Archive for the 'Animals' category

Sabrina at rest!

May 20 2010 Published by under Animals

I finally managed to get a picture of our cat Sabrina's cute little habit!  Sometimes, when she sleeps, she ends up sticking her tongue out:

That is all for now; continue with your regularly scheduled day...

2 responses so far

The oldest LOLcat?

Mar 07 2010 Published by under ... the Hell?, Animals, Silliness

While researching another science post, I came across the following image:

The image is from The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine, vol. 1 (1898-1899), at the end of the introduction to the magazine by Alfred C. Harmsworth.  This seems to be an early version of an LOLcat, popularized by I Can Has Cheezburger!  Though I wouldn't exactly call it "laugh out loud", the picture is a captioned image of cats with the caption in the cat's own voice (hence the "we").

I'm wondering if this is the oldest LOLcat found yet -- the oldest one I'm aware of comes from 1905, seven years after the Harmsworth image.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- one finds all sorts of interesting things while wandering through old journals and magazines...

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Slender loris at the Duke Lemur Center

Jan 17 2010 Published by under Animals

ScienceOnline 2010 had a variety of "lab tours" to attend on Friday afternoon.  With all the options available, I chose to return to the Duke Lemur Center that I visited last year!  I wanted to show my wife the lemurs, and I simply wanted to seem them again myself!

Winter is not the best time to see the lemurs, because the staff construct an additional winter shelter around the enclosures and keep the lemurs indoors.  However, the nocturnal house never changes, and I managed to get a decent video of the movement of the slender loris:

The slender loris comes from the rainforests of southern India and Sri Lanka.  Though they are not classified as lemurs, they are prosimians like lemurs.  Sadly, like lemurs, they are quite endangered.

I love the almost unearthly way they move through the branches; the slender loris would make a good model for a creepy alien monster!

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Another kitty anchors herself in our home!

Dec 21 2009 Published by under Animals, Personal

Book writing is coming along, and I actually can see light at the end of the tunnel.  The biggest section left to write is on tensor analysis, and the biggest difficulty is determining how much to include in my book -- tensor analysis isn't that broadly used in optics, and I don't want to take up precious page space on it.  Beyond that, I've got 3 or 4 other small sections to write and/or complete, and they're the fun ones.  With the pressure off me a little bit (and exams graded), I'm planning to write a history of science post later this week.

In the meantime, today we officially declared that we're going to keep Sophie, the hyperactive foster kitty we picked up last month (right now she's sitting in my lap, demanding attention.)  I managed (through pure luck -- my photography skills are lacking) to get a cute pic of her inside the Christmas tree, planning to demolish it:

7 responses so far

Another kitty in da house!

Nov 22 2009 Published by under Animals

And this time it's a real kitten, only six months old.  We're fostering her for a while until we can find her a good home.  Her name is Sophie, and she's a very sweet kitty.  Here's a picture of her sleeping on her adopted mother's legs:

I tried to get a picture of her asleep, but her little kitten ears picked up my approach!

So far, she seems to be getting along fine with our current 4 antisocial cats.  I think they more or less realize that she's not here to take over and just wants to play.  She actually is of a similar size and coloration to our most antisocial cat, Zoe:

We're holding out a little hope that Zoe and Sophie will decide to get along, though knowing Zoe it's a bit of a distant hope!

Update: In a fascinating development, our cat Sabrina is actually learning from Sophie!  Sophie has been playing a lot with toy balls, batting them around and carrying them in her mouth.  Tonight, Sabrina started doing exactly the same thing, even though she's never done it before.

4 responses so far

It's confirmed; my cats are trying to kill me

Nov 14 2009 Published by under Animals, Silliness

I never believed it when people told me that their cats are trying to kill them.  Well, I never believed it until last night.  The wife and I were watching television, and I got up to make some popcorn.  While I was returning with two small bowls for us, our kitty Sabrina thought that it would be a good time to pounce at my foot!

She didn't actually grab me, but she managed to get her paw under my foot as I was putting it down.  To avoid stepping on her, I stumbled  forward -- and completely hyperextended my big toe in the process.  It is now completely swollen and painful, and I've spent most of Saturday off my feet playing videogames.  (Though it is arguable that I would have done that anyway.)

Sabrina has acted remorseful all day, coming up to me and rubbing her head up against me, something she typically doesn't do.  I'm not fooled, though; this was a dry run before my eventual elimination.  The wife claims that it wasn't intentional, and that she acted alone, but I have my doubts.  Would you trust a face like this?


