Category Archives: Animals

Robot ‘spy’ gorilla records wild gorillas singing and farting, because nature is beautiful

This is the first time that singing mountain gorillas have been caught on camera.

A mountain gorilla family in Uganda peers into the "spy" camera.

A mountain gorilla family in Uganda peers into the “spy” camera.
(Image: © Copyright John Downer Productions)

Mountain gorillas have been caught on camera as they “sing” during their supper, a behavior that has never before been documented on video. Filmmakers captured the astonishing footage of the primate crooners with a little help from a very special camera: a robotic “spy” designed to look like a young gorilla.

The singing apes make their television debut on April 29 in the returning PBS series, “Nature: Spy in the Wild 2.” Like its predecessor, which first aired in 2017, the program documents remarkable up-close glimpses of elusive wildlife behavior, seen through the “eyes” of robots that are uncanny lookalikes of the creatures that they film.

Though human camera operators typically keep a safe distance from wild gorillas, the lifelike animatronic gorilla spy was able to infiltrate a troop and film their daily routines, which included an impromptu suppertime serenade.

Footage of the singing gorillas is featured in the first episode of “Spy in the Wild 2” and shows the apes reclining amid dense foliage in a sanctuary in Uganda. As they munched on leaves and stems, they hummed to themselves in contentment, accompanying their vegetarian meal with a vocal “chorus of appreciation,” according to the episode’s narrator.

And the gorillas produced a chorus of mealtime music in more ways than one. Under the spy robot’s watchful camera eye, the great apes also revealed that they were extremely gassy, punctuating their dinner with near-constant bursts of flatulence.

Scientists confirmed in 2016 that gorillas sing to themselves while eating, recording audio of behavior that had long been anecdotal. The researchers observed those western lowland gorillas in a protected forest in the Republic of Congo and published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

The PLOS ONE study authors also learned that older gorillas performed mealtime humming and singing more than young gorillas; that males “sang” more often than females did; and that gorillas were more likely to sing while eating aquatic plants and seeds, rather than insects.

Expressive face

Creating a realistic robot spy that could fool a gorilla meant designing a face that was mobile and expressive, particularly around the eyes, said “Spy in the Wild 2” producer Matt Gordon.

“Eye communication is very important amongst gorillas,” Gordon told Live Science. “You’ll see in the footage in the first episode; the gorillas came straight over to our spy gorilla and peered right into its eyes. So we made sure that the gorilla had the most amount of detail put into the face.”

A robotic spy "gorilla" enabled filmmakers to capture never-before-seen footage of gorillas singing during their dinner.

A robotic spy “gorilla” enabled filmmakers to capture never-before-seen footage of gorillas singing during their dinner. (Image credit: Copyright John Downer Productions)

Other types of robotic animal spies might need greater mobility in the air or water, such as an animatronic pelican or sea otter. And infiltrating communities of animals that live in colonies, like meerkats, requires a robot to smell like its animal subjects in order to get close to them.

“We sometimes have to anoint them in feces to allow them to be accepted into the group,” Gordon said. “It’s not the most pleasant of jobs.”

A submissive gaze

One tricky challenge for the gorilla robot was hat it had to pass inspection by a dominant male. “We wanted to make sure that we were not being threatening, so we averted the gaze of our spy gorilla,” Gordon said. This display of submissiveness convinced the male that the robot wasn’t a threat; he then signaled to the troop that it was safe for them to take a closer look at the “stranger.”

The robot was also able to beat its chest in response to a baby gorilla’s chest-beating, allowing the filmmakers to capture a rare glimpse of primate playtime.

“A young gorilla came over and did the natural thing for him, which was to beat its chest. For a baby gorilla, that means ‘I want to play,’ and if our gorilla was lifeless, not moving, I think the gorilla would have lost interest. But our spy gorilla was able to beat its chest too,” Gordon said.

