30 April 2009

Identifying Hyenas By Their Giggle

Two hyenas in Amboseli Kenya. (Credit: iStockphoto/Stefanie Van Der Vinden)

ScienceDaily (Apr. 28, 2009) — To human ears, the laughs of individual hyenas in a pack all sound the same: high-pitched and staccato, eerie and maniacal. But every hyena makes a different call that encodes information about its age and status in the pack, according to behavioral neurologists from the University of California, Berkeley and the Université de Saint-Etienne, France. They have developed a way to identify a hyena by picking out specific features of its giggle.

The hyena does not laugh when it is having a good time. Rather, field biologists have noticed that hyenas make the sound when competing for food. The giggle is a sign of frustration, a call made by a subordinate animal when dominated by one of its peers.

To find meaning in the giggle, Nicolas Mathevon and his colleagues analyzed sounds made by 17 spotted hyenas kept in captivity. They developed an algorithm that can successfully identity an individual in the pack about half the time, by looking at the timbre and quality of a single note in its giggle. "It's like telling singers apart by having them sing one note and listening to the quality of that note," says Mathevon.

Their analysis also shows that the pitch of the giggle drops for older animals, and the giggles of animals that tend to be dominant are less variable. The next step will be to play different kinds of giggles to hyenas and test how the animals respond.

The talk "The hyena's laugh as a multi-informative signal" (4pAB3) by Nicolas Mathevon will be presented at the 157th Acoustical Society of America Meeting to be held May 18-22 in Portland, Ore.

American Institute of Physics (2009, April 28). Identifying Hyenas By Their Giggle. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 30, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090426094329.htm#American Institute of Physics (2009, April 28). Identifying Hyenas By Their Giggle. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 30, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090426094329.htm#

27 April 2009

Sing Joy! by Morris Armstrong, Jr. proudly a.k.a. "Little Mo"

please click image to see a larger version


Little Mo is a co-author of The Concrete Jungle Book, a prose+comics scrapbook novel a.k.a. "graphic novel on steroids" now in final production editing. To see a Preview online, please visit http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com. If you're on Facebook, please become a Fan of the The Concrete Jungle Book Page. You can view more versions of this photo, and others, in the Flickr.com page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pynchonoid/, too, and if you'd like to see the TCJB 1st edition scrapbook pages in progress, shoot me an email or Flickr Inbox message and I'll mark you as a "Friend" so you can see them. Thanks for your interest!

25 April 2009

Creepy: US Department of Homeland Security is studying "brain music"

Brain music

Putting the brain's soundtracks to work
US Department of Homeland Security - Science and Technology
Public release date: 24-Apr-2009

Every brain has a soundtrack -- probably many. Can those soundtracks be made useful?

Every brain has a soundtrack. Its tempo and tone will vary, depending on mood, frame of mind, and other features of the brain itself. When that soundtrack is recorded and played back -- to an emergency responder, or a firefighter -- it may sharpen their reflexes during a crisis, and calm their nerves afterward.

Over the past decade, the influence of music on cognitive development, learning, and emotional well-being has emerged as a hot field of scientific study. To explore music's potential relevance to emergency response, the Dept of Homeland Security's Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) has begun a study into a form of neurotraining called "Brain Music" that uses music created in advance from listeners' own brain waves to help them deal with common ailments like insomnia, fatigue, and headaches stemming from stressful environments. The concept of Brain Music is to use the frequency, amplitude, and duration of musical sounds to move the brain from an anxious state to a more relaxed state.

"Strain comes with an emergency response job, so we are interested in finding ways to help these workers remain at the top of their game when working and get quality rest when they go off a shift," said S&T Program Manager Robert Burns. "Our goal is to find new ways to help first responders perform at the highest level possible, without increasing tasks, training, or stress levels."

