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I think that everyone should take a look at these gorgeous drawings representing Women and their accomplishements in Science, by Rachel Ignotofksy - a fantastic illustrator and graphic designer. She also has a lil Etsy shop where she sells her prints here!!!

Rhesus Monkeys Know When They Remember [PNAS] [PubMed] [JSTOR
RR Hampton

Abstract: Humans are consciously aware of some memories and can make verbal reports about these memories. Other memories cannot be brought to consciousness, even though they influence behavior. This conspicuous difference in access to memories is central in taxonomies of human memory systems but has been difficult to document in animal studies, suggesting that some forms of memory may be unique to humans. Here I show that rhesus macaque monkeys can report the presence or absence of memory. Although it is probably impossible to document subjective, conscious properties of memory in nonverbal animals, this result objectively demonstrates an important functional parallel with human conscious memory. Animals able to discern the presence and absence of memory should improve accuracy if allowed to decline memory tests when they have forgotten, and should decline tests most frequently when memory is attenuated experimentally. One of two monkeys examined unequivocally met these criteria under all test conditions, whereas the second monkey met them in all but one case. Probe tests were used to rule out “cueing” by a wide variety of environmental and behavioral stimuli, leaving detection of the absence of memory per se as the most likely mechanism underlying the monkeys’ abilities to selectively decline memory tests when they had forgotten.

“Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans have been living for hundreds of thousands of years in their forest, living fantastic lives, never overpopulating, never destroying the forest. I would say that they have been in a way more successful than us as far as being in harmony with the environment.”

Jane Goodall (primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, UN Messenger of Peace, and overall beautiful ambassador of life on this planet)

Lately I haven’t been able to stop drawing great apes & fossil hominids. I draw them as one method of learning about them.

Here’s a little bit of me visually exploring probably the most culturally famous individual fossil hominid, an individual who lived about 3.2 million years ago on the land that is present-day Ethiopia, called “Lucy”, presumed female based on comparative pelvis physiology.

As part of the species afarensis in the group Australopithecus of the hominid family, “Lucy” was a close cousin of the family lines that all living humans descend from. Some earlier members of the group Australopithecus are ancestors of both “Lucy” and all humans. Lucy’s species, afarensis, is the closest relative of those common ancestors that we know of so far.

Lucy, the individual, was about 3 ft 7 in (1.1 m) tall, which seems very small to us but was not unusually short for members of the afarensis species. Generally speaking, members of the Australopithecus group had all the necessary hardware to walk upright, and probably did regularly.

More reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australopithecus_afarensis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_(Australopithecus)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolution

LOOK AT THE BLUE BALLS ON THIS MONKEY. LOOK AT IT.

Why are testicles kept in a vulnerable dangling sac? It’s not why you think.

Soccer fans call it brave goalkeeping, the act of springing into a star shape in front of an attacker who is about to kick the ball as hard as possible toward the goal. As I shuffled from the field, bent forward, eyes watering, waiting for the excruciating whack of pain in my crotch to metamorphose into a gut-wrenching ache, I thought only stupid goalkeeping. But after the fourth customary slap on the back from a teammate chortling, “Hope you never wanted kids, pal,” I thought only stupid, stupid testicles.

Natural selection has sculpted the mammalian forelimb into horses’ front legs, dolphins’ fins, bats’ wings, and my soccer ball-catching hands. Why, on the path from the primordial soup to us curious hairless apes, did evolution house the essential male reproductive organs in an exposed sac? It’s like a bank deciding against a vault and keeping its money in a tent on the sidewalk.

Some of you may be thinking that there is a simple answer: temperature. This arrangement evolved to keep them cool. I thought so, too, and assumed that a quick glimpse at the scientific literature would reveal the biological reasons and I’d move on. But what I found was that the small band of scientists who have dedicated their professional time to pondering the scrotum’s existence are starkly divided over this so-called cooling hypothesis.

Reams of data show that scrotal sperm factories, including our own, work best a few degrees below core body temperature. The problem is, this doesn’t prove cooling was the reason that testicles originally descended. It’s a straight-up chicken-and-egg situation—did testicles leave the kitchen because they couldn’t stand the heat, or do they work best in the cold because they had to leave the body?

[read more]

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Dian Fossey was born on January 16, 1932, in San Francisco, California. While working as an occupational therapist, Fossey became interested in primates during a trip to Africa in 1963. She studied the endangered gorillas of the Rwandan mountain forest for two decades before her unsolved murder occurred in 1985, at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Fossey told her story in the book Gorillas in the Mist (1983), which was later adapted for a film starring Sigourney Weaver.

