anonymous asked:

Can a person be an ethologist or primatologist by experience and how??

Note:  I’m always happy to answer any additional questions anyone may have… but please check out my How to be an Ethologist…ish page as some of your questions may have already been answered. 

While there may be a few exceptions, most Primatologists / Ethologists have at least a Bachelors degree, if not something higher like an MS or PhD. Ethologists and Primatologists aren’t just people who work with animals (or specifically primates), they conduct research on or about those animals. 


Ethology requires the scientist in question to have a highly specialized skill set; something that is developed both in and outside of the formal classroom. So while an appropriate Bachelor’s (+) degree is necessary, you also need to round out that education with experience. Lots and lots of experience.

Most Ethologists I know run their own department or lab, and therefore have their PhD (exhere are some of my personal faves). Some of us have been fortunate to make a career without this advanced degree, but that is only through a lucky blend of experience, education, and timing. 

Of course, don’t let the educational component deter you from interest in Ethology or Primatology. As the lovely ktsaurusr3x mentioned, there is nothing wrong with being an Ethology Enthusiast. There are also other professions (below the cut) which involve animal behavior but don’t necessarily carry the same formal education expectations.  

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anonymous asked:

Do you think the scientific community is sexist?

Not in the way that someone will say “go make me a sandwich” to my face… but in a far more insidious way.

  • In the way that I’ve been called “En-rich-ment Guuuuuurl” in the same horrendous cat call that someone would use for a “Shots Girl” at a bar.
  • In the way that I am called a bitch and often ignored when I take a stand about behavior related topics, while males without my specialized experience are praised for their great insight when they repeat my statements. 
  • In the way people seem surprised by my abilities and say I’m “smart for a blonde” or “a tough little thing”, when men (some of whom are around my height) do not receive the same treatment. Do not compliment me by insulting others. This is a kind of benevolent sexism, an it’s an all too common problem. 

I could go on about wardrobe, comments on my appearance, or just my feminism, and women in science tags for more…

I’m not saying that everyone in the scientific community is sexist. I’m not saying that all of these personal experiences exclusively involved men. But as a whole, sexism is very prevalent in the scientific (STEM) fields. 

anonymous asked:

In nature where does the poop go? Why are the forests not covered top to bottom in the feces of various animals? (A question inspired by groups of ferel animals that live near-by)(also from yrs of cleaning up my backyard)


But the forest IS covered with feces! You just might not recognize it! 
In the bush (and in your backyard if you are patient enough) fecal matter gets broken down in a few different ways:

1. You call them bottom feeders, I call them recyclers. 
Organisims called Detritivores (e.g. earth worms, beetles, and flies) ingest and digest organic material from other organisms and speed up the process of decomposition. Another group of organisms, Decomposers (e.g. fungi and bacteria) break down organic material using biochemical processes, no internal digestion required. (x)

2. Coprophagy (or why I’m glad I’m not a hindgut fermenter)
Some animals ingest the fecal material of other animals. Now they might do this because they specialize in fecal matter consumption (like our friend the Dung Beetle who is a lovely Detritivore), or perhaps it is in order to gain bacteria required to process plant matter in their environment. (x) Some species, like those in the order Lagomorpha (i.e. hares, rabbits, and pikas) have very short digestive tracts and so they will re-ingest their own fecal material so they can metabolize all of the nutrients within. (x) These are called hindgut fermenters. (x)

3. Don’t drink the water (unless you know it’s treated)
The environmental conditions like the temperature, moisture, and oxygen content of the area will affect the decomposition rate. Hint: This is why it seems like there is dog poo EVERYWHERE after that first big snow melt!
As feces break down they act like every other organic (and inorganic) compounds do, they become a part of the ecosystem they are in. Now this could be through the ways I listed above, or by being integrated into the terrestrial cocktail (if you don’t think poo is in soil please talk to a gardener), or by joining the watershed. That’s right friends, the water is full of poo. 
This is why modern conveniences like water filtration plants are amazing… but something we seem to take for granted. 

Did you know that approximately ONE IN NINE people world wide do not have access to clean water?!? How about 3.4 million people die each year from water sanitation related issues. Of which, the majority of illnesses are caused by fecal matter! (x)

So yes, dear Anon, poop is everywhere. Not always in those neat little scat droppings in the forest, or the cow pies in the field, but it’s in the soil, it’s in the water, it’s even in the air in what is called a fecal mist for up to two hours after you flush the toilet!!! (Who’s gonna put the lid down now?) (x, x
Clearly it isn’t going to kill you… but I would still wash your hands regularly, avoid cross contamination in the kitchen, and don’t go drinking water from a stream or anywhere without the appropriate sanitation / sterilization pills, filters, or other treatment methods


You’ve gotta love a good scat chart.

anonymous asked:

Zoos are wrong. Plain and simple. And I won't support anyone who sends the message that they're ok. It doesn't take a scientist to know that. Zoos are for selfish people who want time with animals and use zoos as a convenient way to do it. Sorry.

I am terribly sorry you feel that way.
Not as sorry as some endangered species like the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) and golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) are… seeing how these species are being brought back from the brink of extinction and are actually being reintroduced into the wild thanks to the research, species survival programs, and other work being done in zoos. (x, x)


Golden lion tamarins at the National Zoo (x)

I have another post (asked by another Anon) on zoos and animal welfare, so if you would be so kind as to wait for that one, or perhaps check out this excellent post on Why I Believe In Zoos by mizzkatonic, we could perhaps address some of the issues you have with animal in captivity.

