Another illustration for my women in science series. Jane Goodall is a primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist and is the worlds top expert on chimpanzees.

Get one here at:

I can't believe my boss asked me this...
  • Boss:Before we get the meeting started, I have a very serious question to ask... Who here has read the Harry Potter books?
  • *my hand shoots in the air*
  • Boss:Good. Do you have any idea what the name was of Harry's owl?
  • Me:Hedwig!
  • Boss:Good! That's been bugging me all morning. What about the guy with a toad. What where those names?
  • Me:Do you mean Neville Longbottom and his pet toad Trevor?
  • Boss:This is why I keep you around.

As soon as I finish my two degrees I’m moving to Canada, and then I am going to go back to school to become an Ethologist. I am prepared to be in school forever. yeah. I might not do it, but I want to. we’ll see

on that note, these meds are making me high,. now I know why its a controlled substance. I am going to go to sleep

but seriously wtf why would someone take medicine for seizures to get high? like wouldn’t you be nervous? i don’t understand people who do drugs, i really don’t.


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.

Intra vs Inter-species relationships
  • When a person doesn't like me:Whatever. To each their own and all but your loss buddy.

In which I attempt a few animal vocalizations… and get pounced on by Winnie.
Thank you all again for following! I love hearing from you so keep sending in those questions (and lovely messages), and be sure to let me know if you post your own animal vocalizations video. anthrocentric, I’m looking at you.

While I do want to be all fancy schmancy for you guys, I’m actually rather dolled up for the Women in STEM / Intro to Ethology talk I gave this morning as a part of a high school’s Signature Math, Science, & Technology Program!

The act of journeying contributes towards a sense of physical and mental well-being, while the monotony of prolonged settlement or regular work weaves patterns in the brain that engender fatigue and a sense of personal inadequency. Much of what the ethologists have designated ‘aggression’ is simply an angered response to the frustrations of confinement.
—  Bruce Chatwin, Nomad Invasions [from What Am I Doing Here]
My goal was to point out that awareness designates a mode of experience that includes a contrast between a “self” and “that of which there is experience,” but without duplicating it by reference to an “I” or a “me”: a contrast, not an opposition. The question then arises: who is this “we,” who is aware of nature, and what does it include? Most ethologists will say without hesitation that a chimpanzee, a dog, or a rabbit are “aware.” Their perceptual experience, without [necessarily] implying reflexive consciousness, must give meaning to the possibility of an exploratory activity, bearing witness to the fact that that “that which” is perceived may raise the question of meaning: when a rabbit turns its head in the direc­tion from which a noise comes, it is exploring that noise’s meaning.
—  Isabelle Stengers

Oltre il guado: Across The River (2013)

It was serendipitous how I came to find this gem. Online. And like things of the future (present) this movie came out only last year. Its rare, but I like to feature newer films, of course- and I think this is certainly worth mentioning. By Italian director Lorenzo Binachini it seems to not have an immense budget but follows an Italian ethologist somewhere in Europe who’s living a lonely existence with lots of film and trapping equipment for animals in the forest.

It’s cold and lonely and he finds an enigmatic river which he sees a blouse wash down in. After he fords it, it begins to rain incessantly cutting him off from the way he came in on. A mysterious hovel, murdered animals, and weird truly terrifying screams in the night, a two weird, ghastly sisters trope, and some backstory I couldn’t understand because none of the dialogue was subtitled, I was really quite surprised because it was good.

Don’t expect any jump scares or anything cheap. A good horror film from 2013.. the world is not ending.


Across the River (2013) #Horror

Across the River: The story revolves around an ethologist working in the remote woods, trapping animals and mounting cameras on them so that he can monitor their behavior remotely. The resulting recordings lead him to a remote village, the site of an ancient curse, where he is trapped due to heavy rain fall raising the level of the river and flooding out the only access…
Released: October 12, 2013 
Runtime: 102 mins

Genres: Horror Mystery Thriller
Actors: Renzo Gariup, Marco Marchese, Lidia Zabrieszach

The Sounds of Gombe

After 40 years, the largest dataset of audiorecordings from free-living chimpanzees is available for researchers and primate enthusiasts alike!

From 1971-1973, Hetty van de Rijt-Plooij and husband Frans X. Plooij collected over 10 hours of chimpanzee vocalizations at Gombe National Park, Tanzania. As their careers progressed, the couple shifted focus to childhood development (Plooij) and physical anthropology (Rijt-Plooij), so the collected recordings got pushed aside, and remained unanalyzed in the attic…until now. 

Before her passing in 2003, Rijt-Plooij requested her husband make the collected recordings available to other researchers… and now he was finally able to fulfill her last wish. The recordings and field notes are now available at Cornell University’s Macaulay Library and the Dryad Repository. 

Hetty Rijt-Plooji, author’s photo for The Wonder Weeks (x)

Example Clips:

Journal Reference:
Plooij, Frans X., et al. "Longitudinal recordings of the vocalizations of immature Gombe chimpanzees for developmental studies." Scientific Data 1 (2014). (x)

Photo Source (x)

plantique-deactivated20140821 said:

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.