If the brain "composes" the music, the first job of scientists is to take down the notes, and that is exactly what Human Bionics LLC of Purcellville, VA does. Each recording is converted into two unique musical compositions designed to trigger the body's natural responses, for example, by improving productivity while at work, or helping adjust to constantly changing work hours.

The compositions are clinically shown to promote one of two mental states in each individual: relaxation – for reduced stress and improved sleep; and alertness – for improved concentration and decision-making. Each 2-6 minute track is a composition performed on a single instrument, usually a piano. The relaxation track may sound like a "melodic, subdued Chopin sonata," while the alertness track may have "more of a Mozart sound," says Burns. (It seems there's a classical genius—or maybe two genii—in all of us. Listen to an instrumental alert track at www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/multimedia/snapshots/st_brain_music_active.mp3.

After their brain waves are set to music, each person is given a specific listening schedule, personalized to their work environment and needs. If used properly, the music can boost productivity and energy levels, or trigger a body's natural responses to stress.

The music created by Human Bionics LLC is being tested as part of the S&T Readiness Optimization Program (ROP), a wellness program that combines nutrition education and neurotraining to evaluate a cross population of first responders, including federal agents, police, and firefighters. A selected group of local area firefighters will be the first emergency responders taking part in the project.

The Brain Music component of the ROP is derived from patented technology developed at Moscow University to use brain waves as a feedback mechanism to correct physiological conditions.

In British philosopher John Locke's terms, Brain Music brings new meaning to his famous phrase: "A sound mind in a sound body, is a short, but full description of a happy state in this World."

And then there's always Cervantes, who coined, "He who sings scares away his woes."

This press release was distributed by http://www.eurekalert.org/pubnews.php

23 April 2009

Cooking food "tamed" our primate ancestors so humans could evolve?

That's Wrangham's theory, anyway. Cooking their food may have helped humans evolve, but the question remains open, in my opinion at least, whether or not humans are any improvement over chimps.

…The austrolopithicines, the predecessors of our prehuman ancestors, lived in savannahs with dry uplands. They would often have encountered natural fires and food improved by those fires. Moreover, we know from cut marks on old bones that our distant ancestor Homo habilis ate meat. They certainly made hammers from stones, which they may have used to tenderize it. We know that sparks fly when you hammer stone. It’s reasonable to imagine that our ancestors ate food warmed by the fires they ignited when they prepared their meat.

Now, once you had communal fires and cooking and a higher-calorie diet, the social world of our ancestors changed, too. Once individuals were drawn to a specific attractive location that had a fire, they spent a lot of time around it together. This was clearly a very different system from wandering around chimpanzee-style, sleeping wherever you wanted, always able to leave a group if there was any kind of social conflict.

We had to be able to look each other in the eye. We couldn’t react with impulsivity. Once you are sitting around the fire, you need to suppress reactive emotions that would otherwise lead to social chaos. Around that fire, we became tamer.…

A Conversation With Richard Wrangham
From Studying Chimps, a Theory on Cooking


Published: April 20, 2009

20 April 2009

Everybody can dance, even algae

Scientists discover 'dancing' algae

Unique footage shows 'waltzing' and 'minueting'

Scientists at the Cambridge University have discovered that freshwater algae can form stable groupings in which they dance around each other, miraculously held together only by the fluid flows they create. Their research was published today in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The researchers studied the multicellular organism Volvox, which consists of approximately 1,000 cells arranged on the surface of a spherical matrix about half a millimetre in diameter. Each of the surface cells has two hair-like appendages known as flagella, whose beating propels the colony through the fluid and simultaneously makes them spin about an axis.

The researchers found that colonies swimming near a surface can form two types of "bound states"; the "waltz", in which the two colonies orbit around each other like a planet circling the sun, and the "minuet", in which the colonies oscillate back and forth as if held by an elastic band between them.

The researchers have developed a mathematical analysis that shows these dancing patterns arise from the manner in which nearby surfaces modify the fluid flow near the colonies and induce an attraction between them. The observations constitute the first direct visualisations of the flows, which have been predicted to produce such an attraction. They have been implicated previously in the accumulation of swimming microorganisms such as bacteria and sperm cells near surfaces.

