TIME animals

Bats Not So Blind After All, Study Suggests

A greater mouse-eared bat is pictured on
A greater mouse-eared bat is pictured on January 14, 2011 in the cellar vault of the Old Brewery in Frankfurt an der Oder, eastern Germany. Patrick Pleul—AFP/Getty Images

Some bats rely on polarized light to calibrate their internal compass

People who describe themselves as “blind as a bat” might want to find a new turn of phrase. Scientists have discovered that some bats rely on polarized light to orient themselves.

As is commonly known, bats use echolocation—locating objects by reflected sound—to “see” and navigate through the air. “But [echolocation] only works up to about 50 meters, so we knew they had to be using another of their senses for longer range navigation,” said Stefan Greif of Queen’s University, who led the new study on bats.

It turns out that the mouse-eared bat, which can be found in Europe, uses a form of light that most humans cannot see to guide its movements. It is the first mammal to calibrate with polarized light, the report published Tuesday in the journal Nature says.

As bats awake at sunset, they use the band of polarized light that appears in the sky (with one end pointing north and the other pointing south) to adjust their internal compass.

Scientists tested this hypothesis by placing 70 female mouse-eared bats in boxes to watch the sunset.Bats in some boxes could see the polarized light normally. Other bats sat in boxes that had a lens that rotated the polarization 90 degrees.

The bats were then released at night. The control group (who had seen the normal polarized light at sunset) flew the right direction home. Those in the experimental boxes flew 90 degrees in the wrong direction.

TIME animals

This Website Knows Where Your Cat Lives

I Know Where Your Cat Lives
Getty Images

Purrfect for the Internet's cat lovers

Attention all 4.9 million users of the #Catstagram hashtag: You’re being watched. Same for the #RichCatsOfInstagram pictures and the 16 million photos tagged simply #Cats on Instagram.

Mashable points out that a new data visualization project called “I Know Where Your Cat Lives” is trolling the internet and collecting metadata in your #adorable #cat #picture. Using the geotags embedded in the metadata in public photos, the project collects the information and puts the cat’s location on a map perfect for cyberstalking your fuzzy feline friend. Thank goodness cats don’t read Orwell.

The site features cats from everywhere around the globe — a giant red tom in Chiba, Japan to a grey fuzzball kitten in Apulia, Italy to a kitten cuddled with his mom in Queensland, Australia — all available for gawking at and cooing over at the click of a button.

The project was created by Florida State University art professor Owen Mundy, who views “I Know Where Your Cat Lives” as both a thought-provoking experiment into how we view online privacy, as well as a sort of Tinder for cat fans filled with a seemingly endless stream of kitten pics for the millions of cat fans who populate the Internet.

The site is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help fund web hosting and continuing the project.

MORE: The Hottest New Exercise Equipment Is a Giant Hamster Wheel…for Cats

MORE: There’s Now Facial Recognition Software for Cats

TIME viral

Dog Steals Baby’s Toy and Then Repents by Showering Her With Gifts

It's so comforting to see them make amends

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When this dog named Charlie decided to help himself to his human sister’s stuffed animal, he made her cry, because obviously. That was a pretty rotten thing to do. Charlie seems to realize this pretty quickly, because he attempts to apologize to her by bringing her a series of new toys. The remorse he feels is quite palpable.

Note: the music in this video gets to be a bit much, so we suggestmuting it and adding your own soundtrack. We recommend a classic apology track, like Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”:

(h/t BuzzFeed)

 

 

TIME animals

Ohio Man’s Therapy Ducks Fall Foul of Local Ordinances

Iraq war veteran Darin Welker holds one of his ducks at his home in West Lafayette, Ohio on July 10, 2014.
Iraq war veteran Darin Welker holds one of his ducks at his home in West Lafayette, Ohio on July 10, 2014. Trevor Jones—AP

Veteran Darin Welker says raising the birds helps him overcome PTSD from the Iraq War

Darin Welker loves his ducks. He feeds them, looks after them, and sometimes the Iraq War veteran from West Lafayette, Ohio just watches them interact. But Welker’s community doesn’t share the same affection for his feathered friends.

On Wednesday, the Associated Press reports, Welker will appear in a local municipal court facing a minor misdemeanor charge for raising 14 ducks in violation of local village rules. He could face a fine of up to $150.

Welker, an Iraq War veteran, says he’s been raising the ducks as a form of therapy for a back injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Welker told the AP that although the Department of Veterans Affairs paid for his back surgery in 2012, they did not provide mental or physical therapy.

In March, he got the ducks to help fill that void, after hearing raising them could be therapeutic.