I do not ask for your support, as I imagine I have already lost it anyways, but  I do ask for you to support the animals. It would be lovely for every animal to be able to be safe and free in their natural habitat, but unfortunately that is not the case for many species. Habitat loss, environmental contamination, infectious diseases, and poaching / over-hunting has endangered many species and wiped out many more.  Humans are responsible for causing or exacerbating many of the dangers to these endangered animal populations, don’t you think we should also be responsible and try to help reestablish sustainable wild populations? 

I will say that not all zoos are created equally. I do not support roadside zoos just like I do not support private ownership of exotic* and endangered species (what I term ‘personal zoos’). I will get into this more in the upcoming post but I must ask for your patience as I will be away from my computer the rest of today. I hope you stick around to read that - and feel free to post specific reasons as to WHY you are so vehemently against zoos - as I feel like we could have a engaging discussion on the topic. 


Can you believe there were only EIGHTEEN of these magnificent mustelids left in the 1980’s!?!? (x)

*I have very complicated feelings on exotic pet ownership, but this is not what I’m talking about here. Here I’m referring to wild exotic animals like primates, apex predators, and other wild species which have never been domesticated and which require the care of extremely trained professional care staff, behaviorists, and veterinarians. 

Conditioning vs Conditioning vs Conditioning

flower-and-animals reblogged your video and added:

Could it be that the dog was conditioned to associate treats with blowing in the face, and perhaps later, the approach of a human face? Could this just be conditioning since treats were given before the dog had a chance to bite/bark?

[In reference to this video post]

This case is certainly a type of conditioning but the distinction between classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and counter conditioning is very important. 

  • Classical Conditioning (i.e. Pavlov’s Dogs or Little Albert)
    This is a type of learning where the trainer takes a Conditioned Stimulus (CS) [e.g. bell tone] and pairs it with an Unconditioned Stimulus (US) [e.g. presentation of food], which causes the subject to automatically exhibit a Unconditioned Response (UR)[e.g. salivation].

    After repeated sessions where the CS and US are paired (the bell tone precedes or overlaps with the presentation of food), the subject will exhibit the UR (salivation) when only the CS is presented… in this case the UR is now the Conditioned Response (CR).


    The important thing here is that 1) the CS is neutral and would normally cause little or no reaction from the subject, 2) the US is biologically relevant to the subject, 3) the UR is a reflex response to the US, and 4) the UR is called the CR when it occurs only in the presence of the CS. 

  • Operant Conditioning (i.e. B.F. Skinner or +/- Reinforcement)
    Operant conditioning centers around the Law of Effect in regards to Reinforcement. Essentially, “behavior which is reinforced tends to be repeated (i.e. strengthened); behavior which is not reinforced tends to die-out or be extinguished (i.e. weakened).” [x]

    Skinner demonstrated positive reinforcement at work by using the creatively named Skinner Box. He would put a hungry rat in a box that had a lever in the side. As the rat moved around the box -anyone with rats knows how curious they are- the rat would eventually knock the lever. Moving the lever would cause a food pellet to immediately be dropped into the box. After a few short sessions rats would go directly to the lever and repeatedly move it in order to obtain food. 


    Skinner also demonstrated negative reinforcement but you can read the sources / send me an ask if you’d like to know more.

    The important thing here is to remember that operant means voluntary or spontaneous. This method deals with altering the frequencies of the operant behavior based on whether the behavior is reinforced or punished. 

  • Counter Conditioning (change the response by changing the emotional state)
    Counter conditioning is the process of getting rid of an unwanted response (e.g. aggressive behavior). BUT unlike extinction in classical conditioning, we are replacing the unwanted response with a wanted response. Here the Conditioned Stimulus (CS) [e.g. blowing on the dogs face] is presented with the Unconditioned Stimulus (US)[e.g. providing treats]. Dogs naturally are food motivated and enjoy treats, so the reflex response to this US is the Unconditioned Response (UR) [e.g. positive association with treat nomming]. 

    The dog in the video has been previously conditioned (through abuse, neglect, or whatever) to respond aggressively to humans. Let’s call that aggression Conditioned Response-1 (CR1).  By exposing the dog to a weak version of the fear/aggressive inducing CS and providing an immediate positive US, you are gradually replacing the response to the weaker stimulus (CR1) with the wanted positive response to the stronger stimulus (UR).

    When successful, like at the end of the video, the dog exhibits the UR when presented with the CS, even in the absence of the US. In this case the UR (non-aggression) becomes the Conditioned Response-2 (CR2) as the dog is no longer aggressive to having his face blown on, even when he is not provided treats. 


    This diagram is with a baby’s fear of snakes and love of ice cream… but you get the point.

    The important thing here is that counter conditioning is all about changing a negative emotional state to a positive one and that it needs to be done in phases. Desensitization to the stress-stimulus (CS) needs to be done slowly so the positive stimulus (US) is stronger and a positive association is created. 

Classical Conditioning [x]
Little Albert [x, x]
Operant Conditioning [x, x]
B.F. Skinner [x]
Dr. Yin’s Animal Behavior and Medicine Videos [x]
ASPCA- Desensitization and Counter Conditioning [x]

Sorry for the all-caps but I really can’t stress that enough.

anonymous asked:

Could you recommend me some books on animal behavior??

Of course hon! Check out the posts on my Book Recommendations page for previous posts (from myself and others) on this topic. 