These findings also have implications for clustering of colonies at the air-water interface, where these recirculating flows can enhance the probability of fertilization during the sexual phase of their life cycle.

Professor Raymond E. Goldstein, the Schlumberger Professor of Complex Physical Systems in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) and lead author of the study, said: "These striking and unexpected results remind us not only of the grace and beauty of life, but also that remarkable phenomena can emerge from very simple ingredients."

Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the work is part of a larger effort to improve our knowledge of evolutionary transitions from single-cell organisms to multicellular ones. This greater understanding of the nature of self-propulsion and collective behaviour of these organisms promises to elucidate key evolutionary steps toward greater biological complexity.

Moreover, the flagella of Volvox are nearly identical to the cilia in the human body, whose coordinated action is central to many processes in embryonic development, reproduction, and the respiratory system. For this reason, the study of flagellar organisation has potentially broad implications for human health and disease.


The group was led by Professor Goldstein and included Ph.D. student Knut Drescher, postdoctoral researchers Drs. Idan Tuval and Kyriacos C. Leptos, Professor Timothy J. Pedley of DAMTP, and Prof. Takuji Ishikawa of Tohoku University, Japan.

For additional information please contact:
Genevieve Maul, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 332300, +44 (0) 1223 765542
Mob: +44 (0) 7774 017464
Email: Genevieve.maul@admin.cam.ac.uk

Professor Ray Goldstein, DAMTP
Tel: +44 (0)1223 337908
Email: R.E.Goldstein@damtp.cam.ac.uk
Web: www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/gold

Notes to editors:

1. The article 'Dancing Volvox : Hydrodynamic Bound States of Swimming Algae' was published today in the journal Physical Review Letters.

2. Video footage and image available upon request. Image and video credit: Please credit Professor Goldstein and Knut Drescher.

3. About BBSRC: The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

For more information see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

4. Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) has a 50-year tradition of carrying out research of world-class excellence in a broad range of subjects across applied mathematics and theoretical physics. Members of DAMTP have made seminal theoretical advances in the development of mathematical techniques and in the application of mathematics, combined with physical reasoning, to many different areas of science. A unique strength is the G K Batchelor Laboratory, in which fundamental experimental science is also performed. Research students have always played a crucial role in DAMTP research, working on demanding research problems under the supervision of leading mathematical scientists and, in many cases, moving on to become research leaders themselves. The current aims of DAMTP are to continue this tradition, in doing so broadening the range of subject areas studied and using new mathematical and computational techniques.

*** Video available***
Waltzing Volvox: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6Yg2BQy82w&NR=1
Minueting Volvox: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QD7HQLhy_IY&feature=channel_page

17 April 2009

"their dancers tickle the clouds with their tall masks"

"The Bobo, who have plays with an interesting variety of animal masks, make a butterfly mask that is whirled, like a huge propeller, to activate a rain charm; and their dancers tickle the clouds with their tall masks, to make the sky weep with laughter."

-- ANIMALS AND THE ORIGINS OF DANCE by Steven Lonsdale, p. 22

14 April 2009

College class in animal communications

mixed-media collage by Steve Porter, co-author of The Concrete Jungle Book

…from North Texas Daily:

New class explores aspects of animal communication
By: Carolyn Brown
Posted: 4/14/09

Students interested in learning about animal communications will have a new option this fall with LING 4800, a course designed to focus on the ways animals communicate with one another and humans.

Jenifer Larson-Hall of the linguistics faculty will teach the course, which consists of in-class sessions and an online portion designed by Elizabeth Graham, also of the linguistics faculty, Larson-Hall said. Provost Wendy Wilkins asked the linguistics department to develop the course based on a similar class she developed in a previous job, Larson-Hall said.

The course is open to students of all majors and has no prerequisites.