“Taking care of them is both mental and physical therapy,” Welker told the AP. “[Watching them] keeps you entertained for hours at a time.”

In West Lafayette, however, raising ducks or any farm animal violates a 2010 ban on housing “chickens, turkeys, ducks, live poultry or fowl of any kind, horses, ponies, cows, calves, goats, sheep, or live animals of any kind except dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, birds or mice.”

But there is hope for Welker and his ducks. A local woman fought to keep the pot-bellied pig she and her daughter use for therapy in 2013. Mary Smith, the pig’s owner, told the Coshocton Tribune at the time that she would rather move than give up her pig. “He’s part of our family,” Smith said.

Smith obtained a letter from her doctor confirming her pig was for therapy. According to the AP, Welker has already gotten a letter from the mental health department of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs recommending he keep the ducks.

[AP]

TIME Environment

The 5 Worst Invasive Species in the Florida Everglades

A most wanted list for alien pests in the Sunshine State

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As I write in a cover story in TIME this week, invasive species are a growing threat around the U.S. And there’s no place quite as thoroughly invaded as Florida:

“We are ground zero for the impacts of invasive species,” says Doria Gordon, director of conservation science for the Florida chapter of the Nature Conservancy (TNC) . “And our invaders are very good at finding new habitats.”

Often those habitats are in or around the Everglades, that vast “river of grass” that covers much of South Florida. Half of the original Everglades has been developed for farming or housing, and the sprawling wetland has been carved up by more than 1,400 miles (2,250 km) of canals and levees that divert water for South Florida’s 5.8 million people. That mix of suburbs and wilderness makes the Everglades an invasive free-for-all.

But which invasive species pose the biggest threats to the Everglades? Check out the video above

 

TIME viral

Dog Casually Relieves Itself in the Background of a BBC Weather Report

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During a live report for BBC Breakfast, weather presenter Carol Kirkwood was totally upstaged by a dog that wandered into the shot and then squatted to calmly relieve herself. Back in the studio, the show’s hosts naturally began to giggle and tell Kirkwood not to turn around.

The pooch was later outed as Connie, who belongs to a BBC producer:

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, BBC confirmed that it was a “number one”.

WATCH: Hilarious Camera Error on BBC News

WATCH: BBC Reporter on Royal Baby Watch Is Already Bored

TIME animals

Five Species That Are Quietly Dying Off While Nobody Pays Attention

Indonesian Sanctuary Helps To Save The Slow Loris From Extinction
A slow loris in its cage at a sanctuary for the endangered animals, which have been confiscated from individuals or markets that illegally sell them as pets, on February 27, 2014 in Bogor, Indonesia. Ed Wray—Getty Images

They're vanishing fast, but the world is paying scant attention

Everyone knows that rhinos or pandas are threatened with extinction. But there are plenty of species slipping away silently, without celebrity advocates or high-profile campaigns. “So many species are just not popular enough, or well-known enough to share the spotlight with the world’s threatened megafauna,” says Chris Shepherd, director of conservation group Traffic South East Asia.

The problem is that while threats facing the icons of conservation — such as the gorilla or elephant — are wholly deserving of media attention, this leaves less page space and air time for scores of other, sometimes more endangered, species. And if there’s no public attention paid to them, funds don’t materialize and the impetus for legal protection is weakened.

The plight of the following five species is two-fold: their disappearance is happening fast, and it’s happening off-radar.

1. Seahorses

Population trend: A 50%-80% global population decline in the past 20 years according to the Seahorse Trust.

All 38 species of this shy creature are, like many species, facing threats on several fronts. They live in coastal waters, leaving them vulnerable to habitat loss from human development and indiscriminate trawling. There’s also a unsustainably high demand in traditional Chinese medicine for seahorses, which are used to alleviate kidney ailments and circulatory problems. According to the Seahorse Trust, 150 million seahorses are used in Chinese medicine each year. The home aquarium trade, the trust says, is responsible for another million or so annually.

Seahorses remain on the now ten-year-old Appendix II to the internationally recognized Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) — a categorization that allows for regulated trade. But while 25 million seahorses are legally traded yearly, it’s estimated that further 125 million enter the black market. So far this year, Hong Kong customs have intercepted over 1,000 lbs of undeclared, smuggled dried seahorses, worth about $130,000. This level of capture and commercial trade is leading to a collapse in seahorse sightings. In 2011, the Centre of Marine Science at the University of Algarve, Portugal, reported a 85% reduction of long-snouted seahorses and 56% for other species that occur in the region.

