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Items that merit an extra look
compiled by Stephen Drew, Improbable Research staff
Damm: Piggish Lounge Preferences
“Sow Preferences for Walls to Lean Against When Lying Down,” Birgitte I. Damm et al., Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 99, nos. 1–2, 2006, pp. 53–63. (Thanks to Nick Wills-Johnson for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Frederiksberg and several other institutions in Denmark, report:
Sows showed no preferences for three types of sloping walls.
Lizards: Lively TV
“Interactive Video Playback and Opponent Assessment in Lizards,” T.J. Ord and C.S. Evans, Behavioural Processes, vol. 59, 2002, pp. 55–65.
Carp and Chords
“Music Discriminations by Carp (Cyprinus carpio),” A.R. Chase, Animal Learning and Behavior, vol. 29, no. 4, November 2001, pp. 336–53. The authors explain:
Studies using three koi (Cyprinus carpio) investigated discrimination of musical stimuli. The common protocol used a single manipulandum and a multiple continuous reinforcement-extinction schedule signaled by music of the S+ and S- types in 30-sec presentations separated by a silent 15-sec intertrial interval. In a categorization study, the fish learned to discriminate blues recordings from classical, generalizing from John Lee Hooker (guitar and vocals) and Bach (oboe concertos) to multiple artists and ensembles.
Fish vs. College Students: The Count
“Large Number Discrimination by Mosquitofish,” Christian Agrillo, Laura Piffer, and Angelo Bisazza, PLoS ONE, vol. 5, no. 12, December 22, 2010, p. e15232. (Thanks to Scott Langill for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the University of Padova, Italy, report:
Subjects were trained to discriminate between two sets of small geometric figures using social reinforcement…. Fish were able to discriminate numbers when ratios were 1:2 or 2:3 but not when the ratio was 3:4. The performance of a sample of undergraduate students, tested non-verbally using the same sets of stimuli, largely overlapped that of fish.
Computational Analysis of Giraffe Buoyancy
“Predicting the Buoyancy, Equilibrium and Potential Swimming Ability of Giraffes by Computational Analysis,” Donald M. Henderson and Darren Naish, Journal of Theoretical Biology, vol. 265, no. 2, July 2010, p.151–9. The authors, at Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, Canada and at the University of Portsmouth, U.K., report:
Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) are often stated to be unable to swim, and while few observations supporting this have ever been offered, we sought to test the hypothesis that giraffes exhibited a body shape or density unsuited for locomotion in water. We assessed the floating capability of giraffes by simulating their buoyancy with a three-dimensional mathematical/ computational model…. A swimming giraffe—forced into a posture where the neck is sub-horizontal and with a thorax that is pulled downwards by the large fore limbs—would not be able to move the neck and limbs synchronously as giraffes do when moving on land, possibly further hampering the animal’s ability to move its limbs effectively underwater. We found that a full-sized, adult giraffe will become buoyant in water deeper than 2.8 m. While it is not impossible for giraffes to swim, we speculate that they would perform poorly compared to other mammals and are hence likely to avoid swimming if possible.
Bat Man’s Burden
“The Economics of Harem Maintenance in the Sac-Winged Bat, Saccopteryx bilineata
(Emballonuridae),” Christian C. Voigt, Otto von Helversen, Robert Michener, and Thomas H. Kunz, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, vol. 50, 2001, pp. 31–6. (Thanks to Richard Wassersug for bringing this to our attention.
This article is republished with permission from the September-October 2011 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!
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