LING 4800 will examine both verbal and nonverbal communication such as sign language, which has been successfully taught to primates. Animals that learn new communication methods from humans sometimes attempt to use them with other animals, Larson-Hall said.

"Some of the linguists who have taught primates to use sign language say they'll teach it to their offspring," she said.

The class will also examine concepts such as animal IQs, theory of mind and the cultures of different species.

"We are going to talk about how we define language," Larson-Hall said. "We'll look at how linguists have defined language to exclude animals."

Undeclared graduate student Samra Bufkins said she is considering the course for her fall schedule. Bufkins has spent more than 20 years working with animals as a volunteer for the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network and the Fort Worth Zoo, among other organizations, and has seen firsthand the many ways in which animals communicate.

"I think it would be useful for anyone who wants to work with animals, environmental management and teaching," Bufkins said. "It would have a lot of applications for a lot of things."

Animals can communicate verbally through activities such as singing or nonverbally through actions like dances, she said. These exchanges can serve a number of purposes, including mating rituals and group protection.

"When meerkats are out scrounging for food, one is always on the lookout, and that one has a signal to warn others of danger," she said.

Bufkins is working on her certification to teach English as a second language and said it might be useful to use people's pets for analogies when teaching classes.

While volunteering for the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, she helped train a dolphin to work as a therapy animal and said she was impressed by its show of intelligence.

"Every few hours, volunteers would go in the water for playtime," she said. "He recognized different individuals."

Bufkins and another friend could play energetically with the dolphin, but other volunteers preferred gentler activity, a trend it learned to recognize.

"They're almost scary they're so smart," she said.

The class could also have practical applications for people working with their pets, Bufkins said.

"Whenever you train an animal, that's communication," she said.

© Copyright 2009 North Texas Daily

13 April 2009

Decoding the Mystery of Interspecies Communication

This is the title of a book I recently read, the book I mentioned in my article about Buddy. It discusses many of the areas surrounding the practice of talking to animals. Animals are a huge part of my Spiritual Journey, and it's so wonderful to be alive in a period of history that more people are recognizing Animals' own spiritual journeys that are inter-twined with our own!

The authors, Joyce Leake and Vickie Wickhorst, PhD, are both local women to the Kiowa/Elizabeth area that I live in. How wonderful it was to discover such open minds in an area that tends to lean towards conservative/old fashioned ways of thinking! Not only open minds, but amazing sources for a wide variety of information as it pertains to humans' natural ability to communicate with animals!

Since my opening article mentioned my trip down Pre-Menopausal Lane, you can only imagine my excitement and surprise upon reading this tidbit:

"In Menopause, instead of a fluctuation of highs and lows in intuitive insights, a woman now has a steady flow of intuition. This is probably the reason that many cultures have stories about the wisdom of older women."

Ah-ha! This ties in so nicely with my article on the return of the Crone (and in fact was part of my inspiration to write that article when I did!), and honoring the wisdom that comes with age! Here I find that not only do we have age, experience and wisdom on our sides as we grow older-Menopause actually creates a hormonal experience that blows your intuitive doors wide open!

How does this relate to talking to our pets? Simple-the ability to communicate with animals is nothing more (and nothing less!) than the ability to trust your intuition. I rejoice in the idea that while I still fight my ego-triggered doubt that I'll ever be able to clearly hear what my pets are trying to tell me, the more I live my life tuning into my Intuition, I'm actually training myself for the day I do clearly hear their answers to my questions-without doubt!

It's coming, I know it! The other night, our Manx kitty Tanka was once again following Aussie Cat, batting and biting his tail. Doug and I questioned whether or not he knew what a tail was, if he wondered why he didn't have one. So, I asked him out loud "Tanka, do you wish you had a tail?" The first thought that crossed my mind after asking that question was "What's a tail?". After a few moments, I asked Doug what Tanka told him, and surprisingly (but not compleltely) Doug said "What's a tail?" So, I asked Tanka (out loud again) what he was playing with-on Aussie. I think Doug tuned in better than I did, I got caught up in the moment and got in my own way (I do that A LOT). While the only thing I could come up with was "A Thing", Doug laughed and told me he'd been told it was a Cat Toy.