“We had this wonderful, magical moment where there was this lovely to and fro between our spy gorilla and the baby gorilla, where they were really interacting,” he said. “That would be very difficult to see with traditional filming techniques.”

Nature: Spy in the Wild 2” airs nationwide on Wednesdays from April 29 to May 20 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and streams on pbs.org/spyinthewild and on the PBS Video app.

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‘Exquisite’ dinosaur-age cockroaches discovered preserved in amber

A pair of 99-million-year-old cockroaches are rewriting the early history of the underworld.

The ancient roaches, found preserved in amber in Myanmar, are the oldest-known examples of “troglomorphic” organisms — creatures that adapted to the weird, dark environments of caves. And they’re the only such dark-adapted creatures known from the Cretaceous period, having scurried around in the world’s shaded crevices even as Tyrannosaurus rex walked the Earth. Nowadays, biologists have plenty of examples of cockroaches and of cave-dwelling insects with small eyes and wings, pale bodies, and long arms and antennae. But these specimens, from two distinct, related species, are the oldest animals ever found with those traits.

“Caves lack unequivocal fossils before the Cenozoic,” the researchers wrote in a paper describing their find, referring to a later period after the mass extinction (known as the K/Pg boundary) when dinosaurs died and mammals rose to their current prominence.

And even cave fossils from after the extinction tend to be of animals that spent only some of their time in caves, using them as shelters in between excursions into the sunlit world.

“Cave environments are well suited for fossilization of bones and coprolites [or fossilized feces] and the fossil record of cave mammals includes rodents, ungulates, marsupials, ursids, felids, hyaenids, canids, primates and humans,” they wrote — all species with plenty of bones and poop. They added that “there is no relevant fossil record of any troglomorphic fauna before K/Pg with the exception of the present find.”

Until now, the history of cave-dwelling cockroaches was known to go back to the Cenozoic era, which began about 65 million years ago. But researchers had long suspected that cave-dwelling roaches might date back to the dinosaur age, the researchers wrote, based on genetic analyses. But there had never before been firm evidence.

These two “exquisitely preserved” species, they said, according to a news article on Phys.org, were likely descendants of a common ancestor from earlier in the Cretaceous, before continental drift separated their homes on the supercontinent Gondwana.

It’s not clear, the researchers noted, how the roaches ended up so well preserved. Amber fossils are common for small creatures that live near trees, because amber is fossilized tree resin. It’s possible, the researchers suggested, that ancient resin dripped from tree roots into the cockroaches’ caves and then hardened around the paleo-arthropods.

The study researchers, hailing from several institutions in Slovakia, China, Russia and Thailand, detailed their discovery online Feb. 11 in the journal Gondwana Research.

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Cyborg locusts could be used to sniff out bombs, scientists say

Could cyborg locusts be the bomb-sniffing dogs of the future?

Scientists who received funding from the U.S. Navy revealed last week that they were able to program the bugs to sense various different smells, including from explosives.

The team’s preprint research paper, published in BioRxiv, states that the insects have been used to detect gases released by substances such as ammonium nitrate – often used by terrorist groups for bomb-making – as well as military explosives TNT and RDX.

The robot-bound locusts were exposed to five different explosives, and it only took 500 milliseconds of exposure for a distinct pattern of activity to appear in the locusts’ brains. The scientists chose locusts because their tiny antennae are filled with about 50,000 olfactory neurons.

 

Scientists put sensors on the insects to monitor neural activity and decode the odors presents in the environment. (Baranidharan Raman)

Scientists put sensors on the insects to monitor neural activity and decode the odors presents in the environment. (Baranidharan Raman) (Baranidharan Raman)

Researchers chose locusts because they are sturdy and can carry heavy payloads, according to the preprint paper. They implanted electrodes into the insects’ brains to analyze their neural activity when they were around different substances.

The U.S. Office of Naval Research had allocated $750,000 for the project back in 2016.

