animal facts

In an experiment, two ravens had to simultaneously pull the two ends of one rope to slide a platform with two pieces of cheese into reach. If only one of them pulled, the rope would slip through the loops, leaving them with no cheese. Without any training they solved the task and cooperated successfully.

However, when one of the two birds cheated and stole the reward of its companion, the victims of such cheats immediately noticed and started defecting in further trials with the same individual.

“Such a sophisticated way of keeping your partner in check has previously only been shown in humans and chimpanzees, and is a complete novelty among birds.”


‘No-one can know exactly why or how the young wolf and bear became friends. I think that perhaps they were both alone and they were young and a bit unsure of how to survive alone.’

'It seems to me that they feel safe being together, and so every evening met up for their dinner.’

'It’s very unusual to see a bear and a wolf getting on like this… It is nice to share rare events in the wild that you would never expect to see.’

'When I realised that no one had observed bears and wolves living near each other and becoming friends in Europe, I concentrated more and more on getting pictures to show what can happen in nature. Then I came across these two and knew that it made the perfect story.


3 Fun Facts About Your Canine Companions

Happy National Dog Day, y’all! We thought we’d throw around some pup-appreciation with the following dog olfactory facts for you to fetch. 

1. Besides being much more powerful than ours, a dog’s sense of smell can pick up things that can’t even be seen at all. The olfactory bulb, the area dedicated to processing smells, takes up many times more relative brain area in dogs than humans. This allows dogs to distinguish and remember a staggering variety of specific scents.

2. Everything in the street, every passing person or car, any contents of the neighbor’s trash, each type of tree, and all the birds and insects in it has a distinct odor profile telling your dog what it is, where it is, and which direction it’s moving in.

3. Dogs smell in stereo. The ability to smell separately - with each nostril - helps them determine from what direction smells come. A whole separate olfactory system, called the vomeronasal organ, above the roof of the mouth, detects the hormones all animals, including humans, naturally release.

For more on how dogs smell, check out the TED-Ed Lesson How do dogs “see” with their noses? - Alexandra Horowitz 

Animation by provinciastudio

Animal Facts from a Docent: Bird Edition


1. A blue jay’s blue feathers aren’t really blue. There are no blue pigments in the feathers. The color is derived from light refracting off the internal structure of the feathers.

2. Many elements of a bird’s skeleton are fused, to help the joints and bones sustain the pressure exerted on them by the bird’s muscles during flight. A bird’s flight muscles take up as much as 1/3 of their body weight. Incidentally this is also true of penguins, who do not fly through air, but through water.

3. Birds can’t carry much food in their bodies due to the weight affecting their ability to fly, they are constantly on the edge of starving. Food passes through a bird’s very efficient digestive system in as little as 30 minutes. A bird can starve in a couple of hours if it doesn’t eat.

4. Birds have a complicated respiratory system that goes way past the two-stage in/out system mammals have. They have lungs, but also a system of air sacs where air is stored and cycled so that the bird has a continuous supply of oxygen even when exhaling. 

5. A common house sparrow can function just fine at altitudes of 19,000 feet, which would put a human in a coma.

6. A woodpecker’s skull sustains forces of 1000G while drilling. For comparison, an astronaut during liftoff pulls 3G, and at 9G most humans will black out. Most of this force is directed away from the brain by a complex series of adaptations.

7. Birds have vision that’s far superior to mammals. An eagle can spot prey up to a mile away, and birds can see wavelengths beyond human visual range.

8. Pigeons can detect cancer! Researchers found that with a few weeks of training, a pigeon could detect breast cancer in slides with 85% accuracy - and if they crowdsourced it and used several birds, accuracy went up to 99%.

9. It’s well known that many species of crane do specific dances for social reasons. Their chicks are born knowing how to do the dance, it doesn’t need to be taught - what they have to learn is when to dance, and who to dance for.

10. Birds can get prosthetic feathers! Wildlife rehab centers often get birds brought in with broken feathers. Using a process called feather imping, they use the hollow shaft of the broken feather and that of a donor feather (usually from a bird who’s died) and a toothpick, and a dab of glue. Once a new feather starts coming in, it’ll molt off the fixed feather and all will be well.

11. Owls can live fine with just one eye because they rely mostly on their hearing to hunt. Their ears are placed asymmetrically on their heads, producing a minute differential that lets the owl triangulate the exact direction of sound. The difference between ears is 3 millionths of a second. An owl can hunt in complete darkness - and their flight is silent, thanks to the fringed edges of their wings which baffle the sound.

12. Don’t feed bread to waterfowl! If ducks and geese don’t get an appropriate diet, their bones don’t calcify enough and then are unable to support the pressure of flight, so they warp and twist in an affliction called Angel Wing Deformity. A fowl with this condition cannot fly. If you want to feed waterfowl, our bird keeper at the zoo suggests mealworms (any pet store has them), peas or cracked corn.

13. Hummingbirds must consume their own weight in food every day, and at night they go into a sort of torpor to conserve energy. During flight their heart rates can top out over 1300 bpm.

14. Vultures are one of the few birds with a good sense of smell, so they can detect the smell of their preferred food - rotting carcasses. They don’t have feathers on their heads so they don’t get rotten carcass juice all in them. Their stomachs are basically made of iron. Vultures can eat meat infected with anthrax, botulism, basically any horrible pathogen that would kill us quite dead and fly away happy and full. 

15. Were you waiting for an entry about corvids? Here it is. Corvids (crows, magpies, rooks, etc) are hugely intelligent. Some studies place their intelligence higher even than that of dolphins or great apes. They remember locations and people’s individual faces, plot revenge, hold grudges, engage in subterfuge, share important knowledge between individuals, anticipate future outcomes and comprehend analogies. A great example is some birds in Japan who like to eat nuts. They’d drop the nuts on the street into traffic so the cars can crack open the shells for them - but they learned to do it in the crosswalk. Then they wait for the light to turn red and walk out to collect their nuts while the traffic is stopped.

Another example is from an old Aesop’s fable, about a crow who dropped rocks into a glass of water until it rose enough for the crow to drink. A researcher tried this and found that not only did the crow figure out to do this (on the first try, without training or prior experience), but it went for the largest rocks, and it did not use some hollow but similarly-shaped items that were with the rocks because it knew they’d float and wouldn’t help.

Crows, man. Too smart.

I hope you have enjoyed this edition of Animal Facts with Zoo Docent Lori.

Technically, they are called Costasiella kuroshimae…

… but their informal name is ‘Leaf Sheep.’ They’re one of the only animals in the world that can perform photosynthesis; they eat algae, suck out the chloroplasts, and incorporate them into their own bodies.

It’s a phenomenon known as functional kleptoplasty, if you want to get all geeky and technical about it (which I do). Basically it means they’re kind of like solar-powered slugs!