So, Intuition is a huge piece of the puzzle in animal communication-which is something you either believe in or you don't. Or is it?

This is the first book I've come across that studies the history of science and it's study of what's mostly accepted as the "un-provable" ideas related to physics. Which is a subject myself and Doug find fascinating-as much as we find it mind-boggling and beyond our capability of understanding. Watching a PBS special on Quantum Physics, I could swear the mathematical equations appeared to be an Alien Language! However, these two bright, intelligent women have put together a nicely organized history of the human fascination with the Un-Seeable and until recently, the un-provable.

For those of you who say it's not possible to communicate with animals, I invite you to sit with this book and see it from a scientific perspective. I was surprised by how interesting this part of the book was for me, as I've always followed the idea that you either know it & believe it or you don't. I believe-and nobody can ever convince me otherwise! I simply know it in my 'gut', my 'soul' that I talk to my animals and they understand me. I know they talk to me to, but I usually am not aware that I hear.

However, as much as I was entertained by the history of science as it is related to this subject; I thoroughly enjoyed the summary of the history of humans and animals-and how we've journeyed together through our evolution on Earth together. It's actually quite fascinating to look at the history of our relationships with animals, and how our treatment of them and the planet have changed over centuries. It reminded me of parts of Ancient Roots, Many Branches-they both connect the dots between our relationship with animals and the Earth (and each other).

When humans were Nomadic (hunters & gatherers), we gave the Elements and Animals their due respect. Our lives depended on favor from both. Animals provided us with food and clothing to keep us warm, tools were made from their bones, and in return we honored and revered them for sustaining us. As we became farmers and began domesticating animals for those needs, that reverence became something less. Look at the history of our Feline companions!

In ancient Egypt cats were held in very high honor, part of families and protectors of grain supplies from rodents and their disease. They were often mummified and buried along with their faithful owners while Egyptians worshipped Bast the Cat Goddess. But, fast foward to Europe many centuries later and you can find block prints showing people murdering and torturing cats because they were believed to be Evil. A completely black cat is a hard thing to find, somewhere years ago I read it's because of the time in history when solid black cats were believed to be favored by Witches as Familiars. The poor cats died in as many violent and cruel ways as their human counterparts did.

As humans began feeling a false sense of superiority to nature (and animals), they found it easy to believe animals had no soul, no emotions and were unable to feel physical pain. People who tried to present animals as having souls, emotions and able to feel pain were deemed ignorant, heretics or worse.

Today, we live in the dawn of an age where people are really beginning to see the results of living so out of balance with nature. Once again, people are feeling drawn towards more wholistic ways of living their lives and seeing the world around them. We should feel honored and lucky that our animal companions have chosen to stick by our sides, waiting for the day we would once again revere them for the sentient beings they are.

In the end, we must remember that we are not above the animal kingdom; we are a part of the Animal Kingdom. We have the same ability as a fish in a school moving as a unit, without verbal direction. We have the same instinct as a gazelle drinking at the same water hole as a lioness, knowing when it is safe and when it is not. As humans, we have ignored and belittled these natural instincts-and it's wonderful to witness a surge of awakening in the Human Race to the possibilities and the wonderful sense of belonging when we open our hearts, minds and souls to our animal companions.

To learn more about Joyce & Vickie, their work and to purchase their book, please visit their website at:


Author: Michelle Cole
Michelle Cole is an Examiner from Denver. You can see Michelle's articles on Michelle's Home Page.

…from: http://www.examiner.com/x-4319-Denver-Alternative-Religions-Examiner~y2009m4d3-Decoding-the-Mystery-of-Interspecies-Communication

12 April 2009

If you're on Facebook, please become a Fan of the new The Concrete Jungle Book page.

