Published on April 3rd, 2012 | by Michael Ricciardi
Animal News Round-Up: Snowy Owls Everywhere, Test Chimps & iPad Apes, A New Urban Frog & A Speedy Robotic Cheetah [VIDEOS]
There’s always some important or interesting animal news to be found out there….but one can hardly report on all of it. I tend to collect such items, and cull from them those I deem most ‘intriguing’, based upon some half-unconscious criteria…Some, of course, you may have heard about (perhaps already read), others you may have missed entirely…
And so, I offer you, dear readers, an intellectual grab-bag of important and/or intriguing animal news goodies…to wit:
Flapping to America: An ‘Irruption’ of Snowy Owls
The mostly white (sometimes with brown spotted plumage) Arctic-residing owls are migrating into the U.S — from coast to coast — by the thousands; numbers not seen before, in many areas. Speculation is rife as to the cause of this migratory ‘irruption’…but no one has an authoritative explanation, yet. My guess? Well, large populations of birds migrating well outside their normal ranges, tend to do so to find ample food source(s). But climate change throws animal nature curve. Read the details in this NY Times piece and ponder the mystery for yourself: Bird-Watchers Revel in Unusual Spike in Snowy Owl Sightings.
A Chimp Test Ban? The Case for Semi-Retirement of Bio-Medical Research Apes
A recent report by the Institute of Medicine concludes “most current biomedical research use of chimpanzees is not necessary, though made clear that it is impossible to predict whether research on emerging or new diseases may necessitate chimpanzees in the future. “
Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal (who presented the final lecture at the annual Science / AAAS meeting this past Feb. in Vancouver, B.C.), makes the case for research chimp retirement, while still leaving room for their use in behavioral, cognitive and genetics research (the latter research presumably using hair sampling or simple blood draws). Check out the PLoS Biology article Research Chimpanzees May Get a Break
Aping Human – Orangutans Put iPads to Creative, Social Use
When it comes to using the iPad to make one’s life more stimulating, who says Apple’s newest gizmo is just for one type of primate? Orangutans (my favorite ape and a critically endangered one, like most apes in the wild) have shown remarkable abilities including self-awareness and bipedalism. But who would have thought them so intrigued by a gadget designed for their primate cousins (and I don’t mean gorillas, who showed no interest in the darned things)? And who decided to give the apes the Apple device in the first place?
Well, it’s all part of conservation group Orangutan Outreach ‘s ‘Apps for Apes’ project to ameliorate the boredom and social stunting that can happen to the apes during long winters spent indoors (fun fact: dolphins were the first non-human animals to be formally “tested” with iPads). Check out this fascinating video (and see more videos on this site):
A (New) Leopard Frog in New York City
When one hears about a new species being discovered, one tends to also hear of remote locales and ‘biological hot spots’ in which they are typically found. But sometimes, a new species is found right under one’s nose, or, if you live in the Big Apple, in Yankee Stadium, which is the center of the leopard frog’s habitat range. Tracking down the urban frog by its unique croak, biologists were able to find the frog (actually, four different populations of frogs) and conduct genetic analysis to determine/verify its unique species status.
Full results appear in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. (Newman et al)., under the title (via Science Direct) ‘A new species of leopard frog (Anura: Ranidae) from the urban northeastern U.S.‘ See also the Sci Am podcast : Frog Species Found in Big Apple
Robotic Cheetah Sets Land Speed Record (for a Robot with Legs, That Is)
D.A.R.P.A. (the research arm of the DOD) has certainly funded some pretty bizarre and fanciful projects in its history. But a robotic cheetah — part of DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation Program, and developed by Boston Dynamics, Corp — just might take the cake, or, run away with the cake (if only it hand hands). Though roughly approximating a human’s top speed (less than a fourth of a real cheetah’s top speed), 18 mph is never-the-less a remarkable and record-setting achievement for bio-mimetic ‘legged robots’. This video shows a demonstration of the “Cheetah” robot galloping (what appears to be backwards) at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour (mph).