29 September 2009

Are the bananas really yellower on the other side of the jungle?

Monkey brain signals mental wanderlust

from Futurity.org  
DUKE—Knowing when to stay with what’s familiar or when to search for something new can be tricky, especially for those with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Using brain scans, researchers are able to predict when monkeys will switch from exploiting a known resource to exploring their options.
“Humans aren’t the only animals who wonder if the grass is greener elsewhere, but it’s hard to abandon what we know in hopes of finding something better,” explains John Pearson, research associate of neurobiology at Duke University and the study’s lead author.

“Studies like this one help reveal how the brain weighs costs and benefits in making that kind of decision,” Pearson says. “We suspect that such a fundamental question engages many areas of the brain, but this is one of the first studies to show how individual neurons can carry signals for these kinds of strategic decisions.”

For the study, researchers looked at how nerve cells fired in a part of the brain known as the posterior cingulate cortex when the monkeys were offered a selection of rewards. When the monkeys decided to explore new alternatives, the neurons, for the most part, fired more strongly.

The monkeys started with four rewards to choose from, each a 200 microliter cup of juice. After that, the four targets began to slowly change in value, becoming larger or smaller. The monkeys were free to explore the other targets or stay with the initial target, whose value they knew for certain.

Monkeys had to select an option to learn its current value and integrate this information with their knowledge of the chances of getting more juice at a different target. By studying the individual neurons, the researchers could predict which strategy the monkey would employ.

“These data are interesting from a human health perspective, because the posterior cingulate cortex is the most metabolically active part of the brain when we are daydreaming or thinking to ourselves, and it is also one of the first parts of the brain to show damage in Alzheimer’s disease,” says Michael Platt, professor of neurobiology and evolutionary anthropology and the study’s senior author.

“People with Alzheimer’s become set in their ways and don’t explore as much, which may be because this part of the brain is damaged,” Platt adds.

“Likewise, in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, they can become fixed on certain activities or patterns of activity and can’t disengage from them, which may also relate to changes in this part of the brain that renders them mentally unable to switch gears between exploring and exploiting.”

More research is needed to learn about how this part of the brain functions, which might be crucial to the flexible adaptation of strategy in response to changing environments, Pearson notes.

The study, which was published in Current Biology, was supported by a National Institute on Drug Abuse postdoctoral fellowship, a National Institutes of Health grant, and the Duke Institute for Brain Studies.

Duke University news: www.dukenews.duke.edu/

Researchers looked at how nerve cells fired in a part of the brain known as the posterior cingulate cortex when the monkeys were offered a selection of rewards. When the monkeys decided to explore new alternatives, the neurons, for the most part, fired more strongly. (Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim)

25 September 2009

Chimp see, chimp do: Clues to empathy

Chimp see, chimp do: Clues to empathy

The researchers used contagious yawning to test empathetic response. “Yawns are contagious in the same way other emotional responses, like smiles, frowns, and fear, are contagious,” says lead researcher Matthew Campbell.(Credit: Devyn Carter)

EMORY—Researchers have documented the first example of a chimpanzee empathizing with 3-D animation—in this case, a yawning ape. The findings could help in the design of animation therapy for children with autism.

“We know humans often empathize with fictional displays of behavior, including those in cartoons and video games, even though the displays are obviously artificial,” says lead researcher Matthew Campbell, a post-doctoral fellow in psychobiology at Emory University.

“Humans experience emotional engagement with characters, empathizing with happiness, sadness, or other emotions displayed by the characters,” says Campbell. “Previous studies have suggested this type of emotional engagement may be to blame when children mimic violent video games and cartoons, so we thought it important to learn more.”

The researchers used contagious yawning to test empathetic response. “Yawns are contagious in the same way other emotional responses, like smiles, frowns, and fear, are contagious,” says Campbell.

He and his team at the at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center showed chimpanzees 3-D animations of chimpanzees yawning and showing control mouth movements. The chimpanzees yawned significantly more in response to the yawning animations than they did to the animations showing control mouth movements.

“Yawning in response to the animated yawns showed an empathetic reaction to the animations,” says Campbell. “Because they showed only involuntary responses to the animations, we believe they empathized with the animations, while knowing they were artificial.

“This is important for us to know because we can present animations in future experiments knowing the chimpanzees will identify with the animations as if they are other chimpanzees. This opens up the possibility of using animations in many other types of studies,” Campbell adds.

Researchers next plan to show chimpanzees improved and degraded animations of chimpanzee yawns to see how they respond to more and less lifelike animations. This may help researchers understand whether different aspects of animations make them more or less likely to be imitated.