Stencil design concept by Doug Millison, illustrated by Srayla Tip

Becoming a Fan of our new Facebook Page will bring the latest The Concrete Jungle Book news updates, photos, and other exciting stuff straight into your Facebook Home page newsfeed:


These ospreys communicate that they believe it's a fine place to raise a family

The osprey

The UK's oldest breeding pair of ospreys have produced a record-breaking 53rd egg in time for Easter.

The pair surprised conservationists in Scotland by surviving a gruelling 3,000 mile (4,828km) migration from Africa.

Volunteers at the Loch of the Lowes nature reserve in Perthshire had been worried that their 20-year-old female Osprey would not return.

But the birds, who have been together for 15 years, arrived within days of each other and began breeding.

Rangers had been concerned that the female would not survive the migration.

But in March she swooped into her nest and started to prepare for her mate.

The male duly arrived a few days later and the couple resumed their 15-year relationship.

In time for Easter, the record-breaking 53rd egg was laid - another valuable boost to Perthshire's growing osprey population.

The egg should hatch in six weeks.

Animal communication: Pets speak to us from the heart

by Morris Armstrong, Jr. proudly a.k.a. "Little Mo"
Acrylics on cardboard.

Animal communication: Pets speak to us from the heart by Dana Shino Sunday, April 12, 2009

Our pets are speaking with us all the time, but are we listening?

When I was a little girl, I occasionally mentally tested "talking" with the family dog, Barney, our beagle. I'd gaze into his beautiful, large, soft brown eyes and mentally speak with him, hoping I'd hear his voice in my mind. I never did, but I was on to something.

Fast forward about 25 years, and smack in the middle of my psychic awakening I found a book by animal communicator Amelia Kincaid titled, Straight From the Horse's Mouth. She confirmed, showing her own proof, what I'd tried so many years before: We can communicate with our pets and, for all intents and purposes, all animals.

As I read her text, I felt my psyche shift into new perceptions. I learned my desire to speak with Barney was natural. Barney had been fully heart and spirit present, naturally drawing me in to communicate. I learned there are many ways to communicate with animals beyond the mind (our minds interfere), including heart connections and interfacing between energy fields.
I learned animal communication is more rapidly and easily available to us when we experience animals on the planet with respect, as our partners, helpful guides and teachers.

It was from this space I began my conversation with animals again, working with the family felines, Copycat and Mau Mau. I took Kincaid's information to heart and nearly immediately began speaking out loud with the cats. My ex-husband thought I was nuts. I consciously opened my being and energy field to feeling and sensing information, energy, pictures and emotions returning from the cats.

Almost immediately, I sensed a shift, a new level of connection and awareness with Copy and Mau Mau. They knew I was trying something new with them.
Within several months, distinct proof arrived that I was in communication with the cats. It was a cold winter's evening, and we were preparing to go out for dinner and a movie. All the while, Mau Mau sat at the front door meowing, relentlessly asking to be let out. The wild night was calling her. I stepped to the front door, crouched down where she was sitting and made eye contact with her. Finally, I said, "Mau Mau honey, we're going out for the evening, and it's very cold and dark outside. I can let you out now, but we won't be back for hours and you'll be stuck outside with no way in. It's your choice. Do you want to go out or stay in with Copy where it's warm?" I energetically held the intent of honoring her choice, whatever it was. She blinked her eyes, looked at me and a few moments later very distinctly stood up, turned away from me, walked directly into the bedroom, jumped up on the bed, curled up and fell sound asleep. We didn't hear another peep out of her. That was all the proof I needed. I was communicating with animals.

Dana Shino lives in Durango with her partner, Bob, and their two cats. Contact Dana at 375-1708, or visit www.thepurplephoenix.com.
Contents copyright ©, the Durango Herald. All rights reserved.


