scared."

Kono is not alone. Many Tokyo dwellers have been dive-bombed by the big black birds — the species known as jungle crows — that flap around the city. Almost everyone knows someone who has been pecked or pooped upon.
Koji Takagi, manager of Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, says the traps tend to catch younger, more inexperienced crows. The birds lured into the traps set up by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government are then gassed. Photo courtesy: Louisa Lim/NPR

The city’s response to the problem is the inhumane trapping and gassing of captured crows.

"We do get complaints from people opposed to the crow extermination. But this is the policy of the environment bureau. People should also learn to deal with garbage better," says Koji Takagi, manager at Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, which has three traps.

In addition to the dive bombing of both people and animals; and, the bird droppings in the street and on clothing and pedestrians alike; crows cause other problems. The birds cause technological havoc. They nest in utility poles and cause blackouts; they even steal fiber-optic cables to build nests, sometimes disabling parts of the broadband network.

Still, the main thrust of the effort directed at reducing the crows’ numbers should be cutting off the source of the problem - easy access to food scraps from garbage cans. Not only would it improve sanitation; but, it could reduce the amount of funds spent on keeping the crow population at bay. At present, the government budget for crow eradication is currently at $700,000 - about $50 per crow killed. This would appeal to the economically minded while also appealing to the environmentalist as this translates into fewer crows killed.

Atsuo Tanaka of the Ginza Honeybee Project says his 300,000 honeybees chase away crows. Photo courtesy: Louisa Lim/NPR

Fortunately, there is a privately-funded project called the Ginza Honeybee Project being conducted in Tokyo. While this project is primarily for the purpose of producing honey in a highly-populated city setting, an expected bonus was discovered. The site for the project was carefully picked based on the bees’ flight patterns and available surrounding green areas to supply the nectar. Finally, it was decided to set up a series of hives on the roof of an office block in the glam shopping district of Ginza. It was here that the researchers found the bees amazing ability to go head-to-head with the crows.

The co-founder Atsuo Tanaka says the 300,000 honeybees are doing their part to repel the crows. "The bees become very aggressive when they see shiny black objects, because it reminds them of bears or hornets who might attack them. So whenever they see crows, a whole swarm of bees will chase them," he says, adding that the bees are friendly toward humans.

Tanaka says the crows no longer land on or near his building; and, adds that they tend to fly lower to avoid the swarms of honeybees. While this is an impressive model, it has yet to be put into mainstream crow control. Hopefully, Japan will look further into this natural method of crow eradication; and, the trapping and gassing of crows will stop.

Photo courtesy: fishermansdaughter

Via TreeHugger and npr

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Overheated Animals Fall Out of Trees

A grey headed flying fox at the Wildlife Victoria Centre. Photo: Rebecca Hallas via theage

Reprinted from theage:

Melbourne's heatwave this week killed about 700 flying foxes and affected many more native animals.

Wildlife carers rescued hundreds of possums and birds across Melbourne while many died before they could be rehydrated and taken into care.

A colony of endangered grey-headed flying foxes at Yarra Bend was devastated by the heat and many had dropped from the trees, said Denise Garratt, president of Help for Wildlife.

Joanne Ainley, of the Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, processed the dead bats yesterday and said about 700 had died in the heat.

Wildlife Victoria received 264 calls to its rescue hotline by midday on Tuesday. It was the busiest morning on record other than during the bushfires, said Aisha Reynolds of Wildlife Victoria. There were 349 calls on the day, 100 more than average.

The group set up a triage unit at its Brunswick Street facility to cope with the number of injured animals.

At the South Oakleigh shelter, which normally receives one or two animals a day, Michele Phillips said more than 50 came in. ''The possums just fall out of trees in this weather,'' she said.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Newly-Discovered Species of Cricket Pollinates Orchids

Photo courtesy: RBG Kew/Michenau and Fournel

Reunion Island is a French island located in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, about 200 km (120 mi) south west of Mauritius, the nearest island.

Claire Micheneau is a Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew-associated PhD student studying how the epiphytic orchid genus Angraecum has adapted to different pollinators on Reunion Island.

While researching orchids on the island, Claire Micheneau noticed that the flowers were being pollinated from an unknown source. Since she was unable to find the culprit during the day, she set up motion-activated cameras and surveilled the flowers at night.

What she discovered was a previously-unknown species of pollinator that was acting in a manner quite contrary to the behaviour of its known relatives. So, what is pollinating the orchids of Reunion Island?

Claire Micheneau had discovered a species of cricket previously unknown to science.

The flowers of the Angraecum genus of orchids. Photo courtesy: RBG Kew

Micheneau was on Reunion studying the Angraecum genus of orchids. This group of flowers became well known for the research Charles Darwin conducted on them in Madagascar. The comet orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) has a very deep nectar cup that is relatively inaccessible to many pollinators. Darwin hypothesized that they could possibly be pollinated by moths with really long tongues. Many years after his death, Darwin was proved to be correct.