“Such knowledge could tell us how to design animations for children to promote imitation when used therapeutically, as with children with autism spectrum disorder, or to limit imitation when used for entertainment, as with video games,” says Campbell.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Emory University news: http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/

21 September 2009

Biophony is a concept worth listening to

     "Every living organism produces sound. This presentation will focus on the symbiotic ways in which the sounds of one organism affect and interrelate with other organisms, local and regional, within a given habitat.  Learn about unusual soundscapes and their relevance to preserving natural sounds worldwide.  Biophony--the notion that all sounds in undisturbed natural habitats fit into unique niches will be used to illustrate the ways in which animals taught humans to dance and sing."

 Dr. Bernie Krause, Wild Sanctuary
Tuesday, September 22nd at 12:15 pm and 6:30 pm


, originally uploaded by introphonic.
What can this nonhuman be "thinking", assuming that's what she's doing? What does the photo "say" to the her? How can we know?

20 September 2009

"The Incident at Melrose"

A novel to write: this painting's back story. And, what happens next.

19 September 2009

"Who is listening?" a new scrapbook street art poster by Little Mo

In The Concrete Jungle Book, Little Mo listens carefully to the nonhumans in his life because they teach and protect him. And he's a guy who needs all the help he can get:  http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com

18 September 2009

Man-eating rock pythons found in Everglades!

Man-eating rock pythons found in Everglades! 






 In The Concrete Jungle Book, Little Mo's Aunt Kaarla Klapperschlange morphs into Kaa the Rock Python, an ally and member of Mo's Nonhuman Crew. 

17 September 2009

"The Gorilla King" R.I.P.

Titus - the most famous silverback in Africa known as "The Gorilla King" - has died in Rwanda at the age of 35.  He was the subject of a BBC documentary last year, and was studied by naturalists throughout his life - including US expert Dian Fossey. Rwandan officials described him as "possibly the most remarkable gorilla ever known", referring to his long life and his rise to dominance in his group.
Titus was one of only about 700 mountain gorillas left in Africa.The highly endangered animals are found only on the slopes of the Virunga mountains on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The plight of the mountain gorilla was brought to the attention of the world by Fossey, who lived in the Virunga until her murder in 1985.

"He was born on 24 August 1974 and has been observed closely by researchers throughout his entire life," a statement from the Rwandan national parks office said. "Tragically, he succumbed to old age on September 14."

The life expectancy of a healthy gorilla is about 40.

The silverback's story was featured last year in a BBC documentary called Titus: The Gorilla King.

He rose to become the dominant male in his group despite losing family members and being born underdeveloped.

"Every gorilla death recorded is not only a great loss, but a major setback to conservation efforts of removing the mountain gorillas off the endangered species list," tourism officials said.

Gorilla tracking is now the mainstay of tourism in Rwanda and Uganda. 

Here's a relevant Little Mo poem and illustration, from The Concrete Jungle Book:

15 September 2009

Evidence Points To Conscious 'Metacognition' In Some Nonhuman Animals

ScienceDaily (Sep. 15, 2009) — J. David Smith, Ph.D., a comparative psychologist at the University at Buffalo who has conducted extensive studies in animal cognition, says there is growing evidence that animals share functional parallels with human conscious metacognition -- that is, they may share humans' ability to reflect upon, monitor or regulate their states of mind.

Smith makes this conclusion in an article published the September issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Science (Volume 13, Issue 9). He reviews this new and rapidly developing area of comparative inquiry, describing its milestones and its prospects for continued progress.

He says "comparative psychologists have studied the question of whether or not non-human animals have knowledge of their own cognitive states by testing a dolphin, pigeons, rats, monkeys and apes using perception, memory and food-concealment paradigms.

"The field offers growing evidence that some animals have functional parallels to humans' consciousness and to humans' cognitive self-awareness," he says. Among these species are dolphins and macaque monkeys (an Old World monkey species).

Smith recounts the original animal-metacognition experiment with Natua the dolphin. "When uncertain, the dolphin clearly hesitated and wavered between his two possible responses," he says, "but when certain, he swam toward his chosen response so fast that his bow wave would soak the researchers' electronic switches.

"In sharp contrast," he says, "pigeons in several studies have so far not expressed any capacity for metacognition. In addition, several converging studies now show that capuchin monkeys barely express a capacity for metacognition.

"This last result," Smith says, "raises important questions about the emergence of reflective or extended mind in the primate order.

"This research area opens a new window on reflective mind in animals, illuminating its phylogenetic emergence and allowing researchers to trace the antecedents of human consciousness."

Smith, a professor in the UB Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Sciences, is recognized for his research and publications in the field of animal cognition.

He and his colleagues pioneered the study of metacognition in nonhuman animals, and they have contributed some of the principal results in this area, including many results that involve the participation of Old World and New World monkeys who have been trained to use joysticks to participate in computer tasks.

