How big a danger is Simian Herpes B to people who do what you do? Do you know anyone who's caught it or died of it? Do you ever have nightmares about it? Do you have to turn away attempts at physical affection from your NHPs because you're worried they'll infect you?

1. How big of a danger is Herpes B to someone in my field?

Huge. Then again, I primarily work with macaques and other old world primates… so the risk is much higher than for someone who focuses on something like lemur behavior.

2. Do I know anyone who has caught or died of Herpes B?
Thankfully no. I do know a number of people who have had exposures, but they all received immediate medical treatment and were given drugs like Acyclovir. Additionally, I don’t know anyone idiotic enough to have a primate for a pet… but I do have a number of friends in Florida who are at risk from the invasive macaque problem down there.

The last confirmed Herpes B death was back in 1997, when Elizabeth Griffin was splashed in the eye at Yerkes NPRC. This tragedy altered the safety procedures for primate centers around the world. 

3. Do I have nightmares about Herpes B?
Not really. Nightmares about the my macaques destroying my behavioral database… well that’s a different story. Besides, the heart wrenching terror of noticing a popped glove and having to question everything you did that day is quite enough for me. I don’t need that experience haunting me at night.

Basically, I’m very adamant about proper PPE usage and following safety protocols when dealing with animals. I may be all for mischief and bending the rules outside of work, but if I see you put your fingers into a primate enclosure or walk into an animal area without PPE? Well… you’ll see a side of me that doesn’t come out much since my NROTC days.

4. Do I have to turn away physical affection attempts from my NHPs because of the risk for infection?
YES.  Well… sort of.
Most of my macaques are rhesus (Macaca mulatta), and while I love them, they are some of the most aggressive primates in the world. So while I do get some tempting lipsmacking and groom solicitation displays, there are also plenty of open mouth stares and bark threats. I adore my mercurial macaques, but I will never think that they love me or that I am completely safe just because some affiliative coos are thrown my way.

Herpes B or no, you should never assume anything when wild animals are involved. You know what they say; “when you assume, you make and ass out of u and get mauled.”

I’d much rather interact with my NHPs through the protected methods during our various training sessions, by providing them with novel enrichment tasks that promote natural behavior, and by establishing positive social groups so they can properly express those affiliative behaviors with members of their own species. That way both the NHPs and HPs stay out of danger.

**Basic info on the Herpes B Virus below**

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The science of anatomy is undergoing a revival

  • by John R. Hutchinson, Professor of Evolutionary Biomechanics

Only two decades ago, when I was starting my PhD studies at the University of California in Berkeley, there was talk about the death of anatomy as a research subject. That hasn’t happened. Instead the science of anatomy has undergone a renaissance lately, sparking renewed interest not just among researchers but also the public.

I may be biased, but examples from my own work, which is a small part of anatomical research, might showcase what I mean. In 2011, my team found out found why elephants have a false “sixth toe”, which had remained a mystery since it was first mentioned in 1710. Last year, with University of Utah researchers, I helped reveal that crocodiles have “bird-like” lungs in which air flows in a one-way loop rather than tidally back and forth as in mammalian lungs. Subsequent work by those colleagues has shown that monitor lizards do this, too.

Researchers have also solved the mystery of how monitor lizards got venom glands. They have discovered that lunge-feeding whales have a special sense organ in their chin that helps them engulf vast amounts of food. And like the whales, it seems crocodiles have sense organs in their jaws, which can detect vibrations in the water. Anatomy has even found gears in nature. Turns out that leafhopper insects have tiny gears in their legs that help in making astounding and precise leaps.

If the scientific examples weren’t enough, there are many from popular TV. British viewers have had the delights of anatomy served to them in a BBC TV series called Secrets of Bones, which concluded in March. American viewers are getting anatomical insights in Your Inner Fish, an ongoing TV series on PBS.

Anatomy’s highs and lows

Apart from an anomalous period in the 20th century, such discoveries have always captivated scientists and the public. From the 16th century until the 19th century, human anatomy was one of the top research fields. Anatomist Jean Francois Fernel, who invented the word “physiology”, wrote in 1542:

Anatomy is to physiology as geography is to history; it describes the theatre of events.

This analogy justified the study of anatomy for many early scientists, some of whom also sought to understand it to bring them closer to understanding the nature of God. Anatomy gained impetus, even catapulting scientists such as Thomas Henry Huxley (“Darwin’s bulldog”) into celebrity status, from the realisation that organisms had a common evolutionary history and thus their anatomy did too. Comparative anatomy became a central focus of evolutionary biology” (read more).

***A fun read.

(Source: The Conversation)

Interspecies play or potentially harmful hunting? Well… it depends


Animal science side of tumblr should I be worried about my cat hunting my ferret when shes out to play?