“CITES listings should have all seahorse species down as highly endangered and at risk of extinction,” says Neil Garrick-Maidment, executive director of The Seahorse Trust. “There should, without a doubt, be a complete moratorium on seahorse fishing for 10 years.”

2. Sun bears

Population trend: The IUCN estimates that sun bears have decreased by 30% in the past 30 years.

Sun bears are traditionally found in much of Southeast Asia – from Bangladesh across to Yunnan, China and down to Borneo, Malaysia — but have become regionally extinct in much of the region, including Singapore and parts of China. The reason is a rapidly disappearing habitat, since vast swathes of lowland forest are being cleared – legally and not – for commercial monoculture cultivation, particularly palm oil.

In what forest remains to them, they are hunted by poachers who are after the bear’s paws and gall bladder, both of which fetch a high price on the black market – the former as a culinary delicacy, and the latter due to alleged medicinal properties when treating gall stones, inflammation, pain and liver troubles. “Numerous bears observed in bear bile farms, or on camera trap photos are missing limbs due to snares,” says Shepherd, who adds that China, South Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia are where demand is highest for bear bile.

Sun bears are listed in CITES Appendix I, which only permits regulated noncommercial trade (such as trade for scientific research, for example). But despite this degree of protection, “sun bears face tremendous pressures from illegal hunting and trade” according to Kanitha Krishnasamy, senior program officer, Traffic South East Asia. “Few people know of the threats this species faces, and fewer care,” adds Shepherd. “There are only a handful of people working to save the sun bear, all of them with inadequate amounts of funding, low levels of government support, and very little support from the public.”

3. Freshwater turtles and tortoises

Population trend: Decline in turtle and tortoise populations in Asia over the past decade has been so sharp it has a name: the Asian Turtle Crisis.

Distinct species of tortoises and freshwater turtles occur in low densities across the globe, each with characteristics adapted for specialized habitats. The Roti Island Snake-necked Turtle, for example, has a 20cm long neck and was endemic to Roti Island in Indonesia when it was discovered in the 90s. Now it’s critically endangered. Sadly, its story rings true for many of the 31 turtle and tortoise species now considered critically endangered by the IUCN, and there is one major cause – illegal trade in the creatures as pets and as food.

Although habitat loss and water pollution are a serious threat to these fascinating reptiles, it’s their meat and ornate shells that put them in real danger. As South East Asia becomes more affluent, the demand for these species has skyrocketed, On May 14, 230 Black Spotted Turtles were discovered by Thai Customs in unclaimed bags from Kolkata at Bangkok’s Suvanabhumi International Airport. Conservationists say that current levels of demand mean that many species do not have a hope of survival.

4 Slow lorises

Population trend: Four of the five subspecies – found between Bangladesh and China, down to Indonesia and the Philippines – have experienced a 30% population decline in the past 25 years. The Javan slow loris, meanwhile, has declined by 80% over the same time period, and is considered critically endangered.

The decline in the populations of these lemur-like primates has traditionally been related to rampant habitat loss as the jungles are cleared or agriculture such as commercial cashew and palm oil plantations and rice paddies. This has forced slow lorises into gardens, settlements and farmlands, where it encounters a even greater threat to its survival: its desirability as a “cute,” exotic pet.

A quick YouTube search reveals many slow loris videos, many with several million views that have been a disastrously successful marketing tool, despite all species being listed under CITES Appendix 1 in 2007. Lorises are still routinely spotted in markets in Jakarta, Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur by conservation organisations such as Small Carnivore Conservation Project in Thailand, which saw lorises in a Jakarta market as recently as mid-June.

The underground trade in lorises is harmful on many levels. Individual lorises often cannot survive the stresses of capture and transport, where they are stuffed in boxes, sacks or suitcases and shipped as far as Russia, Japan and the United States. If they are to be sold, their venomous incisors must be pulled, resulting in infection and often death. They also do not fare well in captivity, and excessive handling, forced daytime activity and poor diet lead to high mortality rates.

5. Dugongs

Population trend: In Queensland, Australia, catch rates – a major population indicator – for dugongs in 1999 were just 3% of what they were in 1962, in an area that is considered a relative safe haven for the ‘sea cows’.

Dugongs have a traditional range spanning the waters of 48 countries and 140,000km of coastline – from the East African coast and Madagascar through the Middle East and Indian coasts down to Australia and Papua New Guinea. But they are now only found in relict populations, separated by large spans of ocean. Dugongs have been declared extinct in the waters of Taiwan, Mauritius and the Maldives, and studies indicate that in former ‘strongholds’ such as the Thai Andaman sea, Philippine archipelago and Sri Lanka, colonies of less than 100 individuals struggle to get by.