Disclaimer: While I much prefer to read every book before I recommend it to others, this is not always possible. This Ethologist doesn’t get paid enough to support her book addiction, but I keep adding to these sorts of lists in the hopes that I’ll slowly be able to add them to my library (or at least check them out). That being said, if anyone has any additional recommendations or constructive comments on the titles listed here, please let me know. 

  1. Anything by David Attenborough
    I believe I listed some specific titles in previous posts, but really you can’t go wrong with Sir David.

  2. Anything by Frans De Waal
    I was required to read Our Inner Ape as a part of a freshman general science course, and it opened me up to the world of Ethology (and that I could actually get paid to do this)! I have a number of his books and they are educational while still being accessible and entertaining to scientists and general public alike. 

  3. The Primate Mind: Built to Connect with Other Minds
    Frans De Waal and Pier Francesco Ferrari (editors) compiled works from Ethologists, Psychologists, Neuroscientists, and Primatologists to look at primate social behavior from multiple perspectives. I haven’t read this yet but am a huge nerd for a number of the contributing authors included in this book. Let’s just say this one is high up on my Christmas list.

  4. The Handbook of Ethological Methods - Philip N. Lehner
    Although dated, this hefty text is the knock-down-drag-out best reference to break down (and familiarize yourself with) animal behavior and ethological research. The hefty price tag has kept it out of my personal library, but I’ve curled up in a library carrel with this text a number of times.

  5. Animal Intelligence: From Individual to Social Cognition - Zhanna Reznikova
    This book covers a multitude of species in the wild and in the lab. It’s another (potentially) hefty price tag but the accessible language and wide subject breadth should make it a well worth investment to most readers.

  6. Among African Apes: Stories and Photos from the Field 
    Martha Robbins and Christophe Boesch  (editors) go beyond the (much beloved) household name of Jane Goodall and get stories from ape researchers still working in the field. The first-hand accounts share the breakthroughs, joys, frustrations, and challenges of field work. 

Have your own Ethology must reads? Add them to the list!


anonymous asked:

Hey! I was wondering if you could talk about animal testing/experiments? I know I grew up hearing purely negative things about animal testing, so I'd like to hear your opinion. Are there good and bad kinds? What are they? Is there a difference between... like... academic versus commercial testing? Thanks!

Hello darling Anon,

I have a few posts on this topic that you can read first, and then if you have any follow up questions please feel free to ask. I don’t want to rewrite those posts (they can be quite lengthy) but I want to answer all of your questions because what you are doing is So Terribly Important!!! Like if more people went “hmm, I’ve always been told _____ but I wonder if that’s actually true. What’s the other side of this story?” before jumping to conclusions the world would be a much better place.

  • Why are the ALF’s activities hurting their own cause? -
    Animal rights extremists, pseudoscience and propoganda, and how they undermine real animal welfare work. They are very vocal so many anti-research things you hear come from extremist groups (ALF, ALM, etc) or their friendly looking face companies (HSUS, PETA, etc)

  • Why I differentiate between animal testing and animal research - 
    Because there is a difference in trying to cure HIV / AIDS - the world’s leading infectious killer (x) - and creating an anti-aging creme or yet another erectile dysfunction pill.

  • An ask about animal research - 
    Because all those cruel horrible conditions you’ve heard about did happen… but it was at least 30 yrs ago, not yesterday like ARAs would like you to believe. This also touches on some of the many changes and improvements that have happened, and are continuing to happen, in the animal research world. 

I hope you read these and feel free to ask me anything you like on the subject of animal research. This is an open invitation. My colleagues and I get hate mail and death threats because of the work that we do (and I do behavioral research!), and it’s all because of the misconceptions and propaganda spread by animal rights activists. I know I must remain semi-anonymous (for safety reasons) on here, but I would like to think I’m doing some small part in dispelling some of those ARA lies. 



anonymous asked:

"no homo" I whisper as I look at my garden of pea plants. The progeny had expressed a 1:2:1 ratio of phenotypes. I am Gregor Mendel. Would you please explain this to me? Please

[Re. this lethally shameless genetics pun]

So this pun is based on Mendelian Genetics and lethal genes… so there are a few things you need to know:

1. Allele = Alternate forms / varieties of a given gene. More than two alleles can exist for any given gene, but ONLY two alleles (i.e. an allelic pair) can be found in any one individual.

2. Homozygote = An individual with one matching allele making up an allelic pair. Ex. TT is homozygous dominant and tt is homozygous recessive.

3. Heterozygote = An individual with non-matching alleles making up an allelic pair. Ex. Tt is a heterozygote.

4. Genotype = The specific allelic combination for a certain gene.

5. Phenotype = The physical expression of the genotype. 

So let’s imagine we are breeding two corgis that have natural bobtails. We want to maximize the number of puppies we can get with natural bobtails, BUT we know that a double bobtail gene is lethal (to the embryo).
So let’s say that T= bobtail, and t= tail
With this information we can expect the following genotypes and phenotypes:
tt = a long tailed puppy; Tt = a bobtailed puppy; TT = dead embryo (lethal)

Since we need both T and t alleles from the parents to get the coveted Tt offspring genotype, we would go for the following breeding cross…


So the babies we end up with are 1 (tt), 2 (Tt), and 1 (TT) if you count the dead embryo…. otherwise known as a 1:2:1 ratio. The only way we can get this offspring ratio (in this example) is if the parents are heterozygous.
So indeed there is “no homo”.

Additional References:

  • Lethal semi-dominant bobtail (x)
  • Laws of Mendelian Inheritance (x)
  • Mendel’s First Law of Genetics (x)
  • Genetics Definitions (x)

anonymous asked:

Why do cats wiggle before they pounce on things?