You have to ask yourself a few questions here.

  1. Do you think your ferret has the ability / skills to defend itself? Or is it a furry little slinky of curiosity and cuddles? 
  2. Were your pets socialized with each other while they (especially the cat) were young? 
  3. Has the ferret appeared fearful, stressed, or attempted to avoid the cat during this hunting behavior? 
  4. Can the ferret successfully and reliably escape to a safe place the cat cannot reach? 
  5. Does your cat get excitable and overly enthusiastic during (play/) hunting behavior.
  6. Are you always supervising the pets when they are out together? 

I could continue with more questions like this, but I think you get my point.

As I’m sure you know, domestic cats still retain the hunting instincts of their wild counterparts. Indeed domestic cats kill billions of animals each year, so it’s no shock that they are considered the number one threat to local wildlife by my former colleagues at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. While not every cat will develop a full hunting (killing for food) behavior repertoire, most will exhibit modified stalking and pouncing behaviors during play. (See previous post here).

Even when a cat is well fed, they will still hunt as a way to expend energy in a behavior Ethologists call surplus hunting. (x)  This is when a predator leaves a current kill to stalk and hunt additional easy prey. While this may seem unnecessary to you, consider that the average feral cat - who spends over half of their day in hunting behavior - only makes a successful kill one out of every ten attempts. With these kind of odds you can see why a strong hunting instinct (which drives surplus killing) would be selected for. (x)

Now I’m not saying that your cat is trying to eat your ferret, or that your cat will injure your ferret… But that your cat can cause some serious damage, even if it is just play behavior that has gotten out of hand. Keep in mind that ferrets are also carnivores. Despite their small size, your ferret could still do significant damage to your cat should a real fight occur.

Please remember that if your pets ever do fight, DO NOT TRY TO SEPARATE THE ANIMALS YOURSELF. Use a garden hose, a broom, loud noises, basically anything that isn’t you, to separate fighting animals. 

Frankly I’m a bit cautious when it comes to feline hunting behavior and so I would suggest you allow your pets separate play time… but that’s just me. I don’t know the social history of your pets, the play area layout, possible escape routes, pet personality, or anything else about your animals. You are the only one who can decide what is best for this particular situation, but a healthy dose of vigilance and caution when observing your animals certainly wouldn’t hurt. 

References and Additional Reading:

  1. Blancher, Peter. "Estimated Number of Birds Killed by House Cats (Felis catus) in Canada Estimation du nombre d’oiseaux tués par les chats domestiques (Felis catus) au Canada." Avian Conservation and Ecology 8.2 (2013): 3. (PDF)
  2. Dickman, Chris R. Overview of the impacts of feral cats on Australian native fauna. Canberra: Australian Nature Conservation Agency, 1996. (x)
  3. Fitzgerald, B. MIKE, and Dennis C. Turner. "Hunting behaviour of domestic cats and their impact on prey populations." The Domestic Cat: The biology of its behaviour (2000): 151-175. (x)
  4. Kruuk, Hans. "Surplus killing by carnivores." Journal of Zoology 166.2 (1972): 233-244. (x)
  5. Ragg, J. R., C. G. Mackintosh, and H. Moller. "The scavenging behaviour of ferrets (Mustela furo), feral cats (Felis domesticus), possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) and harrier hawks (Circus approximans) on pastoral farmland in New Zealand: implications for bovine tuberculosis transmission." New Zealand Veterinary Journal 48.6 (2000): 166-175.(x)
  6. Yin, Sophia. “Cats Hunting Wildlife: Why it’s a problem and what to do about it.” Web blog post. 6 July 2011., Web. 30 July 2014. (x)

Jealous Much?

  • TheJungleNook

Ever hear someone tell you that their dog is an attention hog? That their pup will get jealous if they “cheat on them” by playing with another pooch? Well, it looks like these claims of the pet owning public might actually have some scientific support in a recent PLOS ONE study.

Psychology professor Christine Harris and former student Caroline Prouvost of University of California San Diego, have conducted the first experimental test of jealousy related behaviors (like snapping or pushing at their owner / rival) in dogs.

Since this is the first study of its kind, they used an experimental test adapted for examining jealousy in 6 month old human infants. 36 dogs* were videotaped in their own homes under three conditions. In the first two, the owners ignored the dog in favor of a faux dog (stuffed toy that barked, whined, and wagged its tail) or a jack-o-lantern pail. Owners were instructed to treat the objects as though they were real dogs - talking to them, petting them, etc. In the third condition, owners were asked to read aloud to a pop-up book which played music.