Or this?


Or this?


Continue Reading »

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Oldest preserved spider web found in amber

Nov 07 2009 Published by under Animals, Science news

This is one of those stories that just fills one with awe about the ancientness of life on earth.  Via The Great Orange Satan, I found this article in Wired about an amazing discovery:

The world’s oldest known spider web has been discovered on a beach in Sussex, England, trapped inside an ancient chunk of amber.

Scientists found the rare amber fossil in December, and have now confirmed that it contains remnants of spider silk spun roughly 140 million years ago by an ancestor of modern orb-weaving spiders. After slicing the amber into thin sections and examining each piece under a high-powered microscope, the researchers discovered that the ancient silk threads share several features common to modern spider webs, including droplets of sticky glue used to hold the web together and capture prey.

Spiders have been doing their web-spinning thing for at least 140 million years. That's just amazing.

(More physics posts in the works, for those who are wondering what I've been up to.)

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The Purrfect kitty mats!

Sep 29 2009 Published by under Animals

The other day, we received a nice package in the mail: catnip-laced mats for our cats!  My cousin Judi makes and sells these and sent four of them to us as a wedding gift.  They've been a big hit around the house, as the following photos demonstrate; here's my little princess Zoe taking a mat for a spin:


Simon and Sabrina were not immune to the mat's charms:sabrinasimon

Perhaps the biggest fan, however, is Sasha:


4 out of 4 cats agree: the mats are great!

The mats are "Super Cat Mats" by "Purrfect Touch"; I was going to provide a weblink so that people could look them up themselves, but I don't think Judi has a website for them yet!  If there's any contact information you want to provide for people to order them, Judi, let me know.

Thank you so much for the mats!

As a bonus, I'm putting another uber-cute picture of Sasha enjoying a mat below the fold:

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Animals keep getting smarter...

Aug 07 2009 Published by under Animals

I'm totally fascinated by stories and research on animal intelligence.  The closer researchers look at animal behavior, the more they're surprised by unexpected cognitive abilities.

A wonderful case in point: researchers have recently shown that rooks (a relative of crows) can solve problems on a level that is nothing short of astonishing (h/t my postdoc advisor, from BBC News):

One of Aesop's fables may have been based on fact, scientists report.

In the tale, written more than 2,000 years ago, a crow uses stones to raise the water level in a pitcher so it can reach the liquid to quench its thirst.

Now a study published in Current Biology reveals that rooks, a relative of crows, do just the same when presented with a similar situation.

The team says the study shows rooks are innovative tool-users, even though they do not use tools in the wild.

Another paper, published in the journal Plos One, shows that New Caledonian crows - which like rooks, are a member of the corvid group, along with ravens, jackdaws, magpies and jays - can use three tools in succession to reach a treat.

There are accompanying videos on the BBC site, which are quite spectacular.  Stories of ravens solving problems and using tools are not new, but this story is quite amazing because of the indirect nature of the solution and the connections which the rook must make to arrive at that solution.

The cognitive abilities of birds are quite frightening!  The wife and I are planning ahead and trying to placate them with lots of bird feeders in the backyard on the off chance they decide to take over.

Also via my postdoc advisor is this charming little anecdote from Holland.  In eastern Holland is a fascinating nature park called Apenheul ("ape hill"), in which the smaller primates are allowed to roam free and interact with the visitors1.  The article from Het Parool is in Dutch, so I will quote my former advisor's email:

Among the different brands of monkeys that are allowed to roam free there are so-called berber monkeys. The gorillas of course aren't. But they get fed at certain hours, and one of those berbers likes to watch that and simply takes a seat among the other spectators. After the feeding show he or she simply heads back to his part of the zoo.

The picture from Het Parool is rather priceless:



1 I had pictures from Apenheul, but I foolishly checked my camera on the return flight from The Netherlands and had my memory card swiped from it.

8 responses so far

Another short note -- and goldfinches!

Jul 29 2009 Published by under Animals, Personal

Just a quick note again -- I'm still quite swamped with work, even after getting my proposal done.  Now I'm working feverishly on my book, as I want to have a first draft completed by the end of August.  I've also got to put my tenure package together at the same time, with the same deadline.  I'm still planning to post, but I'll probably be pretty sporadic for a while -- when I get home at night, I'm pretty bleary-eyed from staring at equations all day!

In the meantime, here's some pics of some of our backyard visitors.  A male goldfinch, caught with thistle in his mouth:


and the female, getting her fill:


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