Ahh. The posterior prelude of the pounce. Otherwise known as that butt wiggle behavior cats tend to do before they leap onto another animal, a toy, or perhaps your camera…

And while this cat behavior certainly is adorable, it also is observed (albeit somewhat differently) in their non-domesticated cousins.

(Tiger Cub’s First Prey, BBC Earth)

Did you catch it?
[If you click to watch the David Attenborough video the ‘wiggle’ is about 30 seconds in.]

The tiger’s wiggle is certainly more a subtle shifting of weight than the exaggerated movement you see in the first gif, but the applications are similar. This tiger, who has just stalked as close as possible to her prey (a fawn) is just about to pounce and leap after her quarry. What we see in the above gif is the tiger repositioning her back legs, gathering her weight underneath her, and grinding her claws into the ground - that way when she can leap off with the greatest amount of power towards her mark. Domestic cats employ the same general behavior in effort to establish balance, leverage, and power before pursuing their victim.

Many felids employ a combination of mobile (moving through an area and stopping when attracted by potential prey) and stationary (the lie-in-wait and ambushing) strategies, as to what best suits the environmental conditions and the prey being pursued. (x) In most cases, the prey at hand (or paw as it may be) is on the look out for any visual, audible, or olfactory signs of potential predators, so stealth is of the utmost importance in hunting success. Every move has to be done with the utmost care or the prey could be - and often is - alerted to the predator’s presence. So what we see as an adorable butt wiggle is really the transition between stalking and attack.

Of course, a hunting cat (of any size) won’t have quite the obvious transition period as what we see in the first gif above, but something more like this instead.

This suggests that domestic cats may indeed modify this predatory behavior and over exaggerate it in the context of play. Play fighting is seen in a number of species and I’m sure many of you have witnessed or engaged in play fighting behavior with your own pets. You find very different body postures, vocalizations, and facial expressions when observing play versus true fighting / hunting behavior. There is also the ‘check in’ where specific play communication signals are given which notify the participants that play is still occurring. Or in cases where play has gotten too rough / unpleasurable for a participant, these signals are not given and stop or distress signals may be witnessed instead. (x, x)

I have not found any peer reviewed research regarding possible modifications of this particular pre-pounce wiggle in the context of play, and it is generally lumped together with the whole stalk-and-pounce(/attack) behavior in the literature, but I hope the sources I included below help shed some more light on this topic. And as always, if you have any questions please never hesitate to ask me.

References and Additional Reading:

BBC Earth. “Tiger Cub’s First Prey - David Attenborough…" March 23, 2013. Video. Retrieved 2/9/14/ (x)

Bekoff, Marc. “Social play and play-soliciting by infant canids." American Zoologist 14.1 (1974): 323-340. (x)

Biben, Maxeen. “Predation and predatory play behaviour of domestic cats."Animal Behaviour 27 (1979): 81-94. (x)

Branch, Lyn C. “Observations of predation by pumas and Geoffroy’s cats on the plains vizcacha in semi-arid scrub of central Argentina." Mammalia 59.1 (1995): 152-155. (x)

Murray, Dennis L., et al. “Hunting behaviour of a sympatric felid and canid in relation to vegetative cover." Animal Behaviour 50.5 (1995): 1203-1210. (x)

Turner DC, Bateson P, eds. The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behavior, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, New York, 2000. (x, x)

West, Meredith. “Social play in the domestic cat." American Zoologist 14.1 (1974): 427-436. (x)

herpinknessreigns asked:

Heyyy...I'm sure you don't know this because you work with chimps not otters, but i was always kinda curious after seeing that one famous gif float around: do otters REALLY hold hands while they're sleeping to avoid drifting apart or was that photo in a million? I know its not your area of expertise but you know all sorts of amazing things so I thought I'd ask just in case ^_^

While I do work primarily with nonhuman primates, my training (and prior experience) has been with all kinds of vertebrates, especially mammals and birds, so I actually know this one!

Yes, they actually do this!
The hand holding behavior has been referred to as “bunching,” “podding,” or (the current favorite) “rafting”.  


Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) hunt and forage independently, but they tend to rest together in the same-sex groups we like to call rafts. Male rafts are generally much larger than female (+ offspring) rafts. They hold hands and will even wrap themselves - and young - in kelp while eating or resting to keep from drifting out of their territory and off to sea. 

While the two otters in the above gif are adorable, rafts in the wild can be anywhere from 10 to +100 individuals! Rafts of several hundreds of otters have been observed, but regional populations can be drastically different. Otters are still recovering from over hunting / poaching of the fur trade and environmental disasters like the Exxon Valdez oil spill.


(Sea otter population in Glacier Bay, Matthias Breiter)

I hope this helped and please feel free to send me questions / tag me in posts you’d like me to look into. If I don’t know the answers (complete with sources!) I’ll be sure to direct you to someone who does. 

Additional References:

  • Dean, Thomas A., et al. “Food limitation and the recovery of sea otters following the’Exxon Valdez’oil spill.” Marine Ecology Progress Series 241 (2002): 255-270. (PDF)

  • Garshelis, David L., Ancel M. Johnson, and Judith A. Garshelis. “Social organization of sea otters in Prince William Sound, Alaska.” Canadian Journal of Zoology 62.12 (1984): 2648-2658. (PDF)

  • Tinker, M. Tim, Gena Bentall, and James A. Estes. “Food limitation leads to behavioral diversification and dietary specialization in sea otters.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105.2 (2008): 560-565. (PDF)

  • Wild, Paul W., and Jack A. Ames. “A report on the sea otter, Enhydra lutris L., in California.” (1974). (PDF)

anonymous asked:

Hey I wanted to say that I love your blog and the sorts of things you post. What other sciency/biology/ethology type blogs would you recommend?

