I imagine that many dog owners have noticed that dogs can "catch" yawns from humans, and vice versa (I think). So was an experiment to verify this really necessary? The animal behaviorists at the University of London evidently thought so. In their defense, I'd argue that just because something seems obvious, it still might yield interesting results when examined under controlled conditions in a laboratory setting. From the Aug 2008 issue of Biology Letters:
This study is the first to demonstrate that human yawns are possibly contagious to domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). Twenty-nine dogs observed a human yawning or making control mouth movements. Twenty-one dogs yawned when they observed a human yawning, but control mouth movements did not elicit yawning from any of them. The presence of contagious yawning in dogs suggests that this phenomenon is not specific to primate species and may indicate that dogs possess the capacity for a rudimentary form of empathy. Since yawning is known to modulate the levels of arousal, yawn contagion may help coordinate dog–human interaction and communication. Understanding the mechanism as well as the function of contagious yawning between humans and dogs requires more detailed investigation.
The BBC has a video of a yawning dog -- making me sleepy! (Thanks, Sandy!)
This sounds like something out of a horror novel. A mysterious red and black insect has been found in parts of London, baffling experts who have no idea what it is. Ominously, it is spreading rapidly. From BBC News:
The tiny red and black bug first appeared in the Natural History Museum's Wildlife Garden in March 2007. Since then it has become the most common insect in the garden and has also been spotted in Regent's Park and Gray's Inn. The bug appears to be harmless, but there is potential for it to spread throughout the UK, said experts...
Despite containing more than 28 million insect specimens, the museum failed to find an exact match for the new bug. Experts said it closely resembles the rare species Arocatus roeselii that is usually found in central Europe. But the roeselii bugs are brighter red than this new bug and they are usually associated with alder trees. The National Museum in Prague discovered an exact match to the mystery insect but experts there have also failed to determine exactly what it is. "It seems strange that so many of these bugs should suddenly appear," said Mr Barclay.
Sure, it appears to be harmless for now, but what are the odds it'll remain that way? Haven't they read The Day of the Triffids?
Reported in November 1887 in the Pall Mall Gazette:
Dr. Jammers, in a memoir sent to the Academie des Sciences, states that monkeys, unlike other animals, unless it is the human animal, readily acquire the habit of taking morphia. When monkeys live with opium smokers, as they do in eastern countries, where the habit is more prevalent than elsewhere, and become accustomed to the medicated atmosphere, they acquire a taste for the pipe. One particular monkey, it is said, would wait for his master to lay down his pipe and would then take it up and smoke what remained. If not allowed to do so for several days it would fall into a state of depression and inactivity which would disappear as soon as it was allowed to "hit the pipe."
And more recently, in a July 2008 BBC News article about the world's largest legal opium factory located in Ghazipur in northern India:
Ghosh [author of a recent historical novel about opium] wrote about "a miasma of lethargy" that seemed to be always hanging over the factory's surroundings - one example was the opium addled monkeys who would lap the open sewers carrying the factory's waste.
Monkeys still have the run of the factory, eating opium waste and dozing all day. "They have become addicted to opium. Most of the time we have to drag dozing monkeys away from this place," a worker says.
Chinese villager Feng Changlin is now the proud owner of a very strange-looking monkey-like piglet. In medieval times, the birth of such a pig might have been considered an omen of impending disaster. Now it just makes headlines on Ananova.
Back in July 2005 there were reports that the Chinese were planning to send pig sperm into space aboard the Shenzhou VI spacecraft. The plan was to expose the sperm to cosmic rays and microgravity and then fertilize pigs back on earth with it -- just to see what would happen. But to my knowledge, there were never any follow-up reports about the experiment. Could there be a link between the space-pig experiment and Feng Changlin's monkey-pig? Inquiring minds want to know.
On a more down-to-earth note, if you're interested in odd-looking creatures (and who isn't?) check out Sarah Hartwell's incredible site, messybeast.com.
Every year the residents of Huacho, Peru hold their Guinea Pig festival. First they dress the guinea pigs in cute costumes. There's a fashion show to decide the best-dressed guinea pig. Then they cook 'em up. The Telegraph notes that "Guinea pigs can be served fried, roasted or in a casserole... The meat tastes like rabbit or the dark meat of chicken, in case you were wondering." (via J-Walk)
Brazilian artist Alexandre Jorge has created a series of creepy imaginary animals. They're all made out of papier mache. I figure it's only a matter of time before the pictures start popping up in people's email with the claim that they're real animals found in the Brazilian rainforest (or something like that):
Once upon a time, mechanical elephants roamed up and down the boardwalks of beaches. Check out the clip below from a 1950s newsreel. The elephant, built by Frank Stuart was "Gasoline Powered with a 4 cylinder English Side Valve Ford engine. Top speed 27 MPH!"
I found the clip on the blog of Eastcliff Richard who reports that, "Astonishingly Britain used to lead the world in the production of mechanical elephants. This one was later sold to the late, great, dearly-departed Peter Sellers as part of his eccentric collection of automobilia."
Some more videos of mechanical elephants can be found here and here.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.