The animated toy vs pail conditions allowed researchers to test if jealousy required that the owner show affection to (what appeared to be) a conspecific, or if affectionate behaviors towards a nonsocial stimulus would still trigger a jealous reaction. By adding the book condition, researchers could also test whether the dog’s behaviors in previous conditions were a result of jealousy (triggered by attention directed towards an interloper) or a general negative reaction to the loss of the owner’s attention.

They found that dogs exhibited jealous behaviors significantly more often when the owner was playing with the toy dog (78%) as when the owner was playing with the novel pail object (42%), as well as when the owners read the pop-up book (22%).

Figure 1: Comparisons of the proportion of dogs exhibiting each type of behavior in each of the three experimental conditions. (x)

A defining feature of jealousy is that it is a product of a social triangle. The cliche ‘love triangle’ if you will, that arises when an interloper threatens an important relationship. (x) Cliches aside, it should be no surprise that the majority of research on the evolution and functionality of jealousy has been in a romantic context. That is, it has focused on the fitness consequences of the loss of a romantic or sexual relationship (eg. potential vs actual infidelity). Yet there is also a larger view which argues that “jealousy evolved not just in the context of sexual relationships, but also in any of a wide-range of valued relationships” like those between siblings or friends. (x)

Under this broader functional view, it makes sense that jealousy would be expected to arise not only in humans, but in other social species where emotional bonds can be jeopardized by encroaching individuals. Harris notes that “many people have assumed that jealousy is a social construction of human beings - or that it’s an emotion specifically tied to sexual and romantic relationships. Our results challenge these ideas, showing that animals besides ourselves display strong distress whenever a rival usurps a loved one’s affection.” (x)

Journal Reference:
Harris CR, Prouvost C. Jealousy in Dogs. PLoS ONE, (2014). 9(7): e94597 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0094597

The 36 dogs were all under 35lbs or less than 15in. due to the potential for the jealousy experiment to result in aggressive behaviors. Small dogs would be easier to control in such circumstances and thus the size criterion was implemented. While this precaution is certainly understandable, it would be interesting to see the results of a follow up study that includes a greater variety of breeds (and larger sample size).

Photo: Shutterstock

And my family thought that I’d get a well paying job in the sciences. HA!

And my family thought that I’d get a well paying job in the sciences. HA!


[noobtheloser] (more behind the gifs)

That’s just science.


Why did the guinea pig go to the dentist? He had a cavyty.

This pun is rootless. 

Glorious Gorillas

Q: Name That (sub)Species!!!!
Provide the common and/or scientific names for the animals pictured below. 
Bonus Points will be awarded for those who can list at least one trait (per animal) that separates each subspecies from the others. 

1. The Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)

A subspecies of Eastern Gorilla (G. beringei), the Mountain Gorilla has long thick fur that enables them to live at high elevations (from 8,000 to 13,000 ft.). With only an estimated 880 individuals remaining, this subspecies is split between the Virunga Mountains (which border the DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda) and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. (x)

2. The Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)

With only an estimated 200-300 individuals remaining, the Cross River Gorilla is the most endangered African Ape. Majority of the population live 11 groups found in the fragmented broad-leaf forests in the mountains and hills along the Cameroon-Nigeria border, at the headwaters of the Cross River. A new group [thought to be Cross River Gorillas) has been recently identified about 250km away in Cameroon’s Ebo Forest. Cross River Gorilla skulls are smaller than that of other gorilla subspecies. This does not correspond with smaller body size, so the Cross River Gorillas also have a smaller head relative to their body size. (x, x, x)

3. Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

Western Lowland Gorillas are the most numerous and widespread of the gorilla subspecies. Although the population was estimated to be around 95,000 in 1996, habitat loss and disease have ravaged these gorillas and spurred ICUN to considering them to be critically endangered.(x) In 2004, an Ebola outbreak in Odzala-Kokoua National Park decimated the region’s gorilla population; with numbers dropping from 377 to only 38 individuals after the outbreak. (x) Western Lowland Gorillas can be distinguished from other subspecies by their slightly smaller size, wider skulls, more pronounced brow ridges, smaller ears, and brownish grey / auburn coloration on their heads and chests. 

Points go out to shitcameroonianssay, devilsmoon, and ktsaurusr3x.
Bonus points to shitcameroonianssay for getting all the IDs correct AND having a unique feature for all three! 

ps- The missing gorilla here is the Eastern Lowland / Grauer’s Gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri). (x)



No games for you.

? Saturday Questions ?

I’m back from the bush so it’s time for another round of Name That (sub)Species!!!!
You guys know the rules; just provide the common and/or scientific names for the animals pictured below.
Bonus Points will be awarded for those who can list at least one trait (per animal) that separates each subspecies from the others. 
Good luck!