Although the team has not commented about its new work, lead scientist Baranidharan Raman, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Washington University at St. Louis, expressed optimism when he received the grant.

“We expect this work to develop and demonstrate a proof-of-concept, hybrid locust-based, chemical-sensing approach for explosive detection,” Raman told The Source.

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Georgia museum devoted to Bigfoot

CHERRY LOG, Ga. (AP) — Along a bustling four-lane highway that winds through the north Georgia mountains, an unassuming wooden structure breaks the monotony of churches, billboards and stores selling kitschy knickknacks.

Once a BYOB supper club, it’s now ground zero in the search for a legendary beast.

Welcome to Expedition: Bigfoot! The Sasquatch Museum.

“I can remember my great-grandmother talking about having a cabin in the woods, and she saw Sasquatch,” says Sherry Gaskinn of Villa Rica, Georgia, who was driving by one afternoon and had to stop in. “I’ve always been curious.”

Her husband, Phillip Blevins, lets out a skeptical chuckle.

“If it was up to me,” he says, “I’d already be on down the road.”

The owner of this intriguing piece of Americana at the southern edge of the Appalachians is David Bakara, a longtime member of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization who served in the Navy, drove long-haul trucks and tended bar before opening the museum in early 2016 with his wife, Malinda.

He’s looking to provide both entertainment and enlightenment in an area known for apple orchards and blazing fall colors.

“I wanted to take what I know about Bigfoot as an active researcher and investigator, but I’m also a huge Disney World fan,” the 57-year-old Bakara says. “I was thinking, ‘Maybe I can make this thing like a family attraction.'”

Instead of Space Mountain, the attraction not far from the Tennessee state line has an elaborate display of Bigfoot laying siege to a remote cabin, with a hatchet-wielding mannequin desperately trying to bar the door as two hairy paws burst over the top. Color-coded maps document hundreds of alleged sightings, a towering reproduction depicts a hairy 8-foot-tall beast, and the famed 1967 video of an alleged Sasquatch sighting plays on a loop, along with harrowing recollections from those who claim to have encountered a Bigfoot.

“The reason I didn’t shoot it is, it was just too human,” a hunter says in one account. “I couldn’t pull the trigger because something told me this ain’t right.”

There’s even a glass case claiming to hold feces collected from a Sasquatch in Oregon.

This Aug. 8, 2019, photo shows a plaster cast of footprints believed to be made by a Bigfoot on display at Expedition: Bigfoot! The Sasquatch Museum in Cherry Log, Ga. The owner of this intriguing piece of Americana at the southern edge of the Appalachians is David Bakara, a longtime member of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization who served in the Navy, drove long-haul trucks and tended bar before opening the museum in early 2016 with his wife, Malinda. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

This Aug. 8, 2019, photo shows a plaster cast of footprints believed to be made by a Bigfoot on display at Expedition: Bigfoot! The Sasquatch Museum in Cherry Log, Ga. The owner of this intriguing piece of Americana at the southern edge of the Appalachians is David Bakara, a longtime member of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization who served in the Navy, drove long-haul trucks and tended bar before opening the museum in early 2016 with his wife, Malinda. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Believers continually add to the already ample collection. On a recent day, the mail carrier delivered two casts of footprints supposedly made by foreign Bigfoots.

“You want to see an Australian cast?” Bakara asks, tearing into the package.

He has filled up the former supper club and is planning to expand his museum, which welcomes about 50,000 visitors a year.

For those who think Bigfoot is a phenomenon confined to the Pacific Northwest, where that grainy video from more than five decades ago gave Sasquatch its greatest brush with fame, Bakara is quick to point out countless sightings the world over.

In Australia, the mythical creature is known as Yowie. In the Himalayas, they call it Yeti. In Russia, it goes by Alma.

Closer to home, there’s the Florida Skunk Ape, the Georgia Booger, the Missouri Momo.