Their research is supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Development and the National Science Foundation.

Smith explains that metacognition is a sophisticated human capacity linked to hierarchical structure in the mind (because the metacognitive executive control processes oversee lower-level cognition), to self-awareness (because uncertainty and doubt feel so personal and subjective) and to declarative consciousness (because humans are conscious of their states of knowing and can declare them to others).

Therefore, Smith says, "it is a crucial goal of comparative psychology to establish firmly whether animals share humans' metacognitive capacity. If they do, it could bear on their consciousness and self-awareness, too."

In fact, he concludes, "Metacognition rivals language and tool use in its potential to establish important continuities or discontinuities between human and animal minds."'

Drawing by Doug Millison
Adapted from materials provided by University at Buffalo.

University at Buffalo (2009, September 15). Evidence Points To Conscious 'Metacognition' In Some Nonhuman Animals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com  /releases/2009/09/090914172644.htm       


14 September 2009

For dogs, "smell tells time"

 "…Dogs, as anyone who has ever met one knows, sniff a lot. They are, says Horo­witz, “creatures of the nose.” To help us grasp the magnitude of the difference between the human and the canine olfactory umwelts, she details not only the physical makeup of a dog nose (a beagle nose has 300 million receptor sites, for example, compared with a human being’s six million), but also the mechanics of the canine snout. People have to exhale before we can inhale new air. Dogs do not. They breath in, then their nostrils quiver and pull the air deeper into the nose as well as out through side slits. Specialized photography reveals that the breeze generated by dog exhalation helps to pull more new scent in. In this way, dogs not 
only hold more scent in at once than we can, but also continuously refresh what they smell, without interruption, the way humans can keep 'shifting their gaze to get another look.'

"Dogs do not just detect odors better than we can. This sniffing 'gaze' also gives them a very different experience of the world than our visual one gives us. One of Horowitz’s most startling insights, for me, was how even a dog’s sense of time differs from ours. For dogs, 'smell tells time,' she writes. “Perspective, scale and distance are, after a fashion, in olfaction — but olfaction is fleeting. . . . Odors are less strong over time, so strength indicates newness; weakness, age. The future is smelled on the breeze that brings air from the place you’re headed.' While we mainly look at the present, the dog’s “olfactory window” onto the present is wider than our visual window, 'including not just the scene currently happening, but also a snatch of the just-happened and the up-ahead. The present has a shadow of the past and a ring of the future about it.' Now that’s umwelt.

"A dog’s vision affects its sense of time, too. Dogs have a higher 'flicker fusion rate than we do, which is the rate at which retinal cells can process incoming light, or 'the number of snapshots of the world that the eye takes in every second.' This is one of the reasons dogs respond so well to subtle human facial reactions: 'They pay attention to the slivers of time between our blinks.') It also helps explain those ­eerily accurate balletic leaps after tennis balls and Frisbees, but Horowitz lets us see the implications beyond our human-centric fascination with our pets. This is more than a game of fetch; it is a profound, existential realization: 'One could say that dogs see the world faster than we do, but what they really do is see just a bit more world in every second.' "
…from: INSIDE OF A DOG: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitw, reviewed by Cathleeen Schine
(Original drawing by Doug Millison.)

Nonhumans know when trouble is on the way

As I turn the corner towards my house over 300 yards away,  my dogs start barking and cluster at the gate.  Apparently this is not at all uncommon  – hundreds of people say that their dogs behave almost as if they know when their owner is setting off for home and wait by the door even when the person is still miles away.
Everyone who works and lives with animals has their own sixth sense stories.  Cats sense when they are to be taken to the vet.  Birds seem to forewarn the deaths of those around them. Instances of animals who howl several days before a death are too frequent to be a coincidence. There is the hospital cat who would snuggle up with patients destined to die that day. So many  pets who have found their way home from miles away in spite of never having been outside their own houses.

The devastating 2004 Tsunami renewed interest in the possibility  of a sixth sense in animals. One of the affected areas was Sri Lanka’s Yala animal reserve.  While tourists died here, virtually no animal carcasses were found. In fact, animals were reported to have started moving away  long before the tidal wave struck. In Indonesia, herds of  elephants were seen moving to higher ground. Flamingoes at Point Calimere wildlife sanctuary abandoned their low lying nests for higher trees.