Dugong survival is hugely dependent on the availability of seagrass, and the fact is the species is suffering a chronic, and worsening, food shortage. Net entanglement, vessel traffic and socio-political impediments to conservation efforts also play a part, but it’s the pollution of coastal waters and consequent seagrass loss that is the biggest problem for these sensitive beasts. Trawling, mining, dredging, coastal clearing and land reclamation lead to an increase in sedimentation, smothering the seagrass of sunlight vital for its growth. Sewage, agricultural herbicide runoff and heavy metals also lead to a degradation in seagrasses, which can take over a decade to recover.

This, when considered in combination with their slow reproductive rates, spells disaster. Females give birth to just one calf at a time, with a two-to-seven year period between pregnancies. Lack of public awareness and pressure is a key restricting factor to dugong survival, according to UNEP: “for management to be effective, the general public has to be concerned about dugong conservation,” – a point that is vitally relevant to so many quietly disappearing species.

TIME

There’s Now Facial Recognition Software for Cats

Bistro

FINALLY

For too long, humans have been reaping all the rewards of facial recognition software. But no longer. Entrepreneur Mu-Chi Sung is bringing the advanced technology to cats — and while it might not help them find love online due to “facial compatibility,” or be better targeted in malls, it will help them maintain their goal weight.

Sung is the co-founder of Bistro, a smart cat feeder that has the power to recognize your feline’s face in order to distribute and then track its food intake. It can also tell your cats’ faces apart to prevent jerky tendencies of stealing the food that is rightly their brethren’s.

But the endeavor, by Sung’s Taiwanese company 42ARK, isn’t for cat vanity’s sake.

“I have three cats, and how I fed them was I put the food in the bowl and had no idea what they’re eating,” says Sung, who didn’t realize his cat Momo stopped eating food due to illness until he found her dehydrated and paralyzed on the floor of his house. The jaundiced cat was suffering from pancreatitis, and while things were looking dire for Momo, the amputation of her two rear legs saved her life.

Momo the cat Bistro

While Sung assured us that Momo is now fine and back to playing with laser pointer, an early indication of eating abnormalities would have inspired him to seek medical help faster. This uses a similar ideology as Whistle, a Fitbit of sorts for dogs, that tracks their daily activity and sleep patterns.

“A cat doesn’t speak for themselves, that’s why we need Bistro to speak for them,” Sung says. “With Bistro you get notified [via the app] if a change in feeding occurs.”

A scale eating platform tracks cats’ weight and owners can also watch live streams of their cats eating. You know, if they’re into that kind of thing. “Not many people will do that,” Sung says, greatly underestimating obsessive cat owners everywhere.

Bistro

Bistro launched an Indiegogo campaign Tuesday to bring the product to market. Indiegogo users can buy it for a special price of $179, although Sung thinks it will cost $249 in stores.

This isn’t the first attempt to incorporate cat facial recognition in every day life. The image recognition company Quantum Picture found a way to use image recognition to let the company cat inside through the pet door only if she wasn’t carrying an animal in her mouth. And in 2010, Panasonic System Networks updated FaceU so it could recognize pets’ individual faces to tag in group photos.

Last year, a company called PiP launched an Indiegogo campaign to use facial recognition to reunite lost cats (and dogs) with their owners, although it only made $2,746 of its $20,000 goal. Bistro hopes to raise $100,000 to bring the product to market, and it raised almost half its goal in half a day.

Sung has worked in image recognition for years and thinks that applying it to cats is the next step in the technology. He says that 42ARK is even thinking of using facial recognition on cats’ litter box habits, although he admits that it’s “a little bit creepy.”

TIME viral

Little Girl Breaks Down Crying When Her Parents Surprise Her With a Puppy

Best birthday present ever

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When this eight-year-old girl closed her eyes and held out her hands to receive a birthday gift from her parents, she had no idea she’d be getting a dog. This surprise, it turns out, caused her to break down in an emotional fit of happy tears. She’s just so overwhelmed and thrilled to have her very own cute puppy! We’d probably react the same way if someone gave us a puppy right now.

TIME animals

You’ll Never Know Joy Like This Crab Chowing Down on a Plate of Noodles

He basically dances as he eats

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You probably never thought of crabs as cute creatures, which is really quite understandable, but this video could potentially alter your views. Watch as this pet crab just goes to TOWN on a big ol’ plate of Korean noodles. He really seems to appreciate every bite. Maybe we could all learn something from him about appreciating what we have and savoring every moment of our lives.

(h/t First We Feast)

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