“There are several subspecies of these things,” Bakara claims, displaying nothing but sincerity. “Some have short hair. Others have long, red flowing hair. Some are multicolored, almost like a squirrel where’s there’s gray and red and brown mixed together. Some of them have a very human-like face. They just run the gamut.”

He’ll gladly tell you about the time he saw a pair of the elusive beasts.

In 2010, Bakara says, he was summoned by a Florida man who had spotted strange creatures on his property. Using a thermal imager, he and his team were able to make out a pair of creatures emerging from a nearby swamp.

“We took turns looking at them,” he says. “They finally figured out we could see them, so they left.”

Bakara could talk all day about what’s become his life’s work but clams up on the most obvious questions:

What is Bigfoot?

Where did it come from?

“That’s a secret we’re not supposed to know about,” he replies ominously.

Bakara implies that the creatures are the unintended consequence of a government experiment gone haywire, hinting that his life would be disrupted if he ever went public with his entire body of work.

Bakara has been interested in Bigfoot since a young age, spurred on by early news reports and the 1972 cult classic “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” a sort of docudrama about a Sasquatch-like creature supposedly hunkered down in Arkansas.

He knows he’ll never persuade all the people — even most of the people — of Bigfoot’s existence, and he’s fine with that.

“Does everybody need to know everything you know?” Bakara asks. “No. It’s best they don’t know.’

There are doubters, of course.

One person signed the guestbook as “Bigfoot,” listing his home as the “Woods.” In the section that asks “How did you hear about us,” the visitor writes: “People were taking my picture.”

But Bakara says most visitors treat the museum with respect, at least while they’re on the grounds.

“I’m just curious,” says Angie Langellier, who stopped in with her family recently while passing through on a trip from Illinois. “So far, I’ve had nothing that’s convinced me.

“But obviously, a lot of people have seen a lot of things that have convinced them.”

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Deadly fungus creates ‘zombie ants’ and hijacks their jaws to cause suicide

By Chris Ciaccia | Fox News

If you thought fictional zombies walking around on film were scary, the condition that turns creatures into mindless eating machines actually exists in nature. In ants.

According to research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, ants that come in contact with the deadly fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis have their jaw muscles taken over until they eventually die.

Image of an ant who received honeydew from aphid. (Credit: Dawidi, Johannesburg, South Africa)

Image of an ant who received honeydew from aphid. (Credit: Dawidi, Johannesburg, South Africa)

Mangold, along with her other researchers found that the infected muscles showed evidence of hypercontraction as the ants clamped their jaws tightly onto a leaf vein or twig.

“Despite the extensive colonization, both motor neurons and neuromuscular junctions appear to be maintained,” the study’s abstract reads. “Infection results in sarcolemmal damage, but this is not specific to the death grip. We found evidence of precise penetration of muscles by fungal structures and the presence of extracellular vesicle-like particles, both of which may contribute to mandibular hypercontraction.”

Ultimately, the ant dies, as it’s consumed from within by the fungus. Making matters worse, spores of the deadly fungus drop below from the stalk that grows out of the dead ant in hopes of finding a new host.

The fungus is largely found in ants that live in tropical climates such as Brazil, Africa and Thailand.

Mangold’s research follows up on a 2017 study into the deadly effects of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.

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Massive 16-foot python with nest of 50 eggs removed from Florida Everglades

By Stephen Sorace | Fox News

A female Burmese python that stretched 16 feet was found in the Florida Everglades over the weekend with its nest of nearly 50 eggs.

Ron Bergeron, an Everglades conservationist, removed the 165-pound snake from its nest beneath a home in Possum Head Camp, about four miles south of Alligator Alley. Some eggs hatched as Bergeron inspected the nest. Brian Van Landingham and Frank Branca assisted in the capture and destruction of the snake and its nest.

“The Burmese python poses a significant threat to the Florida Everglades by disrupting the natural food chain,” Bergeron, who goes by the nickname “Alligator Ron,” told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “With good fortune, we were able to find a large female, and remove her and an entire nest of up to 50 baby snakes which would have continued killing off our precious habitat.”