Animals’ ability to foretell natural disasters is legendary. In 373 B.C., historians recorded how the city’s rats, snakes and weasels, deserted Helice in Greece  just days before a quake devastated it.  Similar animal anticipation of earthquakes has been repeated over centuries. In September 2003 a Japanese  doctor made headlines with a study indicating how erratic behavior in dogs could be used to forecast quakes. Countless pet owners recount their cats and dogs acting strangely before the ground shook—barking or whining for no apparent reason, or showing signs of nervous restlessness. Catfish moving violently, chickens that stop laying eggs and bees swarming out of their hives, any unusual animal activity is reason enough to suspect something big and humans should take a cue from these warnings.  In 1975, noticing erratic animal behaviour, Chinese officials ordered the evacuation of Haicheng, a city with one million people, just days before a 7.3 magnitude quake. If not evacuated, fatalities could have exceeded 150,000. Similarly, dogs inexplicably howling through the night, caged birds displaying restlessness,  and cats going into hiding,  have been noted before major tremors including the 1994 California quake , and the Greek and Turkish quakes of 1999.…
…continues: Animals Have More Sense by Maneka Gandhi

street art Doel - Roa

street art Doel - Roa, originally uploaded by _Kriebel_.

13 September 2009

We're mostly nonhuman, after all: Scientists begin census of microbes: the trillions that live in or on us

…Only about 10 percent of the trillions of cells that make up a person are truly human, researchers say. The other 90 percent are bacteria, viruses and other microbes swarming in your gut and on your skin. "We really are a superorganism," Brett Finlay, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said in an e-mail. "From the moment we are born until we die, we live in a symbiotic relationship with our microbes." …  

The National Institutes of Health has launched a $115 million, five-year project to identify, analyze and catalog hundreds of microbial species resident in or on the human body. Called the Human Microbiome Project, it's modeled after the Human Genome Project, which decoded most of the human genes in the 1990s. The first 35 microbiome research grants took effect this summer.

"The composition of the complex microbial communities inhabiting the human body has a tremendous influence on human health and disease," said Richard Gibbs, a leading human genome researcher at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Gibbs received a grant to sequence the genes of 400 bacterial strains by 2011.

The goal of the Microbiome project, which is international in scope, is to identify which microbes are harmful and to figure out ways to prevent or treat diseases they cause.

It's a bewildering task because scientists estimate there are about 1,000 different species of microbes living in the human gut and about as many more separate species on human skin. The microbes form tiny colonies of bacteria that settle in different areas of the body. Jeffrey Gordon, a microbiologist at the University of Washington in St. Louis, likened them to "ecosystems," similar to those that plants and animals form on islands on Earth.

…from:  Scientists begin census of microbes: the trillions that live in or on us

12 September 2009

"calls to heaven"

A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
A horse misus’d upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fiber from the brain doth tear.

–William Blake, from the poem “Auguries of Innocence.”

Encountered in the New York Times: The Palace of Excess Imagination

11 September 2009

Real Cat Thoughts #3

Real Cat Thoughts #3, originally uploaded by Migraine Chick.

10 September 2009


Meow, originally uploaded by SReed99342.

Street art at Soho, New York city

Street art at Soho, New York city, originally uploaded by ideacat.

08 September 2009

Elephants indicate they aren't pleased with these villagers

[drawing by Doug Millison]

…sez the BBC:

Hundreds of villagers have been forced to take shelter in camps in the Indian state of Orissa after repeated attacks by a herd of elephants.

Seven people have been killed and several others injured in attacks by a herd of 12-13 elephants over the past few weeks in Kandhamal district.

Over 2,500 people living in 45 villages have been affected by the attacks, district chief Krishen Kumar said.

Wild animals have often entered villages and killed people in India.

Conservationists say this is because the natural habitats of the elephants are shrinking. They blame this on human encroachment, which means animals have to travel further for food.

It is, however, unclear why this herd of elephants migrated from the Lakheri sanctuary in a neighbouring district.

Mr Kumar told the BBC that 500 homes in some seven villages had been completely destroyed in the attacks, and about 500 residents had taken shelter in two camps.

"People have lost their thatched homes. We will open more camps if the attacks continue," Mr Kumar said.

He said the herd had travelled some 300km into Kandhamal, and even entered a town in the district.

Wildlife officials were camping at the site of the attacks and trying to find out why the elephants had come out of their sanctuary.

Mr Kumar said the elephants had entered Kandhamal nearly a month ago.

But matters came to a head last week when three villagers were killed and more than 100 homes were destroyed in a single attack.

Last year, a rampaging elephant killed at least seven people and injured 24 others in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.


by ?

by ?, originally uploaded by jeremyDP.

by ?

by ?, originally uploaded by jeremyDP.

07 September 2009

Real Cat Thoughts #2

Real Cat Thoughts #2, originally uploaded by Migraine Chick.

"Little Mo"

Experimental D.I.Y. typography & photo by Nonhuman Crew member Doug Millison also co-author of THE CONCRETE JUNGLE BOOK.