On Reunion, however, pollination had remained a mystery because none of the usual agents are present. Micheneau explained that:
We knew from monitoring pollen content in the flowers that pollination was taking place. However, we did not observe it during the day...the moths that are the main Angraecum pollinators on Madagascar are not found on Reunion and until we started our research the pollination of this genus on Reunion had always been an open question.

Micheneau described the feeling of finding that a cricket to be at least partially responsible for pollinating the orchid as “thrilling”. It demonstrates, she explained, a "truly surprising shift in the pollination of Angraecum."

A "raspy cricket" carrying orchid pollen on its head. Photo courtesy: RBG Kew/Michenau and Fournel

The idea that a cricket could be a pollinator was something that had never been considered before because crickets are generally omnivores. Usually, crickets of the Orthoptera order eat plants and other insects.

Micheneau believes that the crickets eat nectar instead of the plants themselves because of the unique environmental conditions on the island. She says, “we think the raspy cricket has evolved to eat nectar to compensate for the general scarcity of other insects on Reunion."

While her research showed that two species of songbirds have also evolved as orchid pollinators, the raspy cricket has proven to be much more effective at the job. Orchids populated by crickets showed higher rates of pollination and fruit set than those frequented by the bird species.

Via TreeHugger

Monday, January 11, 2010

F.L.O.W. - For Love of Water

The following video is fairly long; but, the information is vital to the well-being of every living thing on the face of the planet that cannot survive without water. Please watch.

There are nine videos and I will post all nine - 3 at a time.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sorry, Friends!

I am sorry, friends; but, I have had to make a change to the comments section. I have posted previously about the person who keeps leaving inappropriate comments. Unfortunately, after posting that I would have to begin moderating comments if it did not stop, I have found another inappropriate comment.

So...I will review all comments before they are published starting now. For those who leave thoughtful, appropriate comments, I'm sorry - for the person who leaves the inappropriate comments, we won't miss you!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Traces of Lost Civilization Found

This is a reprint from MailOnline.

Hundreds of geometric monuments unearthed deep in the Amazon may have been left behind by a previously unknown society, say scientists.

Archaeologists have found more than 200 earthworks shaped as perfect circles and squares, many connected by straight roads. They have dated one site to 1283 AD but say others could be from as early as 200 AD.

Aerial photograph and plan of the Fazenda Colorada site, which is made up of clear geometric shapes. Excavations suggest inhabitants lived in the three-sided square.

The earthen foundations were found in a region more than 150 miles across, covering northern Bolivia and Brazil's Amazonas state.

The first ones were uncovered in 1999, after large areas of pristine forest were cleared for cattle grazing.

Sculpted from the clay rich soils of Amazonia, the earthworks are made up of 30ft wide and 10 ft deep ditches alongside 3 ft high walls. The largest ring ditches found so far are 1,000 ft in diameter.

The earthen structures or 'geoglyphs' can now be spotted against the treeless, savanna-like landscape and scientists have compiled an archive using Google Earth.

A team of researchers have analyzed all the findings in a paper published in the journal Antiquity.

They found that most earthworks were clustered on a 200 m high plateau at the top of river valleys. This would have given inhabitants a defensive advantage with a clear view of people coming up river. Most were also placed near spring water sources.

Aerial photograph of the Fazenda Parana site. The geometric shape indicates such places had high symbolic significance.

The researchers hypothesized that the monuments may also have had a ceremonial function due to the highly symbolic geometric shapes used.

Co-author Denise Schaan from Federal University of Pará in Brazil said: "Whether the sites were purely ceremonial or defensive, it is clear that the area was densely populated by relatively sedentary people at the eve of European contact."

Ms. Schaan said they estimated at least 300 people would be needed to build a geoglyph when taking both workers and domestic helpers into account. This points to a regional population of around 60,000 people.

She added that nearly ten times as many earthworks may exist undetected under the remaining forest.

Excavations at some sites have also revealed evidence of permanent habitation, including domestic ceramics, charcoal and grinding stone fragments.

The findings cast serious doubt on previous studies that stated the area could only support small, impermanent villages.

Instead it is likely the Amazon teemed with complex societies. These were probably wiped out by diseases brought to South America by colonists 500 years ago.

Via MailOnline

New Crab Species Found That Looks Like a Strawberry

A new species of crab has been found on a beach of Pingtung, southern Taiwan

A marine biologist has discovered a startling new crab species that resembles a large strawberry.

The unusual crustacean was found off the coast of southern Taiwan. It has a dramatic bright red shell covered with small white bumps.

The crab was discovered by Professor Ho Ping-ho from National Taiwan Ocean University

Professor Ho Ping-ho from the National Taiwan Ocean University said the crab resembles a species called Neoliomera Pubescens, that lives in the areas around Hawaii, Polynesia and Mauritius.