Thank you love!
Some of my favourite Ethology/Biology/science-y blogs in no particular order…

markscherz - Herpetologist. Specializes in Malagasy herps. The words Uroplatus and Tolkien are his bat signals. Beware of puns.

 - Fellow Ethology blog. They are also a pretty awesome writer so check that out.

theolduvaigorge - Biology, Anthropology, Archaeology, Primatology. Awesome articles from a wide range of topics, plus she has some of the best commentary on this site.

theladygoogle - Primatology, Bioarchaeology, and a wicked sense of humor.

xiphoidprocess - Anthropology, and fellow DC-ite (DC-er? ugh. What do we even call ourselves?) whose love of bones and disdain for the meat suits which surround them just makes me all kinds of happy. 

anthrocentric - Primatology, Anthropology, and Psychology. We have a mutual crush on Frans de Waal. If that’s not a glowing recommendation about a person I don’t know what is.

sapiens-sapiens - Conservation biologist with a love of primates and all things nerd culture. She is good people.

oosik - Field work, Anthropology, conservation, animal remains, and adventures in obscenely cold places. He makes me want to see a moose in the wild… even if I’m not made for cold conditions.

drkrislynn - Paleoanthropology and percussion… plus the occasional magic trick. One day I’ll get my drums back out and we’ll have a science tumblr jam session. 

hyacynthus - Biologist / Herpetologist. Assists Mark in torturing me with fantastically adorable pictures of the Mandarin Rat Snake known as Lemon. 


It’s getting rather late here so I’m gonna call it. You should know that this is by no means a complete list. These are just the people I thought of off the top of my head. For a more complete list check out this +500 Science Blogs to Follow page.
I hope this helps!


anonymous asked:

Is it true that chimpanzees and other primates throw poop?

Chimpanzees and some other nonhuman primates - like macaques and capuchins to name a few-  do indeed throw stones, food, toys (enrichment objects), and yes even feces.

(From this youtube video.)
Warning: The chimpanzee in the video is in a very aggressive and agitated display. Frankly I wouldn’t click on the link because I hate giving this person views. There were signs posted by the staff indicating this female was in estrus (‘heat’) and the OP and friends “decided to mess around with the monkey.”  Just warning you since some of you may find this video upsetting. I certainly do.

Now we tend to focus on the poo aspect here, but just take a minute to recognize how astronomically astounding throwing behavior is. To be able to judge an object’s weight, shape, and other characteristics accurately enough to send said object hurtling through the air at a desired velocity towards a desired target… and then to accurately hit that target! IT’S AMAZING!!! 

Frustration at unequal pay. Capuchin monkey throwing cucumber at researcher when another individual gets a grape for the same task. (de Waal, x)

Mind you, I’m not saying that chimps or monkeys are consciously determining the effect of drag, wind resistance, or other factors during these quick mental calculations when they throw something. But just take a moment to think about throwing a baseball with a friend. Or tossing your car keys to a buddy who is the D.D. for the evening. Or maybe even lobbing a paper airplane at a coworker. You don’t sit there and work out the calculations for precisely how much force is required and what the perfect release angle is for each object… well… maybe some of you do… but most of us consider all these factors very rapidly in the process of what we like to call aiming.

In fact, researchers at Emory University have looked into nonhuman primate throwing behavior and “found that chimps that both threw more and were more likely to hit their targets showed heightened development in the motor cortex, and more connections between it and the Broca’s area, which they say is an important part of speech in humans.” (x)

Long story short, yes, many primates do throw feces (and other objects). Throwing behavior can be a way to intimidate others, to express aggression / frustration, to flirt (gain the attention of potential mates), or as a part of play behavior. It’s an amazingly varied behavior that we in the Primatology community are still learning about every day.

Figure 1. Stills from video recordings, showing moments of two throwing events. (a) Pedrita running with a stone just before throwing it at Beiçola;(b) Pedrita picking up a stone, (c, d) running, and (e) throwing the stone at Bochechudo. (Video S1. MP4 download) (x)

Journal Sources:

Falótico T, Ottoni EB (2013) Stone Throwing as a Sexual Display in Wild Female Bearded Capuchin Monkeys, Sapajus libidinosus. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79535. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079535 [full text]

Hopkins, W.D., Russel, J.L., Schaeffer, J.A. (2011). The neural and cognitive correlates of aimed throwing in chimpanzees: a magnetic resonance image and behavioural study on a unique form of social tool use, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 12, vol. 367 no. 1585 37-47, doi: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0195 
full text]

Huffman et al. (2008). Cultured Monkeys: Social Learning Cast in Stones. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17 (6): 410 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00616.x

Westergaard, G.C., Liv, C., Haynie, M.K., & Soumi, S.J. (2000). A comparative study of aimed throwing by monkeys and humans. Neuropsychologia, 38, 1511-1517

plantique-deactivated20140821 asked:

But don't you think that Blackfish was good at all? I mean, it brought across its message pretty well. And aquariums should be stopped- it's not fair to the animals. And this movie helps us see the light- aquariums can get really bad.

Indeed I do not. 
Now if one made a documentary with proof of ANY aquarium that is violating Federal (US) and international laws like the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the International Whaling Convention, etc then that would certainly be something which needs to be brought to public attention. 