The Burmese python is an invasive species of snake that is damaging the natural ecosystem of the Everglades, experts have said.

The Burmese python is an invasive species of snake that is damaging the natural ecosystem of the Everglades, experts have said. (Ron Bergeron)

Native to Southeast Asia, the Burmese python is one of the largest snakes and considered an invasive species. It began appearing in the Everglades more than 20 years ago when the reptiles were imported as pets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture states on its website.

The apex predator has caused severe declines in mammal populations in the Everglades, including endangered species, according to the Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area.

Bergeron said in a video posted online that the reptiles eat rabbits, possum, deer and bobcats. A Burmese python has previously been seen devouring a 7-foot alligator in the Everglades, according to National Geographic.

The python caught over the weekend measured 16 feet, 1-inch long. It was about 1 foot shy of the record length in Florida.

The python caught over the weekend measured 16 feet, 1-inch long. It was about 1 foot shy of the record length in Florida.(Ron Bergeron)

Wildlife officials encourage the removal or humane killing of the Burmese python to reduce its impact on the environment. The pythons can be killed at any time throughout the year and no permit is required, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The snakes can reach a length of over 25 feet and weigh as much as 200 pounds. The average size of a python removed in Florida is usually between 8 and 10 feet, the agencysaid.

The Burmese python Bergeron helped remove was 16 feet, 1-inch long — about 1 foot shy of the record-setting length of the Everglades python captured in April.

Bergeron, a board member of the South Florida Water Management District, said he and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are working on a plan to “increase the pressure” on the pythons to preserve the Everglades.

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Mysterious dinosaur remains discovered in Colorado are from an adult triceratops, experts confirm

The fossilized remains of a dinosaur that was discovered at a Colorado construction site last month have been identified as a triceratops.

The fossils were found last month at a construction site near a retirement community in Highlands Ranch. In a statement, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science said that the remains were found in a rock layer that dates to between 66 million and 68 million years ago.

A limb bone and several ribs were the first fossils to be uncovered from what paleontologists described as a horned dinosaur.

Natalie Toth, the Museum’s chief fossil preparator, has confirmed that the remains are from an adult Triceratops, a Museum spokeswoman told Fox News.

The dinosaur dig. (Denver Museum of Nature & Science)

The dinosaur dig. (Denver Museum of Nature & Science)

Citing the museum, Fox 31 reports that the triceratops could have been 30 feet long, weighing up to 13,000 pounds.

In 2017, a fossilized torosaurus skull was found at a construction site in Thornton, Colorado.

Other dinosaur discoveries have been getting plenty of attention recently. Researchers, for example, have discovered the fossilized remains of a herd of dinosaurs in an opal mine in the Australian outback.

The remains have been identified as an adult triceratops. (Denver Museum of Nature & Science)

The remains have been identified as an adult triceratops. (Denver Museum of Nature & Science)

In a separate project, paleontologists in the U.S. recently named a tiny 3-foot-tall relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Elsewhere, paleontologists recently discovered a new spike-armored dinosaur in Texas. Paleontologists in Canada have also touted the discovery of the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Giant pig caught on camera ravaging dumpster near school goes viral

The moment a gigantic boar stands on his hind legs to chow down on garbage has been caught on camera — but it’s where the animal is doing it that’s causing concern.

Shocked parents taking their kids to school in Hong Kong spotted the huge animal standing on the tips of his hooves to get his head in the dumpster, while two piglets stand next to him.

The terrifying video, posted to Facebook by Tu Dong, has since gone viral.

More than 2,500 social media users also commented on the video, many of which expressed concern about how close the wild pigs were to the school.

Misaki Ceci wrote: “The wild pig is in front of the left school. I’m careful with Hyung-Hyung’s primary school, and I’ve got a wild boar.”