10 April 2009

Inevitable minds

Kevin Kelley writes:

The rock ant is tiny, even for an ant. Individually each ant is the size of comma on this page. Their colonies are small too. Numbering about 100 workers, plus one queen, they normally nest between slivers of crumbling rock, hence their common name. Their entire society can fit into the glass case of a watch, or between the one-inch covers of a microscope slide, which is where they are usually bred in laboratories. The brain of a rock ant contains less than 100,000 neurons and is so small as to be invisible. Yet an rock ant mind can perform an amazing feat of calculation. To assess the potential of a new nesting site, rock ants will measure the dimensions of the room in total darkness and then calculate – and that is the proper word – the volume and desirability of it. For many millions of years, rock ants have used a mathematical trick that was only discovered by humans in 1733. Rock ants can estimate the volume of a space, even an irregular shaped one, by randomly laying a scent trail across the floor of the space, "recording" the length of that line, and then counting the number of times it encounters that scented line during additional diagonal runs across the floor. The calculated area is inversely proportional to the frequency of intersections times length. In other words, the ants discovered an approximate value for Π derived by intersecting diagonals. Headroom is measured by the ants with their bodies and then "multiplied" with the area to give an approximate volume of their hole. But these incredible tiny ant minds do more. They measure the width and number of entrances, the amount of light, the proximity of neighbors, and the degree of hygiene for the room. Then they tally these variables and calculate a desirability score for the potential nest by a process that resembles a "weighted additive" fuzzy logic formula in computer science. All in 100,000 neurons.

The minds of animals are legion, and even fairly dumb ones can yield amazement.…

…read it all at http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2009/04/inevitable_mind.php

09 April 2009

"She said the animals communicate with her about their lives and she can hear words and feel their emotion and physical pain."

VAIL, Colorado — Vail Valley, Colorado resident Jen Steane, left, listens as animal communicator Rebecca Blackbyrd reads Steane's 15-year-old dog Oakley on Saturday at Finis Boni in Edwards.

While Blackbyrd said livestock animals are the first that started talking to her, she now works mostly with dogs and cats. She said the animals communicate with her about their lives and she can hear words and feel their emotion and physical pain.

08 April 2009

Meat for Sex in wild chimpanzees

Meat for Sex in wild chimpanzees

Male chimpanzees that regularly share their food with females are able to mate more often than their stingy fellows

Wild female chimpanzees copulate more frequently with males who share meat with them over long periods of time, according to a study led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE April 8th 2009.

Caption: Utan, an adult male chimpanzee, holding a piece of meat of a red colobus; with Kinshasa, an adult female chimpanzee with her infant Kirikou on her back, begging from Utan.

Image: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology/Cristina M. Gomes

How females choose their mating partners and why males hunt and share meat with them are questions that have long puzzled scientists. Evidence from studies on human hunter-gatherer societies suggest that men who are more successful hunters have more wives and a larger number of offspring. Studies of wild chimpanzees, humans’ closest living relative, have shown that male hunters frequently share meat with females who did not participate in the hunt. One of the hypotheses proposed to explain these findings is the meat-for-sex hypothesis, whereby males and females exchange meat for mating access. However, there has been little evidence in both humans and chimpanzees to support it.

In recent research conducted in the Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire, Cristina M. Gomes and Christophe Boesch show that female chimpanzees copulate more frequently with males who share meat with them on at least one occasion, compared with males who never share meat with them, indicating that sharing meat with females improves a males’ mating success. Although males were more likely to share meat with females who had sexual swelling (i.e. estrous females), excluding all sharing episodes with estrous females from the analysis, did not alter the results. This indicates that short term exchanges alone (i.e. within the estrous phase of the female) cannot account for the relationship between sharing meat and mating success.

According to Gomes, "Our results strongly suggest that wild chimpanzees exchange meat for sex, doing so on a long-term basis. Males who shared meat with females doubled their mating success, whereas females, who had difficulty obtaining meat on their own, increased their caloric intake, without suffering the energetic costs and potential risk of injury related to hunting."

