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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. Most posts are written by Laura MacGregor (aka SavvyExacta), 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.

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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Southwest Florida Eagle Cam

Posted January 20, 2014 9:30 AM by SavvyExacta

Ever wonder what goes on in an eagle's nest? The Southwest Florida Eagle Cam offers a bird's eye view of the action. Eagles Ozzie and Harriet have returned to the nest each year since 2006.

This year they have two chicks that have recently grown large enough to be left unattended for short periods of time. Gray and fuzzy, they look nothing like America's national symbol, but it's fun to watch them grow!

Fast Facts About Eagles

  • Weigh 10-14 pounds and have a wingspan of 72-90 inches
  • Nest in large trees near water
  • Mating pairs remain together until the death of one or both
  • Reach maturity in 4-5 years
  • Diet consists of fish and carrion
  • Some migrate, some do not, and some remain in Florida year-round

E3 and E4

The chicks born this season have not yet been named and are designated as E3 and E4. One is much larger than the other and sibling rivalry is a regular part of life in the nest. The operators of the eagle cam shared some information about the realities of Mother Nature and their stance on interfering.

Top Eagle Cam Moments

Here are a few photos from the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam Facebook page.

More Information

Southwest Florida Eagle Cam info

American Bald Eagle Information

image credits - screenshots and photo by Jim Thomas via the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam Facebook page

3 comments; last comment on 01/20/2014
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Fukushima Animal Shelter

Posted November 01, 2013 12:00 AM by joeymac

More than two and a half years have passed since a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. The natural disaster damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant and in essence created another Chernobyl. Japan is left with a no man's land containment zone, or exclusion zone as it's also called due to the high levels of radiation.

Everyone goes on to talk about the toll of human suffering. People had to leave their homes without much time to grab their belongings and can't go back due to the radiation. One big thing that was left behind was their pets.

A farmer by the name of Keigo Sakamoto has defied the order to leave. Keigo was formerly a caregiver for the mentally disabled. He has made animals his mission.

After the disaster, Keigo went into empty towns and villages and collected abandoned animals - dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, and even marmots. He has more than 500 animals at his mountain ranch.

He is very determined not to leave and manages the animals even if they've gone wild from the time spent alone. Out of the 21 dogs he takes care of only two are friendly to man. As he was being interviewed one dog bit Keigo as he walked by. There are no neighbors and Keigo insists that he's going nowhere.

I have to admit that I think Keigo is a little crazy for staying there with the radiation; it's probably going to kill him down the road. At the same time I admire his courage and heart for caring for all the abandoned animals, especially being alone.

3 comments; last comment on 11/04/2013
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Attack of the Killer Hornets

Posted October 07, 2013 12:00 PM by joeymac

There has been a huge uptick in hornet attacks in China this year by the Asian giant hornet, known scientifically as Vespa madarinia. Since July the hornets have killed 42 people and injured around 1,700 people in the Shaanxi province.

The Asian giant hornet is the largest hornet species in the world. These hornets are found throughout East and Southeast Asia, in countries such as China, Korea, Japan, India, and Nepal. These hornets are very big, given the name "giant", they are about 1.4 to 1.5 inches in length, roughly the size of a human thumb. The queens are even bigger, and can grow longer than 2 inches.

What makes the Asian hornet so deadly is its venom. People are allergic to the venom which can cause fatalities. The venom of this hornet destroys red blood cells, which can result in kidney failure or multiple organ failure and death. The venom starts working at the sting site to immediately destroy the cellular tissue.

Stinger marks look like little bullet holes. The hornets are attracted to human sweat, alcohol, and sweet flavors and smells. They are especially sensitive to when animals or people run away, which triggers them to attack.

The Asian giant hornet's breeding season is in September and October so this is probably one reason why they've been so aggressive recently. Other reasons why there have been more attacks could be due to unusually dry weather in the Shaanxi province. An arid environment makes it easier for the hornets to breed. Another cause could be urbanization with humans moving into hornet habitat. Other additional factors could be increased vegetation and a decrease in the hornets' enemies such as spiders and birds because of ecological changes.

Currently the Chinese government has deployed thousands of police officers and locals to destroy the hives. Around 700 hives have been removed so far. To protect yourself wear long sleeves, and if you find yourself near a hive avoid it by calmly walking away. Don't panic if one buzzes around you, if you panic and flap at it or run away the hornets will attack and chase after you.