IF the examples provided in Blackfish actually happened (see this post) then this would be shedding some light on a huge welfare issue.
But it isn’t. Indeed many of the people used in Blackfish withdrew their support and actually spoke out against the misleading pseudo-documentary. (sources on this post)

So what Blackfish did was really just muddy the waters with misconceptions. Instead of using well sourced, verified, and independently supported evidence to back up their claims, they used propaganda and lies. Once you try to pass outdated half truths as fact, or combine differing audio and video footage to willfully mislead your audience, you have lost what we like to call editorial integrity.

It is not the audience’s job to separate the wheat from the chaff in a documentary, tv show, or article. I mean, it’s great if they do. That’s what being an engaged and critical thinker is all about. But more often than not, audiences are willing to listen to whatever they are told as long as it seems credible enough. We, the audience, have put our trust in the editors and production staff of the media we ingest. Blackfish abused that trust, and so I have no use for them. 


They could have used such an opportunity to discuss scientifically based reasons why they think cetaceans should not be in captivity, or explained laws that need further reinforcement or rewriting to better protect these animals, or a number of things that would have supported their goal to promote animal welfare. 
But instead they just added another log to the "can’t trust those animal rights crazies" fire. 
Thanks Blackfish. Thanks.

Note: Sorry for the rant. I might have some trust issues… pseudoscience and loss of scientific / journalistic / personal integrity really gets under my skin. Any snark or heat perceived is not directed towards you, Loyial. The stink eye is for perpetrators of pseudoscience only. Not for those who ask questions. 

An Ask About Animal Research

I’m not sure precisely what you mean by atrocious and overly cruel.

Well… I know what you mean… but I’m not sure what you mean.
Like are you are thinking of any specific cases? Or are you are basing this off of information from a non-scientific source (e.g. websites like PETA, HSUS, and even popular media)? I do not intend for this to come off as rude or anything of that sort. I am merely curious, as many pop-news stories tend to cite (intentionally or not) outdated procedures because it makes for a sensational and incendiary news piece.

Animal research is NEVER taken lightly. It doesn’t matter what the species is. There are multiple private and government regulations and inspection agencies that make researchers justify every step of the process. You want to use 10 rhesus macaques for_____? Why 10? Why rhesus? Are these the best model available? Is there no substitute model? Is 10 the minimum number required for your statistical analysis? What age? What social status? On and on and on for Every Single Aspect  of the design. The protocol gets questioned and inspected over and over again before being accepted and allowed to proceed beyond paper. So while you (or I) may not like certain research protocols, I don’t think any (in the US with appropriate accreditation and compliance with laws) would be unnecessarily using animals. Never mind in a cruel or atrocious fashion.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t improvements to be made. Goodness, of course not. But let’s use an example, and if you guys have specifics that you’d like me to look into / discuss we can go from there.

Because I am primarily working with primates at the moment, I’m going to use an example of cruel conditions that primates in research are said to be subjected to. I’m doing this because 1) I can tell you what I have seen with my own eyes from my colleagues and my own work, and 2) due to our close relationship with primates, cases of cruelty against them seem so much more heinous. (Not that other animals are any less entitled to proper treatment, but I am trying NOT to make this post a book… so the line has to be drawn somewhere)

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koryos asked:

the term "alpha" is just too loaded for me and i hate using it even when it's technically "correct" (i still think most linear hierarchy models are oversimplified anyway considering the fact that animal groups are so dynamic due to death dispersal etc). anyway that's my beef with THAT word. but yeah i'm super looking forward to your dominance post!!

Fair enough.
It’s one of those words I’ll use colloquially but with a ton of follow up / situation specific definitions. Because sometimes it is just easier to say “alpha male” or “the alpha coalition” instead of “male 9876278” over and over again. I mean, a string of ID numbers may mean something to me… but unless I’m allowed to name (or create names for the publication) the individuals, using the greek alphabet is at least easier for the audience to make sense of.

Of course it all depends on the situation and the particular group structure I’m looking at.  I mean, linear hierarchies are lovely when explaining a particular example to someone, but it’s textbook. And nature doesn’t really  follow all the rules exactly as we like in textbooks. Still, in a particular social group in a particular situation, you may see a case of linear hierarchy (however brief or contextually driven), so it’s still good for people to learn. Even if the total group social structure is a combination of linear, triangular, complex

Oh, and for those of you who are wondering what we mean by hierarchy models:



Your textbook examples include linear, triangular, and complex. But really this doesn’t even include the influence of coalitions or other complications… so an actual social hierarchy - for a given social group in a given context - tends to have facets of all three models and looks something rather like this…


Dominance hierarchy of a single population of elephant seal males during the mating season, from From Marianne Riedman, The Pinnipeds, page 206. (x)

Because nothing is ever simple in animal behavior. 
… and that’s kind of the best part. 

anonymous asked:

Hate to rain on your parade, but the information you posted on that fox gif set is wrong.

Certainly no rain on this parade. 
I was angered at that video and gif set because…

1. This is a wild fox who (even though she cannot be released) is not being treated as a wild fox. The Nuneaton & Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary says that they have six non-releasable foxes on site. Are any of them socially housed? I would hope so but none of the videos suggest this is happening. These are not domestic foxes. To treat them as pets that are more familiar with humans than with others of their own species is a far cry from promoting the psychological well being that these intelligent social animals deserve. 