Early Life

Primatologist and naturalist Dian Fossey was born on January 16, 1932, in San Francisco, California, and grew up with her mother and stepfather. Developing an affinity for animals at a young age, throughout her youth, Fossey was an avid horseback rider and an aspiring veterinarian. However, after enrolling in pre-veterinary studies at the University of California, Davis, she transferred to San Jose State College and changed her major to occupational therapy.

After graduating from San Jose in 1954, Fossey spent several months working as a hospital intern in California, and then moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where she began serving as director of the Kosair Crippled Children’s Hospital’s occupational therapy department in 1955. Living on a farm on the outskirts of Louisville, Fossey spent many off-hours happily tending to the livestock. But her contentment didn’t last long. She soon became restless, longing to see other parts of the world and setting her sights on Africa.

‘Gorillas in the Mist’

In September 1963, Fossey embarked on her first trip to Africa—which cost Fossey her entire life savings at the time, as well as a bank loan—visiting Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and the Congo, among other areas. She soon met paleoanthropologist Mary Leakeyand her husband, archaeologist Louis Leakey, one of the best-known husband-wife teams in the history of science. 

Fossey then met Joan and Alan Root, native wildlife photographers who were working on a documentary of African gorillas at the time, and when the couple brought her along on one of their trips in search of the primates, Fossey was instantly enamored. She later explained her draw to gorillas in her 1983 autobiographical work,Gorillas in the Mist: “It was their individuality combined with the shyness of their behavior that remained the most captivating impression of this first encounter with the greatest of the great apes,” Fossey said. “I left Kabara with reluctance, but with never a doubt that I would, somehow, return to learn more about the gorillas of the misted mountains.”

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Getting Ready for the Field: Things to Pack!!!

Field Work in the Tropics

How to Pack like a Primatologist

What’s in Your Field Bag?

Extreme Weather (Cold)

You Don’t Wear Sweaters to the Desert

10 Tips for Surviving Anthropological Field Work

More Tips from Kris: 

1. You know those waterproof notebooks? Everyone I’ve talked to that have also used them agreed that while they’re great, you really have to press down hard on them sometimes. So, to save money, just buy a gallon size clear plastic bag and write your notes in it that way. It is inexpensive and it still keeps your notebook dry.

2. Boots. Not just the nicer hiking boots, but buy decent rainboots. You’re not gonna buy them for the rain – you’re buying them for the extra protection against snake bites. You won’t regret it.

3. Binoculars are great. Cameras are great. But make sure you play with it before you go to the field. Also, there are different kinds of binoculars and you should spend time looking into what kind of binoculars you want/need. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself with three different binoculars around your neck because they all have different magnifications. 

4. Army surplus stores are actually a great place to buy clothes. Obviously, do not buy army fatigues… but standard khakis and solid color clothes there (mainly pants) are great because they are made to be durable and able to withstand extreme weather.

5. There are also special sleeping bags for the tropics. 

6. Don’t underestimate the power of zipblock bags. And tarp. And carabiners. And duct tape. They can literally solve anything problem.

7. For tropical environments, put all your electronic equipments in a waterproof container. It’d be cool if it’s something you can lock in case of theft.

8. The ever important 3-2-1 back up strategy. Create three copies of your data, in twodifferent media, one of which is off site. You do not want to go out into the field and lose everything. You do not. And when you’re going through airport security, put your data and fieldnotes all on your carry on. You don’t want customs to lose your hard work. 

9. People like to bring comfort food… which is something you’re going to love/miss on the field. Trust me, if you’re out there in the middle of no where for five weeks, you’ll do anything for that person who gives you a piece of chocolate or a spoon of peanut butter.

10. I’ve learned that having pictures of family and friends that you take out and show people help them trust you better. I usually make up stories of family, but hey, it works. Family at places are really important and, especially if your research requires the aid of people, gaining their trust is important. Oh and bring culturally relevant gifts. Even a pencil with your institution’s name on it is great (and be mindful of status and rankings).

Happy fieldwork!

Dolphins like to get high by sucking on puffer fish

GEORGE DVORSKY on IO9, ANIMAL BEHAVIOR

Using a remote-controlled camera disguised as a sea turtle, marine biologists watched as young dolphins got themselves stoned by ingesting a nerve toxin released by puffer fish. And as if sharing a joint, the dolphins could be seen passing it around.

Puffer fish, when provoked, protect themselves by releasing a nasty toxin that can be deadly. But the dolphins appear to have figured out how to make the fish release it in just the right amount.

After chewing on the puffer fish and passing it around between one another, the dolphins appeared to enter into a trance-like state.

“[T]hey began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection,” noted zoologist Rob Pilley. “It reminded us of that craze a few years ago when people started licking toads to get a buzz, especially the way they hung there in a daze afterwards. It was the most extraordinary thing to see.”