15 comments; last comment on 10/23/2013
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Jellyfish Stings: A Protective Suit vs. a Friend to Pee on You!

Posted September 17, 2013 3:30 PM by SavvyExacta
Pathfinder Tags: ANIMAL SCIENCE jellyfish

I recently read an article about whether it's fair for marathon swimmers to wear special suits to prevent jellyfish stings. Some purists debate that Diana Nyad's swim from Cuba to Florida "doesn't count" because of her protective mask and gloves. I was curious about this (although that's probably a better topic for the BioMed blog) and about how jellyfish affect human swimmers. Nyad's previous attempt to swim the same route came to an end when multiple jellyfish stings left her unable to effectively move her legs.

Jellyfish Facts

Thought to have inhabited our seas for 500 million years, there are hundreds of species of jellyfish. The four major classes are scyphozoa (true jellyfish), cubozoa (box jellyfish), hydrozoa (medusa), and staurozoa (stalked jellyfish).

Some species of jellyfish commonly found in the waters off the United States include cannonball jelly, mushroom jelly, moon jelly, lion's mane, sea nettle, sea wasp, and Portuguese man-of-war. Sting pain is related to the amount of venom that species possess.


  • Range in size from smaller than a pinhead to larger than humans
  • Have no brains - an elementary nervous system detects stimuli and responds
  • Are a type of plankton; they drift along ocean currents

A group of jellyfish is called a smack and when large numbers of them appear suddenly it's called a bloom. Blooms occur when currents push big groups of jellyfish together in one location. They are especially likely to appear in warmer currents that have an abundant food supply.

Jellyfish Stings

Jellyfish feed themselves by stinging their prey with some of the thousands of nematocysts on their tentacles. The nematocysts inject toxin into the prey and then the jellyfish feed. This mechanism is also used for self-defense.

The "sting" of the sting can range from mild discomfort to paralysis. Box jellies tend to be the most venomous. The stings of the sea wasp, a type of box jellyfish, can kill a person within minutes.

Treatment of Jellyfish Stings

So, does peeing on a jellyfish sting help? The answer is no. Urine, picric acid, and alcohol can actually make some stings worse because they stimulate stinging cells that may still be in the skin.

Tentacles should be removed from the skin to stop the discharge of venom. Vinegar is the treatment of choice for box jellyfish stings.

Protection Against Jellyfish Stings

In areas with large jellyfish populations the best recommendation is to wear protective gear. In Australia, nylon pantyhose can protect a swimmer from the stings of a sea wasp because its harpoons are so short. Wet suits, full-body suits, masks, and gloves are also advisable. This example shows a thin material that covers the body.

So is it fair that Nyad is being criticized for wearing such protection? She explained that the support team that followed her had to duct tape the cuffs of the gloves for her. It is this assistance that might disqualify her marathon swim from the official record books. She, and other swimmers, said that the suit actually makes swimming more difficult opposed to giving an unfair advantage.

What do you think? Should marathon swimmers be entitled to protection like jellyfish sting suits and shark cages without penalty?


Sea Science - Jellyfish - Fun Facts

Wikipedia - Jellyfish

Image Credits:,

7 comments; last comment on 09/22/2013
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Blogging Birds Share Data

Posted September 09, 2013 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta

The Blogging Birds are four red kites from Scotland. Wyvis, Moray, Millie, and Ussie regularly submit posts explaining where they've been and what they've been doing. You may be wondering how birds blog. To be fair, the birds aren't doing the writing, but GPS data is being used to explain the birds' movements. This article in The Chronicle of Education explains how it works.

Here's a snippet covering what Moray was up to from August 19 to August 25:

"Monday to Sunday Moray spent most of her time around Farraline and Errogie. During this time she was seen mainly on farmland while making odd journeys to heather. She must have been feasting on worms and insects which are in abundance in farmland. But what could she be looking for in heather?"

The article in The Chronicle gives another example of data narration. Oil platforms are heavily monitored and generate a lot of data. Natural-language generation can send a clear, easily understood message to the home office. The message explains what happened and how frequently, in words, rather than in data that must be analyzed.

Data narration might be a great tool for tracking released animals and helping the public to gain a better understanding of animals' movements. What do you think about data narration? How do you think it should be used, if at all?

Image Credit: snapshot from

4 comments; last comment on 09/10/2013
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