2. Anyone who works with animals ESPECIALLY wild / exotic animals should know you never, I repeat NEVER, put your hands in their mouth. Play biting encourages a behavior that can be dangerous for the human, and deadly for the fox. You know what happens if a fox is even accused of biting and breaking the skin on someone? They are euthanized. Even if they have a rabies vaccination. Because as it stands under the law right now, any fox (domestic or wild) is to be treated as a rabies vector species. Those volunteers / sanctuary workers are quite literally risking that animal’s life when they put their fingers in her mouth. That infuriates me. 

3. Just because a behavior is natural and observed in one context does not mean it is acceptable (or something to be encouraged) in another. The fox in the video had her ears pinned all the way back on her head. Much like the vixen in the video howtoskinatiger so wonderfully provided. The difference is that while submitting to her mate, the vixen had her ears pinned back, and then afterwards they perk up. Or compare to the sub-adult female who is acting babysitter and playing with the cubs (~ 3:30 in the same video). Notice that as Junior Miss plays with the cubs her ears are slightly back but still perked. They are not completely flattened against her head. This is a more of a play posture instead of the subordination posture seen by the vixen at 4:44. My point here is that there is a difference between playing with a group member and subjugating to an alpha. Foxes should not see us as the “alpha”. I’m not going to get into dominance right now because I have a massive post that will come out (eventually) on just that. Anyways this brings me to my next point…

4. Conditioned behavior is different from wild-type natural behavior. While this is a highly abnormal situation for a WILD fox and a human to be engaging in, I will say that it could be a result of the incredibly abnormal social conditions this fox is living in. If she has had more exposure to dogs than to other foxes, or to humans than other foxes, these behaviors like the exaggerated tail wag (which is far more profound than any wild fox I’ve ever observed but this could also be due to individual differences) could have been learned by human reinforcement. Maybe it is normal, for this particular fox, but that’s hardly something the internet as a whole would consider before running out to find some fox breeder after they see a adorable little vixen wagging her tail like a puppy on youtube.

5. You can observe a similar behavior under different contexts and stimuli responses. One animal may do a belly roll for a play (or groom) solicitation. Then, the same animal under a different situation, may once more perform a belly roll but in a subordinate fashion, then again in a fearful / appeasement fashion, etc. See what I mean? Behavior is complex. There is hardly ever a 2+2=4 in Ethology. It’s more of “I saw this many things under these situations so I think it is this, but I could be wrong… so let’s run some stats and repeat the process” kind of thing. 

So Dearest Grey Face,
If you look back on my post you will notice I did not go into any behavioral analysis there. I was commenting on the human behavior of these particular wildlife sanctuary workers. I’m sure this sanctuary means well but it is difficult to tell from the website if they employ any full time licensed wildlife rehabilitatiors. Never mind any wildlife veterinarians (yes they have specific additional training that is separate from the standard DVM).   All I can gather from the “About Us" section is that the owner Geoff is a retired security guard who has turned his back garden into a "wildlife haven". I do not mean to be rude but I would imagine the other wildlife rehabbers / animal career personnel on here can share my discomfort at the notion of a sanctuary in a security guard’s back garden. I sent them a message asking for more information, which I’ll be happy to share should they respond. 
Terribly sorry for the length of this answer, but I suppose you could say when it rains it pours right?* 


(*No apologies for terrible word play when I’m exhausted. You all should know this about me)

anonymous asked:

I'm not sure if I want to study zoology or ethology. I know one is focused on behavior, but do they tend to be somewhat similar?

So I have another post similar to this queued up, but here is a quick and dirty answer.
Yes. There is a lot of back and forth between Ethology and Zoology.

Zoology is the study of animals (both living and extinct) and can encompass the taxonomy, evolution, biomechanics, ecology, embryology, distribution, and behavior (among other topics) of animals.

Ethology is the subset of Zoology which focuses on the scientific study of animal behavior. But since behavior is connected to so many things, Ethology becomes an interdisciplinary study which can bring together scientists from a huge variety of backgrounds. From geneticists,  to anthropologists, to neurologists, to ecologists, and all kinds of other -ists! 

Basically it’s like that whole “every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square” saying math-types like to band about. Every Ethologist is a Zoologist, but not every Zoologist is an Ethologist. 

Animal behavior is my passion and the driving force behind my research, therefore I call myself an Ethologist. It is one of many -ists I can claim, but it is my favourite one, so I stick with it. 

Please check out my How to be an Ethologist…ish page or drop me another message if you have any other questions.


Your friendly neighborhood Ethologist


missjalesi asked:

So this may not be your thing but what do you say to people who claim it's 'all how you raise them' in reference to dogs? Specifically aggression and somewhat specifically to the American Pit Bull Terrier and the breeds most closely related to them. My friends and I are on a forum filled primarily with high schoolers and young adults and we frequently are told we're 'stereotyping' for saying some breeds are more prone to aggression in others and that we're wrong. I frequently mentioned (cont)

(continued) that SCIENCE says nature and nurture matters equally and we’ve referenced so many breed clubs and breed forums that we’re running out of ways to say it. We honestly may not ever get them to understand because some people just choose to close their ears but I figure it might help if they hear it from an actual scientist.

Hi and thanks for the question.
This is a complicated issue (the role of nature / nurture on behavior and temperament) so I’m going to start of by saying what you can do in regards to the forum. Provide people with reputable sources, include references and citations in your posts, and inquire about the source information when other people make (sometimes grossly inaccurate) statements. Give people the information and tools to come to their own conclusions. That’s all you can do. You won’t sway everyone, but at least you’ll do your part in dispelling breed (or other animal/science related) myths. 