The footage shows the boar trying to pull a black garbage bag out of the can while his piglets stand guard.

In Australia, feral pigs were declared pest animals in 2013, meaning they can be legally killed by farm owners.

In July 2013, a 10-year-old boy was gored in the neck by a wild boar at an Australian beach. He had been riding his bike when the pig charged at him and stabbed him in the neck with his tusk.

Feral pigs are also known to cause significant economic losses to agriculture by damaging crops, water holes and fencing.

There are strict laws in place to deter people from transporting and releasing live feral pigs, with fines starting at $2,200 for possessing a wild animal.

Fines climb to $22,000 for transporting live feral pigs.

This story originally appeared in news.com.au.

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Cute Dogs for Your Monday Blues!

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March 13, 2017 · 7:00 am

Tyson Foods CEO: The Future of Food Might Be Meatless

By , Published March 07, 2017

Tyson Foods’ new CEO is on a mission to change people’s perception of the iconic brand-which has faced chicken abuse and price-fixing charges. Hayes says he is now pushing the 80-year-old meat processor towards sustainability, plant-based …
The new CEO of one of the world’s largest meat processors, Tyson Foods Inc., sees plant-based protein as a big part of the food industry’s future.

“If you take a look at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) stats, protein consumption is growing around the world—and it continues to grow. It’s not just hot in the U.S.; it’s hot everywhere, people want protein, so whether it’s animal-based protein or plant-based protein, they have an appetite for it. Plant-based protein is growing almost, at this point, a little faster than animal-based, so I think the migration may continue in that direction,” Tom Hayes, CEO of Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) told FOX Business.

Today, the U.S. food giant, which got its start during The Great Depression, already owns a 5% stake in a plant-based protein start-up called Beyond Meat. The company also launched a venture capital fund worth $150 million to invest in startups that develop meat substitutes.

“We just got to the point last year where the consumer is demanding [the elimination of antibiotics in the food chain] and wants transparency. They want to have trust in the brands they buy …. [so] let’s push ourselves to go all the way,” Hayes told FOX Business.

Tyson made news earlier this week when a strain of bird flu was detected at one of its Tennessee contracted chicken farms.

“We’re addressing a form of avian influenza on a single contract chicken farm in Tennessee. It’s a bird health issue and not a food safety or human health concern. We’re responding aggressively, and are working with state and federal officials to contain the virus by euthanizing chickens located on the farm,” Tyson Foods Inc. told FOX Business in a statement.

Tyson has also faced charges of chicken abuse and price fixing.

Hayes, who originally spoke to FOX Business prior to the news Monday of the bird flu case in Tennessee, at the time acknowledged challenges in running a company the size of Tyson.

“We do a lot. We have 114,000 people and we have 100 plants and we have 11,000 family farms that we work with, so there is a lot that can go wrong. But we do things really well and we have team members who are really focused on making good food, and are actually doing things for the world,” he said.

Hayes said the company today is committed to helping to create a more sustainable food system, which involves cleaning up its factory farms and investing in more plant-based proteins.

“It’s important for us to continue to make progress. We don’t get everything right all the time, we know that. But the idea of how do we continue to try to get better … and we have done a lot of research for our poultry business to really understand what a closed loop farm of the future looks like,” he said.

To that end, he said the company is looking into a vertical farming approach that uses 60 percent less land and provides a healthier environment for the birds.

“It’s a lower stress environment because there’s not interaction with humans … it’s been greatly reduced. And we have barns that collect the rain water in roofs that can be used for grain, irrigation and a lot of things that are pushing our thinking,” he said.

Hayes said the company has created a new corporate logo to separate its top office from its shelf brand, which he says is just the beginning.

“Our new purpose as a company is to continue to raise expectations for the good big food can do. Big food is often seen as potentially bad, and in order for us to feed … 9 billion [people] we have to get in the game and say how do we come up with solutions and innovations,” said Hayes.

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