We’re born with it apparently. Handedness that is, or to give it its grown up name, laterality. Stats show that 88.2% of humans are right handed, leaving 11.8% left handed. Why a person is predisposed to a particular handedness has been the focus of many studies with varying conclusions. Similar studies have looked into the right and left footedness of parrots as they often pick up their food in one foot and bring it to their mouths to eat. An endearing quality, or so I believe, as it is a rather human-like action that many other animals do not have. (And you know, there’s nothing we’re more fond of in nature than animals that do similar actions to ourselves – think chimp tea parties and baby pandas sneezing.) But I digress, back to the studies of footedness that have been done in parrots. The common finding is that parrots are predominantly left footed (47% left-footed, 33% right-footed, the remainder ambidextrous). These aren’t overwhelming statistics into the preference of one foot over the other, but nevertheless do show a tendency.
Perhaps the parrots are imitating us
On reading these findings I thought of two possible influences for parrot foot preference and wondered whether the research had taken them into account. The first thing I thought about was imitation. Birds, and parrots especially, seem to take great enjoyment in imitating what’s going on around them both in sound and action. Is it not possible then that if most people (and therefore most researchers) are right handed, that the parrots under study are picking up food in the mirror image of the researchers placing the food down? Certainly early studies tested caged birds so it’s possible that they were imitating in mirror image the people who were putting the food out.
The other thing that crossed my mind that I think is worth a mention, is whether we are considering right and left footedness the correct way. Perhaps parrots are predominantly right footed because that’s their stronger foot and the one they sleep on. They would then use their weaker foot to hold food, leaving their more stable foot for balance.
Further research needed
Maybe I should gather together a couple of hundred parrots and conduct my own survey. I’ve got three for starters. Anyone out there that could lend me a few more? All in the name of science.
Forget the ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, there’s a horror story going on right now, beneath our feet, directed by Nature. You may have already read about it, but it’s so fascinating in its grisliness that I couldn’t let the story slip by without posting it.
Let Me Tell You A Horror Story
In the tropical rainforests around the world, there is a species of carpenter ant called the Camponotus leonardi that lives up in the trees. Unfortunately for them, there is also a fungus in the same environment, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, that releases spores which infect these unsuspecting ants. It’s not yet know what chemicals are released into the ants from these spores, but what is known is the bizarre and gruesome effect it has on them. The chemicals infect the ant’s brain and take control, leaving the ant in a zombie-like state. The ant, under the control of the fungus, then leaves its colony (something that it would otherwise never do), moves to a particular location on a particular leaf, locks down on the leaf with its jaws and remains there until the fungus kills it. The next scene in this horror story is where the fungus, now living in the ant, produces a long stalk that grows from the ant’s head that shoots out spores in order to infect other passing ants. Read more…
As I was driving the commute to work the other morning, flanked by traffic on either side of me front and back, a thought came to mind that this must be the closest equivalent to herd behaviour in animals. There is one marked difference of course, people driving to work are generally trying to get out in front to get away from the ‘herd’. Their goal is to reach their destination first and to avoid being hampered by slightly slower drivers ahead, the appearance of whom causes annoyance and frustration. Everyone in the commute secretly wishes that everyone else would travel at a later or earlier time. Any time, but the same time as them. Compare this to an animal herd, a collection of animals that form a like-minded group, often with the sacrifice of the individual, whose sole and shared purpose is to reach a common goal or destination. As such they form a harmony of animals moving together for the greater benefit of all.
Mutual concern or individual gain? Read more…
Always Make The Most Of Every Window Of Opportunity
It’s a wonder to me how chess players’ brains work. How is it possible to strategically plan so many moves ahead, consider alternative courses of action and, at the same time, second-guess your opponent’s next move. It seems an amazing feat of logical thinking and analysis to me, something that only a highly-developed human brain could tackle. But in fact, proficient chess players don’t use their brains that way when playing. Not totally anyway. They are not so much thinking logically, but using memories of patterns seen in past games to recognise their next best move. And this, surprisingly, is exactly how rats think, though to rats, this brain activity comes naturally, whereas in humans, it’s something we have to learn to develop. Read more…
Before moving to New Zealand, I came here on holiday and visited Abel Tasman, an area of coastline in the South Island that has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. You know the thing, blue-green sea, white sand, nobody to be seen for miles. Dave, my better half, and I, sat down on the sand for a picnic, as you do, but not long into the boiled eggs and tomato sandwiches, we felt something nipping our legs and feet. And that was closely followed by about 20-30 minutes of annoying irritation and scratching. We suffered it for a while, but in the end we had to move. We couldn’t see what was ruining our picnic at the time, but later on found out that we had been bitten by the ubiquitous, New Zealand sandfly. Read more…
I’m not sure, but I think I might have stumbled upon experimental proof that a certain quantum theory is true in the macro world (our world as we see it) as well as in the micro (teeny particles) world. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that physics isn’t my strong point, so there may be some lack of validity with my claim, hence I’m posting it to my WordPress blog instead of to The New Scientist.