As to Pit* Bulls (* and their close relatives) being an aggressive breed; well that’s where things get complicated. I am very loath to say there are any aggressive breeds out there only because that easily gets twisted into the popular misconception of there being "Bad Dogs." 
I don’t believe in Bad Dogs. Sure, you may have an animal who is temperamental, fearful, or with some other behavioral trait that has either been bred or trained (intentionally or not) into the individual. But these are not Bad Dogs. More often than not these are dogs that are the victims of Bad Owners (or breeders). (x)



I used to work as a dog trainer, specializing in the “problem cases” that would come into my work. I have worked with hundreds of Rottweilers, Dobermans, Pit* Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, and other stereo-typically “Bad Dog” breeds among others. Guess what breed was the only dog that bit me and broke the skin? A fricking little Maltese. This Coach purse puppy was treated like a fluffy little accessory and was so poorly socialized that it was constantly stressed and fearful. I was able to rehabilitate this dog (re. train the owner) but that’s another story. 

My point is that the animals (and breeds) people see as “Bad Dogs” are generally a result of bad owners who don’t know how to deal with the breed. Or recently of Bad Breeders who carelessly or sadistically select for these undesirable traits (this can and does happen with any breed).

Pit Bulls are working dogs, it just so happens the work they were bred for was fighting. Because of their fighting history Pits* may not show the same pre-fight warning signs of other dogs, they are less likely to back down once engaged in a fight, and they may cause serious injury since they tend to not hold back on their bites. (x

Now does this mean that Pits* will be an aggressive monster of a fight dog? Goodness no. In addition to selecting for fighting traits, dog fight breeders (I’m talking historically, not the illegal dog fighting scum of today) wanted animals that would not attack people. These owners would pull the dogs apart by hand at the end of a fight and so any individual that showed aggressiveness towards humans was generally culled immediately to avoid passing on the trait. Remember, Pits* were called “Nursemaid” dogs because of their temperament towards (familiar) children. (xx, x)

Yet, just because you love your dog, it does not mean your are necessarily equipped to deal with their breed traits appropriately. Pits* are strong, intelligent, and often stubborn dogs that need an experienced owner who can provide lots of training, socialization, and exercise for their dogs right from a very young age. They should not be left with unfamiliar animals or people since they are more likely to become testy when in an uncomfortable situation. But they should be encouraged to make friends with as many different animals, people, and situations that the owner can expose them to right from early puppyhood. This can be very challenging for some owners and lack of appropriate training and socialization can lead to serious behavioral problems (and dangers) in the future.

Just like I would not recommend an Afghan Hound to someone who doesn’t want to groom their dog, or an Australian Shepherd to someone who likes to lounge about all day, I would not recommend a Pit* Bull to someone not willing to take the time to train and socialize their animal. I hope this (and the sources I linked within and below) helped! Please feel free to message me if you - or anyone - have more questions on this! 


(I’m adorable but high maintenance! Please don’t get me if you can’t commit to a strict training schedule. x)

Are Pits* for everyone? No.
Can they be dangerous? Yes.
Can they be loving well-trained members of your family? With work, yes.

Additional Resources:

  • The Truth About Pit Bulls - (x)
  • The American Staffordshire Terrier - (x)
  • The Staffordshire Bull Terrier - (x)
  • Bad Dog Owners To Blame… - The Telegraph (x)
  • Tracey Clarke, Jonathan Cooper, and Daniel Mills. Acculturation – Perceptions of breed differences in behavior of the dog (Canis familiaris)Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, December 2013 (x) (Science Daily)

ffferris asked:

Hi Shelley! I know this may seem rude and of course don't feel bad about ignoring it or telling me it's none of my business if it is, but I wonder if it would be okay for me to ask you about your income or at least your knowledge of what pay tends to look like for a wildlife biologist? I am working on a bachelor's in zoology and I know this is what I want and what will make me happiest, but I'm a little stressed about being able to find employment with suitable income and benefits once I'm done.

No problem! 
I make somewhere in the mid $30k range. I know some animal career people who make something around the $20k ballpark, and others who are much higher (around $75k but they work in a high security BSL-3 lab). Keep in mind that I’m giving estimates like they are yearly salaries, but in fact most people I know are hourly employees (even the vets!). This means you still get benefits (if you are full time hourly), but if you have a sick day and no paid time off (PTO) saved up, your paycheck is going to take a hit. Salaried positions don’t have this problem.

We don’t get paid much in this field, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it work. Sure, right now I live with my family (DC metro area has entirely unreasonable housing costs for current pay standards), and I have to really watch my spending. Heck, the field work I’m going to go do in Cameroon is making things pretty tough financially… but you’ve got to do what you love. 

Could it be tough to find a suitable job that supports a sustainable lifestyle**? Yes. Might you need to take a unrelated job (or even second job) in order to make things work? Possibly. I certainly had to for a while there. But don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from pursuing your dreams. 
If working with animals will make you happy then you need to go for it. Be it volunteering while you work another job to save up money, working part time with animals and part time elsewhere, or working full time at that awesome job you really wanted… 
You’ll find a way to make it work.

But for now focus on your studies. Focus on getting good grades, making great contacts with your professors, and take advantage of all the internship / volunteer / professor assistant positions that you can. These things will help boost your resume so you’ll be all the better prepared for after graduation. There are plenty of things to stress about - and while this is good to keep in mind - leave these employment worries to future you. At least for a little bit longer. 



**Note: Sustainable lifestyle here means your spending in any pay period does not exceed your income. You can afford the bills, groceries, gas, and maybe even put a bit aside in a savings account.