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Animal Science

The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world. SavvyExacta is a lifelong animal enthusiast with more than 20 years of experience with horses. Freckles (an English setter) is a frequent topic on the blog. Other CR4 bloggers occasionally add great posts.

Brontosaurus vs Apatosaurus

Posted April 24, 2015 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

When I was little one of my favorite movies was "We're Back: A Dinosaur Story". It's a ridiculous cartoon about dinosaurs showing up in a big city. Now, the Brontosaurus can say "I'm back"!

For many years paleontologists have insisted that the species was incorrectly labeled and was being confused with a similar dinosaur, Apatosaurus. But now…they're back!

A team of paleontologists led by Emanuel Tschopp at the New University of Lisbon in Portugal has just completed a massive computer analysis of fossils in a group of dinosaurs called Diplodocids that includes the Brontosaurus. The group found that Brontosaurus is in a group of its own. Its fossils share distinct, incomparable bone features-enough for it to reclaim its iconic genus name. Image Credit

Although the research is well done and very convincing, many paleontologists have trouble accepting the news. The Brontosaurus holotype (the fossil to which every other fossil in that group is compared) was found in Montana in 1877. At this time naming a new dinosaur often trumped scientific scruples. But in 1903, paleontologists decided that the naming was a bit hasty and the new dino was just a smaller version of the Apatosaurus. In the 1970s paleontologists went back to the original find and discovered that it was actually a mishmash of two completely different dinosaurs with the skull from one plopped onto the skeleton from another.

But Tschopp didn't give up. His group collected a major trove of fossil data on almost all the known Diplodocid fossils. Then they ran the data through statistical programs which grouped the dino fossils based on their various bone peculiarities.

Their data matched how paleontologists currently view the evolutionary tree of these dinosaurs. But it also led them to a few surprises! According to Tschopp, there are seven specific bone differences that make the body of the original Brontosaurus its own species and genus, not just some other big dino that's been mislabeled. Image Credit

The differences are subtle. The tail vertebrae in dinosaurs related to the Brontosaurus have spiny prominences called "neural spines" and for most of these dinosaurs these spines project backwards, in the Brontosaurus they're more straight up out of the back. Brontosaurus's hips are unusual, with two bones meeting in a curious junction, and its lower leg fibula meets its ankle bones in an equally unusual manner.

Some paleontologists (and the entire dinosaur loving public) are excited that the Brontosaurus has been corralled back into the realm of science, if only because it's really become a piece of Americana.

1 comments; last comment on 04/24/2015
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A Fishy Mystery

Posted March 24, 2015 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

So admittedly I have never thought of this before, but do fish get out of breath?

Fish rely on their gills to remove oxygen from the water. Gills are feathery organs full of vessels. A fish breathes by taking water into its mouth and forcing out through the gill passages. As water passes over the thin walls of the gills dissolved oxygen moves into the blood and travels to the fish's cells.

All of the roughly 30,000 different types of fish need oxygen. However, different types of fish respond to exertion in different ways. For example, salmon must work hard to traverse rapids or waterfalls but they will tire before they run out of oxygen. Part of this is due to the cool water that they live in having more dissolved oxygen.

Tropical fish on the other hand live in warmer water with less oxygen and have made several adaptions to compensate for their environment. The types of fish that are sold for home aquariums will engage in "aquatic surface respiration." They swim upwards towards the top-most layer of water, which has been exposed to the air and therefore contains more oxygen. Fish such as sculpins and gunnels pop out of the water for gulps of air and others such as lung fish use internal organs as makeshift lungs, absorbing oxygen into the blood through the walls of their mouth, swim bladder, or even stomach. Image Credit

Luckily for fish, they will never get so short of breath that they pass out. The fish will rest near the sea floor to save energy or surface in search of oxygen first.

9 comments; last comment on 03/26/2015
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The Science of Your Bird Feeder

Posted January 16, 2015 8:00 AM by SavvyExacta

Winter is a quiet time outdoors in the Northeastern USA, but a bird feeder brings chirping visitors back in the colder months. Feeding the birds is fun and can be as simple as throwing some seed out. But if you'd like to attract certain types of birds, you'll have to get a little more sophisticated. Here's why.