The behavior was recorded on camera by the makers of the nature documentary, Dolphins: Spy in the Pod — a series produced for BBC One. Here’s the trailer: (x)

And check out this wild robotic camera disguised as a sea turtle: (x)

(full article)

Many of you have seen my post on a dolphin’s recreational tool use, so this post shouldn’t really come as a major surprise. Yes, dolphins are highly intelligent social animals…. BUT this kind of recreational self-medication (different than medicinal / strictly anti-parasitic self-medication) is not particularly unique in the animal kingdom. Let’s take a quick look at a few other animals who enjoy some recreational self-medication…

~Black Lemur (Eulemur macaco)
The Black Lemur will seek out certain toxic millipedes (Charactopygus spp.), bite them to stimulate the millipede’s defensive toxin production, and then proceed to rub the wounded millipede all over their fur. A report on this fur anointing noted that after biting the millipede, the lemurs would grimace, with their eyes half-closed, and salivate profusely. (x)

Check out this BBC Nature video of this anointing behavior! (x)

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~Chacma / Cape baboons (Papio ursinus)
Hamilton et al. (1978) classified a group of food items consumed  by these baboons as euphorics. These euphorics are “distinguished by their hallucinogenic properties and their high toxicity to humans and other mammals” and included such plants like the Large Fever-Berry (Croton megalobotrys), Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia avasmontana), Downy thorn-apple / moonflower (Datura innoxia), and Jimson weed (D. stramonium). (x)

 

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~Horses and other livestock
Locoweed is the common name for any plant that produces swainsonine, typically plants of the  Oxytropis and Astragalus families in North America. This intoxicating-yet-dangerous plant is very palatable to lifestock, and is even considered the largest poison-plant problem in the Western United States! Livestock that chronically ingest large amounts of swainsonine can develop diarrhea, behavioral changes, congestive heart failure, vacuolization of tissues, and a medical condition known as locoism (a.k.a. swainsonine disease). (x,x)

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~Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)
Reindeer seek out the red and white caps of the ‘magic mushroom’ Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria ). These toxic fungi provide a high reminiscent of flying, and is said to be similar to hallucinogenic effects of LSD. This magic mushroom wasn’t just limited to animal use, it is also fairly prevalent in shamanism and other religious rituals in the area. (x, x)

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~Hummingbirds (Ensifera ensifera)
Some hummingbirds, like the sword-billed hummingbird, feed on the nectar of the Datura (spp.) flower. Each plant’s toxicity depends on the age, location, and weather conditions, and can result in a 5:1 toxin variation. Datura intoxication can produce delirium, inability to distinguish reality from fantasy, hyperthermia, violent behavior, dilated pupils, painful long lasting photophobia, and even pronounced amnesia.(x, x)

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Sword-billed hummingbird approaching Datura flower to feed (x)

 

Additional Reading:

~Animal Pharm: What Can We Learn From Nature’s Self-Medicators (National Geographic)

[This is a very brief introductory article on self-medication behavior. If you guys would like me to do an in-depth article on this, just let me know!]

Jane Goodall With Chimp

Primatologist Jane Goodall bends forward as Jou Jou, a chimpanzee, reaches out to her in Brazzaville, Congo. Goodall revolutionized primatology with her 1960s studies at Tanzania’s Gombe Stream Game Reserve, where she observed chimpanzees making and using tools, a landmark discovery in wildlife studies.

Photo by Michael Nichols

Visual Specialization and Brain Evolution in Primates [RSPB]
RA Barton 1998

Abstract: Several theories have been proposed to explain the evolution of species differences in brain size, but no concensus has emerged. One unresolved question is whether brain size differences are a result of neural specializations or of biological constraints affecting the whole brain. Here I show that, among primates, brain size variation is associated with visual specialization. Primates with large brains for their body size have relatively expanded visual brain areas, including the primary visual cortex and lateral geniculate nucleus. Within the visual system, it is, in particular, one functionally specialized pathway upon which selection has acted: evolutionary changes in the number of neurons in parvocellular, but not magno- cellular, layers of the lateral geniculate nucleus are correlated with changes in both brain size and ecological variables (diet and social group size). Given the known functions of the parvocellular pathway, these results suggest that the relatively large brains of frugivorous species are products of selection on the ability to perceive and select fruits using specifc visual cues such as colour. The separate correlation between group size and visual brain evolution, on the other hand, may indicate the visual basis of social information processing in the primate brain.

This article is required reading if you want to read his 2004 PNAS article since the PNAS article uses his previous findings to make speculative and receive counterintuitive results on the role of the parvocellular layers and magnocellular layers on binocularity. Both articles provide highly speculative hypotheses that can provide a long critique/thought/thinktank sessions. Nevertheless, these articles both provide information on the role of binocularity and speculates on whether the brain evolved due to more internal or external forces.