However it has a clam-shaped shell about 1 inch wide, which makes it distinct.
Crabs are omnivores feeding primarily on algae. There are more than 5,000 known species in the world.

Professor Ho said his team found two female crabs of the new species last June off the coast of Kenting National Park, known for its rich marine life.

The crabs died shortly afterwards, possibly because the water in the area was polluted by a cargo ship that ran aground.

Taiwanese crab specialist Wang Chia-hsiang confirmed Professor Ho's finding.

Via MailOnline

The Odd Blog (I warned you about)

Photo courtesy: CrunchGear

I used to own a microwave that I used about 1x a week to reheat something or the other; however, I never really trusted those round holes to hold all those microwaves inside the oven where they belonged.

Eventually, I decided I was too paranoid to be a microwave owner and threw it away. I have never missed it because I never used it enough for it to become part of my kitchen repertoire; however, I know people who use their microwaves for nearly all their cooking chores.

Then comes the annoying question of what to do while waiting for your food to reheat? I mean, there you are at the microwave facing a possible 90 seconds of having to entertain yourself without the aid of an external stimulus. Somehow chores like wiping down the counter, rinsing out the sink or just spending 90 seconds in quiet contemplation seems totally inadequate somehow.

But wait! Those geniuses at Keio University in Japan have managed to save us from ourselves. They have integrated a monitor into the window of the microwave and connected it to a computer so that it picks random YouTube videos that are the same length as the cooking time. They are calling it the CastOven. Brilliant!

Here's a video on how it works that I could not be bothered to watch.

Gizmag points out a few problems:
Because they are chosen based purely on their running time, there's no way to control which clips are displayed. That could cause problems for families when little Billy goes to heat up a tasty snack, only to be exposed to content not suitable for young, impressionable eyes.
Eschewing the transparent glass in favor of an LCD display also means that it's not possible to keep an eye on things as they cook. Still that could add a touch of suspense to your cooking with the tension mounting as you open the door at the completion of a clip unsure whether it will reveal a perfectly cooked meal, or an unrecognizable, charred, smoking lump.

Photo courtesy: CrunchGear

However, these shortcomings haven’t stopped the CastOven taking the Outstanding Performance Award and the Jury’s Special Award in Japan’s Mashup Awards 5. Personally, with this last winner I think the name "Mashup Awards" is quite apropos. They received it for "turning waiting time into fun".

To me the frightening part of all this is that there will be a market for it.

Via TreeHugger, Gizmag and CrunchGear

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Finally...An Almost Environmentally-Friendly Take-Out Cup

Photo courtesy: TreeHugger

The best option, of course, if you are going to have take-out coffee is to have your own thermos or travel mug at the ready. Coffee cup litter is a huge recycling problem for several reasons. Just one of them being the fact that while coffee cup lids can pop open easily and spill hot coffee on you when you are holding them; in the recycling process, those same lids cling on like grim death to the cup making the process cumbersome and expensive; not to mention, contaminating the paper with plastic.

There was a large confrontation last year in Toronto when the city asked Tim Horton’s to redesign their coffee cup to come up with a completely recyclable coffee cup – one that would be easy and cheap to recycle. Tim Horton’s refused.

So…while I still think paper take-out cups should be banned, if they must remain in use this one from Shamrock Cups should replace all of them. It is an amazing piece of creativity and design work incorporating the age-old Japanese custom of origami.

There is no separate, removable lid, the lid is part of the cup and folds down in an origami-like fashion to close and stiffen the cup. The cup is lighter and far stronger than the ordinary take-out cup. There is also the added bonus that since the lid is part of the cup, there is no chance the lid will pop off spilling hot coffee all over you.

shamrock cup from Lloyd Alter on Vimeo.

Lloyd Alter of TreeHugger was sent a few Shamrock cups to try by the inventor of the cup, Phil Abbott. While this video shows only his second try at using the cup, he finds it quick and easy to fold. Lloyd declares the cup to be of solid design and the hole provided in the cup is more comfortable to use than the fold-back tab provided in separate lids. (I always dribble when I use the fold-back tab. I should have to wear a lobster bib when using them; otherwise, my clothing pays the price.)

Once folded down, the cup stays closed. There is no chance of the lid popping off or coming undone – coffee-stained spills on many blouses or suit fronts will become a thing of the past.

squeeze test on shamrock cup from Lloyd Alter on Vimeo.

Lloyd deliberately tried to squeeze the coffee cup open; but, the lid remained stubbornly closed – thank goodness!

Photo courtesy: TreeHugger

The only disadvantage he could find is that is not very rigid until the lid is closed because there is no rim to support the shape. People who like to add cream and/or sugar to their coffee will have to exercise some caution when carrying this cup to the cream/sugar/napkin/stir stick counter.

This cup is completely biodegradable with a waxed (not plastic) lining; and, is an improvement on what is currently on the market.

Via TreeHugger and Shamrock Cups