She adds, "Previous studies might not have found a relationship between mating success and meat sharing because they focused on short-term exchanges; or perhaps because in those groups access to females was driven by male coercion so females rarely chose their mating partners."

Boesch concluded, "Our findings add to the ever-growing evidence suggesting that chimpanzees can think in the past and the future and that this influences their present behaviour."

"These findings are bound to have an impact on our current knowledge about relationships between men and women; and similar studies will determine if the direct nutritional benefits that women receive from hunters in human hunter-gatherer societies could also be driving the relationship between reproductive success and good hunting skills," concludes Gomes.

Related links:

[1] Great Apes endangered by human viruses (Press release from January 25th, 2008)

[2] Chimpanzee cooperators (Press release from March 2nd, 2006)

[3] In spite of ourselves (Press release from January 18th, 2006)

Original work:

Gomes CM, Boesch C (2009)
Wild Chimpanzees Exchange Meat for Sex on a Long-Term Basis.
ONE 4(4): e5116. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005116

06 April 2009

Dogs and 2-year-olds limited in ability to understand unfamiliar pointing

Heidelberg / New York, 6 April 2009

3-year-olds get the point

Dogs and 2-year-olds limited in ability to understand unfamiliar pointing

Dogs and small children who share similar social environments appear to understand human gestures in comparable ways, according to Gabriella Lakatos from Eötvös University in Budapest, Hungary, and her team. Looking at how dogs and young children respond to adult pointing actions, Lakatos shows that 3-year-olds rely on the direction of the index finger to locate a hidden object, whereas 2-year-olds and dogs respond instead to the protruding body part, even if the index finger is pointing in the opposite direction. These findings1 were just published online in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition.

It is widely accepted that in the course of domestication, dogs became predisposed to read human communication signals, including pointing, head turning and gazing. Furthermore, the social environment of human infants is often shared by pet dogs in the family, and therefore there are likely to be similarities in the social stimulation of both young children and dogs.

The authors carried out two studies in which they compared the performance of adult dogs and 2-and 3-year-old children - the period of human development during which children and dogs respond in similar ways. They investigated whether dogs and human children are able to generalize from familiar pointing gestures to unfamiliar ones and whether they understand the unfamiliar pointing actions as directional signals.

A total of fifteen dogs and thirteen 2-year-old and eleven 3-year-old children took part in the two studies. In the first study, the researchers used a combination of finger and elbow pointing gestures to help dogs locate hidden food and children a favorite toy. They found that dogs choose a direction for the reward on the basis of a body part that protrudes from the experimenter’s silhouette, even when the index finger is pointing in a different direction. Like dogs, 2-year-olds did not understand the significance of the pointing index finger when it did not protrude from the silhouette. (In these cases, the elbow protruded in the opposite direction.) However, 3-year-olds responded successfully to all gestures.

In the second study, the researchers used unfamiliar pointing gestures with a combination of finger, leg and knee pointing. All children and the dogs understood the leg-pointing gestures but only 3-year-olds successfully responded to pointing with the knee.

The authors conclude that “protruding body parts provide the main cue for deducing directionality for 2-year-old children and dogs. The similar performance of these groups can be explained by parallels in their evolutionary history and their socialization in a human environment.”

1. Lakatos G et al (2009). A comparative approach to dogs’ (Canis familiaris) and human infants’ comprehension of various forms of pointing gestures. Animal Cognition DOI 10.1007/s10071-009-0221-4

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01 April 2009

Animals & the Origins of Dance

Can we catch the divine shape-shifters and dancers from East and West for a moment to extract some meaning from the connection between animals and dance? Dance is a superior type of movement elevated above everyday human existence. It is a magical activity whch empowers the dancer to transform human flesh into whatever he chooses: leopard, snake, boar, baboon.

–Steven Lonsdale, Animals and the Origins of Dance 1981