Types of Bird Feeders

Feeder Type


Birds Attracted

Other Animals

Platform An open tray that's either elevated or placed at ground level Sparrows, juncos, doves, jays, blackbirds, sparrows Deer, squirrels, raccoons
Hopper Enclosed feeder that dispenses seed at the bottom Finches, jays, cardinals, buntings, grosbeaks, sparrows, chickadees, titmice Squirrels
Tube Seed is dispensed from small holes in a cylindrical feeder Sparrows, grosbeaks, chickadees, titmice, finches Squirrels
Suet Mesh case or bag Woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, jays, starlings Squirrels

How the birds eat determines which feeder type works best for them. For example, juncos like to feed at ground level, so a low platform suits them best. They tend to feed in groups and ground feeding makes this easy. Other birds that like to feed in groups are chickadees and nuthatches. Group feeding is common for protection and the opportunity to find food in a common area.

hopper feeder with safflower seed

Wire mesh tube feeders, on the other hand, are good for seed-eating birds that can feed upside down. Finches are comfortable eating at these types of feeders and it can provide them with a source of food where they might otherwise be excluded by larger birds.

Types of Bird Seed

Seed Type


Birds Attracted


Sunflower Black oil, striped, or shelled Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, grosbeaks, sparrows, woodpeckers, finches Commonly enjoyed by many species
Safflower Shelled Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, finches, cardinals, grosbeaks May deter squirrels
Corn Cracked Doves, sparrows, jays May attract deer
Peanuts Whole or shelled Cardinals Will attract squirrels
Millet Juncos, sparrows, finches Good for ground feeding
Mixed Millet, corn, sunflower Many feeder birds won't eat millet
Thistle/Niger Small black seeds Goldfinches, indigo buntings Requires a tube feeder
Suet Fat mixed with berries or nuts Woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, orioles, tanagers Use only in freezing weather

Just as different bird species prefer different feeders, they also have varying preference in seed type. If you are looking for ground feeders like juncos, then millet is the way to go.

The bird's beak can influence what it likes to eat. Some species have special beaks that fit together like a nutcracker. Finches enjoy thistle seeds, which they have to crack open with their beaks. Larger-beaked cardinals are adept at cracking open sunflower seeds.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology

6 comments; last comment on 01/19/2015
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Ways to Care for Your Aging Cat

Posted June 16, 2014 12:00 AM by SwissMiss

One of my most cherished memories is the day I adopted my first cat. My younger self was delighted to have a new friend, and as we grew together over the last thirteen years, so did the joy of having her in my life.

When kitty was about ten years old, I started noticing changes in her behavior that I now understand were signs of aging. Most cats start to show these signs between the ages of seven and twelve. Now that mine is nearly fourteen, I've learned to adjust the way I care for her so I can best accommodate her in her golden years.


The first and most important thing anyone with an aging cat should do is look out for sudden changes in behavior. Some changes may be natural signs of aging, but others could indicate illness. If in doubt, bring kitty to the vet.


As cats age, it is important for them to remain active. Older cats benefit greatly from low-intensity play sessions. I use interactive toys to keep my kitty stimulated and healthy. Even if she can't jump and dive the way she used to, it's obvious that she still loves play time.

Litter Box Habits

Older cats sometimes have trouble making it to the litter box in time. This can be a normal sign of aging, and might require a little bit of patience from you. When I noticed my kitty's first few "accidents," I bought an extra litter box so she could access one without having to go up or down stairs.

Additionally, keeping an eye on your cat in the litter box may seem unnecessary, if not intrusive, but it's a great way to be sure that your little one isn't having any trouble with her, uh, plumbing. If you notice any changes in the frequency or consistency of your cat's urine or stool, or if she seems to strain or experience pain when she goes, talk to your vet right away.


In order to keep your senior cat as healthy as can be, it's a great idea to help her groom herself. My kitty adores her gentle grooming time. I also use the opportunity to check her teeth, eyes, ears, and skin for any bumps or lumps that shouldn't be there. Daily brushing will help to remove extra hair that would otherwise be swallowed and then tossed back up in a hairball. Gross.


Selecting the right diet for your senior cat can have a great influence on her overall health. A lot of cats get skinnier the older they get. Others, my own couch potato included, tend to get a little chunky. Obesity can lead to a lot of other health problems so I'm glad that we were able to get mine back to a healthy weight by making some changes to her diet. However, sudden changes in weight or appetite should call for a visit to the vet. Your vet can help you determine the cause of the weight loss and recommend which food is right for your cat's individual needs.