What Happened Was …
It all happened when I was in the bedroom and saw my cat, curled up fast asleep on the bed, oblivious to me and seemingly all else. I didn’t think much about it, cats are after all asleep most of the time, so pretty normal activity. But then I went into the kitchen, glanced over to where the cat food bowls were and there was my cat! The very same one that had, a split second ago, been fast asleep in another room. How could she have got there so fast and so unnoticed? Could she be a quantum cat?
And Now The Science Bit
The reason I wondered that is that recently I’ve been reading a bit about about quantum physics (for dummies) and learnt that when electrons move around the nucleus, they don’t move through space as ‘ordinary’ objects do, they disappear from where they currently are and appear in their next location instantaneously i.e. they make a quantum jump. Also, I learnt that it is impossible to predict the next location of an electron, only formulate probabilities of where it might go (Schrodinger’s Wave Equation).
Interesting huh? But listen to this. Quantum physics also tells us that an electron exists as both a particle and a wave. As a particle, the electron has an exact location. As a wave, it has a probability of being in a certain location. And it is only when the electron is ‘observed’ (in this case by the scientist running the experiment), that the wave ‘collapses’ into a particle and then has a precise location and can be measured.
Could this have happened in the case of my cat? I first observed her on the bed, so hence she had a precise, measurable (and very comfortable) location. I had no idea whether she would move, or if she did where she would go. Then, with a quantum jump, she appeared as I observed her, in the kitchen, by the food bowls. Was it my act of observing her in the kitchen that caused her probability waves to collapse into a particle, in other words, caused her to instantaneously appear in the kitchen at the food bowl location?
Okay, the whole thing is merely an amusing observation and highly flawed scientifically, but if it happens again, I’ll let you know. It may change quantum physics as we know it. Or in my case, don’t know it.
[Any errors in the physics theory presented in this piece are purely due to my own incomprehension of quantum physics.]
ADDITION TO POST. If any of you know Minecraft, check out this vid showing a Minecraft-created double-slit experiment with chickens. Excellent. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45tXuAF52E4&feature=player_embedded
Does my bum look big in this?
Don’t be alarmed, it’s not a growth requiring veterinary care, it’s merely the result of spending a year noshing on plentiful, fresh, green pastures with no restriction on intake i.e. a fat bum. One that any sheep worth its wool would be proud to display (maybe). Sean the Sheep was sheared recently and once the wool was off the most enormous derriere imaginable was uncovered. Glancing from a distance you would almost believe that he was in the process of growing a second head. My shearer commented politely that he could do with a week or two off pasture, but I suspect that it would take more than couple of weeks to shift that lardy lump of a rump. Read more…
If you were walking along a white sandy island beach and saw THAT clinging to a palm tree up ahead, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the creepiest, giant spider you’d ever seen. In fact, it’s not a spider, it’s a humble hermit crab. You know, one of those creatures you look for under rocks in warm pools of sea water. Ok, not quite, you’d hardly be able to lift the rock that this magnificent sea beastie was hiding under, but it is, nevertheless, a crab. Read more…
Reindeer, those weather-hardy creatures of the arctic and sub-arctic lands, are known for their strength, their ability to cope with sub-freezing temperatures, and for bearing magnificent antlers each year. What they are not known for is having any ability to fly, and search as you might, you won’t find one red nose between them. So how did reindeer get associated with Christmas?
Most of us now accept that our current Christian Christmas celebrations are largely, if not totally based on pagan, and other non-Christian, religious rites and symbols. But there is such a hodge-podge of traditions entangled that figuring out how our current festival traditions evolved is almost impossible. We can at best base the answer on conjecture. Read more…
Tired? Me too. I could do with a couple of extra hours sleep per night. Or could I?
I’ve always found 8 and a 1/2 hours sleep to be the optimum, but a survey done a few years back by a couple of researchers in Japan revealed that people who sleep roughly 7 hours a night live longer than those who sleep more. They found that those who slept 8 hours a night had a “significantly higher mortality than those who slept 7 hours” with mortality risks increasing the longer the snooze. Moving in the other direction, it was only when people reported having 4 hours sleep or less a night that increased mortality was again noted.
So we might be better off with 7 hours sleep a night, but there are some animals out there who need far less than that and some that need far more. The beloved giraffe is the shortest sleeper amongst mammals. They sleep only 1.9 hours a night on average, and often that is taken in smaller naps. As well as needing an incredibly short sleep per night, they mostly sleep standing up, twisting their necks back and resting their heads on their backs. Read more…
A glorious summer is with us already, and so soon. We’ve barely dipped our toes into December and already we’ve enjoyed at least two weeks of jandal and sunscreen weather. And even today’s cloudy coolness hasn’t spoilt the summer mood. But there is something that spoils the summer mood, at least for some of us. Hay fever (or allergic rhinitis to use the correct terminology).
Rhinitis means “irritation of the nose” and is a derivative of rhino, meaning nose.
As I rub my itchy eyes and watch the sheep dip their noses deep into the seeding grass, I wonder – why aren’t the sheep sneezing? Or any of my other pets either? They all seem immune to hay fever. I guess it’s just people that are affected by the spring and summer pollen and grass seeds, right? Read more…