Environment also plays a big role in an aging cat's overall wellbeing. Here are a few things that can be done to make your senior cat more comfortable:

  • Make your cat's favorite places more easily accessible by adding steps or ramps. Most pet stores sell these, but don't be afraid to build your own!
  • Establish a safe area in your home where your cat can escape from stressful situations if necessary. Older cats don't handle stress very well.
  • Avoid letting your cat get too hot or too cold as seniors are much more sensitive to extreme temperatures.
  • If your cat goes outdoors, consider keeping them inside more often. Decreased mobility and cognitive function can expose your elderly cat to dangers outside.

Now that my kitty is older, I've certainly had to make some adjustments for her, but not all of them were unwelcome. She's become much more gentile, and she's turned into quite the cuddle bug. Her old age requires a little more attention and patience from me, but I'm more than happy to give her that.


The Special Needs of the Senior Cat

Tips for Caring for Senior Cats

Caring for Senior Cats

Tips for Making Life Easier for Your Geriatric Cat

11 comments; last comment on 01/16/2015
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Jeepers, Creepers... a Different Kind of Peepers!

Posted May 01, 2014 2:20 PM by SavvyExacta

The birds are singing, the grass is greening, and the peepers are peeping. Spring has finally sprung here in upstate New York after a long, long winter. "What's a peeper?" you ask? I was surprised how many people wonder what I'm talking about when I mention how deafening the sound of the peepers is each night.

Peepers, also known as spring peepers, are little frogs. They are just as synonymous with spring in the Northeast as are crocuses, daffodils, robins, bluebirds, and pussywillows. Peepers are commonly found in wetlands, so if you're a city dweller, that may explain why you haven't heard them (or been kept up all night by them).

Maybe you know peepers by another name. I thought it was interesting, that according to Wikipedia, they are called something else in different parts of the country:

On Martha's Vineyard, peepers are commonly called "pinkletinks"; in New Brunswick, Canada, they are sometimes called "tinkletoes", although not commonly known by that name, and usually referred to as simply "peepers". On Nova Scotia's South Shore, they are sometimes referred to as "pink-winks."

Interestingly enough, peepers hibernate through the winter and can endure freezing of their bodily fluids down to -8° C. It does this by producing a glucose that acts as a natural anti-freeze to keep cells from rupturing. (Maryland Department of Natural Resources)

They start peeping in early spring in conjunction with breeding season. The males are the ones producing the peeping noise. Females can lay up to 1,000 eggs.

How can such tiny frogs keep someone up at night with their peeping? According to the Kentucky Farmhouse website , peepers can be heard as far as 2.5 miles away. At my house, it's easy to hear them by day and after dark it sounds like we live in a jungle!

If you've never heard peepers, listen here.

5 comments; last comment on 05/02/2014
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Would You Do Anything for Love? Cardinals Will!

Posted February 14, 2014 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta
Pathfinder Tags: bird behavior

As you enjoy your morning coffee you gaze out the window and watch the birds at the feeder. But what's going on in the distance - is something attacking your car? As you look closer you see a red bird sidestepping along your windshield wipers, pecking away at the windshield. You shoo him away but he's back the next day. What's going on?

Northern cardinals are found in America from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. They live as far south as Mexico. They are ground foragers who live in open woodlands and do not migrate.

Both males and females are territorial. Northern cardinals may attack other cardinals or a reflection in a window, car mirror, or shiny bumper. The fights can go on for hours at a time. Most birds continue the attacks for a period of a few weeks; some go on for months.

The Cornell Lab mentions a female that continued aggressive behavior for six months. My mother has an even more interesting story. A male cardinal pecked away at the chrome on her truck from February to July. Then he left. He returned a few weeks later with a female cardinal. She watched him pick up his acts of aggression for a day or so and then left. A year after he first showed up he's still at it each day!

It's thought that northern cardinals are monogamous and mate for life. Maybe this bird lost his mate and was out to prove that he'd be suitable for someone else? It's thought that a surge in testosterone causes the behavior in males.

Jodie Jawor is researching behavioral endocrinology and other things at the University of Southern Mississippi. She's studying why female birds may exhibit aggressive behaviors.


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Northern Cardinal

Texas Parks and Wildlife

Birding Videos (Youtube)

6 comments; last comment on 02/19/2014
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